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Most marketing is unprofitable

Most marketing is unprofitable. Notice I said marketing, not businesses. There are actually a lot of businesses who get by with little to no marketing success, but it makes client acquisition a graft.

I wonder what percentage of businesses are actually thriving with marketing? As in, they’re exceeding their sales forecasts. When they want to hire – they’re flooded with job applications. Businesses who collaborate with them show off about it. Their employees tag where they work in their twitter bio, because they’re proud to be associated with the brand.

What is the difference between those businesses that have been around for 50 years and can’t reach new audiences, and those who are growing by adapting their message and product to each generation?

Those start ups that are just getting by, and those that are fully booked. Those little cafes, where people will queue up on weekends to get a seat, vs the ones that struggle to get footfall at all. What causes this?

Forgive me for going all woo-woo on you, but I think the ingredient many businesses lack is love. Not just loved by the business owner, but loved by everyone who interacts with it – customers, staff, owners, even people who can’t access the product but aspire to be able to.

Business owners who love their business invest in the business at all stages. They get a brand identity from someone who loves doing brand identities and they don’t mind taking some of that initial profit and reinvesting it rather than spending it on something they will love, like a car, or a Disney holiday for their kids.

Aside from money, they’re willing to spend a lot of time on it too.

An amazing brand identity attracts the interest of initial customers and staff, and a culture begins. These first few people involved love the business, and they want everyone who interacts with it to love it as much as they do. So they try and be kind, and to inspire others. When they’re hiring others, they’re really excited to explain all about the business. The staff are excited to tell their friends and family that they didn’t just get a job, they got a job at that company.

With some businesses, no matter how modestly paid and titled the position, the staff show off about working there.

If you have a business that is loved, marketing is really easy. It’s just about spreading the joy. You have a good brand identity, excellent photography and well written content – all developed by people who were extremely excited about working for the business.

Those types of business can be large or small. They can have thousands of staff, or it might just be a business that your friend is thinking about starting and tells you about in the pub.

I can tell my masseuse loves her business. She hasn’t got the largest budget in the world, but she’s carefully created a logo and client welcome pack which is full of content, pricing lists, referral cards and even a little fridge magnet with her number on so I don’t lose it. It made me smile when I opened it to see how lovingly this little pack was put together.

But then there are the people who sniff at spending £2000 on an excellent brand identity but will collect luxury cars. Some of my marketing friends will say that these people don’t believe in marketing – they’re reluctant to invest because they don’t believe it will work. But it’s deeper than that, in every facet of their business from the badly designed lighting to the staff floor which is choc-o-block with apprentices and zero seniors.

When somebody loves their business it’s clear. They want me to help them get more customers and they have a genuine belief that those customers will fall in love with their brand if only they knew it existed.

Do I sound bitter about working with clients who wince about expense and want to keep things the way they are, for ease? The truth is I was one of those businesses not so long ago. I’d got totally burnt out, I was bored, and I felt like my career was going no where. I was getting some nice businesses work with me and want to hire me, but I really thought that I had peaked. I had a ‘is this it?’ feeling. I needed a change.

So I did something radical and decided to let go of almost all of my clients who I felt I was no longer serving. I wasn’t proud of the work I was doing, and I felt like they would be better suited with somebody else. Then the pandemic hit and I lost a couple more. I was down to three, the remainders were clients who I was stretched by, who I found challenging because of the standards of the business, not the people who owned them.

I used this time to refresh my website, rest deeply and do lots and lots of training. This mixture of cutting out the dead wood and preening what was left meant that I could really focus on improving my product big time. Once that happened, I could confidently play big and take on some quite frankly massive clients. Now that I had total product confidence, I could also charge more, meaning that I could hire a graduate marketing student to do some of the tasks that would cause me to be sick if I ever had to do one more time. Yes it’s quicker if I did it myself, but I don’t like doing those tasks like admin and scheduling – so why not get someone else to do it? Especially when they find it a new and exciting challenge (I found that in that case, even without the experience, her passion makes her better at those things than me.)

We need to keep moving on and up in business, doing things that we are truly interested in and intellectually challenged by. But when you own your own business, we don’t get the opportunity to resign and start up somewhere new. Employees can quit working in England and apply for a position in New York. But we’re often bound by our location, and are sometimes running the same businesses that our fathers owned. Maybe we would make changes, but our business partner, or board make it impossible. It can be really tough to stay inspired and keep things fresh when we aren’t stimulated by new activity and responsibilities.

If I knew the answer to burnout for every single type of business, I’d be writing a book not a blog post about this. I don’t have all the answers. But what I would say is this – if you’re feeling stuck in your business, burnt out, bored – tell your marketer, designers and business advisors. We need to know so that we can help re-inspire you and help you to recover that gem that made you start your business in the first place. The wonderful thing about self employment is that you never know where your business may take you, you never know which new customers you will be able to attract. So if you need to, let go and reinvigorate.