I know that 300-plus may seem like a large number but, when for the past 10 years, if you’ve worked for a couple of agencies, a few “regular” companies and then started your own digital marketing agency, it’s really not that much.
Today’s topic was supposed to be something entirely different. But I spent the last week making a list of all the brands I’ve worked for so far. I checked my e-mails, my company’s website, even folders I hadn’t opened in years. I got to 320 brands. I’m sure there are a lot more, but you can understand why it’s hard to remember all of them.
For some, I worked for years, either as an employee, as a freelancer or as a digital marketing agency owner. For others, I’ve just created marketing strategies, implemented social media strategies or written one or more pieces of copy.
However, I learned something from all of them. From the smallest beauty clinic in Toronto for which I blogged to the large Australian company for which I created an international expansion strategy – all of them taught me something about marketing and business success.
Here are some of the most valuable lessons I learned from working with 300-plus brands:
Passion alone is not enough to make a business successful
If you’re a regular on SiteProNews, you may know I write about tech companies a lot. This is because I’ve worked with a lot of them. About 70 percent of the brands my agency currently works with are tech companies.
With some, I’ve started working even before anyone else new about them – I helped build them from scratch. Others were well-established brands when my agency took over all or part of their marketing.
As you may expect, most of the people in tech are passionate. Of course, some are only in it for the money, but there are also those who could spend hours telling you about how their product will change the world and not utter a word about their profits.
I absolutely love working with passionate engineers. They are my favorite type of client – they are honest, enthusiastic and always eager to help. But they aren’t always the savviest of businessmen.
This doesn’t mean that all the passionate people will fail in business. Just those who are so protective of their product that they want to do everything themselves.
While I understand (and appreciate) the enthusiasm, the truth is you can’t be good at everything, from software engineering to PR, accounting and fundraising.
The bleak statistics show us that 90 percent of startups fail. While poor marketing is listed as a cause for failure in only 14 percent of the cases, other reasons like getting outcompeted, running out of cash, not having the right team, ignoring customers, and so on can also be attributed to not asking for professional business help.
Marketing alone can’t create product value
First off, let me clarify what I mean by inadequate: it can be a poor quality product, one that’s obsolete even before it’s launched, one that no one really wants or one that doesn’t have a target audience large enough to cover production costs. There can be hundreds of reasons why a product is inadequate, but you get the point.
Today’s customer is an informed, Internet-savvy one. No matter how often you repeat that your product is awesome, they won’t believe it until they’ve read 10 unbiased reviews confirming your ad. The era of the pushy salesman who sold you a sports car when what you really wanted was a family van is over – you can no longer generate revenue just by charming and pushing your clients. You need to offer real value.
Two of the services my agency offers are consulting and management for crowdfunding campaigns. These are also the services for which we turn down the most clients.
Most people believe that crowdfunding is a holy grail. It’s really not. It’s more of a market fitness test. Depending on platform, between 69 percent and 89 percent of crowdfunding projects fail; aka they don’t reach their goal.
Granted, a big part of this failure is also accounted for by the lack of proper marketing – project initiators believe that all they need to do is upload to Indiegogo or Kickstarter and the money will start pouring in. But there are also products that no one really wants.
Harsh as it may seem, it’s the truth. I’ve seen dozen of these: from the USB-powered cup warmer that does nothing more than its 10-year old version to the UV lamp cleaner for gamers.
And I’ve turned them down.
Why would I refuse business? It’s quite simple: no matter how much you invest in marketing such projects, they would never reach their goal. Besides the ethical dilemma (why get money for marketing something that is doomed to failure?), there is also a business-related reason: I’d like to maintain my company’s successful track record.
Some of the clients I’ve refused appreciated my advice to keep working on the product before going live. Others launched the campaigns anyway only to see their money wasted on a campaign that met less than 15 percent of its goal.
It’s OK to turn down a client
Aside from the example above, there are plenty of other perfectly valid reasons to turn down a client.
I’d like to tell you that my agency only takes clients whose products or services we truly believe in. But I’d lie. While money doesn’t make the world go round (the sun’s gravitational pull and the conservation of angular momentum are responsible for that), I’ve noticed that my staff members are very fond of their salaries. I, too, like to pay my bills.
So we do take on projects that don’t make our heart beat faster. But there’s a limit to that. Some of the reasons I turned down clients include:
- Ethical considerations: Like the SaaS company that played fast and loose with data privacy – a topic I’m very sensitive to.
- Eternal negotiations: I’m very flexible and I have a soft spot for startups. But I have to draw the line somewhere.
- Late payments: Again, our terms are very flexible. Within certain limits.
- Free haggling: The client who pesters you to lower your fees as much as possible and throw in a freebie advice session every week.
In addition to what I’ve learned from my own company’s experience, there’s one other type of client that is always bad news. I’ve seen a lot of startups being sunk immediately after signing a “big fish.” That’s the type of client that promises to keep you busy for years to come and the type of client for which you agree to double up your team within a month. The result? You end up with a lot of employees who depend on a single client’s money. Never put all your eggs in one basket.
Content marketing works, but not within a week
I don’t believe in silver bullets. That’s why my agency never offers “package deals.” I believe every business is unique and so should its strategy be.
But there is one thing I can wholeheartedly recommend to every business, irrespective of industry and size: content marketing. Of course, the actual collaterals will differ from business to business, but you should always have a content marketing strategy in place.
And then you should wait for it to start working.
“I published the blog post. When will the clients start coming?” This is an obvious exaggeration of a question I get way too often.
My response is: “In due time. Most likely, not today.”
Content marketing is a long-term game. You can’t expect it to produce miracles within a week or even a month. Sure, there have been cases when a company got a client from the very first blog post. But that was a fluke, not the norm.
The truth is no marketer or content specialist can tell you exactly how long it takes for content marketing to start producing ROI. This depends on your industry, your market, your reputation, your target audience, your competitors and on how all these factors evolve and change. But a good rule of thumb is that three months is the bare minimum.
About seven years ago, I would have recommended blogging as a means to educate audiences and to boost SEO. Things have changes. Now I can recommend content marketing as a means to get actual revenue.
Why such lessons matter is important
It is said that the smartest people learn from others’ mistakes. When you have the privilege to have worked with so many brands in 10 years, you can learn both from their mistakes and from their successes. This doesn’t mean you won’t make your own mistakes – I know I did (and plenty of them!). But it’s important to take a moment and turn experience into valuable lessons.