Without a focus on marketing, inventor/entrepreneurs can succumb to the daily details
As time goes on, your goal is to spend more than 60 percent of your time being the chef and have other team members doing the cooking and bottle washing.
BY ALYSON DUTCH
Becoming an entrepreneur is supposed to be a ticket to freedom and financial independence, right?
No more demanding bosses to please. Morning serenity replaces the sting of a 5 a.m. alarm clock shriek. Malicious office mates are a vague memory. The angst of morning traffic fades. A happy dog snores under the desk.
Pantyhose? Tie? I think not. Best yet, you may get to work in your underwear. These perks are worth their weight in gold, right?
However, while you were dreaming, no one told you that the entrepreneurial adventure would force you into the positions of chef, cook—and bottle washer.
Are you a boss or an operator?
I’ve been in this game since 1996 and can tell you I’ve never worked so hard in my life. All the complaining I did about the apparent easy life of my bosses when I was an employee soon dissipated into a cool sense of compassion.
Having the shoe on the other foot even inspired me to call former bosses—one of whom fired me—apologizing for assuming I understood their role.
One of the hard-learned lessons for most entrepreneurs is how to focus on the forest and less on the trees. In case you’re starting to feel bad reading this, this took me 10 years to understand, let alone do.
So many entrepreneurs spend their days doing the actual work, hiring others to help and zero-time planning, building and scaling.
How can you tell? Here is how I figured it out.
When I met my partner, he would plan grand trips all over the world—adventures that would realistically take at least 3 weeks. If your business is going to suffer without you there for 3 weeks, you’ve not built a company, you’ve just enslaved yourself to being an operator.
It’s OK to remain connected and ensure you have your laptop and a Wi-Fi signal when in Moscow. But if you’re up at 3 a.m. trying to do a conference call with a client in Los Angeles, like I was, that’s not a good sign.
Make yourself known
Your dreams of success, freedom and financial abundance will never become a reality without taking the time to stop doing the business to plan and grow it.
As mentioned before, there are three aspects of any company that must be in place for it to become its own entity: the product (or service), the operations, and marketing to make it all go.
Without these three pillars, which I call the POM Principle, your dreams will crumble.
If you were to sell your company tomorrow, would it stand alone with all the intellectual property, systems and marketing to have value? Would someone be able to unlock the proverbial door and seamlessly keep going and grow?
Even the coolest widget or most intoxicating service will fail without telling potential customers that it exists (the marketing). No company can grow without systems that automate mundane tasks. The most brilliant ideas will not expand unless there is a customer who really wants and needs that product.
The first two of those pillars—the product and operations—usually are set forth in the first few years. Then you spend the rest of your days and budget finding new customers.
Think of it this way. Launching a new product of any kind without marketing is like having a party and forgetting to send invitations. Who will come? Who will know it exists? Worse yet, your competitors who are taking the time to market will stomp you before you have a chance to say, “Who are you?”
In the United States, we live in a very competitive market. No idea is original. Even if it is great. Even if you have customers who are dying for you to solve their problems. If they don’t know you exist, you will wither and fade away.
Buried in bottle washing
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 20 percent of small businesses fail in the first year. Those are the guys who spend their time and money hiring lawyers to get patents and set up corporations without making sure they have a market. They are the people who are so busy making their product and go home dog tired every day but have not thought twice about how to reach their customer.
My company consists of product launch specialists who work with inventors and startups every day. We’ve seen this over and over again.
Starting a business and launching a product is confusing. It’s like having kids; few know what to do. You make it up as you go along.
My business started because I got fired from a PR agency job and was going through a divorce. Who knew that kind of pain would create my dream life in Malibu? I happen to be a marketer, so growing my business was second nature to me.
There are thousands of ways to market your business, but you need to just choose one for now. Once you choose that path, hire a great marketer to do the work and focus on watching all three aspects of your business and make them better.
Go find money to add on the next marketing tactic. Look for partners and relationships with other entities that will expand your footprint. Do that for at least one year until you have a solid customer base, operations humming along smoothly and revenue coming in the door.
After that, you can think about adding more product and other layers of operations and marketing to support that.
Marketing choices abound
Your goal is to remain the chef. You want to have the freedom to create, to be a visionary. You may spend some of your time being the cook, making things happen.
You will still have some moments when you’re washing bottles, but not much. As time goes on, your goal is to spend more than 60 percent of your time being the chef and have other team members doing the cooking and bottle washing.
You’re going to have to make decisions, the best ones that you can, as fast as possible. Use the information that you have to move forward every day.
If you find yourself back in that same familiar place of doing all the work—and worse yet, not being able to delegate to your team, you have had a setback. It’s OK. Take a breath and start over again.
Once you have a product, you know who your customer is and your operations are fairly stable, you’ve got to make marketing method selections.
Here’s a way to make a good decision and do it quickly: Find an approach that’s quick to implement. Look for something that does not require a PhD to understand. Find a tactic that gets you the widest possible spread of communication to your customer as possible.
The most important thing about this first marketing choice is that it provides a way for a customer to transact—give you money. You can do your homework and look into all of these marketing choices, then see what fits:
- Affiliate programs
- Banner ads
- Influencer marketing
- Pay-for-play radio
- Social media marketing
- Trade advertising
- Trade shows
PR: Cheaper, more effective
I wrote an article titled “Mysteries of Marketing,” which lists a slew of marketing choices, how they work and what they cost.
It’s endless and confusing when you aren’t familiar with it all. I could spend a few hours explaining the entire marketing landscape to you, and maybe I should sometime. But for now, just know that PR is the cheapest marketing method. It’s also the most effective and believable to your customer.
You can start with advertising, but I do not recommend it. First, it’s the most expensive way to go. Second, every kind of paid advertising loses credibility in customers’ minds because they know you paid for the space and can say whatever you want.
This includes influencers. Everyone knows they are paid to fawn over a sweater or recommend a mascara; it’s not a real opinion but a biased advertisement. But if your product is mentioned in an article, in a TV or radio report, it gives context and information that is perceived as objective. Your customers get to make their own decision about why it’s helpful to them.
I know this, because PR is what I do for a living. But there is an integral part of this process that you can do yourself. You can write your own press release. You can send it to the media and try to persuade it to report about you.
You don’t have to be Richard Branson for the press to report about your product!
The chef/cook/bottle washer syndrome must be in your control if you want to succeed.