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Neil Tortorella is Creative Latitude's Chief Copywriter, as well as being responsible for the day to day wrestling of important bits that enables CL to operate.

Neil is also a veteran graphic designer with over 25 years' experience in developing identities, collateral and web solutions for both large and small companies. Based in Northeast Ohio, Tortorella Design has received numerous awards for design excellence.

If you are new to design or the business of design, don't forget to drop by Neil's newbies.

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The Marketing Mentor: an interview with Ilise Benun
by Neil Tortorella

It's not the easiest thing to juggle being the chief cook and bottle-washer of your creative enterprise. We tend to wear many hats — creative professional, bookkeeper, office manager, janitor, sales person and marketer. At times, it's tough to not drop a ball or two. One that often falls to the ground is marketing.

We have the best of intentions. We've all roughed out a stack of promos that quietly go to the bottom of the pile, never to see the light of day. We gathered decks of business cards and phone numbers on napkins, but we never seem to have time to follow up. We need help. But where to find it?

In the world of creatives, when one thinks about self promotion and marketing, Ilise Benun's name immediately comes to mind. Her books, articles, seminars and presentations have helped scores of independents expand their marketing horizons and reach their goals. Ilise also provides a unique service to independent business people, ÷The Marketing Mentor Program,÷ through which she plays the role of mother hen for the promotionally challenged.

Going straight to the guru for the answers seemed to make sense. So, to follow is an interview with Ms. Benun which sheds some light on how we can get our marketing acts together.

NT: Designers, writers and other creatives are usually very adept in promoting their clients' companies, products and/or services, yet they often have great difficulty in marketing and promoting themselves and their business. Why do you suppose that is? Are there typical traits or shortcomings that consistently appear within the creative community?

IB: From what I can tell, most of the resistance to self promotion is based on beliefs people have about themselves, which aren't necessarily true — or don't have to be. For example, many creatives tell me they're not the outgoing type and they don't like to brag. (Often, they were told by their mother not to brag, and I point out that their mother probably didn't know they'd need to promote their services.) But in fact, self promotion has nothing to do with bragging. When I say, "Self Promotion isn't about you," what I mean is that promoting yourself is simply the effort of interacting with other people, finding out what they need and whether you can help them. You should never say, "I'm the best designer in town." That is bragging! The closest you should ever come is, "I'm confident I can do the work and I'd love to have the opportunity."

The other common thread I find is this: because many creatives prefer the creating their work to promoting their work, they easily find reasons not to. Paying projects (or even watering the plants) can be enough of a distraction, unless someone is holding their feet to the fire. It's not just creatives, though. The majority of self employed people I meet are in the same boat. Working independently presents another challenge. There's no boss, colleague or even a partner to hold you accountable, so it's easy to just keep pushing self promotional activities and tasks to the back burner.

NT: What do you see as the biggest challenge for creatives in creating a workable, realistic marketing plan?

IB: Creating the plan isn't the problem. In fact, I find most of my clients know what they need to be doing, they just can't (or don't) make themselves do it. That's where Marketing Mentor comes in.

NT: How does your Marketing Mentor service help creatives overcome these challenges?

IB: There are two elements involved: first is accountability. If you haven't developed the inner discipline to do your marketing, you need another person to be accountable to. It's that simple. Many creatives have worked in an agency where they are accountable to a client, a boss and/or colleagues. But when you transition to a solo practice, you lose that. So you must either create it for yourself or hire someone to teach you how. That's what the mentoring program offers. Many of my clients tell me, "I wouldn't have made those phone calls if we didn't have an appointment scheduled." They know themselves and they know what they wouldn't be doing. The odd thing is that when they do their marketing, they feel great because it is fruitful and, inevitably, never as painful as they imagined.

The second element is teaching the "marketing mindset," which is a way of looking at the world and seeing opportunities in almost anything that comes along, then knowing how to take advantage of it. The tailored aspect of the Marketing Mentor program allows me to offer the perfect idea or nugget of info at the perfect moment for it to be used.

NT: How does the service work?

IB: The structure is simple. The program is 6 months long and it involves a weekly half hour phone call and a homework list (which is actually the action plan in disguise) that gets updated every week. So on the phone, we go over the list, talk about what got done, what didn't, what else needs to be done, etc. Then a revised homework list is generated as the action plan for the next week. In between phone calls, I'm on call (via email mostly) to answer questions, edit correspondence and give feedback on little things that come up every day.

NT: Please describe what an action plan is?

IB: Here's an example of an action plan, which is really the homework list:

  • New business cards arrived. Send to John and recent networking connections. See if there is anyone else you can touch base with.

  • Chamber breakfast follow up. Letter with new business card.

  • Next networking events: choose at least one per week.

  • Dream client: Esther Smith from Chronicle Books. Is it worth your time to travel to SF. Call + email.

  • New target market: Travel guides/catalogs:

  • Amsterdam/Montgomery County: look thru catalog, find out about upcoming events, send info packet? Attend their next event.

  • Warren County: call to find out how to get into the bidding process. Find the contact. Fax your info. Make a personal contact.

  • Schenectady: look at brochure. Call and get more info about what they do. Is it just that one brochure? Find out about their events too.
NT: What results can a creative expect after implementing the action plans?

IB: On the most concrete level, we set a few realistic goals at the beginning of the process — like "get 3 new clients or projects within 6 months" — and if you follow the process and the plan, it's easy to achieve.

On a more abstract level, a creative can expect to completely change the way they see the world and their work in the world. After two sessions, one client recently said, "You have completely focused me. What I used to hate doing, I am actually enjoying."

NT: Please provide one or two case study highlights.

IB: That client who has gotten focused so quickly is actually quite typical. She had too many different ideas about what she should be doing to promote her services, and she had taken baby steps on most of them. But she was too scattered and haphazard in her efforts. She'd sent out a single mailing a year before and she couldn't understand why no one was calling her with referrals. But she's a new client.

Here's someone I've been working with every week for 4 months now.

Client: Harry, copywriter.

Core problem: Harry, had always worked for a big company but was changing careers and going out on his own with a brand new set of services and skills (copywriting) and he knew nothing about self promotion.

My involvement:
With Harry, I started from scratch. The first thing I advised was that he go out and meet people in his local business community and tell them what he did (i.e. networking) to see where and what the actual needs are. Harry identified himself as one of those introverts but agreed to put that aside in order to build a business. So he attended lots of networking events, had conversations, exchanged business cards and then together, he and I evaluated which groups offered the best opportunities for him.

Implementation: Harry researched the different ways he could become involved in the local groups, such as volunteering to be on a committee, an experience which would allow him to show what he knows and get to know people so much better than if he just attended a monthly meeting. I'm also teaching him how to proactively follow up with people he meets who express interest, even if they're not quite ready to sign on the dotted line. And I recently coached Harry through the proposal writing process for his first major prospect, a business owner who basically wanted to put him on retainer (which actually scared Harry a bit).

Results: After just 4 months, Harry has just completed his first real project (he's framed a copy of that check). He has a list of 10 qualified and interested prospects that he is pursuing actively. He was also invited to give a presentation on brochure copywriting, which positions him as an expert in his field.

Client: Lauri Baram, owner of Panarama Design

Core problem: Lauri was my very first "marketing mentee" and we've been working together over two years now. The original problem was that she wasn't doing much marketing and she had work, but it wasn't the work she wanted and she always felt at the mercy of whoever happened to call her.

My involvement: We've accomplished a lot together over the past two years and I have become like a partner in Lauri's business, getting to know her and her clients as we talk through situations that come up and decisions she makes about the growth of her business. I've helped Lauri approach new clients and new markets, guided her through the process of creating a web site, deciding on everything from content to layout. But the most effective marketing tool that I have helped Lauri develop is her email marketing campaign.

Implementation: Lauri's email marketing campaign consists of a monthly, text-based message that she sends to a growing list of (currently) 300+ clients, prospects and colleagues, all of whom have "opted-in" — in other words, they want her to keep in touch with them through email and have agreed to receive these messages.

Lauri initiated her email-marketing campaign upon her return from the 2002 HOW Design Conference in Orlando, FL, because she wanted to share what she'd learned with her network. The response was so positive that this single effort quickly became a monthly email newsletter.

Results: Finding her content style took a little while. Lauri didn't want to send marketing advice because half of her network is made up of marketing professionals. And she didn't want to send design advice because the rest of the list is made up of designers and artists. She did, however, want it to be useful, though not specifically tip-oriented.

What has evolved is a monthly personal message that's also an effective way to reach out to multiple audiences with content of interest to everyone. Each issue is different; taken together they cover a wide range of topics. In a recent issue, Lauri wrote about how the film "Frida" inspired her creativity. Another carried the subject line, "Are you working too hard for your own good?" and provided an excerpt from a recent book that she had found useful. Another covered the cost of improperly prepared graphic files and offered a checklist of how to avoid prepress problems to save money.

From a Marketing Mentor perspective, though, the most important result is that Lauri has found the process of marketing to be a creative outlet. "I'm stretching myself by making a personal statement, which I don't get a chance to do in my client work," she says. " Plus, I'm a much better writer than I realized."

NT: Any last words?
IB: You know, after helping people promote their services for 15 years, I have finally figured out what they need, because I can offer all the good advice in the world, but if my client doesn't have the discipline to use it, it's of no use."

So this mentoring program — helping people grow their businesses, seeing the fruits of their labor and knowing I was part of it — it is extremely rewarding work and I am grateful to be doing it.

If Marketing Mentor sounds like it's for you, there's more info here: www.marketing-mentor.html


For more information contact Ilise Benun, author of Self Promotion Online and Designing Web Sites for Every Audience.


Sign up for Ilise's Quick Online Marketing Tips e-newsletter here:
www.artofselfpromotion.com/tips.html

©2004, Ilise Benun

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