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
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 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:
NT: What results can a creative expect after implementing
the action plans?
- New business cards arrived. Send to John and recent networking
connections. See if there is anyone else you can touch base
- Chamber breakfast follow up. Letter with new business
- 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
- Warren County: call to find out how to get into the bidding
process. Find the contact. Fax your info. Make a personal
- 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.
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
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
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
Client: Lauri Baram, owner of Panarama
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
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.
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©2004, Ilise Benun