By Andrew Neitlich

Insights into why some of you aren’t taking enough action to market your business

By Andrew Neitlich

Last week a couple of clients came to grips with the fact that they weren’t taking enough action to grow their business. They are both smart, both likeable, and both want to build an IT services firm.

Yet both admitted that they are being lazy when it comes to marketing their business.

As we pushed deeper into why, here are some of the underlying reasons for that lack of action:

– Fear of calling people and having them say no.

– Dislike for authority. As one business owner said, “I went to work for myself to avoid having a boss. Now it seems like every client is a boss, and so I have 100 bosses.”

– Difficulty getting excited about working for some of the business out there. To this person, too many businesses have questionable morals or sell something/market in a way that doesn’t fit their own values.

After some hard questions to confirm they were really cut out for self-employment, here is how we knocked out all three issues, in case you share any of those:

1. They are creating a list of local businesses they want to serve with their solutions — businesses that they can get excited about and that don’t conflict with their morals. That way, they will feel good about approaching them and talking about their IT/web sites.

2. We will role play about how to approach those businesses, so that these prospects will be more likely to talk to them. (More on this next blog, or the one after that).

3. We will do an exercise so that “no” means “no” and nothing else — and so no one will take it personally. (More on this exercise next blog).

4. They’ll focus on taking small actions every week, to develop the habit of making marketing a priority.

It is easy to reply to this blog in a way that lacks compassion for the above issues. Personally, I’m always surprised by how many people start their own business to get away from “the boss” only to find that self-employment is a much harder road; after all, when you are on your own there’s no one left to blame when things don’t work out, and you really do get multiple bosses.

But these issues are fairly common. Rather than criticize these folks — especially when they are confronting their issues honestly — look at your own situation and ask what specific steps you can take to do what it takes to market your business effectively.

  • One way of taking a ‘no’ that I find valuable is to see it as ‘not now’, rather than ‘never’
    Works for me :)

  • however, when the ‘no’ really means ‘never’, it’s misleading to wrap it up as a ‘not now’ (at least in the long term)…

  • cholmon

    I would fall into the category of people who think they are cut out for self-employment, but after giving it a shot, discover they are not. I spent about 2 years with a friend of mine trying to get a web development shop off the ground. We both had the technical talent and desire, but my biggest headache was exactly what Andrew is talking about: marketing. I had no desire to get out in front of people to try to sell our services. I basically just wanted to be a complete code-monkey, but it took me awhile to realize the my mentality would be much more compatible with a company that was already established, where I could focus the vast majority of my energy on what I really wanted to be doing. I think the lure of freedom and the potential for a big payoff can blind people like me, especially when we lack the experience to truly understand everything that goes into making a business really work.

  • I have some of the same thoughts as I start up my biz. One more issue that I have is how to approach small businesses with proposals knowing that they do not understand the value of the services offered.

  • sspivey

    I am in that spot right now. I have 5 ideas aznd partially developed projects that have been identified as having defined markets that will purchase. My issue is that, although I have been in sales in a past life, it’s not how I want to spend my time. What I need is to outsource the selling.

  • droidmcse

    So what do us geeks that aren’t sales people do? Is Mr. Neitlich professional service the only type of solution? How much is a fair price to get gigs to keep you busy?

  • Chris McMAhon

    Another way to look at “no” is that it moves you one step closer to a yes.

  • Chris

    Hire a salesperson. And if you can find a salesperson with some geeky qualities even better. I’m one of those – it’s worked well for me so far.

    IMO – fair pay will be a base that lets somebody feed the kids in a bad month, but not so cushy that they can or want to live on the base. In a pure services model – commission of 10% of revenue seems reasonable. Unfortunately, that set up is often very hard to do for the small shop.

    I’ve often thought I could build a decent business as an independent sales guy working with several small shops. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the capital in reserve to take the plunge.

  • JR

    The “geeks” can hire sales people to market your product and service for you. I would advise finding someone who is “part-geek” who knows what you are talking about yet can communicate to the average person why your product or service will benefit their business.

  • Xelion

    I’ll be going into business within the next 6 months and I’m quite surprised about some of the issues Andrew has brought up, and also some of the comments already posted.

    One of the many reasons I’m actually going into business for myself is the “the boss” issue. I don’t have a dislike for authority and neither does it matter if I’m a boss or not. It’s more about being able to use my creative skills to contribute towards the work I do, and having a boss might actually stand in the way of that especially one that only works to work or have a paycheck every week. I think there is more to ‘the boss” than just disliking authority or wanting to be one. I honestly don’t see how a client can be a ‘boss’ ??

  • Wouldn’t it be great if you could outsource the services of a marketing/sales person in the same way that you can a web developer in the Trading Post forums! One of those things that would be great in theory I suppose.

  • As Michael Gerber has said, “Most small business owners are not entrepreneurs. Most small business owners are technicians, suffering from an entrepreneurial seizure!”.

    The pizza maker opens a pizza shop, the floral arranger opens a florist shop. And in our case the coder opens a coding shop.

    What do we all have in common? We have no idea how to build a business. We have no marketing, people or financial skills.

    Technicians get so consumed with doing it doing it, doing it, that they don’t have time to grow their business.

    Whereas an entrepreneur is solely interested in growing his business, not doing the work.

    It is hard to combine the two. In fact if you want to run a successfull coding shop it would be best if you didn’t even know how to code a “Hello World” script.

  • Justin


  • Huntdawg

    You know, I read about all these web design companies not doing well, and shoot I’ve worked in a couple of them. The thing that I’ve noticed in all of the posts and from my prior bosses is that everyone seems to focus on the wrong things, code and getting the product completed and to market. But there’s something else. Relationships. I try to ensure that I develop the relationship first and the website and applications later.

    In my business I’ve proven that a $500 template website can turn into $5000+ worth of business down the road. Gain the client’s trust first, hug them along the way, and you’ll turn a one-time client into a lifetime friend.

    At the other web design companies that I worked for, they just focused on the website and the application and not what the client really wanted (heck what we all want)… service. People like to be taken care of. They love it!

    For instance, I send a thank you card to the client after the initial meeting and at least halfway through the project and definitely when the site launches. I pay attention to their needs along the way and adjust. You’d be amazed at the response I’ve gotten just from sending a simple hand written thank you card. It’s truly amazing. I

  • Matt

    Well for all of you people who don’t know how to market, here’s a quick list of things that are easy to do.

    1. Build your own website. It kind of sounds stupid, but some people who develop sites don’t have their own. If you are strapped for time, don’t focus on flashy graphics, but more content and what you do.

    2. Submit a press release to your local newspaper. Yes, it’s free, and most of the time your writers for your local newspaper are looking for a story. Be sure to write about how you helped a company make money. Try to write a story for them, MAKE THEIR JOB EASY.

    3. Go to a sign shop and get a few signs made. It might cost you about $200 or so, but it’s money well spent. Unlike the political signs that you see on the side of the road, they work.

    4. Be sure to tell your friends, you might want to drop them an email if you don’t feel like talking about it. If they don’t know, they can’t recommend it.

    That should help a little bit.

  • I completely agree with Huntdawg, relationships the simgle most important thing for a small service business owner to have.
    As a friend of mine, who works in a huge chemical company, says: “When we look for new salesmen, we absolutely don’t care if they don’t know anything about our products, we’ll train them… By contrast, people who have very deep knowledge of what we do, but can’t sell, are of no use!”
    Note: Of course, having one guy with the whole package would be great, but it’s very rare.
    Applied to a small services business, it’s the same. You may be the best designer in the world, but if the closest relationship you have is with you pet snake, I doubt you’ll succeed.
    IMO, that’s why we should outsource our sales and marketing if we know we won’t be able to sell, or if we discover it once we took the plunge…
    That’s what I’m planning to do in the next few weeks, because I’m aware my business growth is actually limited by my (very limited) personal social skills, And NO, I have no pet snake… (just a little, absolutely adorable dutch dwarf rabbit ;) ).

    Also, submitting a press release seems like a darn good idea to receive free publicity, Matt. Thanks for the tip.

    Finally, for those wanting to take the plunge (especially without a lot of seed capital) but fearing it won’t work, I would suggest trying to start VERY small, keeping their job and doing some work after hours. I know it’s not always possible, but it worked for me. I started working on very small tasks, like creating custom Excel and Access files for an accounting company, doing some consulting work, etc… And then came the day when I could leave my day job, having already a few clients and a few projects in the pipeline.
    There are obviously pros and cons to that approach. On the cons side, you might not afford to take on a big project because of lack of time (and it might not be the good time to leave your job if you have only one project, because after that, you’ll still have to make a living).
    But for me, the advantages outweigh that fact: During the months I worked on those tiny projects, I could build very strong relationships with some clients. Buy the time I started my business full-time, they knew and trust me well enough as to give me more (and bigger) projects.
    Secondly, I learned how to run my business. The obligations are basically the same whether you earn $100 or $100,000 a month, so there are no big surprises once you take the plunge. And should I have discovered I was not able to do it on my own, I could just have dropped that business and continued to work in an office.
    Oh, and if you think it would be too difficult to just go back home after work to start working again, IMO having your own business isn’t the right thing for you. I think many will agree that the level of commitment needed to run their own business is on the same level as religious fanatism ;)

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