Why traditional marketing doesn't work for creative entrepreneurs

Last week I talked about why 2015 was the toughest year in business for me and why I thought it was time for a marketing revolution. Today, I want to chat about why traditional marketing efforts seldom work out in the long-term for creative entrepreneurs or bloggers, and the dangerous new trends that are taking hold in this industry. 

Aside from the now well-understood fact that traditional advertising is dying, creative entrepreneurs inhabit a different space in the world than do large corporations, and we have very different business models and target markets. So inherently, we should be able to gather that what works for large corporations may not be the best strategy for small businesses, specifically those run by creative entrepreneurs. We can look to Coca-Cola for marketing ideas, but is that our best bet? Or would we be better served looking to a small artisan we admire? 

What allowed marketplaces like Etsy to thrive, and what can we attribute to the success of small handmade artists and businesses? In one word: relationship. More and more people value relationship over cost, so even though that local shirt maker charges three times as much for a t-shirt than Old Navy or Target, people will buy it. They value the relationship, the process an artist takes to create that t-shirt and the knowledge that their purchase does something positive for another. When a growing percentage of the population begins to care about the behind-the-scenes moments of the people who make the items they own, a shift happens. People are no longer satisfied to give their money to greedy, manipulative companies. Gone are the days of tolerating being sold to, yelled at or manipulated.

Unfortunately, though, there's a trend taking hold in entrepreneurial circles that is beginning to resemble the same greed and manipulation practiced by multi-million dollar companies. It's not a surprise; greed is tempting, even for the best of us. Seeing another in your industry bragging about the six-figure income she's making can be incredibly tempting. You sign up for the free printable she offers as a tease to a future e-course. She begins to bombard your inbox with more and more teasers, employing practices like emotional manipulation to convince you that you must do X, follow Y, use Z. Eventually, those teases lead to a free webinar that ends with a course offer. By this point, you are fully convinced that the only way you can continue to run your business, and increase your success, is by signing up for this course you can't afford. She offers a payment plan, so you jump on that immediately! Yes, I can totally do $100/mo. I don't have $1000 for the course, but $100/mo I do have, you say.

The next week, you hear her telling all her followers about her $100,000 launch and her $500,000 yearly profit. Wait, what? I've just committed myself to money I don't have for a course that I was emotionally manipulated into signing up for that isn't what was promised and she's bragging about having a $500,000 year from "passive income?" 

You feel punched in the gut. Manipulated. Angry.

Dear ones, I know I'm not the only one who has been duped into this sales cycle. I know because I've read plenty of posts like this one, then listened in the comments as many other people expressed their same frustrations. I've watched countless girls blow off steam in business groups about the $1000 they spent on a course that they couldn't afford that wasn't worth a fraction of that cost, meanwhile the course owners were now raking in multiple six-figures and bragging about how little they have to work. 

It's disheartening to see the world of the handmade and creative entrepreneurs shifting toward the same practices used by big business. Etsy rocketed to success because people were so over being shouted at. They wanted to feel they were part of something bigger. 

People buy from makers because they want to be heard and they want to feel. The average consumer is more aware of manipulative and shady business practices today than ever before. We know when we aren't being cared for and we'll take our money elsewhere. Courses aren't an inherently bad thing. In fact, I sign up for and love my Hey Sweet Pea newsletters because I feel truly cared for. They don't sing the same song and dance as many coaches and if you're a part of their Facebook group, you'll understand what I mean when I say everyone there feels cared for and valued tremendously. Their course selections are completely affordable and totally worth it. I love Elle & Co. - and she's a course seller - but five minutes on her blog and you realize quickly that Lauren is a GIVER in every sense of the word. And then there's Nose Graze - she spent the first part of her course launch telling you why you shouldn't buy her course. For truly authentic givers who coach because they love their customers and believe in them and their abilities, it must be tremendously frustrating to see the manipulation that runs wild and unchecked in this industry.

When we shift our focus almost solely to numbers - whether followers or income or a perfectly orchestrated set of steps we must follow because such-and-such coach tells us it's imperative - something changes. When our customers try to talk to us, they become an interruption to something we now consider more important work - "proper" marketing. I know this painfully well, friends, because I lived this. This was my reality last year, and every tiny nook and cranny of my business suffered. I very nearly walked away from it entirely.

Look at the success of TOMS, who began the one-for-one movement, and its public perception and compare that to Walmart or McDonald's. While Walmart and McDonald's aren't hurting for money by any stretch of the imagination, a larger segment of the population is choosing to take their money elsewhere. I haven't heard a soul say they feel that either company is ethical or good stewards of their resources or the environment. Their public perception is one of greed; doing harm to their customers if it benefits their bottom line. Some people will continue to patron both businesses either for financial reasons or because their food is addicting, but nobody does it because they feel good about it at the end of the day. 

As a small maker, would you prefer to be more like a Walmart or a TOMS? Would you prefer greater profits with a poor public perception and the knowledge that you've manipulated others into buying what you have to sell, or would you prefer to make less money but truly love on and care about your customers? 

Oh friends, I wish I could wrap you up in a big hug and remind you that you're completely, uniquely qualified to do exactly what you're doing. Read a few business books, read the blog posts of others whom you admire. Certainly work on or outsource the more business-y parts of your business. Because many of us creatives are no good at that stuff anyway; that's why we usually aren't the ones running big businesses. But don't fall victim to the lie that you're not enough until you spend $500 or $1000 to some expert to teach you how to be exactly like they are. The world doesn't need more of what it already has. It wants your own unique spin on it. This is exactly how the handmade movement took hold, and why it's been sustainable. 

We run very small businesses and we have the beautiful opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with our clientele that big box companies never can for this very reason. Not only would employing the same marketing tactics of big businesses not work, they'll backfire. The sort of people who want to buy what you're selling don't take kindly to manipulation and while you may see it working temporarily for others, I promise you, friends, it is not permanent or lasting success. One can only manipulate another for so long. 

We want to be known for the care and compassion we have for our customers. We don't want to be infamous for emotionally manipulating others. 

Every time you find yourself tempted to click on the article titled, "How to convince people they need what you're selling," or, "Ten headlines that drive traffic," or, "The psychology of the sales cycle," look away. You won't like where that path takes you, and your customers won't, either. 

Go out and be you, unabashedly. YOU are exactly what your customers are looking for. 

I want to take a quick second to blow kisses in the way of my husband, who has been my encourager and truth-teller through this entire ride. No matter how often I told him I had to be like everyone else to succeed, he assured me I didn't, so I owe this entire post to him.