Have you heard the oft-quoted meme that 90% of businesses fail within the first 3 years? Or 5 years? Or 2?
Have you heard that 75% of statistics are made up on the spot? (Get the joke?) Yeah, business failure is one of those statistics, but according to a blog I found reading other blogs yesterday, the real number is 33% of small businesses will close due to failure in the first 6 years.
In a similar manner, the NY Times tells us that there are 10 reasons small businesses fail, including the math doesn’t add up (too small a market, etc.), poor management (lack of focus and vision), and being in a declining market.
Whether it is 90% of businesses who fail or 33% of businesses, starting a small business is hard. One of the hardest things you could possibly do. To make it easier, I am going to show in this post how marketing helps your business survive.
This paragraph definition for marketing is one of many I found at Heidi Cohen’s site.
The one idea I want to take from this definition is in the middle of the post:
“However, since the emergence of digital media, … [marketing] has increasingly become more about companies building deeper, more meaningful, and lasting relationships with the people that they want to buy their products and services.”
Marketing is about relationships.
This is what has inspired me to look at marketing as an art form, as a collaborative creative process. If you have ever played in a symphony, you realize that certain types of art require a collaborative creative process. Marketing is one of these arts.
Good marketing involves input from customers, from the public, from your business alliance partners, and more.
So, an original definition of The Art of Marketing:
The art of marketing is a collaborative process using the best of design, content, and analytics tools to create a beautiful process where customers are served by a business.
Now, there are two types of great artists: those who work from their art, and those who work for their art.
Johann Sebastian Bach worked from his art; as a worship leader and performer, he was constantly creating music for his patrons in order to earn an income. He did not become popular until long after he died, when his art was discovered by Felix Mendelssohn.
Vincent Van Gogh worked for his art. He painted because his image of the world demanded an outlet. His first successful art exhibit of 71 paintings was in 1901, 11 years after his death.
Neither of these great artists are the ideal we want in a wealth consumption world, but when it comes to keeping your business alive through the first 6 years, they are both inspirational.
Surviving the first 6 years requires a dedication to your business that many other people will not understand. “I am going to be rich.” is not a statement that will keep you going. A marketing minded mission gives you the strength to continue working when customers cancel, when your emails get ignored, when no one visits your website for weeks.
All of these things may happen to you, and what will you do to keep going when they do? The marketing mindset helps get through mortal wounds of a profit-motive business.
- “I cannot get clients.” – Consistent content creation is key to getting new clients. A marketing artist creates for the joy of creation and failure to acquire new clients is motive to find other solutions while continuing to work on your business. In the 10 years I have been learning marketing, I have worked at over 10 different jobs and business ideas, including giving maternity shots to over 7000 cows. If I can do that while practicing my art, what can you do to provide while your business grows?
- “My clients don’t pay enough.” – Art understands different levels of involvement. Some people want to enjoy art, some people want to participate. Some patrons need a single small item, others want consistent new content. Combining art and business understands that diversity in customer levels is key to practice.
- “I don’t have enough products or services.” – Marketing is about finding the product mix that your customers need. Art is about creating for the joy of it. When you combine art and marketing, you will create out of habit and this problem will be reversed.
- “I don’t know who my ideal client is.” – This is understandable if you are just starting out. As an artist, remember that your first client is yourself. I have heard many marketers say that you are not your own ideal client, and I disagree. Your first client is yourself, because if you do not enjoy what you do, why do you expect anyone else to?
- “I don’t have ANY clients.” – Find something else to do. Seriously, if you have no clients, find some work to do and find a place where you can get paid to do your work. Online, I have found work at Freelancer, Thumbtack, Wyzant, and Blogmutt. Offline I have found work from my coworking spot, my church, family, and local music stores who needed teachers. Keep looking for a client until you find one, and you might learn something about your own aesthetic along the way.
The First 3 Years
Getting through the first 3 years of a business is going to be the hardest part. But, treating your marketing as an artist will help in all aspects of your business. As such, here are the final 5 areas the art of marketing will help you grow your business through the first 3 years and beyond.
Plan to Fail
I once heard of an author who bought all the copies of his first book because he thought it was not fit to publish. I have seen master potters throw 3 to 5 pots, breaking them down each time, until they find one they like. It took me 4 years to realize I was a poor violinist, and another 4 to actually sound good.
Artists fail all the time.
In business, do not plan all your success on one product. This does not honor your target market, does not help you plan for a product lifecycle, and does not give you opportunities to succeed when you do fail.
If you plan at least 3 product lines (currently mine are writing, consulting, affiliate sales, full-service marketing, tutoring, and violin teaching), you can succeed financially even if you have a 66% failure rate.
Give Yourself Time
Do not start a business when you need income yesterday. Two of my business failures were because I tried relying on them to provide for my family too early. Here are some things you can do to give yourself time to start a business:
- Get part time work – Many part time jobs are easy enough that you can think through your business while doing repetitive tasks.
- Drastically cut costs – What can family, friends, and customers do to help you out? This is the point where bartering makes sense, and if you have to spend time living in your parent’s house or your brother’s spare room, that’s ok.
- Learn to DIY – You don’t know how long it will take to find something that clicks. During that time, you might have to do a lot of menial tasks because you cannot afford to do otherwise.
Learning an art takes time, and you need to give yourself that time in your business. Make certain that you are actually making enough money to pay for your four walls (food, housing, transportation, clothes) before you cut the cord to your part or full-time job.
Test, Change, Test, Change
In marketing speak they call this split-testing (try out two variations of a marketing theme and keep the better one), in music it’s called woodshedding.
Again, you don’t know what will make your business successful, so practice many things and keep what works.
Build Collaborative Relationships
The vision of the solitary artist is as romantic as it is false.
Vincent Van Gogh would still be a moody artistic failure if it wasn’t for his sister-in-law’s belief in him, even after he died.
Handel’s Messiah never would have been performed without the support of nearly one hundred other musicians: violinists, trumpeters, flutists, choral singers, operatic stars, and more.
The more your business grows, the more you will need collaborative relationships.
Focus on Your Art
Starting a business is not for everyone. Mike Rowe tried to work with his hands many times before he built a business empire in show business about people working with their hands. There are still many successful business people who work within other businesses, and there is no shame in that.
If you want to start a business, it has to be larger than your desire for financial or schedule freedom. Starting a business, growing a business, and keeping a business is a passion, you need passion to drive it.
For me, my marketing is my art, for a counselor it is the finished product of healthy children. For an inventory handling business, your art is happy clients enjoying your product.
The art of marketing is a great tool to ensure that your business continues now and in the future. If you do not have the time or energy to do your own marketing, why don’t you send me an email and see if I can help you with your business?