Focus on the Problem, not the Solution

“Focus on the solution, not the problem” said Jim Rohn. 

Sorry Jim, I’m going to have to disagree with you there. When you’ve got your marketing hat on for your small business, first and foremost, focus on the problem. Focus on the problems of your ideal client, understand them, and only then focus on your solution to those problems. 

In a recent blog, The Right Marketing at The Right Time, I explored the first vital steps that are needed when developing a successful marketing strategy. The first was ‘who’, so understanding who you help, understanding the problems you solve. The second was ‘why’, so why should they listen to you over everyone else, why are you best placed to help solve their problem. 

When we skip the ‘who’ and the ‘why’ and delve straight into the ‘what’, so what you’re selling, your solution, without fully understanding the problem it solves, marketing it can become an uphill struggle. Yet it’s a struggle that I discovered many SME’s found themselves in…

When carrying out some market research to determine the direction that I should take my business in, I came across a statistic that, well, frustrated me if I’m honest. It was that “45% of small businesses said that competition in the market is a major obstacle to the success of their business.” It was right up there with red tape and regulations!! 

The default stance may be “well I can’t control the competition”….and of course you can’t control what your competitors do, but there is something you do have control over. 

· You have control over your response to the competition.  

· You have control to differentiate yourself from the competition. 

· You have control to put yourself in a place where there is no competition. 

But that takes a strategic approach, one that defines the ‘who’ and the ‘why’ before the ‘what’, an approach that goes beyond short-term tactics and tools. 

As I continued my research on social media platforms, monitoring networking groups, the concern that competition was an obstacle to business owners’ success was reinforced. Business owners and freelancers asking for advice on how to solve the ‘I’m struggling to attract new clients’ problem, and the ‘there’s too much competition in the market’ problem, were typically met with solutions that involved doing more. More short-term tactical stuff….

· Be on more social media platforms

· Spend more money on Facebook Ads

· Spend more money on Google Ads

· Spend more on your website 

· Spend more on SEO 

As small business owners and freelancers with limited resources, doing more doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Yet it can be the solution that many are convinced they need because so many people are telling them that. We’re led to believe that digital marketing tools and tactics are the answer to our problems. 

All of this is what led me to my decision to focus on back to basics, strategic marketing. Those principles of marketing that have not been made obsolete by the introduction of digital marketing, but seem to have got lost in all of the hype. The principles of marketing that can actually result in you doing less, but gaining more, by taking a more targeted approach to marketing. 

If I had purely focused on the solutions that people were looking for or thought they needed, or the solutions that were already been offered in abundance, then I probably would have taken my business down the digital marketing route….most likely with no success! By just focusing on the problem first, we can uncover those things that our ideal client is either unaware of, or those things that they underestimate the importance of. 

I must confess to doubting whether the solution I had devised was the right way to go, but then in October 2018 I read an article in Marketing Week, where a survey uncovered that 75% of marketers agreed that short-term tactical needs often took the priority over long-term objectives. That’s marketers themselves admitting to this! The same article stated that this impacts marketing effectiveness, and not in a good way. 

So, if marketers themselves fall into the trap of focusing on short-term tactical needs then I wouldn’t beat yourself up too much as a small business owner if you’ve found yourself in the same position! 

This sealed it for me and I’ll continue to bang my back to basics, strategic marketing drum. I’ll continue to focus on back to basics marketing that helps move your business forward. And to come back to Jim, yes, it is important to focus on the solution, but only when you fully understand the problem.

The Right Marketing at The Right Time

“The right product, in the right place, at the right time.” 

“The right message, to the right person, at the right time.”

The world of marketing is awash with these proverbs.  

It’s also a world of great variation, one with many different views of what marketing actually is, even from marketers themselves, because there’s quite an assortment of flavours out there..

Digital Marketers

Marketers that plan

Brand Marketers 

Campaign planners

Social Media Marketers

Marketers that develop products

Content Marketers

Follow my 5-step blueprint and make 7 figures in 3 ½ minutes Marketers

Dare I say it, Bull Shit Marketers

It can be an overwhelming subject for small business owners, what on earth do you focus on and when? 

So although us marketers can chant our mantras “the right message, to the right person, at the right time”, how do you, as a small business owner make sure that you’re hiring the right marketer at the right time. And even if you are not hiring someone to help with your marketing, you still have to work out what type of marketer you have to be for your business. You have to be the right type of marketer at the right time. 

Hiring (or being) the wrong type of marketer at the wrong time can be one of the reasons why business owners have been known to mutter the words “marketing doesn’t work”. And you know what, some of them are right, it doesn’t. The wrong marketing at the wrong time doesn’t work. 

Just the other week at a networking event, I was talking to a business owner who had invested heavily in their website, predominately search engine optimisation. From the brief chat I had with them it was evident that this had been a classic example of the wrong marketer at the wrong time. 

Hundreds of pounds spent, no increase in traffic, even though sufficient time had passed to start seeing results. I appreciate there are two sides to every story, but I’m using a bit of artistic licence to illustrate a point. In this instance, before turning to a Digital Marketer, the basics should have been in place, the marketing foundations should have been built. 

It’s a regular occurrence in online networking groups, where a small business owner expresses concern over their ability to attract new clients. These posts are often met with a constant barrage of “advice” for the original poster (OP)…

“PM me, I’ll help you with Google Ads”

“Contact me, you need to be doing Facebook Ads”

I’ve chipped in myself on occasions and asked the OP if they have the basics in place. The answer is often no, but they know they should. Spending money on paid for media is the last thing you should be considering if you haven’t got the basics in place. 

It’s a bit like getting a painter and decorator in to paint your walls in Farrow & Ball ‘Sulking Room Pink’ before the plasterer has been to address the massive craters in your plaster work. Utterly pointless. The shoddy finish is by no means a true reflection of the decorators’ talents, he was just hired at the wrong point in the process. The wrong tradesman at the wrong time. 

The industry has to accept the part it plays, and any self-respecting marketer should tell you if they think you haven’t got the basics in place, they should be prepared to challenge you, after all, you’re hiring them as an expert. Sadly, this doesn’t always happen, some people are just happy to take your money, regardless of whether your business will see any benefit in return. 

If you’re a start-up or early stage business, first and foremost you need to be what I’ll refer to as a ‘Basic Marketer’. Strategic in nature, they focus on the fundamentals, the basics, good old vanilla flavour. Some people don’t like the word basic. It’s boring, it’s not sexy, it doesn’t get the pulse racing like all the flash digital marketing tools out there. 

But you know what basic is synonymous with? Vital. 

When we miss the vital steps in developing our marketing strategy, getting a return from our investment, whether that be time, money or both, is always going to be an uphill struggle. There is little point being any different type of marketer, until you have the basics in place. 

You’ve got to get the plasterer in before you start splashing that expensive ‘Sulking Room Pink’ paint on your walls…yes, that is actually on Farrow & Ball’s colour chart. 

So, what are the basics? What are the vital steps? 

First and foremost, know WHO you’re talking to, because if you don’t know who you’re talking to, how do you know how to talk to them and where to find them?

Get specific about who it is you want to work with, who it is you want to help, who will benefit the most from what you have to offer. As the saying goes, ‘you can’t be all things to all people’, and it’s exactly the same for your business too. 

You need to determine who your ideal customer is, this is WHO you should be talking to. 

It seems obvious, but it’s something that is often bypassed. 

Your next vital step is making it clear WHY you’re talking to them. What’s the problem that you solve for them? Why should they pick you over your competitors? What is it that you are offering them? Basically, why should they listen to you? 

It’s a good question to ask yourself if you want to test your own WHY. Can you convince yourself as to why people should listen to you? Without a convincing ‘why’ you’re just more noise in a crowded market place and your message will go unheard, most likely because your message is too similar to a lot of other people out there. 

Take a moment to think about the number of marketing messages that you are bombarded with as a consumer on a daily basis. Studies vary, but it’s suggested the number of messages runs into the thousands. So, as a business, your WHY needs to make you memorable in all of that noise. 

If your ideal customer doesn’t know your WHY, then it doesn’t exist. Don’t assume that people will work out what you are good at, they really don’t have the time….remember all of those messages they are being bombarded with! 

Next you need to define HOW you’re doing to talk to them. What type of content do they like to consume? Do they prefer videos, podcasts, blogs, social media, webinars, presentations, face-to-face meetings? Really understanding WHO it is you want to talk to, makes it much easier to determine HOW the content you produce is going to fit into their lives. 

The HOW stage is when you could start to introduce other types of marketing or marketer, and start to determine how those tools and tactics will benefit your business. Tools and tactics need to work for your business, knowing your WHO and WHY is a big step to working out which ones will do just that. 

When you know HOW you’re going to talk to them, you can turn your attention to WHERE those conversations should take place. That could be at networking events, exhibitions, LinkedIn, Facebook, your own website, online groups, offline groups…you get the idea, there’s countless options. There are so many places that you could be, but you should only focus on those where you know your ideal customer will be. 

You’ll be in a much better place to start engaging with marketing specialists when you get to this point, or as a DIY Marketer (and I don’t mean you market stuff for B&Q) you’ll be more confident in your choice of tools and tactics. You’ll be more confident that you’ve got the right marketer at the right time. 

And when you progress from the basics, whatever type of Marketer you engage with, always make sure you set objectives and align expectations. The disillusion with marketing often stems from miscommunication and misunderstanding between service provider and client. Even though you may have the right marketer at the right time, misaligned expectations can result in these projects being perceived as a failure. 

So, always set an objective and make sure you can measure the return you’re getting from your investment in marketing. A good marketer will manage your expectations without taking ‘the you know what’, and should not be wary of setting objectives. Whether it’s lead generation you’re after, increased conversions, or list building, make sure you can measure it. As Peter Drucker said “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

Sometimes to move forwards we have to go back to basics, it’s not boring, it’s vital. Jumping straight into being a Digital Marketer might make you feel like you’re making progress, but without the basics in place first you’ll find yourself re-doing your website copy countless times, swapping and changing tactics, trying new tools, and basically creating a marketing monster. 

Start by being a ‘Basic Marketer’. Start by defining WHO it is you want to talk to and give them a damn good reason as to WHY they should listen.