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How I Became a Marketing Activist

Most organizations, including the agency I founded, work as if they are experiencing a chicken-or-the-egg problem with their marketing. They say things like, “I’d love to do more marketing, but I need to grow my business in order to pay for it!”

See the problem?

This type of thinking is based on the very dangerous belief that marketing is overhead.

I’m not being dramatic. This belief isn’t just dangerous, it’s sometimes deadly to the organizations that act like they believe it, including the agency I founded.

To be clear, ONLY BAD MARKETING IS OVERHEAD. If it’s ineffective, it’s a waste of money, and you’d be better off not doing it.

But that doesn’t explain why my marketing agency, with our intentional focus on strategy and optimization, didn’t take our own good advice. I had full confidence (and the results to back it up) that we knew how to plan, execute, and optimize a digital marketing strategy. So, why didn’t we do it?

Reason #1: Access to resources.
Some other time I’ll tell you the whole sob story about being the breadwinner, taking on debt, and getting rejected by banks. For now, I’ll just say that because I bootstrapped this business and I didn’t have a personal financial safety net, I didn’t feel comfortable using debt to pay for marketing.

Reason #2: Inexperience.
Even even with the resources, I don’t think I would have spent them on marketing because for a long time I didn’t believe it was necessary to do so. I had this idea (still working on where it came from) that doing good work would be enough to build the business. As a first time entrepreneur, I had no idea how long it would take to build the network that would bring the clients that would build the network that would bring more clients, so I didn’t intentionally make that investment.

Reason #3: Fear.
Yeah, I said it. Like many entrepreneurs before me, I spent every day living in the shady space between believing blindly in the work we were doing and agonizing over whether or not I was willfully blinded by pride or vanity. I had a wonderful, brilliant team and trusting, happy clients, but I was terrified to plant a flag and proactively promote my business.

By February 2020, we were already having a tough year. I thought I had a long list of opportunities, but when travel stopped because of the pandemic my existing pipeline froze and my future pipeline evaporated along with a bunch of speaking engagements.

At the same time, a new opportunity presented itself. Purpose-driven founders and organizations told me they didn’t need agency services as much as they just needed a marketing strategy. They were looking for a better understanding of what their marketing should be and a plan to allow them to execute it themselves.

Do you ever have that feeling like the thing you’re experiencing today is the result of the hard work and good choices of Past You?

This was me in June 2020:

  • I had a unique marketing framework that had been adopted and refined by a huge range of organizations.
  • I had a love of teaching and a curriculum already built around that framework.
  • I had a network that was values-aligned, engaged, and growing.
  • I had tried entrepreneurship and failed.
  • I was more committed than ever to using my skills, talents, resources, and privilege to the benefit of people and planet.

So here we are: I’m a marketing activist. My work is to increase access to excellent marketing for anyone whose success contributes to a more just, equitable, or sustainable world.

If that is you or people in your network, please connect with me on LinkedIn and we’ll continue this conversation together.