38 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started In Marketing
Ian Lurie Apr 10 2008
Ah, youth. 13 years ago I started my company with a spare room in my house, a credit card (limit: $1500) and a computer (Pentium 75 mhz, Windows 95).
I was out of my ##@!)(@#$*[email protected]@ mind.
If I’d known then what I know now, would I have gone into this business? I don’t know. But here’s some wisdom I wish I had back then:
- No one has a clue how to market anything. We are all winging it. It’s just that some are better at winging it than others.
- Corollary: Seth Godin, et al are brilliant about the high-level stuff. But on a tactical level, everyone fails, most of the time. Learn from it.
- That which you doubt becomes a trend. When I started, I hedged my bets that this internet thing was a fad by writing copy for print pieces, too. Cough.
- Today’s hot trend vanishes like a fart in the wind. The flip side of doubt is that the hottest trends often die so fast the universe forgets they ever existed. Remember ‘push technology’? Wired does. In 1997 they were shouting how push would replace the web browser. 11 years later, RSS adoption is around 3-8% depending on who you ask. Don’t jump on every new thing. The trick, of course, is knowing what to jump on, and what to jump over.
- Get a bookkeeper. My wife is a Chartered Accountant (a Canadian CPA+). She did our books for about 2 years. After two years of her harassing me for receipts I knew I’d lost and me driving her crazy with my squirrelesque accounting practices, I hired a part-time bookkeeper. Best money I’ve ever spent.
- Get a retainer. Clients you think are the nicest folks in the world may have painfully slow accounts payable departments. Get 30%. Up front. No matter what.
- You are right. When in a discussion, assume you are right. If you waffle, there’s not much point in discussing anything.
- You are wrong. Don’t be so blockheaded that you can’t change your mind when you’re clearly wrong.
- Buy a really nice monitor. Definitely buy a humungous monitor. I love mine, and I’m far more productive for having it.
- Work with people you like. No matter how much someone’s paying you, if you dread talking to them the relationship won’t last.
- Marketing should not compromise your values.
- You can teach without being cruel.
- Speak your mind. Better to be too honest than too subtle. I have no problem with this, or so I’m told. Ahem.
- Speak simply.
- Marketing jargon is fun but distracting. There are enough synergies, monetizations, 2.0s and viruses in the world.
- There are no absolutes. Marketing isn’t about the 100% win or the 0% loss. It’s about piling up a lot of 55% successes and then using them to beat the crap out of your competition.
- There is no ‘industry specialization’. When someone asks me what industry we focus on, I want to yank on their nose so hard their feet retract. In marketing, industry specialization is a joke. Either you know how to tell and sell a compelling story, or you don’t.
- Metrics are one tool. They are not the risen savior of marketing.
- Marketing is really, really, really messy. It’s like painting your cat in peanut butter and then tying a bell to its tail. Stuff gets everywhere. That’s OK.
- David Ogilvy can still tell you 99% of what you need to know about marketing. Considering he’s dead, that’s pretty impressive.
- Build something that’ll last. Creating a business just to finance your lifestyle is fun and all, but if you want to really do something worth bragging about, build a business that has a chance of surviving after you leave. If that’s too Ayn Rand for you, it’s also totally OK to do the former. Just don’t complain when it evaporates.
- Build a team you like. Then trust them.
- Trust your instincts, too. If you think things are coming off the rails, they very well may be.
- See that little thing on your desk with a number pad and a handset? That’s a phone. Pick it up once in a while and speak to people. They love that.
- Outsourcing isn’t the answer to everything. Lots of internet marketing pundits will tell you to outsource, outsource, outsource. Having a trusted team that knows each other and enjoys working together is good, too. Plus I’ve never seen someone in Indonesia come up with the next great marketing message for an American company (nor have I ever seen the reverse).
- One documented ‘yes’ from the client is worth 1,000,000 undocumented ones.
- Yes, you are worth whatever you charge! Probably more.
- If you have no idea, then don’t say anything. You just end up sounding like an idiot.
- Everyone thinks you’re scum. They may say otherwise. But I suspect my family still wishes I’d gone into p0rn instead.
- But you are not scum. You wield a great deal of power: You convince people to buy things, vote for people, change their lifestyles and more. Use that power wisely.
- Firing people always sucks. It doesn’t get better.
- Being fired always sucks. It doesn’t get better, either.
- Make sure you savor your wins.
- You are not a commodity, or ‘headcount’, or ‘overhead’.
- The more someone threatens to fire you, the more they know they need you. Except when they really do fire you, of course, in which case they meant business.
- Use your clients’ products! If you don’t like them enough to use them, you can’t market them, either.
- Have some fun, and a sense of humor. As a marketer, ridiculous things will happen to you every day. You’re going to have to roll with it.
- Take a break, or your body may do it for you.
Did you know I just published an e-book? Well, I did: The Unscary, Real World Guide to SEO Copywriting. Have a look.
CEO & Founder
Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More