Reputation, Marketing and Growth
Focus on marketing and you could spend a dollar before you make a dime.
Focus on reputation and you could earn a dollar while making a dime.
The path to independent entrepreneurship winds through numerous traps, pitfalls and gotchas.
As I believe for myself, and coach others to think about; sales is the skill that keeps the entrepreneur on the path.
For the sake of argument, let’s say sales is the tactical process that involves short duration conversations with other people who agree to give you money to solve some problem or deliver some object (services vs product).
I believe that the skill of selling exists innately, within all humans.
Once the entrepreneur figures out the innate skill of selling, there emerges the more significant problem, who to sell to.
I have in some places in my history thought of this as the distinction between sales (the process) and marketing (the who).
Part of my history had me mistakenly, blindly attempting to develop a marketing strategy. Marketing strategies can quickly get messy and expensive. I attempted to hire multiple growth people, to run paid ads, content marketing, cold messaging strategies etc, we ran the gamut of “marketing” behaviors and snap, nothing returned much of any leads.
After a few years 2021-2023, the covid pandemic and some deeply sleepless stressed freak out nights, I found some growth bedrock.
Similar to what I had done in the beginning of my career, I came to understand that I could grow my business by going to events and meeting people with whom I have good technical and creative sparks.
The simplicity of going to events continued to leave me thinking I needed a more sophisticated marketing strategy. (Events don’t scale !! ?? ) The more I thought of a sophisticated marketing strategy, the more I realized that I was already doing the things that mattered, and to do more marketing stuff was to spend more energy with less and less probability of business return.
As of the writing of this post, it has been 3 months since I stopped worrying about having a marketing strategy and I feel great, leads keep coming in, work keeps getting done and generally the team projects stable happiness. I travel away from my town of residence, Bend, Or and go to interesting events on the west coast, once or twice a month.
On a recent trip to Italy, in the city of Florence, I ate some of my best meals at “tavola calda” hot tables, very informal eateries where food is prepared in batch and served at a deli style counter. One in particular Supermercato Boschett really blew my mind, we ate all kinds of amazing stuff, eggplants, pork belly, truffle cheeses, foccaia’s, wine, etc, it was worthy of Bacchus himself.
This tiny little grocery store doesn’t have a website and barely had a sign yet it had a constant stream of visitors, who like me, all seemed to love the experience. Observing this small operation helped me see the difference between marketing and reputation. This tiny supermarket didn’t market to anyone, they focused all their effort on being amazing and let their reputation do the work.
Marketing is the universe of activity driving the information narrative around a product, good or service.
“these grapes taste the best”
“these pills will make your the strongest”
“our engineers build the best stuff”
And on and on…..
Reputation is the passive act of word of mouth permeating a given community so that information finds a customer but the business owner didn’t actively engage in the process.
“John helped us to solve complex UX challenges”
“Startuplandia are easily the best contractors we’ve ever worked with”
“They unblocked all of our product problems”
There are many things that could be said about marketing and reputation happening together, but the point I want to make is that in a services driven business like Startuplandia, marketing is a complex wasteland of resource while reputation is necessary and can be developed while running the business itself. Reputation doesn’t happen as an extra, it happens while doing the core work. More importantly, I don’t think there is much opportunity to grow with all marketing and no reputation, you can spend the Queen’s jewels on that and people still won’t want to work with you.
So then, dear reader, what moral do I embed in this story?
To stay alive in business, you must sell. To sell, you must have people, businesses to sell to. Some people, most people tend to view the above as a marketing problem. I posit that many established marketing behaviors will leave you broke and without leads.
By focusing on your reputation, your network and the emotional imprint you leave while working, you can and will develop a ‘marketing’ engine that keeps working long after you put your pen down.