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Marketing a New Business: A Lesson in Grit and Persistence

Marketing a New Business: A Lesson in Grit and Persistence
There isn’t a single playbook for marketing a new business. The tactics that are likely to work vary greatly from business to business, and in some cases, you need to focus on selling to succeed more than you need to get marketing right. That said, having developed marketing plans seven times for a new business, I have discovered two universal truths. First, it takes some time to figure out what marketing tactics work for any particular business, and you should expect to burn through some cash in the process. Second, at some point, you are going to feel like giving up. I was reminded of a time when I felt this way when I recounted the following story to my partner, Jeff. It happened 17 years ago, but the lessons are just as relevant today.

I created an online apartment guide way back in 2002. Although I was hoping to be able to generate inbound website leads, that didn’t work out, so I decided to cold call people in the Philadelphia area apartment industry.  At that time, there were print-based apartment guides, so I picked one up and just started dialing, tracking every call in a CRM. I quickly learned that decisions were made in the corporate office rather than onsite at the communities. Within a few months, I had the lay of the land and knew the names of the handful of people who controlled most marketing decisions. I made some small sales, but after 9 months of grinding it out, I still wasn’t getting much traction. One of the people on this short list of prospects was Brian Paule from the Galman Group. I logged 24 attempts to contact him during this time period.

I also learned that if I wanted to get anywhere in this market, I needed to join the local apartment association and start going to events. The first one on the calendar after I joined was a golf and tennis outing. I had no skill in either sport, but I owned a racquet, and that was enough for me to justify signing up for tennis.

When I got there, I was greeted by an association staff member who told me they were sorry but they had neglected to mention the club required tennis whites. She directed me to the pro shop where I could buy the necessary attire. I was bootstrapping the company (with very short bootstraps) and spending $100 on another tennis outfit was just not in the financial plan. As I walked to the pro shop, I became increasingly overwhelmed with emotions. I was irritated by the mistake, insecure in the country club environment, and feeling anxious thanks to my financial situation. I added to my misery by losing control and having a meltdown.

At this point, I very seriously considered leaving. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to recover my composure and I thought maybe it was best to cut bait and save my $100. But somehow, I managed to find something to wear, pay for it, change, wipe off my tears, and join everyone else.

That decision ended up being a game changer for my business. I played truly awful tennis, but everyone was welcoming and supportive. I met the late Phil Lindy and his son, Alan, from Lindy Communities, who continue to do business with me more than 15 years later. I also met Sam Goldstein, Brian’s boss, who asked him why they weren’t already doing business with me. I told him it wasn’t for lack of effort! They took a meeting right after the event and listed their entire portfolio on my apartment guide. And yes, Brian eventually forgave me for getting him in trouble!

I vowed to return the next year with improved tennis skills. I took some lessons and while my game will not be confused with Serena William’s, I love my new hobby and just played in my 16th local association outing. And I won the women’s division.

I’m once again marketing a new business myself (Jess, a marketing analytics software company) and it’s going well, but there are days that aren’t easy.  Recalling this story reminds me to expect that sometimes the going will get tough, and that it’s going to take longer than I expect to perfect the messaging and find marketing tactics that will scale. However, I know that I have the grit and persistence I need to see it through.

I’m hoping that reading my personal story will inspire you stay the course that little bit longer that you may need to succeed in the pursuit of your dreams, business or otherwise.

Photo by Marc Nozell used under a Creative Commons license.


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