How to navigate the marketing minefield

“If you build it, they will come,” is a (misquoted) line from a movie, not a strategy for business.

It doesn’t matter how brilliant your product is or how amazing you are at what you do; if nobody is buying it, you aren’t going to last very long in business.

You need customers. 

And to get customers, you’ll need to do some kind of marketing. 

But marketing is a minefield. Everyone has an opinion on what you should and shouldn’t do. So how on earth are you supposed to figure out where to invest time and money to get the best results?

It helps if you understand the basics of marketing, which really boils down to one thing: get the right message in front of the right people at the right time.

Easier said than done, right?

Let’s find out…

Not all advice is good advice

There’s no shortage of people touting marketing advice:

“Don’t scrimp on website design”

“Facebook ads are a waste of time”

“Video is the best investment you can make”

“Don’t try and write your own copy – hire a professional”

“You need to post on LinkedIn every day”

“SEO is better than PPC”

“Cold emails are a waste of time – nobody wants to be sold to by strangers”

But before you take any of this advice on board you need to understand where it is coming from.

I’ve seen too many business owners rush headfirst into poor marketing decisions because they took bad advice.

It’s the whole reason I started offering consultations – I wanted to get business owners to take a step back and look at their marketing objectively. To figure out whether the thing they were about to throw all their time and money at would get the results they wanted.

Biased advice

If somebody sells website design, then of course they are going to say you need a website.

They aren’t out to trick you – they’ve just seen the results that their “thing” has generated for other people.

But it doesn’t necessarily mean their thing will work for you. A fantastic website will only generate leads if you get visitors to it.

Every type of marketing works for someone but nothing works for everyone.

Before you hand over your cash to a videographer, copywriter, web designer, SEO expert or social media guru, figure out if their “thing” is going to work for you (more on how to do that shortly).

Advice based on bad experiences

You’ll often hear other business owners say a specific type of marketing is a waste of time or money based on the fact it didn’t work for them.

“I spent £5k on SEO and didn’t get a single new client”

“Used to put a blog post out every month and it was a complete waste of time”

“Nobody on Twitter is interested in doing business – they just want to follow celebrities”

Before you dismiss a marketing activity or channel based purely on someone else’s bad experience, consider why their experience was so bad.

Maybe their SEO efforts didn’t work because they picked the wrong keywords or their ideal clients just don’t search for their services on Google.

Perhaps their blog posts didn’t get any engagement because they weren’t sharing them anywhere or were only sharing once.

They might not have had any enquiries from Twitter because they weren’t building the right audience or engaging with their followers.

There are hundreds of reasons why marketing efforts fail.

  • Not clear on who you’re trying to attract
  • No clear objective for what you’re trying to achieve
  • Not spending long enough on the activity to get results
  • No consistency
  • Terrible sales copy
  • Not getting the content in front of enough people
  • Focusing on the wrong thing
  • Not measuring the right metrics
  • No clear call to action – readers don’t know where to go next
  • Broken links
  • Confusing messages

I’m not saying you shouldn’t listen to other people’s opinions, just that you need to remember their business is not the same as your business. And their marketing might have failed because they didn’t understand what they were trying to achieve.

Advice based on good experiences

In the same way that advice based on bad experiences might not be right for your business, advice based on good experiences might not be right either.

Someone may have had fantastic results from a specific activity, but that doesn’t mean you should throw all your money at it.

There are a hundred reasons why that thing worked for them.

They might have converted 100 new clients off the back of a single email because they had already built a subscriber list of over 20,000 people.

They might have landed a massive deal off the back of a video because they shared it with their 50,000 Facebook followers.

They might have got results from Google ads because their budget was £10k a month while yours is only £100.

Their starting point is not necessarily the same as yours. Plus, they might have a completely different target audience, product or price point to you.

Their business is not the same as your business.

Advice from the wrong people

If you want advice on how to do something, seek out people who have already achieved that thing.

Not well-meaning family or friends who have no marketing or business experiences.

Not other freelancers or business owners who have the same problems as you and no idea how to solve them.

Not self-proclaimed gurus who want to flog you their “secret success formula”.

And take the emotion out of it.

Too many people blindly follow the advice of their favourite influencer or people they like. But just because you like someone doesn’t mean their advice is good. Popularity and success aren’t the same thing. If you’ve tried everything they’ve suggested and still aren’t getting results, it’s ok to try a new approach.

Equally, just because somebody isn’t very popular or you don’t like their personality, or their style or their approach, it doesn’t mean their advice isn’t useful. If they are getting results, maybe they’re saying something worth listening to.

Related article: How not to get ripped off by marketers 

Your marketing isn't about you

We’re all a little bit egocentric. We get so wrapped up in whatever is at the front of our mind right now, that we forget not everyone will find it as important, exciting or interesting as we do.

Think ‘Bridezilla’ – the woman who is planning her wedding and can’t understand why it isn’t everybody else’s number one priority.

Or the new parent who talks about nothing else but their baby’s sleeping patterns or poo colour.

Or your mate who just bought a new car and wants to tell you about every feature in huge detail.

Or your cousin who just got back from backpacking around Asia and wants to give you a day-by-day breakdown of their amazing experience.  

To them, that thing is the most important thing in their life right now, but it’s not the most important thing to you. 

Your business might be your baby, but nobody else cares about it as much as you do. 

And that’s why sticking a few posts on social media announcing your amazing new business or your latest offer rarely results in an influx of sales.

People aren’t simply going to drop everything to find out more about your new “thing” unless you give them a good reason. And your brand new website/logo/blog post probably isn’t as exciting for them as it is for you. Getting people interested in your business can take time.  

Don’t get disheartened when you don’t see results straight away. Remember, the thing you are selling isn’t necessarily your ideal client’s priority right now, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t paying attention.

Make your messages about them (more on that shortly), and you’ll get better results. 

Target the right people

Right at the start of this article, I said marketing boiled down to getting the right message in front of the right people at the right time.

You can only do that if you know who the right people are. Who are your ideal clients?

I can tell you with 100% confidence your ideal clients are not “anybody”.

Trust me when I say I fought against this for a long time when offering copywriting services. Anyone with a business was my ideal client, weren’t they? After all, every business needs words for something.  

Turns out ‘anyone with a business’ wasn’t my ideal client then and they certainly aren’t now.

Now I focus all my marketing on freelancers, coaches, consultants and service providers who want to do their own marketing and want to do it well. I don’t write copy for them; I teach them how to do it themselves.

But I digress.

My point is you need to be clear about who you want to attract – otherwise, how can you work out how to reach them or what messages will appeal to them?

Hint: You can’t

It is impossible to write a message that appeals to everyone. Just as it is impossible to make a movie, write a book, or create a song that every single person likes.

So before you invest any money into your marketing, figure out who your ideal clients are.

Are they business owners? What size is their business? What industry are they in? How old is their business? What’s their annual turnover? Where are they located?

You don’t have to go as far as listing their favourite colour or what type of car they drive (unless you sell cars), but at least identify a few key details.

Creating the right message

Once you know who you are trying to attract, you can create the right message.

What is going to get them interested in buying from you?

What are their motivations? What problems can you solve? What is going to make them say, “I need this in my life”.

Your marketing should always be about your ideal clients, not you.

Everyone is a little bit egocentric, remember. And your clients are no different – so talk about them. 

If you’ve followed my stuff for a while, you’ll have heard me talking about not we-ing on readers. If you’re new to my stuff, here’s a quick rundown.

Right place, right time

The final piece of the marketing puzzle is getting your message in the right place at the right time.

Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to know exactly when our ideal clients are going to be in the mood to buy and that’s why consistency is key.

You’ve got to keep showing up so you’re there when they are ready to buy.

And it helps if you know where they will be.

Where can you get in front of them?

Direct marketing

Don’t be scared of cold outreach. If you know exactly who your ideal clients are and exactly when they need what you offer, get your message in front of them

For example, if you sell office furniture and you know a company has just signed a deal on some office space, send them a letter.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) or pay per click (PPC) ads

SEO and PPC both work well for the right business, but which is right for you? Depends what you sell and whether people are searching for it.

Let’s say you sell emergency boiler repair. You could do some Facebook ads, but the chances of them being on someone’s feed at the exact time their boiler breaks down are slim. And if somebody’s boiler does break down, are they going to scroll through Facebook trying to find that ad they saw three weeks ago?

Probably not. What’s more likely is they’ll type “emergency boiler repair” into Google, which means SEO or Google ads are probably a better use of your investment.


Email can be a good way of getting in front of your ideal clients if you have a way to get their email addresses. You can do this by researching or purchasing a list or by building a subscriber list.

To build a list, you need to give people a reason to give you their email addresses. For example, receive exclusive offers, get a discount, get regular news and tips or receive some kind of content (a free or paid eBook for example).

I have a free email series to help people improve their marketing content and sales copy. Once the sequence ends, readers start getting my daily email. This gets my ideal clients on my subscriber list and then they see my name in their inbox every day until they are ready to buy (or unsubscribe).

Related article: Are your emails putting customers off?

Social media

Social media can be a fantastic marketing tool when used correctly.

Unfortunately, too many people focus on building a following and getting lots of engagement but don’t have a strategy for converting followers into customers.

This can result in a lot of wasted time and effort. Likes and views don’t translate into cash in the bank, so if you’re using social media for lead generation, don’t get caught up in vanity metrics.

Do a little research into which platforms your ideal clients are using and the kind of content they engage with so you can tailor your strategy to them. And don’t lose sight of why you are there.

Related article: How to make your LinkedIn content count

Content marketing

Content marketing is about nurturing your ideal clients, building trust and credibility, establishing your expertise and generating interest in what you offer.

You still have to convert your readers or viewers into customers at some point, but your content can do a lot of the leg-work when it comes to selling.

Creating quality content is important, but you also need a plan for getting that content in front of your ideal clients. Social media, email and paid ads are all great for distributing your content.

Related article: How to get your content seen

Face-to-face networking

I’ve included face-to-face networking on the list as I do think it can be a good way to spread the word about what you do and get feedback and advice from other business owners.

Some people rely solely on networking for lead generation, but I’d never recommend putting all your eggs in one basket.

Networking effectively can be time-consuming, and you’re relying on other people to find you referrals or give you business. By all means, go out and connect with people but have a backup strategy in place.


I do think every business should have a website, even if it is very basic. It gives you a place to promote or sell your products and services, demonstrate your expertise and share feedback to establish your credibility.

But your website doesn’t need to be some all-singing, all-dancing, bells and whistles affair. Even the best website in the world won’t generate leads if nobody sees it – you need a plan for getting people to it in the first place.

I definitely don’t recommend investing your entire marketing budget into web design and copy when you’re new to the market.

Your business is likely to change a lot in the first few months – even the first few years. I know this from my own experience and from working with hundreds of other businesses.

And if your business changes, you might well need to change your website – add pages, rewrite copy, change the layout. Not ideal if you’ve just spent a fortune on your new site.

Websites are like houses – you don’t need to move into your forever home straight away. You can start small and upgrade when the time is right.

Related article: How to make your website copy count

Invest in your own marketing skills and knowledge

I’m a huge advocate of outsourcing to experts – it’s why I have an accountant and a business mentor and hire graphic designers, videographers and other experts when I need them.

But I also think developing your own knowledge of marketing is invaluable, especially if you are new to business.

If you understand the basics of marketing and learn how different channels work, you can make more informed decisions about where to invest time and money.

And, as a business owner, I think one of the most valuable skills you can learn is copywriting.

You probably think I’m biased because I sell copywriting training and mentoring, but think about it. Almost every type of marketing requires words – emails, social media, websites, blogs, video scripts, articles, white papers, ads. And the words you use can make the difference between browser and buyer.

Do you really want to lose out on potential customers because your website copy is confusing or your ads don’t grab the reader’s attention?

Are you going to hire a copywriter every time you want to send an email or put a post on social media?

Of course not, so why not learn how to do it yourself? You can bring in the big guns for the bigger projects, but understanding how to attract, nurture and convert through any marketing channel you choose is a fantastic investment.

Marketing trends and fads come and go, but the basics of marketing stay the same: right message, right people, right time. And the right message requires the right words.

Related article: 5 reasons business owners should learn how to write copy

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