As I was leafing through the folders on my PC the other day, I noticed that the number of ‘work’ folders I have is surprisingly large! I say this because my income is not! It then occurred to me that quite alot of the work that I have been doing over the last few years has been for ‘free’ – for absolutely no financial gain, and often as a favour to people who might be struggling with something!
At the moment, I am producing a brand new school magazine – a project I instigated because I could see how many companies were ‘freeloading’ off of schools, under the pretext of providing the school with something, be it a magazine for parents or a colouring sheet! As somebody who has been intimately involved with the fundraising side of school life since my daughter started, it began to occur to me that an audience of largely ABC1 families should not be undervalued by those that control access to those people via the school channels. Don’t get me wrong, we have many many generous companies in our midst, who support the school for next to no return with community in mind, but I’ve seen an increasing number of cynical tactics used to essentially get something for nothing.
Having worked in sponsorship for many years, I know how hard companies can find it to access that audience in particular, and in the fragmented market we have today, even more so. So I decided I wanted to explore the possibility of turning the school a little bit more ‘commercial’ on the marketing front.
We therefore formed ‘Marketing Club’ with eight brilliant children from Years 5 & 6. We are about to publish our first magazine having raised over £500 in advertising and sponsorship, and having offered the children an amazing experience to learn and explore new skills and talents.
The point I am making is that so many people expect stuff for free these days, particularly when it comes to marketing, that it becomes a massive oversight when budgeting! Small businesses are more prevalent than ever these with over 17% of people now choosing to work for themselves – and of course being self employed means that you have to cover all aspects of running a business. This will include things you may not have done before such as marketing, accounting and even hiring and firing.
But with the digital world offering so much for “FREE’, people seem reluctant to pay for things that they might once have expected to pay for! This includes things like websites, accounting software, advertising (ie. via social media), you name it. Of course, the ‘free’ bit is a classic digital marketing tactic to lure you in to a point where you do actually end up paying for an enhanced service. Frankly, in most cases, I am more than happy to do so, because the tools involved are worth it, and the best things in life are NOT for free.
I remember the uproar when small businesses suddenly found it a lot harder to market their businesses for ‘FREE’ through Facebook as its advertising operation became more sophisticated. Clearly that was the plan all along! And it definitely made my life more difficult – but love or loathe Facebook, as I often do in equal measure, I could see why as a business, they would want to monetize the opportunity they had created by building a vast audience.
A small business can still achieve a great deal on Facebook and other social media almost for free, although it can take some time and some knowledge which ultimatley may not be worth it. Actually paying for advertising might be the more sensible investment. The fact is that more often than not, it is necessary to invest actual cash to grow your audience, whatever medium you are using.
Over the years that I’ve been at home dabbling in social media and digital marketing, I have bailed out more than one business who ‘forgot’ to allocate anything or anywhere near enough for marketing. I have tried and often failed to help a business to see the importance of constant messaging and communication if they are to be successful. But many people assume that an ad in a magazine is enough – build it and they will come! Well unless you have a prime high street location, and even then, that ain’t going to happen!
Through my work at school, I often do parents favours to enable them to do a bit more with their marketing spend, and I am happy to do that. Many people attempt to knock up and ad in whatever software they can manage, not realising that that is the image that they are then portraying of their company and their work. I’m no graphic designer, but I have learned to to use the tools out their, and my own brand marketing experience, to help improve what they are presenting.
The cost, however, has been two-fold for me! I have now done so much for free that there is of course a financial cost – time is money after all. And secondly I struggle to value my own skill. I know that I do what I do well, but I am almost embarrassed to ask to be paid for it. So in terms of my own self esteem and confidence in what I do, the price has been high! I have over 25 years’ experience in marketing and am somebody that learns and adapts her knowledge quickly. But my lack of ‘formal’ training has always prayed on my mind, although I also know that no comms degree could have taught me what I know now!
But my point in all of this is really this…we should NEVER expect anybody to do anything for free! Just because ‘marketing’ is a slightly abstract concept, doesn’t mean it’s not worth paying for. If you can’t afford to pay for it, then reprioritise your budget, because your business is doomed! Unless you are a plumber or an electrician, and then market forces dictate that supply and demand will see you right! But if you are a small business, ask yourself, if, as a business, you would do what you do for free? I am guessing not!
If this sounds like a plea, then I guess perhaps it is. If your business fails, you will loose a whole lot more than your initial cash investment, so allocating part of your budget to a sensible marketing budget, will be the best decision you’ve ever made! The biggest brands in the world have the biggest marketing budgets in the world, and that’s for a reason!
And lastly, I just want to say this – there are some amazing people out there doing some truly incredible work, often from their own kitchen table. That is just a reflection of the changing work scene, rather than a reflection of their experience and talents, that is for sure.
The fact is that those people have a relatively low cost base and will therefore be able to do you a better deal than a larger marketing agency. So seek these people out and value what they can do for you, because trust me, they are worth it!
Here endeth my marketing sermon!