Top 5 Marketing Mistakes I Made as a Creative Entrepreneur

Ask my parents and they’ll tell you I’ve always been a DIY type of person. Fiercely so. I can respect the advice of experts, but often haven’t always had the resources to hire them as my husband and I have both ventured out into the world as creative freelancers.

So, I read. I listen. I experiment. I learn.

After over a decade marketing creative ventures, such as my own businesses, as well as helping countless creatives find new ways of reaching their audiences, I’ve compiled a toolkit that I’ve come to lean on. It isn’t perfect, but the best thing about it is that it is all things I’ve learned to do myself.

The road to this refined toolkit, which I provide in Marketing Tools for Creatives, hasn’t been smooth. I’ve fallen flat on my face many times. I’ve also fallen into the trap of doing something the wrong way, only to realize it years later. That means I need to do the additional work of undoing some things and implementing others.

Here are the top 5 mistakes I’ve made over the years, laid out here for you so that you can hopefully avoid them!

1. Not using my header tags. These are the h1, h2, h3, etc. tags you’ll see offered on your website formatting. I should have taken the time to customize them to look the way I wanted and then actually used them. Instead I would bold and enlarge the font to indicate a header or subheader. Instead, when I changed website themes or templates, often my headers got messed up. Had I used the tags, it would have formatted them accordingly. And I was missing out on the most important thing of all: SEO. By using those header tags you are telling search engines, “this content is important!” It’s all part of the SEO game.

2. Pitching too long. Editors are busy. I know because I am an editor, and have emails that land in my inbox that I often can’t attend to for weeks. Your best chances of getting published are to keep your queries well-written and thorough, but concise. Aim for a page and if they want more information, I think they’ll come knocking. (I cover query letter and press release writing in the course.)

3. Blogging aimlessly. Our interests will shift as we grow in our lives and in our work. But be careful if you blog to make sure your blog continues to be representative of who you are today. Go through your content every half year or so and make sure it wouldn’t be embarrassing if people accessed content from 10 years ago. Update blogs that need a facelift. You don’t want a bunch of dead links flying around the Internet, so if you choose to retire blogs, make sure you have a proper 301 redirect in place or a good 404 (page not found).

4. Abandoning my email list. In general I’m the kind of person who will follow through once I’ve started something. I started up an email list for my freelance writing and then life got busy (two kids…) and I didn’t send emails for the longest time. Like two years. I should have kept focusing on growing my list and sending out low-maintenance emails, even every two to four months. It would have been better than nothing. (When I finally did send an email, I actually got a response back from someone saying, “Who the heck are you!? Stop emailing me.”)

5. Going a little too DIY. This one applies to Facebook Ads, something I’ve found more success with recently. But it wasn’t until I got set up with a Business Manager Account on Facebook and started to play with Custom Audiences and Saved Audiences. I finally did a short Facebook Marketing course to learn more about targeting and copy writing. Before that, I think I wasted my money on ads, which weren’t being targeted effectively towards people who would even click in the first place.

So, what did I do instead of all these silly things? This is the meat of the course I created called Marketing Tools for Creatives, which presents creatives with the “what” and “why” of my personal marketing toolkit. I don’t think my husband and I would be pursuing creative careers today if it weren’t for the solid marketing skills we’ve finally landed on. So, if you’re curious, take a look at the course! It’s great for writers, photographers and visual artists, too.

If you’d like a little sneak peek download these 5 Small Changes That Make a Big Difference, and I promise you’ll already be ahead of where you are today.

Creating a Mind Map

Life is constantly evolving, particularly on the work front. How I spend my time and energy depends on the projects I have on my plate (and how I manage them). Being self-employed, I have a lot of choice in the matter of how I prioritize my time and which projects I take on. But, my tendency, like many others, it to take on too much when my businesses already demand a lot of my attention to ensure they run smoothly and successfully. Add my family and personal life into the mix and it all starts to feel like I’m riding a runaway train.

As our businesses and lives evolve, we need to take a step back to see how certain elements may have shifted. What needed our attention six months ago may no longer deserve the time we’re putting in. Certain tasks we’ve been doing on ‘robot mode’ may have become irrelevant over time, and yet we’re still doing them!

One thing I do when it’s time to take a step back (or when I’m feeling scattered) is create a mind map. The point of this exercise is to see how you spend your time, what demands your attention and how you are prioritizing your life.

All you need is a big sheet of blank paper and a pen or marker (you can also search your apps for a digital version like this one, but I prefer to go ‘old school’ with this exercise). If you’re a visual learner, you may choose to organize your thoughts with various colours and stickers.

This is a simplified mock-up of a mind map, but you get the idea!

This is a simplified mock-up of a mind map, but you get the idea!

1. Begin your map with a central idea in the middle of the page (My Commitments, Current Projects, How I Spend My Time, My Priorities, your Name are all good starts). This can be as general (Life!) or specific (Your Business) as you want.

2. Branch out from there. Draw a line to a blank space on the map and start breaking down that central idea, giving each new section its own area on the map. These could be Family, Work, Volunteering and Friends. Or, if you’re going with a more specific mind map (e.g. Your Business), this may include Admin, Client Relations, Marketing, and Revenue Streams.

3. Branch out further. Under Work, for instance, you could write out your projects – even indicating roughly how many hours a week you allot to those. Under Revenue Streams, list out each of the areas and products that bring money into your company. Under Household, list the various areas of responsibility you hold, such as cleaning, bills, groceries, and maintenance (the point is to identify which things take up time, energy and money). Keep branching out, smaller and smaller, until you have created as comprehensive a map as you need.

4. Next, ask yourself some questions:

  • Where is the bulk of my energy going? 
  • Which areas need more attention?
  • Is there anything on my map that could be eliminated, delegated or hired out to free up more time?
  • Which projects or commitments bring me joy?
  • What doesn’t serve me anymore? 
  • How do these items line up with my life goals?

Make notes on your mind map however you like – cross out, highlight, circle, star. It’s all yours to play with in a way that makes sense to you.

5. It’s thought that 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of its customers, and this concept (the 80/20 rule) can be applied to many aspects of your life and business. Use it with your mind map to identify which 20% of your items/activities you should be focusing on the most. Look for ways to eliminate, delegate or hire out the 80% of activities that aren’t as deserving of your energy and attention.

If you find this concept confusing, check out this article on the Pareto Principle. This principle applies particularly to the work side (handy for entrepreneurs/self-employed/business owners!), whether it’s your customer base or time management. But, you may also find it useful as you analyze your relationships, how you organize your personal life, and more.

6. Next, set some goals around how you can shift your focus to the things that matter and the things that make a difference. Use this downloadable goal setting sheet to help you through that process.

Let me know how your mind maps are coming along in the Comments below!