There’s nothing difficult about marketing yourself and your business, says Ilise Benun. “We all know what to do. The problem is most of us don’t do it.”
Benun will discuss “How Creative Professionals Can Thrive in a Tough Economy,” at the next meeting of River Communications Group on Tuesday, May 5, at 6 p.m. at Occasions, Union Square, in New Hope. Cost: $25. For more information E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The River Communications Group is an informal association of creative professionals in the New Hope/Lambertville area. The group has a networking site, “River Communications Group,” on Facebook where a discussion with Benun will begin in the days before the meeting and will continue, if people are interested, after the meeting.
A delicate subject. Despite the fact that Benun does have her own Facebook page, she calls the use of social networking techniques for businesses a “delicate subject,” adding “I don’t Twitter and I don’t intend to.”
The problem with sites such as Facebook and Twitter is that while they allow people to connect quickly and easily with hundreds of people, deep connections are not made. “You may have a thousand followers on Twitter, but if they are not the right people, what’s the point?” she asks. To be effective social networking must be used strategically to promote your business and only your business — and not be confused with personal life.
Opportunities lost. Benun, the author of “The Art of Self Promotion,” has found that the biggest mistake people make in marketing is that they let opportunities pass by. In fact, that conclusion is what led her to found her company, the Marketing Mentor, which has offices in Hoboken and Los Angeles.
Benun graduated from Tufts University in 1984. “I majored in Spanish because it was easy, then I didn’t know what to do with it,” she explains. Her first job was in the fashion industry. “I hated it,” she adds. She was fired from her second job, in the travel industry, in 1988. It was a life-changing experience. “I was so angry, and naive that I decided I would never work for anyone again.”
She began to work as professional organizer. “People paid me $15 an hour to sit and help them organize their lives. I was working with a lot of creative people — graphic artists, writers — and inevitably at the bottom of the pile I’d find some type of marketing and self-promotion opportunity that they weren’t doing.”
While she sympathized — “as a small business owner I understood about wearing all the hats” — she also saw opportunity. She began teaching small business owners, particularly creative professionals, the skills they needed to market themselves more effectively.
After writing, speaking, and consulting on the art of self-promotion for several years she co-founded the Marketing Mentor with her partner Peleg Top. The bi-coastal practice (Benun resides in Hoboken while Top works out of Los Angeles) offers a variety of programs to help small business owners and creative professionals grow their businesses.
Lose the baggage. One of the biggest problems many professionals have with marketing themselves is the baggage left over from childhood. “They hear mom whispering in their ear, ‘Don’t brag about yourself,’” she explains. Self-promotion is not about bragging, Benun says. It is about letting people know how you can help .
Forget the fantasies. Another problem Benun often encounters, is that people are stuck with one of two fantasies. Either they think that everything will work out so well that they will be unable to handle the quantity of business that will arrive on their doorstep, or they are afraid of the “telephone salesman” label of the high pressure huckster who offends everyone.
Reality lies somewhere in between, she says. You will probably not be overwhelmed by too much business, and if you are marketing to the right people in the right way they will not see it as too aggressive or a nuisance.
Best practices. The best way to market yourself is to make direct contact with the right people — those who need your services. That means “picking up the telephone, attending an event, meeting people and then staying in touch with them,” Benun says. “Often sales are made because you pass across someone’s radar in their moment of need.”
Using technology. While Benun has reservations about social networking she is a believer in other forms of electronic marketing, particularly the E-newsletter. These make it easier and less expensive to “pass by someone’s radar” on a regular basis. “E-mail marketing has the advantage of sending your information to a targeted list of qualified prospects,” she says.
But in today’s era of information overload it is also important to differentiate your E-newsletter from all the others your prospects receive. You need to make sure that your information focuses on your targeted market and how you can help them with their struggles. An E-newsletter is a “subtle soft sell” that includes a call to action, she explains.
Remember the opportunities. “How often have you heard someone say, ‘I met so and so but they can’t give me any work,’? How do they know that?” asks Benun. Many people make snap decisions about the value of a contact based on perceptions or on their own immediate needs, rather than long-term thinking. “That person may refer you to someone else down the line, or they may have a need you don’t know about,” she adds. Don’t take anyone for granted — he or she may turn out to be a great customer.
Listen — don’t talk. “I’ve heard a lot of people leave an event and say, ‘That was a terrible evening. I never had a chance to talk,’” says Benun. That, however, may be the best event for someone who is truly interested in self promotion. “People want to talk about themselves. Instead of talking about you, ask questions about them. Respond to what they need and try to be helpful.”