Over the past few years, I’ve seen the online marketing space become a cult of “more.” The celebrities of the industry — better known as the “gurus” — peddle a myopic hunting technique where the sole goal is an acquisition: Follow these five easy tips and score another fan, or subscriber, or follower, or comment, they promise. For only three payments of $99, you, too, can learn the secret formula for growing your email list, winning the SEO game, and achieving epic reach.
It all makes me want to reach for my bed and hide under the covers.
In my own work as a brand strategist and digital marketing consultant, I prefer to be a farmer instead of a hunter. I choose to put down the spear and instead, plant seeds and tend to them until the day I can admire the bloom. This isn’t to say that a hunter’s mentality isn’t right for some people, but it feels as if it’s evolved to be the only mechanism for growth. And I’ve seen otherwise: I have a thriving six-figure business that doesn’t lean on the hot and flashy. Instead, it has grown steadily because I’ve cultivated relationships, invested in content, and have amassed a small, but mighty following that actually looks forward to my notes in their inbox and my stories in their feed.
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned about taking a farming approach.
You must till the soil
After working with nightmare clients during my time on the agency side, I’ve become highly selective about who I’ll partner with. I weed out anyone whose sole objective is a million dollars in three months or 500,000 Instagram fans in two weeks. Instead, I choose to work with clients who want to “earn” rather than “get,” those who know they must gain their customers’ trust through consistent, authentic work.
Before I begin working with a client, I set up a plan that takes into account possible complications or pain points. To guide us through our entire relationship — from proposal to final invoice — I have a workflow that relies on clear communication. I clearly reiterate our mutual boundaries and expectations so we know exactly how and when to reach one another and how to mitigate any problems along the way. My onboarding process includes a client magazine, which has all the logistics of the engagement in one document.
Over the course of the project, I share educational tools, links, podcasts, articles, and other resources that will improve the client’s experience. They know I’m always thinking of them, and when we come to the final invoice, they’re all-too-ready to return and refer. Warm leads are the easiest to convert because you have a foundation of comfort and trust.
It’s best to think “slow and steady”
I am allergic to the business-card-networking circuit. As a shy introvert, I’ve had to devise ways to meet people organically and cultivate long-term relationships, which means anything from joining private online communities filled with like-minded professionals to connecting with people one-on-one through Medium. My goal is to develop three to five new relationships each year.
These aren’t quid-pro-quo relationships. In the circle I’ve created, we have hour-long Skype chats, email exchanges, and mutual mentorships. For me, relationships are an investment, so I’d rather be the tortoise that trudges along, slowly learning who shares my same values, than the hare who’s racing through crowds, throwing business cards every which way. These relationships have led me to new networks and partnership opportunities that I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise.
When you focus on the work, the results will come
Over the past two years, I’ve committed to writing about my expertise and putting it out there for anyone to read — for free. I’m not into penning SEO-driven how-tos that are devoid of all meaning and substance. Instead, I write in-depth articles complete with downloadable templates, case studies, methodologies, research and data, and worksheets.
It’s paid off: Nearly 70 percent of my new clients last year have been a direct result of the online content I’ve published. They assume that if I’m giving away such high-quality content for free, then my paying customers must get even more fantastic work. My writing has become an indirect sales tool for my services. I don’t have to “sell” my process because potential clients can already see how I think in the way I write.
Although I’m bold, ambitious, and direct in the way I do business, I’m not working a room or getting a rush over the next coveted lead. I pay little attention to follower counts. I don’t ever want to be addicted to the chase or to see people as dollar signs. Rather, I’m a farmer who’s happy to work, wait, and every now and then, admire the fruits of my labor.