The Business Lie About Free DIY

August 19th, 2011 | Shakirah Dawud | 46 Comments

Adam Toporek created this infographic on the state of small business in the US (click the image to see it larger and on IntenseFence’s site, please).

The numbers reflected

the impact of the economy on SMBs and the impact of SMBS on the economy. The figure that stuck out to me and a few other commenters on the post was the little factoid on the bottom left:

Small Business Don’t Think Marketing Will Help

In a recent survey of small-medium sized businesses (less than 1,000 employees) over half had annual marketing budgets of less than $1,000.

That number – and attitude – are daunting for someone who wants to see these businesses succeed.

In my comments I said as much, but I got a sneaking feeling from my own experience that both the number and attitude stem from our DIY spirit.

Don’t get me wrong. I love, embrace, and embody that spirit. That spirit is what gets businesses off the ground – especially strapped-for-cash businesses. So stay with me for a moment.

If you’re strapped for cash and your business is floundering, what do you do? 

Do you read that cache of business books and ebooks you’ve accumulated?

Do you craft mindblowing ideas for a guerilla marketing campaign (like these)?

Do you troll blogs, talk to colleagues, and call your mom for inspiration, critique and advice?

Do you go out and paper bulletin boards and offices with your company colors?

Do you review your SEO strategy?

Do you photoshop a new logo?

All these activities are ways to kickstart development and promotion of marketing ideas, ones I could have rattled off as “free ways to promote your business” in another blog post (and probably will one day). But don’t be deceived. Those things are no more free than if you had hired a marketing firm to do them for you.

And I might point out that it could actually be more expensive if I weren’t afraid of blatant horn-tooting on someone else’s blog.

There’s a reason we use the term “investment” when referring to time spent building our business. Sometimes that time investment necessarily overwhelms time spent anywhere else in our lives. That’s okay.

What’s not okay is to do it ourselves in order to avoid spending money.

Calculate the time you’ve spent doing it yourself for your business and multiply it by your hourly rate. Any low whistles? Now compare it to what it would cost to get a professional to do it.

It’s one thing if you don’t have the cash. It’s another if being a “prudent spender” means ignoring the fact that time really, literally, is money.

Take another look at your marketing budget. Is there a disparity between it and the level of your actual marketing activities? Is that for the first reason I mentioned in the previous paragraph or the second?

How do you balance your DIY?

Image credit: IntenseFence.

Shakirah Dawud is the writer and editor behind Deliberate Ink. Based in Maryland with roots in New York, she’s been crafting effective marketing copy as a writer and polishing many forms of prose as an editor since 2002. Clients in many fun sizes, industries, and locations reach her through the Web.

email
Shakirah Dawud

Shakirah Dawud

Writer & Editor at Deliberate Ink
Shakirah Dawud is the writer and editor behind Deliberate Ink. Based in Maryland with roots in New York, she’s been crafting effective marketing copy as a writer and polishing many forms of prose as an editor since 2002. Clients in many fun sizes, industries, and locations reach her through the Web.
Shakirah Dawud
Shakirah Dawud
Shakirah Dawud

Latest posts by Shakirah Dawud (see all)

Print Friendly
Opt In Image

"A Little Birdie Told Me" could fly into your inbox just once a month. It's Shonali-as-seen-nowhere-else. What're you waiting for?

42 comments
3HatsComm
3HatsComm

I am so glad I saw this as I was putting the final touches on my post for tomorrow. One of us owes the other a Coke, our thoughts are so similar .. I had to add this. Seriously I haven't copied a thing yet continue in this 'nothing is free' vein. I may have to do a follow up on the time thing alone, how a pro can actually save time; and another on expertise, how a pro can save money by doing things right the first time or just general knowledge, how to negotiate, etc. FWIW.

Shonali
Shonali moderator

As you know, Shakirah, I loved this post. That is all!

bdorman264
bdorman264

Hey Shakirah, did you say factoid?

I will say this, just because you CAN do something doesn't necessarily mean you SHOULD do something and this is a perfect example. You are better off paying attention to your core business and be willing to pay $10 to make $100. Too often I see businesses make cuts in the wrong places.

Thanks for sharing this; good to see you at Shonali's.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Great post Shakirah. Fact is nothing is free. Everything has a price or opportunity cost.

In defense of small business. If you are best in class you really just need a storefront, a sign, and that is it. People will do your marketing for you.Every community has them. Best pizza. Best burger. Best dry cleaner. Best Autobody.

But most businesses are not best in class and thus need marketing. What if you are second or third or last? In fact most businesses we see Ads for on TV even national brands are not best in class. Would Olive Garden or Applebees really have to run special food deals if they had best product? Of course not.

I am pretty sure most small businesses with their $1000 budget could easily increase their ROI if they used a professional. But then no one trusts marketers so can you blame them for not jumping in? But in this free can also mean lost business they could of had. And that is a cost.

KDillabough
KDillabough

I so agree with @Adam | Customer Experience 's point about small businesses often not realizing the "true cost of DIY". If I had a penny for every SMB that said "I'll do it myself because it doesn't cost me anything", I'd not only be rich, I'd be in a perpetual state of stunned laughter.

When I work with businesses, we sit down and talk in terms of "investment" vs. "expense. An investment has an ROI...a return on the money spent. An expense is like placing money on a windowsill, opening the window and letting the wind blow it away: no return.

If the DIY is indeed an investment, then the true cost of doing-it-yourself should be less than the cost of hiring out, and should reap a return on that investment. I say: keep your focus and your energies on your most profitable activities, and hire out the rest. And you know me @ShakirahDawud I don't believe in balance...only an ebb and flow:)

Adam | Customer Experience
Adam | Customer Experience

Shakirah... First, thanks so much for the shout out on the infographic (you too! @shonali ). A little backstory: It's funny, because we had another stat in that place on the graphic, and I just didn't think it was strong enough. So, we literally added the marketing stat the day before we published -- and of course, it has gotten most of the attention!

You make great points about that balance for SMB's between time and money. I think many don't realize the true cost of DIY. Sometimes it's a good idea; but sometimes it is not. I also think @KenMueller is very on point about the narrow view of what constitutes marketing and the illusion that social is free.

Unfortunately, marketing budgets have always been the first to the chopping block in lean times. A good question to ask business owners: is what you're doing working? I think maybe you can begin a conversation from there.

Great stuff Shakirah! Thanks again.

KenMueller
KenMueller

Commenting as someone who works with small businesses, and hears the objections and complaints all the time, I think there are a few reasons for this, even beyond the DIY attitude. First, I think there is a very narrow thinking about what constitutes marketing. For most, marketing = advertising. And that's it. They don't understand that there are a lot of things that can fall under the marketing banner that don't HAVE to cost as much as a Yellow Pages or newspaper ad. Second, for many it's the time factor. After all, time = money,. and this is where the DIY thing comes in. If I don't have time to do it myself, then it can't be done.

Third, when it comes to Social Media as a platform for marketing, BECAUSE the biggest tools are "free", there is a sense of not taking it seriously and thinking "I'll get to it when I have time."

In this way, small businesses look at marketing in much the same way as larger businesses. It is a short term proposition: how will this benefit me NOW? They don't think in terms of the longer term relationships that will generate a greater return in the long run. I find this odd, because when you go into their businesses, everything they do in person is built around relationships with customers and vendors. They just don't make the leap to the online world, understanding that THAT is exactly what they need to do.

ShakirahDawud
ShakirahDawud

@bdorman264Factoid, another favorite word I don't get to use as often as I like. I read that paragraph a couple times just so I could say "factoid" again. Yeah...

I think we're losing that old-school sense, to pay $10 to make $100, here on social media. Which is a shame.

bdorman264
bdorman264

@HowieG No one trusts marketers.................how would like to be the 'insurance guy'?.......................:)

ShakirahDawud
ShakirahDawud

@KDillabough Yes, I know I used the hotword for you in that last question, right? But which would you say is the ebb and which the flow? Or should I say when? Genuinely curious.

I'd love to be rich and laughing, though I'd hope to grow less stunned about that after a bit :).

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@Adam | Customer Experience "Is what you're doing working?" is a GREAT starting point, and really makes them think about it. Thanks again for a great infographic, Adam!

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@KenMueller I will say that there are some businesses that don't *have* to be online, doing social etc. They might, in 20-30 years, but right now, they are getting along just fine. I'm reminded of a post @jenzings wrote about that a while back.

And then, a few weeks ago, I was at my hair stylist and asked her how business was going. It's booming, because of her excellent service, she has a great staff, and very good location. Her customer service is really great too - so almost all her business comes from WOM. They don't do formal measurement, but they always ask new customers how they heard of them, so they are, in essence surveying them. She told me she pulled her Yellow Pages ad because it did nothing for her (and that reminded me of you too!).

ShakirahDawud
ShakirahDawud

@KenMuellerGood point you added, Ken, about the fact many businesses see marketing as ads, period. And then proceed to look into ways they can get around the cost without first checking to see whether they'll really be spending that much at all. Exactly.

I get your next point pretty often, too: "I'd do it myself if I had the time." It makes me wonder how many other businesses "had the time" and now have websites that aren't as effective as they could be. And then there are those, directly to what you said, who keep putting it off because they don't see it as a priority until they can actually sit down and do it themselves.

I could go on...

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

@ShakirahDawud Orange Crush it is. And feel free to use the ideas, think my next one will be on events (whenever I get around to it), both development and maybe a little marketing. Like with any service professional, it's not just the time but also the talent, the expertise that combines effectiveness with efficiency. We'll see.

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

@Shonali I am still laughing that I read this after I had drafted today's post. I really do have some ideas kicking around now; just want to write them in fun ways to educate and of course attract potential clients, not repel them with my long-winded rants. ;-)

Adam | Customer Experience
Adam | Customer Experience

@bdorman264@shonali@KenMueller Geez, go a way for a couple of days and look what happens... Of course I made it up, that's why I said it was a statistic, not a fact. This is the Internet; those two things are not synonymous. :)

Of course, I'm kidding. Ironically, I actually had someone on Twitter ask me for the source on that stat (which I sent to her)!

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

@Shonali @KenMueller @jenzings My example of not being online: a local liquor store w/ good selections, reasonable prices and nice building at busy intersection. No ads, no website that I've seen and from what I can tell, they're doing just fine. I also visit a wine shop this IS DIY their own marketing, also doing OK. And no it's not just me keeping them both in business. ;-)

KenMueller
KenMueller

@ShakirahDawud And the thing about "I Don't have the time" that gets me is that they have the wrong approach. They view it as adding "one more thing" to their day. Well, if you see something that works, you don't just add it. You compare it to what you are doing and MAKE time for it. Perhaps you can stop doing something that isn't as effective. I try to convince them that in the long run, some of this Social Media might actually save them time, IF they do it right.

jenzings
jenzings

@ShakirahDawud@3HatsComm@Shonali@KenMueller@Adam | Customer Experience Just getting to comment on this now...was "on vacation" last week (painting a guest room). Which brings me around to the topic at hand: regarding home improvements, I think most people know and understand what their DIY limitations are. I can paint a room, but I'm not going to tackle installing a hot water heater or replace a furnace. Too much can go wrong. The problem with applying the same logic to marketing is what I typically call the "modern art effect"--people look at it and say "heck, I can do that" without understanding process, strategy, method, measurement, etc. The fact that social tools have no cost to entry (note I did not say they are "free") and you have absolutely the scenario under which business owners elect to go it their own way rather than shelling out dollars that could be spent on tangibles in their businesses.

The post I wrote that Shonali referenced was a counter point to the notion that small businesses all "NEED" to get on board with social. I just don't think that's true. But all businesses should have: a crisis plan, a marketing plan, and a business plan. Not doing so leaves room for the competition to take over.

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

@ShakirahDawud@Shonali@KenMueller@jenzings Read a few posts on this lately, the 'social' or 'online' is free nonsense; small biz owners get that ads cost money but still have the misconception that if it's Facebook it should be "free." More myths for us to bust.

ShakirahDawud
ShakirahDawud

@KenMuellerWow, that's a perfect argument to offer: it's not one more thing if you can switch something else out--most likely something arduous and/or tedious--for something that takes less time but does the same thing. Offer nobody can refuse...

Trackbacks

  1. [...] The DIY attitude is common to many high energy, high ambition, high achieving entrepreneurs. And it works for a while, in the beginning. But as your company grows, things will begin to fall through the cracks and your business will suffer. [...]

  2. [...] on communication consultant Shonali Burke’s blog, in a post written by Shakirah Dawud called “The Business Lie About Free DIY.” In the comments a few of us talked about businesses that are quick to reach for the, “But I [...]

  3. [...] discussion arose last week on Shonali’s blog, in a post written by Shakirah Dawud called The Business Lie About Free DIY. In the comments a few of us talked about businesses that are quick to reach for the “But I [...]

  4. [...] tale of promotional ‘news.’ Even if you go it alone, don’t fall for the DIY lie. Don’t know if you’ve heard, but time IS money and you could end up spending as much [...]

map