Holly Howard runs Ask Holly How, a small business consulting company based out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn that works with a wide variety of businesses from restaurants to retail to art studios and pretty much everything in between. Her clients report increased income and profit, decreased expenses and a significantly better quality of life. Holly heads up the Small Business Book Club at McNally Jackson Books.
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I’m a freelance musician. I’ve been in the industry for over two decades and always had steady income. I was very lucky and never had to do any marketing. I built my client base by word of mouth referrals. The problem is lately that there are many new musicians right out of college who are much savvier at branding themselves and marketing what they do. I suddenly find myself losing clients I’ve had for many years because they’ve chosen to go with a much younger musician who has created a brand for themselves that my clients really buy into. I’m frustrated because I feel like my work is just as good, so why must I all of a sudden start branding myself to impress clients? I’ve been doing this for over 20 years! They know my work is good. Do you have any advice about what I can do to stay relevant and not lose all of my clients to this younger and savvier generation?
In Tune, but Out of Touch
Dear In Tune,
As Bob Dylan said, “The times they are a-changin” and so must you. Business has evolved since you started out, and there is a certain set of “rules” that if you follow them, you will be very, very likely to succeed. Since we’re in playoff season right now, I like to compare business to basketball to help owners better understand what it means to play by the rules of the game. It can be a hard pill to swallow when you’ve been successful at something for decades and the game starts to change around you. But the thing about business is that if you want to be successful, you have to respect the rules of the game.
You mentioned you’re frustrated because these younger musicians are branding themselves and creating savvy marketing campaigns that your clients are buying into. That’s very smart of these younger musicians. But you’re confused about why you have to start branding and marketing at this point if you have gotten away without doing it for 20 years. Well, that’s understandable that it could be confusing, but here’s the thing: branding is a non-negotiable rule in business these days. It’s how consumers identify you. Because the market is so saturated now, you must create a brand—or you could also call it an identity—for your business or yourself that stands out. It is one of the rules of the game of business. Refusing to brand yourself is like a basketball player refusing to wear his team’s jersey while he plays. It just can’t happen; it’s a violation of the rules of the game! If you feel challenged at branding yourself, hire someone to help you. If you want to stay relevant for twenty more years, you must evolve and play by the rules of this new game.
Next, you mentioned that this younger generation is now suddenly marketing themselves, and you never had to before. Many business owners overlook the importance of marketing, but here is another non-negotiable rule of the game to successful business. Marketing is the way you control the message about who you are, what you offer, and why it’s awesome. If you’re not putting effort and energy into your marketing, it’s likely that you’re going to get lost in the sea of other freelance musicians vying for the same work. Refusing to market your business is like a basketball player running down the court refusing to dribble the ball, and no one would consider doing that in basketball because dribbling is non-negotiable. So is marketing in business.
The quicker you are to recognize that both branding and marketing are non-negotiable rules in business, the faster you can turn this around. Don’t fight these rules. Invest in creating a brand for yourself and a marketing message that speaks to your ideal clients, and you’ll find that your business will be a slam-dunk!