Confession: I’m Not That Good At Marketing

A lot of the content I have written on this site has to do with marketing. I write about it because as a former philosophy major, the concept intrigues me.

The thing is though: I’m not very good at marketing.

With my first business, as a professional musician/producer, I instinctively knew that I needed to promote what I was doing. People wanted my contact information, so I spent $50 I’d made from a 2-hour gig at a senior citizen’s home on some business cards. [note 1] To advertise events, I used the rudimentary graphic design tools available: the infamous “PrintShop” program combined with a B/W Xerox machine. The results were not very good, in terms of design, but I did manage to get people to show up.

I didn’t have to try to bring in business. A lot of my business came from previous clients and referrals. But I didn’t do much to remain in contact with previous clients – I just waited for the phone to ring. In fact, I did everything “wrong” when it comes to marketing.

But I did well. I believe that there is a very simple explanation for this:


From the moment my fellow musicians and I arrived at a gig, it was clear that despite our age (we were in high school), we were professionals. Everyone dressed appropriately. We didn’t eat until after the show, or during a break. There was absolutely no smoking or drinking allowed on the premises by any of my musicians. We set up and tore down our gear quickly. But most importantly, when it came time to play, we delivered. And by the first note we played, my clients knew that they were going to get their money’s worth. [note 2]

What I Have Learned

I do not believe that there is a right or wrong way to approach marketing. As a professional musician, manager and producer, I made a good part-time income with little to no marketing. So is marketing a waste of time?

If you’re a top-rated high school jazz musician looking to bring in a few hundred dollars a week, marketing isn’t that important. But if you have a business that you rely upon to put food on the table for yourself and others, simply showing up isn’t likely going to be enough.

As I mentioned, I don’t think that I’m very good at marketing. I wouldn’t last a day in any advertising agency. I don’t have all the answers and I’m not sure that any of the answers I have are the right ones. But I have seen what works. The most effective marketing techniques accomplish the following:

  • Establishing reasonable expectations – effective marketing provides an accurate impression of what the client/consumer can expect. What are you going to deliver?
  • Telling a story – the best marketing tells a story that is compelling and draws people in. How will you make a positive impact on the life of your client?
  • Building trust – we are so bombarded with advertising in nearly every aspect of life, that we have become desensitized. If you’re selling your services like a used-car salesman, clients will not be as trusting. Why should a client trust you?

One area that I have learned a lot about over the years is customer service. Solid execution combined with exceptional customer service makes up for poor/nonexistent marketing. But only to an extent. Perhaps the best approach (for businesses that are challenged in the marketing department) is to view marketing as an extension of customer service. Providing helpful and insightful information is very effective as both a marketing tool and as a service to your existing clients. Conversely, in this day and age, a company that does not maintain regular communications (through a blog, newsletter, personal correspondence, etc.) will be increasingly viewed as “not caring” enough.

In the end, there is no “one size fits all” approach to marketing. I’m no expert and most people that run their own small businesses aren’t experts at marketing either. It is about trying new things and sticking with tactics that work. More than anything, marketing is just as much about meeting your clients’ needs as the actual services that you provide.


  1. I first developed my personal BLH logo at that time. Back to article
  2. About the money: Prior to any engagement, a fixed fee price was negotiated and established. Neither the client nor the musicians ever arrived at a gig with false expectations about the cost. I was always paid on time, and never extended credit. Although we generally based our price on an hourly amount (as high as $100 per hour per musician), the price was fixed and predetermined. Back to article