Over the past 17+ years as a designer/marketer—I’ve experienced many successes as well as failures. To fail is human, and to fail is to get better—as long as you learn from your mistakes and don’t give up.
After some recent time off and reflection on a recent face plant—I asked myself, how can I reduce failure and improve my processes, so I don’t repeat them?
In this “rubber meets the road” post, I want to share five hard-learned “successful failures.” I call them “successful failures” because I have learned from these “biffs” which have made me a better marketing professional and person. I hope you can apply some of these to your own business or marketing career—whether you work for a firearm brand or are going it alone.
1. Always identify the problem you’re solving.
I was recently approached by a large brand with the goal of expanding market share. They didn’t know how, why or where to start. This vague and all-encompassing goal had no clear finish line. After much time and thought I realized I had nowhere to start on building a strategy because the goal was too broad. After going back to get the information I needed, I was met with resistance because the VP was not open to new ideas. This left me with a proposal that talked in circles and that was ultimately turned down.
When goals are not defined, they end up causing a lot of confusion. Pain must be identified to find the problem you’re trying to solve. If the goal isn’t black and white; figuring out which way to proceed can be costly.
Lesson: Define the pain points you’re trying to solve for and use the SMART method to determine your strategy. Get to the heart of the problem and stick to it. When things start to veer off-course—always point back to the goal you and your team agreed on. Do not accept directions or requests that are vague.
2. You can’t put lipstick on a pig.
Several years ago, I worked with a start-up who came to me with the goal of quadrupling their online sales in one year. The company was unknown, and the product had several flaws. They had ample budget from the start but soon ran out of money once the program didn’t bring in the expected revenue. This was mostly due to product returns, complaints and the fact this product was more of “nice to have” than a “have to have.” Plus, the product was overpriced and their website was poorly designed and loaded slowly.
They raised more money, tried a different marketing approach with a different firm which also failed. They eventually went out of business.
I receive calls weekly from start-ups and entrepreneurs who claim their product is a game changer. In my early days, I would take any project that came across my desk. But after several failed projects—like the one listed above, I now know better.
When a new lead comes in, I’ll spend 15 -30 minutes on the phone to talk with that person to understand more about their product and more importantly—try to figure out what kind of person they are. After reviewing and running it through my qualifying filter which looks something like this:
- What is the problem this product solves?
- Is there a large group of people who have this same problem?
- Does this product address the problem in an easy way?
- Is this product a “nice to have” or a “have to have?”
- Does this product disrupt a category?
- Is it the right timing for this product?
- What trends can this product ride?
- Can I work with this person or company?
- What does the competitive landscape look like?
- What will it take to achieve this business’s goals?
After the above ten questions are answered—I’ll usually have a good idea on whether or not we can help them and go back to schedule a longer exploratory call. It’s taken a long time to get to this point of understanding and many setbacks.
Lesson: All the marketing in the world won’t make a bad product good.
3. Pick the right projects and learn how to “manage your boss” (or client).
I’ve met many hard-charging entrepreneurs, business owners and marketers over the years—and one thing I’ve learned through—trial and error—is how to best manage them. I’ve worked with many individuals who I’ve liked, some who have become good friends and others who I’d rather not ever think about again.
Everyone is different and everyone has different expectations, ways of learning communicating and working. It’s up to you to figure out how to best manage the relationship.
In his book, Managing Oneself, Peter Drucker explains how to figure out the best way to work with your boss (or clients) through understanding your strengths, weaknesses, how you work, how you learn, your values and how you can best contribute to your organization.
“Bosses are neither a title on the organization chart nor a “function.” They are individuals and are entitled to do their best work in the way they do it best. It is incumbent on the people who work with them to observe them, to find out how they work, and to adapt themselves to what makes their bosses (or clients) most effective. This, is fact, is the secret of “managing” the boss.
Lesson: Learn who you are, what you’re best at, how you learn and how you best work. Keep to your core set of skills and inform the people that you work with how you work. Then learn how your clients, boss or co-workers work. This will make for better business relationships and ultimately better marketing outcomes.
4. Slow down.
I’m very eager to please my clients—and this has gotten me in a lot of trouble when the production schedule gets off track.
By saying you’ll have it done on Tuesday and then are not able to deliver it till Friday because a hundred things popped up (hacked website, downed servers, file transfers, email issues or just life in general) will tarnish your reputation and leave people questioning whether they made the right decision to hire you. Or, you rush through the deliverable to find out (from the client) it’s riddled with spelling errors and missed requests.
Lesson: Don’t be afraid when setting the timeline to add one or two days (or a week) to everything you promise to deliver on. When it comes to contracts or project specs, go over the schedule in detail to make sure everyone is on the same page and expectations are set correctly. If you’re going to be late, tell the recipient well in advance, explain the situation and remedy it as soon as possible. Send your team, clients or stakeholders progress/update at least twice a week. Always remind yourself of the adage “under promise, over deliver.”
5. Don’t deviate from your core skill set.
I try to focus on three disciplines: brand development, design and utilize inbound marketing tactics to deliver my client’s brand to their customers. When I find myself talking to clients about things out of my core area of expertise, things start to go sideways and I end up trying to stick a round peg into a square hole.
Lesson: Stick with your core skill set and don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Find experts in the areas you need help with. You will cause yourself less stress and deliver a better work product.
To sum up, marketing a firearm business can be extremely difficult—filled with failures, restarts, and do-overs. This is a competitive industry. Sometimes you need to figure it out as you go before finding out what works.
It took NASA over twelve attempts to get a rocket off the launch pad (Source: Wikipedia). Imagine if NASA would have given up after the 11th try. There’d be a Russian flag on the Moon rather than the Stars and Stripes.
Hard-lessons make us better. The world was built on them.
So no matter where you’re at, keep at it. You might be one month away from a breakthrough that will change your life and business forever. Keep trying and don’t give up. Figure out what you’re best at and focus on getting better. Slow down, over communicate, fail often—fail fast and always keep striving to achieve your goals, no matter what they are.
Questions. Comments? Comment below or send me an email.
By Josh Claflin, Brand Development, Inbound Marketing & Creative Strategy
Josh helps brands in the tech, outdoor and firearms industry who are struggling to develop their brand; grow, stabilize or increase profits through their websites; increase revenue through online channels and enter the digital era of marketing.