Stop Doing What Isn’t Working

The online business world is filled with things you "should" be doing. You need to be "on" 24×7 marketing and engaging everyone.

Maybe someone out there really is:

  • posting awe-inspiring new content every day
  • search engine optimizing everything they write
  • doing keyword research so they never write content that doesn’t get read
  • posting thousands of pithy comments on Facebook and engaging in meaningful interactions on Twitter
  • creating an online newsletter with a jaw-dropping open rate that whips their fans into a buying frenzy.

But I doubt it.

If you’re exhausted by all the things you "should" be doing, but aren’t, you aren’t alone. Particularly if you’re a solopreneur, it’s impossible to do it all.

But you feel like if you aren’t doing the latest, greatest thing, maybe that’s why you aren’t making as much money as you’d like. Those online marketing guys with the Ferraris sipping Mai Tais on the beach must be doing something right.

This concept has caused me quite a bit of personal angst. After many years of fretting about all thing things I "should" be doing, I’ve stopped.

Not every online marketing tactic works for every market. So I’ve narrowed down my marketing to one simple rule: stop doing what isn’t working.

The longer corollary is that you need to try a bunch of stuff. Do more of the stuff that works. Stop doing the stuff that doesn’t.

The Pink Carrot Cookie Approach Failure

Here’s an example. For years I read the online marketing wisdom that you need to capture email addresses from your Web site. You lure people with a freebie "carrot" (aka "pink spoon" or "cookie content") like an ebook and when they give you their email address, you then send them a newsletter. The regular content causes people to "know, like and trust" you so they’ll buy your stuff.

It sounds good, but it didn’t work for me. And it wasn’t for lack of trying.

For years, I had sign-up forms for newsletters on my Web sites. I sent out a regular newsletter of one type or another to people via email for about 8 years.

Readers told me they loved all the free information they received and I had great email conversations with a lot of nice people around the world. It felt great!

There was just one problem. When I sent out a promotion telling people about our products, nobody bought anything.

Sometimes it wasn’t just a lukewarm response; it was NO response. Talk about feeling rejected.

I did surveys to find out what people wanted. I changed the format from plain text to HTML. Then back to plain text again. Then HTML again. I tried making the emails shorter. Then longer.

Maybe I needed more personality? I added notes from me that I thought would be witty or engaging. Then I removed the notes, so people got "just the facts ma’am." I tried including the entire article in the newsletter, since some people don’t like clicking links. But some people said it was too long, so I tried linking to an article on a Web page instead. I put ads on the side. I made a single-column with ads on the bottom.

Nothing worked.

The open rate just kept dropping. The larger the list got, the fewer people seemed to be actually reading what I was writing.

Time to Stop

At this point you’re probably thinking I’m a really slow learner. Maybe that’s the case, but for years everything I read said you were "supposed" to do a newsletter.

I tried everything I could think of to make it work.

But after much angst and reflection I realized that I had inadvertently created a list of people who just wanted free stuff. Hours upon hours of work creating fabulous free content to give to people resulted in almost no sales.

Talk about heartbreak.

When we stopped and really took a long, depressing look at what was happening with our marketing, we realized that our sales actually come from people who find our articles through searching online or through referrals of various kinds.

They were not coming from our email lists at all.

As it turns out, when I looked more closely at where my clients really come from, online marketing comes into play, but it’s the content on my Web sites (not in my emails) that brings in the leads that result in real live paying work and product sales.

Interestingly, the newsletter did not get me clients, but quite a few clients read my newsletter.

Prospects vs. Customers

Sometimes no matter how much free stuff you bestow upon people, they just don’t care. It may seem like they are your customers, but they aren’t.

It’s important to distinguish between your prospects and actual customers.

After I sent out the email announcing that I was shutting down my newsletter. I told people that it was going away and if they wanted to know about our future conferences and products, they could follow me on social media sites.

Or they could become customers. I got a lot of thank you emails saying nice things about all the free information I’d provided over the years. Interestingly, most of the emails came from my paying customers.

The other many thousands of people on the list did what they always did: nothing.

Here’s the thing. Prospects are people who might buy. Customers are people who have bought. There’s a big difference.

The prevailing theory online has been that you give people a whole lot of free stuff and then they know, like, and trust you so much that they are dying to throw money your way. The flaw is that you’re treating your prospects the same way as your customers.

Stop the Insanity

Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If you’ve been trying to follow conventional wisdom about loving your community of fans, yet making no sales, you might feel like you’re doing something wrong.

I lived everyone’s worst business nightmare. You do a ton of work for a long time and absolutely nothing happens.

Doing a lot of work and not making money is pointless.

Now the email marketing I do is though autoresponders are "evergreen." That means basically, set it and forget it email lists. No more weekly deadlines or angst. Our new plan for email also focuses more on follow-up and cross-selling.

The Next Thing to Ditch

So I’m no longer doing a newsletter, but I am writing a lot of articles. That’s been working well. We get more leads and it’s a lot less work, so I have time to try other things and develop new products.

Now you might be wondering, what’s next? What’s not working now? For me, it’s Twitter. I read recently that Twitter has "jumped the shark" and I can’t say I disagree.

It’s turning into more of a randomized RSS feed. I almost never have good conversations on it (or any conversations at all).

Maybe that means I’m doing it "wrong." But I’m done listening to what is supposed to work. At this point, my Twitter stream is largely automated by HootSuite.

Twitter doesn’t lead to money, so don’t expect to see much personal attention from me there.

When something doesn’t work, stop doing it. No matter what the experts say.

Stop feeling like the problem must be you. Odds are it’s not. Do something different until you find something that DOES work.

About Susan Daffron

Susan Daffron is the author the Alpine Grove Romantic Comedies and multiple award-winning nonfiction books, including several about pets and animal rescue. Check out all her books on her Amazon Author page.