I run an online marketing business and I am pretty good at what I do. But if you throw me into law or finance, I seriously suck.
It’s that gap in knowledge that helped me come back to my freelance business with a new perspective.
As a content marketing specialist and marketing strategy geek, I make some pretty weird connections. The latest one was moving from renter to home ownership.
Anyone that tells you there’s no difference between renting and home ownership has no idea. Getting ready for home ownership when you are self employed is like having 3 colonoscopies and a pap smear back to back.
In case you’re not getting it, it’s not exactly fun.
Now I have time to contemplate the whole experience and share it with you.
Without further ado, here’s what getting a mortgage taught me about my own online marketing business and being self employed
Nobody knows what you do quite like you
As it was our first experience of buying property, my partner and I had no idea about a lot of fundamental things. Law, finance, proof of employment when self employed, how to make offers, the whole nine yards was alien.
We wanted to make sense of a situation. Sometimes, that’s not going to be possible no matter how much you want it to.
We had some people and advisers in our corner that were more than happy to answer every dumb question. We had others that batted us back like errant children as they got on with the job. And we experienced others that tried to take advantage of our lack of knowledge as well.
It reminded me that my clients probably have the same feelings about me, too. And it’s my job, not theirs, to bridge the gap.
I act as your online marketing business and I have to take the time out to help you understand the how and the why of what I am doing.
What goes a long way is taking the time to remove the stigma associated with cluelessness and explain the process. Not so much that you clog their heads (we had enough of that, truly!), but enough to feel safe and supported.
That brings me to the next point.
You can build trust or break it easily
A mortgage is the biggest financial commitment a person can make. And we wanted to trust the system. But the mortgage system (because it involves banks and law) has an image problem.
Plus we had reason not to early on.
We were getting unreasonable ultimatums fired at us about the first house we saw and liked. It took away the joy of the process. Plus, I realised that if we bought the house and moved in and things weren’t quite dandy, we would resent it. It was pretty bloody awful.
So we pulled back off that deal and regrouped.
That was incredibly stressful but a necessary part of the process. Once we established our boundaries, we found it easier to make decisions in the house buying process.
It also reminded me of all the tricky marketing techniques and the common on-trend idea of guilt as a way to elicit a response from people. You see it with email newsletters and especially female courses where they pour on the whole “why don’t you like me?”
I don’t know how online marketing business strategies got so misguided. But they have.
Beyond being tacky and self indulgent, it puts a sour taste in a customer’s mouth. And that taste means that the minute things start going wrong, they have no trust for you. You can’t be about holding someone’s feet to the fire because at some point, it will come back to bite you.
Marketing your business should always be about playing the long game. That way, a client will stay with you and they will tell their friends.
That means leveraging relationship and:
- Building trust from the outset
- Overcoming objections with facts, not emotion
- Having boundaries and expectations set from the outset
- Ensuring you treat the customer consistently
- Explaining the roles within the project and engagement
- Taking time to foster a genuine connection (not the ones commonly found on the Bachelor)
While our clients may not be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars with us, they are spending their budget. Budget is always hard to come by and no matter the organisation or operation, every dollar counts. Taking time to make trust a factor of the relationship is important.
In all things, remember that trust is a two way street. Marketing your business is not about manipulation. It’s about being honest and genuine enough that people trust you.
Good customer service goes a long way
While we spent a lot of the time feeling like mushrooms and just following along what happens, the shining lights in any experience make a huge difference.
As an online marketing business (or any business really), customer service is one of the best tools in your arsenal.
Our mortgage broker, Deb, started off with a “no question is silly” ethos. She meant it. We asked her stuff about real estate, houses and of course mortgage. She worked hard to help us fill the gaps in our knowledge and to make the process of choosing a loan and securing one simple. She was also friendly, approachable and by the end of it, felt like a mate.
Our real estate agent, Klayten, was another. He allowed us to feel joy about buying a house. He answered our raft of questions without hesitation and with sincerity. Plus, he was on the ball and we stayed informed because of it.
That might sound like both Deb and Klayten were doing their job. Meditate on that for a moment. As business owners, we get caught up in the hassles we have. Our workflow management, business development, unreasonable complaints and all kinds of things take over.
If you are losing your touch with customer service, maybe it’s time to take a holiday or a new approach. Because as much as we might resist the idea, we may be the source of someone else’s bad service if we forget about what the client needs and focus too much on our own personal impacts.
You don’t have to go local (in fact, sometimes its better you don’t)
I don’t believe you need to meet for coffee to make good business. It seems to piss off a lot of old school freelancers that need to share that latte to do business but anyway, let’s not invite that argument again!
Not having to sit in front of someone to do business is freeing. It means you can choose the right person for the job. It also means you can avoid issues related to having limited choice or a small industry or even a small town.
As an online marketing business, I know marketing your business should be about looking for opportunities to reach further than your existing pond. That means leaving geographical locations, too.
We chose a broker on the far south coast and a solicitor on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. Even though we were based in Wollongong and looking to buy in the Illawarra, that was the right fit for us.
Deb (our mortgage broker) was the right fit personality wise. She also came highly recommended. Doing the paperwork and having processes that involved lodging documents meant we needed to be organised. But Deb and I have never met and we still got everything lodged and a mortgage sorted in 5 days from lodgement. That’s no small undertaking for a freelancer.
Our solicitor was via a friend’s recommendation and was out of the area for a good reason. Wollongong may be big, but it’s still small. So it gave us peace of mind to have someone that wasn’t overly invested in impressing real estate agents in the area and that our solicitor could remain independent.
There are advantages to choosing people you don’t see face to face. You can choose the person based on merit. You can maintain separation. You can avoid gossip or muddying the local pool.
And you don’t miss out on anything as a result due to the internet, email and phone.
In truth, 90% of my customers continue to be outside of Wollongong because I am an online marketing business that does all of it’s work online. My clients come from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and all kinds of regional cities and towns.
It never poses a problem.
Resilience and self care is key to getting through
It’s tough when you are under a financial microscope and filling out enough paper to kill a small forest while proving who you are ever week.
And it’s also tough taking every Saturday out for months to cram up to ten properties into the day and try to make an informed decision about where you’d like to park yourself and your huge debt.
Meanwhile, your house looks like Tetris, your knees knock about the clients you may lose at your online marketing business, and you have a project management sheet based on council pickups and property fixes while you try not to go crazy.
We started this process in April. It concluded in August. People were astounded at the speed in which we moved on the whole deal. But honestly, I doubt my partner, the dog or I would have lasted if we tacked on a few more months.
What got us through this tough time was each other and maintaining a healthy amount of self care.
In business, we think that everything is all consuming and super important. Most of it is rarely as important as we make it sound and definitely not as mission critical as we make it in our head. Even marketing your business is going to fail if you (the person delivering the service) are tired, burnt out and running on empty.
I don’t think people that laugh about their lack of weekend or ask “what night off?” are smart. I think they’re showing they can’t manage their business properly.
I’ve been running my online marketing business for almost 8 years and I went through the bulletproof stage too. But you have to grow up and grow out of it to survive.
We have to manage things in life as well as business. If one starts taking over the other, there are serious consequences. I get that people want to be famous or rich from business and feel the need to throw themselves in like some weird self employment do or die devotee. But it remains pretty lame when viewed from the outside, especially when it’s at the cost to health and lifestyle.