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Marketing From the Inside Out: A Coach's Perspective

Part one in a series on reframing your marketing efforts, analyzing your target market and creating a marketing plan

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Recently I was participating in a group of entrepreneurs who were discussing how to market their professional services. Many of the people in the room had never marketed anything, let alone themselves. The group leader asked a simple question: "What does marketing mean to you?" The negatives came pouring out: dishonesty, fear that my message will turn some people off, manipulation, I don't like the idea of "packaging" myself, junk mail, obnoxious telemarketers, used car salesmen, unethical. The negatives went on for 15 minutes. Their feelings can be summarized in the following statements:

  • "Marketing is a necessary evil to survive in business."
  • "I don't want to put myself in the same group as unscrupulous salespeople and obnoxious telemarketers."
  • "I'm afraid I'll screw it up because I don't know how to 'do' marketing."
  • And the biggest fear of all, "What if I market my services and products and no one is interested?"

In executive coaching, we often reframe a client's statement so that he or she may look at it from a different perspective. Reframing the above statements might look like the following:

  • "Marketing is the way I communicate my passion to the outside world."
  • "I choose to honor my values and ethics by marketing in the same way I enjoy receiving information from others."
  • "Marketing is nothing mysterious, but simply an activity directed at satisfying needs and wants through the process of exchange. I will use my common sense and enlist the help of others to do things beyond my interest and skill level."
  • "I am confident that I am filling a stated need in the marketplace."

I have shortened these to four simple guidelines:

  • Express your passion.
  • Honor your values.
  • Use common sense.
  • Find a need and fill it.
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Need to know if your idea is doable? Do some market research on the Web.

Express Your Passion

How many times have you made a recommendation to a friend about something you enjoyed? "You have got to see that new movie!" or "I went to the most amazing massage therapist yesterday!" or "A week at that resort changed my life!" It's easy to get excited and convey your ideas with enthusiasm when you're really moved by something. There are myriad things that touch our lives and change them for the better, increasing our sense of wellbeing. We relay stories about compassionate acts. We show off our latest gadget and extol its virtues. We encourage friends to seek help and support them by recommending professionals we have dealt with. All of this comes from the heart-because we care. We are not lying. We have nothing to gain by sharing this information, other than the good feeling that comes from sharing and helping.

Marketing yourself and your business is no more than sharing your passion. You chose your profession for a reason-presumably because you believed there was value in what you do. Focus on that value. Telling your story-marketing your business-is most credible when it comes from the same place that led you to your business in the first place.

Think of a product or service that you really admire and imagine yourself telling a friend about it. What are the benefits you received? How did it help or change your life? Why is this one better than anything else you've tried? Now do the same exercise describing your own business. Detach from the fear of rejection, or the embarrassment of talking about yourself. Try to be objective, and remember the passion that drove you to start this business in the first place.

Honor Your Values

Product value can be defined as price plus perceived benefit. If the price a person pays is equal to the benefit a customer perceives he is getting, he feels that he got a fair deal. If the price is too low, he might think there is less perceived benefit-that the product is cheap or shoddy. If the price is too high, relative to the perceived benefit, the customer might not waste his money. The goal is to understand the benefit of what you offer and then price it appropriately.

"We will compromise on almost anything, but not on our values, or our aesthetics, or our idealism, or our sense of curiosity."

-Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop

There is another place for the word "value" in marketing. Our personal values are the principles we live by, and a fulfilling career is one where our core values are honored. Ask yourself how your business honors your core values. Are there any aspects of your business that do not honor your values? If so, those are areas that you might want to realign. In order to express your passion fully, there should be nothing that you are "fudging" on or making excuses about. If you do the best you can and honor your values, your business will be more fulfilling.

Use Common Sense

To paraphrase the golden rule, market to others as you would have them market to you. In what marketing textbook is it written that marketing must be intrusive, obnoxious, insulting or unethical? If you love receiving phone calls during the dinner hour, then by all means, telemarket your service. But consider how your customers or clients like to receive information. If you are unsure, ask them.

As to ethics and manipulation, your ideal customer doesn't like being lied to anymore than you do. A business that honors your core values will more than likely honor your customer as well. The impact of customer satisfaction is huge. A general rule of thumb is that when someone likes a product, they tell an average of three other people about it. However, when they are unhappy, they will tell seven other people about their negative experience.

The last common-sense guideline is to do what you are comfortable with. If you detest public speaking, don't do it. You will be uncomfortable and probably not show your business in its best light. An alternative might be to write articles or put up a Web site that people could visit. Create the marketing mix of product, promotion and pricing that works with your style and supports your values. This might mean hiring people to do the parts you feel are necessary but are not prepared to do yourself.

Find a Need and Fill It

The best definition I ever saw of marketing was on the side of a cement truck on a California freeway. The big mixing drum was rotating, and the slogan painted on the side was "Find a Need and Fill It." Rarely do people purchase goods or services unless they perceive a need. And it is an uphill battle to educate someone who doesn't believe they need something. So target marketing was invented. You have to find the people who have the need for what you're offering.

Define your ideal customer or client. Then spend some time thinking about how they make purchasing decisions. Who influences them? Where do they get their information? What is the need your business fills, and what are the benefits to the customers?

Once you have identified customer needs and benefits, checked your business against your core values, assessed your personal strengths and weaknesses in communicating with prospects, and reconnected with the passion that brought you to this career in the first place, you are well on your way to marketing from the inside out.

Later articles in this series will examine how to do a market analysis and build an effective marketing plan that works for you.

Rebecca Cooper is a professional and personal coach who works with visionary people seeking to create and live authentic lives. She helps provide clarity, illuminate choices and reflect the passion of her clients. To explore what's next in your life, e-mail her at or visit her Web site at