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What to do when you "can't afford" to

First off, this is not a sales post. I'm not trying to low key sell you services or anything like that. What I do want to do hear is address a statement I occasionally hear when I'm talking with small businesses.

It sounds like this: "Wow, your work is awesome. We want to work together but don't think we can afford to spend on marketing right now."

While this sometimes could be a way to let me down easy, there are plenty of times where I genuinely believe that the person feels like they can't afford to spend on marketing. It is often coming from an honest place.

This is my practical guide for what to do when you find yourself in this situation:

1) Ask yourself if you can afford NOT to

This is one of those questions where you can more easily clarify if it truly is something you can afford to do without.

For example, take "I can't afford to pay the power bill." If you don't do this, you can't use your computer, and without your computer, you can't complete your most basic and vital business operations. You'd fail. Simply put, you can't afford NOT to pay the power bill.

Now, the flip side of this is something like a building a huge, lavish office. Sure, it might be nice for employee morale to have the coolest workplace on the planet, but can you afford it? And what if you don't? Will your whole team quit? If not, then yes, you can afford not to get the baddest office in the galaxy.

Many things are somewhere in between, though. Marketing is pretty damn important, but you might not have an extra $1,000 or $5,000 sitting around every single month to pay an in-house team or agency. Good marketing typically pays for itself many times over, but if you're starting out, it can take some time to build up to that point.

Will you go bankrupt during that time if you aren't generating a positive ROI in the first three months? If so, then you're right in thinking that you can't afford it -- because you can't in a literal sense.

But in a bigger sense, it's also the opposite. If you need more sales to market more, and marketing creates sales -- then one needs to come before the other. And if you aren't marketing to create a steady pipeline of customers, is there someone else out there in your industry who is? If so, then you could fall further and further behind while you aren't doing anything on the marketing front.

It sucks and I certainly don't envy anyone in that situation. But the truth is that many businesses can't afford not to market in some way, even if they're just starting small.

2) Prioritize to keep costs low

So, this is one of the things that I always recommend to all businesses: prioritization. There's a lot out there. Website, SEO, social, email, blogging, PR, advertising -- and there are countless subcategories that arise from there.

When you're trying to marketing your small business, there simply isn't enough money to invest in all of these things fully. That's why I'm really big on not just doing things right but doing the right things.

If you focus on doing a few key things well with your marketing, it's infinitely better than doing everything under the sun in a mediocre way. You don't really get many bonus points for quantity. It's much more about quality.

But how do you know what to focus on? Well, that brings us to:

3) Get a plan

This is one of the places where you absolutely CAN afford to do this. Without a concrete, well-reasoned strategy, you're bound to find yourself running full-speed eastbound looking for a sunset. You just won't be able to win, and the worst part is that you don't even know which direction to go, so you could keep making the same mistakes over and over.

Imagine that you're lost in the woods and someone tracks your progress over the next eight hours. How frustrating would it be to learn that you mostly went in circles and kinda just stayed in the same three-mile radius?

Incredibly frustrating, and I see a lot of folks do this with their marketing. That's why one of the things we offer is a full marketing game plan, essentially an audit of what you're doing and a comprehensive strategy of what to do and how to do it.

Now again, I put that disclaimer in there at the top because I'm 100% not asking for your business. What I am saying, though, is that having a solid game plan is the single most important place where you should consider hiring a professional to craft it out.

Often times, it's the constant never-ending production that costs the most, whereas a one-time strategy can point you in the right direction. The former is a pro guide who you just need to follow out of the woods. The latter is a map -- you still might have trouble reading the map and getting yourself where you want to go, but it costs a lot less and gives you a much, much greater chance than you had before.

4) Give your time and money to the best things first

This is a technique that helps turn priorities into realities. I've struggled with this myself. I would SAY I prioritize certain things, but often times, my time went elsewhere. It went towards "putting out fires," essentially dealing with problems unrelated to my priorities.

Have you ever noticed you just find a way to make certain things happen but other things are really, really tough to happen. Like, if you found out something happened to your dog, you'd drop everything and help -- but when it comes to working out, you just don't ever feel like you have the time?

That's exactly what we're talking about here. You've prioritized your dog over your physical fitness (nothing wrong with that either). There are times when your priorities work great, but if you notice that you want something but never seem to get it, this could be your problem.

One thing that helped me a ton was the concept of giving my time and resources FIRST to the things that I prioritized. For example, if you're trying to stash away some funds in an IRA, and that's important to you, then give the money to that first. If it comes to working out, set a time when you work out and don't ever schedule anything else during that time and only break that in the case of a catastrophic emergency. Give your time to working out first.

This might sound obvious, but I'm guilty of failing at this and have met tons of people who are terrible at it. And it applies to marketing as well. If you know that it's important to your business, give your time or resources to it before giving them to something that you know is less important. You might find that once you make that shift in your thinking, there's a lot more available for it than you initially realized.

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