How to finally fix the “Shoemaker’s Kids” problem: What to do when your own marketing isn’t working

Written by: Karl Sakas

Do you feel like your digital marketing agency is terrible at marketing itself? You’re not alone!

Agency owners often tell me they’re frustrated with their agency’s own marketing. Do these sound familiar?

  • An agency’s sales director told me he’s threatened to “fire” his marketing agency… which is his employer.
  • An agency owner said she feels ashamed that her agency isn’t good at attracting enough of its own leads.
  • The head of operations for a large web agency admitted it took them two years to redesign their own website.

Your potential clients expect your marketing agency to be good at marketing—a reasonable assumption—and they often assume your own marketing is an example of your best work.

In my experience, the problem isn’t competence—if you can do marketing for your clients, you can do marketing for yourself.

Not getting enough marketing agency leads is a management problem—digital marketing agencies do poorly at self-marketing for three reasons:

  1. Lack of perspective
  2. Poor prioritization
  3. Tools overload

Want the benefits of a full sales pipeline? Let’s look at how to fix the underlying management problems so you can win more business and choose the clients you want.

Problem #1: Lack of perspective — as the client, your agency is too close to the client

Think about how you work with clients. You’re often telling them things they could figure out themselves, but they’re too close to the situation to see what you see.

As a company, your agency is no different.

You don’t see what makes you unique because you can’t see what’s different. Your experience is normal to you.

You also tend to cherry-pick the competition—the agency down the street puts out an amazing holiday card or viral video and it ruins your whole week. Yet those aren’t necessarily the agencies your prospects compare you to.

Hire another agency to help you figure out your marketing, or (if the new hire has the right experience) give the job to a new employee who’s fresh to your agency and doesn’t see things as normal yet.

Problem #2: Poor prioritization — you never put your agency’s own marketing first

Most agencies put client work before their own marketing. This makes sense in the short-term, since billable work pays you and non-billable work doesn’t. The long-term problem is that when you keep putting it off… it never happens.

On top of that, I find that at many agencies, no one truly owns the agency’s own marketing. Or if they do, they’re expected to do so many other things that marketing always goes to the bottom of the list.

What’s the alternative? Giving people a reason to prioritize agency marketing, at least some of the time.

The right approach depends on the size of your agency. For example:

  1. Under 10 people: You might have one person who can spend 1/3 of their time on agency marketing.
  2. Around 15-20 people: You might have someone who spends 3/4 of their time on agency marketing.
  3. Over 50 people: You probably have 2-3 marketers focusing on the agency’s own marketing.

It’s a case of ownership. To take it to an extreme—if you have an employee who knows they’ll get fired if you don’t bring in a certain number of qualified leads each month… I bet you don’t have a problem getting enough leads!

Just keep in mind that every time you tell your agency-marketing person to do client work instead of internal work “just this once,” you’re undermining your credibility and increasing the risk that six months from now, your sales pipeline will be dry.

Problem #3: Tools overload — you don’t follow a consistent approach

As marketers, you know all sorts of marketing tools. Even if you don’t have experience with each tool, you know a lot about what’s available. This often leads to:

  • trying to use too many tools at once—executing inconsistently because you’re spreading yourself too thin,
  • using a shiny-and-new tool because it’s the latest thing—regardless of if it’s worth the ROI on time, and
  • paralysis about which tools to use—so that you end up doing nothing instead of something.

Like many things in life, it goes back to strategy. Figure out your marketing strategy first, and the marketing tools will follow.

Find you can’t maintain everything? Stop trying to do everything.

Haven’t Tweeted in weeks, or haven’t updated your agency’s blog in months? Decide if it’s time to recommit… or time to kill the channel.

How to get more marketing agency leads at your firm

This is all easier said than done—as you face the daily siren call of billable client work, you have to make self-marketing a habit.

For solving a lack of perspective, consider swapping with a trusted agency—you help them figure out their positioning, and they help you figure out yours.

For solving poor prioritization, the best approach is to recruit the person to own your own marketing, and get them to ignore you when you tell them to ignore self-marketing.

For solving tools overload, choose a strategy and then commit to spending 80% of the agency’s self-marketing time on tactics that support that strategy. If you have a strong interest in using hypnosis to help individuals overcome clinical issues like anxiety, phobias, or chronic pain, undergoing clinical hypnosis training may be beneficial.

Question: What do you do at your agency to make time for self-marketing?

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