These days, most of us would agree that in order to do business and market ourselves properly, you need a website.

A digital space that belongs just to you. (Not to Facebook, or Tumblr or even — for reasons that my friend Annie so beautifully explains.) A virtual store front where you can tell your story, connect with your customers and build your business.

Others might add that if you want folks to actually visit your website, you need to master things like SEO, social media, copy writing and various bits of technology.

So, when you’re new to the world of being an entrepreneur, learning how to market yourself online can feel like an insurmountable bunch of crazy.

I get it. Even for moi (someone who’s been doing marketing for 20+ years), there’s a LOT to get your arms around here.

And up until about two months ago, I thought I had things in the bag. My website and email list both continue to grow — not exponentially, but enough that I feel confident what I’m doing is working the way it’s supposed to. And followers of social media profiles also continue to steadily climb.

So it’s a perfect world, right? Um…

Wherein the Rose-Colored Glasses Fall Off

Actually, I’ve created for myself a perfect storm of totally UNperfect.

A storm that has me dreaming weird shit like this: I find myself in the backroom of a small police precinct. There are only 8 lockers which I take to mean that this force is limited in what we can accomplish. We’re all new here. We sit in a circle introducing ourselves to each other. Plain clothes detectives on a mission. I tell the group, “You know this is a dream, right? None of this is real.” Everyone nods slowly in agreement. Then one of the other officers asks me, “Didn’t you used to be in marketing?” And I reply: “Yes. That’s why I’m here. So I can go after the marketing criminals and take them down.”

Mr. Perfect thought this dream was highlarious. “You should blog about that,” he said after I’d told him all about it. “You could use a picture of Angie Dickinson and everything.” (If you don’t know who Angie D. is, here you go. You’re welcome.)

The point is, that I’ve been feeling a LOT uncomfortable with some of the practices I’ve encountered on the Interwebz. You may have seen the signs when I wrote thisthis and this.

Here’s the Readers Digest version: It started with frustration around finding a way to help online clients make the same kind of real progress in their marketing that I’d been doing with offline clients for years. Which led to the Prosperity’s Kitchen project. Which required me to reach out to many, many “A-Lister” types and convince them to join us. Which reinforced some earlier issues I’d had with A-Listers who I’d interacted with. Which fed my fury over how this whole shebang works online.

Which prompted my asking, “Is this really what I want to be teaching my students?” (Stay tuned for the answer!)

This Post is a Long Time Coming

You should know that this isn’t the first time I’m bringing up some of these questions — it’s just the first time I’m doing it publicly.

My mastermind friends know how I feel.

And poor Zeus. He really got a dose of reality from me during this past week’s mentoring session. At least he knows where I stand on all this.

Here’s the truth: Teaching is my passion. It’s my thing. It’s what gets me excited to do the rest of what I do. And it doesn’t seem to matter what I’m teaching as long as it’s useful and fun and MEANINGFUL.

The moment I see a student’s face light up in that moment of knowing, I’m hooked. For me, it’s about helping people reach their full potential — no matter what that means to them.

And because I love to teach, I try VERY hard to be the best teacher that I can be. I invest as much as I can reasonably afford on professional development so I can learn the latest in things like:

  • Instructional design
  • Changing and creating habits
  • Keeping students engaged and accountable
  • and of course, all-things marketing related (including the latest tools)

But some marketing consultants (and some teachers) aren’t as concerned with the quality of the learning experience they’re selling. Some marketing consultants are more interested in creating 6 and 7-figure businesses for themselves than they are for their clients.

Quasi-testimonials aside, many (if not most) online marketing consultants can’t even offer EVIDENCE that what they’re doing helps their clients grow their business by X%.

Mainly because they don’t document these things, but also because their clients don’t track this sort of thing either.

Sure…some can show you copies of their own bank statements as proof that their system works for them.

But they rarely show you proof that their “roadmap” or “blueprint” has made a measurable impact on the businesses of their clients. (And when I say measurable, I mean with numbers and math.)

And THAT my friends, is how the term ‘Internet Marketer’ turned ugly. To distance oneself from the shady practices of Internet Marketing, you might bill yourself as a social media expert, a digital marketing authority or some other euphemism. But the problem remains: not enough measurable proof that what you’re doing for your clients gives them a solid return on their investment.

The Sexy Come-on

For the noobie biz owner (who doesn’t know the difference), it’s all pretty much the same: find the person with the best tools, know-how or promises (according to the social proof they provide) and plunk down some cash so you can learn the “inside” secrets to getting the best traffic, biggest list or most followers.

We hear it every day, all day long: “Bigger is better. Size matters. Take your business to the next level…”

Unfortunately, when you consummate the relationship (after you’ve paid a crap load of money), you may find that the Big O of gratification you were promised, won’t be…er, coming, after all.

Sometimes that’s the fault of your instructor. And sometimes it’s your fault (for failing to follow-through).

Regardless, it may take you some time to learn the lesson that there aren’t any REAL secrets to marketing your business. And that online marketing efforts do NOT replace offline efforts.* They enhance them. Extend them. Also that the newest plugin, app or cloud-based service is NOT going to be the answer to your small biz prayers.

My advice: master the fundamentals before you start looking for fancy pants ways to market yourself. (And when I say fundamentals, I mean the stuff you’d do whether you were marketing online or off.) *If your business exists solely online, that just means you have to work extra hard at this relationships-thing.

Social Media is Bullshit

That’s the title of a book I just finished by one BJ Mendelson. (Stay tuned. I’ll be interviewing him soon and posting a full review.) It’s a fun and interesting read — and one I recommend.

One of the things that he mentioned was the fact that all the marketing advice we find in books is recycled from Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Which means (drum roll) there’s nothing new under the sun.

AND it’s really about relationships. But not the weak relationships we make online (usually). The strong ties are the ones we’re after. The ones we make when sit across the table from someone and look them in the eye. The ones that build after weeks and sometimes months of getting to know someone at an in-person networking event. Or, the ones that happen after years of building and nurturing friendships. These are the ones that really matter to the success of your business.

My Point (and I Do Have One)

Take all of this marketing advice with a grain of salt. Keep your BS meter on (and check the batteries often).

Slow the heck down. And listen. To your customers. And definitely to yourself. (Not necessarily to “experts” or “gurus.”)

For my part, I promise to de-emphasize the tools and tactics around here, and focus more on strategy and fundamentals. And if I can’t add anything new to the conversation (because really — everything you need to know is already out there), then I’ll keep my mouth shut.

What about you? Share your experiences in a comment below, or take a crack at interpreting my dream. I’m all ears.