You know what creative people are really good at? Making stuff. And you know what they are usually really, really shitty at? Selling it!
I get it – for most people making stuff is fun, selling stuff isn’t (I love it, but that’s why I do marketing for a living). But good products don’t sell themselves, so if you want to get any kind of traction for your work – your art, book, blog, band, t-shirts, whatever – you’re gonna have to get good at marketing.
And that’s exactly why I’m writing this long-ass article– it’s a complete blueprint for non-marketers to make a simple but super effective marketing plan that works for any kind of product or service – it’s a simplified version of the same approach I’ve used to sell a shitload of digital products like Nail The Mix and Getgood Drums, physical products like Horizon Devices’ Precision Drive or A Day To Remember merch, and to promote my old design agency.
This article isn’t going to be short, but that’s because there is a lot to unpack here. So don’t worry if you have to re-read it a couple times to digest it all – this is literally 10+ years of my experience packed into one super-dense blog post. But if you make it all the way through and put it into action, you’ll honestly be doing better than at least half the people who do marketing for a living.
So make a copy of coffee, get out your note pad, and prepare to get your learn on + sell some shit!
Let’s pretend this is your first shirt design – the quality is roughly on par with most of the “instagram t-shirt brands” that pop up every week
OUR HYPOTHETICAL PROJECT: A CLOTHING COMPANY
As I said above, the strategy and tactics you use will depend entirely on the specifics of your project, so let’s make up a project for the sake of this article.
Let’s pretend that we have a brand new apparel company, we just printed up a couple hundred shirts, and we need to sell them ASAP because we maxed out our credit cards to do it.
And now that we have a hypothetical product, we can make a hypothetical marketing plan – follow me and I’ll walk you through each step of it (please don’t try to hold my hand while we walk, that’s gonna make it weird):
STEP 1: DEFINE YOUR GOALS (What are your desired outcomes?)
When someone asks me “How should I market [thing],” my first question is always “What are your goals?” And I’d say 9 out 10 times, they can’t answer, or at best have some kind of vague, poorly defined answer like “uh….. sell as many as possible?” that tells me they haven’t really thought about it in any depth.
Do you see why this is a huge problem?? If you don’t even know where you’re going, how can you tell if you’re on track?? If you haven’t defined success, how can you tell if you’re successful???? As you can probably tell, this drives me insane 🙂
Asking whether you should have a Twitter account, what blogging platform to use, or what to post on Instagram is totally pointless, stupid and counterproductive until you’ve defined your goals. It’s like asking what kind of tires to buy before you know whether you’re driving a car, a truck or a bus!
This is the very most important part of the marketing process! So don’t half-ass it – spend some serious time on here.
Good goals are very specific, measurable and have a date attached to them.
Example: For our hypothetical t-shirt brand, our goal could be “Sell enough shirts in the next 6 weeks to break even on the cost of printing them – 50 shirts.” Specific, measurable and with a date – boom!
I’m just putting this in here because I wanted to make a “set your goals” joke but couldn’t think of anything clever :/
But there’s something missing – if I’m being honest, we aren’t really thinking big enough. Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and so is thinking big. Come up with goals that are possible but intimidating and STICK TO THEM. A good goal forces you to push past your comfort zone!
A goal should also be tough but attainable.
With that in mind let’s change our original goal, which was kind of conservative now that I think about it. Let’s think bigger— let’s change it to “Within 6 weeks, sell enough units of our first shirt to recoup the costs of printing them AND pay for the costs of printing our next shirt.” And let’s also say that we did the math and that works out to 250 shirts.
If you’ve done a good job of defining your goals, the strategy should already start forming in your mind…
STEP 2: CREATE A STRATEGY (How you’ll achieve your goals)
Next, figure out the main things you’ll do to achieve your overall goal – these things are your strategy. There’s no hard and fast rule here, but I find that 3-5 things usually feels right.
Think in broad strokes here – don’t get super detailed yet and start worrying about little things like which blogging platform you want to use. It’s way too soon for that. Think in terms of larger categories like “events” or “contests,” not what venue you’ll host the event at, how you’ll sell tickets, etc etc (we’ll get to all that soon).
Example: In the case of our imaginary t-shirt brand, we have our overall goal of 250 shirts sold in 6 weeks, so how are we going to get there?
Well, there are basically only two ways you can sell clothes: online and in stores. We have aggressive sales goals, we’re going to use both of these sales channels– we’ll set up an online store and sell them in our friend’s skate shop.
And last but not least, we also need to do some stuff to make people aware that our brand exists and get them to give a shit about it – this is called “brand marketing,” which basically refers to marketing that isn’t intended to directly drive sales. For example, when a company does an ad in a magazine that’s just a picture of some guy in a band wearing their shit, the goal of that campaign isn’t to directly sell shirts, it’s to make you think the brand is cool so that you’ll buy it when you see it in the store.
We don’t have the money or time to do print advertising, so we are going to have to be scrappy with our brand marketing – we’ll do some DIY “influencer marketing” (marketing jargon for paying people with big audiences to promote your shit) and a fun contest to create awareness for our new brand.
One closing note on strategy: this step is the part where most people struggle, because it’s “neither here nor there” and requires the most abstract thinking (a skill which I think is hard for a lot of people). So don’t worry if this part is hard or annoying, but also don’t give up on it – it’s SUPER important.
Anyhow – with our goals defined and strategy in place, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty details!
STEP 3: MAP OUT YOUR TACTICS (How you’ll execute each piece of the strategy)
By now you get the idea: we started with a big goal, and we’re breaking it down into increasingly small pieces that will together ladder up to that big goal.
And now is the part where we figure out what we’re going to do on a day-to-day basis to execute our strategy and achieve our overall goals. THIS is the point where you want to start thinking about what blogging software to use, what you should post on Instagram, and other detailed, tactical stuff.
And after reading the above, hopefully you see why it’s foolish to skip the first 2 steps. Jumping straight to the tactics is just stupid, because how could you possibly know whether you’re using the right tactics if you haven’t even clearly defined your goals??
And you know what? I’m not even going to go into the detail on most of the tactics in our example marketing plan. Why? Because that is by far the most straightforward part of the whole thing, and you can find plenty of information elsewhere on how to do most of this stuff.
But note that although I said it’s straightforward, this is where you need insane attention to detail, because execution is EVERYTHING!! Straightforward doesn’t mean easy.
And here’s the part a lot of you won’t want to hear: you need to do a little math.
Specifically, you should come up with simple spreadsheets like the one below that break down and track each of your goals so you can check your progress toward your overall goal at any time.
Example: Here’s how I’ve set weekly and daily sales goals for our fake t-shirt brand. I’m guessing that 75% of sales will come from online and 25% will come from retail – we’ll revise it if needed once we get some world data (for example, maybe we’ll find out that sales are actually split 50/50 between stores and online and want to adjust our sales goals for each one accordingly). Here’s the above spreadsheet for reference.
This might seem like annoying busywork, but it’s SUPER important because it tells us whether our plan is working or not – for example if it’s Thursday and we’ve only sold 12 shirts online, we know that we’ve got a problem because we’re tracking way behind our daily sales goal (3 shirts per day vs our goal of 4.5 shirts per day).
This is key to spotting and solving problems BEFORE they fuck you – yes, it’s annoying to maintain spreadsheets like this but I *promise* you that it’s worth it.
An aside/mini-rant about math
This is pretty basic stuff, so don’t be intimidated – you can learn how to do this in 30 minutes. And honestly? If the idea of doing this level of math (it’s literally 6th grade-level arithmetic) frightens you then I really don’t know what to tell you… if you let something this easy stop you, then don’t come crying to me when you fail.
I know this is a lot to digest, so don’t worry if you feel overwhelmed – don’t feel like you have to be a pro at this overnight. But the cold hard truth is that if you don’t learn how to market your shit, you’re pretty much doomed to obscurity.
Think about it this way: Yeah, making spreadsheets and stuff kinda sucks for most people (I’m weird, I actually love it).
But you know what sucks even more? Making something, then realizing that you have no fucking idea how you’re going to sell any of them 🙂
- Reality: you need to be a creator AND a marketer to get anywhere
- DO NOT START BY THINKING ABOUT SPECIFIC TACTICS like “should I be on Twitter” or “should I buy Facebook ads”
- Define your goals, create a strategy for achieving them, then map tactics to that strategy
- Good goals have a number and a deadline attached to them, so you can measure your success
- Think big! Set goals that are ambitious and force you to push past your comfort zone
- Make spreadsheets to model + track everything you’re doing. Don’t be afraid of a little math.
If you found this article helpful and want to take your marketing to the next level, check out Sell It Without Selling Out: DIY Marketing For Creators. It’s an online course from me (Finn McKenty) and Matt Halpern (Periphery) that gives you a complete, step-by-step guide to turning your creative passion into your career – to getting paid doing what you love. It’s 3+ hours of video lessons, a 50-page workbook, and includes lifetime access to our private coaching group!