Looking back at the humble beginnings of Piggybank Marketing back in 2006, I feel a bit embarrassed. Not because of how “cheesy” and unpolished our image was back then but because it reminds me of an important business lesson we learned the hard way: “Beware the Sirens of Success”.
And, despite knowing better (at least intellectually), I fell into a common problem that faces many Professionals as they grow their practice and become successful. The good news is that I came to my senses before it was too late and doubled-down on correcting it.
Our Cheesy, Humble Beginnings
It was a local small business trade-show called “Mr. Bob’s Trade-show” where we publicly hung out our shingle for the first time.
Our trade-show booth wasn’t much: a pink piggy bank, gold chocolate coins people could take and eat, a big curiosity sign, business cards with an offer on them, an ad for my “Piggybank Websites” book (my second book, no longer in print) and a business card draw. Despite the “cheesy” factor, that trade-show produced 3 Clients for us right away and planted the seeds for more in the future.
The biggest thing that booth had going for us was Differentiation. What we were selling was “Websites that go Ka-Ching!”. We worked with our Clients to create marketing sites that were effective at getting the phone to ring with quality leads. But, our booth didn’t say web designer. And that was by choice. We didn’t want to get lumped in with all the other web designers that focused on “pretty” or “cool”. We did “results”. Our message was entirely focused on generating results for our Clients.
And it worked.
Sometimes What Appears As Success Is
Really A Harsh Business Lesson Masquerading As Success
As we got going with the business and were making money, we invested in upgrades to our image and trade-show booth and enjoyed relatively easy success for the first several years. And we continued to grow. We moved out of our home office and into a “real” office. Hired staff. And enjoyed being a “real” business. Life was good.
However…like the Sirens of Greek mythology, creatures that lured sailors to a rocky death with their enchanting singing, we were unwittingly being drawn into rocky waters. (This is a danger that many businesses face and its well worth sitting up and taking note of before you fall victim to the enchanting songs of success.)
You see, as we built up our reputation and word-of-mouth spread, our phone rang more and more. People wanted to do business with us. Yay!
“Sheesh Scott, sounds pretty rough…all those Clients coming to you…”
On the surface, getting busy with people coming to you without a lot of need for marketing sounds like easy street. And, at first, it was.
As we grew our staff and our capabilities with all things web, we found ourselves saying “yes” to Clients who weren’t so much interested in a website that got their phone to ring. They were interested in other things like creating custom web applications, “pretty for the sake of pretty” and “just host my site…I’ll look after everything else”.
It seemed to work well. For the first few years we were making good money from it. We even renamed the business from “Piggybank Marketing” to “Piggybank Technology” to reflect our move towards being more of a generalist. Talk about being lulled in by the “Sirens of Success”!
However, the further we strayed from our course—the “Websites that Go Ka-Ching!” brand—and moved into the rocky, generalist waters of “just another web shop”, our own results and success started to erode.
Beneath that veneer of success, there were to dangers slowly starting to reveal themselves as our ship came closer to the rocky shores the “Sirens of Success” were luring us to.
- We were getting lulled into not having to actively market to get business. Our marketing muscles started to get weak. It was too easy to take the phone ringing for granted.
- We let ourselves become generalists instead of specialists. By taking on whatever kind of web work came our way, we watered down our brand to the point of becoming “just another web shop”.
It reminds me of the story of the frog in boiling water. At first, the frog is in a pot of room temperature water. The frog could easily jump out of the pot but has no need to because he’s comfortable where he is. However, the water is slowly heating up. By the time the frog realizes that he’s in danger, it’s too late. The heat of the water has weakened him to the point where he can no longer jump out.
Fortunately, I did notice before it was too late…
How My Early Warning System
Woke Me Up To The Sirens of Success
Each year, I do a strategic review of my business. I look at the results we’re getting, the challenges, competitors, what’s on the horizon for the industry and so forth. It took a couple of years to really see what was happening but thankfully my yearly strategic reviews did wake me up in time to make course corrections.
(Hint: Do a full strategic review of your business every year!)
Once I realized there was a problem, I did some more sleuthing to figure out what the problem was and make corrections.
A Mighty Return To Humble Beginnings
Thankfully, I did wake up to what was happening and realized we needed to reboot ourselves and reclaim our original leadership position. But, to reclaim our spot as the “Lead Generation” leader who brought “Ka-Ching!” to our Clients, we had to make some big changes and get back to being a “marketing-first, technology-second” company:
- Shut down the custom development department and let one of our Developers go.
- Focus on WordPress as our exclusive web platform (and stop making sites in the developer-friendly Joomla)
- Recommit to our target market: Professionals (lawyers, home renovators, interior decorators, accountants and the like).
- Reboot our marketing message to focus on our core offering: We make the phone ring for our Clients.
- Change our name back to Piggybank Marketing.
We may have shed the cheesy (mostly!) that we launched with but the message is stronger than ever. In short, we reclaimed ourselves as the “Professional of Choice” for service and trade professionals who are serious in their want of a healthy pipeline of Clients to service.
Hopefully, sharing my story can help stop you from falling prey to the enchanting Sirens of Success or wake you up if you’re already headed towards the rocky shores.
I’d love to hear your comments on this…