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Secret Failures and Confessions of Successful Marketers

It’s another Expert Briefs, where I ask really smart business owners to answer your burning questions.

If you've missed past Expert Briefs, you can click on the undies to see them all –>

So, on that note, this week I asked our panel of experts …

“Our readers oftentimes think we are somehow “lucky” in business or smarter than they are.

So, this week, I wanted to do something completely different and see if you all would be willing to share a fail, disaster, or total miss from your business.

And, is there a lesson or some good that came from it?”

Here are their stories they so graciously shared.

KellyKelly McCausey of Solo Smarts Podcast says:

I'd like to tell you all about a big fat fail, something really embarrassing – but my mind is mercifully blank on that at the moment. I have to admit though, that my entire business life started with a failure.

It was 2002. I started a desktop publishing business, built a website, created brochures and business cards and told every single person I could all about my big plans.

The bad news? I never got a single desktop publishing client. It was a total failure.

The good news? Several friends loved my website and asked if I could make them one.

This opened up doors to a lot of word of mouth business and pushed me into spending more time online. That led me down the path that brings to today. I'm grateful that I never got a client for desktop work today.

I'd like to say I never launched another failed project. Far from it.

Learning from failures is actually a category on my blog, that's how often I screw things up.

By the way, I studied the book Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success by John Maxwell years ago. It changed my mindset about things that don't work out. Instead of getting bummed about a failure, I'm looking for the lesson and taking action on it. If you're in a rut about a failure in your business, I encourage you to pick up the book.

shannonShannon Cherry of Learn How I Get *Paid* to Attend Events says:

Oh my. My problem isn't that confession is good for the soul. The question is how many stoopid Shannon tricks can I confess?

Seriously, I have made so many errors, failed many times, and often have kicked myself regarding missed opportunities that really could have paid off. And no matter what anyone says, we all do.

But I do have one consistent fail. One that literally drives me crazy. People for some reason don't think of me as a coach, so I rarely have coaching clients. I've set up offers, seeded people through programs, told people I'm available, but often the feedback I get is that “if I need PR help, I'll contact you.” I've been business for more than 10 years, so I know a thing or two about marketing and business growth. Yet, I still get the ‘I didn't know you did that, I thought you just help people with press releases.”

Sigh! It's frustrating, but I'm working towards a new plan with a new way of coaching that may turn the tides on this #fail.

But the key is to never give up. Keep testing and tweaking and find what works for you!

LainLain Ehmann of Crafting Your Business, Step-by-Step says:

There have been times when I've KNOWN without a doubt that something was going to be a hit. I could feel it in my gut, plus I got that little prickly feeling on the back of my neck that said, “This is a good one!”

Usually, I'm right. But sometimes I get that feeling and it's still a big flop. Whoops!

For instance, when I was publishing my first book in the scrapbooking industry, I had the brilliant idea to contact online scrapbooking retailers and offer them a discount on my book (this was in 2007 when such partnerships were rare). Most online retailers were very small, mom-and-pop deals, and I thought they'd jump at the chance to partner with a big publisher!

Umm, no.

I spent hours researching online retailers, and I sent out dozens of emails. Want to guess how many took me up on my offer?


I ended up selling less than a dozen books as the result of the massive marketing effort I'd put forth. Big, big bomb.

What exactly was the problem? I'm still not sure. Maybe the retailers were suspicious — the deal was TOO good (free promo materials to include in orders, a substantial discount on the book, etc.).

Maybe they were so busy shipping orders from their back bedrooms that they didn't have the chance to even consider my invitation.

Or maybe they thought their customers wouldn't have been interested.

In any case, I am still convinced it was a brilliant idea. But if I were to do it again, I think I'd call instead of email. That personal touch goes a long way to convincing people of your sincerity, and breaking through the noise of email that inundates people these days.

Jeanette S. Cates, PhD of Webinars Made Simple says:

A failure? A mistake? Where shall I begin…  No one who has achieved any level of success has not learned through their mistakes. In fact I earned the reputation of being The Technology Tamer – not because I'm so good with technology, but because I've made so many mistakes in using technology that I already have the answer to your problem. My business online was built on that for the first ten years!

One time I was doing a webinar and forgot to hit the record button. Okay, so that particular webinar didn't get recorded – but that step certainly got added to the checklist in my Webinars Made Simple product.

Once I was doing a presentation in front of 1200 meeting planners – each of whom had the power to hire me as a speaker for their next event. Certainly a group you'd want to impress. But as I was clicking through my slides I noticed a warning box kept popping up. Eventually it came up so many times I stopped to read it – to find out I had forgotten to plug in my laptop – and it was about to go dead. I excused myself, dove under the table, found the plug in the dark, then got back up with mussed hair and kept on going.

It's not about the mistake. We all make them – and often frequently. It's knowing that “this too shall pass” and figuring out how you can profit from it. If nothing else you can become an expert at solving other people's problems – because you've already made them!

terryTerry Dean of My Marketing Coach says:

Well, this is a toughie, because I have so many failures and mistakes. Where should I start?

Here's a good one. I had a flash of brilliance. It was an incredible idea that was going to make a fortune.

Create a step-by-step marketing course designed specifically for local business owners. Perfect. They all need this. I disappear into my man cave and work on this for 6 months. It was a masterpiece. Over 300 pages packed with A-B-C instructions, checklists, worksheets, and more. The crowd cheers, “He is finally done and ready to launch this game changer.”

Launch. Silence. A few sales trickle in, but nothing like the stampede that was expected.

Six months down the drain. What was my mistake? No one identifies themselves as a local business owners.

Local business owner is too general. They're dentists, chiropractors, CPAs, physical therapists, gym owners, martial arts dojos, restaurateurs etc.

I was able to make the project profitable by editing the product and sales copy to dentists. Then going after that specific audience.

But this miserable failure has an even better silver lining to it. Around half of my one-on-one coaching clients sell B2B in these exact types of niche markets. A portion of their success has been built upon my failure.

The big takeaways here are to do your research before running with a big product idea. What are people currently buying? What do they want to buy? What solutions are they searching for?

Everyone wants a custom solution just for them…even if the answer is 95% the same as other related markets. Becoming more specialized is a way to set yourself apart.

And even painful failures can be a stepping stone to greater success.

Note from Nik: If you're an intermediate to advanced marketer and you sell your own products – be sure to check out Terry's My Marketing Mentor Program

NicoleNicole Dean of .. here! .. says:

Well you already know my motto. “You don't have to be perfect to be profitable'.

God knows that I'm not. I manage to screw things up often enough to prove that. 😉

My biggest failure and what I learned.

I would say my biggest failure over the years is related to confidence. I've failed to let go of tons of stuff, even though every year at this time, I commit to doing it.

Every year, I make a list of websites that I need to sell or give away.

Every year, I think how much easier my life would be if I would just do it.

But I never do. This mistake has literally cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars – simply because I'm not 100% focusing enough on my ‘money' projects.

The funny thing is that, if I looked at my business and my life as if I were my own coaching client, I'd kick my butt!

I would never let one of my coaching clients hang on to this much baggage. It's not practical and it's certainly not the most profitable plan.

It's not even that I really spend TIME on most of the “extra” stuff. It's just a mental drain and sucks my soul. (Not to be toooo dramatic or anything. lol!)

I keep justifying that the extra websites and projects are just “sitting there making money” – which is true for a lot of them. But, how much risk and wasted mental energy do I really need in my life?

If I were to let them go and focus on my Focal Point – the profit that I would get from that would so squash the small amounts that some of those niche sites bring in every month.

2013 is going to be my year of SIMPLIFYING everything.

1. No more junk mail

2. No more telemarketers (we're turning off the ringer on the home phone).

3. I'm dumping all unnecessary things – even if it only involves a few minutes per month.

4. Heck, I'm even having laser hair removal on my legs so I don't have to waste time shaving anymore. lol. (Too much information? Probably.)

I don't know if it's the holidays coming up, or if I'm just reviewing the last year of my life and thinking about how much of it was spent running around filling out papers and jumping through hoops for the adoption that has put things into perspective. Or maybe it's my 40th birthday coming up on me.

It's time to file this away for good and to put my chronic overwhelm from mental clutter to rest.

Lesson learned. All things come with a price. Even good things. I don't need this much “stuff” in my life or in my head.

Talk to me.

1. Do you have a failure that you would like to share? And a lesson learned?

2. Did one of my friends' posts resonate with you?

3. Do you suffer from mental chaos? What are you doing about it?

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Nicole Dean

PS. If you like this post – share it and check out my friends’ sites. That’ll make me happy! 🙂 Appreciate you!

I appreciate shares and I adore comments! Please share your thoughts.

  • Patti Ann Stafford

    Great post, Nicole. I’ve also noticed this topic popping up all over the place. Another one that’s popping up and one I’ve been asking myself is, when it is time to quit. I’ve been struggling for awhile with what I’m currently doing as a business. I’m not enjoying it and I’ve back-burnered (not a real word, made it up on the fly) what I want to do for most of my writing life—my “online” writing life.

    I’m at the point now that I either need to kick my PLR/marketing business in the butt, or I need to start doing what makes me happy. Yes, that means basically starting over from scratch, with a whole new learning curve, losing what little income I do have (even though I need it desperately right now) and just follow my bliss—what makes my heart sing.

    Like Mary above, whom I’ve followed from here and signed up for her updates, I want to live in a fictional world and share it with others. Instead of helping people build their business during the day, I want to be the one they reach for at the end of the day and curl up on the couch with and get the heck out of their own life for a little while.

    Do I feel like I’ve failed at running a PLR business or in the marketing niche? Heck no! I’ve gotten acquainted with A LOT of great people and even learned a thing or two in the process.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I also have a bunch of domains I need to dump. But a good clean out is soooo liberating. 🙂

    • Mary Schiller

      Thank you, Patti. It’s scary to try something new. You know I’ll be there to support you.

    • Nicole

      Awww… Patti.

      It does sound like you’re at a cross-roads right now.

      Ask yourself, “What do I want my life to look like in 5 years?”

      That always helps me choose which direction to step.


      • Patti Ann Stafford

        Definitely at a crossroads, but I still write product review PLR and still promote other sellers. I LOVE PLR and I *have* been bitten by the IM bug. 😉

        Right now everything is just in hobby mode–and I’m fine with that. No pressure, right?

        In five years, oh I’d love to be in a cute little cottage in the English countryside just writing away about romance, mystery and whatever strikes my fancy. Maybe you and your Mom will come have a glass of wine with me and we’ll show the English how silly American women can be. LOL

  • Mary Schiller

    Nicole, thanks for posting this — perfect timing, as I think I’m in the midst of a failure right this very second! I’m trying my first two-day free promotion on Kindle, and so far my download rate is … sad. I’m trying to take it as a learning opportunity, but it’s still disappointing when I know the quality of what I’m writing and publishing is very good. Somehow I need to find the right audience, and that’s a learning process. I’ll keep going. 🙂 P.S. There’s a great download on called “Declutter Your Life.” It works really well for me.

    • Nicole

      It sounds to me like you’re in the process of a learning and growth opportunity. 🙂

      But I definitely understand. Writers want to share their knowledge and/or passion, not be stuck marketing their books.

      Is there anything specific that we can help you with?

      • Mary Schiller

        Hi Nicole: Thanks for your note. My biggest question, at this point, is how to utilize Amazon itself more effectively to pull potential readers to my fiction. I read a blog post elsewhere today that suggested purchasing backlinks — not excessively, though. The blog author said 200/month is fine. Not knowing anything about backlinks (except that Google squashed them), I don’t know exactly what’s involved. If you happen to understand how backlinks would help re Amazon, I’d appreciate more explanation. Thanks so much.

        • Nicole

          ooh. That’s a tricky one.

          Yes, you can definitely boost your ranking on Amazon, but I would recommend getting some links the old-fashioned way. 🙂

          But then again, I tend to stay away from “easy button” fixes as a general rule. Time and again, I see them bite the user in the butt.

  • Mathea

    Nicole – great stuff today. I feel like the first 2 years of my online business have been failing forward. Each day it seems I figure something out only for that to lead me to seeing something else is wrong.
    So that made me write out goals for next year and FOCUS on them – and stop the shiny object syndrome that seems prevalent amongst internet marketers. It’s a long list, and I won’t get them all done, but even if I just get half of them done I will be so much better off. And they are prioritized and I am going to track them, so I can see if I am making the right changes.
    My biggest failure has been my shiny object syndrome, so I decided to stop going to the WF, unsubscribe from all the marketers except a few, and outsource some things now that I am making money on kindle. Stop doing the things I don’t like so much and that will inspire me to do the things I love a little better.
    And not buy things that I don’t need “right now”. It will be there later. Maybe a few more dollars, but I should have that money if I focus, right? It’s not the cost, it’s the return on investment.
    Another thing was thinking that I didn’t need to develop that relationship with my audience. I have been working on that for the past month, and I have gotten emails stating how much people appreciate what I am doing for them and how much I have helped. Plus they started telling me more stuff they want me to make – nothing like hearing it from the horse’s mouth, right?

    • Clyde

      Shiny Object Syndrome. It’s an addiction. I got caught up in that for 2 years, that I will admit. lol

      Glad to hear you were able to kick the habit. It feels great when you break free of something. Especially when that something is costing you time, money and success.


  • Kelly

    Isn’t it funny how comfortable we all are with admitting that we have a big pile of failures in our history?

    Anytime anyone denies that they’ve had flops, I’m suspicious.

    What’s really sad are those people who can never admit something failed – They say things like ‘Oh, well, I just had a change of heart and decided to go in a new direction’.

    Nic, I think it’s hard to let go of your own stray stuff because you know how much potential it all has if only it could have some of your attention.

    You now I’m lethal in this area – once I’m convinced that something won’t be as profitable as my main niche, I have no trouble scrapping it or giving it away. The tough part is being convinced!

    • Nicole

      I know. We are total opposites in that regard.

      Your love of purging (lethally) combined with my hoarding. 😉 Between the two of us, we could maybe create a sane person. lol.

    • Clyde

      A very wise man, my Dad, once told me “If a man tells you he has never made a mistake stay away from him. He is either a liar and has never done anything in his life”

      Sort of confirms your suspicions doesn’t it?

  • susan king

    Thank you so much for posting this! It’s great to read about success through failures as well. We always put so much pressure on ourselves to be great…we need that reminder that we’re human. Love your stuff!

  • Celene Harrelson | The Happypreneur

    My biggest failure to date (I’m sure there will be countless more) was to not take list building serious enough! I was too busy in the back end of my business, learning, building and getting everything just right. I’ve paid dearly for that mistake.

  • Misha

    Hi Nikole, I dont even know where to start! All my websites were doing pretty well until a few months back. All of a sudden my traffic decreased and it was simply chaotic. Did a lot of analysis, participated into loads of discussions, and even sought answers in the forums. I am not a techy, so it is difficult for me to analyze my website. Whatever these SEO gurus advised, I did that. Until now, nothing has happened. My traffic hasn’t recovered. Whatever I do, doesnt seem to pay rewards. I feel like giving up at times. I am into this only out of personal interest and believe me there’s nothing else that holds me back. I think having too many websites was not a good idea after all. I am planning to focus on a few in 2013. Perhaps that will reduce my anxiety and help me recover.

  • Sharon McPherson

    Hi Nicole and thank you for this post.

    I’ve had so many failures and duds in my business that I really don’t know where to begin.

    I guess my biggest mistake was closing down the one website I had that was actually bringing in residual income because I had become bored with it. The problem was, I didn’t have another business model in the pipeline ready to bring in money before doing so.

    After having to take a 2 year hiatus away from my businesses because of illness, I’ve decided to streamline my operation and just focus on those business models which interests me.

  • bella belle

    I don’t think I have a biggest failure… I have 3

    1. information – I love info… I love to read to get info… I love to buy info… now what do I do with it all! I am an “info junkie” and I need to stop. So my new goal is to purge my info. Take each product, article, plug in, etc and use it. I can only “buy, read, amass” 3 items a day… period.

    2. junk email – I subscribe and then hate to unsub. But I am now unsubing from everything that is a buy me type only. For me to stay subscribed you must have some value in your email.

    3. allotting my time wisely – well that is too long a failure here so let’s just say if I stick to one and two then three should work itself out….

    Thanks Nicole for posting such great info…

  • Clyde

    I won’t mention any names because this is your blog but I just read your words, almost exactly, on another coaches blog.

    Makes me think The Lord is trying to tell me something.

    We need to be our own client. If we are not doing what we are teaching we need to fix that before we go any further.

    I think my biggest failure to date is/was/still is not completing an outstanding multimedia product I have been working on for over a year. The product is on setting and reaching goals and I am the world’s worst at doing that.

    I think it comes from being in the brick and mortar service business most of my life, where goals change every day. That is not an excuse but it is, I think, the root cause. Now that 2 people have told me about it within just a few minutes I think it is time to start practing what I preach. How do I send myself a bill for coaching?

    Thanks for the great information. Please keep it coming.

    Many Blessings,

  • Clare

    Hello Nicole

    As ever a great “Experts Brief” post.

    Everyone makes mistakes – but it’s what we learn from them that counts.

    As the year is coming to an end – I think it’s a great idea to look back at all of the mistakes you have made over the past year, and what you can do to learn from them in the next.

  • Tiffany

    Hey Nicole!

    I don’t mind failing – means I now know what NOT to do. 🙂

    But this year I’d like to fail less. Or I should put a positive spin on that say succeed more!

    So I’m spending this month planning out my projects (not totally but outlined) so that I don’t “flit” as much. Flitting is my Achilles heel.

    Anyhoo – glad to see experts stepping up to say failing is A-ok!
    tiff 😉

  • Anita Hampl

    Oh wow. In the process of purging thousands of unread emails (I’m also a hoarder, Nic), I somehow opened this one.

    Terry Dean’s two innocuous little sentences have probably saved me a ton of lost opportunities moving forward: “What was my mistake? No one identifies themselves as a local business owners.”

    So, a huge THANK YOU to the Dean Cousins for this hosting this post and for responding to it. Happy New Year!

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