A Get Rich Slow Scheme

My son Evan turned 18 this week. In preparation, he told me he’s been compiling a list of things he can now do legally. So far, he’s got “buy cigarettes, buy a lottery ticket and go to a strip club.” (Or as I like to call it, “Tuesday afternoons.”)

Anyway, our conversation on this topic did make me realize something: While as children we tend to tick through noteworthy milestones at a frantic pace (opening your first bank account, going to middle school, getting a driver’s license, etc.), once you attain the magic age of 21, the milestones don’t happen very often.

Sure, being a grownup has its own predictable set of “big events” – your first house, your first child, your first arrest. But even those tend to be clustered in the early years of adulthood. By the time you reach 50, about the only significant event you can count on is your doctor telling you it’s time for that “exploratory procedure” he’s been hinting at for the last few years.

Not that you asked, but it occurs to me that relationship marketing – of which, your E-Newsletter is a specific tactic – has this same slow, one-day-at-a-time feel to it. The victories tend to be less conspicuous and, even in retrospect, it can be hard to put your finger on which action led to which result.

Personally, I like the randomness of it all. Like working in the garden, I focus on the results (flowers) and the process (soil, water, sunshine) and don’t concern myself too much with tracking which particular seeds make their way to maturity. I just show up every day, knowing that if I do, I’ll get the results I’m looking for.

If you’re new to relationship marketing, however, whether that means launching your first newsletter, dabbling in social media, or simply trying to stay in touch with your existing contacts, you (and as importantly, your boss) may find this unpredictability unnerving.

With that in mind, I offer a few suggestions:

  1. Get used to it. Like it or not, marketing has become a hands on, interactive, ongoing series of activities. The days of plunking down a bunch of money on a campaign and waiting for the phone to ring are over.

    If you’re a small company or solo professional, that’s tremendously good news. Unlike our deep-pocketed competitors, we’ve always thrived on personal connections, authentic communication and word of mouth referrals.

    What’s different about the 21st century is that for the first time, the little guys finally have access to tools for doing this in a bigger and broader way. The playing field isn’t just level … it’s tilted to our advantage.

  1. Trust the process. I don’t know who Earth’s first farmer was, but I’m willing to bet that his hunter pals gave him a hard time about staying home and playing in the dirt while they were out “doing something productive.”

    But “what’s visible” is not necessarily the same as “what’s happening.” Anyone who’s every learned a new language, planted some grass seed or stood waiting for the kettle to boil, knows that there are long periods of what seems like zero progress until suddenly … it all comes together.

    Commit to a timeframe during which you’ll work your system (and stop demanding daily signs of progress).

  1. Choose your weapon. I belong to a health club. And while there must be 50 machines in there to choose from, I don’t use more than a handful. Nobody does. We choose our favorites, we develop a routine and we do it over and over again. And you know what? … it works (as long as you keep showing up).

    Relationship marketing is the same way. If you try to participate in every activity and use every available tool, not only won’t you get any real work done, you won’t make much forward progress either.

    Instead, just pick three or four things that make sense for you and your business – newsletter, LinkedIn, networking, blogging, public speaking, whatever. Then do them well and do them regularly (and stop feeling guilty about what you’re not doing).

Here’s the bottom line. The individual activities that make up a relationship marketing plan aren’t hard to do. The difficulty is in the showing up and in the commitment to an activity which lacks the milestone-reaching drama we all grew up expecting.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that if you work your relationships regularly, it gets both easier and more productive over time.

Gotta go. My doctor is calling, and you know what that means…

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