There’s No “Q” In Penguin

There’s a lot to be said for penguins.

They’re cute, quite harmless and, if Morgan Freeman is to be believed, remarkably dedicated parents.

They’re also well dressed which, given the frigid conditions of the Antarctic, is all the more impressive.

But you know what they’re not? They’re not spelled with a “q.”

Listen To This Post

P-E-N-G-U-I-N. I’ve checked several times and nowhere within a penguin, living or on paper, does the letter q come into play.

And yet, as someone who’s owned a company called Blue Penguin for over 14 years now, I can tell you that approximately 20% of English speakers (ok, it’s always Americans) attempt to spell penguin like this: Penquin.

Over the years I’ve received invoices, checks, direct mail, email and any number of communications in which this error is made. It happens so regularly, in fact, that I went out and purchased the misspelling of my company URL (, just so everyone could find me.

I really don’t know why people make this particular mistake.

It’s not like the word is pronounced with a q sound. Nor are the letters q and g next door neighbors on your keyboard, something which might otherwise account for the occasional slip up.

But you know what? It doesn’t matter. Many people commit this error and my worrying about why or, even worse, spending time trying to educate the world on the correct spelling would be a waste of time.

When it comes to marketing a solo professional business, I think the same logic applies: You can waste a lot of time and effort trying to convince people that they need a solution to a particular problem, droning on about how your research or your experience or logic itself suggests that they need whatever it is you’re selling.

But you’re not going to convince many people. Because until and if they decide they have a problem that needs fixing, they’ll never hire you. It doesn’t matter how right you are.

So here’s what I recommend instead: Adjust your marketing to match up with what they already believe.

Start by finding five people who look like the kind of people you want to work with and ask them what their problems are.

What keeps them up at night? What do they believe is getting in the way of their success? What specific words and phrases do they use when describing all this?

Then find five more people and ask again (believe me, your questions will have changed just from talking to the first five).

Keep doing it until you’re not hearing anything new (it won’t take long) and you have a very clear sense of how your ideal client sees the world.

Then, take whatever it is you do and line it up, both in terms of how you describe your work, as well as in what you actually offer.

Here’s the bottom line. Being right and getting hired are not always the same thing; spending time proving your point to prospective clients can be an uphill slog.

You’ll find selling to be both easier and more productive when the services you offer line up with the way your prospects already view the world.

Discussion Questions:

1. Wouldn’t it be cool if it turned out that Morgan Freeman really is God? Discuss.
2. What’s your favorite type of penguin? (Hint: Blue)
3. How have you adjusted your business and/or marketing based on what prospective clients have told you?

12 thoughts on “There’s No “Q” In Penguin

  1. Naomi Dunford

    I really can’t explain in words how much I want to steal your Discussion Questions and then, when you draw the plagiarism to my attention, pretend I’ve never met you before in my life.

    I spit out my coffee at those.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      You know you really shouldn’t encourage me, Naomi! And, as I’m sure you’d agree, getting someone to spit something out while reading something you wrote is the ultimate compliment (I’ve peppered my monitor from plenty of your posts!).

  2. Tina Bemis

    Because I love to figure out things like this, it becomes apparent upon inspection; It’s because the G is followed by a U. Since Q is (almost) always followed by a U (those of us addicted to Words with Friends know all the exceptions) it is a shortcut of the mind.

  3. Steve Lee

    Good approach to customer problems. I used to work at a place where a salesman used that method. He would contact customers, tell them who was speaking and then ask “What do you need today” his success rate was impressive..

  4. Debby Brown

    I like this idea, Michael. Since I’m taking lots of existing clients out to lunch these days and don’t only want to talk about our kids, this gives me something with which to steer the conversation towards business AND get some valuable info from them.
    Thanks once again for great advice.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      You’re welcome, Debby. And yes, I find that just kind of casually interviewing people about their work, what’s working/isn’t, what they need, etc., is a great way to break the ice with people in general. They are almost always eager to talk about whatever they’re up to and it’s a good opportunity to learn in the process.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I prefer (by far) reading as well, Laurie. But I’ve found that some people prefer the audio. I find that if you can offer a few options (without it taking a ton of extra time), it’s a good way to increase newsletter/blog readership.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *