(Listen to this post, here.)

Now that it’s late February, two things are all but guaranteed:

Thing #1: My fellow New Englanders have begun lying to one another about how spring is, “Just around the corner.”

Thing #2: My accountant is mad at me.

I’m not sure what causes Thing #1, but I’m quite certain about what’s behind Thing #2.

She’s mad because she’s just completed my taxes and, as is the case every year, I am due a refund. That means I overpaid last year and have been, in her words, “lending the government money, interest-free.”

I know she’s right … but I don’t care.

Last year is a distant memory. At this point, when it comes to my taxes, there are two possibilities: Either I write a check, or I get a check.

The first option is fiscally smarter. But the second option feels better.

And so, over the course of each year, and even though it costs me money, I deliberately withhold more taxes than required – just so I can get a little bonus in the spring.

I’m not alone.

On this topic and countless others, humans place a lot more emphasis on how something feels than on what’s in their objective best interest. (Insert your own joke about your first husband, here.)

Small Business Marketing is a Feelings-Based Game

It took me a long time to unlearn what I absorbed about marketing from my time working in a big company. Back then, we lived by a simple, if unwritten, rule: If you can’t put it in a spreadsheet, it doesn’t exist.

Objective reality ruled the day.

But when I went off to work on my own, I realized that for a tiny professional service firm or solo, it’s the “soft stuff” – the way people feel about you – that really moves the sales needle.

That’s why…

… I love email newsletters.

They give you enough running room to share information and perspective in a conversational, natural way. Just as you would if you met someone for coffee.

And, since they are published over and over again, subscribers have a chance to get to know you – slowly, over time.

… I encourage storytelling.

Facts and information are important. The problem is that everyone you compete with within your industry knows just as much as you do. Your facts and information are indistinguishable from those of the others.

Your stories, though … those are 100% unique to you.

So when you talk about a recent experience, or your family, or yes, your accountant, you are sharing something that nobody on Earth has ever heard before and that reveals a bit about who you are as a person.

That helps people begin to trust you.

Is it real? Not in any measurable way. It’s just a feeling – but an important one, if you hope to get hired.

… I want you to develop a point of view.

If you want to get hired (and paid) as an expert, you need to do more than just write the words (if you’re a copywriter), or refinance the house (if you’re a mortgage broker), or find the candidate (if you’re a recruiter).

It’s not enough to just do the work you are asked to do (that’s called being an employee).

You need to develop and share opinions – lots of them – about the best way to get things done within your area of expertise.

For the copywriter, that may mean giving a presentation that argues for why a series of blog posts are more effective than a white paper.

For the mortgage broker, that may mean explaining to a client that even though interest rates have dropped, in their situation, it’s a bad idea to refinance now.

For the recruiter, that may mean telling a prospect that instead of hiring an in-house person to develop a newsletter, they would be better off outsourcing it to a bald, but oddly likeable, newsletter expert (that’s just an example).

In short, when you share a point of view, you help others to feel (there’s that word again) that you know what you’re doing and that they can trust you to guide them along the way.

Here’s the bottom line.

Objective reality is fine. I visit that part of the universe quite often.

But when I think about how best to market a professional service business, reality comes in a distant second behind paying attention to how the things you say, write, do and are, influence how others feel about you.

Is it soft and hard to measure? Absolutely.

But until the day comes that the robots are doing the hiring, that’s where the money is.

Gotta run. The mailman just came and I’m waiting on a big refund check.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you prefer writing a check or receiving a check at the end of the year (Note to Bezos: Stop smirking; we know you don’t pay any taxes.)
  2. Are you still married to your first husband? Explain.
  3. How do you take advantage of feelings in the way you market your business?

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15 thoughts on “Feelings

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      And your comments, Theodora, are the only ones I read (don’t tell the others).

      But thanks, I appreciate it!

  1. Michelle Morris, CFP®, EA

    1. Oh Michael, you’re killing me! I’m a tax pro and I’ve had this exact discussion with so many clients so many times. Though I think there is a bigger, better reason to fall out of love with your tax refund than the interest-free loan bit…

    In fact, I think it’s time to resurrect the topic in my own email newsletter– look for that in April!

    I write a check. Every year. (Actually I have my savings account direct debited, on April 15th, or later if the 15th falls on a weekend)

    2. Yes, 30 years this August. And no, I wasn’t a child bride, but thanks for asking.

    3. I continue to learn from the master (that would be you). Hands down the best newsletter I’ve ever done, in terms of reader engagement, and random people who still bring it up a year later, was the story of my new winter coat to illustrate the Diderot effect.


    Thanks for this fun diversion — now back to tax season!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I thought that would get your attention. I will look for your newsletter in April. Or, if you like, once my refund check comes in and I am FEELING rich, I will buy you lunch and you can tell me in person!

  2. Maggie Schuette

    1. Receiving – otherwise, I worry all year that I have underpaid, and will not have the money to write the check. I tend to worry about most everything . . .

    2. Nope, so here’s what happened – I received a call from our timeshare management company confirming a trip to Florida. I guess it was a suprise trip, but I wasn’t included on the trip, just the suprise. I knew it was time for him to be an ex-husband. On the upside, life is better now.

    3. I tell clients we’re not the cheapest, but legal help isn’t like buying cheese. You’re buying experience and someone who will look out for you. (I’m a paralegal for an attorney until I can break free. Darn bills.) I know I’m marketing my bosses law firm, but if he does well, I continue to get paid while I work on the writing biz part-time.
    And now I have Freddy Mercury stuck in my head singing “I want to break free, I want to break free!”

  3. Sri Srikrishna

    Michael, rarely do I find myself disagreeing with you, so today when I read the following lines “Back then, we lived by a simple, if unwritten, rule: If you can’t put it in a spreadsheet, it doesn’t exist. Objective reality ruled the day.” I stopped reading and started formulating this reply first. Then I caught myself, read the rest of your newsletter (and the two comments) before returning here 🙂

    Reality is that emotions drive decisions wherever humans are involved (and even more so if cats or dogs are involved). So even in big companies this is true – most decisions, even expensive ones are driven by how people feel, but a big effort is made it wrap it up in the veneer of analytical decision-making with charts, graphs, and Excel-crunching. As long as it is people who make buying (or business) decisions, companies large and small have to involve (authentic) emotions. Explains the brouhaha over the Peloton ad and the Aviation Gin ad that followed building on it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2t7lknrK28

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Agreed! In my experience, too, the numbers were often just the justification and backup of what we wanted to do, so the budget could be defended to the CFO and you had “coverage” if an idea blew up! But it did prevent some of the more innovative things from even being tried since nobody wanted to be the one to try and sell it upstream.

  4. LJ

    1. I don’t get a check…or pay a check. BUT, it’s not for a good reason. So far I’ve had enough expenses to offset any income I’ve made. I need to change that in 2020.

    2. Yes…but it’s complicated! We were together for several years…separated for several years…and are now back together. Nothing’s simple…right?

    3. I’ve learned from the best…yup, you! And, I use a lot of stories to tie into the one big idea I want to share with my audiences. I also try not to be too serious…life is too short!

  5. Stephanie Patterson

    1. I definitely prefer to receive a check! As Maggie mentioned, I don’t want the anxiety of having to pay. And since both my husband and I are retired from federal government service, we don’t mind “loaning” our money to them, since that helps pay our pension! 🙂

    2. And speaking of my husband, yes, he’s my first and only, after 35 years. He keeps me laughing, and life is never boring with him!

    3. As far as feelings in my marketing, I reassure clients that when I edit for them, I will not be like their crabby old high school English teacher who bled all over their writing in red ink–I’m all about positive, constructive feedback so that people can learn to improve their writing.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      2. Glad to hear it!
      3. I can see why you’re a writer: “bled all over their writing in red ink.” Great image!!

  6. Jo

    Michael- you are so funny (witty??). And I need to take this “feelings” advice to my personal writing style.

    My answers:
    1. I had to pay IRS once in my life. IT HURT SO MUCH!! I said to myself, “Never again!” I have the refund check (thank you!)!
    2. I was married 14 years. It sadly came to an end in 1989. (Now I’m telling my age ) Still single, but happier. Don’t want to remember the ex.
    3. I am a “feelings” person all the way. Thanks for being one, too. I don’t feel so odd!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Sounds like we are very much on the same page (except for the single part – I have now been married longer than i was single).


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