Wondering how to scare the parents of a college-age child?
Here’s all you need to do: sneak up behind them and whisper, “It’s time to fill out the FAFSA for next year.”
FAFSA – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – is a document that needs to be completed annually and for each child, if you hope to reduce the financial burden known as college.
It’s a bear, requiring you to gather and decipher any number of financial and tax-related documents of both parent and student.
Toss in the financial untidiness resulting from the fact that both my wife and I are self-employed, and with the possible exception of, “It’s time for your colonoscopy” – assuming there is any difference between the two – no phrase causes more emotional distress.
With three children, and my last soon to enter his final year of college, I have now been through the FAFSA process 12 times.
Do I know how to do it? Pretty much.
After stumbling around for the first three or four years, I know which documents to keep handy, which passwords are needed, and which deadlines matter.
I can do it, but I hate every minute of it.
Many professionals look at marketing the same way – a painful, complicated, necessary evil in the never-ending quest for high quality, well-paying clients.
If that’s how you think of marketing, I have good news for you: we can get rid of the painful piece, right now.
Find What You Don’t Hate
There’s only one correct way to do the FAFSA.
Professional services marketing, by contrast, is like exercise … there are a nearly unlimited number of options for getting the job done.
Consider my experience last week in a working session of a networking group I frequent…
We got together on a Zoom call for the sole purpose of sharing our answers to the following question: “How do you market your business?”
Every person in the group has been working for themselves for at least 10 years. Which means that every person in the group has figured out something that works in the name of getting clients.
But you know what? While we each have a routine … everyone’s routine is different.
Out of 80 participants (we broke into small discussion groups and documented the various approaches), I counted no fewer than 35 different types of activities that people swore by.
There was no right answer – it was all over the map, including networking, public speaking, book publishing, social media, hiring a coach, publishing a newsletter, joining associations, and many more.
So, which are the best activities?
It’s the wrong question to ask.
Not because there are not differences in their relative effectiveness. There are.
Rather, it’s because what matters most in marketing for a small professional service firm or independent is not which is “best” … it’s which are you going do well and regularly.
Because I promise you one thing: If you hate an activity, regardless of how effective it may be in general, you’ll do it poorly and, pretty soon, not at all.
Here’s the Bottom Line
I’ve written before about the importance of keeping your marketing simple. If it’s too complicated, no matter how effective it may be in theory, it will soon collapse of its own weight.
As important, is that you choose activities that, while you may not love them, you don’t hate so much that you’ll avoid them like a FAFSA application.
The best marketing activities are the ones you actually do.
- Have you ever completed the FAFSA?
- What question causes you the most emotional distress?
- What well-regarded marketing activity do you hate the most?
Share your answers below…
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Oh, Michael! I still have FAFSA flashbacks and it’s been 10 years + we only had one kid. My condolences (she typed, twitching slightly at the memory of FAFSAs gone by)
I’m happy to be done with them. They did make it easier in recent years by allowing you to automatically pull in data from tax returns, but still a complicated matter!
I just filled out the FAFSA for the first time this year and I didn’t actually hate it that much. But a friend of mine really loathes it, and she found out that AAA will do it for you!
The marketing activity I hate the most is posting videos to social media. It seems way too complicated and always changing, so I don’t do it.
Good for you on NOT doing what you hate!
1. Not sure I completed it, but my parents did.
2. “What’s for dinner?”
3. Social media. I’ve given up on FB, and dabble in LI & Instagram. I like to talk to people and those platforms work for me when people “talk back”.
1. Now you’re just making me feel old.
3. I’m the same way with Twitter. I shut my account off.
Having three young adult kids, I enjoyed the annual FAFSA routine as a way of atoning for my many sins, though I did consider offering to participate in extended clinical trials of proctoscopes instead, or even anesthetic-free root canals. Ifeelya, as some nitwits say.
I can’t remember the questions, due to PTSD.
My greatest mistake in marketing was believing that all the people who claimed to be experts proved to be charlatans and fools. Michael Katz would never call himself an expert, but I certainly do. My advice is that anyone who talks about “content” as though it is cheap cheese should be ignored and possibly hung, drawn, and quartered.
You have clearly walked the FAFSA path, based on your comparisons!
1) Luckily, I’ve never even heard of it!
2) In one networking group I participated in, one of the sort of standard questions people were supposed to answer is “How do you make most of your money?” I loathe that question! It’s invasive and intrusive. What dimwit thought THAT was a good idea?
3) Social media. Just kill me.
3. I don’t hate it, but I’ve never loved social media. Compared to email which, the first time one landed on my computer (1992?), I instantly fell in love!
1) Seven FAFSAs down, one to go! The real joy is the CSS Profile financial aid form (only required by some colleges) which is like a root canal AND they make you pay for it. Only one of them left too!
2) What is your FAFSA save key? haha – I am looking forward to shredding my carefully guarded FAFSA logins next year!
3) Don’t have a business but I bet it would be social media – it seems like you have to be active all the time.
Agreed! The CSS profile is FAFSAs unfriendly cousin. Good luck with your last, Tracey.
You nailed it on both. FAFSA sucks the life out of you and finding the comfortable marketing fit and excelling at it makes perfect sense.
Thanks for your wisdom!
Do what you love, love what you do, as the t-shirts say!
Have you ever completed the FAFSA? – Oh yeah. Five times, I think. I FEEEEEEEEL your pain.
What question causes you the most emotional distress? – Assets. Which can’t be snatched up from the IRS site.
What well-regarded marketing activity do you hate the most? – Not sure what you’d call it, but I think of it as “updating assets.” As a fiction writer, I have blurbs and descriptions and links all over the place. I know they get out of date and should all be consistent, to send a consistent message, but the thought of inventorying all of them and then visiting and evaluating each one makes me ill, so I do it far less frequently than I should.
That’s a good one on the asset updating side. I, too, am not great at keeping track. I’ve got a signup box for my newsletter (not on one of my sites) that I can’t locate. It brings in new subscribers, but I can’t update the text!
1. No, but my oldest threatened me with it one time.
2. Have you made your phone calls today? (Oh, is this supposed to be FAFSA-related?)
3. Phone calls. I hate picking up the phone and calling people. I’ll text, email, post on social media, or send carrier pigeons before I can work up the courage to pick up the phone and *gasp* actually talk to someone.
Haha. I’m with you. I much prefer writing!
Are waking nightmares a thing?
I think I may be having one after seeing that word. Faf…Fa..Foo…well, y’know.
I did it for an older child, was relieved to see it go, but five years later, the younger one wanted to go too! No amount of marketing materials would persuade him to join the Merchant Marine instead.
Most hated? Lessee…I made the mistake of rejoining Twitter after many years only to discover it’s still the same train wreck as ever. And who are all these people I’ve never seen and don’t know from Adam posting there???
I considered switching to a FB business account, but checked it out well first and dodged that bullet Matrix-style.
LI is working best and I’m most comfortable with it, MIGHT give a couple others a shot. Still simple human connection, as direct as possible, has brought me all my gigs. My struggle there is keeping the conversation going. I created a LI networking group to work through that, which is doing well
Bravo, Dan! What an exciting and beautiful comment. After wasting too much of my remaining life on Facebook. I stopped using it, cold chicken! Deleting the account would have been cold turkey, but I appreciate its continued existence in the way that a former drinker can appreciate an unopened bottle of Woodford Reserve on his or her desk. And there are some people, among the more than 500 “friends” I had, including relatives I have never met, for whom Facebook is my only direct means of contact.
All of the clients who have sustained my little business as a writer and editor have come word-of-mouth from a natural, warm friendship that happened spontaneously at a regional medical device industry meeting some years ago. I have been able to advise my friend in some useful ways, and she has planted seeds for me that have sprouted luxuriantly, not just in the United States but in Germany and The Netherlands.
I agree with you both. I got off Twitter about a year ago. Just too negative and I didn’t see the value. I just keep coming back to email.
I do, however, think that some of it is just a generational thing. My youngest (he’s 22) doesn’t even check email regularly. If he were my target market and his peers were important to my business as word-of-mouthers, I’d have to adjust. Thankfully, I plan to be long dead before that’s a requirement.
Thanks to you both for weighing in!