Glad you’re here! We welcome our regular contributor, Dave Baldwin, who reviews Olalah Njenga’s 37 What Were They Thinking Moments in Marketing. Olalah is originally from Chicago and now makes her home in Raleigh where she is a sought after marketing guru who helps growing companies succeed. Thanks so much, Dave, for guestposting again for me this month. Enjoy!
Earlier this year, I picked up a copy of 37 What Were They Thinking? Moments in Marketing by Olalah Njenga. I know Olalah personally and have attended her workshops, so this is a bit different than my typical book review in that my opinion might be a bit slanted. But I know a good storyteller when I see one, and Olalah is definitely that.
The book is a fun read, and as its title implies, it’s broken down into 37 easily digestible nuggets that you can absorb in 5-minute reading sessions. The stories are priceless, and as Olalah herself says in the introduction, you just couldn’t make this stuff up. The overarching theme: embarrassingly unskillful attempts by small business owners to market themselves. She deliberately chose examples of business owners who went to ridiculous extremes. I can personally vouch for the authenticity of the stories, because I’ve seen some of them played out in person. In fact, I even played the starring role in a couple of these stories at the beginning of my entrepreneurial endeavors.
I alternated between wincing, laughing, face-palming, and shaking my head in sympathetic embarrassment as I read through Olalah’s tales of marketing blunders gone wild. There were two common themes I could hear throughout the stories: penny-pinching and refusal to look at reality for what it is.
Several stories depict entrepreneurs who emphatically argued that they didn’t need a plan or a strategy for their businesses, believing that they had passion for what they did, and that nothing else mattered. Olalah perfectly captured the fallacy with this thinking; she titled one vignette “When Your Passion Meets the Repo Man.” I felt some chagrin here, since I myself drank the “passion Kool-Aid” at the outset of my writing business. I remember deluding myself into believing that if I threw myself headlong at what I loved, the stars would align to my dreams and I would live happily ever after. Reading stories of others who traveled the same precarious path was a bit stinging, but a useful reminder of what can happen when ambition runs amok.
The bigger problem with small business, as Olalah illustrates, is the erroneous notion that one can market a business on a “shoestring” budget. While there is wisdom in finding creative ways to make marketing dollars go as far as possible, small businesses have blown this out of proportion. For example, two particularly comical stories jump out at me. In one example, Olalah recalls meeting a woman who handed her a business card, only to snatch it back promptly and scratch out the contact information written on it, which had gone out of date. In another example, a business owner tried to staff an event completely with volunteers, resulting in weeks of continual breakdowns and an event that ended up making her company look unprofessional.
Every first-time entrepreneur needs to hear these stories and others like them. While there is humor in the stories, there’s another side to the picture. If you’ve been in small business for any length of time, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Getting excited about big ideas and charging out into the marketplace can lead not only to humiliation, but financial disaster. It is possible to become thoroughly and dangerously engrossed in big dreams, to the point where it distorts your view of reality and blinds you to pitfalls that are right in front of your face.
It can be a rude awakening when you’re finally forced to confront the fact that, passion or no passion, you don’t know where your next car payment is coming from. When your dreams of making millions in your business melt into visions of moving back in with your parents and taking a job at Mickey D’s, you will find yourself dropping back down to Earth like a lead weight. When this day of reckoning comes, passion turns into ice-cold terror. While the stories in Olalah’s book are amusing, I believe that her core message was designed to illustrate that the end result of this insanity is often not the least bit funny.
If you think that you can “do what you love and the money will come,” you need to wake up, smell the coffee, and accept the cold reality that successful businesses are built on a plan. Olalah’s book may just be the cold shower you need to snap out of it. Regardless of where you are in your business, you’ll find value in these stories. Grab a copy today. You won’t be able to put it down.
Do you feel you’re good at marketing your business? If so, what marketing tips can you share that could help any small business succeed.