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  • Writer's pictureJeff Harry

If The Word "Marketing" Makes You Cringe, Here's A Way To Embrace The Idea Through Play

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

For many small businesses just starting out, when they hear the word "marketing," it makes them cringe. Why can't they simply do the work that they do best? Why must businesses have to sell themselves or brag about how great they are rather than simply do the work they do best, and let it speak for itself.

If you feel that way when it comes to marketing, then this article is for you. I was the VP of Marketing for one of the largest STEM organizations in the country for a decade and what I learned, in all those years, was that marketing doesn't have to be this painful endeavor. It could actually be fun if you are willing to be introspective, take risks, and be your authentic self, and not in the cliche way.

In this article, we explore how to embrace marketing in a playful way.

PLEASE NOTE: Pick the suggestions that resonate with you and that you could find fun! You know yourself better than anyone else, so you know what will work for you. I always say- advice only resonates with someone because they have already given themselves that advice. So, if the suggestion vibes with you, do it. If it doesn't, don't force it, as we are trying to find the most fun and fulfilling ways to market.

This guide is broken down into four sections:

  • Understand Your Why & Know How To Articulate It

  • Seek Help From Your Community

  • Create Flagposts So People Can Find You

  • Time To Get Rejected As You Build Your Outreach Habit

So, here are my tips for using play to help market your business in this new normal of 2021.

Understand Your Why & Know How To Articulate It

This is the marketing step that is probably neglected the most, as we want to start making money immediately when we don't even know what is driving us. My business mentor, Stephen Warley, would always ask me:

"Don't you want to be paid to be you?"

So, if the answer is yes, you must understand what it actually means to be you and what is driving you to create this business in the first place.

So, start with why.

  • Why are you creating this business?

  • Why is this work needed in the world right now?

  • How does this work make you come alive?

Here is a technique I used to not only identify why I wanted to create a business, but it also helped me figured out what the name of my business would be.

#1. Play Experiment: Identify The Work That Makes You Come Alive

Ask yourself these two questions to 3 to 5 of your friends:

  • What value do I bring to your life?

  • When have you seen me most alive?

Tip: Call your friends for these questions, as the experience is quite memorable and you get that D.O.S.E. (Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, Endorphins) from the experience.

Once you gather all that information, look for patterns to see what resonates. In my case, people told me that I helped them tap back into their inner child, that I gave them permission to play, and that I helped them rediscover who they are. I took all that and came up with the name: Rediscover Your Play.

Also, from a web copy standpoint, all of the feedback they gave me is listed either in my bio or in various parts of my website. Utilize your friends to help you as they know you sometimes better than you know yourself.

#2. Define Your Why

To build off of the first exercise, it is now vital for you to define your why.

Take a page from Simon Sinek's famous TED Talk:

What is crucial about this when it comes to marketing, is you need to be able to move people with your story. So, if you start simply with what, that isn't compelling enough to drive someone to want to work with you. If you are able to share your company's why through and how it aligns with your potential customer's values, then they can begin to see the value of what you do.

I learned this approach by doing political campaign work based on the theories of Marshall Ganz. Professor Ganz taught about The Story of Self, Story of Us, Story of Now method. This strategy helped galvanize millions of volunteers and voters to take action because when we were able to share our why, the story, it connected to other's why stories, so they were moved enough to take action.

Being able to share your story of why is vital to building a marketing foundation for your business. Great questions to ask are the following:

#3. Articulate Your Why

Adam Leipzig has an interesting method to share your life purpose.

Warning: Adam can come off as a bit pretentious in this video, but the method is helpful.

Here is the method if you don't have time to watch the entire video:

  • Who Are You? (I.e. Name)

  • What Do You (Love) To Do? (I.e. What is the one you feel supremely qualified to teach other people?)

  • Who Do You Do It For? (I.e. Who is your target audience)

  • What Do People Want Or Need That You Do This Work For?

  • How Do They Change Or Transform As A Result By What You Give Them?

Put in a few sentences:

Who Are You + What Do You Do + Who Do You Do It For + What Do People Want Or Need That You Do This Work For + How Do They Change Or Transform As a Result By What You Give Them

My example:

My name is Jeff Harry. I help businesses navigate hard conversations using play. I do this for Fortune 500 companies all over the world. The people and organizations that need this desire psychologically safe work environments and want to address the current toxicity or awkwardness at work. These teams are able to create safe workplaces for their staff to feel they can express themselves and be more of their authentic self.

What sentences did you come up with for your business?

Provides Content For Your Website That Addresses That Person/Organization's Pain Points

Identify what pain points are you uniquely able to solve.

Utilize the method, my friend and prolific business owner, Marsha Shandur of Yes Yes Marsha does:

  • Figure out what your audience really cares about.

  • Think pain points, deepest wishes, what they need, and what they think they need

Example of what that might look like on your website:

Pain point: Your team is not producing or achieving the desired results, because the work environment is currently toxic.

Addressing The Pain Point: We provide a play method to help create psychologically safe work environments where team members are able to practice having hard conversations and addressing the most challenging issues in the workplace. The results are a feeling of safety at work, lower turnover, and an ability to address difficult issues through consistent communication practices, and an ability for people to be more of their true selves at work.

#4. Understand What Your Strengths Are & What Drives You

Whenever I'm coaching someone about their marketing, I always ask them what do they like to do. It surprises them because they just assumed that what they liked to do has little to do with marketing when it is all about identifying what your strengths are. If you avoid marketing, part of the reason may be that you believe that you aren't good at it or you don't like it. So, we can change that experience by figuring out marketing that fits what you do and how you show up.

Take for example, for me, I love talking to people. So, I wanted to figure out a marketing strategy where I could also get the opportunity to talk to people and have interesting conversations. I started at first by doing LunchClub, where you get to have lunch with a random stranger. That was okay, but it still didn't feel like I was having enough reach, so I explored being interviewed on podcasts. As I kept doing it, I thought, this is a lot of fun, so I'm going to double down on this marketing strategy. Within 9 months, I had booked 115 podcast interviews. What was an awesome surprise were the ancillary benefits:

  • Got so much practice talking about my work that I now have specific talking points I can lean on

  • Connected with audiences that I would have never had access to otherwise

  • Got new business that would not have happened if I had simply done cold outreach

So, I recommend assessing your current strengths by trying out these various strength assessments.

Why Is This Important?

The more you can learn about yourself, the more you are able to understand your motivations, your strengths, what drives you, so that you can double down on what you are good at in order to thrive.

Seek Help From Your Community

As a society, humans are really bad at identifying all of the support that is around us. When starting a new business, this is a crucial first step. Word of mouth drives a majority of small business revenue, so why wouldn't we be looking to the networks we already have to find that business.

#1. Build A Support Team

Don't attempt to try to build the marketing for your business all on your own. No successful entrepreneur did it all on their own, so identify who is going to be in your corner and how you want to build a team of friends to help you. Below are some methods you can use to build your team:

Success Scaffolding Team

Coaching Squad

  • Coach - Someone that is checking in with you each week asking you what challenges you are going through when it comes to marketing and helping you figure out solutions

  • Accountability Partner - You simply are letting them know what you are doing this week and informing them when you got it done (I.e. Start of the Week Outreaching to 20 new contacts this week, End of the Week: I connected with 15 contacts)

  • Cheerleader - You call them when you are doubting yourself

So much of marketing is psychological, as you need to be your biggest fan. In order to do this, using this method of support helps dramatically to get you in the right frame of mind to do your work.

#2. Create Your Community Database

This might be the most helpful step when you first start your business, as you have a community already that you might not realize you have always had.

To understand how much help you are currently asking for and the potential of this community database of people that can help you once you are willing to ask, I recommend trying this exercise by Michelle McQuaid:

Studies have found that we routinely underestimate others' willingness and ability to help - Professor Wayne Baker

Based on the number you come up with, will help you identify where you can improve when asking for help.

Steps To Create Your Community Database:

  • Create a spreadsheet, preferably one like a Google Doc, that you can access whenever necessary

  • Create These Columns: Name, Email Address, LinkedIn, How You Are Connected, How They Can Possibly Help You, How You Can Help Them

  • Add every single person that you know, including your friends, family, former coworkers, Facebook Friends, Instagram followers, LinkedIn Connections, anyone that you feel comfortable enough emailing or contacting via LinkedIn

  • The crucial part is the columns that are how they can possibly help you and how you can help them

By putting this database together, you will start to see all of the connections you have that you may have forgotten about. You may see that putting one name down sparks multiple other names to pop up in your head that you can also add. All of sudden, you have this huge community of people who know who you are, that you have already built trust with, that would at least be open to helping you out in one way or another.

Once you figure that out, you can identify who would be the first people to email on your community network list.

#3. Practice Outreaching With Your Community

I recognize that this part is really hard, as you need to ask for help by reaching out.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you can't even approach people you already know about your business, including close friends and family, it is going to be ten times harder doing this with strangers. So, consider reaching out to market your business your chance to practice.

When identifying how this community network can assist you, identify what level they can possibly help you with by answering these questions:

  • Easiest Ask: Would they be willing to share a link with their network or their community?

  • Medium Ask: Can they introduce you to someone or to an organization that you want to work with? (Find out who they are connected with on LinkedIn)

  • Big Ask: Would they be open to utilizing your services or would vouch for you to someone that could use your services?

Create Flagposts So People Can Find You

I'm always amazed how many small business owners I know who create a business, set up a website, and then like Fields of Dreams, believe that now that they built it, people will come. We make a huge deal about launching our websites, but if you don't tell anyone, no one knows or frankly cares at first when you start. Why should they? They don't know what you do, so you must invest in ways for people to find you.

You must plant flag posts all over the internet so people can discover you. Now, this is where entrepreneurs get hung up, as they scramble to figure out what is the right way of doing this. There is no right way of doing this. There is only your way that works for you.

Some people love being on all of the social media platforms. Here are tips for getting started on each of these platforms:

Other people want to just focus on using one of the platforms to avoid getting overwhelmed. This choice is completely up to you. By looking back at your strengths and what is the type of work you enjoy doing, you can determine what your strategy is going forward.

To explain what is the potential that is possible by being on one of these platforms, let's use LinkedIn for example:

LinkedIn has over 500,000 Million users. Take a look at this excerpt from Mind-Blowing LinkedIn Statistics:

Content on the LinkedIn feed receives about 9 billion impressions per week, but only 3 million users (out of the more than 500 million) share content on a weekly basis. This means that only about 1% of LinkedIn’s 260 million monthly users share posts, and those 3 million or so users net the 9 billion impressions.

What is even crazier is that out of the 3 million users sharing content, many of them are simply resharing content. So, if you are consistently creating your own content, within a year, depending on what you specialize in, you could be considered a subject expert, simply because you have posted more than anyone else. Shay Rowbottom's story encompasses this. Shay became a LinkedIn Influencer within a year by consistently posting.

Tell Your Story In Small Bites That Can Be Shared Easily

Once you identify what flagposts you are going to invest in, it is now, time to create content to tell your story and communicates it. You can do this through short videos that share your expertise, tell your story of who you are, and what you are able to solve.

You can repurpose these videos on a variety of platforms as I listed above. The most important part is again you are getting practice sharing your story. The more videos you make, the more places you post them, the more likely people will discover you. Don't worry about going viral. You simply want to build up a portfolio of videos that can explain what you do, why you do it, and why people should hire you to do it.

Share Your Message With The World Via Podcast Interviews

If you are now comfortable sharing your story with your friends of your support team, with people from your community network, and via video, you are then ready to share your message with the world.

You can check out how to book podcast interviews through my article:

What Are The Benefits Of Being On Podcasts:

  1. It gives you ample practice to explain your business to random strangers

  2. Your website SEO improves, as there are now backlinks/inbound links to your website from someone's else website

  3. That podcaster may eventually be a client or lead to a possible client.

Do You Consider Yourself An Expert On A Certain Subject & Can You Write?

If the answer is yes to both of these questions, then consider contributing to reporter articles through websites like (HARO). HARO is a daily reporter newsletter used by reporters to get the opinion of experts on a variety of subjects. Because reporters are either too busy, have too many deadlines, or are too lazy to do their own research, they put out a HARO request. They send 9 newsletter emails out per day (3 in the morning, afternoon, and evening), and if you are willing to peruse through the 50 - 70 HARO requests, you may find one you can contribute to.

Here is an example of one:

10) Summary: EntrepreneurJourney for featured QnA

Name: Akram Tariq Khan Entrepreneur

Category: Business and Finance

Media Outlet: Entrepreneur

Deadline: 7:00 PM EST - 27 December

Query: Seeking entrepreneurs who have an amazing story to share for an QnA series - Get in touch now with a short 4-5 sentence pitch.

Requirements: Must have an interesting journey

If you are interested in applying, here are some suggestions for submitting:

  • They need you to respond via the email address provided as Reporters don't give out their main email address in these HARO inquiries to ensure they don't get spammed.

  • They need the contribution by the deadline, but you are more likely to get published the earlier you submit.

  • They appreciate you being concise, as they need to read through so many of these, and the ones that concise, clear, and answer the questions thoroughly are the ones that usually get picked.

I have applied to about 20 HARO requests and haven't gotten into 2 publications so far, so the success rate isn't high. The playful part of it for me is that if my article isn't picked up, I simply just use it in my own blog, as it is still content that I could share. So, it's a win either way, as not only am I now creating even more content, but I'm building up my writing muscle to be able to respond quickly to an article request when needed.

Try it out for yourself and see if it works for you.

Now it is time to move on to the dreaded outreach.

Time To Get Rejected As You Build Your Outreach Habit

The part that is hardest for many entrepreneurs is rejection. Remember when I asked the question earlier:

What you do anyway even if you knew you were going to fail?

Well, there is no way to get around failing when you are outreaching at the beginning of your business. So, the quicker you can feel the sting of rejection, the sooner you will realize it isn't that bad. Like anything you do for the first time, it's hard. You running a mile for the first time in a long time is really painful. Maybe you can only walk it. The more times you do it though, not only does it become easier, but there is now a belief that maybe you can run longer than just one mile. The same thing goes with doing outreach. Get the reps in, make mistakes, adjust, and keep going.

Give yourself a grace period as you try to do this, knowing that you will feel a certain level of rejection at the beginning of this process.

Build An Outreach Habit

One of the best tips my business mentor, Stephen Warley, shared is having a consistent outreach habit. You don't have to contact 50 people a day, but you do need to reach out to a certain number of people each week. What is realistic for you? Is it 10 new people/week? Is it 20 people/week? Again, there is no right answer, but simply what is the right answer for you.

Once you identify how many people you realistically can connect with each week (also provide yourself a buffer for those days when things just come up), then determine who is your target audience.

  • What type of organizations or customers are you connecting with?

  • What role do they play in their organization?

  • What networks or social circles are they a part of?

Say, for example, you want to work with event managers, there are event management associations that you can join:

Other ways to find your target audience is through Slack Groups, Facebook Groups, and Virtual Happy Hours. Explore that industry and find out where people are connecting, especially now in this new virtual normal work environment.

Let's say, you want to work with teams at Fortune 500 companies, you can connect with both their Learning & Development Departments and Human Resources Teams.

This is where sleuthing on LinkedIn is important and worth investing in LinkedIn Premium.

Once you identify someone that you want to contact, you can either reach out to them via LinkedIn Inmail or figure out their email by downloading ClearBit Connect. This is a way to figure out that person's email address.

Once you figure out the person's email address, build an outreach database of people that you want to reach out to.

How To Figure Out Your Niche

I learned how to figure out my niche from Marsha Shandur of Yes, Yes Marsha. Marsha breaks down how to find your niche in detail here.


In order to actually have fun marketing all while playing, you need to ensure you are embracing these steps:

  • Doing the marketing that most resonates with you (and if no marketing connects with you, doing the one that is easiest for you to do, to begin with)

  • Having compassion for yourself and letting go of results, especially at the beginning, as expectations are the thief of joy and lead directly to unnecessary suffering

  • Having a support network of friends or colleagues that you can check in with about your progress when it comes to marketing

  • Being present in the process as you explore finding your own voice and determining your own play-oriented method of marketing so you can finally:

"Be paid to be yourself"

- Stephen Warley

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