In the last 24 hours, I’ve received something like 462 emails. Mercifully, Gmail dumps most of those into a ‘promotions’ folder, which may as well be a trash folder for all the attention I pay to it. It’s filled with coupons for things I don’t want, solicitations from companies that have apparently purchased my contact information somewhere (thanks, Facebook!), and endless reminders from companies whose services I’ve used sometime in the last 10 years. That’s how I know Groupon still exists. Who knew?
It’s mildly annoying to have to wade through so much junk in order to get to the stuff I actually need to deal with every day, and I’m glad Gmail makes it easier on me. But in a weird way, I’m proud of the companies that keep popping up in my inbox. They definitely run the risk of being a nuisance (and some of them are), but at least they understand the game we all have to play today.
There are a lot of things that have changed thanks to the Internet. I met my wife on a website (Match.com, just so you know, not one of the sketchy ones), and we would never have met otherwise. I’m not going to list all the things that are different now, partially because you know most of them but also because I don’t want this article to take 98 years to read. But one of the major differences that too many people either ignore or overlook is this: the Internet has presented all of us with infinitely more options of ways to spend our time and money, but it hasn’t given us any more time or money than we had before.
What that means is that all of us – every aspiring musician or artist, every scrappy start-up and established behemoth – all of us are competing for that finite time and money against a greater number of rivals than ever before. The barriers to entry in many industries have been effectively eliminated. I make my living as a keynote speaker, a job that anyone who knows how to talk can theoretically do. That isn’t actually true, but since all it takes is a website and a demo video to position yourself as a keynote speaker, a lot of people have decided to go ahead and give it a shot. The number of people asking to get paid for business speaking and consulting is enormously higher than it was even 5 years ago – but the number of companies interested in paying to hire keynote speakers and consultants has not grown at the same rate.
I am keenly aware of this, which is why I spend a lot of time and energy focused on how to effectively market myself – what kinds of articles and videos to create, which audiences to approach, how to position myself as a unique and valuable option in an increasingly crowded marketplace, and generally how to convince people that I am worth their time and money. I’m not saying I always enjoy thinking about how to market myself; after all, the thing I really want to do is the thing that people pay me to do, which is to stand in front of an audience and make them laugh while they’re learning about innovation, leadership, generational issues, or whichever area of professional development they’ve chosen to focus on. That’s what I like doing. Marketing myself, though, is what I have to do. Because the alternative is to sit back and split the ‘keynote speaking’ pie with more and more competitors every year. That can only lead to a shrinking business.
There are a million theories about what makes some businesses successful and others unsuccessful, but here’s mine: successful businesses are the ones that appreciate the need to market their products and services, and unsuccessful ones don’t. Most of us got into business to do what we do, not to market what we do. But the Internet is making it more and more difficult to ignore the importance of marketing yourself to your customers.
So the next time you get an email from a company you haven’t bought something from in eight years, don’t get mad at them. They’re just doing what they know they have to, and you should do the same. I’m not saying you should buy lists of email addresses or send out 45 emails a day to everyone who visited your website once. My newsletter goes out once a month, and I’ve decided that’s the right amount for me. But you should never be ashamed to contact people who have expressed an interest in what you do and encourage them not to forget about you.
Besides, you never know. Maybe someday four years from now I’m going to want to get a deal on something, and maybe that’s when all those Groupon emails I’ve been automatically deleting will come in handy.