To illustrate my points below, I’m going to use my (considerably) limited stick figure skills, so bear with me.
Eddie is a new entrepreneur.
He just started an online business that sells vintage-style classic rock band attire, like T-shirts and shorts.
This is his first business, which means he’s taken his first steps on the marketing learning curve:
When Eddie sets out to conquer this learning curve, he thinks:
“Hey, this is going to be fun. I’m going to learn something new and figure out a way to be self-sufficient in my business. That way, I’ll be free to grow my company as I please.”
So he begins.
He starts by building a website—his business’s front door to the internet.
Then he moves to social media, building his business profiles and making his first posts.
He even goes so far as to set up his first email list.
Nice work, Eddie!
Eventually, he has an online presence and can process purchases on his website using Shopify.
Before long, he’s signed up for a few different marketing newsletters and free trials for marketing tools—so he starts getting emails.
Subject lines like this start flooding his inbox:
Forget email marketing! This is the new best thing…
Websites are a thing of the past—you need a FUNNEL!
If you’re not doing this marketing task every day, you’re losing thousands!!!
Eddie is a bit confused.
Didn’t he just spend a bunch of time building things the “right” way?
Now he’s finding out the “right” way is actually something different?
“No worries,” Eddie thinks to himself, “there’s no harm in checking it out—I want to stay on the cutting edge.”
So he clicks one of those emails and signs up for a free webinar.
“While I’m at it,” Eddie surmises, “I may as well check these other emails out, too.”
So he starts a free trial with another company.
And then another software that has a one-time-only discount for a new marketing training.
Before long, Eddie’s simple marketing strategy involving social media posts and email newsletters turns into something much, much bigger.
He’s holding ten different conflicting marketing strategies in his head, unable to tell the real difference between them.
He doesn’t know the difference between the proven and valuable marketing strategies and the worthless time-sucks.
Eddie has taken one step forward on the first plateau of the marketing learning curve.
He sees how steep it’s about to get.
He starts to see the rapidly changing technology, all kinds of conflicting marketing methods, and all sorts of people with specialized marketing knowledge that he’s never heard of.
He’s beginning to feel overwhelmed.
This is an experience that every entrepreneur encounters.
I call it the Oh Shit Moment:
When Eddie encounters his Oh Shit Moment, he starts to feel like the thing he started a business to actually do (sell cool clothes) is being overshadowed by a bigger challenge:
Telling people about it.
But, being the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed entrepreneur, Eddie sets out to conquer the marketing learning curve.
He figures that if he can learn as much as possible as fast as possible, he’ll come out the other end just fine.
He’s using the Brute Force Approach.
The Brute Force Approach: Building enough motivation to get a running start toward the marketing learning curve, usually in the hopes that you’ll learn everything fast enough to get you to the plateau.
Unfortunately, the Brute Force Approach doesn’t work for Eddie.
It doesn’t work for anybody.
Eddie soon finds himself clawing at the walls of that learning curve, covered in sweat, looking upward to see how far he’s gotten…
…only to find the curve is getting steeper and taller with every step.
To Eddie, it seems like every time he decides to learn something new, ten other options present themselves as “better” alternatives.
Like a Pandora’s box from marketing hell.
Eventually, Eddie gets to a point where he’s spending more time climbing that learning curve than he is doing what he loves—selling vintage rock apparel to music fans just like him.
He stops listening to Van Halen during the work day and starts listening to Digital Marketer courses.
The AC/DC vinyls on his desk are replaced with copywriting manuals.
He stops being a regular in the online classic rock forums, instead spending his time learning about SEO and organic traffic.
It doesn’t take long for Eddie to feel exhausted.
But to him, it’s still time well spent.
After all of that prep work, he’s ready to launch his first new product.
It’s a vintage-designed T-shirt with the Kiss band logo printed on the front and the words I Don’t Have Any Green On! printed on the back.
(a homage to a popular quote from Paul Stanley, the lead singer of Kiss).
“People are going to love this,” Eddie thinks.
The day of the launch approaches and Eddie follows all the trainings to the letter—emails go out, social media posts are scheduled, and Eddie even decides to run an ad on Facebook.
The morning of the launch comes and Eddie opens his computer to check on sales.
“No worries,” he thinks, “it’s early.”
He comes back at noon.
“That’s weird,” he thinks, “shouldn’t I have seen something by now?”
Two more hours pass.
“What’s going on? ” he thinks. “Are people waiting to get home after work?”
Eddie waits until almost midnight to open his computer back up. When he finally sits down and opens the lid of his laptop, his heart sinks:
Panic starts to set in.
He feels like the whole launch was somehow wrong.
After all, wasn’t the point of all that training to make sales?
He feels like he’s plunging off the edge of that learning curve, free-falling backwards, worried that this business was all a waste of time.
I call this the Oh Shit… Oh Shit! Moment.
Eddie is obviously disappointed.
He feels frustrated—even angry.
But most of all, he’s confused.
If a carefully-planned product launch like this failed, what else could he possibly do to succeed?
He took the courses. He followed the instructions.
He’s learned about SEO, PPC, CRO, and all kinds of other letters.
It felt like he was making real progress up that learning curve.
But as the weeks unfolded, Eddie made attempt after attempt, never seeming to get a win.
He starts a podcast—and nobody subscribes.
He hosts a virtual concert watch party—and nobody attends.
He writes music review blogs—and nobody reads them.
Eddie is feeling broken.
This is what Allison was talking about on our phone call.
Like Eddie, she’s fallen back down the learning curve so many times that she’s all but given up on marketing.
Have you ever felt like that?
It’s a pit of self-judgment and self-ridicule, and it makes Eddie, Allison, and every entrepreneur out there feel insecure and lost.
And it’s in this state of mind—desperate, confused, and baffled—in which entrepreneurs are most at risk of being sucked in by marketers who promise a way up that curve.
Sounds like I’m blowing a whistle somewhere, doesn’t it?
Well, Eddie’s story is far from over.
In fact, he does finally reach the top of that learning curve—but not in the way you might expect.
To explain how Eddie gets there, I have to tell you a quick story that involves my gradeschool nickname, my Grandma’s computer, and the little seed that Joe Polish planted in my brain so many years ago.