The Pitfalls of Online Marketing/Web Design Business (And Why I Quit)

14 replies
Hi everyone,

The regulars around here will recognize me, but it has been quite a while since I posted (probably a good 4-5 months). For the new people, I will quickly recap what I achieved in the last 2 years in setting up and running my online marketing/web design business.

I started at the beginning of 2012 with no clients, no idea how websites worked or how to do any kind of online marketing (SEO, PPC etc), but I needed money. I didn't have any university degree's, only a Diploma of Arts (Graphic Design) and not much passion for the graphic design industry. Basically I was broke, sick of retail jobs and ready to try something new.

So I taught myself a bit of SEO, how websites worked and how to host them, and finally got on the phones and started calling local businesses who didn't have websites and offered them cheap websites around $600.

Fast forward 2 years and I have served over 40 clients, ranging from $600 sales to $5000+, with Google PPC, SEO and more. But I have decided to walk away from it and here are a couple of reasons why...

1) Quality Control Is Difficult

I outsourced everything from the web design to the SEO, like many people here do, because I didn't have the inclination to learn how to produce in those areas. This made designing and offering a high quality service quite difficult.

My outsourcerers would frequently produce average to bad looking website designs, even using pre-made templates. This was also coming from a reasonable pool of contractors (I went through about 10-12 different web designers over that time). It could be the price point, but I just couldn't get quality designers for the $5 per hour mark.

This lead to disappointment for my clients and myself, and was a large reason I believe I didn't get much word of mouth work over the 2 years.

Running A Business Really Requires You To Wear A Lot Of Hats

Chasing up clients for money. Working out the financials and keeping track of every dollar. Hiring and firing. Managing staff workloads. Juggling client files and keeping track of every stage of where each client is at. All these tasks really take someone who is 'good at everything' and I knew this wasn't for me. I just loved to make sales. I was the cold caller, the salesman. Once I figured this out, I would avoid the other jobs and things started to get out of hand.

That's when I knew I should really focus on my strengths and find a great job in sales. Running a business really isn't for everyone. I figured out that I didn't really have a passion for running a business. I just wanted to make some good money doing what I enjoyed. I enjoy sales and it's one of the highest paying professions in the world, if you get good at it.

Final Verdict

Anyway, I decided to move on, but this is the good part... Because I essentially had built this business from the ground up, taught myself the basics of online marketing and cold called hard for the last 2 years, I found myself a job as a business development manager for a large web design/online marketing business in a nearby large city. The employer was very impressed that I had basically 'picked myself up by my bootstraps' and worked what was essentially commission only for 2 years.

So my advice is this : Give this a try for a while. The worst that will come out of it is work experience of all kinds that employers will look upon favourably. The best that comes of it? If you really have the passion for it, the sky is the limit.

Anyway, that's my 2 cents, hope someone get's something of this post. Happy to answer any questions!
#business #design #marketing or web #online #pitfalls #quit
  • Profile picture of the author Peter Lessard
    Good luck in your new position. I firmly believe in focusing on what you do best.

    To others reading the post just getting started out don't let this discourage you from trying to get into web design and seo etc..

    For example I found it easy to overcome quality control issues.
    I developed some great sites in different niches and simply had to copy and paste most of from city to city and customer to customer.

    Getting paid was never an issue, they always paid upfront and any monthly payments were auto debit from credit card or paypal.

    I am a systems guy. Build custom software for years and I eat and breath scalability but of course we are all different.

    In the end its always a happy ending if you find something you love to do and get great at it along the way.
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  • Profile picture of the author eperkins153
    Originally Posted by payoman View Post

    Hi everyone,

    The regulars around here will recognize me, but it has been quite a while since I posted (probably a good 4-5 months). For the new people, I will quickly recap what I achieved in the last 2 years in setting up and running my online marketing/web design business.

    I started at the beginning of 2012 with no clients, no idea how websites worked or how to do any kind of online marketing (SEO, PPC etc), but I needed money. I didn't have any university degree's, only a Diploma of Arts (Graphic Design) and not much passion for the graphic design industry. Basically I was broke, sick of retail jobs and ready to try something new.

    So I taught myself a bit of SEO, how websites worked and how to host them, and finally got on the phones and started calling local businesses who didn't have websites and offered them cheap websites around $600.

    Fast forward 2 years and I have served over 40 clients, ranging from $600 sales to $5000+, with Google PPC, SEO and more. But I have decided to walk away from it and here are a couple of reasons why...

    1) Quality Control Is Difficult

    I outsourced everything from the web design to the SEO, like many people here do, because I didn't have the inclination to learn how to produce in those areas. This made designing and offering a high quality service quite difficult.

    My outsourcerers would frequently produce average to bad looking website designs, even using pre-made templates. This was also coming from a reasonable pool of contractors (I went through about 10-12 different web designers over that time). It could be the price point, but I just couldn't get quality designers for the $5 per hour mark.

    This lead to disappointment for my clients and myself, and was a large reason I believe I didn't get much word of mouth work over the 2 years.

    Running A Business Really Requires You To Wear A Lot Of Hats

    Chasing up clients for money. Working out the financials and keeping track of every dollar. Hiring and firing. Managing staff workloads. Juggling client files and keeping track of every stage of where each client is at. All these tasks really take someone who is 'good at everything' and I knew this wasn't for me. I just loved to make sales. I was the cold caller, the salesman. Once I figured this out, I would avoid the other jobs and things started to get out of hand.

    That's when I knew I should really focus on my strengths and find a great job in sales. Running a business really isn't for everyone. I figured out that I didn't really have a passion for running a business. I just wanted to make some good money doing what I enjoyed. I enjoy sales and it's one of the highest paying professions in the world, if you get good at it.

    Final Verdict

    Anyway, I decided to move on, but this is the good part... Because I essentially had built this business from the ground up, taught myself the basics of online marketing and cold called hard for the last 2 years, I found myself a job as a business development manager for a large web design/online marketing business in a nearby large city. The employer was very impressed that I had basically 'picked myself up by my bootstraps' and worked what was essentially commission only for 2 years.

    So my advice is this : Give this a try for a while. The worst that will come out of it is work experience of all kinds that employers will look upon favourably. The best that comes of it? If you really have the passion for it, the sky is the limit.

    Anyway, that's my 2 cents, hope someone get's something of this post. Happy to answer any questions!
    Breaking the business into segments then PROPERLY / QUALIFYING appropriate staff / software / online services to complete the segments you don't want to do prevents what your talking about above. For example taxes is my LEAST favorite part and I have no clue how to do it myself so I hire someone to do it for me. No efficient business runs as a 1 man show at least not for long.

    I think of it like an assembly line for a car manufacturer. There's so many parts to a vehicle and that is like running down the assembly line with the car trying to put on each part instead of having multiple people ready to do each part when the vehicle gets to that point in development.

    Doing it entirely alone is admirable don't get me wrong, and I still do to much of the assembly line of my business myself, but I continuously aim to get to a point where I can have others do the parts I don't like and have more free time for myself AND actually deliver quality work for my clients. So they remain clients.

    So for example:
    1. Properly identify the segments of your business.
    2. Properly interview and qualify staff for each segment.
    3. Have some type of quota / log for tracking the activity of each staff member daily activecollab for example does this well for me.
    4. Then scale up

    Lastly I require anyone I work with to be on Skype 24/7 so I can reach them immediately at all times.

    Hope that helps
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    • Profile picture of the author Adam Short
      Thanks for sharing your story and congrats on your new job!

      Of course, there are things you could probably have done different to make the business successful, but what is it worth if you are not happy?

      In the end, we make money to feel fulfilled and if you are happy and fulfilled in your new position, it doesn't matter if you could have made your biz more successful or not. Your life is successful because you are happy.
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  • Profile picture of the author Arzak
    Originally Posted by payoman View Post

    1) Quality Control Is Difficult

    I outsourced everything from the web design to the SEO, like many people here do, because I didn't have the inclination to learn how to produce in those areas. This made designing and offering a high quality service quite difficult.

    My outsourcerers would frequently produce average to bad looking website designs, even using pre-made templates. This was also coming from a reasonable pool of contractors (I went through about 10-12 different web designers over that time). It could be the price point, but I just couldn't get quality designers for the $5 per hour mark.

    This lead to disappointment for my clients and myself, and was a large reason I believe I didn't get much word of mouth work over the 2 years.

    Running A Business Really Requires You To Wear A Lot Of Hats

    Chasing up clients for money. Working out the financials and keeping track of every dollar. Hiring and firing. Managing staff workloads. Juggling client files and keeping track of every stage of where each client is at. All these tasks really take someone who is 'good at everything' and I knew this wasn't for me. I just loved to make sales. I was the cold caller, the salesman. Once I figured this out, I would avoid the other jobs and things started to get out of hand.

    That's when I knew I should really focus on my strengths and find a great job in sales. Running a business really isn't for everyone. I figured out that I didn't really have a passion for running a business. I just wanted to make some good money doing what I enjoyed. I enjoy sales and it's one of the highest paying professions in the world, if you get good at it.

    Final Verdict

    Anyway, I decided to move on, but this is the good part... Because I essentially had built this business from the ground up, taught myself the basics of online marketing and cold called hard for the last 2 years, I found myself a job as a business development manager for a large web design/online marketing business in a nearby large city. The employer was very impressed that I had basically 'picked myself up by my bootstraps' and worked what was essentially commission only for 2 years.

    So my advice is this : Give this a try for a while. The worst that will come out of it is work experience of all kinds that employers will look upon favourably. The best that comes of it? If you really have the passion for it, the sky is the limit.

    Anyway, that's my 2 cents, hope someone get's something of this post. Happy to answer any questions!
    Good post.

    Quality control is the reason why I don't do any outsourcing (with some exceptions). Website quality is a huge issue. The majority of web designers & developers aren't good at all. The only time I see good websites are when they're made by established firms and skilled freelancers. And of course, that's not outsourcing.

    I've also considered getting a job. I always think about it. Much less hassle. I'm quite a procrastinator so getting directions would help me be more productive. Plus work is more enjoyable when there's a lot of fun people around you and there's a good work culture!
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  • Profile picture of the author DaniMc
    Damn right, Payoman.

    There is no shame in it either. You have a lot to be proud of. It isn't easy.

    It's all about growth as a person and doing whatever is necessary to reach the next stage in life.
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    • Profile picture of the author ronr
      Good for you payoman. Glad you are happy and doing well.

      There's a lot about offline marketing that sounds so attractive and it is but there's also a downside. It can be alot of work and if you don't have systems in place and a good team it can turn into a treadmill.

      Ron
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      • Profile picture of the author mojo1
        This post could not have come at a better time.
        Glad to hear what you're up to and to see you found a path that is more aligned with energy.
        As Dan said, good for ya brother .
        Thank you for sharing and continued success to you.
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  • Profile picture of the author Achiz768
    I think that's great--it's all about finding your passion! I have used my experience in online & offline marketing in a previous position at a job that helped me do pretty well for myself. It's great that you used your experience with running a business to find something you'd enjoy even more. Running a business is not easy at all and can be stressful! I wish you the best of everything in your new venture.
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  • Profile picture of the author TeamBringIt
    Originally Posted by payoman View Post

    Hi everyone,

    The regulars around here will recognize me, but it has been quite a while since I posted (probably a good 4-5 months). For the new people, I will quickly recap what I achieved in the last 2 years in setting up and running my online marketing/web design business.

    I started at the beginning of 2012 with no clients, no idea how websites worked or how to do any kind of online marketing (SEO, PPC etc), but I needed money. I didn't have any university degree's, only a Diploma of Arts (Graphic Design) and not much passion for the graphic design industry. Basically I was broke, sick of retail jobs and ready to try something new.

    So I taught myself a bit of SEO, how websites worked and how to host them, and finally got on the phones and started calling local businesses who didn't have websites and offered them cheap websites around $600.

    Fast forward 2 years and I have served over 40 clients, ranging from $600 sales to $5000+, with Google PPC, SEO and more. But I have decided to walk away from it and here are a couple of reasons why...

    1) Quality Control Is Difficult

    I outsourced everything from the web design to the SEO, like many people here do, because I didn't have the inclination to learn how to produce in those areas. This made designing and offering a high quality service quite difficult.

    My outsourcerers would frequently produce average to bad looking website designs, even using pre-made templates. This was also coming from a reasonable pool of contractors (I went through about 10-12 different web designers over that time). It could be the price point, but I just couldn't get quality designers for the $5 per hour mark.

    This lead to disappointment for my clients and myself, and was a large reason I believe I didn't get much word of mouth work over the 2 years.

    Running A Business Really Requires You To Wear A Lot Of Hats

    Chasing up clients for money. Working out the financials and keeping track of every dollar. Hiring and firing. Managing staff workloads. Juggling client files and keeping track of every stage of where each client is at. All these tasks really take someone who is 'good at everything' and I knew this wasn't for me. I just loved to make sales. I was the cold caller, the salesman. Once I figured this out, I would avoid the other jobs and things started to get out of hand.

    That's when I knew I should really focus on my strengths and find a great job in sales. Running a business really isn't for everyone. I figured out that I didn't really have a passion for running a business. I just wanted to make some good money doing what I enjoyed. I enjoy sales and it's one of the highest paying professions in the world, if you get good at it.

    Final Verdict

    Anyway, I decided to move on, but this is the good part... Because I essentially had built this business from the ground up, taught myself the basics of online marketing and cold called hard for the last 2 years, I found myself a job as a business development manager for a large web design/online marketing business in a nearby large city. The employer was very impressed that I had basically 'picked myself up by my bootstraps' and worked what was essentially commission only for 2 years.

    So my advice is this : Give this a try for a while. The worst that will come out of it is work experience of all kinds that employers will look upon favourably. The best that comes of it? If you really have the passion for it, the sky is the limit.

    Anyway, that's my 2 cents, hope someone get's something of this post. Happy to answer any questions!
    You did, great! You gave it a try, had some success and decided that it was not for you. Never stay, in a business that does not give you satisfaction (money wise and emotionally) at the end of the day. Indeed, new opportunities do come around, good luck on your new gig!

    The skills you gained, will be worth good money now and in the future...
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    • Profile picture of the author MRomeo09
      First off, let me say I'm glad you landed on your feet. I'm pretty sure we talked a few years back, and I'm happy that you've come to a good ending place in your career/business. With that said, let's take a look at "why" you failed so that others can avoid your mistakes.

      So I taught myself a bit of SEO, how websites worked and how to host them, and finally got on the phones and started calling local businesses who didn't have websites and offered them cheap websites around $600.
      First off it's a lot of work to get a website deal for $600. Do some research, look up the top 20 designers in your area, and find out what they charge for websites. I've actually done that research, they normally charge between $1500-3000 with some outliers less, and some outliers way more. I actually found a competitor that won't talk to you unless you have a budget of $25k. I started around $1200, and ended up my last few "websites" being around the $10k range. But at that point, you're not really selling websites, you're selling a marketing funnel. You're positioning yourself to where it's apples and oranges. ABC Website Designer will give you a five page website for $599. I'm going to give you a website that has been researched to give you four times more business. Do you know what color background has been proven to engender trust in your visitors. The one thing you can put on a landing page that is 3x more likely to engage your customers. The exact color your phone number should be? The exact formula for testimonials that pre-sell your service/product. blah, blah, blah. This is pretty easy stuff to come by, a business partner of mine compiles this stuff at Meclabs. For $400(the cost of a marketing sherpa report) I can completely change the conversation about what I'm actually selling. Because I'm no longer selling 5 page websites. I'm selling a proven marketing system in the form of a website. If you're in the website creation business and you haven't read these reports, you're doing your customers a huge disservice.

      The conversation changes when you are the expert. You no longer get the PITA customers who want every little thing changed for free, instead you are more effective because you can truthfully tell them that you're doing the right things for them. It seems to cut back on the constant back and forth in website creation.

      Personally one of the things we focused highly on, is conversion optimization and funnel creation. Who gives a shit if you can build a pretty web page if you can't get a prospective customer to call, or make them inclined to do business with you. When you specialize in conversion optimization and funnel creation, again the conversation is completely different. It's no longer about 5 pages of a website for $400. It's about selling a six month process in which we're going to fine tune their process so that it brings in 100-400% more customers. And you're obviously not going to buy a process for $600. You're expecting that to cost thousands. But the payoff is that you get to keep that finely tuned machine for years as a steady money maker.

      My outsourcerers would frequently produce average to bad looking website designs, even using pre-made templates. This was also coming from a reasonable pool of contractors (I went through about 10-12 different web designers over that time). It could be the price point, but I just couldn't get quality designers for the $5 per hour mark.

      This lead to disappointment for my clients and myself, and was a large reason I believe I didn't get much word of mouth work over the 2 years.
      Yes, that's what you get when you're looking in the $5 per hour mark. First off you have to realize that most "professional" web design shops are divided into different specialties. You have copywriters, graphics and layout and design. They really are completely different things. If you want to create stellar websites, you need to separate out those roles. And you're not going to get quality anywhere near that price point consistently. You should expect to be in the $20-30/hr range for good quality outsource help. It normally takes 10-20 hours to get a website done. So you can expect your outsource costs to be between $300-1,000. But, you're going to have a darn good website for that. It's no fun selling crappy products. You can do it for a while but that's not going to be something you're going to want to make a long-term thing. There's no point in spending $100 to get something done poorly when you can spend $300 and get something done well. But then again, that's not going to work for you if you're only charging $600 for a website.

      I'll tell you one of the reasons why you didn't succeed is because you gave people what they said they wanted(a cheap website), instead of what they really needed which was a good website that had been optimized to make them money year over year. The core of a good business is in the referrals. It's a ton of work to go through the effort to try to bring customers in, provide them a half assed effort and then go on to finding the next sucker... customer. Do you realize that it only takes about a half dozen contacts to build a $100k a year business. My very first client I ever got, I did for $3k. Over the years I ended up with at my best count around 30 clients from that initial contact. He referred me to someone else, who referred me to someone else and so on and so forth. That's how you make a sustainable business. It's not sustainable to keep going after new people month after month. It's a lot more scalable and predicatable when you go after repeat and referral business.

      Chasing up clients for money. Working out the financials and keeping track of every dollar. Hiring and firing. Managing staff workloads. Juggling client files and keeping track of every stage of where each client is at. All these tasks really take someone who is 'good at everything' and I knew this wasn't for me. I just loved to make sales. I was the cold caller, the salesman. Once I figured this out, I would avoid the other jobs and things started to get out of hand.
      The thing is I'm exactly like you. I only want to do the sales, and be the idea guy. I don't really want to get my hands dirty. That's why you can't charge $600 for a website. And why you need to make yourself worth getting $5-10k checks consistently. Read that last line again, as I think it's important. You need to make yourself worth getting more money. It's not enough to say I'm not going to charge $600. You need to know that the value that you're providing is worth $5-10-30k or more. Like if the client actually knew what you could do for her, she'd be an idiot to turn you down. People like you and me need to systematize it as soon as possible and hire out the parts that we aren't good at. You can hire a part-time project manager to keep track of all of the projects that you're working at. There are online collaboration tools that allow you to do this. We're not detail guys you and I, if that's what's required of us, we're going to be miserable. The reality is detail guys are a dime a dozen. You can hire them every day for super cheap. Guys that can actually get out there and sell stuff, now they are worth their weight in gold. You can take on a partner if that's what it takes(although my preference is always to hire).

      The thing is all, we're warriors here. We're on the quest for ever expanding knowledge. We aren't satisfied with just building 5 page websites. We grow and become more valuable. When we are worth more, we are paid more. The question isn't how do I make $100k-250k a year or more. The question is how do I become worth being paid $100k - $250k a year or more? When you provide value the marketplace of a high worth, you will get paid that amount, sometimes you just have to have the cajones to ask for it.

      Thanks for sharing payoman. Understand I was not attacking you for your choices, just trying to help those who might follow behind in your footsteps. One of the problems is that many warriors aren't knowledgeable enough yet to really provide good services to the marketplace. It's really not that hard to get clients in this business once you know your stuff. When your trail is litered with companies who have had significant increases in growth because of the work that you've done, you'll find it's pretty easy to get your next client. But if you provide little value, but only do a good job selling them a half-assed solution then you're going to struggle. I saw my income skyrocket in the last 8 years because I became better. I learned everything I could, I attended every seminar, I bought every course, I became a master of marketing. I think it comes down to when you are good enough to be able to really help businesses transform, then your income will rise accordingly. If you just want to sell websites, then you're probably looking at making $30-40k a year, because that's what website guys make. If you're looking to become a marketing expert on high-converting websites and marketing funnels then you can easily make $100-250k or more. Make sense?
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      We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up ... discovering we have the strength to stare it down. - Eleanor Roosevelt

      Your opinion of yourself becomes your reality. If you have all these doubts, then no one will believe in you and everything will go wrong. If you think the opposite, the opposite will happen. It’s that simple.-Curtis Jackson- 50 Cent
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  • Profile picture of the author TheBigBee
    OP - Let me say first, thank you for your honesty and being so open here.

    Mama - I'm about to be flamed...

    This is probably the absolute worst time to leave the Web Design field and is very likely the exact correct time to enter.

    In previous years, folks have been selling Web Design as a NOVELTY. Current market conditions and where they are trending are such that design will hold preponderance over all.

    Before I continue - let me define "design" as I understand. Design is not how things look, but how things WORK.

    Billions upon billions of dollars is being spent on Google PPC. Prices are increasing. Please Google this stuff.

    Because Google is doing things like; creating promotions tabs in Gmail, soon to ad Offers to the 7 pack, and promoting gov't or non profit only links in premium organic spots, this all naturally raises PPC costs.

    This all elevates design from NOVELTY to NECESSITY.

    In 2015 HALF OF THE INTERNETS' TRAFFIC WILL COME FROM MOBILE DEVICES.

    Please, do not take my lil ole word for it, Google; "Mary Meeker."

    What does that mean?

    How many businesses do you know have deployed a responsive design heuristic across all web assets, desktop and mobile?

    This number is likely less than 1%.

    That is encouraging. Espeically for YOU. The designer. Because GOOGLE HAS PREPPED A NEW MARKET FOR YOU - MR. DESIGNER. They made Google PPC more accessible with AdWords Express. Lord knows, the ads people are shipping are a mess...

    My two cents.
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  • Profile picture of the author kenmichaels
    @ MRomeo09 and TheBigBee

    It is rather refreshing to see a couple gents who actually "get" it.

    If everyone shared those views and knowledge ... the entire industry would change.

    Imagine .. no more wannabies muddying up the waters with inferior
    products, marketing, sales and rock bottom prices ....
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    Selling Ain't for Sissies
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  • Gary Halbert said nothing is wasted. All experience contributes to personal growth.

    OK, maybe not the time you ate thirteen hot dogs at the baseball game. But other than that...

    Good luck in your new gig.
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    Marketing is not a battle of products. It is a battle of perceptions.
    - Jack Trout
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  • Profile picture of the author NewParadigm
    Boiled down to its very essence for online and any business is people get too caught up in selling features instead of benefits. I've had countless sales people and pitches think they are doing a good job whipping out an acronym every 2 sentences to impress me. SEO, CRM, MRP, MOQ, etc.. It led me to ban acronyms from presentations which proved quite the challenge


    It's easy to get caught up in the machinations and lingo, but customers want certain results and outcomes and to feel a certain way. The rest of the BS are just the latest tools to get them there. A builder doesn't sell a homeowner a stack of wood, appliances, and tools, but rather fulfill a dream home filled with pride, joy, and accomplishment. Everything can be boiled down to desired emotional responses and this is the key for you to become a superstar as emotion is the supreme motivator for a client to take action and sign on the dotted line.

    Ever notice your own decision making process? You can try and fool yourself you are making some practical decision based on factors, but in reality when you get down to pulling the trigger it is an emotional one that motivates you, but you use the practical features to justify your decision.

    Go through your presentations, pitches, marketing materials and make sure you have correctly identified features and benefits and you are pushing the latter.

    Don't put the cart before the horse!
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    In a moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing. ~ Theodore Roosevelt

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