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I will never forget the day that the Managing Director of the Digital Agency I was working at looked at me like I had just announced to the room that I had shit my pants. Moments later, he turned back to the sales manager, and said, “OK, so tell me more about the pens.”

I hadn’t shit my pants, by the way. I’d just put forward an idea.

Have you ever had your ideas smashed into the ground and doubted yourself, even for the slightest second, because someone “higher up the chain” than you didn’t “get” it?

Let me tell you, this wasn’t the first time, but it was the time I remember most strongly because after it happened, I looked around the room and NO-ONE SEEMED TO AGREE WITH ME.


What the FUCK just happened?!

I was working as a Senior .Net Developer at the time; not something I loved, but it paid the bills and I was pretty good at it. A couple of weeks after my promotion, I, and all the other Seniors, Team Leaders and managers, were called to a meeting with the Managing Director to talk about generating new business (something always close to the MD’s heart as we had one main client and pretty much fuck all else in place – and they call “jobs” secure. BULL. SHIT.)

It was the first time I’d ever been to a meeting like this before, but I was excited, happy to finally get into the “inner circle”, hear what was happening and share ideas around.

It started ok, with the MD asking everyone to pitch in and share any ideas on new business generation. His first enquiry went to the sales manager,  Barry (not his real name), and Barry happily reeled off five minutes of what his “plan” was.

Now, bit of backstory; we were a digital agency. We built websites, online applications, we designed graphics, logos, brands. Pretty up-to-date, modern shit for 2009.

Barry’s plan was this: Get a bunch of posh-looking biros with our company name printed on them and send them to different companies to promote our business.

While the MD seemed pretty on-board with this idea, several levels of “WHAT THE FUCK?!” were going through my head.

I was genuinely quite confused by the prospect, so after a while I spoke up and said, “Pens are all well and good, but what we want to do is show people what we can do. Would it not be better to approach companies and maybe offer them a free, I dunno, SEO report? Email template?”

There was a bit of a discussion, and it was quickly shut down; too much work, waste of time, waste of energy.

“Yeah, but, pens don’t tell people what we do…” I tried to reason.

Cue “The Look”. I was completely shut down. Everyone else seemed totally OK with the fact we were trying to get new business the same way the fucking Red Cross tried to get charity donations.

Here is a fact: NO-ONE is going to pick up a pen and say, “HOLY CRAP! I need to DONATE ALL MY SALARY TO THE RED CROSS!” in the same way ZERO PEOPLE are going to pick up a pen and think, “HOLY SHITTING EUREKA! THIS PEN MAKES ME WANT A WEBSITE!”.

Here is a fact; NO-ONE is going to pick up a pen and say, “HOLY CRAP! I need to DONATE ALL MY SALARY TO THE RED CROSS!” in the same way ZERO PEOPLE are going to pick up a fucking pen and think, “HOLY SHITTING EUREKA! THIS AGENCY NEED TO DESIGN MY WEBSITE IMMEDIATELY!”.

Pens help people write their shopping list. Pens help people write birthday cards. Pens float about in a handbag, or in the glove compartment. Pens are NOT the future of marketing. PENS. FUCKING SUCK AT MARKETING BECAUSE THEY’RE FUCKING PENS.

Lets’ fast forward to today.

It’s 2016, and we’re in a mobile, digital, on-demand age, yet I still see a thousand people making mistakes day after day after day.

People are Googling you. People are finding your Facebook page and your website. People are seeing you in Facebook groups or on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope. Granted you may not have the numbers you want, but numbers are just numbers. Want more? Do shit right.

You need, ON PAIN OF DEATH OF YOUR BLOG OR BUSINESS, to make sure that you are doing these things right online:

  1. If your site is not mobile responsive, you have effectively alienated over 50% of people who would come to your site. Smartphones and tablets aren’t going away – they are only going to get more prolific, but you might if you don’t get mobile responsive. Do it NOW. Seriously, even changing to a basic WordPress theme that responds to screen size will make everyone’s lives easier.
  2. No-one wants your newsletter. NO-ONE WANTS YOUR FUCKING NEWSLETTER. They want value. They want you to say, “signing up for this gives you [insert real, tangible result]”. So what do you give? And I don’t mean a free e-book, what will your reader GET from reading that. Seriously, I could download  a fuckton of free e-books if I wanted free e-books. I DON’T WANT FREE E-BOOKS. I want a problem solved.
  3. Use your own words and opinions. Oh lord, I have seen a few blog posts making the rounds this week effectively saying, “you should be professional and not curse in your website”. Look, using swear words might not be your bag – good for you, don’t use them. But if you are dampening your message by trying to be “corporate” or not sharing your real opinion, you will lose yourself. If you’re reading this, you’re likely NOT a huge corporation trying to pander to the needs of the shareholders. Take a punt and be opinionated.
  4. You need to guide people on your site. We act as Totally Obedient Morons online; we follow the path of least resistance, it is quite literally how our brains are wired. Sure, we may have an over-arching reason for being on your site, but never underestimate the flow of your site, and how people move through it. If you are not controlling this, your visitors will. By X-ing out.

Instinctively, I knew I was right when I stood up against PenGate. I doubted myself for some time, but when I started running businesses, I realised that I was right all along. Value is the number one thing you bring to your clients or readers or visitors, NOT the audacity to assume that your name on a fucking pen, or an advert, or a newsletter will create some sort of desire in the customer that immediately makes them want to buy.

Amusingly, no “Seniors” were allowed back to new business meetings after that. I left in 2010  to start on my own and from what I heard, the company lost their largest (and only) contract. Every single inch of me wanted to write a card to the MD with the words, “Fucking told you so”. In pen.

(I didn’t)