Your local marketing expert is wrong, and I’ll prove it.

If you’re a local marketing expert (consultant, strategist, self-proclaimed god) you’re WRONG. I’m going to prove it.

If you’re thinking of hiring a marketing expert - read this first. 

If you’re coming here from the Big Value Big Business podcast, welcome. But you’re probably wrong too.

Put up your dukes, then keep reading.

First – here’s my story  (you’ll get to throw your punch in just a second)

(Want to go on to how you’re wrong? Feel free to skip ahead.)

About 11 years ago I dove into the small town small business thing head on.

I’m a geek by birth, but a creative by passion.

While I was still in school studying marketing, I opened my wedding photography business and hoped to pull in tons of clients from the few little towns surrounding my home.

I had been designing websites since I was about 15 years old (my parents are both computer geeks, it’s in the blood) so I put up my first website and waited for the brides to hunt me down.

And hunt me down they did.

I had a bit of a secret weapon in my back pocket that allowed me to dominate my state pretty quickly – I was pretty dang good at search engine optimization.

While most of the other photographers were struggling with their SEO-useless flash websites (what a terrible trend), I was flying up the rankings for just about every city in my state. The brides were flowing in.

An important revelation

There’s something about an over-abundance of leads that really makes you begin to pay attention to who it is you’re working with.

I realized about 8 years in that I wasn’t getting the kind of clients that pushed my craft (and the resulting product) to where I wanted it to be. I wanted creative, unique brides; but I was working with a fairly varied blend of folks.

I redesigned my website for the last time, focusing totally on “my” people, and exactly what I wanted them to know about me.


The final version of
(website is down, keep reading to see why)

I wanted them to know that I was obsessed with them. That I understood them and cared about their unique worries, dreams, and all that other squishy stuff. I KNEW my people.

Everything changed.

I began speaking to my people exactly where they were. I sought features on the right websites, I answered the unique questions of my people on my blog, I connected with them on social media and built relationships that have lasted well beyond the weddings.

It worked. Every wedding pushed me further and further and I was absolutely loving my job again.

Then it hit me – while I was sitting back and watching great leads flow in, everyone else was still struggling – within my industry and outside of it.

I wanted to hone my skills and learn more about this seemingly-simple process – so that maybe I could begin to help others.

When I wasn’t shooting weddings (or editing), I was spending every waking minute building sniper affiliate websites. It wasn’t long until I was bringing in consistent commissions from products all over the web.

More importantly, I was learning the psychology of behavior and how to get folks to do exactly what I needed them to do.

The moment it hit me.

I built my first teaching website focused on teaching other photographers what they needed to do to duplicate my results and pretty soon I taught my first in-person class full of female photographers in a city near my home.

What was supposed to be an hour of online marketing techniques and conversion best practices turned into over 6 hours of Q&A.

They were HUNGRY for help.

These photographers were actually in a better position than 90% of the businesses surrounding their studios. They had an incredible online community lifting them up, they had a product which was increasingly more web-based, they had it easy.

How you (or your marketing expert) are getting it wrong

The other guys? The small town business owners? They were looking in every possible direction and hearing only noise and really, really bad advice.

They’re being told to spam purchased email lists!

They’re being told to post 1000 times a week on Facebook and to run a sale every other day.

They’re filling Instagram with bad stock photos and direct messaging folks sales messages on Twitter. 

(If you’re a marketing professional and you’ve suggested any of these tactics in the last week – just jump to the bottom and send me a Tweet. Let’s have it out.)

They NEED their businesses to work. They need to find their people, to find a way to reach them and a way to build relationships. They need the knowledge and strategies and techniques that we take for granted.

But they keep getting bad advice, and it’s all our fault.

Why? Because all of us “internet marketing specialists” and “inbound marketing experts” were too busy talking amongst ourselves to even notice the little guys.

We were (and still are!) building more and more self-serving products and services, selling to each other and preaching about the next big idea. All across the country we sit in our fancy desk chairs in our home offices with whiteboards on every wall with giant blinders on to everything that is happening to entrepreneurs outside of our niche.

These guys, the builders, creators and problem solvers, are drowning under the waves of information and techniques and systems and infographics and tweets and podcasts and…

Dear Inbound Expert,

Take off your *%&$$&# blinders and help folks.
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Dear Business Owner and Local Marketing Expert,

I don’t care how small your town is – this stuff DOES work there.

I proved it. I dominated probably one of the smallest towns (and all the surrounding ones) in the world and have since taught many others how to do the same.

It works because it’s real. Because it’s about helping.

  • Social media? Yes.
  • Search Engine Optimization? YES.
  • Conversion Optimization, blogging, email marketing, landing pages, webinars, ebooks. Yes, yes, yes…

It all works – from the tiniest of towns and the tiniest of businesses to the biggest giants in the tallest skyscrapers.

It. works. because. (and only when). it. is. real.

When you know your people and speak to them where they are, they’ll beg to buy from you.
Tweet This

If anyone is telling you differently, I want you to send them this post. Call them out.

Don’t believe me?

I want to hear from you right now.

WHY do you think this won’t work in your small town? Are you a (now royally ticked off) marketing expert and think I’m full of it? Test me, push me to the limit.

I guarantee I’ll have an answer for you.

Let’s go – show me what you’ve got. Send me an email or post your question to Twitter.

How to save your business (it’s not what you think)

If you knew that there was only one thing that caused people to either leave your website or contact you to buy something, would you do something about it right now?

If you do this one thing, your site will be churning out customers and you can focus on making all your new clients super happy. I rebuilt my website 7 times in 10 years trying to figure this out. It was worth the trouble  to finally find the answer, but the biggest mistake I made was thinking the website itself was the issue.

A new website can not save your business. Not alone, anyway.

We all fall for ideas like that at some point. We all think the latest “tip” or “trick” will pull us out of this black hole that keeps sucking us back in.

But there is an answer that is so much bigger than a website. It’s bigger than figuring out the best time to post to Facebook or what snacks to serve at the next customer seminar (yes, people still do those).

The answer to saving your business goes all the way back to why you started this thing in the first place.

What is the one thing that will save your business when nothing else works?


Authenticity. Being real and honest with people.

It should be SO easy, but it’s SO dang hard. At least it was for me.

But it’s worth it.

The 2012 Goodpurpose Study proved that authenticity is the most important thing you can possibly focus on in your business.

Ignoring it and trying to “marketing speak” your way to a paycheck will only result in failure and stress. Read more about the Goodpurpose Study and the power of authenticity here.

Being real and helping YOUR people will save your business.

6 steps to achieving authenticity in your business (The Own Your Hill System)

  1. WHY – Tell people why you do exactly what you do. Photograph dogs? Tell them why it makes you happy. Tell them a story about what inspired you to do what you do, and if they feel as you do, if they’re the right people, they’ll connect with you. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” – Simon Sinek
  2. WHO – Figure out everything you can about the exact people you want to serve, the people who believe as you do. The more specific this is, the easier your life will be and the clearer your choices will be. Find the people with a UNIQUE problem that you know how to solve. 
  3. HOW – Tell your people what it is about your business that makes you different from everybody else (hint: it’s the thing you do that only your people care about). Tell them how you’ll solve their problem in a way that only matters to them.
  4. KNOW – Bring your why, who and how together and communicate it with your people. Every word on your website, every blog post title and question asked on social media should communicate to your people that you are worth getting to know. They can’t know you if you keep all of your ideas and your connection with them hidden inside your head. This is where authenticity counts more than anywhere else, and where it leads to real change for your business.
  5. TRUST – Once they know you, you’ll have a chance to help your people so they can learn to trust you. You already know one problem they all have in common, figure out what else they care about and write about it on your blog, find answers for them, makes their lives better. Figure out other ways you can help them and DO IT. Your business, and your people, will never be the same.
  6. GROW – Focus on growing relationships with your people and within your tribe. One of the best ways you help your people, while also lighting an unstoppable fire under your business, is to CONNECT THEM TO EACH OTHER. Give them something to talk about and a place to do it. Focus on being the first follower of your idea, not the leader. Join them.

Being authentic takes work.

We’ve been exposed to “clever” advertising our whole lives. If you’re like me, you notice every cool billboard or truly attention-grabbing commercial. You might even try to analyze what they’re really trying to achieve. But none of it really speaks to you down deep.

We’ve been drowned in the “attention” mentality. The only way you’ll learn to swim is to stop thinking about what everyone else is doing and decide how you would want a business to speak to you, and do the same for your customers.

We connect with those who not only care about us as people, but also as individuals with unique interests and problems. Recognize those problems and interests in your people and find a way to meet them on a real, human level.

As long as you are talking over their head to the crowd, you’ll never find a connection.

Why you probably DO need a new website.

My little small-town fight for authenticity was inspired by the absolute failure of most small business websites.

I worked in the web industry and noticed over and over that the little guys, the mom & pop shops and little boutiques, were dropping big money for beautiful, top-of-the-industry websites, but they were seeing almost no results. Sometimes, literally ZERO hits.

That’s pretty devastating.

And the problem wasn’t with the site itself, the problem was the message.

These sites were attention-hungry brochures!

They were slam full of text and information that really only served the ego and worldview of the business owner, completely and utterly ignoring the needs and wants of the people they were trying to reach. And the web designers were helpless to change it, because the small business owner was sure they NEEDED all those cool tools, features and their complete company history sprawled across every page.

A few others got it right.

In one case, I worked as the web strategist for a project that completely changed the customer experience and transformed the client’s business.

The difference?

We paid very close attention to how her customers think and exactly what it was that they needed from the website. She was authentic and made every decision based upon her people and how she could solve their unique problem, and it paid off over and over again.

If your website is a brochure, if you chose your pages because of something you saw your friend Ed over at the tire shop do on his website, kill it. You need to start over! You need to make it about YOUR people and about being as authentic and true to them as can.

What are you going to do now?

You have an opportunity to save your business. You know what you need to do to completely transform the way they see you, what to do to help them learn to trust you and how to grow your business beyond anything you thought it could be.

You have permission to finally allow yourself to be truly, deeply authentic with your people. To connect with them. To help to change their lives and to solve their problems.

You know that a new website won’t save your business, but that it can be the first step towards changing how they see you.

So, what are you going to do now?

4 words that could change everything

Recently I was driving all innocently to who knows where. (I’m a spontaneous road-tripper and I usually have no idea where I’m going and that’s the point. My kindred spirits know what I’m saying.)

So here I am driving all internet-marketing nerd down the highway when I notice 4 words on the back of an 18-wheeler.

Lease. Train. Drive. Team.


This literally means nothing to me.

For me, these words don’t really mean all that much. But that’s the point, right?

I’ve never been a truck driver and have no desire to ever put my tiny butt behind a wheel of something that massive. No thanks.

But these words mean EVERYTHING to the right people. To the type of people who share the priorities of this company who is trying to reach them. They see the world in the same way. They are motivated by the same things.

To the right people, these words spell opportunity. An opportunity to work for a company that understands them.

It’s a GOOD THING that I didn’t understand.

They aren’t talking to everyone; they aren’t even talking to ALL truck drivers. They’re talking directly and distinctly to the small group of folks who matter to them.

And that’s exactly the point. They’re accomplishing exactly what they set out to, and nothing else.

What an amazing feeling that must be, right. To actually EXCLUDE those that aren’t right for you. To not feel like you have to reach everybody.

And all because you know YOUR people. Their priorities and motivators. That’s all it takes.

If you know how your people see the world, if you know what is most important to them and what motivates them to make a decision, then you can talk to just them and no one else. You can connect with them just by being truly authentic.

Knowing your people gives you everything you need to know to not only reach them but to shape every aspect of your business. Knowing your people changes everything. Tweet This

What if you only had 4 words to reach your people? What would they be?

Attention marketing is dead.

Imagine you’re standing in a crowd. There’s a man on stage. He turns to the crowd and waves.

Now this isn’t just any wave. He’s jumping up and down. Holy cow, just look at him! He’s grinning so hard it seems his face will stick that way.

This guy really knows how to wave!

But is he waving at you? Or someone else?

For a second you think he catches your eye, but no. Without even thinking about it, you know that he never intended to wave at you.

Not only that, but you know he’s not just waving to wave. He has a purpose.

He WANTS something from you, but not just you… from everyone. He wants the attention of the crowd, and he has it. For a moment at least.

Now, imagine you’re in a little coffee shop in your downtown. A man walks in.

He’s dressed like you. He sees you looking at a piece of art he’s often admired on his morning stop for the best coffee your little town has to offer. He has a genuine, kind look on his face.

The connection is all that matters.

He looks you in the eye, smiles and waves. No giant grin. No jumping up and down.

He doesn’t seem to want anything from you. Just a friendly wave to someone who seems to be like him. You’ve never seen this guy before, but you know he’s waving at you. You wave back.

This is different.

If he were to approach you, you’d feel comfortable starting a conversation.

Maybe you’d discuss the piece of art you were admiring, the coffee or maybe this could be the start of an incredible business partnership or the first conversation with your next big client.

The purpose of marketing isn’t to find a stage, it’s to find your people and a way to connect with them. Tweet This

It’s about making eye contact and waving at those who, like you, are looking for someone who gets it. Someone like them.

3 ways small town businesses are stealing great ideas… and how you can too.

Stop making excuses.

Being from a small town could be the best thing that ever happened to you and your business.


Because, time, risk and the people are all on your side.

What excuses could you possibly have?

When you’re in a small market you get to sit back and watch. You get to watch what the big guys in the big markets are SCRAMBLING to do to reach their people before the next big idea hits and makes them irrelevant.

Why is that good for you?

Because our people aren’t paying attention to the scrambling. Our people aren’t keeping up with every little thing that happens in the big markets. Our people don’t CARE what that guy in NY did to attract clients.

When you do the same thing, 6 months later, they think you’re a genius.

Seth Godin tells us that you have to be the best in the world. You don’t have to be the best in the WHOLE world, just in your part of it. To your people, your small town is their world. It’s where they live their lives, and you are a part of it.

You don’t have to be the best or even first. You just have to be best in your small town and first where you are. Tweet This Pay attention and draft off of all of the amazing ideas that are out there being tested for your benefit.

That’s right. They’re testing the ideas for you.

THEY, the big guys, are taking the risk.

Like Derek Halpern with Social Triggers, a killer internet marketing blog with a massive audience.

A little while back he discovered the power of video for small business blogs. Not just the power of reaching new folks but the power of video to help you connect with your audience in a very real, personal way.

The kind of video that Derek puts out is not cheap to produce. He spends at least $1,000 on each of the high quality videos on his site. It was a gamble that paid off for him, and it can pay off for you too.

You don’t have to spend $1000 on a video, even a cell phone video is better than no video. 

If you pay attention to folks like Derek you’ll be able to see what ideas make sense to people, and you’ll also see what ideas are absolute crap.

You’ll see which ideas your people are likely to cling to, which ideas will actually make a difference in their lives, which ideas will connect with them in a meaningful way.

How will you know which ideas to use?

Because you know your people.


If you don’t, you should. Because they are right in front of you.

Do you think the big guys get to see their people face-to-face, everyday?

They don’t. They have to guess. They have to take risks.

Sure they have lots of expensive data and research to back up their decisions, and that IS an advantage for them. But you have that advantage too, without the cost. Because you get to watch what they do.

And if you really pay attention and understand why they do what they do, you’ll have no excuses and your small town will be your untouchable advantage.

The secret to making their ideas better

One of the greatest advantages of our small town businesses is the fact that we can be something to our people that the big guys can’t, regardless of their budgets and reach. We can create custom, personal experiences that can’t be replicated online or over mass distances.

The trick, the big secret, is to create a product or service that works BETTER when it is local, that actually provides a better experience because it is local, not in spite of it.

When your product is a local gem, and you’re reaching your people through authenticity and the methods that have been tested for you by the big guys, your local tribe won’t be able to help themselves – they’ll have to have the best.

Be the best in YOUR world and because of your world. No excuses.

Have you found a great idea from one of the big guys? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Transform your small town small business through the Own Your Hill Insiders workshop.