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Not-Boring Marketing: Be comfortable with risk and lean into fear.

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You may have realised by now that I don’t do boring. I don’t do generic. I definitely do not do safe marketing. I work with my clients to break through some of their fears around standing out, and encourage them to take more risks in the drive to be more authentic and not-boring. Of course, I cop flak, but most people I talk to privately, say “I wish I could be like that, but…”

It makes me sad, mostly because when I dig a little further and ask them what holds them back… it is usually a perceived risk of things that might, or might not happen. But risk-aversion is just the rationalisation of fear. Fear that allows us to come up with a million different potential scenarios that are a build-up in our own minds.

It is a basic human drive to feel safe. Our brains are wired to bypass logic when we are unsafe, and will pull all sorts of mind tricks on us to bring us back. To feel safe, we need to feel accepted and respected and loved. We worry about being abandoned, and hurt, and embarrassed publicly and losing money and our houses and spouses and friends and… the list goes on.

I have lived all of those things several times over and I am here to tell you that, even when it doesn’t look that way in the moment, you will survive it and those that matter will stick around.

Because shit happens anyway.

Ten years ago, I experienced a 1 in 100,000 surgical complication that had me fighting for my life. I went in for a fairly routine overnight procedure and didn’t even think about the risk. 1 in 100,000 was so minute, to worry about it was silly.

I was 26 years old. I had a 4 year old and an 8 month old. I spent a week in a coma, fighting severe sepsis on a ventilator, and a further 3 months re-learning how to walk and function properly again.

The risks were low. But it happened anyway.

5 years ago, my grandmother — who never smoked, never drank alcohol, never ate junk food, walked everywhere, lived simply and had unwavering faith — died very quickly from cancer. She went from ox to gone in 2 months.

The risks were low. But it happened anyway.

2 years ago, I had a business fail that in all rights, should have been successful. It was the right time, the right skillset, the right business plan, the right place, the right network. I had run a successful business before, and we were both great in our respective areas. We were both risk-averse, we planned, we networked, we built great IP. But it still failed and almost destroyed two lives.

The risks were low. But it happened anyway.

So what point am I trying to make?

Shit happens anyway. And there is nothing we can do to stop it.

I know this is confronting. I say this as the Queen of the Control Freaks and professional overthinker & worrier that I had to learn the hard way to roll with it and lean into fear & pain. Sometimes, shit happens and you have no control and no choice but to face it. Sure, there might be some high-risk decisions that you make that have greater odds of failure, but does that mean you shouldn’t try?

That’s entirely up to you. If you spend your life perpetually worried about the risks, and using that as a way to avoid pain, or humiliation, or financial disaster, I am not going to judge your desire to feel safe. That is perfectly fine. However, if your survival is not at stake, then you should be honest with yourself about what it is: it is fear talking. And winning.

Because there will always, always be a reason not to do something if you look hard enough.

It takes courage to take risks, especially in the face of criticism. Now, I want to make it clear that I am not promoting recklessness. If you jump off a bridge without a bungee cord or parachute, there is a 99.9% chance it will kill you. I do not support playing those kinds of odds. There are those that do. Everyone has a different idea of risk:benefit. There are some people that are quite happy to try and beat the odds, including those that start businesses, or try to be a successful Hollywood actor or platinum selling musician. They have similar odds, but itdoesn’t kill them.

These people make peace with risk, the payoff is high for them if they do, and for those that jump off bridges and climb mountains… well, they’re insane but hey… they enjoy the rush.

How does this apply to marketing?

In order to stand out, especially as a small business owner, you have to put yourself out there. Playing it safe doesn’t cut it if you want to be seen, talked about and build your community of true fans.

You need to be willing to take “risks” in order to get traction. Whether it is telling stories, telling the truth, having an opinion, telling a joke, speaking up for a cause, calling out competitors when they behave unethically, swearing, going left when others go right, or any combination of the above, you have to do it.

For me, it is positioning myself as the anti-marketer, the anti-generic, the anti-boring. Being open about my struggles and fears. Not handing out business cards and telling them to Google me. Using humour and brutal truth and speaking up for the things I care about. Because I know people learn from it, feel less alone. It makes a difference to people’s lives because they tell me every day that I make them feel a little more inclined to put themselves out there and be seen.

Taking risks is how you succeed. You may also fail. But, even with all the risks weighed up, I have learned the hard way that shit happens anyway, so you might as well do what makes you happy.

Taking risks, especially ones that others don’t agree with, is scary. It takes courage. And it might even suck immeasurably and feel very lonely when you feel unsupported in it. I fight with the urge to ‘shut up and behave’ every day. But if you feel, in your gut, that what you are doing is important, the likeminded customers WILL follow you and pay you more than any of those generic, tyre kicking customers ever would.

And, ironically, by taking risks and letting yourself be seen, you are actually doing the least risky thing there is: a fundamental, tried and true approach to successful online marketing and engagement.

So how do we do this?

This is not something that is easy to do, nor is it instantaneous. I have been doing what I do, putting myself out there online for 20 years. It is still scary. I have clients that I have coached for years that are still scared of putting themselves out there authentically. That is normal. It is healthy to reflect. But over a period of many years I have learned to stay true to my core: I truly believe with every fibre of my being that authenticity, humour and candour is what helps us connect. And that that connection is ultimately what makes people buy from you.

The problem is that most business owners actually don’t really have a strong sense of self, or know what really drives them. What makes you get out of bed in the morning? What causes are you willing to fight for? Lose customers for? Lose friends and family for? We all have them. They just don’t know how to jump off that bridge and attach the bungee cord to ensure they are safe.

I am that bungee cord.

I am currently developing some Digital Courage workshops and 1 on 1 coaching programs, to help bring you out of your shell, take more risks (which ironically is less risky and costly than being boring), and truly make an impact. It is part marketing, part counselling and bridges the gap between the two businesses I run. If you are interested, please get in touch. I am keen to hear your thoughts/feedback.

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Email: tea@teasmith.com.au

Tel: +61 407 877 431

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