The Business Lesson That Cost Me $30,000

  • AUTHOR: Peter Chen
  • DATE: 05/16/2012

When I was first honing my chops as a young entrepreneur I heard a lot of advice—including the golden rule to outsource what I’m not good at. However, I was also told to never outsource marketing. At the time, I vowed that I’d never be “dumb” enough to hand off the lifeblood of one of my companies to someone on the outside. Why would I outsource my marketing? I loved it!

Over the next two years, my first company grew past $1 million in sales. I loved handling the marketing side; I did it well and I did a lot of it. But as my publishing business transitioned and my passions focused on launching a new software startup, I found myself juggling marketing responsibilities for two businesses. And if I didn’t design the campaigns, write the copy and manage the team to implement things, it didn’t get done and money didn’t come in. It was no one’s fault but my own—I made my team dependent on me.

Therefore, I made the decision to outsource my company’s marketing.

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A friend referred a top-notch “hired gun” marketing consultant who had a proven track record of doing great things. We hit it off, and hired the outsourced team for a hefty monthly retainer. This team handled all marketing for my publishing company for the next six months, and they were pumping out things left and right. It was one of those moments where the clouds parted and angels started singing—I thought I’d found the answer!

But then a weird thing happened: our revenues actually dropped. More marketing campaigns were going out than ever, but nothing stuck. When we took a hard look at the situation—$30,000 later—we knew that something had to change.

The big lesson I learned from this mistake wasn’t the old and tired advice I heard early: “Don’t outsource your marketing.”

What I did learn was this: when establishing any kind of professional relationship, always do so with specific expectations, specific plans, and specific goals. Even more important, don’t be afraid to speak up when you have that gut feeling that things aren’t heading where you know they should.

The team we outsourced our marketing to was incredibly talented, and we’re still on good terms even if we’re not working together. But I admit that the sole reason for this $30,000 failure was that we didn’t set a “make or break” goal based on the needs of our company at that time. We didn’t stick to it until it became a reality. We didn’t pick a campaign and set it as a company priority; instead, we ended up running fast and in multiple directions. In the end, we didn’t get anywhere at all.

Now I know that marketing tasks can (and should) be outsourced to others, and we now have a stellar team in place who are doing better than we could have ever imagined. But as business owners, we need to be the ones who steer marketing efforts in the right direction. And ultimately, we’re also the ones accountable for the results. Therefore, we need to properly formulate a goal, hire the best people we can to carry out that vision, and maintain focus on the top priority of the company — every step of the way.

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