What Re-Building an 1890 Farmhouse Is Teaching Me About Marketing…Again

What Re-Building an 1890 Farmhouse Is Teaching Me About Marketing...Again

Late in 2011, I bought an 1890 farmhouse on 22 acres, not realizing the house was literally falling down. At that time, I was a single mom who thought ripping up old carpets and painting walls would make the house good to go. Boy, was I wrong!

Since then, I have married a wonderful man who knows how to wield a hammer and together we have tackled what we call “the farmhouse project,” battling side-by-side to save the house against all odds.

Rebuilding this 133-year-old house has been quite an education for me in construction, remodelling and project management: from copywriter to contractor, oh my! But it has also been a refresher couse in marketing best practices, something we can all use on occasion lest we get lazy and stale.

I won’t go into the details of the farmhouse project. You can read all about the harrowing experience and see the shocking photos at http://www.literalroadfarm.com.

But I do offer up some comparisons between this project and marketing, comparisons I hope you find helpful reminders! So without further whining on my part about the farmhouse, here are 7 marketing lessons learned while wielding my own hammer and pry bar:

1. Know what you’re really getting into.
Yes, I had the house inspected and yes I did a walk through with a contractor before making my offer, but still we have been met with one shocking (and expensive) surprise after another. Why? Because we didn’t dig deep enough. We only really looked at the surface.

Marketing takeaway: Don’t only consider the surface, but discover the real problem. If your email marketing fails to deliver, don’t think moving the logo will fix the problem. Find out the real problem, and fix that. Maybe it’s your list, or your offers, or your frequency, or…figure it out then fix it.

2. Dig as deep as you need to to fix the problem.
It’s not as if repairs hadn’t been made to our farmhouse over the years. They had. But they were very poorly done, bandaids really, and that only led to more rot, more insect damage…and more work for us. We have been the ones to dig deep, deeper, deepest, to find the real problems, like rotted floor joists, subfloors and walls. That is the only way to fix the house and make it structurally sound and prevent more decay.

Marketing takeaway: Dig really deep, as deep as you need to go to fix the problem. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked as a freelance copywriter to “fix” a website by writing new web content, when the problem isn’t only the content but also the navigation or kind of content or something else. Often the only real “fix” to a problem is to start over. That is digging deep.

3. Start at the base and work your way up.
The first thing we had to do was get the house lifted and put in a foundation. Thank you to the county for ensuring that was done right, because it wasn’t. The subcontractor had to come back and do the project to code. Thank you also to the inspector who reassured us we were taking the right approach: starting at the foundation and working our way up to fix the house, until we finally get to the roof.

Marketing takeaway: Let’s stick with the website example I just used. If the website isn’t converting as it should, and you dig deep to discover the real problem is the way the whole site works, then start at the base and work your way up. Revamp the navigation, then the design and content. Ditto for email marketing, content marketing, direct marketing…determine the problem, then fix it from the ground up. No bandaids allowed!

4. If it’s bad, fix it, no matter how little.
It turns out our house was falling down in large part due to insect infestations that ate away the wood, but that started with bandaid repairs that let in the water that led to the insects. Anyway, we’ve had a lot of rot. I mean a lot of rot. My husband has taught me that rot is like a disease: every bit of it must go or else it will just keep spreading. So we’ve had to do major repairs and replacements to entire floors, walls and rooms in order to get rid of every bit of rot. (And we’re not done yet!)

Marketing takeaway: Maybe your From name is lowering your email marketing open rate. So what, right? It’s such a little thing after all. Let me tell you: There’s no such thing as a “little” thing. If it’s bad or wrong or broken (or rotted), fix it. Maybe your Buy Now button is below the fold, or your blogs lack the right keywords, or your CEO’s photo is blurry…I don’t know what you’d consider little but I do know that a little bit wrong makes no sense when something can be a lotta bit right! Be diligent. Find every bit of “rot” and make it better.

5. Call in the experts.
Although we are doing 90% of the renovation ourselves due to budget constraints, we call in the experts when necessary. We’ve relied on experts to lift the house, build the foundation, redo the plumbing and redo the wiring. Just those ate up our construction loan. But no way could we have managed to do any of those correctly and in the end we would have had to have someone come back and fix our shoddy work.

Marketing takeaway: If I had a dollar for every time a business decided not to hire a freelance copywriter but managed a project “in house” instead, I’d be retired and working on my farmhouse full time. And if I had another dollar for every time the end result was crappy work, I’d drive a big fancy pickup too! Know when to hire an expert and be willing to invest the money, whether for web development or design or web content or print work or email marketing or…. Be smart about it. Be willing to call. And be glad you did.

6. Be patient, trusting it’s better to do it right than right away.
It has been over a year. I never thought I would wait this long to move into my home. But I would rather take the time to get all the work done right, and know we won’t have to redo it later…OK, that’s not alway my attitude. I get impatient and whiney sometimes. The reality is, though, that our slow and steady approach will pay off in the end.

Marketing takeaway: Like all you have is time on your hands to fix what’s wrong, right? I mean, who am I, the freelance copywriter, to tell you how to manage your marketing! But trust me, do it. Find the problems. Dig deep. Fix everything that’s broken from the ground up, even the little things. In the long run, it will be worth your time and energy.

7. Acknowledge that ignoring the problems won’t make them go away.
We lost a 14 x 4 foot section of kitchen floor (and subfloor!) to rot, not to mention half of a wall, because no one could be bothered to fix a leaky pea trap under the kitchen sink. Someone wrapped electrical tape around it and pretended it wasn’t there. Then for years, that drip spread throughout the floor, into the subfloor and even into the floor joists and up the wall. All because someone decided to ignore the problem.

Marketing takeaway: Problems don’t go away. If something’s wrong, it’s wrong, okay? If you’re working with a sloppy email list, for example, and you’re happy with your 76% delivery rate that bad list is generating, you’ll be sorry when that number starts to go down because it turns out you’re emailing spam traps and the ISPs are blacklisting you. Or all those visitors you get to your website with your sizzling SEO who click Back as soon as they get there because your Home page falls flat. Or…I’ll stop. My point is, anything not working at its absolute maximum potential needs work. Period.

My 2012 was spent literally knee deep in mud and elbow deep in rot, and I had a lot of time to think not only about the farmhouse and someday living there, but also about my own freelance copywriter business that was essentially put on hold for much of the year because of this project. As 2013 starts out and I think about the farmhouse and what I’ve learned, I am applying these lessons to my own business, and I hope you’ll find them helpful to apply to yours as well.

If not, well, do you have a hammer and a free weekend? Because we could sure use your help on the farmhouse at least!! :-)

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