How to Take Risks in Your Marketing

Published Categorized as Strategy

Imagine you opened your inbox this morning and found an email from the creator of a massive architecture channel on YouTube.

They’re about to shoot an exciting new series showcasing stunning architect-designed homes, and, believe it or not, they want to feature your latest project!

They’ve got half-a-million subscribers, and their videos can sometimes rack up a couple of million views. They explain that you’ll also be able to use the video on your social media accounts and your website.

They only ask that you pay $5,000 beforehand to cover some of the production costs for your segment.

You’ll finally get some much-needed exposure for your firm! What a fantastic opportunity!

Or is it?

If it leads to one client, then it’s worth it, right?

Sure, at first, you’d be a little wary. $5,000 is a lot of money. The more you think about it and how well it could turn out, though, the less risky the whole thing sounds.

You’ve always told yourself, “if it leads to even one client, then it’s worth it!”

The truth is… you’re just gambling, plain and simple. You don’t know how this will turn out, and neither do I.

Getting involved with this channel could be the best marketing decision you make in your whole career. It’s absolutely possible for YouTube channels to catapult small firms from obscurity to internet renown. If you want to see what I’m talking about, check out this hugely popular video with Jack Chen.

On the other hand, it could easily turn out to be a complete waste of time and money, achieving absolutely nothing at all for your practice.

As a director of an architecture firm, you’ll encounter all kinds of unpredictable and high-risk marketing ideas, many with the potential to be quite rewarding. 

Sometimes, it’s a video production, other times, a competition, or an awards program with a pricey entry fee, or a salesperson pitching you a Houzz Pro subscription, or even a little ad campaign in the local newspaper.

Maybe you decide to give Google Ads a try this year as an experiment, or you apply for contests and awards for the first time, or or you invest in some quality renders to share on social media. There are seemingly limitless options.

Should we avoid risks like these in our marketing? Absolutely not.

A lot of the creativity and growth in marketing happens when you take an educated gamble on something new.

The question is, how do you know how much to risk with any one marketing idea? How much is too much?

In this article, I’ll break down the advice I give my clients on how to approach these risky marketing tactics and how to think about them, as well as detailing a simple way you can fit them into your firm’s marketing plans.

You need to get comfortable with a bit of risk.

When you’re starting out as a marketer, you tend to think about different marketing ideas in a very black-and-white way. At that time, everything boils down to one question: does it work or not?

Do Instagram stories work? Does an email newsletter work? Does getting published in magazines work?

After work, you grab a beer with your colleagues from other firms, and you ask them, “did [x] work for you?” or “did you see any leads from [y]?”

You book an hour with a consultant such as myself, asking them “what works for your other clients?”

These questions show that you want confirmation and reassurance that you’re not really taking any risks with your investments. You want a strategy that will – without a doubt – work.

Unfortunately, nothing like that exists in marketing. There is no guaranteed way to convince total strangers that they should work with your firm. I wish there was.

You never really know how something will turn out ahead of time. That’s especially true if the tactic in question is highly unpredictable, like the YouTube channel in our example.

So, firstly, you need to accept that every marketing strategy will involve some degree of risk; there is always some probability of failure.

Since that’s a given, it all comes down to managing that properly in your marketing plan.

Manage your risk properly by creating a budget for risky bets.

It’s okay to involve riskier tactics in your marketing. In fact, it can really help speed up your progress.

You just need to make sure you aren’t putting too many of your eggs in one basket – that is, taking on too much risk for your situation.

How do we know where to draw the line, then? If we’re going to pursue a strategy where there’s a pretty decent chance that we could end up losing every penny we’ve invested, then what should our limit be? Is it $500, $5,000, or $50,000?

YOU NEED TO CREATE A MARKETING BUDGET.

The best first step that I can recommend is establishing a marketing budget for the coming year.

If you need a rough starting point for how much money you should allocate to your marketing budget, 10%-15% of gross turnover would be ideal for a small architecture firm actively focused on marketing.

So, then, a firm that’s invoicing $500,000 per year might start off with a marketing budget of $50,000.

I’m working on an article covering how to set up a marketing budget, but, in the meantime, here’s a simple marketing budget template you can save to help when you get started.

If you click File > Make a Copy in the menu, you can copy the template to your own Google account.

Since many of my readers perform most of their marketing work in-house, I’ve also included a column for time spent to help you account for the many hours you’ll be investing into each marketing activity.

Adjust each of the categories to reflect the different marketing costs you’re likely to incur in the year ahead, then begin allocating dollar and time amounts to each.

Once you’ve done that, create another category called “Risky Bets” or “Experiments.” Give it a budget and make sure that it never raises above 10% of your overall marketing budget for the year.

That will be the budget you dedicate to anything you’re unsure about.

Why you should experiment with 10% of your marketing budget.

I’ve found that the 10% rule is an indispensable tool for managing risks and creating a separate supply of time and money for trying out new things in a controlled way.

More importantly, it takes worry out of the equation. It’s money you specifically set aside for experimental purposes. It’s okay if you end up making a few mistakes. That’s the point!

A 10% “Risky Bets” fund ensures that you’re still being responsible with the vast majority of your budget, investing it into bread-and-butter marketing strategies, such as:

  • Website improvement
  • Email marketing
  • Social media
  • Photography and media

You can then allocate the remaining 10% to something new, or you could split it among a few different strategies that have piqued your interest.

It’s healthy to take risks in your marketing. As long as at least 90% of your yearly budget is allocated to safer, more predictable marketing activities, you can carve out a little bit for high-risk/high-reward bets, then you should see great results over time.