Ilise Benun on Creating a Marketing Plan that Works for You

May 3, 2017

By Ilise Benun

© Irina Smirnova

Ilise Benun

We asked Ilise Benun, marketing consultant, author, educator and founder of, for some of the advice she shares with designers, illustrators and photographers. The following is excerpted from a talk she’s prepared for seminars and workshops. 

When I ask creative professionals how they market their services, most say, “Word of mouth.” This makes me cringe every time. Why? Because word of mouth is not a marketing tool: A marketing tool is something you do. It’s active. You control it. Word of mouth is the opposite. It’s passive. “Word of mouth” is nothing more than a euphemism for “taking whatever comes along.” If that’s the foundation of your business, you are at the mercy of whatever—and whoever —comes along, and that forces you to take everything, whether it’s right for you or not, even the clients waving bright red flags in your face.

There is a simple alternative: decide who you want to work with and pursue them. How? Choose the best people. Then, introduce yourself to them, follow up and stay in touch.

But first, you need the right mindset. With the right mindset, you never say to yourself, “I don’t want to bug them. Why would they want to work with me? What do I have to offer? They are probably already working with someone else anyway.”

By contrast, with the right mindset, you say to yourself, “I know I have something of value to offer and I just know it will help the organizations I carefully select because we’re a good fit. The only problem is they don’t know about me—yet.”

3 New Marketing Mindsets

Here are the three “right” mindsets to cultivate with care —and a few ways they integrate with the marketing tools and activities elaborated here and in Benun’s Marketing Mentor’s 2017 Marketing Blueprint.

1. Curiosity: Ask questions of your prospects so you can get to know them better and tailor your marketing to them.

2. Generosity: Offer your suggestions and your services to help them solve a problem or reach their goals.

3. Gratitude: Thank people for sharing their information or responding to your inquiry or trusting you with a project.

Here are examples of how these mindsets work in real life:

When you go to a networking event, don’t go to sell. Go to learn instead. Use curiosity to ask the questions you want answers to, so you can better understand your market.

Use generosity to offer what you have to give—your ideas, your expertise and your services. Don’t be stingy—”give, give, give” should be your mantra.

Use gratitude in your follow-up to thank people for what they shared with you —their answers or ideas or connections and more.

All of these require contact with other people, some of whom may be in a position to give you work.

The 6 Best Marketing Tools

If you dedicate 30 minutes every day, every week, and every month, these six marketing tools work hand-in-hand as a system and allow you to connect the dots.

1. Your Elevator Pitch: Develop one that shows how you’re perfect for your ideal clients and how you’re different from your competitors.

2. LinkedIn: Use it to support your positioning message and to research and connect with your ideal clients.

3. Your Marketing-Smart Website: Use it so that when your ideal prospects land there, they say, “This is exactly who I need!”

4. Networking: Find a way and/or a place to meet with your ideal clients in real time and in person, if possible. If not, find a virtual space online where you can network with them.

5. Content Marketing: Once you’ve connected, cultivate trust with your ideal prospects and stay on their radar with “auto-drip” —usually an email marketing newsletter. That way, you come to mind when they have a need.

6. Outreach: Reach out in the most personal of ways. Introduce yourself, follow up and stay in touch with your ideal clients for as long as it takes.

Connecting the Steps

It’s not enough to be “doing some marketing.” You also have to be connecting the dots: that is, using the right marketing tools on the right prospects.

None of the six best marketing tools work well in isolation. But when you use them together, you will connect the dots of your marketing.

For example, if you attend random events and walk away with a fistful of business cards but no new clients, you may decide, “networking doesn’t work.” But if you know exactly why you’re going to each event and you go with curiosity, with the question, “Is this a viable market for me?” or “What are these people struggling with that I can help with?” then you actually do “get” something realistic out of it: valuable information and maybe even a few contacts to follow up with.

This works even better when you use curiosity to eliminate the stress of “What will I say?” and replace it with questions that allow you to learn more about your prospects and your market and therefore respond more naturally with solutions and ideas.

Then, take the next logical step, which may be generously offering your help. Go through that pile of cards and invite everyone to connect on LinkedIn.

Follow up with an email a couple of days later, leading again with curiosity and generosity, which may look something like this:

“Great to meet you. I would love to chat more to find out more about what you do and what you need and how I may be of help to you.”

If you don’t get any response, that’s fine because your content marketing will keep the conversation going.

That’s just the beginning of establishing a relationship with each person. No one knows when (or if) you will generate work in the future. But the odds are much higher when you demonstrate that you are a valuable and generous resource, when you express your interest and enthusiasm in helping them and they see that you are a genuine person who wants to connect with them. That’s the core of marketing: to build relationships.

Consistency Connects the Dots

If you do your marketing in a feast or famine way, then you get feast or famine type of work. But if you are consistent with it, you can smooth out the waves just a little bit.

Consistency is an important element underlying all of these activities because repetition has a curious way of building trust. Use that natural phenomenon to your benefit by utilizing these marketing tools and activities together, to connect with, and stay in front of, “your people” (a.k.a. your ideal clients). That speaks volumes and says, “I’m here and you can rely on me.”

The key is momentum. Start with 30 minutes a day, first thing in the morning, if possible. Do a little bit, whether it’s research or writing or looking for events to attend, break it down into a doable activity. And make it a practice.

You have to be all in for the long haul. You have to be open and flexible. And you have to be listening to your market, responsive to your market, instead of focusing on what you want to do.

Because if the market isn’t there, then it doesn’t matter how much you want it, it’s not going to happen.

Ilise Benun is the founder of, a resource for designers, photographers, copywriters, illustrators and other creative professionals who want better projects with bigger budgets. The author of  The Creative Professional’s Guide to Money and other books, she is on the adjunct faculties of Pratt Institute and Maryland Institute College of Art and has taught courses through CreativeLive, HOW Design University and American Writers & Artists Institute. 

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