Where are they now? Sharon Bending

Don't you sometimes wonder whatever happened to some of the people you knew earlier in your career but lost touch with?

I know I do. That's why I'm always thrilled when they come back (or respond to one of my Quick Tips) to tell me where they've been, how far they've come and, of course, what they learned along the way.

So today I'm introducing a new series of podcasts (and companion blog posts) featuring  the ones who are coming back to tell me "where they are now." 

Here's the first one -- with Sharon Bending of Rx Creative Lab.

Back in 2008 I did some coaching with Sharon, a designer who wanted to grow her business and get better clients.

I helped her identify her niche (we actually homed in on 2 niches: associations and financial institutions).

Then we put a marketing machine in place that, in retrospect, looks a lot like the Simplest Marketing Plan.

That marketing strategy, which Sharon used consistently for many years, did in fact grow her business because, well, this marketing thing does work.

So in today’s episode #434, Sharon and I look back and talk about what she learned, why she’s leaving behind the business she built after 18 years and where her new path is taking her.

So listen here (or below) and learn. 

 

Read the transcript of Podcast #434 with Sharon Bending of Rx Creative Lab.

ilise benun

Hi there, this is ilise benun, your Marketing Mentor. And this is the podcast for you if, and only if, you are ready to leave the feast or famine syndrome behind, and I mean for good.   

Back in 2008, I did some one-on-one work with Sharon Bending, a designer who wanted to grow her business and get better clients. I helped her identify her niche—and we actually homed in on two—and put a marketing machine in place that, today, looks a lot like the Simplest Marketing Plan. That strategy—which she used consistently for many years—did, in fact, grow her business because, well, this marketing thing does work. So, in today's episode, Sharon and I look back and talk about what she learned, why she's leaving behind the business she built after 18 years, and where her new path is taking her. So, listen and learn.

Hello, Sharon, welcome to the podcast.

Sharon Bending

Thanks for having me, ilise.

ilise benun

You're welcome. Please introduce yourself.

Sharon Bending

Sure. My name is Sharon Bending and, for the last 18 years, I've been a self-employed graphic designer. Started a company called Bending Design, Inc.; transitioned the name—rebranded as Rx Creative Lab. And, after 18 years, I've decided it's time to do some different things. I think we're going to talk about that.

ilise benun

Excellent. Yes. So that's why we're talking, today. It was kind of your suggestion to do a series, so this is the first in the series of, “Where Are They Now?” You and I worked together many years ago—I think you probably know better than me how long ago it was—so I would just love to hear about your evolution. You can start with where you're going; you can start with where you've been; and I'll just interrupt you with all sorts of questions.

Sharon Bending

Sure. Well, I was just looking back at my notes from working with you in the past. It was 2008 when we first started working together. We did a little one-on-one work. In that time, I had two part-time employees; I was about five years in business; and, I was just looking for help to grow the business—to get the kind of clients that I wanted to get and that kind of thing. 

So, you were very helpful with lots of ideas. We'd worked together for a while. And, in that time, I actually used some techniques you told me [about], when going to a conference in one of my target markets—and got a client then, in 2009, that is still with me, today. Yeah, so that was pretty amazing. And, they've been an incredible client. 

ilise benun

Just let me interrupt you there, in terms of target markets, because often people are asking me, and are sometimes concerned, that if they choose a market, they're married to it for the rest of their life. I'm curious. Share with us what were your target markets, and how, also, has that evolved, as you've done? 

Sharon Bending

Sure. When we started working together, I had two areas that … well, the very first that I had heard of you—besides writing articles and how, all the time—was a Get Rich in a Niche webinar that you did. From there, I started thinking about, what would my niche market be? 

I had some experience with financial services, because I previously worked for an insurance company.  I also had done some work with medical associations, just a couple, and I liked the kind of work that I was doing, there. So, I thought, I had two totally different markets and I didn't know really which one to choose. I had more experience with financial services. But I really liked the type of work that I was doing in the other area, as well. So, you said, “Just explore both of them.” And that's what I did. 

I devoted my website to these two areas and showed work for each of the markets; wrote articles in publications on each side. You know, enewsletters; went to bank marketing conferences. And that's kind of how I … it was just what I had some experience with, what I wanted to do more of, and just kind of played around with that. And then, as time evolved, I kept those two markets parallel the whole time that I've had my business. I got a lot more clients. I was focusing new business clients on the medical associations, more, and really other associations; it wasn't just medical, a lot of medical, but other associations. That was a lot of the new work and new business that I was getting, while I was maintaining my financial services clients from the past.

ilise benun

And is that because that's what the market was telling you or was that because that's what you preferred?

Sharon Bending

I think it was because that's what I preferred, because I had a really good relationship with my financial services clients and I wanted to just kind of … and I'm talking about, it was just, I worked with a few different ones, but then really had a great relationship with a couple that we kept that strong. But where I wanted to explore more was the Medical Association world. I wanted to keep my financial services clients, but I had a desire to do … I liked the kind of work that I was doing in the medical world, too. So that's kind of where I put my energy into new business.

ilise benun

Just say a little bit more, if you would, because I think juggling two niches is not necessarily difficult, but it sounds like you did most of the proactive marketing in one and not the other, but you could still have the two in parallel, right? 

Sharon Bending

Yeah, I started off marketing to both of them about the same, I would say, but then I kind of let one side go and focused my energy on the other side for new business marketing.

ilise benun

Everything I teach, more and more lately also, is just underneath it all is [that] you should be the one deciding. You should be the one controlling. You should be the one driving the business, as you listen to the market and not go against it. So, it sounds like you got really good at that.

Sharon Bending

Yeah, and I always thought, I'm a designer. I want to design my life the way I want it to be. I don't have anyone to answer to except myself. I just now looked at the questionnaire that I filled out for you back in 2008. It was really, really wild looking at that, but one of the things was just about how to balance home and work better. Since then, I've really put a lot of thought into designing my day, designing my life, and that kind of thing. So, having my own business was really a great thing because I was able to make it whatever I wanted to.

ilise benun 

You're foreshadowing a little bit there, Sharon, so let's go right to it. I'll probably come back and ask you a few questions about the marketing tools you were using. But, you said, in the past tense, “Having a business was___,” so you have made what decision and where are you going?

Sharon Bending

Well, I was getting a little bit burnt out on all of the aspects of running the business and losing a little bit of my fire that I’d had for a really long time. I lost the desire to continue doing all of that active marketing. And so, I downsized everything about five years ago. 

I had built up to having three full-time employees, and then I slowly went down back to myself in a room in the house and out of the office space. I just wanted to not have to do all the other things that are associated with running a business, as much. And I think I also achieved what I wanted to with the business, and that was one of the things that kept driving me for so long. I had this vision of what I wanted. And then I got there and I was there for a number of years and it was great. And then, it was almost like, “Well, what now?” 

So, I started exploring some other opportunities, just keeping options open. What if I did something else? I was presented an incredible opportunity that I just couldn't pass up. So, I'm not going to name the company, because we're still in the process of all the background stuff, but I'm going to a global health care company that is launching an in-house agency, and I'm going to help them do that.

ilise benun

I don't want to impose on any of the confidentiality, but I'll ask you a few questions and you answer them if you can. Is this a company that was one of your clients? 

Sharon Bending

No. 

ilise benun

Was it through networking? How did the opportunity come to you?

Sharon Bending

It was through LinkedIn. I saw it there, and it was always in the back of my mind—like, maybe it is meant to be and maybe it's not. The universe is going to tell me. So, I didn't have any, “Oh this has to happen.” Because everything's fine with my business. I can keep doing what I'm doing. I just wasn't as passionate anymore and was ready for something different.

ilise benun

I think as you're talking, I'm thinking of Kelly Campbell, who was on the podcast with me just a couple weeks ago. We're actually going to do a second conversation, but she had been an agency owner and evolved to becoming a coach, actually, of agency owners. And so, I think part of the series or this thread that underlies everything and weaves it together—is this idea of constant evolution and why not move on to something else—whether it's something completely new, where you might feel a little bit, umm… a lack of self-confidence. I'm curious about that. A lot of people talk about “imposter syndrome” because they have not done the new thing before and don't want anyone to know that. But you know, what she was talking about, also, was just evolving and finding something that she was ready for next. So, I'm curious in your situation, are you feeling, “Oh my God, I don't know how to do this or what am I going to do?” Or are you bringing with you the confidence that you built over the years? 

Sharon Bending

Oh, I'm absolutely bringing with the confidence that I’ve built over the years. I feel like this is a great opportunity, a great fit. I feel like I can definitely do the job there. And yeah, I don't have any issues with that.

ilise benun

Beautiful.

Sharon Bending 

And I have to say that, I feel like we go through stages in life. When I started my business, I found out, within the first month, that I was pregnant with my first child. A lot of life changes at one time, there. In this business I've had over all of these years, as my kids were growing up, I had the flexibility to do what I had to do with them and it was really awesome. But now they're much older; they're in high school; they're self-sufficient, more, a little more. So, it's a time where I don't have to be quite as flexible as I had in the past, too, so I feel like it's kind of a new stage and time of my life.

ilise benun

Sounds like it. So, how do you feel about leaving this thing you built behind? And what are you doing with it, actually, maybe is another question?

Sharon Bending

It's very emotional. I am keeping the business open, but I talked to my accountant, and we're structuring it in a little bit of a different way that'll be less costly, less maintenance on my end. I'm keeping it open for any potential small, side projects that I may or may not want to take on at some point. I think it is very emotional, because I’ve thought about everything I've built; I'm running through the reel of all the different memories in my mind; it's one of those things that is definitely tough to think about. But I know and I feel like it's the right thing now.

ilise benun

I personally feel totally unemployable and I can't imagine what kind of opportunity would come my way that I would be interested in leaving my business behind for—but never say “never.” But the thing that I am spoiled by, and I'm curious how you plan to handle this, is the complete control and autonomy that you have over your schedule, over the decisions about how to spend your time and all of that. What is your thought about either giving some of that up or adapting or maybe you just don't need that much control anymore?

Sharon Bending

Yeah, I think what I'm envisioning, who knows if that's how it will be or not. Some of the conversations I had with them was about flexibility and that kind of thing. It's not going to be the same, obviously, as being your own boss, but I do feel like I'm still going to have enough of the flexibility that it'll be okay. I'm not really worried about.

ilise benun

And, obviously less responsibility.

Sharon Bending

Yeah, but that's kind of why I'm doing this. 

Again, I think the main thing is, I just lost the passion for what I was doing. It was there for a long time, it drove me. I always had this fire in my belly. And that hasn't been there for a bit.

ilise benun

I have two more questions for you. One is kind of involved, so I'll start with that one. But I'll tell you both so I don't forget. 

I want to talk a little bit about the marketing that you did do to grow it to where you grew it, and the tools you were using and what worked. And then, if you have any advice or words of wisdom for people who are either just starting out, or thinking maybe self-employment is not for them. What would your advice be? 

But let's talk first, if you don't mind, about the marketing that you were doing, because I do remember very clearly, in 2008 and 2009, you were doing content marketing, but I don't think it was called Content Marketing at that point, right?

Sharon Bending

Yeah, I'm not even sure what it was called. I was doing a lot of writing. I had the two niche markets and I was doing, at the time, writing for different enewsletters and articles in each area; I was in their member of organizations, member associations for the areas; and trying to just network with people. 

But in addition to that, I had a very, very tight “marketing machine,” I would say. I think that phrase came from you. And so, I would do quarterly mailings to clients and prospects in actual mailings, print mailings. I would do a monthly enewsletter. And I would call every week, I had a set amount of time that I would call new prospects, on the phone. I had a process where I would call them once, take a note usually leaving a voicemail; note what I did; reach out again in two weeks. Wait, first, I would send them something—a new, like an intro piece, and I would call them to follow up on the piece. Call them again a week or so later, and then I would send an email at the very last. And that's the most un-fun, if that’s a word, not fun stuff that you can do. But it works so well. 

I got a lot of clients just through consistently doing that. I would research and find who the prospects were, where they were working, just research different companies and people, and then add them to this list where they go through that cycle of stuff, and then they would then make it onto my quarterly mailing list and that kind of thing. Although I think that's tough because a lot of people aren't going into the office consistently.

ilise benun

Right. And so many people don't actually answer their phone. So, what do you think you would do differently if you were starting now with that marketing machine? 

Sharon Bending

Well, I probably wouldn't mail anything printed because I just don't know if they're at the office or not. But I would definitely email something. Or a link to a video—I did that one time. I just recorded a video specific for this person. Put it on YouTube with the link that only they can see. And then, sent it out, and then followed up a week later, and then another week later, and then sent with phone calls, and then send another email again. I would do almost the same thing, but just tweak it a little, instead of mailing maybe a video or something like that.

ilise benun

It's funny. I agree with you, and I'm pretty sure that, at that point in time, a personalized video was very unusual. And I would think people watched it and maybe even answered the phone because of it. Is that what you found? 

Sharon Bending

Oh, that wasn't that long ago that I did. That was more a few years ago, and I didn't do that a lot. It was just that there was a very specific client that I really wanted to ….

ilise benun

Interesting. The other thing you're implying there, which I want to call attention to, is because a lot of people think, “Okay, I'm going to get a little marketing going and then I'm going to stop.” But you obviously did it for a long time. Talk a little bit about why and the thinking behind that, Sharon.

Sharon Bending

Well yeah, doing it and stopping doesn't do anything. It's the consistency over time. I don't know, they say it takes however-many contacts to get someone's attention. I don't know what that number is. But it's got to be very, very high. Just making it part of the routine, it became less of a hassle of, “Oh, I don't want to call people today.” It was just like, “Well, today's the day to call people.” It’s 10 phone calls and then move on to the next thing. Having it part of the routine made it easier to do it. And it really did work, over time. Maybe it didn't work in the first couple months of a new contact, but over time, it really did.

ilise benun

One thing that's interesting is that the marketing framework that I teach now, and that is part of my Simplest Marketing Plan—which I just finished a 4.0 version of—is essentially what you're saying. But I didn't call it that at the time. I didn't know yet that it was called that, and I also didn't even know that those were the only three tools you needed to use. 

And now, I call it Strategic Networking—going to find the association and do the in-person networking that you need to do to develop the relationships. And then, Targeted Outreach—which is the prospecting that you're talking about; very personalized and just really consistent. And then, Content Marketing—which is the newsletter and the articles, and you were doing a lot of guest content, also. And those are really the only three tools I think people need to use. 

LinkedIn is part of that. It's part of the outreach. It's part of the networking. It's part of the content. It’s kind of is woven through everything. But, it's interesting to hear you describe what you did, and to think, “Yeah, that's pretty much what I would still suggest.”

Sharon Bending

Because it's the basics, you know? And it works. 

ilise benun

Awesome. All right. So, let's go back to my other question: if you have any words of wisdom to someone starting out now, whether they're young or old. I can't tell you how many, I won't call them “old people” but older people, starting a brand new career a little after a first career or second career, and just trying to make their way and not really understanding how much marketing it takes, and how ingrained or embedded in your day-to-day process that needs to be … what would you say to someone like that?

Sharon Bending

Well, I would say to take a few hours, once a week, to devote to marketing. It might be, at the beginning, just to figure out what you want to do, or how to get you to figure out what to do. And then it becomes part of that plan, that machine, that you just keep going and chugging along with it. Because over time, like I said it, it really is amazing the amount of business you can get that way. 

I would also just say to try to plan your days out as much as possible, and balance your life, because when I started, I was working all the time. I know that it takes a lot to start a new business, but it took me a little bit of time to figure out, okay, even though I'm working from home, I'm going to shut the door at 5:30 pm and I'm not going to do any more work tonight. That's important, I think.

ilise benun

Absolutely. Well, I'm thrilled to see how much progress you've made over the years, Sharon, and it's really nice to be in touch again. I wish you all the best of luck in your new chapter. 

Sharon Bending

Thank you so much. Great to talk to you. 

ilise benun

If people want to connect with you on LinkedIn, for example, where should they go find you?

Sharon Bending

Just look for Sharon Bending on LinkedIn and you'll find me.

ilise benun

Excellent, Bending. B E N D I N G. Awesome. Thank you so much for sharing what you've learned. 

Sharon Bending

You're very welcome. Thank you.

ilise benun

Did you learn a little something? I hope so. Because that's how this works, one baby step at a time. Before you know it, you will have better clients with bigger budgets. Speaking of better clients, they're probably not going to fall in your lap. If you want to build a thriving business on your own terms, you need my Simplest Marketing Plan. The new 4.0 version is packed with all new content, including six new case studies and six new lessons. You also get three different planners, plus access to the free monthly Office Hours group coaching session, where you'll meet other creative pros who are practicing what I preach and taking control over their business and their life. Find this all in the marketing mentor shop at marketing-mentor.com. I'll be back soon with more conversations with creative professionals who are doing what it takes to ditch the feast or famine syndrome. Until then, see you next time.