Not creative? You’re not alone.
I’d estimate that one in four advisors who come to me with a marketing problem offer up the fact that they’re “not creative” and as a result, they’re struggling with marketing. This is a common self-diagnosis. It isn’t always fully accurate, though, and often goes untreated. I’m here to offer a second opinion with a clear prognosis—and a prescription.
(That’s right. We’re going with a medical analogy for this one.)
Here’s a fact to start with: to create is defined as to bring into existence. If you can write a sentence on a blank piece of paper, you can create. If you can hop on a Zoom call and say something aloud, you can create. If you can take a picture of your laptop right now, you can create. Humans are actually very creative by nature. We’re always creating. What you’re experiencing is more nuanced than “I’m not creative.” We’ll dive into this concept first.
Here’s another fact: marketing is both creative and analytical. This is actually one of the reasons I fell in love with the profession, and one of the reasons you can still market your firm despite feeling a lack of creative drive. This is good news. Again, more on this later.
I recently raised the creative-and-analytical point on XYPN Radio, and spoke about it briefly with Alan. You can find that interview here. Today, it’s my intention to take our conversation one step further and coach you through what to do if you feel this way.
The three-stage process outlined below will help you develop an understanding of how to market your financial planning firm even if you’re “not creative.” Let’s go!
#1. List Your Symptoms
Saying “I’m not creative, so marketing is hard” is like going to the doctor’s office and saying, “I’m not fully healthy, so exercising is hard.” These statements are not untrue, but we need more detail. What exactly have you been experiencing? What are the symptoms?
When you list what you’ve been experiencing, or your “symptoms,” the action you can take to feel and perform better becomes much clearer. We can look at the specific issues or discomfort you’re facing and know what to do in order to reduce them. Like most things in marketing, being specific with your words is powerful (and empowering).
Common symptoms I hear are:
- When I look at 6 logo options, I have no idea which one to pick.
- It takes me 2 hours to write an email to a prospect.
- When I try to write a website headline, my ideas sound cliche.
- When I try to explain what I do, I ramble and it’s uninteresting.
- I procrastinate writing blog posts. It takes me forever.
- If someone points a camera at me, I become so awkward.
- I overthink my niche and change it every few months.
- I hate social media; it makes me cringe.
Each of these are manageable. There is no symptom we can’t treat. But first we need your list.
Take a moment to write down your symptoms. Think about experiences in your past that have led you to believe you’re “not creative,” or not good at marketing. Be specific like the examples above. Something like “I don’t like to write” is still too broad. What happened when you last tried to write?
This one exercise alone may free you from the “I’m not creative” roadblock. I’ve seen dozens (maybe 100!) of XYPN members break free from 80% of the limiting belief after this step. Why? Because you’re no longer carrying the weight of the world; you’re focused on the true challenge at hand.
#2. Decide Which Symptoms You’ll “Live With” and Which Ones You Want to Treat
Equipped with our list of specific symptoms, we’re ready to make a plan.
The second step is to decide which symptoms you’ll live with, and which ones you want treatment for. For instance, you may tell your doctor you’re fine with the fact that you have dry skin, but you want to do something about the itching. (Ew, okay, let’s not dwell on that analogy for too long.)
Look at the list and ask: Which of these symptoms are okay for now, and which do I want treatment for? Circle the ones you want to “cure” through treatment. I suggest circling at least 25% of your list so that your I’m-not-creative pain can be noticeably and meaningfully alleviated.
If you’re wondering how to pick, the reasoning is up to you. You may decide to cure the most painful ones, or the ones you consider vital to being effective in the long term, or the ones you’re personally motivated to get better at. The reasoning doesn’t matter to me. Just make sure you circle at least 25% of your symptoms!
- When I look at 6 logo options, I have no idea which one to pick - OK
- It takes me 2 hours to write an email to a prospect - TREAT
- When I try to write a website headline, my ideas sound cliche. - OK
- When I try to explain what I do, I ramble. - TREAT
- I procrastinate writing blog posts and feel guilty about that. - TREAT
- If someone points a camera at me, my smile turns awkward. - OK
- I can’t stop thinking about my niche and change it every few months. - TREAT
- I hate social media; it makes me cringe. – OK
Why is it OK to mark some symptoms as OK for now? Simple. You don’t need to do everything. You don’t need to solve every problem today. Sometimes we, as entrepreneurs, may notice a problem or constraint and choose to embrace it as true for now.
A perfect example is the last bullet: a social media issue. Not every single advisor has to use social media, let alone enjoy it. In fact, I hosted a 4-part webinar series on social media where the first step is to identify if social media is the right fit for you. XYPN members, you can watch here.
#3. Decide Which Treatments You’ll DIY and Which You’ll Hire a Pro For
Keep your list handy. We’re getting to the good part now!
Your list of symptoms to TREAT will now turn into to-do list.
The first step toward assigning treatments for each symptom is to distinguish between the symptoms you’ll hire for and which you’ll DIY.
Hiring help is a quick way to treat an issue. You can hire a person with the skills you lack and avoid investing the time required to develop the skill yourself. Blog editing is a great example for this. Maybe you’re quick to come up with ideas and sketch out a flow of the piece, but struggle to put it all together in a cohesive long-form article. You can hire for that step.
However, with the hiring route, you need to invest money. This raises another useful way to look at the hiring vs. DIY decision; it’s also saying “invest money” vs. “invest time.” If you’re low on marketing budget, perhaps most of your TREAT list is actually a to-do list of what you need to DIY.
At this point, mark each of your TREAT line items with either an arrow for DIY or with an asterisk for hire.
To continue with my example:
- It takes me 2 hours to write an email to a prospect – TREAT <--
- When I try to explain what I do, I ramble. – TREAT <--
- I procrastinate writing blog posts and feel guilty about that. – TREAT *
- I can’t stop thinking about my niche and change it every few months. – TREAT *
Again, you can use your own logic here.
Arguably, you could hire or DIY each of these “treatments.” There’s a how-to resource or expert for everything out there. However, we’re not all operating with unlimited budgets and unlimited time.
For demonstration purposes, here’s my example logic, in order:
- Emailing is vital to my long-term success in this role. I want to acquire the skills to get over this issue and become a business email pro.
- I want to be authentic in my pitch, so I don’t want anyone else to tell me what to say. I think there are some good formulas I can learn from out there; just need to put in the time.
- I come up with ideas left and right, but struggle to get them past draft mode. It’d be amazing to have an editor that would work on each piece for ~2 hours so I can get more of these pieces out the door.
- I’ve been churning on this for so long. I need to get out of my head and speak with a pro about working through this decision. It’s just too important for the firm to take lightly.
You now have the basis of a new to-do list! Hire for this, DIY that.
#4. Assign Direct Treatments
The final phase is to assign a direct action for each point.
For the arrows, what’s the absolute first step toward DIY’ing it? For asterisks, what’s the absolute first step for finding an expert to hire for this?
The most common DIY treatments usually come in two main formats: acquiring a new skill through basic research and practice, or imposing a useful limit (i.e. I will reply to this prospect’s email on Tuesday from 9am – 9:30am and press send after those 30 minutes are up no matter how not-perfect I may think it is). Depending on your symptom, one will likely make more sense than the other.
I encourage you to be very direct and specific about the actions you need to take next. “Hire a freelancer for X” is far too broad and leaves you susceptible to overwhelm. Instead, “Write down what I would like a blog freelancer to do” is very clear and actionable.
Take a moment to assign a direct treatment (aka action item) for each.
If you’re feeling motivated, block time in your calendar to do each action, too! After you’ve finished an action item, you’ll be ready to assign the next direct one. And the next. But please do take it one baby step at a time. “Hire a freelancer for X” becomes a series of several small, direct steps you’ll actually do.
- It takes me 2 hours to write an email to a prospect – TREAT <-- Text my cousin Sally who works in sales to see if she’d share some tips with me over the phone this weekend
- When I try to explain what I do, I ramble. – TREAT <-- Search YouTube for training videos on elevator pitches and watch some for no more than 1 hour.
- I procrastinate writing blog posts and feel guilty about that. – TREAT * Write a list of what I would like a blog freelancer to do in an ideal world
- I can’t stop thinking about my niche and change it every few months. – TREAT * Write a post in the XYPN Forum to ask my peers if they hired any pros to get clarity on their niche
You’ve Swapped “Not Creative” for Process
Wait. Do you feel that?! You implemented a process where there once was a scattering of failed attempts at creativity.
With this process, you can and will make tangible progress in your “creativity” by blocking and tackling each thing in a systematized, formulaic way. What’s froo froo about that?! Nothing. Hello process.
Show up, bring any of your painful symptoms, and put them through the treatment process.
But this isn’t where I leave you. There’s one more thing to address: Your truest strengths.
Note: Before we close out this section, you may be wondering what you should do about those symptoms you marked with an OK. First, write yourself a note about why you’re making the decision to pass on treatment for now. That will be useful for future reference. Next, put an alert in your calendar for any of the “OK” items that you definitely want to revisit. This way, you can come back to the important ones 2, 6 or 12 months later.
BONUS: List Your Strengths and Lean on Them
When your left leg hurts, you lean on your right. The same tactic is useful for this creative-and-analytical balance in business marketing. When your creativity is a bit weaker, lean on your analytical side.
So, what are your strengths? Often the firm owners who self-diagnose as “not creative” say they’re “more numbers driven” or “into the data” or “too literal.” These can be seen as strengths.
If you’re literal, be literal in your messaging!
- use the process outlined above.
- use literal language. People who want that in their advisor will resonate with it.
- take things for what they are. Look at the facts and get honest about what you have at your disposal.
If you’re a numbers person, well, focus on the numbers!
- dissect your marketing thus far and analyze what you should do based on the data
- run an experiment using a highly scientific method and make decisions based on the data
- track your time during the execution of marketing and gamify your efficiency
- launch a research study to get quantifiable feedback from consumers in your niche
The big thing we accomplished today is a shift in perspective. You can notice a pain point and overcome it through awareness and process.
Turn to this article anytime you feel stuck by your “I’m not creative” thoughts. Put your symptoms through the system: Get specific about what you’re experiencing, decide which symptoms you’ll “live with” versus those you want to treat, then plan a course of action for treatment (DIY or hire?) and show up to do the work. You’ve got this!
About the Author
Carolyn Dalle-Molle is a professional marketer with several years of experience helping small businesses reach their growth goals. Her approach to marketing is both creative and analytical; helping people achieve a creative flow that’s unique and exciting, while using tracking and metrics to learn what actually works for their business. Based in Boston, she's honored to work with XY Planning Network from coast to coast. Outside of work, she enjoys volunteering with elderly, making videos, and traveling with her friends and family.
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