For many years, I’ve been a big fan of Pam Didner, a sales enablement & content marketing keynote speaker & workshop coach. I first listened to her speak at Content Marketing World about a decade ago, and I’ve learned a great deal from her about strategic thinking and messaging in marketing.

Last September, she shared a podcast on the value of taking a break from work to reflect and adjust. I appreciated her thoughts and commented on a related LinkedIn post about my own upcoming break, and she invited me to share my story. What a privilege to speak with Pam one on one! I invite you to listen to the episode.

Below I am including some extended answers to the value we Data Dames found in taking a break last fall. As experienced digital marketing professionals in a competitive industry during pandemic times, we had to ask ourselves some hard questions in 2020 about our business model.

How We Adjusted Our Business Model

We definitively made marketing strategy the focus of our business. This meant redefining our ideal client, adding an advising service, creating completely new messaging around the strategy + implementation service we do offer, and gradually eliminating the following:

  • Most stand-alone, project-based SEO and content services
  • Audit / assessment products offered outside of marketing advising
  • Agency subcontracting
  • Taking on microbusinesses as clients

An Overview of Our Thinking Processes

My business partner started Data Dames Marketing as a freelancer in 2018. We converted Data Dames into a partnership in January 2020, which, given everything that’s happened since then, seems like a lifetime ago. But we were still very much trying to figure what we wanted Data Dames to be when the COVID lockdown went into effect in Ohio in March.

Learning is one of our core values, and we are always looking to adjust to the opportunities (and challenges) we encounter and to make our work a better fit for who we are personally and professionally. Also, we genuinely want to serve our clients well; develop trusted, long-term relationships with them; and help them to be as successful as possible with their marketing.

Early in the lockdown, we began to reflect on our many years of experience in marketing, all the ups and downs, and zeroed in business friction points. What were the things we loved to do? What things did we dread? We recognized that SEO and content don’t have good outcomes when they aren’t part of a strategic marketing plan that’s aligned with a client’s business objectives and goals. We no longer wanted to be “order takers” (do some keyword research, write some content, etc.) because we knew that does not produce meaningful results. We have seen that play out many times over the years.

Also, we realized that while we love microbusinesses, we don’t want to work with them on marketing for a variety of reasons. They simply are not a good fit.

The Steps We Followed to Implement Our New Model

The first step for us was defining our purpose in business. Sounds pretty basic, but for us, it went beyond making a profit (even though that’s important). We needed to understand and believe in the value we could bring to the table. That was the catalyst for everything that came afterwards.

The second step was redefining (or maybe defining fully for the time) our ideal client, including a list of questions we now use to vet potential clients. That led to step three: establishing the best ways to deliver the value we bring to the table.

We give credit to business coach Norma Rist. She’s got so much experience and wisdom, and she’s passionate about helping women business owners. She offers, among many things, a decision-making tool that helps you place a numeric value (by weighted score) on each business idea you have as you evaluate them against criteria that are important to you (things like long-term goals, high revenue, low start-up cost, etc.). So, her tool takes the process of assessing new ideas—typically abstract at the beginning—and quickly makes them more tangible and concrete.

When she shared her tool with us, we had already started restructuring our business. But it helped us make some specific decisions with regards to what services we wanted to eliminate. It’s also been very useful to us as we explore additional streams of income.

Our fourth step was messaging. We reworked every word on our website, on social media, etc. Our messaging now focuses entirely on the challenges our (ideal) clients face and how Data Dames helps them. (This is a great place to mention how much I love Pam’s messaging strategy and frameworks! I use them all the time, and they consistently produce an excellent foundation for content.)

Finally, we established exit plans to eliminate all the things I mentioned before.

The Challenges We Dealt With

Our biggest challenge has been saying no to the kind of work we previously had said yes to. Honestly, there’s a lot of fear and self doubt in doing that, especially now. I’ve definitely felt the niggling worry of imposter syndrome…in addition to the sense of impending doom that’s been placed on all of us! That’s especially hard for me. I still feel pressure sometimes to take gigs that don’t fit our new business model.

But, if we don’t say no to work that doesn’t fit, we won’t have the bandwidth to say yes to the kind of work we want and are best at.

What We Might Do Differently When We Take a Break Again

We allowed our break in 2020 to be fairly unstructured. That made for some great, spontaneous conversations and brainstorming in the midst of enjoying outdoor activities like hiking and biking. I took lots of notes.

I don’t know if I would do anything differently, honestly. Taking a break means just that: allowing yourself the space to simply be free from typical business constraints. Insights can happen in an instant, but you can’t get those kinds of insights if you’re constantly busy. I am especially guilty of being busy all the time.

I think the next step is a very structured business retreat in which we hash out next steps for a couple income streams that came out at the top of the decision-making tool.