Why Writers Should Think Like Plumbers

Jun 5, 2014Write!

I recently wrote this on my Facebook page:

I think a lot. (Does this surprise you?) And one thing I can’t seem to resolve is this idea of good ambition and selfish ambition. I know a few people who tend toward Me-Monster-ness, and, because of that, I fear I’ll become that too.

The stress is this: I am an author. I am a speaker. I have to market, let others know I’m available to teach/write/encourage. And I do this. I’ve framed my marketing by using Seth Godin’s tribes metaphor. Instead of always talking about me, I view it more like shepherding those God gathers for me to embrace.

So that’s cool. But there are times when I meander through Facebook and Twitter and see over-promotion. And I worry. Am I doing that?

And yet, no one begrudges a plumber who advertises, right? Or an accountant with a business card. I guess it’s just that combining ministry and money is a difficult thing.

After I wrote this, my friend Marc Schelske wrote this:

Stressful, and activating of all our insecurities. It’s hard.

They spent quite a bit of time on this issue at the Launch Conference I attended last fall. Really helpful to me. One distinction they made was the difference between marketing yourself (“Hey, look at me, I’m so great.”) and marketing the service that you are passionate about and that you know serves a need. (“Do you struggle with pain around your story of sexual abuse? Me too. Can I share what worked for me?”)

Those two things feel completely different to me. When I started thinking like that, it really shifted things for me.

One point they made about speakers was this: For a new, or relatively unknown speaker, selling yourself really doesn’t work. An event planner doesn’t know who you are, and your accolades don’t mean much to them. But offering a solution to a specific audience, that’s what they want. They know their audience and their audience’s needs. So to connect the dots, don’t sell yourself to them, sell the solutions or the experiences that you have to share with that kind of audience.

All probably stuff you know, but it really helped me turn the corner when it came to how I think about my marketing and social media

Then, author Caroline Coleman added this insightful comment:

I really like what your friend Marc wrote above about just offering a solution to a specific problem, because what you said about plumbers got me thinking. Why DON’T we cringe when a plumber advertises? Perhaps we should model ourselves after plumbers? “If you are so stuck, you can’t even swallow, try me. I won’t just pour acid down your throat. I’ll help you locate the true source of the problem and extract it with minimal collateral damage. I’ve had the same problem and this worked on me.” Or words to that effect?

Marc Schelske finished by saying:

The plumber analogy is a good one I think. Why don’t we begrudge plumbers their marketing? Well, in some cases we do. When it’s all about them. When they are clearly in it for getting the most money they can and ripping people off. But generally because they are offering a needed service, we don’t.

I suspect that’s similar with speakers and writers. If we’re offering a valuable service, people don’t begrudge the cost or the marketing (usually… there are some people in the Christian community that are convinced anyone in ministry has to be poor, but that’s a different conversation.) If we’re not in it for fame (which most plumbers aren’t), people don’t get itchy. So maybe the model for us is: offer a valuable service, clearly be about blessing and serving others, value what we do and ask for that value to be compensated, but be humble and human about it. Be excited about what we have to share, but don’t be about building an empire.

Honestly, my biggest issue with marketing and charging for what I do has nothing to do with what others thing. It has to do with my own internal junk about not being worthy. How could what I offer possibly be worth other people’s money?! But that’s my own junk, to be resolved in my identity in Christ, and at times in my counselor’s office.

As for modeling after plumbers, I’m all for that — except for the belt line.

I love what my friends had to say. And it helps me re-frame how I think about marketing. It’s not about me-me-me. It’s certainly not about fame or accolades. It’s about me (or you) offering a valuable service or product that generates income to help our families. So, yeah, maybe if writers and speakers thought like plumbers, we’d all approach this marketing thing with joy and ten times less stress.

If this post stirred you, would you be so kind as to tweet?

I learned how writers need to become more like plumbers here: https://www.marydemuth.com/writers-plumbers/ Click to tweet.