How My Third Grade Teacher Made Me Bad at Business

third-grade-teacher-made-me-bad-at-businessRemember your third grade teacher?

Mine was a sweet woman named Mrs. Shusta, who always smiled and never said a negative word about anyone or anything.

To her, everyone had their special little place in the universe.

She even gave out awards just for being “super.”

It was really an amazing time in life, where all one needed to be successful was an embrace of their own intrinsic specialness.

But then came the day I chose to start a business.

As I drew up my marketing plan, I decided I’d design every campaign and piece of content to be the most special thing the world had ever seen. Most importantly, I was going to show everyone that all those cheesy marketing techniques – like Cosmo magazine style headlines, narrative copy writing, and emotionally charged imagery – were just tricks used by people who didn’t really have much to offer.

So I proceeded to do things my way.

I came up with lots of “clever” (and unclear) headlines for my blog posts. I used abstract images to illustrate complicated double meanings. I even thought that if I made things a bit hard to find, people would think I was that much cooler.

Shockingly, no one cared.

For more than a year I floundered, eventually coming to feel that my lack of audience was the reflection of an equal lack of talent.

A Slap in the Face

Then one day – just as I was about to give up completely – I woke up and realized that maybe… just MAYBE… I was doing it all wrong. Maybe there was a reason that the successful online marketing geniuses – people like Brian Clark, Jon Morrow, Chris Brogan, and Sonia Simone – all had such similar approaches.

In this moment of clarity, I finally realized that marketing is not about being unique. It’s not about being artistic or clever or even smart. Sure, these things can  add value, but they mean nothing if you can’t clearly connect your customers with the solution to their problems.

In other words, you have to learn the rules before you can break them.

All Too Human

My push to be unique almost killed my entrepreneurial dreams, not because I didn’t have good solutions for people – I did.

The problem was that I had become so convinced that the value of my business was self-evident, I was sure people would clearly see it too.

What I had failed to realize was that human beings don’t process information that way.

They don’t look for information that is special or unique or different from the rest.

In fact, much the opposite. People look for ideas, products, and people that fit into pre-conceived notions.

That’s why marketing doesn’t need to impress as much as it needs to tell a familiar story, one that reflects the truths your customers are faced with – their problems, fears, joys, hardships, and triumphs.

It is through such narratives that you can illustrate your value and differentiate yourself from the competition.

So… give your customers what they want, and stop trying to be so different.

I promise your third grade teacher will still think you’re great.


(Note: I’m planning a future post discussing more of the mechanics of developing a good marketing narrative. Share your approach in the comments below and I’ll try to include it – with a link of course!)



Jake Parent works with individuals and businesses to build communities using social media marketing. Get started on yours with his free 24 page guide, 5 Simple Steps to Build a Customer Community.

One Response to “How My Third Grade Teacher Made Me Bad at Business”

  1. Stories you can relate to rule the world. Sharing my personal story is exactly what helped me build an engaged and growing community on my blog. I only write things that force people to say, “YES! That’s me. I get that.” And it’s worked wonders in getting referrals and coaching clients.

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