Steve Gordon | Creating Your Marketing Machine

What’s your marketing strategy? If you look to what your competitors are doing… and figure you should follow their lead… you’re not going to get the results you need, says Steve Gordon, bestselling author, founder of Unstoppable CEO, and business and marketing consultant.

In his consulting work, he advocates for an approach that brings in the right leads that turn into ideal clients. He says trying every new and shiny marketing fad that comes around is just spinning your wheels.

Steve explains what you should do instead, especially if you’re not an expert marketer and would prefer to focus on the work you do for clients. We also go into…

  • How to find customers that value what you do (and are willing to pay accordingly)
  • Why you need many fewer news clients than you think
  • A referral strategy that actually works
  • The unexpected benefits of hosting a podcast
  • Why now is the best time to start a business

Listen now…

Mentioned in this episode:


Giuseppe Grammatico: Welcome to the Franchise Freedom Podcast. I’m your host, Giuseppe Grammatico your franchise guide, and today we have a very special guest. Today we are speaking with Steve Gordon. Steve is a best-selling author, the founder of the Unstoppable CEO and the host of the Unstoppable CEO Podcast, and has written over 400 articles on marketing for service businesses. Through his firm, he helps service businesses, entrepreneurs create leveraged marketing systems so they can spend less time on business development and more time on what matters most. When he was just 28 he became the CEO of an engineering consulting firm, but he knew nothing about marketing or selling services. 12 years later, after growing that firm’s revenue by 10 times, Steve started his second business consulting with businesses across 30 industries including manufacturing, professional services, construction and consulting, to design sales, marketing and referral systems for high-ticket, high-trust products and services. He’s here to share what he’s learned through this journey to help you attract your ideal client and achieve the business goals you’ve been dreaming of. Welcome to the show, Steve. Steve Gordon: Hey Giuseppe. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to have the conversation today. It’s gonna be fun. Giuseppe: Yes, I’ve been looking forward to this call. And just for the listeners, Steve and I have been working together. Steve has actually been helping market and create my podcast, we created several months back. So very excited to get Steve’s input and just, we’ll dive right in here. So Steve, if you could fill us a little bit in on your background. How did you get into this business? And what’s that journey look like?

Steve’s Journey To Becoming Unstoppable

Steve: Yeah, so I, you know, I didn’t start in marketing. I started in a tiny little discipline of engineering called geomatics, which I’m going to guess that nobody listening to this has ever heard of. And I started my career out of college at a very small consulting firm, and it was in that industry. And had been there about four years. And the founder came to me and said, you know, that he wanted me to take over as CEO, that he was kind of beginning his, you know, his kind of long exit process. And I think he was very smart to do it over time like that. And so there I was, 28 years old, really didn’t know much about running a business, didn’t know much about sales, didn’t know much about marketing at the time. And I was kind of thrust into that position and I had to learn. And it was a fantastic experience. You know, doing that I was able to help grow that company and lead that company for about the next decade and really grow it into a multimillion-dollar company. And so just have a lot of fun doing that. A lot of great experience. And then about 10 years ago, I decided that I just really am fascinated by the whole process of how you create a client. And particularly, for businesses that are selling something that’s kind of hard to understand, something that is expensive or requires a lot of trust. It’s a different kind of sales process. And it requires that you think really systematically about that. So we work with businesses now all over the world and help them do just that. Help them engineer a way to open new relationships, to nurture those relationships over time and then to turn those relationships into clients. Giuseppe: That’s great. And actually, that’s how we, I guess we cross paths, right? We, I saw a webinar that you had online and definitely grabbed my interest. I’ve been part of several franchises and, you know, they provided marketing. But your approach was definitely different. I really liked, your approach was different in that you focus on one or two areas versus kind of just covering every, you know, covering everything and just posting on social media every day and podcasts and videos and a million other things. And I really liked your approach. So can you talk a little bit more about your approach to marketing? You know, the referral-based businesses? Or I should just say basically any business is built on referrals. Can you just talk about your, kind of your methodology how you recommend or the services you offer, I should say?

Don’t Be a Dabbler

Steve: Yeah, so I think it’s, the first and important thing for people to understand are what are some of the mistakes that are made? And the biggest mistake that I see, particularly smaller businesses make, is that they try and do all of the marketing that they either try and do all the different types of marketing that they see other companies do, or they do none at all. There’s kind of not a lot of middle ground there. And you might think, Well, why would it be bad to do lots of different types of marketing? And it isn’t necessarily. Where it becomes a problem is that, you know, you see people posting on social media and so you decide, okay, I’m going to post on social media a lot. You then, you know, see someone say, well, you need to go to conferences and events. And obviously, that’s become more complicated in the world we live in today. But, you know, and so you do that for a while. Then somebody will say, well, you, you know, you need to do Facebook ads. So you do that for a while. And what ends up happening, the pattern that we kind of see play out with people is they try a lot of stuff. We call them dabblers. They dabble in a little bit of this, and they dabble in a little bit of that, and then a little bit of the next thing, and they can never really get any of it working. And it frustrates them to no end because they can’t get it working. And they really don’t stand a chance because they don’t stick with anything long enough to really master it. And so we’ve kind of created this way of looking at how are you going to go about that marketing. And we call it the attention ladder. And if you imagine like a ladder, like you’re going to climb up the side of a building. You want to start kind of at the bottom of that ladder and build as you go up. And so I mean, I think that’s the thing that people want to be thinking about is there’s a logical process to this. Particularly if you’re in a business, you know, where you’re not an expert marketer. And we can walk through what that process is. But I think that’s the first key thing for people to understand is like, here’s the mistake that you want to avoid. Giuseppe: Right. Yes, absolutely. And I’ll be the first to admit, I was in that same group or same area. I just, I didn’t know where to start and I dabbled. I was a little on Facebook, a little bit on LinkedIn. And I just remember when we first spoke, we kind of narrowed in on, you know, who your ideal client was. And that was something that really resonated with me because, at first I mean, and in many industries, your ideal client could be anyone with money to invest if they’re investing in a franchise. So we definitely needed to narrow in on that a little bit and really leverage one platform to kind of run all your marketing. So if you can maybe go on a little bit deeper, you know, talking about the ideal client and then possibly leveraging a podcast and how that all kind of works together.

You Have More Potential Clients Than You Could Ever Serve

Steve: Yeah. So and I think the ideal clients have the perfect place to start because that’s really going to guide you and help you understand where you should be marketing. And gosh, I see so many people make the mistake of thinking that anyone and everyone that might fit their category is really a potential client. And the businesses that we see pull ahead and pull ahead quickly, have a lot more focus than that. And the way you get there is you begin thinking about well, who really is my ideal client. And the way I like to break that down is first and foremost, who are your profitable clients? If you look at the people you’re working with now, the companies you’re working with now, who are your most profitable clients first? And, you know, the best way to go about this is actually just sit down with a legal pad and start making the list. So who are your most profitable clients? And then of those, which ones get the best result from working with you? In other words, when you work with them, they get amazing results and they’re really happy about it. Then you want to look at out of that group, which ones really value what you do? So they’re the ones who are kind of almost bending over backwards to be a great client. They, you know, they take your input, they take your advice, they follow through on it and they’re really excited to have you on their team and in their corner, no matter what you do for them, okay? And then the final criteria we look at are who the people now that you actually really like working with? Because I’m a firm believer that life’s too short to work with people you can’t stand. And there’s seven and a half billion people on the planet, and they’re more people than you’ll ever serve. So and in any market, that’s true, you know? So, Giuseppe, we can talk through some recently. I have one client who has got the most specific market I think you could imagine. And it’s still bigger than he’ll ever get to in his life, and the next one. You know, and that’s the big fear I think people have around getting focused on an ideal client. They think that somehow they’re going to draw a circle around the market and it’s going to be too small to support them. And I’ve been doing this for a decade now, I have yet to find one that’s too small. And the other thing people worry about, they think, well, if somebody comes in and doesn’t fit that profile, then what am I going to do? Turn them away? Well, you don’t have to do that. That’s a business decision. What we’re talking about is getting focused on your ideal client so that you can focus your marketing message. So your proactive marketing is going after one really focused and specific type of person. Because when you do that, the message that you’re able to communicate becomes now really clear for that type of person and it’s going to work a lot better, as opposed to creating kind of a bland, generic message that tries to speak to everybody and you end up really speaking to no one. You want your ideal client to see your marketing message and go, Wow, that’s for me. Because when they do that, they’re now attracted to you much more easily. It’s easier for you to connect with them. And, you know, the entire sales process gets easier. Now, if you have somebody that doesn’t fit that profile come to you and want to do business with you, you can still do business with them. Just means for your proactive marketing, you’re probably going to limit it, our recommendation is limit it to one type of ideal client to begin with, create kind of your marketing machine, and then it’s pretty easy to add a second and maybe a third type of ideal client that you’re going after that you’ve got slightly different messaging for the others. And so that’s the way you want to think about it is really think about these, you know, initially one and then maybe two or three total groups. For smaller businesses. I mean, anything less than, unless it’s got a full marketing team, you know, with five or 10 or 15 people in it, you really need to limit it to just that small number of ideal client profiles because any more than that, you don’t have a big enough team to create a message for all those others. Giuseppe: Right. Yeah, I agree. It’s, and, you know, we went through the same process. It took me a little, took a month or two convincing but I completely agree. I felt like I was leaving out way too many candidates or prospects. But yes, after narrowing in on my message, definitely helped. Makes the, just the marketing much more targeted across all my, all the platforms, whether it be a video or a podcast or social media. So very helpful and I can assure everyone listening, it’s been a game-changer and definitely recommend it. So, and I’m sure we could be talking for hours and hours and just for the audience listening in, you know, you could assist an individual, so if someone did need some assistance in this area, is that something you can help out with? Or is that something they can read a little bit more about?

Building Relationships With People Who Will Refer You

Steve: Yeah, we take people through, you know, the ideal client process all the time. And I think, you know, the way that I think you want to have people begin to look at this is, you know, depending on the type of business you’re in, you want to start really thinking about your marketing from the bottom up. So you want to think about, well, how can I first and foremost, kind of build out my referral strategy, you know? And that’s one of the things that we help with. And we, you know, we help clients create podcasts. And, you know, this is a great example of one, where you can connect with the influencers in your network who can refer you. You can connect with the strategic, ideal clients that maybe would be really hard to reach if you didn’t have a platform like this to invite them onto so that you can connect with them without having to cold call or, you know, do really difficult outreach where you got to get through gatekeepers, you know? And so, all of those things are certainly available and effective. But what you want to start thinking about is, okay, well, how am I going to create the relationships that I need? I’ve got to go make relationships, I got to open new relationships with potential clients. And there’s lots of different ways that you can do that. So what we tend to recommend to people is start at the bottom of that attention ladder that I talked about earlier, which is, you know, at the bottom of that, you’re really looking at referrals as the first source where you want to begin. The reason referrals are effective and the podcast is one of the ways that we use to kind of create referral relationships. But the reason that they’re so effective is because you’re being recommended to somebody. So if your message is a little bit off, it’s okay. If, you know, if the targeting is a little bit off, you haven’t quite dialed in your ideal client profile yet, it’s going to be okay because, you know, you’re being kind of helped by the fact that someone is recommending you. And they could be recommending you one on one, like we all kind of know, in terms of referrals. Or, you know, Giuseppe, as you’re beginning to see and as a lot of the businesses that we work with see, as you interview people who have an audience, you know, maybe they have 1000 or 5000 or 50,000 people who would be great clients for you. As you interview them on the podcast, it’s really easy then to turn around and be able to offer something valuable back to that audience, you know, where that expert might refer you then, you know, to everyone that is in their world. So, you know, the way that we do that, typically, is with a book. And so a great example is, you know, as you know, we just released a new book called Podcast Prospecting. And, you know, I’ve been going back to all of the people that I’ve created a relationship with who are influencers who have audiences, or a network of people that I want to be in front of that are potential clients for us. And because I’ve built that relationship with that referral partner, through the podcast, I’ve given them value. I’ve promoted their business because by inviting them on to do an interview like this, I’m promoting their business. And I’ve been able to go back to them and say, hey, I’ve got this new book coming out and I would love to share that with everybody in your network. Well, it’s really easy to get people to say yes for that, because, you know, it’s, they’re able to give a gift to all of the people in their network of your book. And so what we’re seeing is that by having some of these tools in place, it makes it very easy for, you know, for you, as a business owner, as you’re listening to this to, you know, just with a referral system, create a way to go generate, you know, whether you want to create, you know, 50 referrals a month or 500 referrals a month within your market, whether it’s a local market or regional or, you know, national or international. It’s a very easy and systematic way for you to do that. And so that’s kind of where, you know, we recommend people start and then, you know, from there, you have all the tools in place to sort of work your way up that attention ladder, you know? And work up into things like, you know, paid advertising or direct mail or some of the other things that require a little bit more investment. But also require that you really have your messaging dialed in at that point. And it gets very expensive to try and do that, you know, if you’re working through, you know, getting out to market through paid ads. It can be very costly to get your message dialed in that way. And so we always recommend you start with referrals, kind of work your way up from there. Giuseppe: Yes. And I absolutely agree. And with referrals, I think every business owner knows that, you know, referrals are the best source. But the thing that gets in their way is they don’t know how to ask for a referral. Or sometimes they, as we discuss, business owners are afraid to ask for a referral or they don’t know how to, they don’t know the process, right? They kind of are putting the customer or the client, they’re giving them extra work to figure out who to you know, and going through their list. And typically that just doesn’t work. And I know from personal experience, I’ve learned the hard way. You tell someone who can you recommend that could use our services, it’s like you’re giving them a job and they don’t know what they’re looking for. So and that really turns into just literally zero referrals which I’ve experienced in the past. So I know you’ve been very helpful in helping my business, helping me and my business improve in that area. So, and that’s something if someone, and we’ll give out all your contact information towards the end here, but if anyone has any questions or specific questions on that idea, I’m sure they can reach out to you. Switching gears, you know, you had talked about taking over that company, learning things the hard way, right? We all go to school. Business ownership is something you have to learn the hard way. Marketing is constantly changing, although referrals have obviously been around forever. So what’s your number one piece of advice for someone coming from the corporate world, the former corporate exec that’s looking to get into entrepreneurship?

There’s No Better Time Than Now

Steve: Well, you know, even with what’s happening in the world, I think there is no better time to start a business. And I mean, the resources that are at our disposal today, compared to where we were even 10 years ago, is really a little bit astonishing. You know, funny, I was thinking back to when I first started in business in the mid-90s. We didn’t have the internet. I was having a conversation with my kids here recently who have all moved now to online school and they, you know, they couldn’t fathom that. You know, it took like a year before we had access to the internet. We did everything by fax and FedEx. So things are a lot easier than they have ever been. And I think that, to me, that’s the most encouraging thing out there. You know, we have, as you and I are recording this there, you know, certainly some economic challenges probably ahead in the short term, but I also think that’s also the best time to start. So I started this business in 2010. And pretty tough economic times, you know? And I will tell you, it has made me a much better business owner starting then, because I had to start lean and I had to start, you know, focused on the right things, focused on profit right out of the gate. And, you know, I wasn’t able to be very sloppy with things. Well, that’s a great way to start a business. So I think that was a fantastic time. Giuseppe: Yes, I agree. I started my first two businesses back in 07 right before the market collapse. 07 going into 08. So I absolutely agree. You definitely learn to be resourceful, cut expense. And yes, I think it just builds a little bit of character and just makes you an overall stronger entrepreneur, you know, overall stronger business owner. So I cannot agree more so, Steve: Well, I’ll tell you, the other thing that I think is important for people to hear is that, especially if you’re coming out of the corporate world. I mean, in the corporate world, you don’t have a whole lot of control over, you know, what happens tomorrow. All of your eggs are kind of in one basket. You know, by owning a business, that’s one of the things, you know, going into the, you know, challenges we’re dealing with now, you know, having conversations with you know, with my wife, okay, here’s where things are. Well, our eggs are spread in a lot of baskets. And, you know, and barring, you know, some catastrophic, you know, global collapse of all society, we’re going to be just fine. You know, and I think that, to me, that is such an empowering, you know, thing to know that it just is really, really, it’s comforting, frankly. Gives you a lot of confidence. Giuseppe: Right. No. I agree. I definitely agree. Anything else you’d like to speak with or mention on the show to our audience? Anyone listening and, you know, maybe we can even dive in the best way to get ahold of you. But if they, if they’re looking into marketing, not sure what direction to go, have thought about podcasts, any kind of last recommendations and best ways to get ahold of you? Steve: Yeah, so our website is And I host a podcast called the Unstoppable CEO Podcast. If you go there, go to the site, we’ve got a tremendous number of resources on how to market, particularly if you’re selling something that is expensive, that requires a great deal of trust on the part of the person buying and something that maybe is kind of a complicated sale. And so we’ve got just a tremendous number of resources for you there. You know, and if you’re looking for ways to either improve your referral flow, or you’re looking to, you know, for ways to build strategic relationships, you know, we’ve got some strategies for that. And the best place to find all of that is if you go to Up at the top there’s a resources link, and you’ll find the links to all of my books. So I’ve got a book on referral marketing which may be helpful to you. We’ve got a book called Podcast Prospecting which is new, that describes how we use podcasts. And so lots of lots of resources and they’re easy to get to and a great place to start. Giuseppe: Well, great. I appreciate that. We’ll include all that information on the show notes. And, Steve, I just wanted to thank you again. I know we’ve been trying to set this call for a while and I really appreciate your time and look forward to speak with you soon. Steve: Giuseppe, thanks for having me. It’s been fun.