Marketing / Business marketing

5 ways I’ve wasted my marketing dollar (and what I’ve learnt)

It’s so hard to know whether throwing money at a given marketing strategy is ‘worth it’ or not. After eight years in business Matt White’s tried everything. Today he shares what he’s learnt.

7 March 2017 by

My budget is tight and a positive cash flow is essential to the success of my business. So, like you, I can’t afford to throw money at misguided ventures or poorly researched business activities.

Yet, when I reflect over my eight years of being a soloist, I can see I have wasted a lot of money on marketing.

While it’s too late for me to mourn these five mistakes (I’ve already made them!), it’s not too late for you to learn from them:

"Yes, that money has driven sales but I’ve not always made a return."

1. Trying to be the jack of all marketing trades

Think about all the marketing activities you could do as a business: PPC, SEO, email, direct marketing, sales promotions, networking, exhibitions, PR, and social media – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest … The list and activities are numerous.

If you’re a one-man operation, how can you successfully undertake all of the activities and more above? You can’t. It’s as simple as that. You end up wasting money focusing on too many tasks that are poorly researched, poorly implemented and poorly measured. The quality of your work diminishes and, as sales start to fall away, you become stressed and overwhelmed.

What I’ve learnt: It’s better to focus on the 2-3 marketing activities I know drives sales into my business. Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should.

2. Mass marketing and not understanding my audience

I’ve created those ads that target the whole of Australia.

I’ve bid on keywords I know won’t deliver a return. The more people who see your marketing, the more sales you will get – right? Sadly, this is a misconception.

While I think brand awareness advertising is important, if you’ve been trading for a good period of time you should have a good understanding of who your customers are. If not, stop right now and make a note to find out today.

Don’t create campaigns that target the whole of Australia or every age range if you know your customers are mainly female, live in NSW and are over the age of 30 and like cycling. Indeed don’t target everyone with the same offer. Tailor your offerings so that you have the best opportunity to make a return on your investment.

What I’ve learnt: Blanket advertising and poorly tailored campaigns do not work. It’s important that I know my customer base intimately – who are they, where they live, the common traits they share – and put myself in their frame of mind. It’s better to target 500 people who are likely to spend money with me than 10,000 who might.

3. Wasting time and money on social media

Social media does drive sales but it can also be a rabbit warren where you can easily get side-tracked and lost. Before you know you’ll have wasted an entire day and spend vast amounts of money on nothing.

I’ve tried to, tweet, gram, Facebook and pin every day, several times a day. I’ve tried scheduling posts. I’ve tried outsourcing. I’ve spent huge amounts of money on social media.

Yes, that money has driven sales but I’ve not always made a return.

What I’ve learnt: I now know to focus only on the social media channels I know my customers use – the ones that I know deliver a return for my time and investment. Also, I don’t post every day now. It’s not necessary (for me).

4. Not measuring what I should be measuring

I’ve wasted money on activities that I simply can’t measure. And I’ve wasted money on reports and spreadsheets with so much data I’m not even sure what it is I’m supposed to be measuring or looking for.

That’s ok for larger organisations with larger budgets and the staff numbers to mine the data. But not for me as a soloist. I need hard clear facts that are easy to find and easy to understand and draw conclusions from.

What I’ve learnt: That going into the most minute detail is not as important as understanding hard key line facts. If I can’t figure out: Did the activity work? In what way did it work? Can it be repeated? Then that strategy is useless to me.

5. Running campaigns for too long

I have been guilty in the past of running campaigns for too long or repeating campaigns I know have not worked. Why? Usually because I’ve made a significant time investment into the research and make up of the campaign and believed it to be the best thing I’ve ever come up with. When the numbers have said otherwise, I’d tell myself ‘next month will be different, it has to work, it’s a great idea’.

What I’ve learnt: Not every campaign will work and that’s ok. I’ve also learnt it’s important to only test a campaign for short period of time. If it’s not worked for eight weeks, it’s not likely to work for 16. There’s no harm in revisiting a campaign or activity several months or years later, especially if market conditions and consumer preferences have changed. But don’t waste money on trying to lead a horse to water.

As I said at the top of this piece – it’s too late for me to mourn the mistakes I made above. The important thing is I’ve learned a lot from them. And hopefully you have too (with the added benefit of not having to make them in the first place!)

Have you made any costly marketing mistakes in your time? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

Matthew White

is director of Ergoflex Australia, an online retailer of premium quality memory foam mattresses. As well as helping Australians get a better night's sleep, Matthew is a marketer, sleep blogger, father of two and home renovator.


  • A great read, thanks for that.

  • Sharon

    oh, you read my mind. This is valuable info every new business owner should read, print out & keep by their desk & re-read.

  • Shauna Maguire

    Loved this post Matthew. Figuring out what marketing works for your business can be a long, frustrating journey and it’s easy to fall into the ‘should’ trap – everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t I? Great advice for business owners at all stages – thanks!

  • A really important discussion opened up here. Thanks Matthew. Hand up- I’ve wasted money and importantly sleep on Google Adwords that were too broad, too many days, too high in bids and bought in heaps of tyre kicker enquiries, thus wasting my time responding. That old saying- you live and learn-eh! So Matthew has helped us sleep better in more than one way.

    • Thanks for your comment Kath. Ah the Google AdWords broad match. We recently retested a broad match campaign that we last ran 5 years ago to see if times had changed. They hadn’t – it was still expensive, drove lost of traffic and generated few sales. It was good to test though.

  • Thank you Matthew. My own experiences mirror yours. We have also tried an exhibition event. That was expensive. We had lots of interest from exhibition visitors over three days, however after two years we still have not recovered our expenses.

    • Hi Rainer. That was an interesting point you make, it can be very expensive. Did you try gathering their email details as they showed interest? These days there is software that can almost auto-signup from the visitor cards, and then you can send out reminder expo offers straight away, just as they sit back down to their desk.

    • Hi Rainer, we have debated whether to attend exhibitions for the last 7 years and always refrained from attending for the reasons you outline above. We think it would be a good idea but then in the same breath worry that we will never recover the costs.

  • Good Article. Can any one tell me how we can increase sales online products. one of my friend have a eCommerce portal for office furniture

    • Hi Emily, thanks for your comment. Happy to chat to your friend re online sales if you’d like to get in touch.

  • Definitely a good reminder list. I like that with landing page offers you can have the flexibility of trying different target messaging (for different audiences) and really finding out which one works. Are people trying landing page offers… like mine, a $19 book package?

    • Most definitely. Send me your landing page as I’d like to take a look.

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