Common marketing missteps waste time and money. These 5 fixes are GAME CHANGERS.

Marketing Smoke and Mirrors

Carolyn Daughters - Marketing Smoke and Mirrors

Marketing smoke and mirrors is a common marketing model. It involves a freelancer or an entire agency taking your cash in exchange for doing “stuff.”

Marketing and brand strategy and support come in many shapes and sizes, and, man, does the quality vary. From my front-row seat, I’ve been blown away by what some agencies and freelancers accomplish and the exceptional ROI they deliver. More often than not, however, I’ve witnessed agencies and freelance “experts” empty the wallets of businesses that don’t know any better.

In 2020 alone, more than 100 small businesses turned to me, desperate for help. I shifted from somewhat taken aback to outright pissed off when I saw the ways in which “experts” took these businesses on an expensive ride to nowhere.

Just last Friday, I Zoomed with the following people, all victims of marketing smoke and mirrors:

  • Small business owner who paid $1,500/month for nonexistent on-page SEO over a period of 20 months — she assumed her agency was doing 20 months’ worth of “something” and didn’t know how to validate or weigh in on their efforts.
  • Small business owner who paid a developer $6K to build what may be the world’s ugliest, least intuitive, and least mobile-friendly website.
  • COO of a small business who paid $1.5K/month to an agency for one weekly LinkedIn post and one monthly 300-word Mailchimp newsletter. Each newsletter highlights who the small business recently hired and why the small business is so unbelievably phenomenal.
  • Mid-sized business owner who dropped $12K on a one-day brand strategy session that resulted in yawn-worthy messaging that doesn’t identify the company’s value, key differentiators, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, or target audience.



I’ve heard hundreds of these stories over the years. Seriously, hundreds. The stories often start something like this — A small business manager or C level reaches out to me to inquire about particular support they think they need. They think they need help with an e-book, for example.

“We already have an agency that handles our site and social pages,” they say. “We’ve worked with them for a couple years, and we like them all right, but we need some additional support since we don’t think their copywriters are all that good.”

While we chat, I pull up their circa 2008 website and do a double-take. I muddle my way through the grammar-optional messaging, lack of clarity about what the company does, absence of any on-page SEO strategy, poorly written blogs, and one blurry image after the other. As we chat, I also pull up their Facebook page (478 followers) and Instagram page (242 followers) and scroll through the same blurry images I saw on the website.

“Your agency handles your site and social?” I ask. “For real?”

“The site’s new,” they say. “The agency built it six months ago. And they post each week on our social pages. Anyhow, as we mentioned, what we really need is help with an e-book.”


Wrong, wrong, wrong.

So wrong that I get worked up just thinking about it. What the company needs is clear, compelling brand messaging and a website that doesn’t look like their underemployed cousin Jimmy designed it. What they need is messaging that packs a punch and a behind-the scenes SEO engine. What they need are social media pages that  actually reach and engage their audience.

The problem is that many businesses don’t know what they don’t know. And because they don’t know what they don’t know, some freelancers and agencies take businesses for the equivalent of a long, expensive Uber ride to nowhere.

Marketing Smoke and Mirrors

I’m not a fan of marketing smoke and mirrors, so let me clear up a couple things:

  1. Amazing, above-board marketing agencies and freelancers exist and are worth every single penny you pay them.
  2. Amazing, above-board marketing agencies and freelancers do NOT abound.


The marketing industry is filled with fakers and posers, people who claim expertise in areas they aren’t qualified to weigh in on or support.

It’s a problem. A damn big one at that. It’s so prevalent that I’m pulling back the marketing veil to empower small businesses to survive and thrive — no marketing agencies required. I’m committed to showing small businesses how to protect themselves and their pocketbook — and actually get the high-value marketing work they need.


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