What a street violin player can teach you about marketing your business


Every morning the Brussels train stations are bustling with the energy of thousands of commuters heading to work.

I’m one of those people trekking along the Brussels Midi and towards the underground metro station.

I started this periodic routine at the beginning of the year, and since then, I’ve encountered this very peculiar character. As you head down the escalator, you’ll often start hearing the notes of a violin. Sometimes you’ll recognize the tune; other times, you just pass by without caring.

The violin player is a middle-aged woman who sits at the bottom of the escalators, front and center. She sits against a column flanked by a Starbucks and a supermarket that sells fresh sushi. The best way I can describe her is, well, she won’t be playing Carnegie Hall anytime soon.

Some would downright say she sucks. Really, really sucks.

I became slightly obsessed with this violinist for reasons I could not understand until I started preparing for this talk. This person represents how I felt about myself and my career at some point in my life. She’s definitely above average in her skill. She can carry a tune most of the time, but sometimes she can be off with a note here and there.

I’ve also felt I’ve hit the wrong note, which made me feel ashamed. Sometimes I’ve hidden away from a challenge because I’m unsure how to carry the entire tune.

But not the violinist. She puts herself out there. And she’s doing fine.

There are three things this violinist can teach us all about how we market our businesses.

Lesson 1: Be consistent

The violinist is at the Midi metro at least 3 times per week.

When she’s there, she plays some classical pieces, some contemporary stuff, and perhaps even something more experimental.

The critical takeaway is that she’s out there, consistently putting out her craft.

I’ve had clients who object to creating content plans because they don’t have time to write or produce any content. Others find the simplest forms of editorial calendars “pedestrian,” everyone is doing the same, so why should we?

Consistency is not about dedicating your entire time to creating daily blog posts. Instead, it’s creating an expectation of value and delivering on it.

Famous SEO Expert Brian Dean changed his blog approach entirely. Instead of weekly 600 to 800-word blog posts, he now creates over 1000-word posts maybe once a month, and his traffic has increased dramatically.

Our violinist is consistently doing the work. If you pass by the station regularly, you can objectively say she’s getting better.

Not great, but better. And people have noticed. This brings me to lesson number two.

Lesson 2: Know your audience

Since our violinist is not at the level of someone like Yo-Yo Ma, you may guess she doesn’t have a lot of fans.

Well, guess again.

I once noticed a lady in front of me at the escalator talking to another lady. I couldn’t hear them, but they were talking about the violin player. They chuckled. It was discreet, but I saw it. They found her off-key moments funny.

And then something else happened that surprised me. One of them dropped a bill on the violin case.

They pitied her. Maybe they felt this was their charitable donation to a poor woman who was trying, not entirely successfully, but trying to make a living.

Guess what? I think our violinist knew this. And she used it.

A few weeks later, she had a small sign on her violin case. It had a camera icon with” no, please.” I’ve never seen her case more full of money. She knows who she’s playing to.

I’m not suggesting making feel people feel sorry for you as a strategy to get more business, but rather an opportunity to pause and reflect on why your customers want your business.

A client of mine thought service providers were partnering with them because they provided a great educational opportunity to work with cutting-edge technology. However, in my content planning to attract more of these particular providers, I discovered from speaking to existing ones that they actually partnered with my client because their platform is transparent and their billing process easy and quick. Once we focused the angle on ease of use, we started seeing more requests from new providers.

For our violinist doing the work consistently and knowing who she’s playing for now helps her with the following important lesson about how you market your business.

Lesson 3: Don’t let perfection stand in the way of making things happen

One of my favorite moments at the metro station was when the violinist started playing the Harry Potter theme. She actually played it quite well. The Game of Thrones one, not so much. But hey, it was still enjoyable for this little fan girl here!

I faced this with clients a lot. Spending days trying to perfect something until missing the window of opportunity entirely, when sometimes, the little imperfections may lead to an even better outcome.

One client made this Facebook ad where the copy was supposed to read “fairy tale,” but he wrote instead “ferry tale.” It was a disaster. Some followers who saw this commented immediately on the mistake and called for a correction.

The post had so much engagement that it got a boost from the Facebook algorithm and more exposure. We got more sales of that particular product as a result.

Experimenting will give you valuable input into what your target audience likes. You get to know them even better, continuing the cycle of creating more and more value.

But remember, this is only possible when you put your work out there.

Done is better than perfect.

So, like the violinist at the metro station, keep on playing!

Thank you

I shared this story during a speaking engagement in 2019. This version has been edited for clarity in 2023.


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