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16 min read

How Solopreneurs Can Improve Marketing ROI In Just Seven Steps

how solopreneurs can improve marketing roi


Watch the Episode on YouTube

In this episode of The One-Person Business podcast, we dive into the world of marketing for solopreneurs and the critical importance of measuring your marketing efforts. With countless tasks vying for a solopreneur's attention, it's easy for marketing to fall by the wayside. But our guest today, Mary Cate Spires, makes a compelling case for why it should be a top priority.

Mary Cate is an expert in marketing and ROI optimization, and she breaks down the concept into seven actionable steps that solopreneurs can easily follow. These steps are designed to help you maximize your marketing efforts without drowning in the process.

So, if you're a solopreneur juggling a million tasks, don't miss this episode. It's your guide to making marketing work for you and your business, even in the midst of a busy solopreneurial journey.

And even more! Be sure to tune in.

Resources Mentioned on The Show

Connect with Mary Cate Spires

Favorite Quotes:

"Just do it." - Nike


Going solo in business doesn't mean you're alone! Join our thriving Facebook community group exclusively designed for solopreneurs!  Connect with like-minded individuals who understand the unique challenges and triumphs of running a business single-handedly. Gain valuable insights, discover proven strategies, and unlock the power of networking as you engage in lively discussions and receive expert advice. We hope to see you there!

About Mary Cate Spires

Mary Cate Spires is the leading expert on using data and research to improve marketing ROI.

She has worked with dozens of prominent brands from all over the United States to drive leads, ROI, and customers through digital marketing efforts.

Her insights have been featured on ABC News and in noteworthy publications and podcasts including Chief Marketer and HubSpot.

She helps business owners, like all of you, to build a strong customer base to experience high return on investment. Her unique approach dives deep into data and research to help businesses make marketing decisions work smarter not harder.

Like this show? Click on over and give us a review on Apple Podcasts Thanks!

Full Episode Transcript

Mary Cate Spires (00:00):

If you're spending any resources on marketing, whether it's time or money, you're wasting efforts if you're not tracking it, because you have no idea if it's working. It would be better not to do anything than just put something out there and have no idea if it worked or not.

Intro (00:19):

Welcome to the One-Person Business podcast, the show for solopreneurs, consultants and contractors who are ready to take charge of their business and reclaim their freedom. Join us as we bring you inspiring stories, invaluable insights and practical strategies from successful solopreneurs and industry experts, empowering you to create a thriving business that aligns with your unique goals and allows you to live life on your own terms. Here are your hosts, Joe Rando and Carly Ries.

Mary Cate Spires (00:49):

Welcome to the One-Person Business podcast. I'm one of your hosts, Carly Ries.


Joe Rando


And I'm Joe Rando


Carly Ries


We are kind of having a reunion episode today. Our guest, Mary Cate Spires and I used to work together and Joe was our mutual client/ Now seven years later we were brought back together because she is amazing when it comes to marketing ROI. Mary Cate is the leading expert on using data and research to improve marketing ROI. She's worked with dozens of prominent brands from all over the US to drive leads, ROI and customers through digital marketing efforts. Her insights have been featured in ABC News and in noteworthy publications and podcasts, including Chief Marketer and HubSpot. She helps business owners like you to build a strong customer base to experience high return on investment.


Her unique approach dives deep into data and research to help businesses make marketing decisions work smarter, not harder, which is the name of the game when you are a solopreneur. So Mary Kate, welcome to the show.


Thank you so much for having me.

Carly Ries (01:53):

We wanted to have you on because we hear time and time again that marketing continues to be a struggle for solopreneurs, but specifically taking the time to measure their marketing efforts. So before we dive into everything, why is it important that they measure those efforts? Why can't they just post it and be like, I have a presence and forget it.


Mary Cate Spires


If you're spending any resources on marketing, whether it's time or money, you're wasting efforts if you're not tracking it because you have no idea if it's working. It would be better not to do anything than just put something out there and have no idea if it worked or not. I do not believe in spending money at all in marketing unless you're tracking it.


Carly Ries


I think that makes total sense, and I think a lot of the times people just don't know what they're supposed to be measuring, and I think as a solepreneur, there are so many hats that they're wearing and everything that they just don't allocate it. I know that you have seven steps to improving marketing ROI. Can you walk through those as they relate to solos?

Joe Rando (03:07):

Can I ask a question first?

Mary Cate Spires (03:08):

Sure, please.

Joe Rando (03:09):

Kind of peanut gallery question. So we're talking about measuring marketing, but before we go through the process, can we just quickly list out the kinds of marketing efforts that we can think about measuring, at least in the context of what we're going to talk about. If we talk about email blasts, are we talking about search engine optimization? Are we talking about paid ads? Are we talking about everything?

Mary Cate Spires (03:34):

Yeah, everything. So this mind process is really built in mind to look at a holistic marketing strategy. So even if you're using print ads, television, digital, you should be deciding what key metrics are important for each of those things and bringing them in. My background is in digital marketing, so most of my content and recommendations are around digital, but it really looks at your top level reporting like leads for example, and then breaks it down by source.


Carly Ries


Now I am chopping at the bit. I want to hear about these seven steps to improving marketing ROI. Joe and I were talking that we'll probably take away some little tidbits from this as well, so we'd love to hear about it.


So these steps have kind of been through trial and error for the past 11 years, but I really boiled it down to starting with understanding your customers.


I say begin with the end in mind. Know who you're trying to talk to and what they're expecting from you. That first step, you have to know what the heck people want from you before you can really start marketing. Second is to look at what your competitors are doing. I love competitor analysis. I think it's my favorite thing that I do with clients, and it really just gives a good idea of what customers are experiencing on your competitor sites, what you could be doing better might give you low hanging fruit opportunities. It's really just a good way to have an understanding of what's already out there and how you can be different.


Carly Ries


A lot of times people think your competitors are an apple to apple competitor, but it's really just anybody taking attention away from you. So it's not an apples to apples. People also like pears. How do you decide or how do you figure out who those apple to pears comparisons are in addition to the apples to apples, if that makes sense?


Yeah, that's a really great point. I typically start with the apples to apples. So looking at those direct bottom of the funnel comparison, but you have your buyer's journey where you start with someone identifying their problem all the way to choosing you as the solution to their problem, but in the middle there they have to decide how they're going to solve their problem, and that's where the pears come in. Senior living, for example, if mom can no longer stay at home alone, the only option to that is not just senior living. There's home care, there's adult daycare, there's moving in with you.


Those are the things to consider in that consideration stage as competitors. I would say those are probably your stage two of competitor research. Really understand that bottom of the funnel, who you're directly competing against, and then kind of back out with your content. It's a great way to find new content ideas. To look at what those pears are that are solving the same problem as you, but in a different way.


Carly Ries


Okay, so know your audience, know your competitors.


Number three. So you take your research, your competitors and your customers and kind of put that to the side. Then you take some time, my favorite part, you look at all of your existing data and performance. If you don't have any, that's okay. The step here should be put tracking on any marketing that you're doing.


So put Google Analytics on your website, put HubSpot on your website, start tracking, start benchmarking all of that data. I, unpopular opinion, I love to pull all of that data by hand. I actually have a benchmark tracker on my website that kind of walks you through it. While you're pulling all of that, you kind of just start to make connections in your head and get really curious and ask why. Take notes while you're doing all of that and you'll come out of it with all of these question marks and go and dig deeper into it. It's like solving a mystery for me when you're looking into the data. Once you've spent some time doing that, you take your data and you take your research and you find the best opportunity. Especially as a solopreneur, you have so many different competing priorities and it's impossible to focus on 800 things all at once, especially in marketing.


By taking that research and that data, you should focus on one main goal. So that's the fourth step is to identify that main goal and really see what, out of everything you found, was the lowest hanging fruit. What can make the biggest difference in your performance? You're going to be able to tell that from your data. You might say, wow, I'm getting a lot of leads, but they're not converting to sales qualified leads. Okay, well I have some big opportunity there. So that's going to be my main goal. I want to focus on my lead to sales qualified lead conversion rate.

Carly Ries (08:47):

Are you talking about goals like a smart goal or are you talking an actual Google analytic goal?

Mary Cate Spires (08:52):

I am talking about a smart goal, yes. So great question. I am talking about one thing that I am going to fix. So yes, a smart goal is the proper way to do this. I can't always say when I follow this process, I make beautiful smart goals.

Joe Rando (09:11):

Should we define smart goals?

Mary Cate Spires (09:13):

Yes. Specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and timely.

Joe Rando (09:22):

You get a prize,

Mary Cate Spires (09:23):

I would have been really embarrassing if I couldn't do that. I really like the time part of smart goals because, increase my conversion rate. Okay, well how are you going to know when you hit that? So it is good to sit down and be like, okay, I'd like to get it to this point by this time. I'm going to do it by X, Y, and Z and then X, Y, and Z is step number five. So once you've decided this is what I'm going to focus on, then you get to treat it like a science experiment. You're going to test strategy and tactics. For example, the main reason I came up with this process was for a client and I realized that their marketing qualified lead rate to sales qualified lead rate was very low. And I felt that that was something that I could adjust.


So I looked at all the data and I realized that paid search was what was not converting well. I created a hypothesis, like a science experiment and was, alright, if we tried this with paid search, will it improve our conversion rate? I let that test run and I always say try to let a test run for at least three months, especially when it comes to digital. And then I went to step number six and I evaluated it. Did it work, was my hypothesis right? From there, step seven, the final step is to apply the lessons learned. So if it didn't work, try a new hypothesis, keep pushing away at that goal. If it did work, roll it out at a larger scale if that's possible for you, or go back to step four and just keep saying, alright, what can we change next? It's an ever evolving process from that four to seven, but one in three is good to keep in mind at least once a year or two because your customers might change, your competitors might change. It's always good to be tracking your data . If you cannot tell, I don't like to do anything if I'm not tracking data.

Joe Rando (11:39):

You mentioned that. You said that you had an actual customer and you tried this thing. Did it work?

Mary Cate Spires (11:44):

It did work. And I misspoke earlier. It was not MQL to SQL. It was actually Sales qualified lead to opportunity rate. So that just pretty much meant once we were passing a lead to sales, was it a good lead? Was sales able to work that lead? I realized that I thought we were sending them all sorts of great leads and everything was fine, but in actuality the quality was low. When I figured that out by you looking at all my data, we tested with paid search and we took the SQL to opportunity rate from 32% to 52%.

Joe Rando (12:27):

Nice. Let's back up for a second though. Because we are talking about solopreneurs, they don't have sales departments, but these concepts are still really important. As we think about an MQL, marketing qualified lead, somebody that you've engaged, seems like it's possible that you're going to get some traction with them, but it's not clear yet. Then the next one you said SQL, or sales qualified lead, and that's somebody that you've kind of identified the fact that they have a need. Is that fair?

Mary Cate Spires (12:55):

Yeah. I like to stay as sales qualified lead as someone who's raised their hand. So they may have reached out to you about something, they may have scheduled a discovery call,

Joe Rando (13:05):

From there, now you've got the next step, which again refresh us in terms of what that next step was.

Mary Cate Spires (13:12):

An opportunity, I define as a qualified sales qualified lead. So in that process, if you have a discovery call with someone and they're continuing to have a conversation with you, they're an opportunity. If they become a sales qualified lead and then you never hear from them again, they're not an opportunity, they're not a qualified sales qualified lead.

Joe Rando (13:33):

So when they're opportunity, that's when you make the card in Salesforce and say, okay, I'm tracking this deal. Yeah, that makes total sense. Any solopreneur that's selling something, whether it's a service or a product, unless they're selling something low price that they're just transacting online, is going to want to think about this stuff. So thank you.

Carly Ries (13:53):

Mary Cate, I want to go back really quick to tracking your analytics on a timeline standpoint. So you were saying a year is a good time to go back and revisit steps one through three, and then for testing, you were saying three months just to have an actual test run, but how often should people be looking at their all of their analytics? I feel like if you look at it too much, you'll go crazy, but if you don't go long enough, you won't be able to make decisions and pivot where you need to fast enough.

Mary Cate Spires (14:23):

As an entrepreneur myself, I look at my data every day, but it will drive you crazy. I like to really evaluate it about once a month. I would say the pulling it manually once a quarter around when those tests are ending. There are a lot of tools you can set up too now where if you can get alerts if something crazy happens with your data. Maybe you want an alert if traffic goes way down. You can typically set that up in other ways, but I like to keep an eye on it. It is important to know, especially with digital, if you turn something on today, you're not going to see crazy results tomorrow.


Carly Ries


Definitely a good thing to keep in mind. Going through all this, I love your steps one through seven. As a solopreneur, for us being in marketing, we usually have clients or we have somebody that we have deadlines that we're accountable to, but as a solopreneur, you kind of set your own deadlines and your own schedule. So when they have all these other things going on, do you have any recommendations on how to hold ourselves accountable to measuring all of this when there are so many other things we could be focusing on?


It's so hard. I find I have the exact same issue all the time. My recommendation would be to pick a day on a calendar and block the whole day off. When I did that big data analysis for this client, I turned my auto email responder on, I blocked the whole calendar off and I just sat there and pounded it out. This might not be the best way for everyone to work, but it was the best way for me because I have a lot of competing priorities too, and it was just better to just block a whole day.


That is definitely what I would do. There are project management tools out there. You just have to come to Jesus with yourself. It's really easy to take that task and push the deadline, but if you want your marketing to be successful, you have to make it just as much of a priority as your clients or your customers would be. You have to set yourself up as your own customer.

Carly Ries (16:40):

Got it. So you and I live in the marketing world. Joe, you do to an extent as well, depending on the week, so we deep breathe and sleep this and so we know all the tools. We know like, oh, if I need to measure SCL, I go grab this tool, if I need to measure email metrics, this tool. For people that are completely foreign to this, what tools would you recommend they start with?

Mary Cate Spires (17:03):

I think it completely depends on budget. For one thing, Google Analytics is free. Tttle hard to use because it is free. We all know I'm a HubSpot junkie, so I'd always recommend HubSpot. They've got a nice starter package now where you can get all of the starter tools, you can host a website on it, you can have all of your tracking. It's a nice all in one place. Then depending on what your business is, I always say to look at industry specific tools as well. Dubsado is a C R M that's specifically for creatives and it's built for creatives. I like to use something like HubSpot if you want to be able to really customize it and scale almost unlimited scale with it. But if you're in an industry that is very specific and prescribed in that marketing and sales process, then a tool that's specific to your industry is usually a pretty easy route to go.

Carly Ries (18:06):

Good to know. And for listeners, we actually have a HubSpot affiliate link for that starter kit, so we will be sure to put that in the show notes. The last question I have for you, which is what keeps you in business is we keep going back to the time thing. What if solopreneurs know that this is important, but they just don't have the time to do it or they just don't have any interest in it, even though they know they have to. Should they outsource? Should they learn it? Is it just easiest for them to do it themselves? What do you think?

Mary Cate Spires (18:37):

Such a good question. I have varying opinions on it. I'm the kind of entrepreneur who wants to just do everything myself, but I also started working at 7:00 AM this morning and don't know when I'll end. So if you can invest in it, I definitely think experts are helpful, especially experts that have a really specific skillset.


What I like to do, yes, I'm in marketing, but I'd like to think of myself as a general contractor. I have a decent understanding of all the digital marketing tactics, but I don't have a really in depth understanding of any of them. I find partners that are SEO experts, are paid media experts, and I work with them and I outsource to them so that I'm monitoring the overall success of it, but I don't have to go and learn everything about everything. It works well. I would just say a big passion of mine is making sure that when you are working with partners, you know enough to be dangerous and ask the right questions. Unfortunately, in the digital marketing industry in particular, you can get some snake roll salesmen, so definitely do a little bit of research and understand what you need and really make sure your partner has your best interest in mind.

Carly Ries (20:02):

Have your contractors come naturally just from working in the industry, or do you have any other places people might be able to look if they're looking for contractors? Yeah, most of 'em have come naturally, but your network is a great place to start. When somebody's already worked with them and recommends them, you're much more likely to have a good experience with them. Tools like Upwork and Fiverr are always helpful too, depending on what you're looking for. I found a few people on Indeed even that I just hired as contractors who are specific in a certain tactic.


Okay, this has been super helpful. It's funny, I mean, even as we get in the hamster wheel and it's like, oh gosh, no, we need to look at analytics, and Joe was so good, over the summer, we set analytics meetings on the calendar like, oh yeah, we have to talk about analytics.

Mary Cate Spires (20:55):

Oh my goodness. It's so easy to forget and you just have to if you want to grow. I mean you don't have to, but it really does help.

Carly Ries (21:08):

Apparently you want to do that as a business owner, You spend your days trying to help people find success through marketing, so what is your favorite quote about success?

Mary Cate Spires (21:19):

Okay, I've been thinking about this and you can judge me because it's not a real quote about success, but the first thing that came to mind was the Nike slogan, "Just do it". I feel like that really captures how I approach things. I might not know how I'm going to do it, but I'm going to figure it out and I am going to just work at it until I figure it out or find someone who can help me. So yeah, "just do it".

Carly Ries (21:49):

I love it. It's so funny, we had an interview yesterday on trademark registration, and she kept using Nike as an example of how it's just in our brains, and it's so true.

Mary Cate Spires (21:57):

Literally the first thing that popped in my head and I'm like, well, it does fit. It's not really a quote, but good job Nike!

Joe Rando (22:09):

I think it is. The way it was said in the business school books was a bias toward action. Do something, do something. It's better to do something than nothing.

Mary Cate Spires (22:20):

Absolutely. I love that. Well, Mary Cate, you are just wonderful. Where can people find more about you and contact you if they even want to work with you?


Yeah, absolutely. So my name is Mary Cate Spires, and that is me everywhere on social media. My website's You can just Google my name and find me wherever you'd like. Wonderful. We will put all that in the show notes. And Mary Cate, you mentioned a link earlier that you have on your website, the Benchmark. We'll include that in the show notes as well. It is so great catching up with you. We can't thank you enough for coming on today. And listeners, thank you so much for tuning in. We look forward to seeing you with our next episode of the One-Person Business for podcast.

Closing (23:17):

You may be going solo in business, but that doesn't mean you're alone. In fact, millions of people are in your shoes running a one person business and figuring it out as they go. So why not connect with them and learn from each other's successes and failures? At Lifestarr, we're creating a one person business community where you can go to meet and get advice from other solopreneurs. Be sure to join in on the conversations at

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