Last reviewed 5 September 2016

Creating close encounters and avoiding mixed messages: marketing tips for the under-promoted small business leader — the next in our occasional series of blogs about Evie Wyman — a very small businesswoman, by Jude Tavanyar.

“Now” breathes bossy career coach, friend Georgia, “Let’s imagine you’re at work, you get into the lift and bump into a complete stranger, who turns out to be a powerful executive recruiter looking for new talent. You’ve got 30 seconds to make an impact. What do you say and do to impress?”

A few answers come instantly to mind, ranging from falling forward across the lift controls so that the “powerful stranger” has to spend 24 hours trapped in there while I dredge up my CV from the mists of time through to the simpler, more short-term solution of avoiding self-promotion and resorting to straightforward begging — several thousand quid to pay off my ex’s gambling debts should just about do it.

Seeing Georgia’s impatient look, I forced these ideas to the outer perimeter of what used to pass as my brain before I stopped working 20 years ago, had children, became penniless, got divorced, then had aforementioned ex rematerialise in my cramped kitchen one rainy summer night, just as if he had never left me to become a Buddhist monk and farm potatoes on the slopes of a Tibetan monastery.

The truth is, my main achievement recently is surviving the ex’s midlife crisis without actually cracking up myself, although this is hardly the kind of breezy, confident, Boardroom-pleaser Georgia is looking for. Still, the “lift pitch” is an interesting idea to entertain, and I must have drifted off momentarily, as I suddenly find myself in an agreeably confined fantasy elevator pressed up against no less a powerful stranger than the US President Barak Obama himself. We are, naturally, hurtling to the very top floor together at breathtaking speed.

Then Barak (as he charmingly allows me to call him) announces he is seeking a new personal assistant, someone about my age, and … do I know of anyone? I’m about to politely decline when he steps forward and — who’d have thought it? — flashes his well-known and delightful smile straight into my face. “I was rather hoping you might consider the role yourself, Evie” he urges, and in the relative darkness of the lift I suddenly feel a bit giddy. He is standing so close that I can actually smell his expensive aftershave and practically touch his charmingly underplayed but expensive Presidential shirt...

“EVIE!!! Can you please stop DAYDREAMING and actually PAY ATTENTION?!!!”

Georgia’s voice, bristling with impatience, forces me to open my eyes and once gain face the reality of my grotty kitchen and even grottier life, utterly devoid as it is of handsome Presidential talent spotters.

She waves a piece of paper furiously. Spending time on my marketing strategy with Georgia is like going 10 rounds in a boxing ring with a bullying headmistress. Miss Trunchbull, perhaps.

“Business marketing tips. Recap, now.”

Somewhat reluctantly, I abandon the lift fantasy and try to focus on the illegible scrawls that are the sum result of our one-hour session, which Georgia has “generously offered me for free”. I read out, without conviction: “Give a snappy, succinct and consistent message at all times. Support it with imagery — pictures, graphics and video appeal more than words alone. Marketing is a full-time occupation; no small business can afford to ignore it…”

Looking angrily at her Rolex, Georgia barks out: Mission statement?

This, I remind myself, is the tightly-worded unique sentence written in active, unambiguous language that will powerfully promote my business strengths across all media?

Actually, I only seem to have one business strength, and it’s come about entirely by accident through the intervention of Selina Lightwater, an eccentric elephant-whisperer who seems to specialise in helping out clueless underemployed unfortunates like myself. I clear my throat, and announce, with the smallest note of pride: “I offer an unequalled and 100% consistent performance in providing useless advice to business people. They then avoid serious mistakes by doing the exact opposite of what I suggest.”

After a couple of seconds of appalled silence, Georgia enquires as to the nature of my business “tagline”, incorporating my USP. Until only a few hours ago, I’d always thought USP stood for underemployed semi-pensioner, a social underclass in which I currently find myself, but now I know better. I reply promptly and with considerable enthusiasm: “I get it wrong, so you don’t have to.”

Georgia puts a shaking hand to her face and hides behind it for a moment. Finally, she reaches into her handbag, removes a document and tosses it over. “Business image checklist” she whispers. Then, looking me up and down: “Probably pointless, but try it.”

The questionnaire presents a list of coupled opposites, since (apparently) it’s easier to define your business style by working out what it isn’t. After only a few seconds, I realise that my “image” falls somewhat short of power-broking Businesswoman of the Year: less shoulder pads, more bunion pads; less high-end designer suit, more nylon housecoat; less designer hosiery and calfskin thigh boots, more disintegrating bedroom slippers and sagging, laddered tights.

Just then, the doorbell rings. I open it, and see ex standing on the kitchen threshold in what looks like a pair of speedo swimming trunks, sandals and ankle socks. I pinch myself, but the hideous apparition is real enough and I am just deciding what to do next, when Georgia suddenly screams: “OMG, Evie! You ACTUALLY let him back! After the way he treated you! How COULD you be such a DOORMAT?!!” and storms out of the door, face tight with contemptuous rage.

I am about to rush after her and explain that I haven’t really caved in to ex’s pleas (I have), and that it’s a purely practical arrangement with ex renting the spare room (it isn’t), when I see the kitchen has filled up with a group of people in ill-fitting tracksuits rolling out yoga mats, some of whom I recognise as my neighbours.

The ex sidles towards me, face aglow with smugness. “I’m turning our house into a Yoga centre. Learned it in Tibet. 20 clients signed up, 45 classes a week. It’s for older people who’ve got weight to lose and can’t touch their toes. Want to join?”

In utter shock, I barge past him, grab a large piece of chocolate cake from the fridge and race upstairs as fast as my ageing, inflexible and overweight legs will carry me. However, sleep is in short supply and it is past midnight before the grunting noises and weird chanting emanating from our kitchen finally stop.

When I do drift off, I dream I am fighting a giant snake which has taken over my house and is eating all my food. Then I realise that it isn’t a proper snake at all, but is wearing Speedos, sandals and an irritating smile. I’m about to scream and escape out of the front door when I see that the US President has once again put in an appearance, and is peering earnestly right into my face.

“Evie,” he says kindly “It’s time to wake up, stop giving mixed messages, and take a stand.”

So I do wake up. The only problem is: as far as stand-taking goes, I’ve got very little experience and haven’t a clue where to start.