Archive for the ‘biz talk’ Category

Saying goodbye to a 13 year friend

December 14th, 2013


As I was sitting in my office today of 13 years I actually got a little emotional about the thought of moving out in January. I know it’s just office space, and maybe I’m being overly sentimental, but I’ve had so many great memories here. Read More >

Options for Growth

June 26th, 2012

Back from a wonderful trip to Boston for the Creative Freelancer Conference and HOW Design Live. As always the HOW conference is full of inspiration and great times with friends. I’ve got some follow up posts in the works but for now I wanted to publish my slide deck since a few people have been asking. Thanks for a great time Boston, I’m sure I’ll visit you again.

Click here to download slides from Options for Growth.

Design Revolutionary

March 21st, 2012

Had the privilege of being interviewed by Bryn Mooth yesterday for this HOW Blog writeup. She did a great job of organizing my jumbled thoughts into a great read… (read more)

CFC Recap

July 5th, 2011

I recently spoke at the Creative Freelancers Conference put on by HOW and Marketing Mentor. I spent a week in Chicago and had some amazing things happen. It was truly one of the best trips I’ve been on and the best conference I’ve spoke at.

My talk was titled “To Plan or Not to Plan?” and my goal was to inspire the group in the room to dream big and think beyond themselves, to think beyond the fact that they are flying solo. I also challenged them to create a plan that included money basics, marketing needs versus wants and goals that were juicy in every detail. I double dog dared the audience to do something big this year; something so big that people would laugh at them when the announced this plan. Stay tuned for some stories about people taking the #CFCDare seriously.

My personal dare that I repeated multiple times on stage was “I’m gonna change the world.” I don’t know exactly what that looks like yet, but I can tell you that I’m making progress and I truly believe I will change the world. I mentioned that “success is a direction, not a destination.” My direction from here forward will be towards things that change the world. How’s that for a #CFCdare?

Beyond the thrill of the #CFCdare, here are some highlights from my Chicago experience:

You Never Know Who is in the Room.
After my presentation, I walked off stage and handed the mic over to a tall, slender gentleman named Doug. He put his arm on my shoulder and showed me a picture on his iPhone of how overweight he used to be. During my talk, I used my own weight loss as an illustration of juicy versus bland goals. That interaction with Doug really rocked me; the fact that he was inspired by my talk even though I was there to talk with everyone else. It just goes to show that you never know who is in the room.

Get Out of Town.
Sometimes you just have to get out of town to be inspired. I love Chicago. Granted, I’ve only been there in the summer when it’s nice outside, but what an amazing city. The architecture, walking along the river … I would say other than O’Hare Airport, I love all of it. One evening, some conference buddies and I took a cab outside of town a bit to the Green Mill Jazz Club. Chicago is known for it’s jazz culture, so I always try to take some in when I’m in town. That night at the Green Mill, I witnessed Latin jazz executed at such a level that I felt like a hack at my own job. I give my job everything I have, but nothing like that. Wow. Chuchito Valdes was his name. He is a Grammy-winning artist and, despite being in a room with only about 100 people, he lit it up. This is one thing I love about jazz; it’s completely different live than listening to it on an iPod. That was one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen. And it made me realize that even if you think no one is watching, you should always give it your all.

The In-between Time.
I’m not the best conference person. I tend to overdo it and try to take in too many sessions, so I leave sort of overwhelmed with information overload. The thing I do love is the in-between time, the random conversations in the hall, the after-hours drinks and dinners. That’s really the stuff I love. This trip was no exception. I spent lots of time with these people, and they really made the trip special for me. @Jovenville @rdqlus_creative @schutzsmith @DyanaValentine @clearwriter @imaccami @JamieSaunders @LaurenHybinette (And many many more)

People Are So Gracious.
It’s amazing how nice people are when you show up and share your life with them. I’ve had the privilege of interacting with some amazing people since my talk and have seen some very kind posts about things that were said. You can read some of those awesome recaps here, here and here (and please send me a link if you wrote a recap so I can post it).

One of the most touching things that happened was someone bringing me homemade snickerdoodle cookies. She stood up during the Q&A portion and introduced herself: “Hello my name is Marilee and I’m really good at making snickerdoodle cookies.” I spent some time during the conference talking to Marilee about her business and how she could mix things up. I was pleasantly surprised on Sunday morning by a text that she was looking for me so she could hand off a bag of baked goods … and let me tell you, they were delicious.

So, not only does saying you’re going to change the world get people around you excited, it also has perks, like snickerdoodles.

Did you attend CFC? What were the highlights for you? Post your comments or if you wrote a recap, send it to me so I can post it.

Small Company Syndrome

June 14th, 2011

One of the questions that came up after my Kaseya Connect talk was what to do about branding and marketing if you’re a small company. If you’re only a couple of people, what should you invest in and why? Some observations:

1. Don’t spend just because others are
It’s temping to try and mimic larger companies and spend money on things that you may not need right now. Yes, a killer website will help you sell, but it might not be what you need right now. If, for example, you’ve seen success in a certain vertical or have a great success story with a certain type of business, I would spend money on having someone help you tell that story (case study) before I would spend a bunch of money on a website. Focus your money on what will get you in front of the right people. You can always build the killer site later.

Likewise, don’t spend money on a bunch of blanket mailings that go out to anyone and everyone, or on a yellow pages ad that won’t reach anyone. You would be better off putting together a list of 50 potential clients that fit your company, and then spend your money and efforts marketing to that group. Not only do your marketing dollars become more potent, but you find the clients that fit what you do. It’s one of the hardest things to do as a business, but in order to get into the mind of the prospect, you have to sacrifice.

For example, if you had a couple of auto dealerships as clients, and they love what you do, write up that story in a compelling case study. Then start to market to a short list of auto dealerships that could benefit in the same way. Even if you’re not completely selling only to that niche, you can pursue a niche or channel for a season.

2. You must track
If a marketing tactic is not somehow measurable, I don’t think it should be done. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with companies that are spending money on some sort of tactic and have no way of measuring results. They get sold on doing a blanket mailing or a yellow pages ad, but they don’t really know if it’s working or not.

With any tactic, you should be able to measure. Know if it’s working, know how to adjust it if it’s not and, most of all, make sure you at least learn something. It’s okay to try things and maybe have some of them not work, but at some point, if it’s not working, you need to learn and move on. I’ve done this successfully with Google AdWords. Put a small amount of money in the hopper and run a campaign for a short season. At the end of that season, decide if it’s worth investing more, worth investing the same or that it doesn’t work and move on to something else. Try, track, learn and improve. If you’re not tracking and learning, you’re wasting money.

3. Laser sharp focus
I mentioned above the idea of picking a place to focus. This is so essential for a small company. You simply don’t have the resources to play with the big boys yet. You need to find a couple of niches, or just one where you can be that big fish in a small pond. This will allow the marketing dollars that you do have to be more potent. It’s also easier to talk to one industry than it is to try and create a blanket message for all. If you show up to auto dealerships with a story of success with another dealership, you will get further than just putting an ad in the yellow pages.

Some final thoughts …

Just because you’re small doesn’t mean you can’t market and brand yourself well. In fact, you might be at an advantage if you’re forced to focus on a niche. Being small and agile could allow you to find a niche and sell, sell, sell.

A Pause Before Swinging for the Fences

June 9th, 2011

In my last post, I talked about marketing base hits versus marketing home runs. Getting a few solid base hits each month instead of throwing everything you’ve got into one big thing can be a big boost to your efforts. But sometimes you just really need that home run. Before you get up to bat for that big hit, here are a few things to consider:

1. Check your positioning
Make sure you are correctly positioned in the market and know who you’re tying to connect with. You can spend a ton of money on design work and marketing, but it will be hard to get that money back if your message falls on deaf ears.

If you’re not sure about how to position your product, do some test marketing first. This falls in line with the base hit before home run analogy very well. If you wanted to position around plumbers, for example, you should land some plumbers as clients first before completely diving into that space with your entire message and brand. As you start to see traction in an area, you can start refining your positioning towards that space.

Once you have some plumber clients, gather a list of other potential clients in that space and do a single page case study about one of your plumber clients. Then use that case study to sell more clients in that space. As you continue to gain traction, you can weigh the potential of that demographic and decide if you want to tighten your positioning in that direction.

I suggest starting with a few different avenues and see where you end up. Example: I’m positioned around helping service companies generate revenue. Within that, I have three niche areas I target. If one becomes more lucrative, I may reposition completely around that or launch a secondary brand. Either way, it’s about continuing to refine your positioning until you find the sweet spot.

2. Why?
The second question I would ask before a company embarks on a rebrand is, “Why?” What do you hope to get out of spending your hard earned cash on a new identity or full brand? Really think through why you’re doing it and what you hope to get out of it. Just updating a logo or look without any sort of strategy can be expensive and a waste of time.

This is where I believe designers (my kind) have done a sort of disservice to businesses. They come in suggesting that a logo needs to be redone because it’s really ugly or looks old, or maybe because the designer simply doesn’t like it. All that is well and good. I love nice logos and love producing them for my clients, but if you’re going to spend the money, have a strategy and know why.

Maybe you’re looking to upgrade the quality of your look because it’s not reflective of the quality products that you sell. Or perhaps you wantto go after a different niche in the market and your current look just doesn’t fit. Maybe you’re launching a new line of products and it makes sense to upgrade your identity to match. Whatever the reason, be sure to have a clear vision for what this investment will get you. In most cases, I don’t believe that just updating the look of something will make you more money. There has to be some sort of strategy behind it.

3. Reconsider base hits
Even if you’re considering going big and doing a rebrand, you can have some solid base hits along the way. Perhaps while that new website is in the works, you can build out a landing page for a new product and do an email blast to drum up business. This is what I call “looking for low hanging fruit.” I’ve had clients that needed a new website and logo, but before embarking on that we setup a Google AdWords campaign and landing page for something specific. We generated some new leads and learned some things along the way, all of which was useful for the new website. Or maybe a solid base hit means following up on some old leads. Or maybe just get an appointment with another prospect and tell a success story about how you’ve helped someone. That’s a solid base hit.

Final thoughts…

I’ve always felt that what’s lacking in small business marketing is a consistent effort. We get busy and we don’t do anything for a long time, then we get desperate, so we have no choice but to swing for the fences. A much better approach is to try for a few base hits each month, small marketing tactics executed on a regular basis will lead to greater success. If you’re swinging for the fences, make sure you know why. Strategy before execution, always.

A Solid Base Hit

June 7th, 2011

I went to an Angels game a couples weeks ago with my son and was reminded about a question that came up during my talk in Las Vegas to the Kaseya Connect group. The title of my talk was “Branding Your Companies Unique DNA” and we were discussing the importance of investing in your brand.

An audience member asked, “A common complaint amongst companies is that they spend a ton of money and three months of time launching a new brand only to have it not pay off. Do you have any suggestions?”

I answered his question with a simple baseball analogy about base hits versus home runs. Sometimes you may need that home run; you may need to swing for the fences and make the big investment in order to make a big shift in your business. But the thing about swinging for the fences is that you have a greater risk of striking out.

On the other hand, getting a base hit is a little more manageable and the risk is less. In most cases, I like the base hit approach to helping a client build his or her business. I like the idea of hitting a couple of solid base hits each month instead of throwing every ounce of effort into one big thing. Sometimes home runs are needed, but beware the strike out.

I would also suggest that if you’re going to swing for the fences that you still hit a few base hits first. Besides, it’s nice to have a couple of people on base when you finally do hit that one over the fence.

Next time, we’ll discuss things to consider before you swing for the fences …

Focused on Culture

June 3rd, 2011

A few weeks back, I had the privilege of speaking to a great group of IT service company owners at Kaseya Connect in Las Vegas. My talk was titled “Branding Your Companies Unique DNA” (if you’re interested, you can download the simple slide deck here).

Over the past couple of weeks, some of the content has sort of settled in and I wanted to take an opportunity over the next few posts to address some of the questions that were asked at the end of my talk and in the hallways after.

One of my points in the talk was about how company culture is very much a part of your brand, which brought up a great question: “How do you retain culture as you become a bigger company?”

As I thought about this question a bit deeper, I came up with a few pointers based on what I’ve seen in the marketplace, mainly as I’ve witnessed with some of my favorite clients and how they lead the companies that they own.

1. Share your vision
Even when your company is growing, you can still share your vision for the future and keep your staff in the loop. This can be hard if you’re growing at a quick pace and your schedule is always full, but I think at least once a quarter, you should rally people together either in person or virtually and share how things are going from a top level. Show them that you have vision and that you understand where your business is and where it’s going.

You might also start an internal blog or email chain where you can talk candidly about things that are happening in the business. This could be especially helpful if you are larger than 25 in staff or running a company with multiple locations.

Either way, people want a leader that has vision. If you have goals for the company, share them with everyone. If you’re working with a new business consultant to better the company, introduce that person to your staff. If you’re working on a new product, let everyone know (not just the sales staff).

We all need to be a part of something big. So, let your people know how deeply you care about them and the future of the company.

2. Go to the front lines
I think back to the days of knights and swords when kings used to lead armies into war. Think about how much different our world would be now if this was still the case. A staff loves a leader that is willing to charge to the front lines with them. If you as a company owner are still willing to go to the front lines, that will inspire your people. It shows that you are in the trenches with them, even if only for a little bit. When was the last time you went out on a sales call? Or took a customer service phone call? Or helped clean up after an office party? When you as a leader show that you are happy to get your hands dirty, you give your company a sense of togetherness. Don’t just stop with you, though. Encourage your managers to get in the trenches with your people too.

3. Share time
I know someone that used to put together a team of walkers for the Race For The Cure event every year. They would invite staff, clients and vendors to participate in the event together and they provided a cool t-shirt for everyone involved. Whether it’s participating in a charitable event or having a quarterly company lunch, you should make a conscious effort to do things together as a staff. Ask your staff for suggestions; maybe they’re already involved with a charity that you can volunteer with. Making an effort to spend time together takes time and resources, yes, but your brand culture will thank you for it. And if you can involve clients, even better.

Some final thoughts …

Study companies that have gone before you, and ask your colleagues and fellow business owners what they do to build their culture. Read books about great companies (“Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh is a great one to start with). Also, ask your marketing people for ideas on how to engage staff. I’ve played part in a few fun internal campaigns with the sole purpose of building some excitement amongst a company’s staff.

One culture caveat: while I haven’t seen it happen very often, it is possible to completely ignore common sense and your company’s financial health for the sake of culture. Like anything, you can swing the pendulum too far the other way. But I believe you can have culture and make money, no matter the size of your company.

Branding Your Unique DNA

April 30th, 2011

I’m currently in Las Vegas for Kaseya Connect where I will be speaking to a group of IT service professionals tomorrow about branding their unique DNA. In a business where the product is service, I believe each company is unique (whether they choose to believe it or not).

In the end, if you are selling service you are selling relationships both on an individual and a company brand level. Because people are unique (some more than others) it stands to reason that the companies they work for are unique as well. You may never know this by reading some marketing materials.

During my talk I will share some key points which I feel are essential to building a service company brand.

Brand Positioning – this is answering who you are in the prospect’s mind.
Brand Consistency – a company should always examine how they look, act, and what they say.
Brand Culture – in service, it’s about your people, and your culture will bleed through to those client relationships.

I will expand on this idea of Unique DNA branding later. Stay tuned! Until then I’m looking forward sharing tomorrow, hope some folks are ready with some great questions as well.