Checking off one item on my bucket list, last week I had the sincere pleasure of seeing Gary Vaynerchuk speak live at PCBC 2014 in San Francisco. As usual, Gary covered a number of topics that are incredibly relevant to businesses everywhere. I want to highlight just a couple of those concepts here.

Gary Vaynerchuk is highly in demand as a speaker at business conferences, even though he regularly challenges the status quo. Plus, how often do you see an explicit content warning for a keynote speaker at a professional conference?

Stop being romantic about your company

In the clip below, from a previous talk, Gary tackles The Innovator’s Dilemma—the idea that once innovative companies lose their edge when they stop innovating. Businesses resting on their laurels, celebrating previous success, are ripe for disruption from others:

Most companies using social media act like a 19 year old dude…

…trying to close on the first transaction:

This is covered in much greater detail in Vaynerchuk’s latest book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World

Are you marketing in the year we live in?

One of the number one points that Gary makes—really the primary thesis of his talks—is that you have to go where your customers are. Perhaps more to the point, you have to go to where the customers you want to have are. In 2014, that means using social media. It means mobile, first. It means always looking to the horizon to find out what medium your (prospective) clients are heading to next.

The difficulty, of course, is justifying the time and money spent in such pursuits. This is the dreaded ROI of social media issue that so many marketers must unfortunately deal with. Here is a slideshow from Gary on the topic:

What’s the Point?

With his brother AJ, Gary has established an incredibly successful social and digital media marketing agency called VaynerMedia that caters primarily to large enterprise companies. VaynerMedia’s value proposition isn’t so much about the content produced, as much as it is helping brands understand the context within which it exists.

During the brief Q and A following Gary’s talk, one gentleman mentioned probably the number one topic on everyone’s mind. (PCBC is a builder’s convention, so everyone in the room is connected to the real estate/construction industry in some manner.) Here is roughly what he said:

Let’s say I want to connect with the president of Wells Fargo. I don’t think he is sharing what he ate on Twitter or SnapChatting away with his friends. So how am I going to reach him?

To which Gary replied, “what were you planning to do—take out a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal hoping that he’ll see it?” Then Gary told a story about how he and the VaynerMedia team landed a multi-million dollar contract with an executive that was fairly old, and definitely not a big social media user. However, this executive’s children were active on social media and VaynerMedia targeted content at them with the hope that they would in turn share it with the old man.

The gentlemen in the audience asking the question then said to Gary, “that story was worth the price of admission for this whole conference,” and then walked away.


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Gary Vaynerchuk on stage at PCBC 2014

My father did a remodel of a piano and organ store when I was around six years old. As a bonus for his work, he received a discount on piano lessons for me. I never enjoyed playing the piano very much, but it served as a gateway drug that kept me hooked on music for many years.

One of the things that I recall about the piano store were the big grand pianos. Having watched my dad do a variety of woodworking projects, I could appreciate the craftsmanship of those instruments, even as a first-grader.

Steinway is widely considered to be the greatest manufacturer of pianos in the world. A top-of-the-line model can easily reach six figures. Unsurprisingly, Steinway doesn’t sell a lot of grand pianos. But when they do sell a piano, Steinway definitely knows how to make the most of it.

Mark Buckshon, of Construction Marketing Ideas explains:

What if you are selling a high-ticket item to a difficult-to-reach audience like an $80,000 grand piano? How does Steinway push beyond campaign towards action? When you buy a grand piano from Steinway, they will stage a private concert in your home. According to author Joseph Pine it comes with all the trimmings. Steinway helps with invitations, serves wine and hors d’oeuvres, provides valet parking and brings in a professionally trained concert pianist. It creates an experience for its customers. And you know that’s the best that piano will ever sound in the home. Pine spoke to a Steinway customer who had held a concert. Two of his friends bought a Steinway afterward.

Stacked like cordwood…

We bought an inexpensive Casio keyboard this year for me to teach my kids how to read and play music. Target had a deal on them during the holidays and there were dozens of these things stacked together as a sort of makeshift display case.

I forget how much I paid for the keyboard, but I do know that I priced out similar models at Amazon, Costco, Toys ‘R Us and elsewhere before making the purchase. It was truly a commodity purchase.

What’s the Point?

When selling consulting and other professional services, many companies make the mistake of pricing those services as a commodity. As Buckshon explains:

Consider that many of us are in fact “selling a high-ticket item to a difficult-to-reach audience”. The owners and decision-makers for AEC services can be difficult to reach, that is for sure, and even for simple residential work, the fees are high enough that most families would only think of calling on our services rarely.

So the lesson when selling premium professional services, in my opinion, is to treat clients to a true experience. Perhaps a concert with wine and hors d’oeuvres is a little much, but you get the point.

Source: Construction Marketing Ideas

Postscript:

If you are interested in learning more about how Steinways are made, there is an excellent documentary that was aired by PBS called, Note by Note


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Image courtesy Alexis Fam

In discussing websites, blogs, and professional branding with many of the professionals and business leaders that I advise, there is a phenomenon that I have observed, which I call Brian’s Paradox. The basic concept is this: Your website or blog probably won’t make you any more money – there is no guarantee that you will increase business, or even necessarily be able to calculate a clear Return On Investment (ROI). However, without a decent-looking, responsive (mobile-friendly), regularly updated online destination for you and your firm, you are going to work much harder to close deals.

This idea, that an effective web presence has more of an indirect benefit, is a topic that some folks I respect greatly have recently written about. Let’s take a look…

Matt Mullenweg: Bloggers make money because of their blog, not necessarily from it

As the fearless leader of the company behind WordPress (arguably the best blogging software there is), Matt Mullenweg obviously has some opinions on the value of blogging. In an interview with LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman, Mullenweg says that successful bloggers earn money because of their blog, not necessarily from their blog. Here is the full 50-minute video:

Kevin O’Keefe: Blogging is about relationships and reputation

The video above was shared by Kevin O’Keefe in a blog post he wrote called, Non-monetary benefits from blogging are greater than the monetary. O’Keefe is someone that I credit with having more to do with mainstream acceptance of blogging in the legal industry than any other single person, through his company, LexBlog.

In his article, he makes the following points:

Much like authoring a book or speaking at a conference, blogging is a reputation enhancer. You don’t make a lot of money from either (unless you’ve achieved star status). You make money because of being an author and speaking…

Blog because you have passion, care, expertise, and a desire to share not for immediate gain. By doing so you can achieve a lifetime of significant earnings doing the type of work you love for the type of clients you want to represent.

More recently, O’Keefe took apart some perhaps misguided statements about the value of social media made by a “Legal SEO Consultant” in his post, Social media for business development by lawyers is a big lie? (Considering the negative reputation lawyers have going all the way back to Shakespeare, and the nasty reputation that most SEO consultants have, a mortician seems like a livelier guest at a dinner party than a Legal SEO Consultant, but I digress…)

The best lawyers get their best work from relationships and a strong word of mouth reputation. Not advertising or overt marketing. It’s always been the case and always will be the case.

It was true before legal marketing was permitted in 1974. It was true before the advent of the Internet in the mid-nineties.

Putting blogging and the entire social media “thing” in context for professionals, he says:

Social is all about relationships and reputation. If you’re not not nurturing relationships online, you’re going to lose opportunities for business. If you’re not building a reputation online that’s the equal of your offline reputation, you’re not getting that reputation in front of a lot of people that matter.

Chris Brogan: I’m not into social media – I’m into people and businesses

Another person who looms large in the blogging and social media space is Chris Brogan, author of several great books (speaking of which, he has a new one called The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth: Entrepreneurship for Weirdos, Misfits, and World Dominators) and someone who just can’t seem to shake off the label of “social media.”

In his recent post, Shaking Off the Social Media Label, Brogan writes:

I don’t care about Klout. I find things like Facebook security updates boring. It doesn’t matter much how many people do or don’t follow me. None of that’s interesting. What’s endlessly interesting to me are human stories and businesses that treat people like they matter.

By treating “people like they matter,” it helps to build trust. Trust is the basis of any relationship, but is especially important when it comes to handing over our or our company’s hard-earned cash. Together with the amazing Julien Smith, Brogan wrote a previous treatise on the role of trust in business and how to build it in Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust

Mitch Joel: Trust. It’s what it all comes down to.

Founder of Canadian digital marketing agency, Twist Image, Mitch Joel is a blogger, podcaster and also the author of two different books. The first, Six Pixels of Separation deals with the fact that all people and businesses are connected in one way or another to all others online. His newest book, Ctrl Alt Delete, recommends that businesses and the people behind them reboot, and reassess their strategy in the wake of unprecedented change in the marketplace in order to remain relevant in the future.

In a recent post, Joel asks, Who do you really trust?

Trust is everything. Whenever I think about trust, I think about something that my dear friend, Jeffrey Gitomer, would often say in his public sales presentations: “All things being equal, people will do business with those that they know, like and trust. All things being unequal, people will do business with those that they know, like and trust.” Trust is a topic that isn’t approached or appreciated nearly enough in the business world, especially if you consider how important it is.

The statement above is how Joel introduces a video of David DeSteno speaking at Google on the topic of Trust, below:

What’s the Point?

Your website, blog, Twitter feed, Facebook page, Google+ placeholder, or other artefact of your online presence, won’t likely make you any more money, but without it, you’re going to have to work a lot harder to close the deal with prospective clients. Why?

Trust.

Your clients hire you because they trust that you are going to improve their situation. They trust that you will have their best interests in mind. They trust that you know what you are doing and have the expertise to accomplish the task at hand.

Social media gives you an opportunity to demonstrate who you are to facilitate the trust-building process. But it is just a tool, in the same way that your computer and phone are tools.

Anyways, that’s my take. What are your thoughts?


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The challenge to building any business, especially when offering consulting or other professional services, is to establish a consistent and steady stream of work. Too often, the ebb and flow of a given marketplace becomes a cycle of feast or famine. Days or weeks without work producing revenue leads to marathon round-the-clock sessions when work does come in. The lack of balance—and with it, reliable revenue— is enough to drive any consultant (and their loved ones) crazy.

One of the problems with the so-called feast or famine cycle is its impact on our ability as business leaders to make decisions. During the lean times, we become more willing to lower our standards just to bring some work in the door. During the busy times, we work ourselves to the bone knowing that another famine is just around the corner.

Since going out on my own a little over six months ago, with the formal launch of both BLHill Inc. and mending wall (sg), I too have been caught in the feast and famine cycle. (In case you are wondering why there haven’t been very many posts lately, now you know.)

There’s only so much time in the day to handle client service, administrivia, marketing, and the demands of life. And it’s easier to focus on the work right in front of you than to find the mental bandwidth to think about the future.

The trap is that consultants get so immersed in delivering value to their current clients that marketing takes a back seat. When you don’t actively market your services, you unintentionally sow the seeds of famine. If you allow your market visibility to ebb, the result is a dwindling sales pipeline once your current projects end—which they always do.

The above quote is from Michael W. McLaughlin, who co-authored Guerrilla Marketing for Consultants: Breakthrough Tactics for Winning Profitable Clients with the late Jay Conrad Levinson, has some insight into this topic. In fact, his blog used to be called Beating Feast or Famine.

So how do you move beyond the feast or famine cycle?

Here are McLaughlin’s four tips for beating the feast or famine cycle:

  1. Create a Plan You Can Stick to
  2. Build a Marketing Road Map
  3. Be Consistent
  4. Allocate Marketing Resources Effectively

What’s the Point?

As consultants, our value comes from our ability to improve our client’s situation. Without clients, not only are we unable to create value, but we are also unable to put food on the table. The best way to bring in more work is to to position oneself as a thought leader, and demonstrate value to prospective clients.

In other words, through lean times and busy times, regardless of the ebb and flow of the marketplace, the job of a consultant is to consistently produce content of value.

A lesson that I continue to learn the hard way…


Link: Four Tips to Beat Feast or Famine

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Image courtesy spyderball

Personally, I am a big proponent of content marketing for establishing trust, building credibility and offering potential clients an opportunity to see what they can expect. In the past several months, Content Marketing (emphasis on the capital letters to imply something very important) has reached critical mass, leading some pundits to declare 2014 as the year of Content Marketing.

The concern that I and others have is that this is going to lead to the same types of shenanigans that we witnessed during the rise and fall of SEO, or search engine optimization. For many so-called “content marketing gurus,” the goal is quantity, not quality. Good content works, but bad content actually can harm a brand worse than no content at all.

Putting Content into Context

Content marketing is a tactic – a means to an end. In the same way that cereal is “part of a balanced, nutritious breakfast.”

Bruce McDuffee, writing for the Content Marketing Institute, had the following to say:

Implementing content marketing tactics (or social media tactics, or any communication practice, for that matter) without first preparing a strategic marketing plan is like building a house with no blueprint. Adding rooms (marketing tactics) on a whim without an understanding of how each room supports the overall structure (business goals), the purpose of each room (objectives), and how you will decide if the room is successful (measurement) is a recipe for disaster at worst, and for sub-par performance even in the best-case scenario…

One of the tangible benefits of documenting a strategic marketing plan is that it drives collaboration among all stakeholders, which helps align the various functions. In addition, the process of writing the plan helps position the marketing department (and its personnel) as legitimate business partners — as opposed to being perceived as a service center that simply reacts to one request after another…
Creating the marketing plan is not just an exercise to be done once and then put on the virtual shelf. It is a living, dynamic document that should be referred to on a regular basis and updated as conditions or situations change.

Link: Content Marketing Institute

What’s the Point?

As I wrote before (and still firmly believe), the job of a consultant (or any professional service provider) is to produce content of value. The goal of that strategy is to position yourself as an expert and thought leader. The best way to accomplish that goal—the secret to a successful content marketing strategy—is to provide the proper context for the content you are producing.

Or put another way, there is no point wasting time or money producing a piece of content unless you can answer the question, “What’s the point?”

For some more insight on content marketing strategy, and the importance of context, I recommend the following books that I am currently reading:

Matt Mullenweg, the genius behind WordPress, is a very cool guy. (Besides his penchant for renting awesome cars while on the road promoting WordPress, and long-time love of America’s most important art form, he has done a lot of amazing things for other people, as evidenced by this profile by the Houston Chron – his hometown paper.)

While social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, etc., etc. get so much mindshare in today’s world, one might get the impression that blogging is somehow less valuable or important. Personally, I do think that the various social networks add tremendous value by fostering additional mediums for communication, but my own blogs are much more valuable and important to me than all those other networks combined.

Mullenweg certainly has a vested interest in the future of blogging as founder (and not to mention, “chief barbecue taste tester”) of Automattic Inc., the company behind WordPress, which powers 18.9% of the internet and is the de facto standard platform for blogging content management systems. Regardless of any potential biases, his recent post on the intrinsic value of blogging really resonated with me.

Here are some standout quotes:

Blogging is harder than it used to be. We’ve gotten better at counting and worse at paying attention to what really counts. Every time I press Publish the post is publicized to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Path, and Google+, each with their own mechanisms for enumerating how much people like it…

There is no predictable connection to the effort and thought you put into something and the response it receives, and every experienced blogger has a story of something they spend a few minutes on and toss out casually going viral, a one-hit wonder that makes your stats in future months and years puny in comparison.

He goes on:

The antidote I’ve found for this is to write for only two people. First, write for yourself, both your present self whose thinking will be clarified by distilling an idea through writing and editing, and your future self who will be able to look back on these words and be reminded of the context in which they were written.

Second, write for a single person who you have in mind as the perfect person to read what you write, almost like a letter, even if they never will, or a person who you’re sure will read it because of a connection you have to them (hi Mom!).

Beautiful.

Whether you already have your own blog, or you are still on the fence about whether or not it is worth getting started when it may feel so late in the game, so to speak, I recommend giving Mullenweg’s full post a read. I got something out of it, and I continue to get a lot out of blogging — even when my mom is the only one reading!

Link: The Intrinsic Value of Blogging


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Image courtesy LeWeb3

Writing for OpenForum, Dorie Clark posted a great rundown of small steps people can take in just a few minutes each day to improve their business:

We all know we should devote more time to building our brands, both personal and corporate. Blogging, tweeting or becoming the president of the professional association would all be great … if only we had more time. Instead, as Stephen Covey once described, we often focus on the short-term urgent—the ringing phone, the overflowing inbox—instead of the important, long-range activities that will pay dividends down the road.

Investing in your brand is important for every small-business owner, but it doesn’t have to be an onerous process. In fact, if you spend just 10 minutes a day—and do it consistently—you’ll rapidly begin to see real benefits.

Tips include:

  1. Engage with others through social media
  2. Produce a simple video
  3. Interview an expert in your field

Via: OpenForum

Since 2009, Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute has been offering predictions for content marketing trends in the coming year. In terms of farther reaching possibilities, here are his top three predictions for 2014:

  1. Microsoft will buy one, maybe two, media companies in certain industries. The outcome of these moves will pave the way for further media purchases throughout the year by non-media companies.
  2. Red Bull will announce a series of daredevil movies to be produced by Amazon.com.
  3. At least three Fortune 500 brands will hire a Chief Content Officer.

    Below is a slideshow with all 50 of Content Marketing Institute’s 2014 predictions:

    You can also download an eBook: 2014 Content Marketing Predictions eBook [PDF]

    Via Content Marketing Institute

    As the old saying goes, “failing to plan is planning to fail.” Without even just a business plan, let alone an ongoing process of strategic planning, most businesses don’t stand a chance. This is often plainly visible when looking at failed companies. Unfortunately, a lot of professional services firms focus too much on delivering professional services, but not enough on running a successful business.

    If this sounds familiar, you might want to check out an upcoming free webinar.

    Michael Zipursky is a consultant’s consultant, coach, and the author of several books, in addition to his very successful blog, Consulting Success. As a subscriber to his awesome newsletter, I received an announcement about an upcoming webinar Zipursky is doing with Hugh Culver.

    The event is called Focus Planning – How to increase your productivity, get more done and make 2014 your best year yet. The event takes place in just a couple days on Wednesday, December 18 at 9:00 AM PST, so you’ll want to register soon. From the announcement:

    Join Hugh Culver and Mike Zipursky for a one-time free 45 min webinar “Focus Planning – How to increase your productivity, get more done and make 2014 your best year yet.”

    Here is what we are covering:

    • How to avoid the planning mistakes most entrepreneurs make.
    • Five ways to break old assumptions and think big.
    • The secret of a one-page business plan.
    • Step by step instructions for creating your best plan ever.

    Link: Focus Planning Registration

    The Consumerist has a nice round-up of the seven reasons that recently deceased Cal Worthington won’t likely be forgotten any time soon:

    For anyone growing up in California, it’s likely that you saw used-car impresario Cal Worthington and his dog Spot imploring shoppers to “Go see Cal.” And if you didn’t, your local salesman probably lifted a few tips from him. One of the most famous, wackiest of wacky car commercial salesmen, Worthington passed away on Sunday at age 92, prompting an outpouring of nostalgic tributes.

    Here is one of my favorite of his commercials:

    via consumerist.com

    Postscript…

    Both my wife and I remember the lyrics growing up as, “Pussy cow, pussy cow, pussy cow,” instead of, “Go see Cal…”

    When I was younger, two great mysteries always evaded me:

    1. What does the letter “ellemeno” look like?
    2. What is the difference between a pussy cow and a regular cow?