the one where I’m motivational

I think I’ve met this guy and many others very much like him.

When you’re in marketing, people come to you and want you to help them tell others about their crazy ideas. And sometimes, by the time they want to “slap the marketing on“, they’ve already convinced themselves that their idea is a no-brainer home run winner.

And oftentimes, it’s not.

The guys in Seth’s post reminded me of a guy who has pitched a couple of ideas to me. Each time, he spoke in nothing except hyperbole. He had the best legal team. He has the best business plan. And after he uttered one phrase, I stopped listening to him…

“There’s no way that this can fail”.

Well, there’s always a way that something can fail. You may have a great plan that takes care of everything you can control, but there’s no way to accurately predict and plan for thousands of market variables that you have no control over. Even “foolproof” plans don’t account for things like a giant meteor impact destroying all life on the planet. (hyperbole!)

Some entrepreneurs have not only conditioned themselves to believing that their idea is failure-proof, but they also have trained themselves to ignore those who question the idea. The motivational speakers and books will say not to listen to people who say “no” and will trot out stories about Fred Smith getting a C in college when he described his idea for FedEx (which is not true) or Charles Duell, the commissioner of the patent office, saying in 1899 that “everything that can be invented has been” (also not true)

But, in reality, listening to constructive criticism is a good thing and something that you should seek out. If you really believe in your idea and really think it’s impenetrable, then you should encourage others to try to poke holes in it. Some of the most valuable and least appreciated people on your staff are the Devil’s Advocate and Debbie Downer. They’re keeping your feet on the ground while you’re reaching for the stars.

I’m not trying to kill your idea. I have many crazy ideas of my own. I’m lucky to have people around me that tell me to go for it. But I also have people who can see the problems with my line of thinking.

You should be optimistic and be confident in the possibility of your success. And without a doubt, you have to believe in yourself. If you don’t, no one else will. But you should also be pragmatic and work for your success by making your idea as bulletproof as possible.

Just don’t drink your own Kool-Aid. (or Flavor-Aid)

maslow’s business strategy

I had no blog posts last week. I also had no power. I had no heat. Each day, I fought windmills. Finding a place to keep the family warm. Cleaning up from where the trees crashed into the house and all over the yard. A nightly battle to keep my pipes from freezing — while during the day in an ironic twist — I was also trying to keep a deep freezer and fridge cold.

We’re OK now. The mess has been cleaned up. Appliances are sucking energy off the grid. Insurance people will visit. Life is returning to normal. While there was a part of me that enjoyed the challenge of keeping everything going in less than optimal circumstances, it occupied my entire life last week and other non-essential things got pushed down the list of priorities.

It’s something to keep in mind as we enter what appears to be either a real or perceived downturn in the economy.

You’ve probably heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which basically gives a stairstep / pyramid order of what a human needs to exist and be productive. The base consists of your personal physiological needs and sense of safety. Until those basic needs are met, the higher level functions of creativity, problem solving, and higher level thinking aren’t that strong.

People say that a down economy is a great time to start a business. But, is it?

As people are just trying to keep their heads above water, they may not have what it takes to make a successful venture. Until they have that sense of security and safety, they’ll have a hard time finding the creativity and problem solving skills to start something new.

So just as I’m currently in the process of Y2K-equiping the house for the next time the power goes off — maybe you should start planning your marketing and business plan for a worst case scenario while you’re still snug and secure. The best time to build a lifeboat is before you get in the water.

focus on the wrong things

Most people starting a business spend entirely too much time, energy and money playing house rather than marketing the business. They focus on setting up a corporation, printing business cards, pens, etc. And all that seems like a lot of work and they’re busy. But they’re not in business…not yet.

Here’s how you need to allocate your upfront time:
1% – do I have legal and financial structures in place to do business (copyrights, bank accounts, etc)
49% – Do people want to buy what I’m selling?
50% – Do I have a marketing plan?

You’re not really in business until someone gives you money for what you’re in business for.

the chic entrepreneur

A few months ago, I was contacted by reader Elizabeth Gordon about the possibility of the Shotgun Marketing Blog being a stop on her Virtual Book Tour for her new book, The Chic Entrepreneur.

The Chic Entrepreneur is an entertaining read with lots of great advice for both new business owners as well as businesses that need to rethink their business strategies. I liked that the book is full of case studies and examples that show the points are not just academic, but work in the real world.

Much of it is the same advice you have probably heard before (so why are you not doing it!?), but Elizabeth has repackaged it into this female focused perspective. While the female of the species will see many of the analogies immediately, I (as a man) lost my way at times in the girliness. I’ve seen the book described online as the “Sex in the City” version of a business handbook and I think that’s a fair comparison. (in a good way!)

Over the past few weeks, Elizabeth and I have held an e-mail interview about the book:

Chris: Clearly, the book is geared toward a female audience. Why did you niche it to that market?

Elizabeth: After starting my small business consulting firm in 2005, I noticed a trend among my female clients: they were having similar issues with their businesses because of the ways they formed them and those issues were culminating into one big problem – an inability to grow. Their businesses got to a certain point and then they weren’t able to take them beyond that. Most of my women business owner clients had not scaled their business beyond the stage of successful self-employment, nor did they know how to do so. The more I worked with them, the more I saw the need for a strategy guide that would speak to women’s challenges in being able to leverage their business such that it no longer relied so heavily on their own individual efforts. And I realized that as a young woman business consultant (a near anomaly) I had the unique ability to bring a much needed perspective to the table and could teach these important business lessons in a manner and voice that would speak directly to female entrepreneurs. I am very passionate about the potential that I believe resides in current and emerging female entrepreneurs. I think this sector will be an integral part of a much needed pivotal point in our global economic development. I continue to be excited and energized about what is possible if more women start building businesses using a methodology such as the one I teach in the book, and create inherent assets of value that can flourish economically and lead them personally to greater fulfillment and freedom.

Chris: Can other groups (like men!) benefit from the information in the book?

Elizabeth: Absolutely! The Chic Entrepreneur teaches business lessons through comparisons of Fortune 500 companies and fictional small businesses. While some of the imagery and language might be more appealing to women, the lessons are universal. I have had countless men tell me that they bought the book for their wife, read a couple pages “just to check it out” and ended up reading it cover to cover. The great thing about the field of business is that nearly 85% of all challenges growing businesses face are universal, regardless of industry, ownership makeup, size or structure. Business is business.

Chris: What are some of the challenges that you have personally experienced as a businesswoman that influenced the book?

Elizabeth: When I initially started my business, I was in my twenties. While I’m in my thirties now, I’ve always had a young look, which is a blessing and a curse at times. I had a hard time being taken seriously when I first started. I’ve been told by others that I was too young to own my own business, or had people assume that it must be my husband’s business. It is amazing to me how much those silly but very real presumptions still exist today. Rather than try to fit in with the rest of those in my industry, I choose to emphasize my uniqueness and turn it into a strength. I think an opportunity exists for all of use to turn what could be perceived as negatives into positives.

Like most service businesses, I also had to give some major thought and planning to how I was going to be able to scale my business beyond my own individual efforts. This is the same challenge that holds most female small business owners back from breaking the million-dollar mark and beyond. But while this is challenging, it is certainly very doable when you have a solid methodology as a guide. Once you get your fledging business off the ground and it is sustainable in the short term, turn your attention to building a saleable business model. The next step is defining the personality of the company beyond that of just the personality of the owner and translating that into a branding strategy and a consistent and cohesive image that can permeate all of your activities, materials and communications.

Chris: I think many people dream of starting their own business. Do you think that anyone be an entrepreneur?

Elizabeth: This is a question of repeated debate. It is my personal opinion that the ability to create a business is inherent within all humans. Of course, people vary in the depth of their capabilities in this area. Some people are more natural entrepreneurs than others, just like some people are more natural athletes than others. But I think everyone has it in them, just like we all have the capability for love within us. It’s just a matter of whether it is the right time for you to explore it. A business takes much more than just an idea to begin. Having a plan, a market and a way to reach that market, and enough capital are other important factors to consider before beginning an entrepreneurial journey. A person also must be willing to risk failing in order to succeed in business, a courage or luxury that not everyone has. After creating the flourishing business methodology and applying it to hundreds different businesses, I know from experience that if you set up a business the right way, it doesn’t matter if you’re sixteen or sixty, you can be a successful entrepreneur.

Chris: You discuss the dimensions of a flourishing business in the book. Obviously, I was most interested in the sales/marketing one. What do you think is the biggest problem/challenge that entrepreneurs have with sales/marketing?

Elizabeth: I’m quite passionate about the sales and marketing side of things as well because this is what really drives the growth engine. I think the most difficult part for entrepreneurs is figuring out how to get their message heard by the right people and then getting those people to take action. There is so much out there these days that cutting through the clutter and getting a message in front of the right people continues to be a marketing challenge. However, I also believe that this is where the biggest opportunity lies for those that take advantage of a properly executed web and social media strategy. Getting heard is only the first step though, so it is important not to stop there. Having a compelling message that excites and shows value to the buyer and a motivating pitch that drives someone to take action is critical to the success of your marketing program. Small companies shouldn’t be advertising for branding purposes, all of their marketing efforts need to be results and action oriented.

Chris: You make the points of what to do to market a business in the book. But you also make the points of what NOT to do. What do you think is the biggest mistake that entrepreneurs make in marketing?

Elizabeth: They don’t charge enough. And by “enough” I mean a fair price for the unique value that they’re offering to the marketplace. And this is why you hear so many small business owners bemoaning “I can’t afford to spend a lot of money marketing my business.” You see, your marketing costs, and all of your other overhead costs all need to be factored into your pricing decisions. Most companies don’t spend enough time thinking about the pricing decisions, they just arbitrarily pick a middle ground where they feel comfortable. But you can be far more strategic with your pricing, and you certainly need to make sure that your prices are in line with your overall marketing and business strategy.

Everyone wants to “sell more” but all sales are not created equal. While it may seem logical to slash prices or meet a competitors prices in order to sell more, this is often a mistake and it can lead entrepreneurs to bankruptcy. You see, if you have created a truly unique value for the marketplace, then what you’ve got is different from your competitors, so the price you charge should also be different. If you have a quality product, you shouldn’t undercut the value with discounting or giving away anything for free. This automatically devalues your product or service in the minds of your customers. You want your customers to appreciate all the value that you provide, such that they will repeatedly re-buy from you. So you don’t want to get it in their head that your product or service is not worth its price. People know you get what you pay for. Big luxury companies like Jaguar are not going to lower their prices in a recession just because Carmax is. However, this is the hardest lesson for entrepreneurs to understand and remember when it’s time to close a deal.

Chris: How can entrepreneurs get their marketing message heard?

Elizabeth:I often see entrepreneurs that do what I like to call “Buckshot Marketing.” This is not to be confused with Shotgun Marketing, which I find very useful 🙂 Buckshot marketing is when a business owners sprays out as much material and information as possible without properly branding and thinking of what their message is, what they want consumers to glean from it and where it should go in the future. In the absence of a thought out plan, often in the form of a business plan, I see this kind of spraying of marketing information. And even though it might be high in volume, it is usually low on results. Marketing is speaking to people, specifically consumers. You want to make sure your message is a cohesive story that can be easily read, is appealing to the eye and urges consumers to read more.

Chris: I have found in my consulting and speaking business that businesspeople are always excited and eager about business advice like this. However, when they get back to the daily grind of business, they push it all to the back burner. What advice do you have that might help people actually implement the ideas in the book?

Elizabeth: Form a peer advisory group with other business owners who are in a similar position that you are but in totally different industries. This should be a group that you meet with regularly, that has read and subscribes to the same methodology that you have and that wants to see you succeed. I’ve actually started creating and facilitating these peer advisory groups. Accountability works at the gym and it works in business, too. I meet with my group once a month and we often site my book or the teachings of other well-respected business gurus when we give advice. These people can be a great sounding board and a wealth of ideas and support to keep you on the path to reaching your goals. They will hold you to your tasks by asking you if you accomplished what you wanted since the last meeting and you’ll do the same for them. It can be a very symbiotic relationship that is well worth the investment.

You can read Elizabeth’s Chic Entrepreneur blog here or take a look at the Chic Entrepreneur on Amazon.

Playing House

For many people who are starting a business, the first step of planning involves a call or online order to Lands End for the embroidered shirts.

Their next step is spending gi-normous amounts of cash with lawyers, branding consultants, and setting up accounting systems that have no cash in them.

Sure, you need legal, accounting, and marketing support when you’re in business.

But when are you “in business”?

Easy. It happens when someone gives you money.

Everything else up to that point is just playing house.

Previously:
Marketing a Start-up
No Go Logo

Brioche Eaters

So I’m working with a web designer on a project for a client and I notice there are several glitches on the website when I view it in my browser.

The web designer emails –
“Yes. I’m building and optimizing for “Elite Tech Browser” and I’ll work out the glitches/bugs for the “Browser of the Masses” when I’m finished”

I respond –
“I’ve looked at the webstats of the client’s current site and over 70% of their visitors are using “Browser of the Masses” and over 40% of those people are using an older version of “Browser of the Masses”. While I’m a big fan of “Elite Tech Browser” and use it myself, we need to build and optimize the site for “Browser of the Masses”.

Web Designer comes back with –
“I’ll build it correctly first for “Elite Tech Browser” and then go back to correct the mistakes.” (emphasis added)

Mmmm.

So many times we are hung up on what the market is supposed to do and how people are supposed to act. And we produce products and develop marketing to match those expectations.

That’s a good way to fail.

There are lots of start-up businesses that don’t make it past the first year. Some of that is because they failed to think about marketing early enough. But many of them go out of business because they think that their customers are just like them. And they try to sell what they think the masses need – rather than what the masses want.

I’ve always been on the fence about the old “customer is always right” mantra because in my experience I have found that the customer is wrong quite a bit.

But they do pay the bills. Do what they want and make it easy for them. Don’t try to herd the cattle. Pave the cowpaths.

And don’t be elitist with your marketing and your customer base.

Yes. They’re using an inferior browser. They’re shopping at big box stores. They buy crap to eat.
So build your website so it’s at least functional in a crappy browser on dial-up, stock your stuff at Wally-World, and put out a plate of Slim Jims and Twinkies.

And never think – “S’ils n’ont plus de pain, qu’ils mangent de la brioche.”

You’ll never get a-head that way.