Let Your Freak Flag Fly: How to Generate a Magnetic Brand Experience

Editor’s Note: I’m thrilled to bring you the wisdom of Christa Chambers-Price as a new contributor to Beyond Startup. She helps companies gain traction by truly distinguishing themselves, expertly guiding them through a process she created: the Business Storyboard Generator Canvas. Christa has a keen sense of what’s unique about a business and has a talent for encouraging the kind of bravery that unlocks new opportunities. Plus, she’s got a great sense of humor. Enjoy!

heres-to-the-crazy-onesShhh… Hey, gather around…

I recently learned that Catherine Juon was a marathon runner. Maybe I’m late to the party but WHAT?! A MARATHON RUNNER! I had three reactions to this interesting piece of news that she just casually threw out in an email.

One: I now understand why she has that freaky, Jedi calm demeanor that masks a fierce competitor.

Two: I honestly did not feel a hint of jealously because I recently celebrated running for one minute on the treadmill at Planet Fitness. (I immediately treated myself to the fabulous whole body massage vibrating machine for 12 minutes. YEAH!)

Three: I went to her website immediately but didn’t “see” this fabulousness there either anecdotally or directly. I have to admit, I felt let down. The natural correlation of her marathon training to the patience and discipline required to manage a 12-24 month SEO or digital marketing campaign is striking.

[Pause for a confession] I have mad respect for Catherine Juon and I think that the brilliant color of her red hair is directly responsible for the leaf changes in Michigan. Just look up next time you’re outside and say, ‘There goes that Catherine again, showing off.’ So, everything I’m sharing is done with the utmost respect and admiration. I want the world to know not just what she can do, but why she’s the one to do it.

That’s the stuff behind her brand that can draw people in and keep them there. That’s the…wait for it…the story of Catherine Juon. But, she must tell that story.

Catherine is just one of literally thousands of examples where we as entrepreneurs literally lead with the product or service we’re offering. When we lead with product, we voluntarily jump into an extremely crowded, noisy box of “That’s similar to …”, “I can do that..”, or worse “What did you say something?” Sally Hogshead, author of “How the World Sees You”, describes these three beasts of burden as:

  • Distraction
  • Competition
  • Commoditization

Sally writes: “Distraction is a jealous mistress… it lures people away from you and your message. Competition can lead you down the wrong path, leaving you stuck playing someone else’s game. Finally, if distraction is the jealous mistress, commoditization is the silent assassin, permeating your relationships with complacency transforming you into a generic replica.”

So, how do you win and overcome these beasts of burden? It’s simple. Build a powerful narrative that leverages your secret sauce: You.

Build a powerful narrative that leverages your secret sauce: You.

Your journey which include all of the victories and defeats, tears, fears and regrets are relatable and key to building an authentic experience. It’s life. Robert McKee from the Harvard Business Review writes, “Self-knowledge is the root of all great storytelling. The more you understand your own humanity, the more you can appreciate the humanity of others in all their good-versus-evil struggles… Great storytellers are skeptics who understand their own masks as well as the masks of life, and this understanding makes them humble. They see the humanity in others and deal with them in a compassionate, yet realistic way. That duality makes for a wonderful leader.”

Finding your story (the right one) is not easy to do, especially, when the first thing that comes to mind is, “I have so many stories, examples, etc. Where do I start?” Start with one that conveys the clearest and most relevant experience that explains what drives you to do what you do and the way that you do it.  Keep building your narrative from there. Next time, we’ll explore how to take that narrative and connect it with what inspires your top three fans.

In the meantime, do two things for me: 1) Own Your Advantage: YOU and 2) let your freak flag fly, love! Trust me. The world will be a better place if you do. Stay fabulous. 

Christa
The Business Story Generator
@bizstorydiva

Giving Your SWOT More Swagger, Part 2

giving-your-SWOT-more-swaggerLast week, I talked about some of the challenges with SWOT assessments, and at its heart, the issue comes down to (a) being as specific as possible, and (b) finding useful insights about your company.

Let me give you some Before and After examples from recent SWOTs that I’ve done with clients to illustrate what a good SWOT looks like.

Before:  “Our people” (strength)

After:  “Our skills at designing administrative processes” (strength) and “Our lack of sales skills” (weakness)

How the insight and specificity helped:  These insights led the company to (a) use their administrative excellence as a differentiator in their marketing, and (b) identify the need for sales training.  Those actions, in turn, increased their gross margins by improving their marketing and sales.

Before:  “Our brand” (weakness)

After:  “Our deep understanding of our customers” (strength), “Our passion for solving engineering problems” (strength), “How we communicate the value we create for customers” (weakness), “Our marketing budget relative to our competitors” (weakness)

How the insight and specificity helped:  These insights led the company to (a) invest in a brand strategy, (b) increase their marketing budget, and (c) get the help they needed from the outside.  Those actions, in turn, increased their gross margin, increased their revenue, and lowered their customer acquisition costs, because they were clearer about their offerings and messaging with prospects.

So, when you’re doing your SWOT, the question to ask yourself is, “Does it give us insight into where we should commit significant resources over the next 3 years to improve our chances of success?”

The question to ask yourself about your SWOT is, “Does it give us insight into where we should commit significant resources over the next 3 years to improve our chances of success?”  If it doesn’t, then here are some ideas for upgrading it.

  • Talk more.  Insights and specifics come from digging and sharing ideas, and that comes from talking.
  • Have each department do a SWOT.  Because departments often focus on internal issues, make sure that every department has 5-10 bullets that are focused on the external environment.  Also have the CEO do a SWOT separate from the others; this provides the broader and longer view.  Once you have all those SWOTs, roll them up into a single SWOT by having people vote on the top bullets from across all of them.
  • If you have a SWOT from a previous year, force your team to come up with at least 5 new bullets that have changed from the previous one.
  • Have people do SWOTs for other departments – have sales do the operations one, and have finance do the sales one.
  • Have your outside advisors give their input.
  • Get a strategy consultant to help – the more SWOTs you do, the better at it you become…so get the help of someone with more experience than you.

Any strategy process gets its value by digging deeper than usual, because that’s where new and unexpected insights come from.  A SWOT shouldn’t just capture what you think about the business; a good SWOT should change how you think about it.

Giving your SWOT more swagger, part 1

giving_your_SWOT_more_swaggerI like SWOT assessments (you know – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) for getting people’s thinking out of the day-to-day and into a creative, strategic “space.”  Unfortunately, I often see SWOT assessments that are just marginally useful.

Here are some tips on how to get more value out of your SWOTs.

If you can take a bullet and put it on someone else’s SWOT without changing it, then you’re not specific enough.  One of the favorites to put under Strengths is “Our People”… which is also a good example of a bullet that is not specific enough to be useful in the planning process.  What is it about your people?  Their experience?  Their deep knowledge?  Their ability to be generalists?  Once I know what’s special about your people, then I can create some possibilities about how to leverage that into a better advantage.

Work hard to look at the future.  We live our lives in the day-to-day, so it’s hard to look ahead several years.  And that’s why it’s an advantage to do – because most people don’t.

Put “the hard stuff” on the list.  Every business has issues that it doesn’t like to talk about.  The problem customer.  The problem owner.  The problem staffer.  Without knowing the details, I can tell you that those issues consume a large amount of resources.  So they need to be on your SWOT – though it will probably take some diplomatic phrasing.  (For example:  “Some customers are easier to work with than others,” “Owners are not always aligned on decisions,” and “Spotty follow-through.”)

Make sure you have bullets that cover the whole breadth of the areas you’re involved in.  Often, leadership teams focus more on certain areas, and that bias comes through on the SWOT.  But the non-focus areas are often the places where there is the most opportunity, especially for companies that are developing from the lean-and-mean start-up to a more complete and sustainable enterprise.

So, here’s the question to ask about your SWOT to see if you’re getting the value out of it:  “Does it give us insight into where we should commit significant resources over the next 3 years to improve our chances of success?”  If it gives you that, then you’re getting the value you should.  If it doesn’t, then you should take steps to upgrade it – which I’ll cover in my post next week.

New Blog: Weekly Marketing Tips for Second Stage Entrepreneurs

Online_marketing_tips_and_tricksWe’re sharpening the focus of content here on Beyond Startup to better help you, second stage entrepreneurs, connect to the resources you need for growth. Now you can chose what content is most important to you:

What to expect next week:

  • On Beyond Startup: Dave Haviland gives your SWOT more swagger.
  • In marketing tips, learn how “Buy now!” trigger finger is hurting your sales, and what to do about it.

Subscribe now, and we’ll chat more later. Happy 4th!

-Catherine

P.S. Check out last weeks marketing blog on sharpening your story, including info on a SE Michigan workshop designed to improve your story and increase your sales.

Find Your Second Stage Peers at the Small Giants Summit

Inc. Small Giants Community LogoWhen I was running an company that was in the middle of growing from 10 to 20 people, there were plenty of times it seemed like there ought to be someone I could talk to that could provide some helpful been there / done that kind of direction.

Except that we had “outgrown” much of the incubator / economic development / small business administration kind of support that was geared to startups, and well, we never found the perfect fit with consultants. (That irony is not lost on me, now that I’m in the business of doing consulting!) This is not to say that we didn’t get some great advice for which I am still grateful, it just didn’t always seem to “fit” the culture/company we wanted to create.

Enter the book “Small Giants: Companies that Chose to be Great, not Big” by Bo Burlingham. Reading it was a breath of fresh air. It was incredibly encouraging to read the stories of several companies choosing to beat to a different drum, and still managing to be very successful. It also helped to be familiar with one of the companies, our hometown Zingerman’s. It made the book more meaningful than a bunch of abstract case studies, having experienced the culture and success of one of the companies first hand.

All this made deciding to go to the first Small Giants gathering a proverbial no-brainer. And I’ve been to almost every gathering since, from Washington DC to Germany and San Francisco. Now that they’re practically going to be in my backyard (Chicago), ironically I don’t have the same need to be there. But maybe you do, and that’s why I’m writing today.

As a second stage business owner / operations person, my job was to figure out how to get from here to there. I’m not a big fan of re-inventing the wheel, but some days it felt like we were. When the traditional b-school stuff doesn’t seem to fit, what else can you do?

Go hang out with other Small Giants.

You’ll meet the guy, Bo, who wrote the book and figured out that there are common threads between Small Giants. You’ll meet the guy, Paul, whose passion brought people with a Small Giants mindset from all over the globe together. You’ll meet other people in very similar situations, struggling with similar issues, and you’ll have chances to brainstorm and help each other. Chance are, you’ll make some great new friends along the way.

Of course, there are plenty of less expensive opportunities that don’t require travel to make new friends and swap stories, so here’s why I kept going back. Every year, I left the Small Giants Summit inspired with new things to try. Things that were new to me, but already working in other, quite similar, companies. Along with an open invitation to pick up the phone if I ran into further questions along the way. No more reinventing the wheel. And that, well, that was priceless. If the book Small Giants resonates with you, I promise you you’ll get your ROI on this conference.

Sign up before July 7th for early bird pricing – and save $150 with the code “SGPeer”. See the full schedule and register here: Small Giants Summit.

And say “Hi” to Bo and Paul for me when you’re there!

Is HubSpot Your Silver Bullet?

Ann Arbor HubSpot User Group LogoFind out if HubSpot is your silver bullet at the Ann Arbor HubSpot User Group meeting on the evening of June 24th. I’ll share the key to transforming your online marketing, and (spoiler alert!) it doesn’t require HubSpot, or even $1 from your over-burdened marketing budget.

I know it’s easy to get lost in the ever-changing sea of tools designed  to help with your online marketing, and even easier to get bogged down in the daily grind. With all that churn going on, it’s not unusual to catch your breath at some point and wonder – where should I really be investing my time? What would make the most impact?

We’ll answer those questions and more at the Ann Arbor HubSpot User Group meeting,  which will be held from 5:30-7:00 pm at The Whole Brain Group office at 315 E. Eisenhower Pkwy, Suite 300, in Ann Arbor.

Please register if you plan to attend – space is limited.

See you there!

 

Oh, Dearest Bounce Rate, How do I Love Thee… NOT!

Do bounce rates matter?If there was one metric I could take out of Google Analytics, it would be Bounce Rate. I am quite certain it has sent more people down fruitless rabbit holes than most other metrics combined.

Bounce Rate is simply not useful when you’re just getting started optimizing your online marketing. Yet “How do I fix my bounce rate?” or “Should I worry about my bounce rate?” are two of the most eternal questions in online marketing.

Granted, I don’t fault anyone who asks, because the system is practically designed to elicit those very questions:

  • Bounce Rates are usually quite high,
  • A high bounce rate evokes a visceral reaction as being “bad”
  • Google has featured the stat as one of only 4 key numbers on the Google Analytics login page.

Considering those factors, t’s quite logical to conclude that Bounce Rate is something that needs to be worked on. My advice? Don’t. If I were making a list of 100 things to work on in your online marketing, it wouldn’t even make the list at 101. Try thinking about it this way:

“Whatever will be, will be. Bounce Rate is irrelevant. It’s all about Conversion Rate.”

 

Handily enough, one of the other four stats featured on your Google Analytics home page is Goal Conversion Rate. Perhaps because this number defaults to “0”, and isn’t named something that “sounds bad” like “bounce”, it gets virtually no attention. [Usability friends, take note – Google Analytics could use a hand here.]

Ultimately, online marketing exists to help make sales. You make more sales when you maximize the micro-transactions that lead up to the sale. The key to maximizing the micro-transactions is measuring them; then taking action to improve the numbers.

“Get your conversion rates to rock, and sales will follow.”

 

The funny thing is, you’d be surprised how many otherwise successful companies haven’t yet bothered to do their conversion rate homework. Lucky for you if they’re in your industry – you just found a way to level up – and maybe even get ahead.

Hopefully you’re sufficiently intrigued, because it will take some work to get the system of measurement set up, and even more work to optimize it. Fortunately, Glenn Gabe wrote a nice article in Search Engine Journal summarizing the steps here: A beginner’s guide to conversion goals in Google Analytics.

Glenn walks you through what to measure in Lesson 1, various goal types in Lesson 2 (Hint: the only one you need to start with is Event Tracking) and touches on analysis in lesson 3. While I’d take a slightly different approach in analysis (his is more of a list of what’s possible vs. how to approach analysis), Lessons 1 & 2 are solid.

As with so much of online marketing, half the battle is knowing what’s important. Even if you never logged into Google Analytics again, going through the process of setting up Conversion Goals will be a useful exercise. Once you understand what people come to your site to do, and turn your focus to helping them achieve their goals as easily as possible, you’re well on the road to online marketing success.

Happy Goal Tracking!

Do I need salesforce.com as a CRM for my second stage company?

Cartoon viking with a big hammerDo you need salesforce.com? Probably not.

For 9 out of 10 businesses I talk to, salesforce.com is “too much club”. Yet it has become so ubiquitous that many small businesses feel obligated to adopt it. The process usually goes something like this:

Someone speaks very highly of salesforce.com (or has used it in another context) + it’s a “known entity” + it’s easy to sign up = Viola! Simple, quick decision on which Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to adopt.

Generally, that’s a reasonable formula – I’m a firm believer that one of the best tests for how something works comes from the experience of similar companies. However, this is one of those cases that is the exception to the rule. I’ve watched enough companies experience enough pain to be compelled to start my own public service campaign about “right-sizing your CRM”. Here’s why.

A CRM that is “too much club” causes all sorts of issues, the most problematic of which seems like it would be cost, but really it’s the complexity that kills you slowly. Suffice it say that salesforce.com does a great job of making it sound like it can do everything under the sun – and it basically can – with enough elbow-grease, IT know-how, upgrades, and add-ons.

On the other hand, what are some good cases for using salesforce.com? The #1 reason to use salesforce.com:  If you truly have a sales force. In other words, it’s really designed for larger teams of sales people. Many startups and second stage companies don’t have a Sales Manager and a Sales Team – more often, the sales “team” is a single sales person supported by technicians and others as needed. In these cases, salesforce.com is typically too much club.

Choosing the “right-size” CRM in those situations means selecting for a couple of things:

  • Something simple, that actually gets used, and doesn’t get in the way of getting things done.
  • Something inexpensive, so you can invest the bulk of your marketing funds in reaching out to customers and growing your business.

If not salesforce.com, then what? Glad you asked. There are a dizzying array of CRMs out there, and I don’t claim to know them all. However, I have played with enough different CRM systems to have a couple of favorites.

Zoho will look familiar to anyone that has used Salesforce.com – it’s a very close cousin. Why do I like it? It meets both my criteria: simple and cheap. It had only 6 “tabs” (much like salesforce.com only had 3 when I first started using it 15 years ago) and it’s FREE for the basic team edition which includes 3 people. You can export data if needs change and you truly need a more sophisticated system later, so it’s not an irrevocable decision. It does have a few quirks, though I am willing to forgive them for something that’s free and provides a simple and clean pipeline view.

Membrain is the option I’d recommend for companies who need more full-featured functionality along the lines of salesforce.com. It’s typically more expensive than salesforce.com if you’ve only got a few users, as you pay up front for configuration.  However, it’s worth including as it does a few key things that salesforce.com does not. In particular, Membrain has built in sales automation that ensures the important stuff gets followed up on (you set the criteria) and that unqualified opportunities are automatically left out of the pipeline.

Membrain is also smart about reporting, giving the company a better picture of what opportunities are “real”, while also giving salespeople more time to spend doing sales because they’re not doing busy-work to make reports turn out right. Some of the value this software provides is a little bit sneakier – all that automation is possible because the configuration process forces decision about what criteria is/isn’t qualified, and what actions should be happening during the sales process. Often, one of the things causing issues within sales is a lack of clarity, which tools have a habit of making worse instead of better. Membrain may be the exception to that rule – in a good way.

Hope this helps with your CRM decision. Holler if you have any questions or want more specific examples!

Sorry, but HubSpot is not “the” Answer

miracle_cure_pillAs much as I love HubSpot, it is not a miracle cure. While this may sound blasphemous coming from someone who frequently preaches the wonders of HubSpot in marketing workshops and speaking engagements, I’ve come to realize that HubSpot sounds so cool, and so useful, and so amazing that it’s easy to believe implementing HubSpot will transform your marketing.

Alas, a successful implementation of HubSpot (one that brings you customers either directly, or as leads) takes a lot of groundwork. And I’ll bet you already know that, just as you know that it takes more than an weight-loss pill to shed pounds. Yet weight loss pills continue to fly off the shelves…

Likewise, even the savviest of marketers are susceptible to the enticing siren song of HubSpot. It’s an alluring proposition – with one big caveat: If your marketing model already works great, then yes, it’s reasonable to expect HubSpot to be additive and improve your results. On the other hand, if results aren’t where you want and you (essentially) move your existing marketing model into HubSpot, chances are you’ll be disappointed.

If you’re looking to improve sales and marketing (and who isn’t?!) the greatest value of HubSpot is likely as a “good excuse” to re-evaluate your approach. All the automation and other goodies HubSpot provides work their magic best once you are crystal clear about the big picture, and where HubSpot fits in.

Ideally, before implementing new marketing systems (HubSpot or anything else), you’ll establish these two big picture items:

  1. What are the overall strategic goals of the company, and what are the roles of marketing and sales in supporting those goals? What are the measurable goals you need to hit this year and each quarter to support those goals?
  2. Who is your customer, and how can you replicate the sales process to recruit more, similar customers? What can you do to reach more like-minded people and move them through a process – your online sales engine™ – that guides them to choose you and creates ease in your sales process?

Having watched hundreds of companies go through this process for nearly 20 years now, let me reassure you that is is truly ok if you look at those two items and realize there’s some work to do. It’s the rare company that has all those ducks already in a row – that’s often why marketing and sales are working so hard to gain traction.  If all of these big pictures items were already in place, you likely wouldn’t be reading this article!

Tackling BOTH of these big picture items takes a big commitment, and is one that frankly few companies are deeply committed to.  For those who are, truly amazing things can happen.  If that kind of  work doesn’t sound daunting to you, and you’re willing to explore that journey, here are a couple of places to start:

  1. Creating measurable goals that marketing and sales can support starts with a strong vision of the company’s future. With that in place, you can align the dots to reach the end goal. The Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) is the simplest, most clear way of creating and implementing that framework I’ve personally experienced.
  2. Understanding your customer is more complex than it seems. It’s easy to get caught up in what who we THINK the customer is and what they want and what gets them to buy. Steve Blank has some great thoughts on Customer Discovery, and another helpful resource I’ve recently come across is the Buyer Persona Institute. They offer a useful blog and downloadable ebooks free!

Happy to help if you run into any questions along the way. Good luck!

SE Michigan Event: Create Your Own Personal Board of Directors

Personally, I found joining a mastermind group was the single most valuable investment I made in my business.

If you’ve considered joining a mastermind group and can’t find one near you or one that fits, there’s always the option of creating your own. Mastermind groups tend to serve the role of a “personal” board of directors, vs. a board of advisors which serves your company. (Worth noting: A Board of Directors is a different animal altogether. A Board of Directors is a formal entity with the power to hire and fire a CEO, and is fairly uncommon in early second stage.)

Personally, I found joining a mastermind group was the single most valuable investment I made in my business, so I’m excited to see that the Jackson Inventors Network (JIN) is holding a meeting on the topic tomorrow, April 22nd. It’s called “The Mastermind Group – creating your own personal Board of Directors”. It will be led by Steve Ward who founded and ran Micro-Plastics for 16 years.

As the Inventors Network describes this seminar on their website: “Let’s face it – inventing a product and trying to launch it is a daunting task – anyone who has ever tried knows the feeling that they need guidance and direction. No-one can effectively do it all. The focus of this presentation is on getting the inventor / entrepreneur to recognize and utilize resources within their existing lives that can become valuable trusted advisors necessary to keep them focused, on task and successful.”

Program begins at 6:30. Registration and more information via the Jackson Inventors Network.

For more articles on this topic see “Finding a Sounding Board.”

Entrepreneurship Advice for Second Stage Companies