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Getting Un-Stuck: A Game Plan You Can Stick To

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My son is an extremely passionate and dedicated baseball player. He plays travel ball for a local little league team. He is in his glory as he stands at the plate waiting for his pitch. I can see that sense of accomplishment and pride he feels when the hard work pays off.

Of course, not all the games go that way.  

There was one summer where the game never seemed to go his way. Every at-bat, something was off. He couldn’t make contact with the ball. Each game he moved further and further down in the batting order until there was no place left but the bench. He was angry, frustrated and unable to figure out the problem let alone fix it. He was in a slump.  

The real issue was that he was trying to identify physical problems but wasn’t addressing the mental problems.  

The slump, although it could have started with as a mechanical issue, had manifested in his mind making it impossible to pull out of it.

As marketers, we face a multitude of pressures as we try to adapt to consumer behavior and new technologies while simultaneously seeking out new opportunities and new solutions to customer problems.   

A hard look at the marketing game

Our industries change dramatically from one year to the next—strategies that once worked well no longer yield the same results and we find ourselves in a constant cycle of adapt or die.

Now that’s a lot of pressure. There are times it can be stressful and even scary to figure out our strategy again and again. To continually push to be one step ahead of our client base, digging deep into what makes our clients tick and figuring out how to truly resonate with them.

At the end of the day, this is what marketing is all about: Finding creative ways to stand above the competition and showing our prospects why they should choose our product or service.

The biggest challenges are when we are drawing a blank. When we continuously tweak our approach, strategy, and methods—but still fall short.

There is no foolproof method to guaranteeing your spot in the batting order. The hard truth of it is, there will be some days you hit and some days you don’t. Regardless of the day, you should always step up to plate prepared to swing.

Here are three tips to getting un-stuck and staying in the game:

1. Throw Away Your Head Trash

Head trash is that nagging little voice inside your head that says things like: “That’ll never work,” “No one will like my ideas,” or “Maybe I’m not the creative type.” It is the emotional baggage we carry around, that we use as a crutch when we are afraid to push boundaries.

Head trash goes beyond just the excuses we make to justify a failure or to avoid a potential setback; it also shows up in the assumptions we make about how things are or ought to be.

head trash

These assumptions are the messages that are taught to us at a very young age, that shape our behavior in life and our work. For example: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all”; or “think before you speak.”

Though these lessons have had a positive effect on shaping who we are as people, we must be careful not to allow them to hinder who we will become as innovators.

2. Allow Yourself to Get Sidetracked

Focusing too hard on the same thing for extended periods of time will lead to feelings of frustration, self-doubt and an inevitable creative block. Contrary to popular belief (head trash), distractions are not disruptions but instead can be viewed as life’s little gifts.

Have you ever found yourself locked in your office, door closed, focused intently in search of a creative solution—only to come up empty—then have an epiphany when you overhear the conversation of a fellow commuter on the train ride home?

Yep, me too.

On the train, we aren’t focused on having a bright idea, so that’s when it comes to us. Similarly, it might happen in the shower, or when you lay down to go to sleep.

focus on a bright idea

Of course, we can’t control those moments. We can, however, create similar moments by separating from the challenge at hand, working on something new so we can return to the original project with a fresh perspective and renewed enthusiasm.  

3. Embrace Your Inner Child

Kids have a natural curiosity. Everything is new to them, and as they view their surroundings they are constantly asking the questions: “why” and “what if”?    

As adults, we tend to stifle this curiosity. We think we already know those basic answers so instead of digging deeper into the why and what if, we put pressure on ourselves to find the next big idea. We focus so hard on generating that big idea, that we end up with nothing more than a headache to show for it.

Take the initial problem, and then start asking questions to delve deeper into the problem.

inner child

For example, a problem I might face at my firm could be: 35% of our clients are unhappy with our fees.

Instead of focusing on generating a great idea to make clients happy with our fees, let’s focus on generating more questions. After all, asking questions is a lot easier than answering them:

Why are the other 65% happy with our fees? ← Well, there’s an interesting question.

What if we could offer more value?
What if we had a more flexible fee structure?
What if the client could bid on services?
What if we donate a percentage of fees collected to a charity?
What if we had a giveaway?
What if we offered a free hour for every billed hour?

The questions being generated are ideas disguised as a question. This process takes the pressure off, allowing us to share our ideas without the fear of failure and judgment. Like a child, we can unleash our natural curiosity leading us to a smart, creative solution.

Conclusion

When you are feeling stuck, don’t throw your hands up and think there is nothing you can do to get out of the slump. Throw away your head trash, allow yourself to get sidetracked, and embrace your inner child. Yes, the game is always changing, but you can be too.

It is time to step up to the plate and swing. You’ve got this.

Denise is the Director of Marketing for the NYC law firm, Ingram Yuzek Gainen Carroll & Bertolotti LLP. Denise has been specializing in the legal marketing space for over 10 years. She is the mother of 3 amazing people and the wife of the luckiest man on earth. You can also find her on Twitter (@heydeniselee) or on LinkedIn.

Business Life

Company Culture Isn’t Just an HR Issue: Why Marketers Should Care

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Company Culture Isn’t Just an HR Issue- Why Marketers Should Care

If you’re following the news, and frankly even if you’re not, you’re probably aware of a few brand crisis situations happening around us.

To name a few, there’s Wells Fargo, a well-known and trusted financial institution attempting to recover from a fraudulent account scandal; there’s United Airline’s trying to fight it’s way back from a violent removal of passengers; and Uber, one of the largest tech disrupters, juggling numerous legal allegations and PR nightmares.

So what do a financial institution, a global airline and a ride-hailing tech service all have in common? A toxic corporate culture. That’s no joke.

Years ago, when I was just starting out in my career, I worked for a marketing/sales company called Focus Marketing & Associates. We would go door-to-door selling coupon cards to local businesses. Sort of like selling a Groupon face-to-face, before Groupon was a thing.  

Anyway, door-to-door solicitation is not an easy job. I’d have doors slammed in my face or people questioning my ability to read (as I pretended I didn’t see that “no solicitation” sign on the door).  

It’s not like the money was so great either; I’d get about $1 for every coupon card I sold, and most of the time, I’d buy them from myself to save the heartache. Still, I stayed with them for two years.

Why? Simple. I felt like I was a part of something.  

Though the job itself was daunting (to say the least), my supervisors and colleagues were like family. We’d spend time together outside of work: picnics, movie nights and karaoke.  

Whenever the stress of the job would get to me, my team leader, Peter, would “re-train.” He’d work my territory with me, reminding me what confidence looks like and how to get past the obstacles I was facing. I went back to work after each retrain, refreshed and ready.  Ready to make Peter proud.

Nice story. So what? Corporate culture, employee retention, and training programs are all issues for the HR department.

“As marketers, our primary responsibility is to drive leads and increase revenues through market research, pricing, positioning, communications, advertising and public relations. So, why should we care about corporate culture?”

marketers should care about company culture

My hats off to you if you hold a marketing position and can define your role that clearly.

The thing about marketing—no matter your industry—it is an ever-changing, ever-adapting role.  Where we once were limited to just presenting our brands to the outside world, we now find ourselves responsible for protecting our brand, improving our brand, or in some cases, re-creating our brand.

Our brand is one of the most important aspects of our marketing strategy. It is the way we present our business model to our customers, laying out what our customers can expect from our company, products or services.  

A solid brand strategy will give us a competitive edge, setting us apart from our competitors.  

new responsibilities of the modern marketer

A toxic company culture threatens brand strategy

Truthfully, a company culture doesn’t have to be toxic to threaten the brand strategy. Any company culture that doesn’t align with the company’s message will threaten the strategy.  

However, maintaining a healthy corporate culture will be easier to align, realign, or very often, drive the brand strategy.

Recently, my boiler stopped working. I knew it wasn’t because I was out of oil because I had just refilled the tank (admittedly after three months of putting if off). The technician informed me that because I had let the oil run down so long before refilling the tank, there was now residual sludge clogging my system, stopping my boiler from functioning properly.

An unhealthy company culture isn’t created intentionally, nor does it occur overnight.  

Don’t ignore the signs of a company culture heading in an unhealthy direction. Left to fester, it will become the sludge that slowly clogs the system and stops your marketing from functioning properly.  

don't ignore company culture going in a negative direction

Marketers need to be thoughtful about creating and sustaining a healthy company culture to effectively market our business. Marketers have a unique skill set, and many of the strategies used to present a company’s brand to the outside world can translate to creating, sustaining and driving a positive company culture.

Five marketing concepts that can drive positive company culture

1. Target audience. Every marketer knows that the key to disseminating a clear message is to understand who is receiving this message. An important thing to remember is that your team is part of that audience.

Make sure whatever message you are portraying to the public matches that of what’s occurring within your walls.

2. Lifetime value. In marketing, we measure the customer lifetime value by predicting profits that can be attributed to a continued relationship with that customer.  

What if we were to measure the lifetime value of each team member?  

Try to predict the amount of profit that might be associated with a continued relationship with team member—or measure the potential loss. Gallup has done great research about the value of culture, and they have the data to prove that a strong corporate culture when employees want to stay translates to higher profits.  

Every point improvement in employee engagement, translates to an increase in profitability.  

3. Touch points. Each time our customers interact with our company, we consider that a touchpoint, whether it be a visit to our website, social media, or a phone call to our office. We track each of these touch points to ensure that a customer has a positive experience. Where there might be an issue, we hustle to address it immediately.

Do the same for your team.  

Focus on the team member’s journey and track each touchpoint along the way, so that when a team member is experiencing challenges within their given role, you can address it immediately.  

4. Encourage feedback. As marketers, we go out of our way to facilitate open communication between our company and our customers. We value this because it allows us to get into the customer’s head. The best way to find out what a customer wants or needs is to hear it from the customer.  

Guess what? The same holds true (or should hold true) with our team.

5. Word of mouth. We love when we have a happy customer that shares their experience with friends and colleagues. We love it so much, we’ve created referral marketing campaigns and incentives to encourage more of it.  

There’s no better advocate than our team!  

Make it easy for them advocate for your company, by providing them with an excellent (and consistent) experience and allowing them the voice to share it.  

marketing concepts that contribute to company culture

The moral of the story

Marketers are the keepers of reputation and are also called upon to rebuild it when things get screwed up. Incorporate company culture into your marketing plan by applying your marketing skills to an internal marketing strategy. Work hand-in-hand with HR and with leadership to develop and sustain a culture that aligns with your strategic goals and encourages employee engagement.  

As the great business magnate, Warren Buffett, said: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

Start making your company culture an issue for the entire team, a part of your brand strategy. Only when marketers start to care about the culture will it begin to be more than just an HR issue, but a way of business life.

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Business Life

How to Failproof Your Startup

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how to fail proof your startup

Every entrepreneur and business owner I run into has a yearning to do something deep with their business. Whether it’s forming strategic partnerships, creating new divisions of their business, or rolling something new out, the desire is there to do more.

But the thing that holds them back is the immediate needs of their business. In other words, that stuff that they think deserves priority within the coming 24 to 48 hours. Those immediate things get in the way new customers, sales, business development, putting out fires.

There are consequences to prioritizing those immediate needs though, and it comes as a slow fade as we continue to give our energy to the things that aren’t in alignment with our business’s core vision.

Your mind simply cannot live in the now for the sake of survival. You have to think beyond the immediate or you may not have a business in a year.

Your business cannot be sustained on product or service deliverables alone

Many business owners strategize their growth around immediate profit centers. And on the surface level, that makes some sense. You want to make more money by capitalizing on what is already working in your business.

That is, namely, your products or services.

“But look— if you focus solely on getting more customers or clients, making more sales, that’s all you’re ever going to be doing. It’s going to you constantly trying to sustain your business on what you have now.”

Customers and clients will come and go, they cannot be relied upon as means to scale your business. The return on your investment in deliverables is not sustainable in the long term. They are not the singular foundation for growth in your business.

customers will come and go

You cannot deviate from your vision and the plan you have for your business just because you hit a tight spot or else you won’t have a sustainable ROI. Constantly set yourself up where you’re working on things that are going to grow your business.

That’s why you have to look beyond your deliverables and think long term. How can you create sustainable profit beyond the products or services you offer?

Creating multiple silos of profit

The key to overcoming this endless cycle of solely profiting from the immediate deliverables is to create other sources of profit. This means loosening your grip on hyper-focused optimization of sales and looking far ahead.

Yes, this consideration of the long term means putting your time and energy into profit that is not certain.

But unless you open your business up to profit opportunities that can only be attained by investing in the long term, the future of your business is not good.

Think of your business as a pie. Your product and service delivery is only a slice of the pie. That may come as difficult news if you are currently pouring all your time and energy into that one slice and the rest of the pie is going untouched.

think of your business as a pie

The first step in overcoming that narrow focus on the one slice of pie is to identify other silos or profit centers in your business.

Not sure where to start? Here’s a breakdown of the other slices in your profit pie:

  • Strategic partnerships
  • B2B commerce if you’re a B2C business, and B2C commerce if you’re a B2B business
  • People and things that can sell for you: brand advocates, your content, networks, etc.

Identifying each of these silos, or slices, and what they would look like in your business is key in beginning to dispel some of that uncertainty about the future of business.

Map out the process within each silo

After you’ve identified these silos as they apply to your business, it’s time to take a deeper look into each of these silos.

Keep in mind that the sales process for each of these silos will not be like the sales process for your products or services. Why? Because the ROI in these silos is achieved over a longer period of time. It’s a long term investment.

This takes patience, diligent planning, and an acceptance that the profit will not come immediately.

Take Gary Vaynerchuk for example. He didn’t just wake up and create Vayner Sports one day. He looked at the class of upcoming athletes in schools and made a conscious effort to develop relationships with them so that when they graduated he had a base to launch Vayner Sports. That took time and patience.

What makes companies huge are the things they do outside of their immediate delivery of their product or service. It’s that longevity, thinking years ahead, that makes them huge.

what makes companies huge

So mapping out the objectives of each of these silos and understanding how many touch points it will take to accomplish those objectives is what it’s going to take to tactically approach those longer term investments.

Consider that it may take a lot longer to land a strategic partnership than a new customer, but that partnership could yield 10 to 50 times the ROI than that new customer.

Once you’ve mapped out the process, you have to prioritize accordingly. You only have so much energy and time to give.

So if you’re going to exert a lot of energy, wouldn’t you prefer to do it over a longer period of time for a greater ROI?

So stop spending 80 to 90% of your time in the silo of product and service delivery. The energy you’re putting into that short term silo is yielding far less ROI in the long term.

On top of your silos, create value-based investments

After you’ve identified your other silos and mapped out the processes for each, it’s time to add the next layer: value-based investments.

What are value-based investments? This is stuff you can’t see as ROI, but it could be the biggest move you ever make as a business, such as investing above and beyond in a relationship or education in your own skills.

what are value based investments?

Value-based investments may not have ROI today, but they could in the future.

It’s the same concept as going into higher education. If people are willing to go $100k into debt to get higher education all for the sake of getting an unguaranteed higher quality job, why should we think any different as business owners?

A great example of a value-based investment I made is in The Modern Marketer itself. I didn’t know that this publication would be as big as it is now, but I decided to invest my energy into it anyway. If you added up all the money and every hour I put into it, it would be at least $50k.

Now The Modern Marketer is everything for us. It’s the only thing that separates us as an agency from anyone else in our industry.

So on top of creating those silos, always have three to five things that you’re putting time and energy into as a value-based investment. Keep that higher perspective in mind, or else you’ll always be relying on income from cash flow.

Have some uncertainty? Think about the “Best Case Scenario”

Every company that’s had a massive payout has made value-based investments. For these greater things to work out, you have to plan for them to work. You have to slowly chisel away at value-based investments.

The way we measure the ROI of value-based investments is a benchmark technique called best case scenario.

For example, if you were going to not listen to anything I’m saying here (which is fine), what’s the best thing that could happen? You get 10 more clients? You make 30 more sales? That’s your benchmark.

But if you take a day to plan ahead and consider the best case scenarios for the payoff of your value-based investments, you’ll realize you need that and the other silos. You can’t rely on product or service delivery and expect growth over the next 12 to 24 months.

take a day to plan

If I told you that you wouldn’t make money for the next year and a half, but on December 15, 2018 you would make $1 million, wouldn’t you drop everything to make the investments necessary for that to happen?

You would certainly re-prioritize.

Of course, you’ll never actually reach that best case scenario. You’ll never have the best of everything. But if you take the time to carefully consider these scenarios, you realize that longer term investments have a far better ROI than the short term ones.

I went through this process of realizing three to six months of my energy had been dedicated to things that were not for the sake of bigger growth for the company. ROI is not about volume of product or service sales, it’s about silos and value-based investments.

We have to be more practical with the prioritization of our energy.

Longevity of your business must always come before immediate needs

You have to prioritize longevity over your immediate needs. It’s not a recommendation, it’s a requirement.

Statistically, a year from now, more than half of you will not have your business.

Think about that.

The only way we can prevent ourselves from becoming that statistic is by strategically planning into the future.

True ROI in business comes from those other silos, by seeing the whole pie and not just the product and service delivery piece. That and your value-based investments are the keys to not only sustaining your business over time, but growing your business.

Identify those silos, map out their processes, and create some value-based investments. If you prioritize your business in the long term, the immediate needs will be taken care of as a result.

Don’t let your business fade away because you were too focused on the short term. Prioritize longevity.

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Business Life

Need to Network? You Can Get a Meeting with Anyone, and Here’s How

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need to network you can get a meeting with anyone

It’s no question that the connections you make in business are important for growth. We need other people to help us expand. It’s also no question that there are certain people out there who we know would be particularly great connections to have for growing our business.

But some people are just way more difficult to connect with than others. Especially if they’re big name influencers.

So how do you do it? How do you land a meeting with even the most difficult people to connect with?

Here is some advice for getting a meeting with anyone…

Become Relevant

The first thing you have to do in order to be able to connect with someone is to become so relevant that you attract them. Relevancy is like a magnet. If you’re relevant enough, you’re on a person’s radar.

This means figuring out what makes this person tick.

What’s influencing them?

What are they posting about?

What publications are they posting from, posting consistently?

What interests them?

What gets their attention?

Find this person’s channels and get inside their head. Because if you can figure out how their mind works, if you can figure out what’s important to them, then you can become more relevant to them.

become relevant

When you’ve figured out what exactly is relevant to the person you’re pursuing a meeting with, then you start creating content around the topics, people, organizations, and brands that are relevant.

This also means distributing that content on relevant and appropriate platforms. If the person you’re trying to meet with is an active blogger with a strong presence on Facebook, it’s not going to make a lot of sense to create content for YouTube and expect it to show up on that person’s radar.

Create relevant content, but also distribute it in the context most relevant to the person whose attention you seek.

Okay, now let’s so you’ve created relevant content and you’ve shared it on relevant platforms, but it’s not getting much attention. Part of becoming relevant means developing the right audience.

It won’t happen overnight. Ironically, becoming relevant takes time. Creating relevant content is meaningless if you don’t have an audience. You might as well be shouting into a void.

If you’re walking down a street and see two street performers— one without a crowd and one with a large crowd —which one is going to draw your interest?

It’s natural for humans to be drawn to where attention already exists. Just like in real life, the more engagement you get, the more relevant you become in the digital world.

This can take time. Be patient and keep creating and distributing relevant content. Over time, your voice will come up on the right people’s radars.

What’s in It for Them?

Why do people go on shows or accept interviews? Why do people agree to collaborate? It’s not because they have a lot of followers, it’s because they have a purpose behind it.

Sure, I imagine there’s times when people do shows just because they want to offer some advice or just collaborate with someone in their community or circle of influence, but most of the time that’s not going to be the case.

Look, for the most part, everybody and their mothers has some sort of agenda. It’s just life. When you want to collaborate with someone, they’re going to be most interested in what you can do for them.

collaborate with someone

It’s not a one way street. Asking someone to dedicate some time, energy, or money to you is not going to happen for nothing. In the ideal scenario, collaborating yields some sort of value for both parties.

So that means you need to consider the needs and desires of the person you want to meet with. What value can you offer them? What benefit can they get from collaborating with you?

How can you make this meeting about an exchange of value, rather than just getting the value you want?

Create a situation where you can offer relevant value to that person. Whether it’s a guest you want to have on your show, a client you want to meet with, a customer you want to sell to, or a CEO you want to meet and interview, consider how meeting with you can be of value to them.

Never Give Up

People are busy. You can’t expect to contact someone you really want to meet with once or twice and expect them to give you an immediate and affirmative response.

I watched one of my favorite podcasters Lewis Howes interview Rainn Wilson, Dwight from The Office, and towards the end of the show, Lewis mentions how one of his goals is to be able to interview anybody.

It may seem like this guy could land anyone on his show, but at the end of the day, some of the meetings with the biggest people he’s interviewed took more than 6 months to land.

Sometimes he had to go back and develop more of his audience, or get more processes involved. Sometimes he had to follow up 15 times, just in order to get that meeting.

It takes time and effort to connect with people. Even if you’re a professional at connecting with people. So don’t get discouraged or offended, everybody is busy.

Some people get so offended when they can’t have the meeting they want to have right away, even with me. Sometimes I’ll get messages from die hard fans of The Modern Marketer saying they want to meet with me, and I’ll send a message back saying I can’t meet this week or I’m a little too busy.

Then maybe some time will pass and we don’t talk for a little while and they stop commenting on and liking our stuff. Sometimes I’ll even get a message back saying I never answered their question, and they take offense.

You have to realize that people you’re trying to reach out to are trying to run businesses, and they have lives— activities, endeavors, and obligations they have to fulfill. So it’s going to take some follow up, sometimes a lot of follow up, before you can connect with someone.

Be consistent and maintain a kind tone in your voice, even if it’s through text-based messages. That consistency and tone are what will increase your chances of landing that meeting.

Be patient. Keep reaching out. Don’t give up.

Make them Feel Important

Again, people are busy. It’s going to take time and effort to convince someone that you’re worth taking some time out of their busy schedules to talk to you. If you get offended or upset with them, that’s not going to help your cause. It’s going to hurt it.

Not everybody is going to remember what you did or what you said, but everybody will remember how you made them feel.

I have landed a lot of meetings and business because of the way I made somebody feel. It’s natural and human for people to be drawn to other people who make them feel good.

If you can make that person feel important and honor their time, you are far more likely to get their attention.

Keep a kind and welcoming tone. These are humans you’re trying to meet with, and like anybody else, they just want to be treated with kindness.

keep a kind tone

If you make that person feel bad for not responding to you the way you’d like, they’re going to have no motivation to meet with you. Think about how you would want to be approached for a meeting and start from there.

Attempt to make human connections. This will make a world of a difference in influencing the meetings you get.

Conclusion

There’s no perfect formula to getting meetings with anybody. We all lead busy lives and the way the communication unfolds won’t be the same for every person. But we are all human, and deep down we all want the same things.

We want to be respected, treated kindly, and have our time honored. We all want to be made to feel good. We’re busy and not every interaction is worth our time or energy, so we have to choose. Keeping in mind what’s relevant to the person you want to meet with, and what value you can offer to them is key in landing these meetings. Consider all these points when approaching someone to meet, and you will be all the more likely to meet with them.

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