I walked to the mailbox today and there was a nice-looking card envelope mixed in with the junk mail. I opened it and to my surprise, I found a handwritten note from a competitor of mine. Well, that isn’t entirely true, but it is… Let me explain. A little over a year ago, I attended a Chamber of Commerce after-hours event, called Business After Hours. One of my friends looked across the room and said, “Oh, look, that’s the Hometown Values rep.” I turned and there was a tall woman surrounded by friends. You see, Hometown Values is one of my main competitors. I will tell that story in a minute, but just know they’re the 800 lb. gorilla in Utah. They have been around for nearly 30 years, and they publish over 500,000 magazines every month.
To be honest, I initially felt some irritation and intimidation because it's hard to see your competition working the same room you are, if you know what I mean. Especially one who’s apparently popular and garnering lots of attention.
However, one of the philosophies I try to live by is to make friends with those who intimidate me. I also try to be competitive and not cutthroat in my work. I took those feelings I was having and released them and made the decision to be brave and go meet her. I watched for a break and introduced myself. She gave me a look that meant she knew who I was and was feeling some of the same feelings. However, we visited and had a simple conversation. I had tackled my demon and made friends with the “enemy.” Mission accomplished.
Starting Something New
Seven years ago, Melissa and I started Connection Publishing, a local magazine publishing company. Our first magazine was small and hyper-local to North Ogden. We went to 12,000 homes, which is almost nothing in the grand scheme of direct mail publications. We did good work and had a unique niche that other cities soon found out about. Many asked us to come help them with similar products. We quickly grew to 5 publications. Over the years, I have met several people from Hometown Values, and other competitors. One of the hardest things we faced as a new business was the main Hometown Values salesperson in our area decided to launch a competing magazine with one of her best advertisers the exact month we started ours and in the exact same city. That made things extra hard to start, but what's a good story without some ups and downs to overcome?
Eventually, we survived, and the other new magazine didn’t. Even though I had felt those same feelings of resentment towards those competitors, I actually became friends with them in the end. It isn’t always easy to be friendly towards someone you feel threatened by, but when you do, you will feel very empowered. You will also realize that you have way more in common with your competitors than you realize, and often, you’ll be able to help one another. The previous Hometown rep has since referred several people to us after she got out of the business. I consider that a big win for us, as she could have referred them anywhere, but she chose us even after several years of tough competition.
I was still intimidated by the largest and most successful magazine company in the State of Utah. So, to become friends with their area representative was a big step for me. We later met again at other chamber events, and we served together on a committee. We became better friends.
If you have followed along with my writing, you know that I also decided to buy a business with my son. We purchased a Roof Maxx dealership that he runs. Our territory is large. Probably 150,000 or more homes, and we, Connection Publishing, mail to about a third of them. We advertise in our own magazines, because, well, I know a guy, and we do very well with those ads. Because of the success we have had in our magazines, I made the decision to advertise in Hometown Values, our competitor, in the areas we don’t cover with our magazines. I called Jade and she was happy, but surprised, that I wanted to advertise. In fact, at first, she told me she might put the advertising order in my son’s name just to keep it somewhat anonymous. I told her, no problem. It didn’t matter to me. I knew that Hometown Values is a successful magazine and that many of its advertisers have gotten good results from the magazines for years. So, I felt it would be good for our business, and it has been. Yes, I will admit it, our competitor has a good product. We are uniquely different, but that isn’t the point of this article.
Today, this card showed up and its details are being shared with permission. In it, Jade, the Hometown representative, was very kind. She thanked me for advertising and also told me it caused some surprise at her agency when they found out it was their competitor who was buying advertising from them. This made me smile. Even though it is for a different business, it is probably an odd occurrence. I like being surprising sometimes, so it felt good to be this kind of surprising. She also thanked me for my friendship and mentorship, saying she has learned from me. I am glad to help.
R Marketing Dept. is another competitor. I went to a networking event 6 years ago and met a man who owned a marketing company. He was very successful. He had huge success as the VP of Marketing for a huge international company operating locally. He retired from that company to start his own marketing firm, and he’s extremely well-known. Everyone I talked to wanted me to meet Steve. They all talked about how he’s the best marketer they knew. They were right, he is incredible. Steve has been a huge supporter of me and our company from the very beginning. He loves our magazines and has not only advertised himself in them, he’s also referred business to us. Thank you, Steve!
As the market changed and printing costs increased 68% in 2022, we had to introduce new products, which meant moving into more of a competitor's role with R-Marketing, Steve’s company. I worried about this, not wanting to lose my friendship with Steve. Not only has he been a friend to me, he is also a mentor. I have learned so much from him. I would never do anything to hurt him or his business, so this was a bit of an uncomfortable position.
Not only has Steve been extremely supportive of the changes I have made, but he also invited me to be part of a Mastermind group with some of his best clients and friends. This exclusive group gets together 2x per month and we discuss our businesses and how to best grow and succeed. Steve not only didn’t get angry that our businesses crossed over more than before, but he invited me in even closer. He is an educator and uses courses to teach his clients and potential clients to market more effectively. These classes are excellent and I have attended them 2x. Highly recommended! Here is the link if you are curious: https://rmarketingdept.com/business-growth-blitz/
I have always loved teaching, and I’ve known that someday, I would create a course and teach classes similar to how Steve teaches. I knew before I ever met Steve. When I knew it was time for me to take on the role of course instructor, I approached Steve and asked him if he would be OK if I started teaching classes as well. We have different styles and different content although much of it overlaps. I will tell you though, if you really want to be an expert marketer, you should attend both of our courses. I was nervous Steve would be frustrated with me for starting my own course, but surprisingly, he wasn’t. He expressed to me directly that he was OK with it, and wanted to support me. That was classy! I was so grateful because I knew this was how I needed to grow my business, but I did not want to affect my friendship with Steve. I’ve always felt people are more important than money.
What Jade did in sending that note was classy. I have to be honest, I went to school on it. I will definitely be using the personal card approach going forward, (Thanks for the great idea, Jade!). What Steve did is also classy. It’s stepping beyond the arena, beyond competition, and into friendship. You don’t always have to be friends with your competitors, and you don’t need to view them as the enemy. It’s classy when you can show respect for your competitors.
In fact, you might learn something from them. I think it is important to pay attention to your competitors. When they do something good, you can do something similar. Don’t ever copy them blatantly, but use their example as inspiration to come up with something to stay competitive. You can also learn from them when they mess up. Learn from their mistakes, and do better. When we first started, some of our competition would do what I felt were strange things, things that weren't customer-centric. I learned from that, and now we handle things differently.
For example, some companies wouldn’t share their advertising designs with their customers to prevent them from using them elsewhere. I made the decision we would share ads we made freely. It’s cool because we often go into advertiser’s businesses, and they have the ad we made for them printed out and hanging in their offices. And yes, sometimes they use them elsewhere. It’s better for the client, so it’s better for us.
Those are my thoughts this week. Be competitive, not cutthroat. Support your competition when you can. Be inspired and motivated by your competition.
As I mentioned earlier, my course is coming up. You will find the link below. This is the culmination of my life's work and study, becoming an expert at marketing companies and selling products. In this 10-week course, I plan to change the lives of those attending. It not only features lessons that will teach and inspire better marketing and business practices, it will provide you with hands-on, applicable tools you can use in your business.
Many business owners tell me marketing is one of the most challenging pieces of running their business. In my course, we will unlock the secrets of effective marketing. We will make things easier, clearer, and more powerful, so you can take your business to the next level. Don’t miss the early-bird pricing, which ends next week. Let’s make things take off for your business.
My course, https://www.connectionpub.com/10weekcourse2.html
To do anything truly great, you must do great things, and then tell everyone about it. This is where most people get stuck. They work hard, develop something great, and work every day to perfect their creation. The problem is, it’s often hard to let people know what you’re doing. It is hard to put yourself out there and to shout from the rooftops about what you are doing and what you have created. Even if you have told some people, it might feel like you are screaming into the void, now one is hearing you. Getting the word out is tricky, but there is a way to do it. For my primary clients, local small business owners, there are some things you can do to build a reputation and to become well known. There is a strength to being well known. It might make you uncomfortable doing some of these things, but as the great Steve Harvey says, “You have to get comfortable, being uncomfortable!” If you stay in your bubble, and you don’t tell people about your creation, you are not going to be successful.
I am going to tell you step-by-step how to get out of your bubble. How to get out in the world to get the attention you deserve. The better you become at this process the more success you will find. You can have a great impact on the world with the work you do, but only if people know that you do it, because there are compelling reasons why they should trust YOU to do it for them.
Step 1: Do Good Work!
Dan Kennedy says, “Good is good enough, next!” Too many perfectionists make the mistake of thinking that they are going to get their product or service perfect before putting it into the world, and asking money for it. This is a major success blocker.
Don’t get me wrong, you must make something GOOD! But good is good enough to start. Get it good, and then get it out there. Once you receive feedback, you can adjust and improve.
When we first launched our magazines, we had a great designer and I had sold advertising in a different magazine, but we didn’t have a background in publishing magazines…yet. We pushed forward and published our first issue. Melissa and I were literally scared to death.I remember we were physically shaking when we wrote the check to pay for the printing and postage in order to send our first issue to nearly 12,000 homes. Melissa nearly had a nervous breakdown. She was so worried because she had never put herself out there like that. Today, we kind of feel like Juni and Carmen in the second Spy Kids movie. It was thoroughly scary when we first jumped off that cliff, but now that we’ve been falling for a long time it isn’t as scary.
We made plenty of errors in that magazine and countless since, but now, the overwhelming feedback is, “Wow, these are so professional, you must have a background in publishing.” We don’t, but we followed one of my favorite mantras; “FEEL THE FEAR, AND DO IT ANYWAY!”
It doesn’t matter what type of business you’re in, plumber, accountant, restaurant, retail, or construction, but you first need to create something good, or be good at your trade. Not perfect! Good is good enough.
Step 2: Become an Authority (Expert)
When I first started putting myself out there as a marketing expert, the negative voice in the back of my head was constantly saying, you don’t know enough to be an expert. You should add years of additional study before claiming any sort of expertise. I was able to realize I didn’t need to be perfect or be the best in the world, I just needed to have some mastery of my subject. When I need electrical work done, I talk to my friends, or a trusted professional. They might not know everything, but they know so much more than I do. If I need help with a car problem, again, friends or experts are the authority I turn to.
To be an expert, you need to have above average understanding of your subject matter. I have loved learning and studying marketing over the years. I read books, and blogs, I watch YouTube videos and listen to podcasts. I attend conferences. I spend my free time, (not all of it), learning about my trade. I have for most of my life. If you know your WHY, you will feel that way about your industry. If you don’t feel that way, consider doing something else.
I noticed even though I still have so much more to learn about advertising small businesses, people are turning to me for guidance about their advertising. They ask me questions. I don’t know everything, but I know enough. I still study, I still learn, but I am now the electrician in my field. I know more than the average person.
Step 3. Yell it From the Rooftops
Now that you’ve accepted your role as a leading authority, it’s time to tell people about it. Last year when we made the decision to pivot our publishing business into a full-fledged marketing firm, we had to get the word out. In the marketing world, we were known as print marketers. We made magazines. We didn’t do marketing. Some of my clients knew I had a knack for marketing and often came to me for advice, but we hadn’t established ourselves as experts in the field.
Simultaneously, I launched a business with my son, Koby. We bought a Roof Maxx dealership that he runs. I do all of his marketing and we have had great success right from the beginning. I remember looking at the growing success of that business and the marketing I was doing, and thinking, I should help my clients do stuff like this.
That thought led me to make the decision to change Connection Publishing into Connection Media Co.,and to become a marketing firm dedicated to helping local small businesses thrive with powerful marketing. In order to let people know that we were changing, I started making the rounds to all the networking meetings I could find. I also started a YouTube channel, and began teaching micro-lessons on marketing.
I also started my podcast, and started interviewing my clients who were successful local business owners. I started volunteering to speak at local chambers of commerce. I even started taking paid speaking gigs. I also put on local free seminars detailing tips for local business owners on how to better market their companies.
I continued to work on tools people can use to market their companies better, easier, and more effectively. We advertise these things in our publications, on social media, and I write this blog in order to better perform on search engines. This all started about 10 months ago, and it continues today. We are yelling from the rooftops, letting everyone know what we do, and how we do it.
What’s interesting now is the number of people coming to me saying things like,”You’re a marketing guy, can you help me with this?” or “You’re a marketing guru, what do you think about this?” “You should call Ryan, he is good at marketing!” These types of comments never happened before. I got calls from writers and graphic designers because I was the magazine guy. I didn’t get calls from people wanting info on marketing. Even though it was a skill I already developed, no one knew about it.
This is an uncomfortable position. Constantly talking about myself and pushing for the attention I need to sell our products, and to be seen as an authority, is uncomfortable. I am actually an introvert by nature. But I have worked my whole career in out-reaching types of sales positions. I force myself to go out and meet new people, to make friends, and make sales. I am comfortable with it now, but I still wish I could hide in the background instead of being the center of attention. However, I don’t think you can do great things unless you reach many people. You can’t reach many people if you don’t master your skills, and then tell everyone about it.
This is the essence of marketing. You can use masterful marketing to sell sub-par products, but when you master both your product and your marketing, you can change the world.
Step 4: Get Better Over Time
The final step is to be in a state of constant improvement. Just like in my Strategic 5-Step Marketing plan, the final step is to analyze and adjust your advertising, your business should do the same. Find ways to better serve your WHO.
Continue your education, continue to interact with people who are more expert than you. Give yourself the opportunity to improve and expand your expertise, and then continue to tell everyone about it. Fresh energy is crucial in all parts of your business. Your website will be dinged by Google if you don’t consistently add new content because no one wants to read a story from 2015 about how to fix your clogged drain when there is one from 2023.
Errors and mistakes are great ways to learn what you need to improve. Bottlenecks are also a great way to improve efficiency. We are starting a new process at Connection Media Co. where we have a bottleneck check in our leaders meeting. This gives us a chance to decide what changes need to be made to our processes, so we can operate at peak efficiency. We also have a monthly brainstorming session where we talk about our Creative for the coming months. We open it to all of our writers and designers to gather ideas, so we can make awesome products.
Come up with a system to constantly improve. As you improve, you will further establish yourself as an authority in your industry. You can make a huge difference in your business by getting uncomfortable, even if you’re a community bakery or gourmet pop shop.
Here are some ideas on how to get in the un-comfort zone:
Ready, Fire, Aim. Do something good, send it out, get better as you go. Don’t wait for the perfect aim, product, or service. Jump off that cliff. Build wings as you fall, put yourself out there, and learn how to “win friends and influence people”. Most of all, get comfortable being uncomfortable. Learn to live in the Un-comfort Zone, and remember, Good is Good Enough…next.
Paid Social Media Marketing
People scroll through 300 ft. of content every day on Social Media, (Fun facts from Andrew Keller, Global Creative Director, Facebook). For reference, the Statue of Liberty is 305 ft. tall. 300 FT!! When we talk about getting attention, that is an incredible amount of attention that Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, Snapchat, X (formerly Twitter), and YouTube are getting from people.
Today we will discuss effective paid marketing strategies for these platforms. What is the best way to advertise on Facebook? How can you best advertise on TikTok? What about the others? It’s not hard, but there’s a ton of competition and so you need to make a strategic plan.
Facebook has the most users in the world, TikTok has the longest watch times, and Pinterest is voted the favorite app in Utah. So the trouble is, how do you figure out where to start as an advertiser? What strategy should you use? Where is your WHO or your target audience? We will cover all of that in this article.
Active Search vs. Passive Discovery
Remember in the previous few posts, I talked about low-hanging fruit, customers that are already looking for you. Search engines are the key to landing this type of business. Social Media is different. It falls under entertainment and so you are more likely to be able to capture attention passively. I call this passive discovery, and it is similar to the type of ads that do well in our publications. This means that people may not be looking for what you have but by targeting the right people they might discover you and what you have to offer. It’s also a great way to improve your brand recognition.
Define your WHO (Target Audience)
First of all, (broken record here), start by defining your WHO. You need to know who your minimum viable audience is. This is your diehard, loyal fanbase that is most likely to like you and want to do business with you. It should be narrowly defined so that you can specifically target them. Broad targeting makes your audience less likely to be interested.
The tighter and more relevant your message is and targeted at the audience, the better your results will be. This will increase your response rate and your ROI (Return on Investment)
So you have to get their attention. This doesn’t mean you can’t do business with a wider base, it just gives you a smaller target. Remember the old adage; “You can’t please all of the people all of the time,” is very true in marketing.
Liquid death is a great case study of targeting your WHO. They started with the idea of targeting people at outdoor festivals and concerts who didn’t want to drink beer. They packaged the water cans to match the beer and put fresh water in them. They also started talking to influencers who were part of that crowd. They knew their audience and their audience loved them. This eventually helped them to go viral and for their company to experience huge growth. Here are some facts.
Once you have determined your WHO and WHY, (worksheets here), it is time to do some research. Let's find out where your WHO is online so we can put your message in front of them.
Here are some interesting social media demographics:
Gen X users are more integrated with Facebook and LinkedIn; they have more followers and engagement. Gen Z prefer Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. Millennials use X (formerly Twitter) more. Women use Snapchat and Pinterest much more than men. Men prefer Facebook, LinkedIn, and X (formerly Twitter). Instagram is nearly evenly split between men and women.
Research: Keywords and Demographics
Get to know your WHO and then do some research on where that demographic spends their time. Then and only then should you start to strategize on what you want to say to them, and how you want to say it. If you know the personal interests of your target audience, you can find places where they hang out and where they spend their time.
Targeting is your best friend with social media. Use it and make sure to zero in on your target audience as you go. Also, test different messages and you will discover what approaches and titles have the most effective response. I know it takes time and investment, but this is worth the effort. It will get better as you go because your data will improve.
If you have a customer list of at least 1000 customers, you can have social media platforms do an audience match and then target your ads towards other people who are like your current customers. This is powerful. You can also go after interest and behavior. If someone is interested in classic cars, for example, they will be involved in groups about classic cars.
Social Influencers are a growing segment in advertising and many brands are utilizing influencer marketing to reach their target. You should not just use someone who is popular, you should use someone who speaks to your target audience.
Paid Social Media is hiring a company to manage your paid advertising. We handle the setup, writing the ad copy, keyword research, audience research, platform choice, the creative, and most importantly the maintenance of the ads monitoring and adjusting as time goes on to get even better results.
Determine Your Budget
When you work with professional marketing companies like Connection Publishing (soon to be called Connection Media Co.) they can tell you how much your budget should be. You can find out how much you should spend to make a splash and how much the top of the budget is for your industry. This is variable because of supply and demand. For example, if you are in an industry with high levels of competition, Real Estate, Mortgage, Roofing, etc, you will pay more for ads to reach the number of people you might want. It is okay not to be number 1. Sometimes you just need to start with a budget and build from there.
Now it’s time to build Creative that converts. While getting attention in your industry can seem daunting, social media might be a great way to get in front of people on a consistent basis. For local small businesses, Social Media can be a cost-effective way to ensure you are hitting the right people. You will likely have to pay for exposure as the days of organic social media are over unless you come up with something very compelling. The platforms want us all to pay for the audiences they have built up, so you will need to do paid ads.
Social media is also a great compliment to your SEO and Paid Search SEM efforts. These strategies work hand-in-hand to enhance your online presence. When you create content for social media ads, weaving in relevant keywords can further boost the discoverability of your posts. For instance, for a local fly-fishing equipment shop in Weber County, incorporating keywords like "best fly fishing gear in Northern Utah" can attract potential customers looking for exactly that. Plus, the search engines are looking at social media sources as they reach out into the web.
Analyze and Adjust
One of the advantages of digital marketing, including paid social media advertising, is the ability to track performance. You can analyze metrics such as click-through rates, engagement, and conversions to gauge the effectiveness of your campaigns. Use this info to influence your future decisions, ad copy, and to help you nail the follow-up. By continuously refining your strategies based on insights, you can really generate a greater return on your investment.
Social media can be tricky. Sometimes, I hear frustrated people say, “I hate ______ insert social media brand of your choice.” They say this because they don’t understand Social Media. They feel intimidated or frustrated by its daunting influence on our society. Instead of looking at it from a fear or frustration standpoint, I encourage you to look at the opportunity it gives you as a business owner. It's a chance to get in front of your target audience where they spend their time. Look past your frustration. Instead, look at the opportunity social media ads can give you. Let me know if we can help you create a social media campaign that rocks!
Apologies, Systems, and Mantras
Running a small business there are times when it seems like everything is going wrong. Something broke, you under-delivered, you sent ads with errors, you made someone mad and they left a poor review. The list goes on!
When we started Connection Publishing, we signed a contract with North Ogden City to create their magazine. I knew we needed advertising support to launch the publication, so I worked every day selling ads. John Watson Chevrolet was our first advertiser followed by Big-O in North Ogden.
We continued to add many great advertisers. I worked morning until night to secure these advertisers. I would get home tired, and worn out. As we approached our first deadline, my wife expressed her concern about how the content was going to come together. I told her I wasn’t sure, but I knew I needed to sell $10,000 in advertising before we could launch, so I focused there.
We crept closer and closer to our deadline, and I was still feverishly selling ads. I am so grateful for those initial advertisers who had to take a leap of faith that we would deliver something entirely new. I didn’t even have a sample I could show them. At one point, my beautiful wife realized if she didn’t step in to help, we wouldn’t have anything to put in the magazine I was selling ads for.
She assumed when we dreamed up this idea together, that she would be a passive observer supporting me from the background. Well, she stepped into the role of content gathering, writing, and helping, and hasn’t been able to quit yet. (Maybe someday, babe! 🙂)
Once we got going, we worked really hard to grow the business. More advertisers came, then more cities, and of course, more people started working for us. As each of those “mores” happened, things got crazy from time to time. Things fell through the cracks. We made errors.
The bottlenecks would often be me. Too much of our company relied on me to answer all the questions. Because the decisions became too many, we would inevitably fail, and I would find myself apologizing to my customers about what happened. This is not a fun activity. But with the number of times I’ve had to do it, you would think it was one of my favorite hobbies. It is not! However, owning up to your mistakes actually helps people like you more and trust that you will take care of them when things happen.
The first thing that had to change was our systems.
Two things happened as we grew. First, I knew each time there was a bottleneck or a recurring problem, I would have to create a system to smooth things out. Those systems included adding software to help us manage content and ads.
We started with Trello, which was awesome, but eventually, we needed a more robust system. We knew this after we published an article in the wrong city for the third time. —for the third time. BIG MISTAKE! Not only did I need to apologize, I also had to find a solution. This is how we found our current system, called Podio, and it’s been amazing.
Another problem: Our proofing process was painful. So many errors were found after the magazines were designed. It took our graphic designer hours and hours to fix the hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of errors found after she had laid out the pages. Those errors resulted in needing to redesign stuff. Again, not fun, and a waste of time. We often missed stuff because our proofing process was ineffective and clunky.
We found out our new software had automation workflow features we could use to set up workflows to make some things happen automatically. We also decided to proofread everything in Word documents before they went to the designer. Then, when we proof copy a second time before going to print, we’d be left with only minor corrections to make.
Now, when an article gets put into our system, we mark it “Ready to Proof”. That automatically gets sent to our proofreader who fixes what needs to be fixed. Once the proofreader is done, they mark it “Ready to Design”, which automatically notifies its designer that the article is ready.
This one change saved hours of work and made our magazines much better. Look at your processes, and ask if there is anything you might do to make it smoother. If there is a technology that might make things easier, use it.
At some point, you will not be able to determine all of the systems yourself. Empower the people who are part of the process to find the best answers. I sometimes find my own ideas are lacking, so I ask my people, who often come up with much better solutions. People who are part of the process should help make decisions and create systems.
Repeating Mantras Over and Over
As we added more people, we found the need to make sure they knew how things worked. We put together a folder in our system and started recording (video and written) activities that might need to be passed on to someone else. Things like, how to use the software, how to upload something, and our writing standards.
At first, all these systems were designed by me. As we got bigger, some of our people have stepped into leadership roles. They have each come with their own set of ideas, and they have added to our systems when they seek to optimize their part of the organization.
Caring about everything that happens at our company, I struggled to allow others to make decisions. I would often make those decisions through them. I would say, “You're in charge, but make sure to run everything through me.” I didn’t want to let anything slip.
At one point, there were too many decisions to make, which meant I started to lose quality of life because I had my hand in over 200 pages of ads and content every month. In addition to the thousands of small business decisions, a business owner makes each day. That meant errors happened and I had to learn it can’t all happen through me.
I had to start trusting people, but at the same time, I wanted to pass along my vision and standards. That was very important to me. Our company, and our reputation.
As a leader, I have found repeating the overarching idea over and over is a crucial skill for passing on principles. Here are examples of some things I repeat often:
"We Create Connection!"
This is our WHY. From day one and even the name of our company was inspired by the idea that we wanted to help create more connection in our lives and in the lives of the customers we serve. When we are making decisions, I often repeat to my team, our goal is to create connection. Does this effort create more connection for our readers, our cities, or our advertisers? This is a core principle so I say it as often as I can.
“We Are an On-Time Organization!”
I have said this so many times that it must sound crazy to our team. It came about because we struggled to meet our deadlines many, many times. We had to make sure people knew we were serious when we said, “We can’t accept your information late; it just won’t be in the magazine.” We also couldn’t allow employees to miss deadlines. Everyone needed to know and believe that we are an "On-time organization."
As our leaders realized how important this is, they have now become part of our “We are an on-time organization!” mantra. They have put policies in place to ensure that we are on time.
This is important to us because we have windows at our printers we can’t miss. They print us an average of 12mm pages every month. Which takes time, so if we miss the window, they will move other jobs in our place and we get even further delayed. We also promise advertisers their ad will arrive at a certain time of the month. Missing that isn’t fair for the advertiser who paid for their ad to arrive on time.
“Who Do You Serve?”
I use this to focus our attention on being a customer-centric organization. I think some companies come up with policies with decisions based on how to best help themselves. I think this is backwards. So does Jeff Bezos. He’s known for saying Amazon is the world's most customer-centric organization. This challenges motivations. If you are thinking about a policy change because something isn’t working, the tendency will generally be to serve yourself first.
When making changes, I ask my leaders to ask themselves: Who do you serve? Does this policy serve them?” It changes how people respond to challenges because these questions keep the focus on serving customers rather than just yourself. Sometimes painful decisions have to be made, but if you make sure you’re doing your best to serve your customer, they tend to stay your customer.
“We Have Integrity!”
This one is important when you make mistakes. The key is to always own up to your mistakes even when they’re not entirely your fault. The buck stops here. I am responsible, even when we make errors, but I don’t feel like it's an error. As the decider, I’m responsible.
There are times when the client doesn’t realize an error occurred. For example, say an old ad runs, but the customer doesn’t notice. Or, we overcharge a client, but they don't bring it up.
When this happens, it’s easy to listen to the little devil on your shoulder saying, “Don’t do anything, no one will know”. The problem is, you know. Your people know, too. They will realize you only have integrity when it is in your favor. If you are going to have integrity, it’s all the way, or not at all. There is no such thing as partial integrity. When you make errors, make it right.
I spoke with a friend about this recently, and she told me her daycare drops the price when a child reaches a certain age. Her child reached that age several months prior, but they hadn’t discounted her pricing. She hadn’t noticed and didn’t really care.
She was happy with their service. They came to her and told her of the error, and gave her an invoice credit. She told them not to worry about it, and just start the new pricing going forward. The daycare center said, “We don’t do things that way. We will refund you. Thank you for being a client.” That company values integrity.
You need to repeat your beliefs and standards over and over again. Let people know what your values are, and they will make decisions with those values in mind. A leader needs to allow themselves to stubbornly repeat those values, even at the risk of sounding like a broken record.
One of my leaders, Robert, always says, “Proof your Podio!” at the end of meetings because he’s all too often the recipient of an unreadable post in our software, which makes him have to chase down the poster to clarify what should happen with the article or ad. This wastes his time because it could have been avoided if the poster had simply filled in the info properly. “Proof your Podio!”
I learned this one when I was managing a direct sales team selling Cutco. When someone would call to check in, I would ask them what’s next. It keeps their thoughts on moving forward. This is a great one for sales people. It just gets them thinking about what is next.
"Your Brain Listens to Your Mouth"
I typically use this one with my kids. They say things that are degrading to themselves, or have super negative talk. I always remind them, "Your brain listens to your mouth!" I also have to use this one on the golf course, cause I definitely talk negatively to myself when I am playing terrible. I have started telling myself, I am only allowed to complain about my golf in proportion to the amount I practice, which is admittedly not much. Talk kindly to yourself because your brain does listen and it will believe what you say.
"You Can’t Get Better Until You Start Somewhere!"
This is one more thing I often repeat, even my kids hear this one. “You can’t get better until you start somewhere,” I say it to family, friends, and employees. You have to allow people to make mistakes. You can have limits on how many mistakes you can put up with, but when my people make errors, I don’t blame them. I blame my own training and leadership.
I find people want to do well; they want to fulfill their responsibilities with excellence. As long as they are clear on expectations and goals, and with an understanding of your business principles, they will fulfill their responsibilities with pride. Most of the time, there are exceptions, but I find those exceptions to be rare. They must be confident you will back them up when they make an error and know that you will correct them with kindness when they mess up. Another one of my leaders told me when she first came to the company that I was direct but kind. I am not afraid to tell people when something is off or needs to change, but I try to do so kindly and with respect for the person I am talking to. I give them leeway because I need it too. Plus, they must start somewhere, or they can’t get better.
Today’s post was a departure from my normal marketing-focused ones, but I wanted to talk about things I’ve experienced that can hamper your marketing efforts. Things can happen even if you have an awesome marketing plan executed by an awesome marketing team. You can still lose out on business without good systems and values.
It’s tough running a small business, but leadership is a skill that can be learned and taught. This is something you’ll find yourself working on for the rest of your life, I know I am still working on mine. I hope these insights help your small business thrive. Let us know if we can help, because we know you are WHO WE SERVE!