How People Define Your Value

Many businesses and individuals attempt to define themselves by finding a simple description that communicates their value. On a corporate level, we have seen some go from being “publishers” to “media companies.” Circulation departments are now audience marketing departments. Human resources? No. Talent development.

Dan Blank
What I find most interesting is not how a person or company defines themselves, but how others do. My favorite way to check this recently is via Twitter Lists. Here are the lists people have added me to, as an example.

This is intriguing for two reasons:

  • How People Define You
    You get to see the specific wording people use to define you when they are forced to choose just a word or two. Are you PR, marketing, or social media expert? Are you an editor, writer, thinker, or blogger? You might be surprised.

  • Who They Group You With
    You also get to see who else has been grouped with you in that category. Are these people you view as colleagues or competitors? Are they similar to you in job title and level of the org chart?

I am often surprised when I look at Twitter lists of someone I know – the range of descriptive words, and then the totally random categories. It reminds me how the way we define ourselves can limit our potential, and even miss the mark in terms of how others value us.

It is also a reminder that we are not our business titles. We are not a tagline. To build a career, the goal is not to be broadcasting a brand message, but to be engaging, helping and illustrating our value through actions, not pitches.

We all hear about the great expense that often goes into creating a new logo for a college or a new tagline for a business. And it’s a pretty cool to realize the process that goes into creating these things.

Oftentimes, they are supposed to help encourage an organizational change – a business that is responding to market shifts, a university that has a new focus, an individual that is trying to grow their reputation. So yes, the way we define ourselves is handy, and important.

But when individuals and organizations go through a transition, it is often slower and messier than just changing a logo or tagline. And the real value is not just in repeating the new pitch again and again, but in executing on that value, until your market begins to define you how THEY see you.

Let me know if I can help you in your transition: @DanBlank, 973-981-8882 or dan@danblank.com.

Thanks!

-Dan

How to Build Your Online Business – the Laura Roeder Interview

At 26 years old, Laura Roeder is making about $15,000 a month in consulting fees and has launched online coaching classes that bring in tens of thousands in revenue.

Laura Roeder

Today I want to profile how she is building a successful online business
through information products and working with clients via the web. I am FASCINATED by how the web has removed barriers for businesses:

  • That we can learn from others without leaving our homes.
  • That we can grow businesses without leaving our homes.
  • That we can grow as individuals without leaving our homes.

So you can see, I have a real fascination with not leaving the house! But seriously – the opportunity that we each have to achieve our business and personal goals is so much closer than we think, and what people like Laura are doing is just incredible. I had a chance to speak with her, and below are key points from our chat.

In 2008 Laura transitioned her career from a web designer to focusing on online social media training and consulting. This change occurred because she kept listening to client’s needs and noticed a pattern, a common need that wasn’t being met:

“When I started my own business, I found I was always giving my clients advice about online marketing, social media, and how their website fits into their overall marketing plan. I thought is what a web designer should do, but I discovered that most web designers don’t do that. My clients told me that other designers never asked them those sorts of questions.”

“I had the realization in late 2008 that people would pay me just for the social media side, which just seemed outrageous to me. I think this is how a lot of people feel about whatever they’re good at – you take it for granted. Now I see what a big need there is.”

At this point Laura made a big decision, the type of decision that is life changing. Instead of slowly evolving, she jumped in with both feet:

“I fired all my web design clients because I knew that if I didn’t totally get rid of that, I would still be in that business model, which is not what I wanted to do. Then I had to make money with social media.”

Since she didn’t know how to break into working with big companies, and loved working with small businesses, she created her business to better cater to them. To get her initial clients, she started with what she had, and built from there:

“I moved to this online training program model that allows me to make money with lower priced programs that are appropriate for a small business. I loved it, but it was a struggle. I didn’t know any business owners. I found all my clients through networking events, which is a great way for any business to start a client base and to grow. A lot of people aren’t willing to do it. When people see you are a normal friendly human, being, they will hire you.”

Soon, Laura found she needed to make another evolution to her business, scaling her services:

“The thing about most service businesses is that you are always starting over. That’s what was so frustrating. I would get a client, and maybe spend a month or two chasing that client, trying to get the final contract signed getting ready to do that work. So you’ve got that long process, then you do the work for them, and then after that contract is over, it’s like you might as well not have done anything. You’re back at square one, and then you have to bring in a new contract. It’s a neverending cycle. I wanted to explore new models for new business, because I feel like I wasn’t getting anywhere.”

Through people such as Eban Pagan, she learned about online training programs as a business model, and made another big leap:

“I just gave it a shot. I see a lot of people who take courses like this and they pick and choose, or they aren’t willing to do it. I just took what I learned and tried it out. Some is exact, some is my own spin on these concepts.”

“I Learned the concepts of how do you craft programs that people really want to buy that have effective marketing baked in, how do you figure out what people want, how do you make the learning effective so people in the program actually take action.”

In March 2009, she created her first program: “Your Backstage Pass to Twitter.” She explains how she came to the decision to launch this product:

“I just gave it a shot. most people, as simple as it sounds, that’s the part that’s missing because they spend so much time analyzing or saying ‘this isn’t going to work for me,’ or ‘I have to get something established before I do that.’ I tell people this with social media all the time: you just have to jump in. The way to start using Twitter is to just create an account and start talking to people. You don’t have to have a perfect website first, you don’t have to have a Facebook fan page first, you don’t have to figure it all out before you create an account, you just have to jump in and give it a try. That is the only way you will make progress. I never really get how to do anything until I experience it for myself. You can read about it all day, but you don’t internally see how it works until you do it yourself.”

I asked her what she would do if no one signed up for her products, since I know that fear prevents many people from launching their own. She explained how even failure gives you great lessons:

“That’s the beauty about info products, nobody knows if no one is on your call! It’s a scalable business and a super low overhead business. That’s an excuse a lot of people use, being scared if no one signs up. But honestly, who cares if nobody signs up, you are going to learn a lot about the process by just doing it, and you’re going to learn a lot about what you can do better next time.”

Luckily, Laura did have people sign up. One of the most interesting points she made had to do with how she found her first customers:

“When I launched my first course, I had a list of people from my web design business, maybe 300 people, maybe even less, and they were all local in Chicago, and had all shown interest in me as a web designer. A lot of people overthink their own stuff, and would say these people were interested in me as a web designer, not social media stuff, and that’s what I thought at first, that I would have to start all over.

“But I realized, this is really not that much of a leap. These are small businesses interested in doing stuff online, and now I am targeting small businesses interested in doing stuff online, so let’s just send this out and see if they are interested. They can always unsubscribe. I also find a lot of people on Twitter, and I have a weekly newsletter that has gone out since the beginning of 2009, which has been a big way for me to grow my community. I always tell people, you have to start with what you’ve got, with where you are. I had a few hundred people, they were all in Chicago, and all sort of interested in a different business, but that’s what I had at the time, so that’s what I started with, and it grew from there.”

And grow it did. She was off to a great start:

“The first launch I made around $3,000, and the program cost $97. I thought that was astronomical. I used to spend so long trying to get one contract for $3,000. When I did websites, I would usually charge between $1,000-$2,500 for a site. And again, after that contract was over, I was back at zero. So to be able to make the money from one contract, and make it online with something I could sell over again, I was just thrilled. And, it worked. Anything that works, you can scale up. So once that happened, I knew I would forget about corporate consulting and make this my business model.”

Having good success so far, she moved forward with an even bigger launch, continually looking to scale her efforts:

“My next step was to keep growing my audience, so for me that was to keep doing my newsletter, to blog, and Twitter is the biggest one for me. 35% of all my traffic comes from Twitter, and that traffic does convert to buyers just as well as all the rest. Twitter has always been a big channel for me. I use Facebook differently, to connect with people who are already in my world.”

“What I did next was launch my next program called “Creating Fame” and that is one that will open again this Fall. It’s my really my big picture overview on how to create fame, which is to use social media to become the number 1 go-to person in your field. That came out of the work I did with a friend of mine who is an actress. Out of my work with her, I saw I could use those same strategies for myself for making myself “famous.” This was my first real launch.”

“Doing a launch is an enormous list builder and attention builder. If you Google my name, there’s so many blog posts that have been written about me from content from launches. A big reason why Creating Fame was so successful was not from my existing audience, but the new list I built just from the launch alone. Creating Fame was a $27,000 launch, which is insane, and way more than I expected. It’s such an intense process – just putting out my very best content and going full force for a month. I’m not going to say it’s as easy as just putting out great content, and you’ll sell stuff. I’ve learned a lot about selling from other people. It’s hard, but it definitely paid off.”

“I had about 40-50 people sign up. It was an 8 week online class with a live webinar each week. I like to do everything live and then record them to sell after the fact. I like the energy of doing things live. A year later, I still talk to a lot of the people who took that class. What’s really cool is that I see a lot of them talking to each other – they formed their own Facebook group and connected on Twitter. It’s a great value-add that people can connect with other like-minded businesses. A lot of people from Creating Fame still talk all the time.”

Over time, Laura has found that each of these launches have added up to a nice little product library:

“Along with Creating Fame, I created two programs that are my most popular: Zero to WordPress Blog and Zero to WordPress Website. I realized if people took the class, but didn’t know how to do there website, it would be useless. So I created these as bonuses that later became standalone courses to sell. Over time it create a good little product library to sell:

  • Creating Fame
  • Backstage Pass to Twitter
  • Zero to WordPress Blog
  • Zero to WordPress Website
  • Zero to SEO

For this Fall she is working on relaunching Creating Fame, and a new program partnering with Marie Forleo.

But that’s not all, in the Fall of 2009, Laura re-approached private consulting and coaching:

“The next big step for me was to get serious about doing private coaching and consulting. I now do 6 month contracts, I started with 3 month contracts, and it sold out in 48 hours. I had 15 spots for one-on-one coaching. Evidently, people had really been waiting for that. My consulting is less about social media – that’s only part of it. A lot of my clients are people who have businesses and are just looking to market them better online. I charged around $1,000 a month and they get regular calls with me and unlimited email with me. Honestly, I’m moving less and less towards that being a part of my business model – I really want to have more of my focus be on the online programs. It’s the whole thing about leveraging your time – getting more people in and doing Q&A’s with a larger group.”

Overall, it is fascinating to see how Laura has evolved her business, and how she has found personal value and business revenue by working with what she had, and having the confidence to simply move forward with an idea.

Laura leaves us with one final thought as to how businesses need to think about using social media:

“Just learning Twitter is not useful, you need to know how Twitter fits into your sales strategy and marketing strategy.”

You can connect with Laura on her website or Twitter.

The Safety – and Risk – of Following Trends

“It doesn’t follow the rules that other bottles do.” That is how my wife described the packaging for a dietary supplement that looked like it was made in Europe, or was from 1978.

Dan Blank
In that instant, I considered how many brands follow the same trends, even though they are targeting the same customers and with essentially the same products. There is so much advice in the business world on how to stand out and break away from the pack, and yet it seems many businesses feel more secure failing together than succeeding alone.

Walk down any aisle in the food store. All the laundry detergent looks the same. All toothpaste looks the same. All cream cheese looks the same.

Sure, I’ve read studies about how customers have strict viewpoints about what a product is. For instance, why we are grossed out eating green or purple ketchup, but red ketchup is somehow tantalizing. That these products are supposed to support a persistent world-view, and become a source of security. That we buy cake mix in a box because it reminds us of childhood memories. That cake mix in a plastic spiral tube would likely challenge most of its target audience, and do poorly in sales.

And this is how the concept of “scale” poorly serves our culture – how the need to “go viral” and trying to be something for everyone creates markets filled with vanilla content and vanilla brands.

I especially consider this when looking at niche markets. That an author may not be happy to sell 20,000 books of her novel about vampires, because she did experience the mass success that Stephenie Meyer saw. That magazines are creating very expected iPad apps because they can’t take a chance to rethink the value that the deliver to their markets. EG: they must still sell “articles,” even though most media brands serve their audiences in a variety of other ways.

Why do most newspaper and magazine websites look exactly the same? Take a look at the websites for the top five newspapers in the US:

They all have similar navigation, tons of stories and similar use of photos. Do you know what their big innovative question seems to be? “Do we put up a paywall in front of our content?”

When everything looks the same, you can’t be blamed when you fail. I remember hearing an anecdote about why people chose to use IBM services over a smaller shop who might have better products, services, and support. The idea was: when you choose IBM, since they are known as world-class, that – if the project fails, you can’t be blamed because, you know, you went with IBM. So the responsibility is offloaded.

This is how trends persist even though we don’t realize it.

How come The New York Times’ website can’t look like TheOatmeal.com? Or Personified.com?

These questions challenge our own viewpoints as to what “normal” is, and how many mental contortions we will do to justify what is expected.

Yes, there is safety in following trends. But there is also risk. And you must ask yourself: what are you building that is unique in this world, that is adding incredible value? Do you want to be just another laundry detergent with red packaging? Is that your legacy?

Let me know if I can help you in transitioning your business & career: @DanBlank, 973-981-8882 or dan@danblank.com.

Thanks!

-Dan

Experts: Perception vs Reality

I’ve been considering an often overused term: “expert.” My focus is on two areas:

  • Media & Journalism: Whether traditional media are full of experts and new media and social media are full of amateurs.
  • Online Education: With the proliferation of online courses, what differentiates someone who is knowledgeable vs someone who is an expert?

Dan Blank
Valeria Maltoni linked to an interesting post yesterday: “In Defense of Experts,” in which they debate the value between crowdsourced reviews (of 200 non-experts) and a review by a single expert.

This got me to consider why we assume that people associated with a well-known brand are inherently ‘experts,’ and that their value could potentially be more authoritative than the opinions of others.

This relates to traditional media – newspapers and magazines in particular – where their is a halo effect around contributors and reporters. Part of this is clearly the institutional code of ethics of large established brands. The other depends on the individual. Some have a long history of experience, and have been on staff for years. Others are contributors or columnists – people who we assume are experts, since the newspaper or magazine has spent money to put their words into ink on paper.

I was chatting with someone recently who was surprised to learn that some journalists in niche B2B media brands are not topic experts. They cover a particular market, let’s say it’s chicken farming, but they have not experienced chicken farming or studied it. They are journalists, whose talent includes covering any topic in an objective manner. Their ability lies in finding stories and communicating them effectively.

The conversation had us discussing whether this was of more value, or hearing from an actual chicken farmer whose hands dirtied the keyboard as they typed because they were just wrangling chickens a moment earlier.

There’s no clear answer, especially not when generalizing in a made-up example. But it speaks to the changes that media is undergoing, and why some in traditional media are convinced that their industry will never experience the shift that the music industry has. That there will always be a future for reasonably paid full-time editorial staffers for niche publications.

But suddenly, Chicken Farmer Digest is competing with the very people they are serving. Their sources are now their competition. The question is: has the value of CFD editorial reporting decreased now that their sources are covering themselves?

Actual experts spend a lifetime building their experience, connections and credibility. Compare this to some online experts, who are no doubt knowledgeable, but whose experience is short, and focus on a topic fleeting.

Tim Ferris discussed this in The 4-Hour Workweek:

“Expert status can be created in less than four weeks if you understand basic credibility indicators.”

He makes the critical point that “being perceived as an expert and being an expert” are sometimes two different things. His four steps to being perceived as an expert:

  1. Join two or three related trade organizations.
  2. Read the three top-selling books on your topic.
  3. Give one free one-to-three hour seminar at a the closest well-known university. Then do the same at branches of two well-known big companies.
  4. Offer to write one or two articles for trade magazines related to your topic, citing what you have accomplished in steps 1 and 3 for credibility.
  5. Join ProfNet, which is a service that journalists use to find experts to quote for articles. Use steps 1, 3, and 4 to demonstrate credibility.

Do you want to be an expert? Just do a Google search, there are lots of articles promising that you can become an expert on anything in no time. They aren’t saying you can learn about a topic, or become knowledgeable, but actually become an expert. An authority.

I am always fascinated with downloadable products such as eBooks and online courses. Are they filled with short-lived tips, or are they authored by someone with deep experience in a particular niche? Is their expertise based on perception, or reality?

This same thought-process applies to any form or online and offline content, including events.

I am thrilled at how the web has opened up a world of education, a world of learning, of sharing and connection. And I’m thrilled that people can access and become experts more easily. But I am cautious about throwing around words like ‘expert,’ because in order for it to mean something, it needs to be rare. It needs to be earned.

Let me know if I can help you in your journey: @DanBlank, 973-981-8882 or dan@danblank.com.

Thanks!

-Dan

Building Your Brand Online, One Smile at a Time…

Social media is not just changing how companies market themselves, but how they relate to their customers entirely. Customer relationship management is becoming a core part of how brands operate on the web, and companies such as Radian6 are offering some pretty neat (and expensive) tools for companies to track and connect with their customers online.

Dan Blank
What is interesting about this is that customer relationships via social media are less about marketing promotions, and more about being human. Brand reputations are being established and nurtured by connecting with their customers one person at a time. Businesses are being created one smile at a time. This is how loyalty is built, and the new norm for branding.

Some companies are getting accolades for simply letting customers know that they will do right by them.

We have come to expect less. We expect a complicated phone tree when we call ‘customer service,’ so much so that we are amazed when a human picks up the phone. We expect to be told that when a product breaks, it is somehow our fault, and are made to feel guilty that we didn’t buy extra insurance for it.

So customers put up walls, and look for ways to take advantage – a sale, a coupon, a discount store. But this is changing – we are reverting back to the idea that all businesses are small businesses.

When a brand makes us smile, we are almost shocked into sharing it with the world. So we share that news… with friends, co-workers, and the world. More and more, this happens on social media.

So we are seeing this work both ways – brands reaching out to customers, customers reaching out to their communities. For both sides, this is an opportunity, to be more human.

Do we have relationships with brands? Yes and no. We have relationships with people who represent those brands. These people represent ideas, ideals even, that the brand adheres to. Ideals that we adhere to. For some brands, this is meaningless. “Customer service” is written on the wall, but employees are judged by how quickly they can get a customer off the phone. Efficiency is the goal.

But other brands do try to represent ideals. What is happening is that – because of social media – ALL brands are feeling the pressure to move in this direction. To do right by their customers and what they believe in.

Are you a brand? No. And yes. It’s just a word. Your ‘brand’ is what you choose it to mean, if anything at all. For some, it represents what they believe in, or the value they offer others. As our personal and professional lives are both thrust online, having a ‘brand’ is a way to separate the two. It is also a simple tool to communicate who we are, what we believe and the value we share.

Let me know if I can help you build your brand online: @DanBlank, 973-981-8882 or dan@danblank.com.

Thanks!

-Dan