FINALLY! Someone Talks About Intrapreneurship

The name of my blog is The Strengths Focused Intrapreneur, and yet, for the past four semesters, the classes in my program at WCU have focused on entrepreneurial pursuits. Don’t get me wrong, the info is helpful, especially for managing the business side of my husband’s writing career. But what I do in my “day job” is live the life of an intrapreneur. I have lots of autonomy in what I do to manage the departments and functions that report to me, and I basically have little micro-businesses within a larger corporate structure.

So, imagine my delight when in our assigned text for the semester I found a whole chapter in Rogers’ Entrepreneurial Finance on Intrapreneurship!

Joseph Alois Schumpeter, himself, asserted that entrepreneurship did not have to be confined to start-ups. He said, “Innovation within the shell of existing corporations offers much more convenient access to the entrepreneurial functions than existed in the world of owner managed firms. Many a would- be entrepreneur of today does not found a firm, not because he could not do so, but simply because he prefers the other method.” (Rogers 269).

I feel the essence of Schumpeter’s conclusion every day. I am an intrapreneur, and I make the conscious choice to hustle within the corporate structure because I grew up in a family business. I want to know that my paycheck will be on-time, that the collections department is doing their job, that billing statement need not be stuffed around the kitchen table at the beginning of every month, and that my 403b/401k has a handsome match provided by my employer. I loved our life growing up, and also, being the family-owned business is HARD. That’s not to say my life as part of a larger company is easy, but it’s certainly not an 80+ hour a week job, either.

Rogers asserts there are two types of Intrapreneur. He even offers a nifty model (Rogers 270):

Intrapreneur Spectrum

Caretaker– the anti-intrapreneur; happy with the status quo. Not interested in anything outside moderate growth or development of a product.

Developer– looks at the status quo and finds growth opportunity in existing business lines; might find new markets or customers to facilitate growth.

Innovator– creates new products, services or business models outside of regular R&D.

Some days I wonder what it would be like to start my own company or leave my large company to head-up human resources for a growing entrepreneurial endeavor. And then I read articles like these that remind me why I harness the power of my entrepreneurial spirit for intrapreneurial good.

Here are a few articles that might help ground or propel the budding entrepreneur:

I hope you find these articles helpful for choosing your own path as an entrepreneur, intrapreneur, or neither. As for me, my day job will mostly fulfill me in my intrapreneurial pursuits, and I’ll continue being an entrepreneur at home in helping manage my husband’s business and in the multiple side hustles I find myself involved in.

Additional Resources:

Rogers, S. (2014). Entrepreneurial Finance: Third Edition, Finance and Business Strategies for the Serious Entrepreneur. 269-278.

Interview- Jeff Kaplan- Director, Venture Asheville

Interview with: Jeffrey Kaplan, Venture Director. Tech junkie. Media maven. Academic entrepreneur. Dog lover.

Interviewed by: Nancy Critcher-White, Leadership HR Professional and Graduate Student at WCU, studying Entrepreneurship

Website: http://ventureasheville.com/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffdude/

Nancy (N): Thank you for joining me today, Jeff. While I know many entrepreneurs, when it comes to the topic of , you have a different perspective that I’m interested in learning about. Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed.

N: What is your business background?

Jeffrey (J): Education, Academia, and start-ups. I was a teacher; worked for non-profits, went to grad school, did some sales and marketing. Product Owner and Consultant Anthroware. Product development and consulting for product developers. For Hatch, I did program events and new venture creation. Bullet points are ok, right?

N: Yes, of course. Bullet points are great. What personal strengths have contributed to your success?

J: I build rapport very quickly. We just met, but we’ve already been bonding and chatting, right?! That trust building was especially important with my consulting and sales positions. And even now with the companies that come to Venture Asheville, I build trust so I can help people in those business cohorts. Other things: I read quickly, usually articles and finance books. I know how to leverage resources and help others leverage resources. Public Speaking is fun. And I have an ability to convey a creative vision.

N: What was your very first entrepreneurial endeavor?

J: In 8th grade, I bought a CD burner. At school, people would give me a list of songs they wanted on the CD and I would download the songs from Napster and burn their CD and deliver to them the next day. Blank CDs were cheap, and I had a good business going. Another guy entered the CD burning business and started a price war with me, plus his parents had faster internet.

N: How would you describe your current business and what you would tell someone who doesn’t know what Venture Asheville does?

J: Two things- Build Entrepreneurs and get companies funded. That’s my pitch. As the director, I direct. I meet a lot of people. Help businesses make connections. I’m usually either meeting with businesses or entities (sometimes other businesses) that can support the businesses in our cohort.

N: I know some folks might come to you with half-baked ideas, what do you look for in the businesses that are accepted into your programs?

J: We won’t take half-baked ideas. If people come to us at that stage in the process, we send them to Hatch or some other business development help. That part of the process is fun, and I still help with Hatch, but it’s not what we do at Venture Asheville. We are looking for businesses that need help scaling. We want a committed founder. I realize a lot of people have side hustles, but we are looking for founders to be all-in. As an aside, I would like to start some workshops on helping people turn their side projects into their full-time work. Other things we look for: Is there a product/market fit? Does it speak to an underserved market? I love unconventional business ideas and novel value creation. Sometimes that might look like an idea or software platform used for one purpose that a business owner wants to use for an unrelated and underserved group.

N: What types of attributes or success are your Angel investors looking for in the businesses they back?

J: Initially, they want businesses that are already making money. They are looking for 10-35% equity. They fund $100,000 to $800,000. They want companies that can grow and scale successfully. They want businesses to sell in 3-5 years of their investment and a 10X return or 7.5X return across all deals. No real estate deals.

N: This interview will be posted for other entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs to view and learn from. As a serial entrepreneur or serial investor, I’m sure you have financed ventures in multiple ways. Do you mind sharing some of your tactics for funding a start-up?

J: Personally, most of what I’ve done is bootstrapping, pinching pennies, and personal savings. It is really helpful to have a working spouse. I’m familiar with all sort of financing tactics because of my work though. Customer financing through pre-sales is a good option for some businesses. Strategic partnerships are something I did a lot of with my Dogphredly guide, which was acquired. I’m thinking of doing some crowdfunding for a current project, oh and equity crowdfunding is a really interesting concept. Seems a little scary but I think we’ll start seeing a lot more of equity crowdfunding.

N: What are your thoughts on financing tactics like angel investors or using crowdfunding as a way to start a business vs. getting a traditional loan or line of credit?

J: When you are in the earlier phases of a business, it’s hard to get traditional financing. I send people to Mountain Bizworks a lot. Lines of credit are great options early on. If you still need money after angel investors have invested, it’s possible their investments will get squashed, so that’s something to be aware of.

N: What general advice do you have for someone who is starting a business?

J: I see too many founders go for the path of least resistance and they don’t stay true to their vision. It’s going to be hard but don’t compromise your vision. Be tenacious and resilient. Be prepared for a lot of shit to go wrong. It’s harder, longer, and more expensive than you think.

N: Do you have any financial advice you would be willing to share?

J: Don’t spend what you don’t have. Take care of your people. Leaders eat last.

N: Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you would love for those listening to know?

J: As a founder, you can get pretty far before you need to hire a chief financial officer (CFO). That said, you need to know your basic financial documents, and you need access to your books. You need to know your balance sheets, your PNL, cash flow, income, payroll, and run rate. You’ve got to know what you are looking at.

N: I appreciative of your time today. Thanks so much for your words of wisdom for those reading. One last thing before we end…I’m working on a funding proposal for my husband, A.D. White, independent author/publisher. When I complete the draft would you mind giving your opinion on it?

J: Yes, I’d be happy to take a quick look at the funding proposal. In the meantime, have your husband come to the pitch parties at Hatch for open mic night.

N: You said you read a lot of business and finance books, what are you reading right now?

J: [pulls a book from his bag] This one is “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It” by Chris Voss. It’s non-intuitive advice on negotiating.

Raising Capital Might take More Than a Lucky Cat

“A bank is a place that will lend you money if you can prove that you don’t need it.” – Bob Hope via goodfinancetips.com

This week we are choosing topics to research that pertain to raising funds for entrepreneurial pursuits. We’ll be publishing an article in a few weeks about the topic we research, and I chose a pretty traditional form of funding to explore. My topic is “Loans & Lines of Credit (to include SBA guarantees)”.

So far, I’ve learned the Bob Hope comment about banks loaning money only to people who prove they don’t need it is entirely true. Most banks are pretty risk-averse. This explains the popularity of other non-traditional forms of funding for modern entrepreneurs; options like:

  • Angel Investors
  • Crowdfunding
  • & Business Incubators

For entrepreneurs who have collateral to offer and/or extremely great credit, traditional loans and lines of credit can still be a good option but are usually not the only option to pursue. As I conduct more research, I’ll post the whole article on my blog to share.

In the meantime, I’d like to share a couple of thought-provoking pieces about funding.

The first is a quick bit of advice posted on Entrepreneur.com from Amy Williams, CEO at Citizens of Humanity on choosing investors wisely: https://www.entrepreneur.com/video/310046

The second is an interesting article about the story you tell when pitching a start-up to investors. It’s an HBR piece called Startups That Seek to “Disrupt” Get More Funding Than Those That Seek to “Build” by Dana Kanze and Sheena S. Iyengar.

I hope this gives you some food for thought until my next post.

Cash Flow- Sinking Ship? Let’s Hope Not.

“Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.”

– Benjamin Franklin via brainyquote.com

This week we are researching and writing about cash flow management. Each person in my entrepreneurial finance class has taken a cash flow topic and writing about it for the benefit of our other classmates. I chose the topic of “how to collect cash owed to your company”. Collecting cash owed to your company can be a hard task to manage. The easy solution might be to say, “why not require payment in full before products or services are delivered?” Unfortunately for many industries and businesses, cash payment up-front is simply not how business is conducted. It might be an issue of convenience, corporate billing structure, or needing to deliver upon a service before being paid in full. For many entrepreneurs, collecting cash owed has to be an integral part of daily, and at least monthly, operations.

The first step to ensuring proper and timely collection of payment is an accurate and proactive accounts receivable system. If an entrepreneur anticipates needing to bill customers for products or services rather than or in addition to point of sale transactions. Entrepreneurs should invest in a record keeping or point of sale system with built-in billing/monthly statement generation capabilities.

While I used several resources for the full report, I wanted to share a great article that I found about collecting money owed to your business. As usual, Entrepreneur magazine (and electronic content) published this great piece from John Rampton in 2017 called 6 Strategies for Dealing With Unpaid Invoices That Get You Paid Sooner.

Here are the 6 tactics:

  1. Make sure you followed procedure and then follow-up politely.
  2. Give discounts and charge a penalty.
  3. Abandon the stiff business approach.
  4. Collections, arbitration, mediation, court.
  5. Contact a Business Reporting Bureau.
  6. Factor them.

Make sure you click on the article for the details and some other great links to resources and definitions of some of the terms. I had never heard of “factoring” debt until I read this article.

 

Work Cited:

Rampton, J. (2017). 6 Strategies for Dealing With Unpaid Invoices That Get You Paid Sooner. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/302037

Entrepreneurs, Dogs, Money, and a New Semester

“Dogs have no money. Isn’t that amazing? They’re broke their entire lives. But they get through. You know why dogs have no money? …No Pockets.” – Jerry Seinfeld

via Goodfinancialcents.com

I started a new class last week in my Masters in Entrepreneurship program at Western Carolina University. It’s a class that I was dreading a little bit. This one when I registered for it was called Advanced Entrepreneurial Finance. Now don’t get me wrong, I manage some pretty large accounts as part of my day job, and I’m the chief financial officer at home, but the thing that was psyching me out is, in my undergraduate work I took a class called “Math for Non-Math Majors.” A class with the word advanced in front of the word finance was daunting to me. Well, I’ve had a week to meditate on the syllabus, and I’m happy to report, I think I’ll be just fine. The syllabus calls this class “Entrepreneurial Funding” which seems less scary and there really isn’t anything too hard about the concept of money in and money out. The advanced concepts, as they relate to entrepreneurship seem really helpful and exciting. I’ll get to learn more about topics like:

  • Updating a Chart of Accounts
  • Managing Cash Flow
  • Crowd Funding Strategies
  • Valuing a Company
  • Funding Sources
  • & Harvesting-The End Game

To help inspire me, I’ve been googling entrepreneurial financial wisdom. Blogger Choncé Maddox came up with a great list of 5 Inspirational Money Quotes from Entrepreneurs on her blog Due.

So, I’m not nervous about the class anymore. All of these things make perfect conceptual sense, and as I learn more, I’m sure I’ll be even more jazzed about the prospect of helping my husband grow his business through what I learn. After all, I have two things going for me:

  1. I LOVE money.
  2. AND…unlike dogs, I have pockets.

dog and pockets

Expert Interview- Jeanne Eury, Practical Marketing/Business Strategist & Manager

Interview with: Jeanne Eury, Practical Marketing/Business Strategist & Manager successful in Social/Digital/Traditional & Video Marketing working out of the Raleigh/Durham area of North Carolina. Jeanne is also the Director of Member Services for the North Carolina Merchants Association.

Interviewer: Nancy Critcher-White, HR Professional and Graduate Student at WCU, studying Entrepreneurship

Website: www.socialsoutherner.com

Nancy (N): Thank you for your time and insight today, Jeanne. We met through a closed Facebook group called “Practical Marketing & Operations for Small Independent Businesses.” I quickly realized you were a moderator and leader for this group and that you probably wore many hats. What is your professional background and current role(s)?

Jeanne (J): I was a waitress in high school and college. Managed a bookstore in my early twenties. Stayed at home with my boys for five years. Worked in sales for the Thomas Register’s Regional Guides, an industrial B2B directory. Worked for Time Warner media (TV commercial sales). My husband got a promotion to Atlanta, so we moved, and I was hired by Bellsouth Yellow Pages as a YP advertising sales person. Moved to Greensboro and went back to work at Time Warner in the Greensboro office.

Total fluke/crazy story I was invited to apply for a sales and marketing position in a new department at US Airways in DC. I was hired, moved, and worked for them for a year. I was the first outbound sales rep liaison to the Convention and Visitors Bureaus (CVB)/ Destination Marketing Organizations (DMO) and national associations. I had a 27 million dollar budget/ROI goal…and managed all the co-marketing with the CVBs that made sense (Charlotte, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, held focus groups for the association managers and developed all of the collateral and the actual program the airline offered to them.

Was recruited to the national sales team at the DC Convention and Visitors Bureau and had the opportunity to travel and experience so many great things. Was recruited to a national publication that contracted with CVBs and Chambers to produce and sell advertising in their ‘Official Visitor’s Guide.’

Went to work for a start-up that produced print and online maps and information guides specific to large association meetings/conventions/expos as their first marketing and sales person. I set up the sponsorship/ad sales program that either allowed the assn meetings/expo groups to sell advertising to their attendees and exhibitors about the products or had us sale them and split profits. —-During this time I was establishing a reputation as a sponsorship and advertising sales guru and had the opportunity to speak at several regional and national industry gatherings.

In 2006 I started a company with two partners to create from scratch our own expos and conferences in the military/law enforcement/government space. We launched seven proprietary events and had the honor of producing several events for other organizations like the NATO Maritime Security Conference in Naples Italy, two conferences with expos for the US Army Special Forces Command, and several small niche organizations. We were profitable within the first seven months and had grossed one million dollars at the end of our first year. I handled our marketing, our sponsorship and exhibit package creation and sales, established and managed our relationships with the organizations we were contracted to for their events and worked to gain ‘supported by or sponsored by’ status from the gov or military entities for the events we wholly owned that were targeted to their market. SO much of what I and we did was because we didn’t have the money, and later the sense, to hire it out. I wrote my first press releases for our very first show held in Fayetteville NC…and we ended up with all of the local press (TV and Print) as well as the Washington Post, Army Times, and Domestic Preparedness Journal in attendance. A combination of internal management issues, and the travel and conference government scandals in 2011 and forward forced our closing in early 2014. In the last year of our business, I began to take on some small consulting projects for associations, and other DMOs (AARP, Sign Assn, NDIA, Myrtle Beach CVB, Traverse City MI CVB, and local restaurants and small businesses.

After our business closed, I had a health issue and was determined to move back home to Raleigh. I had my closest friends here but not a lot of ‘business friends’ or business connections so I thought taking a job was the most sensible choice when moving back. I started as the first Director of Member Services for the NC Retail Merchants Assn and work on negotiating contracts for our discounted member services, writing articles for our magazine and blog posts for our website, and teaching marketing, business development, partnership development, and customer service through Chambers of Commerce and Small Business Centers across the state.

Since 2017 I have also worked with one or two private clients as a marketing and business strategist and manager.

N: What draws you particularly to small business owners and entrepreneurs?

J: I’m passionate about small businesses and entrepreneurs because I am/was one and I understand the blessing and the curse of having an entrepreneurial spirit. I honestly believe that small businesses and entrepreneurship are the way to economic independence, building family legacies, and creating a personality/culture/foundation for their communities. I also see businesses every.single.day that have unlimited potential and they are either too scared or too uneducated about general business, to maximize it and I know they can reach their dreams if they had some help. Mostly I love working with small businesses because they afford the greatest opportunity to really see a change. When working with a large company with multiple silos and tons of employees, it’s hard to know just what made the change in their direction. With a small business, you can typically see results quicker, and it is much easier to pinpoint the things that caused an increase in sales or the increase in awareness. For me, the ability to help is important so being able to know I’ve helped do X thing in X amount of time is incredibly rewarding to me.

N: Your FB group is really big on helping entrepreneurs understand and utilize social media marketing tactics. What are your “must haves” or “must understands” of social media marketing in today’s world?

J: Every business must have its own website on a platform they control. WordPress, Drupal, or another open-source, portable site, the business controls is the single most important thing IMO. Facebook is not your website. Pinterest is not your website. This is a message I am continually trying to share. Businesses have to know their ‘owned’ media is the single thing they control. Wix, Weebly, and God forbid, the website builders (Godaddy, webs, etc.) are not only platforms that you don’t control and don’t give you the ability to simply download your files and move them, their SEO capabilities continue to score lower than WordPress and a few other independent platforms.

After they have a website that they own, the next most important thing is to have their own email marketing system. I use and recommend Constant Contact, but there are many good options. Your contacts, your ‘business Rolodex’ is one of, if not the, most important assets of your business. Too many businesses tell me they message with their customers through Facebook or just post their sales and people can find them. Email marketing is still the most effective marketing option, despite it not being as new and shiny as some others. In 2017 email marketing still provided a 44X ROI.

I think one of the biggest ‘must understands’ is the need to avoid being a mile wide and an inch deep.  Don’t shotgun your marketing, you don’t have to be on every single platform. In actuality, without a social media team, it is impossible to adequately maintain a presence on every option out there. Take time to determine the top two, three at most, platforms your best customers use most and focus your attention there. Watch the data and go where it tells you to go. A really tight campaign on just one or two platforms will always provide a better return than a half-done effort on five or six.

It’s important to also remind people that everything should lead back to their website. Every FB post, email marketing campaign, video, and everything else they do should drive people to their site. Visits help drive organic rank, and Google Analytics can also give you invaluable insights about what your visitors are most interested in once they’re on your site.

And video…it is ALL about video.

N: What is something hot on social media right now that entrepreneurs should learn more about (maybe FB live?)?

J: VIDEO is the hot topic right now, and it is projected to continue to grow exponentially for the next three years.

From Wyzowl survey at the end of 2017:

  • 81% of people have been convinced to buy a product or service by watching a brand’s video.
  • Video is shared 434% more often than text AND graphics individually or together

Barriers to video marketing entry are incredibly low since most everyone has a cellphone. FB and IG video is expected to be casual and ‘on the fly’ and is an excellent way for a company to show some personality and be current. I do recommend businesses use professionally shot and edited video if they want to load a founder’s story video to their website or use a video as part of a funding pitch, but 85% of what a business should do can be done with their cellphone. Every platform’s algorithm heavily favors video. It has so many ancillary benefits, most importantly adding dwell time on a website…one of the most important factors to Google to organic search results.

N: What is not so hot right now? On it’s way out? Or not as much bang for the buck/effort anymore?

J: Snapchat use by brands is declining at a rapid pace. While it is still used as a messaging app by the under 30 crowd, its advertising/marketing ROI, while never high for most users, has lost significant ground to Instagram.

N: One reason entrepreneurs fail in the first 2-3 years of their business is their inability to connect with their market and their customer. Some entrepreneurs feel like they can go it alone and that a good idea will sell itself. What would you say to an entrepreneur who was hesitant about hiring a marketing pro?

J: I encourage every new entrepreneur/business owner to invest in two people from the beginning; a great CPA and a great marketing strategist. An owner’s business idea is so personal to them that they can easily use what they think/like/want with what the public at large, or even those in their perceived niche, want. A professional marketing strategist can help steer them to reality.

Many businesses decide to market when they’re in trouble, and often then they become, what we somewhat unkindly referred to in ad sales as, someone who buys just enough to prove it doesn’t work. Since they aren’t marketing professionals themselves, it is hard for them to vet candidates and often spend money on someone who isn’t the most up to date.  They don’t pay enough to get an expert, and they don’t spend enough or understand the data enough to maximize what they do spend. So they blame the lack of marketing success on their preconceived idea that it wasn’t going to work in the first place.

A good marketer can not only provide lead generation for them but can save them huge amounts of money and time. Marketers know how to test inexpensively to narrow down the demographics/psychographics and marry them to the best platforms to use. They understand the reports/data and can quickly adjust their content/graphics/timing/budget to most effectively achieve goals.

And a good CPA keeps you out of IRS problems, can help you understand your deductions, and can even work with your marketing team to even out your cashflow.

N: At what point in starting a new business or developing a product should an entrepreneur hire an agency or consultant?

J: I would encourage someone ready to start a business or launch an entrepreneurial endeavor to talk with a consultant BEFORE they put all of their money and energy into something they haven’t tested. Just because your mom or your neighbors or even members of your closest groups like an idea doesn’t mean enough people will like it as presented to sustain a company. Bring someone in to help you test a few ideas and learn what data is important to track and to trust as your guide. Take that information and do your entrepreneur thing. Then bring them back in when you’re ready to launch to help you put together the best campaign for the quickest confirmation that you’re on the right track, to help you gain ideas of additional products or services could be developed to offer to that same audience, and to set the company up in the best light to attract press, investors, strategic partners, etc.

N: Can businesses engage with you on an A’ la carte basis? Like for an event to launch their product? Or a focus group?

Businesses can engage with a marketing strategist/manager on an a la carte basis but bringing in one or more ‘experts’ in for one part of one project will cost more money and potential be less successful than having someone that knows the business, the audience, and can provide continuity in branding/voice/graphics/colors/etc. I find the best outcomes with clients who bring a marketer in for a project, learn as much as they can (and a marketer should be transparent and eager to have an educated and engaged owner) and if they want to do basic maintenance on their own, bring their marketing person in every two to three month to review statistics/data, brainstorm how to use it to launch a new product, host a new event, or maximize something that shows promise.

N: How do you help your clients connect with their customers or prospective customers?

J: Clients typically come with an idea of who their market is, whether they’re right or not. We typically talk to them at length about why they feel a particular thing meets the needs or wants of a specific audience. We also spend quite a bit of time running reports about their competitive set or, if it’s a completely new thing, information on companies and products that are similar in the target market. Seeing what they do, what is most successful for them, and most importantly what isn’t, are good places to start. We also try to look for gaps…an example is a baby product company that obviously markets to expectant and new parents. But if that product has features that make it easier to operate with one hand, or less heavy to carry, we may target grandparents as opposed to parents. A super-crowded market can be penetrated against traditional products, but it is a long and expensive process. By segmenting someone who can use the product, is an influencer to the new parents, and who isn’t obviously or aggressively targeted by other like products, the market can be engaged. There are fewer grandparents heavily involved with their grandchildren than parents especially with the mobility of families, but the ones that have money and may find a certain feature of more importance than new parents…i.e., lighter weight products, things that are easier to open, and things that aren’t completely technology dependent. Getting 10% of a small market is still less expensive and faster to gain than ½ of 1% of a larger market with multiple competitors. Those are the types of things we look for, a way to create a win as soon as possible that gets some buzz and generates some cashflow for a new company, and shows the power of marketing. Since we also have experience in traditional (non-digital) marketing and events, we place attention on partnerships, content marketing, networking, press, and good old fashion face to face meetings. We look for connections between prospects and our clients…a shared greek organization, a common friend for an introduction, frequenting the same restaurants…anything that gives us an advantage to get an appointment or some coverage.

N: What should an entrepreneur look for in a marketing firm or consultant partner? How do they make a good match?

J: This is one of my soapboxes. I have a presentation I give for organizations called ‘Find your Folks, and know those who are Not Your People’, and this is so important when finding a marketing partner. While you don’t have to be BFFs with your marketing folks, you don’t want to dread the thought of having to be around them.

These are the things I think are most important:

  1. Find someone that is engaged in continuous learning. This can be through a higher level marketing mastermind group, an InnerCircle, and classes/interaction with a practicing mentor. Things literally change daily. Even though I personally pay to be in a higher level mastermind/InnerCircle group, I still spend at least one hour a day reading through the notifications and updates from marketing companies like Google, Facebook, Wordstream, and Marketingprofs. I also subscribe to Entrepreneur, INC, and Fast Company to find out what new ideas, companies, opportunities, colors, trends are happening in general that we can apply to our client’s plans. My InnerCircle and Mastermind group give me about 50 other professional marketers internationally to discuss ideas with, to go to when I can’t edit my own content, and to use for jobs that require a high level of expertise in an area that I don’t consider my strongest. Without that continuous commitment to excellence and those relationships, my clients wouldn’t be able to receive the very best advice and services. Don’t hire someone who got a marketing degree 15 years ago, or who is happy to believe they’re experts, so their education and need for consultation with others in the field have passed.

 

  1. Find someone who doesn’t seem to have a need to talk down to you by using acronyms or phrases they know you probably don’t understand. While we all have our secret sauce and don’t disclose all of our exact methodologies to our clients, we do try to make sure they know, in terms that are easy to understand, what we’re doing and why. Be wary of someone who comes across as a bit condescending or dismisses questions. Someone who is confident in their knowledge and ability is eager to share the awesomeness of marketing with their clients. We’re pretty straightforward and down to earth. A client once compared me and one of my web folks to ‘Matlock’..people liked Andy Griffith as their attorney but in the beginning thought he almost seemed too simple or not ‘highbrow’ enough to provide as professional of a service as a stuffy Harvard educated lawyer but his lack of concern for being impressive gave him the ability to be totally immersed in solving their problems, and by the end they all thought he was an understated genius.

 

  1. Lastly, find someone who doesn’t operate alone. They can be a single consultant but ensure they have a team of folks they work with regularly. My superpower is strategy and data-diving, but I don’t personally pretend to be an expert in building complicated e-commerce sites. I have someone locally I trust who I’ve used for over 3 years that I bring in to build them when a client needs them because he will always do it better than I could. I also have wonderful close friendships with other professionals locally and through my memberships so, heaven forbid, I was hit by the bus one day, there are those that my team knows and trusts to step in and oversee a project.

N: The idea of hiring a firm for an ad campaign is foreign to me. I’ve only worked in large companies that had an in-house team. What do you expect from your client? What would a small business owner need to bring or prepare for the first meeting with you?

J: I prefer a client who is engaged in the process. One who comes to the table with some ideas and goals, even if we need to tweak them. I also expect a client to either listen to what we propose or understand that it doesn’t matter how much money you pay us, that if you go off the reservation and do other things over and over, you aren’t going to get the result you want and it isn’t going to on us. I expect a client to be honest. If they don’t believe that our vision fits theirs, that is ok…we could both be right, or we could both be wrong…but they need to be honest, and we can help them find a better fit. We will need realistic objectives. If you have a low budget, then your results will be slower and less robust. If we need photos from your locations and you don’t want to pay for our time to come to take them, then you have to be willing to produce them for us yourself. We also need someone who understands this is a partnership that requires an exchange of information. If data tells us you’re receiving more leads, and your sales are increasing, but we find out months later that all of your sales are to new customers, that we’ve somehow alienated existing customers, we need to know that.  If we look at stats and your leads are increasing, but your conversions aren’t, then we’ll need to review your sales process, your fulfillment process, the quality of your product/service, etc. Marketing produces leads, and although we also consult on business development, marketing on its own is meant to increase calls/emails/messages…inbound leads. If that is working, we need to examine what internal to your process once you receive the leads is preventing your sales. We need an engaged and curious client who is willing to communicate the things we can’t see in the data, who follows through with agreed upon strategy, and who trusts us with the inner workings of their business when we need to understand why things are or are not working.

N: What are some of the outcomes the business owner should expect from a successful ad campaign?

J: A client should expect what they’ve said they wanted, what we’ve agreed to deliver, and what is reasonable based on any unforeseen outside occurrence. It is so important that we ask enough questions and can establish what is the most important to the client and reconcile that with what is most important for their business. Sometimes a client comes to us and wants new clients to increase their sales totals, but when we dive deeper, we realize they have untapped potential to sell more products/services at a higher price point to their existing customers. Existing customers are less expensive to engage, have higher average ticket sales, and are more likely to give testimonials and recommendations. In that case, even though the client wants a big campaign to bring in new customers, we can save them money and accelerate the time it takes to see more money and more profit by finding ways to sell more to their current base. In that case, the client said they wanted new clients, what we realized they really wanted was more sales, and what would give them more sales and more profit was to more closely and frequently engage their existing customers. That then gives them a better foundation and more cashflow to then have us increase their number of clients/customers.

N: Most of what we have talked about is good press, in happy times and in a proactive way. On the flip side of that, How can a professional, like yourself, help an entrepreneur through a rough patch or through a crisis that looks unfavorable to the business or product?

J: This is the hardest one…it depends on the level and type of the crisis. A rash of bad reviews can be turned around because they typically list the issues that resulted in the bad experience. A singular bad incident (food poisoning, no show entertainment) can be handled with a sincere, immediate apology, an outline of steps taken to remedy, and at an appropriate interval, a self-deprecating bit of humor. Regardless of the crisis, we have experience in-house and can tap into other experts to assist.

N: Most of the people who will read this conversation are grad students and/or new entrepreneurs. I met you through a small business Facebook group. Are there any social groups you would recommend to entrepreneurs who are starting their marketing plan?

J: There are some good Meet-Up groups out there, but you have to carefully choose them. The AMA (American Marketing Association) has a local chapter with good educational luncheons and an LI group, so does the PRSA. Google Corporate has several G+ groups that have active communities and provide great updates and hacks. All of the Community Colleges in NC are affiliated with a Small Business Center, and many universities have a Small Business Technical Center. Both provide group and individual counseling and some have small groups of folks that meet together. I love the ‘Become a Social Media Manager with Rachel Pedersen’ free FB group, I am a student of her paid groups and in her InnerCircle. I admire her because she is a working agency owner, not someone who makes a living selling people a program. The ‘Intrepid Entrepreneur’ is another group with good info and good people.  It’s also important to have business friends who are entrepreneurs but in very different fields. They know your struggle is real but can often be great idea generators and can give great advice because they are one step removed from your particular issues.

N: If you had one last word of advice for an entrepreneur “on the fence” about engaging a professional marketing firm what would it be?

J: Do it! If you’re offering a service or providing a product and you are a true professional, you understand why people should hire you: you offer deep expertise in a particular area and focus on solving a particular problem. The same rule applies to a marketing professional. You can’t possibly have a professional level of expertise in every aspect of your own business. I will tell you that know of us will ever know every single last thing about your own one area of expertise, but you will at least arrive at the ability to quickly know who to get if you need something you lack. It is often the death of small businesses…an owner who believes that he or she is the sole brain trust for a business. That is what is almost always at the bottom of the reasons most businesses fail. It isn’t a lack of money, it was the lack of engaging a financial professional with expertise in entrepreneurs in your niche. It isn’t bad marketing, it’s hiring the wrong marketing company and choosing to allow them as a back-up scapegoat if you fail. No matter what you’ve heard, entrepreneurs don’t exist on an island, they need help. Marketing should be a line in your start-up budget just like rent and internet and anything else essential to a successful launch.

N: Thank you, Jeanne, for those of us who love your answers and want to learn more, what is the best way to inquire about your business? And how do my fellow entrepreneurs plug into your online groups?

J: Our website is www.socialsoutherner.com . I can be found on Linkedin www.linkedin.com/in/jeanneeury   Our FB Group PracticalLessonsforSmallBusiness is free so just apply to join, we’d love to have you. I also teach free classes at area Small Business Centers and love talking to people about marketing.