Ain’t No Shortcuts

Ain’t No Shortcuts

Ain’t No Shortcuts

After close to a decade in the creative marketing business, I realize that some of my observations may sound a little “Hey, you kids get off my lawn!”, but this is one thing that really grinds my gears so to speak, and I feel compelled to share.

When I meet someone who is a “consultant”, at a networking event or other function, they often have the appearance of doing very well–fancy car, nice suit. But when I ask what area of business they focus on, they generally always respond, “All of it.” Not sales, not finance…”all of it”. Questions about other specifics (“So, what’s your fee structure? Is it a percentage? A flat fee?”) are also met with vagaries.

What experience has borne out for me, in many of these instances, is that later on you find out that this individual was very successful in some single type of business–construction, maybe–and then sold the business for a solid profit, and now wants to make money consulting, since the perception is that consulting is easy money…just telling people what to do and getting paid for it.

It’s not uncommon to discover a year or two later that those (wannabe) consultants have taken another job for someone else; usually in sales. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

Generalities aside, very often these scenarios come about because individuals want to take shortcuts. There hasn’t been serious work put into the “Why” of their personal success, there aren’t processes that have been codified that they can share. They may not even have a basic understanding of business as a whole, or how businesses that differ from theirs function, which seriously hampers your ability to guide someone who is in a field other than one you have personal experience with. (By the way, while I’m skeptical of business consultants, I’m a strong supporter of business coaches, as evidenced in the post Get A Business Coach.)

They may know some tricks, but there’s no professional cohesiveness, no firm foundation of business knowledge. It has an infomercial vibe.

I have had clients who have hired people like this, and then asked me down the road, “Why did you let me do that?”

While it bothers me as a general practice, the most troublesome incarnation of this phenomenon is when they attempt to “optimize websites” for clients…in a way that interferes with what I’ve put together for them. I’ve seen situations where a “business consultant” tells a client that we’ve built a website for that they’re going to amp up their SEO, and then do a lot of very shady work that causes more harm than help. 

That’s a big no-no.

Companies who trust people who are not experienced professionals to alter websites constructed by professionals often reap the whirlwind. (I have a client right now who trusted an individual who did this very thing, and we’re still trying to fix it. Very expensive mistake.)

There are no shortcuts to engineering powerful search engine optimization. It takes time. 

The things that work are simply the things that work. A website that is built for optimization. Relevant content that is optimized, social media that feeds your funnel. These are the building blocks, and yes, sometimes they take time to work. But…they work.

Shortcuts will simply take you back to the beginning…where you often have to pay to start over.

Confidence is necessary for a startup to be successful, and it’s necessary for a good business coach to lead others. But to think you know the most in the room, and not take into account the best practices (which are called that for a reason, by the way) of the various segments of business, especially SEO (which I’m particularly invested in, of course), is not good consulting. It’s not good business, and it’s not good leadership.

You have to see the industry as a whole to offer good solutions to clients.

Blind spots are especially dangerous if they aren’t acknowledged. Arrogance is a red flag, and it will keep people from working with you, because ancillary businesses that partner with you want to get paid. Arrogance and blind spots often lead to failure. (And unpaid invoices.)

The “Get Rich Quick” mindset and the wild west attitude don’t typically lead to a sustainable long-term business success. Sometimes they do, but I’ve been in business for a while, and that’s not what I’ve seen…and in my work I see a lot of different types of businesses.

Even with private equity funding. Angel investors. Still prone to flame out.

Don’t make the mistake of looking for the “hack”. Be humble. You may know a lot, but you don’t know everything, and being teachable will yield so much more than arrogance. If you’re not able to take advice from those who specialize in an area, or even the business people who might be older, and not tech-savvy, but people savvy…you’re not someone people will want to partner with.

Look towards building sustainability. Financials that hit targets. Strategies that make sense, and have the input of professionals, whether it’s marketing, sales, operations, or any other segment.

The growth may not be super fast, but it will be an investment. Look towards the next several years, not the next few months.

Just to show that I don’t hate all consultants, I’ll offer my thoughts about what makes a good one:

Number one…identify your key value propositions. What are the things you know the most about? The areas where you’ve excelled, that are applicable across all areas of a business? What is your formal system? What are the process steps?

It’s often more about the consultant’s sales persona, than the actual offering. How do you come alongside clients and help them get what they want?

Number two…there’s no replacement for putting in work. It’s fun to simply tell people what to do, but you have to have walked it out and seen that it works before you offer the advice to someone else. Build a team around you. Find partners you trust. Be sure you have relevant experience.

And if you’re looking for a consultant and they’re counseling you about a shortcut that sounds maybe a little too good to be true…just remember that shortcuts are very often time (and money) wasters. You may be at risk to lose way more than revenue through shady practices than you realize. You may damage your business reputation, which can be impossible to overcome.

Do the work, faithfully over time.

A Letter to My Younger Self

A Letter to My Younger Self

A Letter to My Younger Self

Day Creative just celebrated our 8 year anniversary, and as I reflect on almost a decade in business, I thought about my younger self, and what I would say if I could send a letter to that guy.

Sometimes I can’t believe I’m still in business (and doing this well). A little background; I don’t have a business degree, my education is in film. The worldview that I saw modeled, through parents and other adults, was, go to college, get a degree, get a job in the field your degree is in. Then go to work for someone forever, and hopefully they have good health benefits!

So that’s the route I started on. However I got to a stage in life where that paradigm just wasn’t working. At the time I was working for a corporation in Oklahoma City and living in Norman, so I was engaging in that typical rat race commute. We started having kids and I just felt like my family was getting my leftover energy, not the best of me. It wasn’t ideal. At the same time I started doing some design on the side to make a little extra cash, and then it occurred to me that I could build a business around this pursuit that I enjoyed, and have the added benefit of actually being around. 

The decision was made to turn the side hustle into a business, and it was exciting. When I made it to the one year mark I reached out to a business coach connection I had made and told him, “Hey! Can you believe it? I made it a year!” His response? “Call me back when you make it to year five.”

Uh, Thanks?

Statistically, the estimate is that about 20% of small businesses fail before the first year — most do make it to the point I was so proud to reach. However, only about 50% survive past five years and after that? Dismal chances.

We did survive, however, and now we’re at year 8! Those years have been full of lessons, and evolution. Even though we succeeded, if I could, I would tell my younger self a few things. Three, to be exact.

Build long term relationships

Owning a business is mostly relationship building. When I first started, the thinking was, “Who will hire me and pay me well and on time?” It was purely transactional. I would finish a job, get paid and move onto the next client job. What I didn’t realize is I had a giant hole in my business–I wasn’t circling back after the transaction portion of the relationship was done to find out their thoughts, future needs, or how I could do better.

Now, I’ve learned that I don’t just want the contract for designing their website, or other pieces of business. I mean, I do want that, but I want to understand their business so that I can offer guidance for the next project. “Have you thought about this? I feel like this would benefit you.” The goal is to be a partner; a trusted advisor. Becoming an outsourced marketing department is much different than simply offering a la carte services (which we still do, of course), and that’s our goal. We have a lot to offer, and while the business is still a business, it’s better for everyone if the relationship focus is kept at the forefront.

I’m happy to say that we still have clients that I’ve had since the beginning eight years ago — I have become a trusted advisor, and we’ve become friends. Attending games together, going golfing…that type of relationship is the best kind of business relationship because building trust means that you can provide more value. I’ve had clients build from simple services to assisting with bigger events–one company did a fundraiser for an employee that had cancer, and they trusted us to help. Longevity happens when people trust you, and they trust you by having multiple opportunities to see you perform in the way you promise.

Find a business coach, STAT

I would say this to any small business owner starting out (and do), but particularly to my younger self because I didn’t have a business background. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and I wasn’t quite sure how to get there. Someone with practical experience and knowledge to guide and inform me was valuable, and I think if I had engaged my coach sooner, I would have benefitted earlier. If you’re new to this (or even if you aren’t) you may have blind spots, or things you’re doing that you could improve that you can’t see yourself.

One of the first questions my coach asked was, “What does Day Creative do? What services do you offer and which ones give you the best margins?”

I didn’t even know what a margin was. Yikes. 

It’s hilarious in hindsight, but my first year or two with my coach wasn’t fun. It was a lot of tracking and examining data. I hated it! I’m a creative person. I don’t like sitting and crunching numbers, but as I looked at our data I saw the wisdom in taking all of this into account and it began to shape my decisions. Developing new revenue streams, improving efficiency…all of the things that lead to sustainable life for a small business, I understand now, and can enact them easily. All because I worked with a business coach.

Most local branches of the Small Business Administration can help you find a coach or small business incubators that offer free or scaled help for those starting small businesses…find one with experience that fits your needs. You’ll get more bang for your buck if you find one that has diverse experience, an understanding of all aspects of business. Sales, finance, etc.

Learn to specialize

This piece of advice that I would give my younger self is maybe a little unexpected. When I first started, my goal was to be a full-service branding agency. I wanted to specialize in great design, from logo and a branding systems to website design and all of the little corollary pieces that go with it.

At a particular point my business coach and I were doing some work to pivot the business towards generating recurring revenue, and I found myself doing a lot of social media management. It was okay, but it wasn’t what I was best at. It was a good move because of the numbers, and it was workable, but I wasn’t happy doing it. My coach suggested only doing what I was good at – which sounded awesome, but I wasn’t sure how to grow revenue with this approach. But I trusted him and moved in that direction.

This had a couple of effects; one, when I focused on the work that I am the best at, it yielded success and provided opportunities to then grow the team at Day Creative by bringing in people who specialize in the other things I wanted to offer. It also made me happier because I was doing what I was actually best at – which yielded even more growth. Focusing on solving your customer’s problems is always the correct approach, and when you provide high quality work doing what you are best at it makes it even better – instead of trying to be something that you aren’t. 

Even in the last two to three years, we’ve transitioned to becoming more of a website shop. We have partners that handle the back end hosting, and we have a creative team that can produce a website that represents our client’s brand — it smells like them, it’s going to move the needle with their customers — and also provides all of the analytics and reporting data they need to grow the business. 

In the past 8 years we’ve gone from my original grand scheme to be a branding agency, to being content with being the best at creating websites and driving traffic to them. We provide growth for our clients by leading with what we’re best at. In the last two years, we’ve built partnerships with other agencies to produce their websites, where we become their go-to when they hit capacity. Specializing can open lots of unexpected doors.

Those would be my three main points, if I could send a letter to my younger self, starting my own business 8 years ago. Think about long term relationships, get a business coach as soon as possible, and find a niche.

Here’s to the last 8 years, and here’s to 8 more!

The SEO Circle of Life

The SEO Circle of Life

The SEO Circle of Life

Once you have your website set up, along with the requisite analytics account to see where your traffic is coming from, you’re ready for the next phase – which is improving what traffic you’re getting.

Understanding search results are a little bit like an iceberg; there is a little bit you see above the surface, but you may not be aware of just how much is underneath, supporting it.

What Exactly Are We Talking About?

Just to clarify our terms, there are two general types of search results that bring people to your website.

Paid SEO (Search Engine Optimization)  is search that brings website visitors in through paid ads – the most commonly known are Google Ad Words. We have a partner that specializes in this that we utilize for clients who want to make the most of their marketing budget that they’ve earmarked for paid advertising, so I won’t spend too much time talking about that, since it’s something that’s often best outsourced to someone who spends lots of time staying on top of the latest Google guidelines and best practices for that arena.

Instead, I’ll focus on Organic SEO, which is, in my humble opinion, the best kind. It utilizes your website blog page, with optimized content for both your desired audience and the search engine databases. Search keywords are words and phrases that people are typing into an online search engine, and you want those keywords on your website – so that your company is the answer that pops up when those potential clients search for them.

I refer to optimized content as “The Circle of Life”; everything starts with your website.  Once you have blog posts on your site, you can distribute them through email campaigns and social media (“Click the link to read more!”), and then you draw readers back to your site. The longer potential customers stay on your site–engaging with a chat window, or reading blog posts that link to other blog posts or contain calls to action–the more likely they are going to be to reach out and do business.

Just like with visual design, the focus of content generation is the potential customer. Who are you writing to? What’s going to move the needle with them? What problems are they looking to solve, and how can you help? In addition to keywords, a content creator develops themes and a plan to address potential customer needs…and your net gets widened. You don’t have to set the world on fire; you can do as many as you like, but 2-4 posts a month is sufficient to get a good content library going.

Organic SEO content on your website in the form of optimized blog posts is like a long-term savings account. You may think that the little deposits (in the form of monthly blog posts) don’t add up or generate very many new prospect leads at first, but they will over time…and they’ll pay interest in the form of a broadened offering of content to potential customers.

As with most things of value in a business, there are no magic formulas, hacks or shortcuts. You have to put in the work, faithfully over time. A executed content plan is the best long-term solution to growing your business online. If you could use some help to formulate a game plan for your business, shoot us a message in our chat.