What’s Your Best Offer?

Highest Grade

Is “on time and within budget” the first few lines of your marketing message?

If you had to remove those words, what would your story be?

Everyone worries about spending money, even those with deep pockets. And if someone hires you they hope you’ll finish on time. Both are universal concerns.

They’re also the least a customer can expect. A built-in feature. And when you’re not the cause of a ballooning budget or a blown schedule, your best offering is now shot.

Even if you’re serving the fast and cheap crowd, you still need to stand out among all the other businesses using the same line.

Better is to include these base-level offerings on a dedicated page about your process. That’s where the features go.

What you capture attention with is either what sets you apart from others in your same industry, or demonstrating an understanding of your customers’ fears and dreams. Or a combination.

• What do people compliment you on?

• What part of your personality are you hiding that could be unleashed, such as a sense of humor?

• What are you most proud of?

• What do potential customers worry about most (aside from time and money)?

• What feeling will your work leave them with? Relief? Delight? Confidence?

The problem is, we don’t often view our own marketing messages in the context of those we compete with. Listings are one of the best places to look if it fits your industry, such as Houzz. But even visiting 10 of your competitors’ sites will be eye opening. That’s what your potential customers are doing.

When Naming Does Come Easy

I am yoga

Company naming is no easy task, unless, of course, it falls from the sky and lands at your feet.

Most often, it involves pouring over the company’s how, why, what, who, where. It involves word collecting, list making, searching, listening, vetting and playing.

Does it sound good? Will people like to say it? Not always possible but it doesn’t hurt to start with high standards. I created a brand identity for a climate initiative with a seven-word name. Try to say the name and you stop after the first few words, hoping the person knows what you’re referring to. The acronym is its own tongue twister. Did the committee that selected the name say it a few times aloud?

Is the name easy to remember?

Does it look good when written out?

Will it have longevity? Does it need to?

Does it have an acronym that spells something unfortunate or undesirable?

Can it be confused with another name? Or does it in any way trample on another business? Once, while working with a children’s clothing company, with business cards and hang tags already printed and ads ready for publication, the founder discovered a legal issue with the name she’d chosen. It was painful lesson, but better to have been safe than sorry. In a few days we created a new name, one that was even better than the original. Problems always become opportunities.

If it’s a made-up name, is it easy to pronounce? Will people feel silly or stupid trying to say it? Will it create too much mystery or is mystery what you’re after? I don’t know what Qumana does but maybe I don’t need to?

There is no perfect name. Each business is different. For some, only a founder’s name will do, as with law firms. Some businesses benefit from a name that says what it does, such as Alpha Pest Control. The important thing is understanding the pros and cons of types of names and developing criteria that’s important to you.

Recently, I noticed the missing letters on a Bikram yoga studio sign. How delightful, I thought, that just the right letters fell off to spell “I am yoga.” Then I rounded the corner to see the adjacent sign and realized it was no coincidence. A Google search revealed that, in light of the recent allegations against Bikram Choudhury, this studio wanted to end its association with him. 

What are the odds that a new company name would be hiding inside the original?

 

A Whole-Self Work Life

Body of Work: buy the book!

In the old world of work, we described specific career paths, such as doctor, lawyer, entrepreneur, or writer. In today’s world of work, due to either personal choice or circumstances outside your control, there is a great chance that you will change your work mode at least once in your career. More likely multiple times.” —Pamela Slim, Body of Work

That means cultivating the ability to adapt. But more than adapt, we can go a step further and find overlooked treasures in our personal and work history to weave a whole new narrative.

In Pamela Slim’s new book, Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together, you are likely to locate yourself on its thoughtful question-filled pages. Award-winning author, business coach and speaker, Pam has touched a nerve at at time when people are eager to use all of themselves in their work.

• What will I regret not doing?

• What dragons do I need to slay?

• What strengths come naturally to me?

• Who are the key people in my circles?

• Is there a good model out there for what I want to do?

• What kind of legacy do I want to leave with my work?

Over the last few months, I’ve found myself recommending Body of Work to nearly everyone I talk to. I did have the pleasure of doing a workshop with Pam, but no, I’m not getting any kickbacks! Something is in the air.

• An HR manager quits her job at a relief organization and returns to her art that she had shelved long ago as she figures out her next move. Despite new job offers, she’s not leaping too quickly. Instead, she’s wondering how she can bring more of herself into her work.

• A food product developer-turned-facilitator is thinking about her work legacy, and is also considering how to find fulfilling contract work that plays to all her strengths, now that she’s gathered quite a few.

• An arts council director quits her job to pursue a love of video and storytelling, weaving it into food, another passion.

Too often we define ourselves by one role here, one role there. In the past, we’ve been almost encouraged to leave our personal life out of our work, creating self-made silos. As such, we might not see a connection between our volunteer life, our hobbies and our work life. Missing those connections means overlooking opportunities for more rewarding work.

Why now?

• Economic realities are forcing people to rethink and redefine how they work and what they bring to the table. And for many, there’s a growing desire to leave a positive mark on the world.

• In turn, many people want to craft their own role(s) rather than fit into a neatly defined, and limiting, one.

• It’s far easier to create a business or have side gigs, from self-publishing to selling handmade goods on Etsy to offering online workshops.

• Training that used to require a lot of money or being on location is a thing of the past.

• People expect more authentic experiences from businesses, both from their own and businesses they interact with.

Finding  your threads

All of these elements and more drive what Body of Work is about. Throughout the book, Pam guides you through various exercises (so grab a comfy chair, a pot of tea and a pen and paper). You’ll take inventory of all the roles you’ve played, define your roots to see how your skills and interests came to be, learn to eliminate fear of embracing something new, and craft a new narrative of your work self. By doing these exercises you can:

• Get personal satisfaction by having a more complete picture of your contributions.

• Have a richer story to use for crafting your own enterprise or getting more of the kind of clients that allow you to use all of you.

• Better sell yourself to prospective employers, not to mention be more clear about who you want to share your gifts with.

Two parts of the book really resonated with me. One was the section on identifying your roots to get a sense of some of your qualities you might be overlooking and how they can be weaved into your work life. For me, reflecting on one grandparent on both my mother’s and father’s side made me realize that my focus on food and my tendency towards making/crafting things goes back to these sources. Only recently have I been more deliberate to remove the walls between those activities and what I call “work.”

The other was embracing the side hustle. “The side hustle is a form of career insurance,” says Pam. “It’s also a way to experiment with new ideas and fields, keeping your  brain fresh and active…”

A great example of a side hustle is an architect I met recently. I was familiar with her felt artworks though. After being laid off, she took a job working at West Elm. When they found out about her artwork, they gave her gallery space in the store. Now she’s working at an architecture firm again, but because of her side hustle, where she still works once a week because she loves it, she was able to get valuable exposure for her art.

I can imagine many professionals not wanting to work in a service position, but her open mind opened doors.

Body of Work is a great read for anyone feeling the pull to document, reflect on and put into service all or most of their gifts for a thriving future.

Despite Pam’s many successes and accolades, she is decidedly down to earth, often sharing stories of her own challenges. It’s rare to find someone who speaks with authority, generosity, humor and practicality all at once. This book is very hands on, clearly structured and you are left with a satisfying whole picture of how the parts of you come together. My guess is, you’ll dip into this book over and over.

Pam, who is also a mixed martial artist, is known for encouraging people to embrace “full color, full contact living.” Body of Work asks us to do just that.

Good Business? Good Question.

question mark

How did you arrive at that assumption?

What can we compare or contrast this with?

Is there another way we can get there? Where is there?

What if?

Why? (Then why again and again…)

When I was young, I got the impression I asked too many questions. I suppose I had some driving need to get to truths, to the heart of the matter. Maybe I thought there was more going on than it appeared or than people seemed satisfied with. I asked “why,” a lot.

A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something—and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change. —Warren Berger, author of “A More Beautiful Question”

There’s a lot of talk about solutions. Designers offer solutions to business problems. Therapists offer solutions to personal problems.

But behold the question!

Socrates was a master questioner whose method of inquiry is a way of eliminating contradictions, requiring you to defend your points or beliefs. The more rigorous the inquiry, the stronger your eventual position will be.

What became known as the Socratic method is older than the hills. But why do we still avoid the kind of questions that will yield more fruitful answers?

One of the questions I ask clients is how they’ll know if their project is successful. Most don’t know how to answer but they want to start the project anyway. The sign of a good creative partner is one who asks questions you might prefer not to answer.

What does success look and feel like?

Why do we define it that way?

Are there other ways we can define success?

Would those new definitions of success change how we approach our project?

This simple inquiry might cause you to stretch. But what if that stretching led to saving money, reaching new customers or causing a beneficial behavior change? Or better, to approaching your industry in a way others are not? You can’t know till you ask.

Questions are free, after all, even though there’s an art to crafting the right ones. Want to test your Inquiry IQ? Even with my questioning history, I surprised myself by getting 9 out of 10 (I doubted my instinct on the one question I got wrong. It’s no accident that intuition is a close cousin to fruitful inquiry.)

The best questions lead us to unexpected places. We often resist the unexpected. Questions spell possible delays. They might require us to rewrite copy, or ask permission to do so. We fear that responding to beautiful questions implies we didn’t have the answers in the first place. We view not having answers as a weakness, instead of seeking answers as a sign of strength.

All of this requires agility and curiosity and enough faith in your own ideas that you welcome having them challenged. At worst, you it will reveal you’re on the right track. You can always decide not to pursue what new ideas come from a good inquiry.

But wouldn’t you want to go there to find out?

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If you dig inquiry or want to learn how to ask better questions, you can pre-order A More Beautiful Question, which is due out March 4. It’ll be on my shelf!

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Visit my website to find all the ways to follow me and also to subscribe to The Good Dirt for monthly branding and marketing tips and inspiration.

(Image by orphanjones)

Walking In Their Footsteps: A Customer Journey Exercise

footsteps

Have you ever received a followup call from a doctor asking how you were feeling? I haven’t.

But what if that happened?

What if you tweaked some part of your customer’s path that allowed you stand out from similar businesses? What if it delivered unexpected delight?

Who or what could you emulate that has already nailed one of those steps? And could that become part of your brand?

It’s common for large companies, such as an airline or FedEx, to devote resources to mapping customer journeys or creating customer profiles. But what about enterprises that lack the resources or don’t know that considering a customer path is important in the first place? Or that there even is a path?

Even an independent consult has a path — a first contact, a followup, steps in a sales process, sending a proposal, starting and finishing a project, billing and following up.

I’m going to share an exercise that won’t cost you a dime and might even be fun.

But first I want to give credit to XPlane for sharing the tool. They use deceptively simple frameworks and questions to better explain complex ideas, improve processes and systems in companies and create pathways to change behaviors. XPlaners are fun and open. They stand and draw, wielding fists full of colored markers. They are creative thinkers and nudge you out of focusing on details in favor of big, broad ideas that can be honed later. I’ve been participating in their free monthly visual training sessions.

Here’s what you’ll do:

1. Write down on post-it notes each step in the process of your company. Every business has steps. If you can’t think of what they are, you probably lack a basic system you can repeat! Don’t overlook the obvious. Someone walking in the door of your shop, calling to schedule an appointment or reviewing  your proposal is a step.

Stick these on a wall in order.

2. For each step, consider what a person needs, hopes for or expects. For example, upon entering a business a person expects a certain ambiance. This could include the look and feel of the space, but also whether it appears they can easily find help. Think about things such as needing clear instructions, easy steps, a red carpet treatment, a DIY component, a quick exit.

3. Now, imagine a company, website or type of experience that excels at that. The key here is opening your mind, having fun, and most importantly, going beyond the obvious. In fact, the more you think outside your industry, the more likely you are to arrive at a unique way to tweak that step in your process.

Imagine I wanted to change how I deliver proposals to make them easier for clients to read, understand and approve. Who or what are good examples I might look to? What about Rick Steves as he guides people through a foreign city? What about navigating MailChimp with its step-by-step process and amiable feedback at each step? What about information graphics that use color, simple shapes and limited text to convey an idea?

The key thing to remember is that there’s no one right way to cater to a person at each step of an interaction. You want to emulate who does that step well within the framework of your brand personality and image. One dentist might want to create the the same feel you have upon entering an Apple store, while another might want to create the visual appeal of a Starbucks.

To recap:

• What are the steps?

• What are the needs or expectations at each step?

• Who or what does that well and why?

• How can you apply that to your business?

• Have fun, go beyond the obvious, stand up, draw.

XPlane holds their visual thinking school on the 4th Thursday of each month.

Making Your List, Checking It Twice

List of names

If you use an e-mail service to send newsletters or blasts, how did you build your list? If the answer is that you invited people or they added themselves via a form on your website, three cheers for you! No coal in your Christmas stocking.

Email is still one of the most powerful ways to connect with customers or prospects short of having coffee together, even when automated (because you can personalize it). You’re not competing with a stream of cat photos in Facebook or random Twitter chatter. It’s a great way to further your brand and personality, and become a go-to person in your field.

But you don’t want people scratching their heads when your third e-blast of the week arrives in their in-box, wondering if they forgot they signed up for your list.

There are three types of emails from businesses: total spam, almost spam and not spam. If you invited people to your list or they signed up (knowing what they were getting), that’s not spam.

We all know what total spam is.

Almost spam is everything else, such as adding people to your list, even people you know, even good friends, who might very well have said, “Yes, sign me up Scottie!” if only you’d asked.

Perish the thought that deleting your email is easy. Trust and respect rule here. The burden is not on your recipient, it’s on you to inform, inspire and delight. I even ask permission from clients, people who pay for my advice.

The only good method is a double-opt-in. Better to have a few true believers than the many annoyed because you didn’t seek permission. That’s why they call it permission marketing. I’m not even sure how I got onto lists I didn’t sign up for because most e-mail services have a built-in, double-opt-in set up, such as Mail Chimp’s or Aweber’s.

While I don’t get as giddy about your e-newsletter as I do when the Sunday New York Times lands on my front stoop, it’s still intimate, contained and gentle. But even the most scintillating e-newsletter is stuff in your inbox that must be tended to, which is why it’s bad for business to send them too often, lacking in good content or to people who didn’t sign up, or a combination of all three. (The occasional e-mail sent from your personal address to alert people about an event is forgiven.)

I’m of the mind that everyone has good advice to give if they’ve worked in their field long enough, which is why I’m not in favor of purely self-promotional e-newsletters. I give them a pass though, even those I never signed up for, if they’re infrequent enough, such as quarterly.

Can I add all my Facebook subscribers? Heavens no.

What about my mother? Ask first.

My best friend? See above.

When in doubt, err on the side of caution. Always disclose what someone is getting into. Having an event with a sign-up sheet? Clearly state they are agreeing to be put on your list. Even then, they should still receive a confirmation email, just in case they were tipsy when they put their name down.

If you plan to use the same list for e-newsletters and e-blasts, let people know what to expect. When I started my e-newsletter (which some people find helpful and you can subscribe to here), I alerted people that I might on occasion use the list for something other than a newsletter. I only did that once, for a phone number change. I even made it cute. Remember, always delight, if you can.

So, ring in the new year with a kinder, gentler list that drives happy customers to your door and doesn’t drive other people away.

For some more sage advice, read Seth Godin’s recent Eight Email Failures.

(Image: David Fulmer / Flickr / Creative Commons)

Today’s Harvest: A Potato Array

garden potatoes

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One look at my potato gleanings made me realize how much of a farmer’s harvest they can’t sell — a splotch, an unsightly wrinkle, non-uniform sizes —because the American shopper is too fickle. Not shown are the very smallest potatoes, no larger than a pea. Imagine how wonderful they’d be whole in a soup.

But it’s just that irregularity of home grown or farmers market produce that is especially delightful. Fellow admirers of odd-shaped vegetables are nodding their heads in agreement.

You’d never find heart-shaped tomatoes or Dr. Seuss eggplants or twisted yellow bell peppers a grocery store. I’m convinced these vegetables taste better, too.

Different Matters

secret sauce

After picking many pounds of marionberries recently, I had to start getting creative. I’d already made jam, sorbet and tarts. (I’m officially banned from buying a separate freezer.) Then I recalled a marionberry barbecue sauce I’d made last summer, not the most obvious application of the berries. I found a recipe, switched up some of the ingredients, adjusted it till I arrived at a secret sauce, ready for pulled pork.

Now, imagine your business is the pulled pork (or roasted tofu for you vegetarians). What’s your secret sauce? That set of ingredients that only you have that lend your enterprise a flavor all its own.

In order to land on your secret sauce, you first have to embrace the idea that people need something to go on to pick you out of the crowd. Most businesses rely too heavily on the notion that because they exist, someone will want their product or service. Someone will eventually find them. Or they think their passion alone will carry them to success.

This works well for those rare businesses that fill a peculiar niche. But even that lasts only so long. Soon, there will be many more shops serving bacon maple milkshakes.

What makes you different is the very substance of your business. It defines your branding (both image and voice), it simplifies marketing efforts, it boosts confidence on the most trying days, it gives you connection-making mojo.

Someone like me can tease out your secret sauce, put it into a larger context, refine it and put it into service. But you are a big ingredient in making that happen. A business that’s fully engaged in shaping their own brand benefits enormously, even if you can pay someone to do most of it for you.

To be fully engaged means going beyond where you feel comfortable going. It means thinking through aspects of what you do that you hope to avoid, such as limiting yourself, living up to certain standards or, believe it or not, truly believing in how your endeavor will benefit someone.

Ways to think of your secret sauce:

• An unexpected or distinctive personality or voice.

• A surprising promise or set of promises.

• A collection of traits that, while not individually unique, together, are refreshingly distinctive.

• Using the stories or experiences of people who do business with you as a marketing tool in itself.

• A very specific combination of what you do, combined with who it’s for (not moms or CEOs, but people needing “x” or worried about “y”) and how they benefit (really benefit).

• Figure out what you can put limits around or make specific or singular.

• A way you buck convention or call out what others won’t.

Not what your competition is doing (who is that anyway?)

Adversity, the Gold in Your Brand Story

Landfill Harmonic instruments from junk

If necessity is the mother of invention, then desperation is the mother of necessity. Desperation made MacGyver cool, which is why failure, adversity or lack of good fortune might just be the missing ingredient in your brand story.

Most businesses boast of expertise, awards and successes to the exclusion of all else. People want to buy from successful, capable companies but they also want to buy from people they can relate to, people who act human, which includes failure.

Not every failure should be for public consumption, but think about a time when necessity in your business led to a new idea or better service or product.

Maybe you were forced to scale back because of the bad economy and turned towards specialization, which led to greater success. Or it forced you to get new training that allowed you to add new services or products.

Maybe you tried, and failed, to bring a new idea to life but it led to an even better idea?

Everyone loves a story of transformation or triumph. Take Dave’s Killer Bread, whose wild success came about by the touch of an unlikely person—Dave, himself, who had been to prison and back several times only to reemerge as the Dahl family’s best baker.

We all have a wealth of mishaps, slow periods or lack of resources. Adding them to your brand message in the right way might be the very thing that connects you to your best prospects. Another way of looking at this comes from Seth Godin, who suggests saying the typical message backwards. It not only piques interest but you come off sounding more credible when you’re willing to admit what you can’t do.

(Image is from the Landfill Harmonic. Check them out!)

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Things that grow together…

Sauvie Island Farm

…go together.

June 1 was opening day of strawberry picking at my favorite pick-your-own farm. This means sinking your teeth into a sun-warmed Mt. Hood—the much-acclaimed Oregon berry. The berry that reminds you (or lets you know for the first time) just what a strawberry tastes like. Or should, anyway.

That my freezer is still full of last summer’s strawberries is only an indication of not knowing how to ration. Daiquiris anyone?

Just before my back said “enough,” I made my way to the rows of plump spinach, giving me the perfect dish for a friend’s party later that day.

Seasonal Salad: Spinach and strawberries with red onion and feta cheese

Fresh spinach (washed and dried)

Fresh strawberries (washed and sliced, not too thinly)

Red onion (sliced very thinly)

Crumbled feta (or goat cheese)

For the dressing:
3 T balsamic vinegar
1 T Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Whisk the dressing ingredients together until emulsified. Toss with berries, onion, spinach and feta just before serving. Finish with freshly ground pepper.