Category Archives: The Grumpy Poet

The “Grumpy” Poet – Align with Success and not with Failure

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Failure is not a single, cataclysmic event. You don’t fail overnight. Instead, failure is a few errors in judgement, repeated every day.

– Jim Rohn

We all make mistakes. These mistakes can and usually do lead to failure. Failure of a project, task, deliverable, or worse, your business! It unfortunately happens all the time. Businesses usually fail for 2 key reasons: bad product and/or service, and many mistakes over a period of time that add up to a cataclysmic event.

Brendan and I have made many mistakes over the years, all businesses do, and yes we are still paying for some of them, learning from others, but most importantly figuring out how to prevent errors in judgment, and when they happen how to quickly resolve them – not so easy!

Like misery, way too often failure enjoys the same company. I’ve seen more startups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses over the years fail by aligning themselves with “partners” that are also on the road to failure. News flash – two failures don’t make a success!

Here’s the problem. Often young businesses seek help and support from other young businesses. This is normal. Non-competitive businesses like to and sometimes need to build relationships with each other. This is not a bad thing. At Brendan & Brendan we have many partners we leverage and vice versa. But, we don’t just pick partners and build business relationships with individuals because they are our friends. We do our due diligence. We look at their client list. We get feedback from the community. Watch their progress. Follow their achievements and success.

Don’t trust just anybody with your clients. You’ve worked hard to build those relationships. If anyone is going to fail them it should be you.

Let’s take a look at a common and yet easily avoidable error:

Company X is going through year one growing pains. Money is tight. Feedback on product is not great. Exposure, what exposure? Set goals are becoming more difficult to achieve and few things are working out as planned. The board is getting antsy. Investors are unhappy. It’s desperate. What happens next is way too common.

Founder of failing company X decides to team up with a dev team who happens to be in the same shared space with them. Reasoning “we’re all friends”, “we share a space”, “we can help each other”. The problem is, the small dev team is in the same boat. Failure + Failure = Massive-Failure-Pack-Your-Bags-And-Go-Home!

If my business needs help the last person(s) I would seek help from is another failing business.

Recently, I’ve learned that the best advice doesn’t always come from within your industry but from the backbone of any business – your lawyer and your accountant. Why? Because a lawyer or accountant who you can trust, who has your back, and has proven themselves to be of benefit to your business can help support you in ways you never thought of. They seen it all, heard it, and have been a part of it all.

I’ll gladly pay a few hundred or thousand dollars to get advice from either of these professionals if it will save me tens of thousands down the road. After all the only real success of a business is revenue.

The “Grumpy” Poet – Pointless Meetings: Stop Wasting My Time!

“If you’re just gonna talk, and we’re just gonna echo support, you may as well leave a recording of the speaker in the room and we’ll just nod!” – digibomb

Meetings are, unfortunately, necessary when running a business, some discussions just can’t be avoided, but if you’re going to schedule a meeting make sure it serves a purpose. Good meetings are few and far between but when they happen – it’s extremely satisfying!

Way too often colleagues, clients, vendors, etc., schedule meetings without a plan. They have an “idea” of what they want to discuss, but ideas are cheap, people want solutions! There’s no benefit to spending an hour, or more, in a boardroom with a bunch blank minds. Come with ideas, research, trackable items, some kind rough strategy or plan that you need help executing or validating.

Is a meeting really necessary?

Before you schedule a meeting think about whether or not the topic requires a handful of people in the room. Quite often most topics can be discussions over coffee, at someone’s desk, or even as an email thread. I really hate when I’m pulled into a meeting just to have the organizer open with “So, I have this idea…” I don’t care! Don’t waste my time in a boardroom for you to go over a napkin sketch you made at dinner last night. And don’t come to the table empty handed!

At Brendan & Brendan we’ve been making the transition over the past few months to a Holacratic business model. Within this model, less meetings are required and group conversation and meaningful discussions are emphasized. Internally, we meet once a day, every morning for less than 30 minutes to quickly go over what our daily tasks are and to seek support. Everything else is left to individual conversations through out the day or discussed via our online collaboration tool Redbooth. When we have an important client task/project the entire team will sprint – but we come prepared with an outline and actionable objectives.

Here’s how to not run a meeting

  • Plan! Don’t schedule a meeting without putting together a plan or agenda of what is to be discussed.
  • Do your research and come prepared! Don’t expect the attendees of your meeting to do the work for you. They are there for support, feedback, and/or execution.
  • Ask questions! Make sure everyone in the room has a clear understanding of objectives and next steps.
  • Meetings are disruptive! They can lead to low productivity, missed deadlines, and a kink in your groove. If you’re going to make people stop what they’re doing to attend your meeting make sure it serves a purpose.
  • Don’t go meeting crazy – stop clicking on the schedule button! I’ve had the unfortunate experience of working in corporate cultures that revolve around meetings. If my day is meeting after meeting I get nothing done!
  • Talk is cheap! Ideas are good, but meetings are intended to solve problems not just discuss them.
  • Take note! Make sure someone in the room is responsible for taking meeting minutes. Without a record of what was said, agreed upon, etc., mistakes and misunderstandings are bound to happen.
  • Always make sure a decision maker is in the room! If no one attending the meeting can make a final decision, the meeting is pointless – nothing is actionable!
  • Gone in sixty minutes! Final point, try to keep every meeting under an hour. Anything longer, people lose motivation and patience.

Holding effective meetings doesn’t have to be difficult. With a plan and actionable deliverables meetings can be a means to immediate consensus and keep everyone on the same page.

I’ll leave you with this:

“Every discussion in a meeting has a diminishing curve of interest. The longer the discussion goes on, the fewer people will be interested in it.”
Mark McCormack, US sports agent

The “Grumpy” Poet – Why Should Agencies Pay for Their Clients Internal Mismanagement?

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“Management by objectives works if you first think through your objectives. Ninety percent of the time you haven’t.” Peter Drucker

Everybody makes mistakes, agencies, clients, vendors, etc. What’s important is how a mistake is handled and how many mistakes have been made. As an agency we cannot afford to allow mismanagement, in particular, to lead to mistakes. Look, mistakes happen. Sometimes the wrong file gets delivered, the wrong point of contact gets emails, there’s a bug in the code, etc. These are human mistakes that can happen and can be easily dealt with. If dealt with appropriately clients will usually understand – they make mistakes too!

Mismanagement, however, is a very different beast. We’re not talking about a developer introducing a bug, a designer using the wrong hex colour, or a writer making a typo – granted these are sloppy mistakes, but not necessarily contract killers – we’re talking about management level flaws! What is not acceptable in business, of any kind, is sloppy management of project deliverables,  missed deadlines, poor communication internally and externally, missed objectives, and most importantly not sticking to the scope (basically the agreed upon contract).

I’ll be honest, in the early days of Brendan & Brendan we were not perfectly managed internally. We had our flaws and made mistakes, some of which we paid for. But we learned from these mistakes. We spent the last year re-structuring our internal processes and are continuing to do so for 2014 – and we’re better for it.

That being said, we can’t always control how our clients manage their businesses internally. We trust that when we deliver an approved project and close a contract that the client “knows” what to do next. They have a plan and process internally to manage it. Not always true – unfortunately.

Who should pay for mismanagement?

At the end of the day all parties pay for mismanagement – no one wins! The client is un-happy and may blame the agency, the agency is un-happy and may blame the client, or both parties look inward and blame their employees. Either way, it takes the FUN out of Keep Marketing Fun (yes I had to throw that in there 🙂 ).

But here’s the thing. As an agency we cannot be held responsible for our clients internal workings. We have a single point of contact, we have a signed contract, a list of approved deliverables and deliverable schedule, as long as we stick to the “plan” we are providing the service paid for. That’s the basics of it. I’ll give you a common example that ALL agencies have succumb to:

  • Agency X is commissioned to produce a social content calendar for Facebook – not execution just the calendar.
  • The content contained within this calendar is a combination of marketing and community pieces.
  • All content in the calendar has been approved.
  • All items in the calendar have a specific date/time to be published.
  • Some items in the calendar directly correspond to other time sensitive marketing initiatives.

Enter mismanagement! The calendar has been approved, paid for, and delivered to the client. What happens next is way too common. After many conversations, planning, etc., the client does not follow through with the content calendar plan. Items either don’t get posted, get posted at the wrong time, or get posted with the wrong content. The CEO of the company notices this on Facebook and Agency X gets a call. Of course the Agency gets a call, as it can’t possibly be the company’s social team that made a mistake. I think you get the point and can guess the numerous ways this situation plays out.

A good CEO or business owner should be aware of their business is being managed. What relationships they have with service providers and what they are responsible and liable for. And, most importantly have and understanding of what they are paying for.

Point is, when mismanagement is at fault, and you can trace any mistake back to its root, it needs to be dealt with internally.

Here are a few ways to potentially prevent a clients mismanagement or vice versa becoming an issue:

  • Prior to any contractual agreement ensure that both parties understand their roles and responsibilities for a given project(s).
  • Make sure a deadline has been agreed to.
  • Collaboratively map out a calendar/schedule of deliverables, milestones, etc. and attach owners to each.
  • Write up a contract with all the above fact finding information and add any conditions that may apply – be sure to be explicit with conditions i.e. “All feedback per deliverable must be received within 24-48hrs from client in order to ensure project timeline. If feedback is received beyond the 48hr mark Agency X will not be held accountable for project timeline and deadline changes.”
  • When the scope and/or deliverables become a point of question always refer to the agreed upon contract or any other forms of milestone approvals.
  • Most importantly, have an internal process to handle the management and execution of the project and ensure the individuals working on or leading the project have the required skill set to do so.

There are many ways to help guide internal management. Tools and apps, models and philosophies, and of course choosing the right client, choosing the right agency, and making wise hires.

On a final note, as a business owner I find time, every day if possible, but always each week to do some internal fact finding (I consider it my duty). I want to know what everyone is working on. Where we’re at with certain projects. The current state of clients in regards to our services. Office morale. Etc. Without any understanding of how my (our) business is running daily there’s no way for me (us) to achieve success and prevent failure for us and our clients.

I’ll leave you with this (swap species for business) …

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. – Charles Darwin

The “Grumpy” Poet – Blog Frequently or Don’t Blog at All!

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The “Grumpy” poet has once again moved to a new spot from Monday to Wednesday to make room for our new weekly feature the “Silicon Valley – Weekly TV Show Commentary“.

This column started on Wednesday, so it only makes sense to move it back, and besides hump day is the best day to be grumpy!

This move gives me the opportunity to discuss another subject that really makes my blood curdle – inconsistent blogging!

Here on Keep Marketing Fun we manage to post daily, well 5 times a week Mon-Fri. It is very important for us to develop a frequent and consistent blogging schedule. Since we began this blog just over a year ago, we have reaped the benefits of staying on schedule. Our search ranking and traffic has steadily increased, our followers continue to grow, shares, comments, and likes are up and most importantly we have reached prospects and converted them into clients.

We all know “Content is King” but I’d rather not debate that, personally I think the phrase is exhausted and oversimplifies the issue at hand. Do you want to build a community? Do you want to be seen as an expert in your field? Do you want to attract leads? Etc. Then producing quality content is key and doing it once a quarter just doesn’t cut it!

If you’re running a business and you have a blog you need to actually use it. Don’t blog once a day for 4 weeks then pause for 6 weeks. That kind of inconsistency kills traffic and deters repeat readers. You need to sit down with your team, put together a schedule, and stick to it.

If I come across a post I like, I’ll revisit that site. If after a few times I realize there is no new content, I get bored! I won’t sign up to your newsletter and I’ll forget that your blog exists. You’ve lost me as a reader and any potential that I might share it with my network. Why should I or anyone waste time checking a stagnant blog?

Frequency vs Consistency

I’ve been throwing the words consistency and frequency around a lot. Let’s quickly discuss the differences between them and how they add up to good blogging.

Frequency is the rate at which you publish new content. Get a schedule together and have your team stick to it. 1 post a week, bi-weekly downloads, monthly case study, etc. Whatever the frequency you can manage.

Consistency is about sticking to the strategy you have mapped out. Again, don’t publish once a day for 4 weeks and pause for 6 weeks. Stick to your schedule. Both visitors and search engines will notice the inconsistency.

Still not drinking my Kool-Aid?

Here are a few more reasons why I’ll-blog-when-I have-time won’t work:

  • Google looks for fresh content. If you’re publishing frequently your blog will be crawled and indexed frequently.
  • The better your content and the more frequently you publish it, the more important Google considers your blog, hence better rankings and traffic – see last point.
  • Frequent content leads to repeat traffic/readers. You’re creating anticipation. Readers will come back more often and share your content with their networks.
  • The more content you produce the more inbound links you get. With frequent content you’re giving other blogs and websites a reason to link back to you – Google likes this.
  • More traffic means more opportunity to capture leads: get newsletter subscriptions, blog subscriptions, Facebook page likes, Twitter followers, etc.
  • You can nurture leads and qualify them. With a dedicated following you or your sales team can reach out to prospects. Respond to comments on your blog or comments on inbound links.

Put yourself in the readers’ shoes. Think about the blogs you regularly follow and why you follow them and why you signed up for their newsletter? Chances are they publish often.

Case in point

Last summer we started aggressively blogging. We began receiving both emails and phone calls from potential clients. When asked “how did you find us?” we were surprised at the answer “I just finished reading your blog post on…”.  Traffic was up on Keep Marketing Fun (in fact it was higher, and continues to remain higher than our corporate portal), we were getting more social juice and linkbacks. All was good in the world of words.

With this sudden influx of work, we started getting lazy with the blog. Well, to be honest we didn’t have the bandwidth, but that should not have been an excuse, especially when the blog proved to be a major sales channel. Blogging became less frequent and both traffic and leads dropped.

From that point on we made the decision to blog 5 days a week no matter what. We created a basic content calendar to start and strategized on content verticals. Since then we have not seen a drop, only a lift.

The “Grumpy” Poet – It’s not the Tools, it’s the Artist!

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Years ago, I had a professor in college tell me “It’s not the tool that makes the artist, it’s the artist!”. Granted, not so original and a little fluffy around the edges, but to an 18-yr-old college kid with no money to buy software this gave me, my class, some hope.

You’ve got to understand back when I was in college the whole digital design thing was still very new. Agencies hadn’t gone all digital yet and traditional forms of graphic design were still taught alongside technology, especially considering print was still huge and web was only an afterthought. We’re talking pre-smartphones and tablets here people! Terms like flat design, responsive, adaptable, etc., hadn’t even entered the scene yet.

More importantly, college kids like us at the time didn’t have the money for high-end design software. The options were slim. And getting “free” software was not nearly as easy as it is today. We had to compromise. Find the right tools for the job and make them work for us. The onus was on us as artists to imagine and produce great art regardless of the tools we were using – and we did!

Tools are great, don’t get me wrong, they can benefit efficiency, collaboration, and enable us to do things beyond the basics of pen and paper. But real creativity comes from within. If we can imagine it and figure out a way to make real – then we’re an artist!

So what does this have to do with a marketing agency? More to the point, why am I grumpy about this? I’ll tell you why! Among various other topics discussed here in the “Grumpy” Poet column on efficiency and productivity killers, and of course sheer stupidity, I really hate it when people blame the tools they use for their limitations or poor quality of work. We’re not talking user errors here, as in not knowing how to use a piece of technology correctly, we’re talking about pure laziness and a lack of creativity.

Example:

“Well, we changed the approved hero shot because we had issues making it responsive on all screens. Photoshop doesn’t have to ability to do this and the code can’t support it”

Blah, blah, blah. What a crock of shit! Let me translate this for you:

“We don’t really know what we’re doing. And quite honestly we’re just too lazy to figure out how to make it happen. So even though we came up with the initial idea and you approved it, we’re just going to cop out and call it a day”

Today, many designers are developers. Yes, developers. As design becomes more reliant on code, many young coders are developing a keen eye for design and figuring out how to produce beautiful web presences with languages like CSS. I’ve seen some incredible stuff designed by coders without the use of large and expensive flat screen monitors, Photoshop, drawing tablets, etc. It’s not the tools, remember?

When Brendan and I first started, we didn’t have the money to purchase expensive marketing software, social tools, CRMs, project management apps, etc. We cobbled together a system using what we had or could afford and made it work for us and our clients. We understood, and still understand that the success of our clients doesn’t come from the tools we use but our own creative passion, dedication, and years of experience.

I’m reminded of Jean-Michelle Basquiat, a well known neo-expressionist who worked with Andy Warhol, who began his career as a homeless artist who used scraps of garbage to create art he sold on the streets. He didn’t let his poverty hold him back. He figured out a way to create without the traditional tools of an artist and eventually became one of the greats of his time.

The point is, tools are great as long as they don’t stunt creativity and break the bank. Never blame the tool – only yourself if the end result fails.

I’ll leave you with this:

“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last, you create what you will” – George Bernard Shaw

The “Grumpy” Poet – Don’t Ignore the Elephant in the Room!

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I’ll make this week’s rant short and sweet!

More often than not the answer to most problems is staring us right in the face.  Similar to coding, in marketing when we’re talking data – the numbers don’t lie! Yet, many of us out of fear, frustration, lack of trust, or empathy can’t see the the elephant in the room.

I’ll give you an example. We’re selling a product. We’re running a landing page campaign with 2 variants. The variants are testing slight copy and design changes. We have PPC and other forms of ads running to drive traffic, plus we’re optimizing for SEO. The campaign has been running for 4 weeks and traffic is high but we’re converting low. If we are tracking the data correctly we should be able to see where traffic is coming from, how long they stay on page, click percentages, heat maps, etc. Basically we should have a ton of data to troubleshoot with.

Enter elephant! 

“It must be the design!”, “The message is wrong!”, “I thought we SEO’ed this?”, “Why am I wasting money on this?” are just a few responses I’ve heard over the years in a situation like this. They may be right, but before we jump to any in-validated conclusions let’s take a look at the numbers. It amazes me how quickly people want to blame copy and design or lose trust in their agency before looking at the data to see where the problem lies.

In this situation we have high traffic and low conversions. This means PPC is working, but maybe it’s the wrong demographic? Or, maybe it’s something else. If we follow the data we can see where the drop off is. Bounce rates look good. People are clicking the “Buy” button. So where’s the problem? If we dig deeper we can follow the path through the buying experience. Ah! Suddenly we begin to notice a trend. The message and design work because, for the sake of this example, 73% of visitors are clicking on the “Buy” button. They make it all the way to checkout – then suddenly they drop off!

Why? Common sense would indicate it is either 1) the cost of the product 2) the shipping costs 3) shipping terms or 4) any other small detail with the checkout process. Now we have something to test! But, this is where it gets tricky. Clients rarely like to be accountable for low conversion rates on a campaign and bringing up the topic “you’re charging too much” needs to be handled very carefully.

Agency: “The numbers don’t lie! The drop-off is obviously at checkout, which means the message, the design, and PPC are good (of course they can always be optimized), we need to test cost and shipping. Maybe offer an incentive like a discount?”

Client: “It’s not the cost. We can’t lower it. The messaging is just off. Let’s iterate the copy and design.”

I could go on, but you get the point. This is where campaigns fail and relationships can be damaged. If you don’t trust the agency you’re working with make sure it is based on the data and not personal attachment to your product or the inability to change.

Don’t ignore that elephant in the room, it’ll only lead to more frustration and failure down the road.

The “Grumpy” Poet – What’s There to be Grumpy About on St. Patrick’s Day? I Tell You!

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First off, I’m not Irish! But I have respect for those who are like my partner and co-founder Brendan Tully “TheSaint” Walsh. Though my name is Brendan, and yes I’m named after an Irish man, more specifically the Irish poet Brendan Behan (My father loved his work), I am not. But, especially on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone makes the assumption I am and wishes me a Happy St. Paddies … well, you can kiss my Blarney Stone!

Here are 3 reasons to be grumpy on St. Paddies Day

Angry Leprechauns

Whatever you do, do not steal gold from a Leprechaun – it makes them very angry! In fact they will hunt you and all your friends down and kill you and them.

Interesting fact: In the original movie, released in 1983, it all begins on January 10th – that’s my birthday. Coincidence? I think not!

Faux Irish

There’s is nothing more annoying than people pretending to be Irish on St. Paddies Day. Fake accents, ridiculous attire, getting the words wrong to every Irish tune, calling it St. Patty’s Day – it’s Paddy – and having zero knowledge of the history of this holiday. And for God’s sake, don’t wear a “Kiss Me I’m Irish” shirt if you’re not!

An excuse to get falling down drunk

There’s nothing more annoying than a drunk, any day of the week, so why use St. Paddies Day as an excuse? We have a name for people like you – it starts with a “D” and ends with an “ouche”!

What does this have to do with Marketing? Nothing! Except for the fact that it is just one more exploited holiday on the calendar to to take advantage to make a sale or build brand awareness. There are plenty examples of bad St. Paddies marketing, but I’ll leave that for another post.