The Evolution of a Digital Whale

I have been working on evolving Digital Whale into a consulting business rather than a community management business.  My idea is to offer customized, 1 on 1 workshops where I give business owners/manager/employees the tools and guidance they need to establish and manage their social media.  The idea is to distill all the fragmented information out there into a digestible one hour presentation and pepper in some of my ideas for their business’s social media marketing when appropriate.

I recently rewrote the copy of my flyer to showcase only the workshops.  I also developed a menu of workshops that I offer and attached it to my flyers in hopes that it workshop titles with short descriptions makes my offering more concrete to potential clients.  The workshops are split into beginner, intermediate, and advanced categories.  I set my prices at $150, $250, and $300 based on level since the intermediate and advanced workshops will require more front-end research and custom slides.

Now I just need to hit some businesses to test the waters.  Although, if I get any takers I’ll be in a tight spot.  I don’t have a projector, screen, slide software, or actual slides to deliver the presentation.  It seems that it will cost me over $1000 to get it off the ground…but you can’t let a little thing like that stop you.

Highway of Speed Bumps

Last week was pretty brutal; like a high way of speed bumps.  While looking ahead last Sunday I knew it was going to be a tough week, given my intense work schedule and time-consuming objectives.  I had set my mind to plough through it but I didn’t know half of what I was up against.

Lately, the restaurant has been short-staffed.  The week of Valentines Day is one of the busiest weeks of the year.  As expected, I was scheduled to work every single night and doubles on the weekend for a total of 9 shifts.  In addition, my shifts started earlier and ended later than usual, especially Valentines Day.  It’s not so bad to work every night as long as I have enough time during the day to work on my business and an early out or two so to have some time at night to touch base with my client and spend some time with my girlfriend before it gets too late.  Those early nights also allow me catch up on sleep if necessary.  I sort of have a routine and this last week threw it all off-balance.    On top of that, I had four disasters occur.

First, the sewer lines backed up into my apartment on Valentines Day.  The main for the whole property was clogged so whenever the tenants in the main house flushed a toilet or ran water it backed up into our apartment because our apartment sits lower than the house.  Shit literally runs down-hill.  Unbeknownst to them their toilet was running for hours (somebody forgot to jiggle the handle) so ours was over-flowing for hours, flooding our apartment with the foulest mix of shit you can imagine.  It backed up into the shower too.  My girlfriend spent the night at a friend’s house so she could shower for work in the morning.  Thus, I was left to deal with the plumber and clean up the mess.  The only good part was all the puns…can you believe that shit?  Why does this shit have to happen this week?  Yeah, I cleaned that shit up.

The second disaster shouldn’t have been a disaster at all, maybe an incumbrance at best.  My car needed brakes.  I had been putting it off for two months and knew if I didn’t do it soon I would end up with a major problem.  Plus, during my Monday commute I had to slam on the brakes and noticed they don’t work so well in that type of situation.  Enough is enough.  I scheduled it early in the morning so I could still put in a solid day’s work afterwards.  But fuck me runnin’ sideways, an hour and a half job turned into 6 hours!  By the time I got home I had just enough time to take a shower and get to work.

Next day, my girlfriend’s car won’t start…as if I need to spend another day at Firestone.  Jumping it did not work so it could be the alternator.  Hoping it’s just a really dead battery though.  Regardless, I’ve had to shuttle her to and from work the last few days.  Another hour a day gone.

Fourth, my girlfriend’s dog had a seizure yesterday during a conference call with my client.  We had been playing phone tag all week and didn’t get more than 30 seconds in before I had to go.  For that I was frustrated but for the dog I was scarred.  It was Sunday so the vet was closed and I couldn’t afford to take him to an emergency clinic.  Fortunately, he was back to normal before I had to go to work.  However, this is the second time he has done this so we need to figure out why this is happening.  The blood work will be expensive but I can’t let the little guy suffer.

So….Monday was the only normal day I had.  The rest of the week was pretty much sabotaged.  I did not prospect for new clients like I wanted to.  I did not complete any of the medial tasks I promised my client.

However, last week wasn’t a complete failure.  I still managed to notch a few achievements.  While at the body shop I skimmed through an entire book on Wordpress that I’d been meaning to get to since November.  I learned a lot about plug-ins, user management, advanced customization, optimization, and other cool stuff I honestly didn’t understand yet.  I also enrolled two business ideas in a fast pitch event coming in three weeks.  Who knows maybe someone will like one of them.  I checked the block on some monthly financial goals too.  Best of all, what I would I call my crowing achievement in a shit week, I finally persuaded my client to redo the book cover, found a good freelancer to do the job, and looks like we’ll get rolling on it this week.

Looking forward to a smoother road this week.

Here’s to Keeping It Real

My girlfriend has grown impatient with my lack of progress.  We have no doubt hit rock bottom.  I say that this is rock bottom because no matter what I can wait tables anywhere and sustain this level of existence and unless I commit a felony I can always get a job waiting tables somewhere.

Today I submitted a couple of ideas I’ve had rolling around in the back of my head for a while to a fast pitch event that connects entrepreneurs with angel investors.   I bounced some of the details of my ideas off her and she was clearly annoyed by it.

Tonight we had a good talk after a few drinks.  We started out talking about her goals.  She’s at that point in life when she realizes she is going to have to make a decision about what she wants to do with her life but hasn’t found her calling.  I can relate because I’ve been there.  I try to be sensitive but I also try to challenge her to think it through and work the problem without talking down to her, making her feel stupid, or pissing her off.  Usually I piss her off.

As usual the conversation turned to me.  What have I accomplished?  Why am I so special?  She is reserved and it’s rare that she opens up about what she really thinks although I can usually tell what she thinks before she admits it.  I love the real conversations.

She admitted that has grown impatient and weary of all my ideas.  No surprise to me because it’s no secret that she wants to get married, buy a house, and start a family.  She feels that every new idea means failure of the current idea and further delay.

She came at me hard.  She said that as this drags on she increasingly doubts that I will be successful.  I can see why she thinks that.  She sees other guys my age with stable salaried careers.  I tried to defend my choices by arguing that the experience I’ve gained is far better than any of our peers/friends who have chosen a stable career.  I added that although I they may seem better off right now, in the short run, in the long run I have better positioned myself for greater success.  She countered, “why do you think you’re so special.”  Using my own words against me.

It cut deep but strangely I loved that with one simple question she was challenging everything I believe in, everything I’ve ever done, and everything I’m striving for.  It forced me to do some soul-searching.  Why am I special?  Damnit, I’m special because I have ideas, the courage to give them a go, and some savvy to execute them.  Instead of wavering I am now even more entrenched in my conviction that building my own successful business is my path to happiness.

But how do long do I have before she leaves me?  I have always wondered but never asked.  Given her rare brutal honesty it seemed like time to ask so I did.  She roundaboutly said 5 years although I suspect it’s really much less.  Judging by her increasing impatience and frustration I give it 2 years at best.  Can’t blame her, wouldn’t blame her, that’s just real.

It’s tough to swallow when those closest to you don’t think you’ll succeed and may leave you if you don’t.  On the flip side, I am more motivated and energized to make something happen and for that I am grateful for her brutal honesty and implicit challenge.  If she continues to challenge me in this way it will be far better than her benign complacency, pretending to listen or care about my latest idea.

Here’s to keeping it real.

Press Release Revisited

Thanks to fellow blogger and author, Robert Chazz Chutes, I have been reinvigorated to tackle this press release dilemma and have a new plan of attack.  At first I was coming at this thing with the angle that the author is revealing what really goes on in corporate America through the funny stories in this book.  That angle is alarmist, over-hyped, jaded, and distorts the point of the book.  Misleading journalists is a no-no but I figured it was the only newsworthy angle I had.  After reading Chazz’s press release my mind has been opened up to new possibilities.  It doesn’t have to be just about the book, in fact it’s probably better if it’s not, and it doesn’t have to be a five alarm fire to get published.

Today I am going to develop a new press release that explores why we have to laugh at the crap that goes on in day-to-day corporate America in offices around the country.  A for the sake of our own sanity take.  My hope is that it will be a breath of fresh air for biz journalists and they will see value in that for their readers.

Can’t thank Chazz enough!  If you’re writing a press release for your self-published book read this post from Chazz’s blog and his corresponding press release.

http://chazzwrites.com/2012/02/10/using-mass-press-release-distribution-to-let-the-world-know-about-your-books/

http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/578381

Note: these links were posted by me unsolicited by Chazz

Also, here are two of the best articles I’ve found on writing press releases.  The first sums up the goal of a press release and the second is a guide to writing one.

http://www.epiphanysolutions.co.uk/blog/online-press-releases-dramatically-help-build-brand-awareness/

http://www.journalism.co.uk/skills/how-to-write-the-perfect-press-release-for-journalists/s7/a535287/

Hope this helps someone as much as it helped me!

Gut Check

I’ve been putting in a lot of time promoting this book.  I wake up, go right to my computer, and work right until I should’ve been in the shower in ten minutes ago to be to work on time.  Half the time I forget to eat lunch.  I haven’t taken the dogs to the park in a while, the list of things I need to do outside of work like replace my brakes, do laundry and get a hair cut is piling up, and my relationship is deteriorating.  At least I’m kicking ass on this book though, right?  Wrong.  Each day there is more to do than I can ever get done so I always feel like I’m coming up short.  I realize that you have to maximize your productivity and effectiveness by focusing on tasks that give you the highest return but the truth is just about everything I’ve been doing has a low return.  It’s a low return game until that one spark lights a fire.

Speaking of return, I get the most frustrated when I think in terms of my hourly wage.  I have made less than $30 for a month of busting my butt and sacrificing.  So it probably comes out to somewhere around 25 cents an hour.  I knew it was going to be like this going into it but I’ve really been dwelling on it.  What if it never takes off?  What if I waste two, three, six months on this and I’m still waiting tables, saving $100/month, lugging around $80K in debt?

These thoughts worry me because I know that success is sabotaged by doubts like this.  But I also think it is natural for anyone to step back and re-evaluate where things are going at this point.  I’ve been thinking hard about this client, the business of social media marketing, and even entrepreneurship altogether.

I’ve learned a lot since beginning this thing in November.  It takes more time than I thought to manage a client’s social media well and you inevitably find yourself doing way more than just building a fan base and posting updates.  Not that I was naive enough to think that was all I would be doing….I am just shocked by how many small businesses need photographs, a logo in digital format, and to set a marketing budget before I can even begin to do my part.  I’m also shocked that a lot of businesses out there have serious issues that social media can not help.  Social media is the salt and pepper and they need meat and potatoes first.  Sometimes their meat and potatoes are rancid and what they really need is rebranding, new management, change their menu, change location, change their pricing strategy, etc.  Others need/want a bunch of stuff I don’t do like email campaigns, websites, SEO, writing of press releases and blog posts, logo creation, etc, etc, etc.  Bottom line is there aren’t many great small businesses out there that are prime for a little social media marketing to take them over the top….it’s just not that easy.  Handling one or two real-world clients is easily a full-time job and nobody wants to pay me $1000+/month to do it.  They don’t even want to pay $300.  Moreover, there are a lot of businesses where the business owners need to be doing it themselves because they are their brand….artists, designers, agents, etc.  Also, big national brands don’t want you playing with their brand and prefer to keep it in-house.  So that leaves me with a much smaller market, a service that’s either too expensive or too lacking, and some serious scalability problems.

I’ve thought about going back to school (briefly…).  I’ve thought about starting another business (a lot).  Before I began Digital Whale I was working on a business with two other guys.  I was the money (funny right?) and the idea and they were the tech muscle but ultimately we had to abandon it because I couldn’t cover the startup costs.  I’ve since come up with some ideas to significantly reduce those costs.  It’s still more than I have or could save in a reasonable amount of time but it’s now little enough that I could borrow it.  But then do I just abandon Digital Whale or do I pursue both until one takes off, like having two horses in the race?  Again, all the success stories I’ve read that tell you this train of thought leads to certain failure.  I can’t even do one business well and doing two not-well doesn’t make much sense.

Though, isn’t it too early to declare Digital Whale a failure anyways?  Have I really tried?  I haven’t even landed a paying client that’s a local business.  The more I think about the viability of Digital Whale the more I think I just need to evolve it.  Afterall the market for what I’m dabbling in is hot.  Businesses want it and are willing to pay a little for it.  Many though don’t have time to do it themselves or are afraid of the technology or don’t know how to harness it.  There is still opportunity there and there isn’t anyone filling the niche in this market yet.  Perhaps I need to develop the consulting side.  I always thought that I would need paying clients to point to before I could say I’m a consultant but now I don’t think it’s necessary.  When I start talking to business owners they really listen to me.  Why?  I have answers to their questions, ideas, and know more about it than they do.  The word consulting isn’t the right word either.  It implies I charge thousands of dollars.  That’s probably why nobody asks me about my consulting services after they read my flyer even though they are trying to consult me right then and there.

If I develop some presentations on social media I could offer to come in and do workshops.  Maybe an hour-long and tailored to their needs.  If I would have approached the designers with a service like that they probably would have jumped on it and I would have gotten paid to outline a strategy for them like I did.  The workshop could be anything from a tutorial of platforms to laying out a strategy to walking them through setting up their accounts to analyzing why their current efforts aren’t working.  The audience could be the owners, the managers, even the employees.

The best part is I don’t have to get balls deep into their business.  I don’t have to fix their other problems or learn the ins and outs of their business to impersonate them.  I simply give them some tools and knowledge to help them harness the full power of social media.  Essentially, I’m saving them time.  They could learn everything I’m telling them on the internet (I did) but it would take them months of reading and trial and error.

The problems:  I suck at public speaking, mad stage fright.  I also don’t have any of the equipment I would need like a projector and portable screen, an air card for my laptop so I could get internet in any building or an iPad with internet from Verizon.  I don’t even have powerpoint….What are we at now like $1500-$3000?  Yikes!  I envisioned charging about $100-$200 per hour-long presentation so that even the smallest of businesses on the tightest budgets could potentially afford it.  I’ll have to think on all that for a few days.

I guess as it sits now I might as well keep plugging away on this book.  Who knows maybe it will pay off.  I think tomorrow I will door-to-door some businesses with flyers again.  This time I’ll change consulting to workshops or demos or something and focus my pitch around that just to test the waters.  Back to work…

January Goals and February Goals

I am proud to announce that I reached all four of my monthly goals for January.  I saved $100, paid off an extra $100 of credit card debt, joined a group (dart league), and most importantly landed my first paying client!  Barely made it on the first two.  After 1st of the month bills I’ll have less than $50 to my name (sheesh).  And my paying client hasn’t paid me anything yet but he will although it’s less than $20 since we haven’t sold very many books yet.  But hey who’s counting…

My girlfriend challenged me to increase my goals for February.  I just love her tenacity!  Looking ahead through February I fear that it will be harder financially than January.  I suspect my truck needs brakes since they squeak and I can feel a coarse grind reverberate through the brake pedal that’s like a blade on a wet stone.  Can’t forget Valentine’s Day either.  I want to buy her roses to show her how much I appreciate her and I want to buy her something nice since we didn’t give gifts for Christmas.  A couple of clients would off-set those expenses.

Despite fear of failure I decided to ramp it up for February and really go for it.  This month I am going to:

  1.   Save $120
  2.   Pay down an extra $120 of debt
  3.   Land 2 paying clients
  4.   Attend a meeting for a new group
  5.   Pay off my brakes by the end of the month

Number 4 will require me to take a night off from work since most of the groups I’ve found meet at night and I have to succeed at Number 3 to make Number 5 happen.

“Would You Want to Have a Relationship With the Shoe Shop Around the Corner?”

I recently read a thought-provoking article called Double Down on Facebook Marketing http://bit.ly/xrcNPu. The article explores whether or not Facebook marketing for businesses is over rated.  It suggests that you need 10,000 fans before you start seeing a return.  It emphasizes that only 1% of Facebook fans interact with brands.   It concludes that despite the low engagement among fans and the long-term (2 yr) commitment to build the fan base, it’s ultimately worth it when you get there.

My initial thoughts were fuck what’s going to happen if all I can deliver in 6 months or a year is a few hundred fans and I’m only talking to myself? What’s the point?

The author seems to be right.  My observations and experience leads me to believe that the 1% interaction rate is the norm and that 2 years of day in day out dedication is what it takes to build a good fan base.

I thought about some of the more successful local small businesses.  They have around 1000 fans and seem to get a few to a dozen interactions on their posts.

Then I realized that thinking about it in terms of fan count, number of likes, and such is misguided.  It’s part of it but it’s not about that.  It’s about developing relationships with people.  I posted a comment that mentioned that.  Then a guy replied “Do you really want a relationship with the local shoe shop around the corner?”  What a great question.  I thought about it.

It depends on the shoe shop, right?  You would or wouldn’t want a relationship with the shoe shop for the same reasons I would or wouldn’t want a relationship with my neighbor.  What does the local shoe shop add to my life?  If it’s just the same shoes I can buy at twenty other stores around town, snotty sales people, and daily updates aimed at getting me to buy shoes then no thanks, I’ll pass.  If they are a high-end fashion type shoe shop that helps keep me looking stylish and on the cutting edge of fashion…I’d still pass but my girlfriend wouldn’t.  If you’re brand or business is boring and has no social value beyond meeting demand with supply then social media isn’t for you.  Maybe 21st century business isn’t for you….

However, there are a lot of boring “shoe shops around the corner” that want to harness the power of social media.  I can’t limit my market to fun and interesting brands and businesses.  There aren’t that many and they don’t need my help anyways.  They set up a Facebook page and people find them.  When the boring shoe shop hires me I basically need to make them interesting.

It can’t be about shoes all the time.  Behind every small business is a small business owner with interests, hobbies, passions, and stories.  It could be about that.  It could be about a cause like raising money for a local animal shelter.  It could be about local happenings, sports, pop culture, and funny stuff.  Who made the rule that a shoe shop shouldn’t post a funny picture of a meat tray replica of a stadium around Super Bowl time?

The brand/business has to be interesting first and a business second.  The brand has to become human to be worthy of a social relationship.  Would you be friends with your neighbor if he knocked on your door everyday and blurted out, “30% discount on penny loafers today from 2pm to 4pm”?  Then, why the hell do marketers think we should?  They scratch there heads on 1% engagement and say well if we have 1,000,000 fans 1% is a lot of people…

The other 990,000 looks like a big missed opportunity to me.  I guess I’m starting to realize that my real job is going to be to dust off your tired old boring brand and give it life to make it interesting.  It all boils down to “do you really want a relationship with the shoe shop around the corner?”

It’s invigorating because instead of seeing increasing competition from other social media marketers and a decreasing market as more and more businesses throw up Facebook pages, I now see potential clients everywhere and a way to stand above the rest.