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.

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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.

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…

“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.

Managing Expectations – what you promise versus what you can deliver

Nothing is more important in a client relationship than being able to deliver on the promises you make. As a young business man I tended to over promise backing myself into a corner and setting myself up for failure.  Having learned that lesson I am extremely attentive to managing my clients’ expectations.

Today, I had a great conversation with my client, the author.  He is very tangential and tends to push the boundaries of my role.  He’s asked me to edit chapters, devise and execute a strategy to get shelf space with airport vendors, write and distribute press releases, and even get on the Chelsea Handler show….no joke.  I like his enthusiasm but I promised to deliver on set goals within the realm of social media; followers, posts, properties and presences.  The more I work on the other stuff the less I deliver on the promises I’ve made.

Over the last few days I have hinted on this with statements about what my focus will be for this week and such but he still asked more from me.  So today I hit him right between the eyes with it.  I told him that every hour I spend on anything else is an hour lost towards what we are striving for with social media.  I told him that it boils down to keystrokes and clicks and the more time I spend on that the larger our audience will be and ultimately the more books we will sell.  He got the point.  I am now free to focus on what I am supposed to be doing and that is in both our best interests.

Going above and beyond to help a client is good but not to the point where you fail to deliver on what you promised.  Don’t be afraid to draw that line in the sand.  Rather than be disappointed, your client will usually respect you for it.

Back to the Plan

Today I finally feel back on track.  The tasks at hand were actually related to what I am supposed to be doing in the first place.  No more press releases or editing.  I got the wordpress blog for the free chapter looking decent and even added a facebook like widget.  Since the widget only works in conjunction with facebook pages that made me create a facebook page for the book (which I intended to do anyways).  I also added a poll daddy poll asking, “Is this funny?” with yes/no options.  So far we are batting 1000.

Here’s a link to the blog if you want to check it out.  Criticism welcome.  http://jacksonvacation.wordpress.com/

I am not happy with the location of the facebook like button but I will work on that.  I expect I will have to change the theme again or delve into coding which despite my aversion to it seems more inevitable each day.

I also submitted the free chapter to digg.  No action yet.

The most successful thing I did was send the link to my friends.  A few read it out of support.  The hundreds of connections I’ve established on the author’s pages largely ignore me.  But that’s no shocker.  I knew it was going to be a hard fought battle in the first place.

We need to make them laugh and I’m not funny.  But the author is.  From now on the author is to send me something funny every morning and I will send it out to the right audiences at the right time.

Feels good to be back at it; finding and building his audience, making them laugh, and driving sales.

The Press Release Raquet

Most of my time during the last week has been swallowed up by learning about press releases; how to write one, SEO one, distribute it, and get a high ranking on Google News.  This falls outside my job description but my author client needed the help and why pass up a chance to learn something new?  If done right, a press release can create hundreds/thousands of back links to your website and a spike in traffic in the 10’s of thousands.  It could even land you a spot on the Today Show or Late Night circuit if your story is that news worthy.  However, the release of this book is probably wasn’t going to make the Today Show so I set our goal to getting a first page ranking on Google News.  Since our ultimate goal is sales I figured we should drive the traffic to the free chapter on our blog and have a click paths to the book on Amazon from both the press release and free chapter.   If they read the free chapter they’ll laugh and hopefully buy the book.

First step was to find an angle that was newsworthy.  Since corporate America is the bad guy in the press lately, I chose “New book exposes the real corporate America” for a headline to tap into that.  The word expose suggests something sinister.  Overhyped?  Of course!  But your headline has to stand out among an ocean of others and the goal is simply to get them to read the first sentence or two of your release.

The goal of the first two sentences is to get them to read the rest of the press release, nothing more.

“This is the stuff corporate America doesn’t want you to know.  The ugly truth about mergers, why high alcohol tolerance helps career advancement, and how a conversation with HR about head-gear policy goes down before an assistant is fired for wearing packing tape.”

Borderline out of context?  Hell yes!  But hopefully that’s intriguing enough to get them to read the rest of the press.

I am not a writer and don’t claim to be so the press release wasn’t written as well as I would have liked.  But it was formatted to standards, had the info we wanted, and just maybe had a good enough hook to get read.  It also contained the right amount of keywords (2.5% to 3.5%).  I chose corporate America as our keyword.  Hoping that it’s not too competitive like business or books would be but hopefully it’s a term that enough people search.  Also, the keyword was in the headline and the proper embedded links to the free chapter and book on Amazon were in the body:  Check.

Next step is distribution.  There are services such as PRweb.com and PR.com that most pr agents use to get their press releases out there.  These services have connections with 10’s of thousands of media outlets across all mediums.  These services are free but the catch is if you want to release a quality press release with a picture and links you will need to upgrade to one of their paid services.  PRweb wanted $200/each or a 1 yr subscription for up to 2 releases per month that’s almost $2000!!!

My initial plan was to splash the press release all over the place anywhere we could.  After doing some research I discovered that it will be regarded as spam if I do that.  The first “expert” recommended just releasing once.  Upon further digging, I found most experts recommend releasing it once or twice a month over the course of several months to climb the ranks of Google News.  You can’t release the same one either (that would be too easy).  No, you have to come up with a new angle every time if it’s not a developing story.  The release of a book is hardly a developing story unless I am going to release updates on sales which is hardly newsworthy…”You Can’t Make This Shit Up!! Corporate America just sold its 17th copy this month….really?

I presented this all to the client.  He didn’t like my angle.  He understood what I was trying to do but just wasn’t comfortable with words like “expose” which I totally understand.  That’s not the purpose of his work.  On the cost and problem of how to spin the same news of the book’s release for 6 months, he left it up to me to decide if we should do this or not.  I said no.

Given the awful cover of the book I would rather see that money go toward cover redesign first.  Then we can maybe look at a press release.  I think we need to see whether or not we can set of a viral reaction in social media (which costs $0) before we go dropping $2K on anything.  At least I learned something and have a new tool in my box.