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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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…

Selling a Book Online

The book is called, “You Can’t Make This Shit Up! Corporate America” and it is now listed on amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1468192094

I have six months to prove my worth.  My basic strategy to sell this book is an alchemy of online book reviews, social media, press releases, landing pages, and a blog.

The key is book reviews.  I will search out and befriend book reviewers through social media and on websites and blogs dedicated to book reviews.  This is a numbers game so the more the merrier.  I have read up on best practices for soliciting a book review and will approach it as establishing a relationship on common ground that takes time and real conversations to cultivate.  Book reviewers are often booked months in advance so I don’t expect much sales impact from them until months 4, 5, and 6.  However, book reviews can have a high virality. The right book review in the right place could be the spark to set this whole thing off.

I will have the press release on Sunday.  I plan to splash it all over the internet.  Anywhere and everywhere I can do it for free.

For social media, I have established presences on Twitter, Facebook, and G+ for both the author and the book.  I use G+ and Twitter to find others and am going to let people find us on Facebook.  I will refrain from spamming out calls to action to buy the book with a link to amazon.  Instead I just want to connect with as many people as possible, dozens per day, establishing real relationships along the way, to build an audience that has given us permission.  I just want them to find us funny and know that he is an author with a new book out.  Then, I want to send them the free chapter which is hilarious.  If they read the free chapter they will probably buy the book.  It’s that good.

I will set up a wordpress blog and promote it on social media.  The wordpress blog will be for people to share their funny stories like the ones in the book.  We want them talking to us more than we are talking to them.  We’ll see how that goes.

I will create some funny landing pages on sites like about.com, ehow, etc, etc with click paths to the book.  This is the idea I have fleshed out the least since it will come a month down the road.

That’s the jist of it.  The details of the execution are complicated and call for individual posts.  I will get to them as time permits.  Thoughts and criticism are welcomed.

It’s On

Finally, got with the author mentioned in the last post.  He liked my ideas and I absolutely love his book.  It’s funny, real funny.  Laugh out loud, still chuckling about it fifteen minutes after you read it funny.  Although we are on opposite schedules, he’s free on nights and weekends and I’m free during the day on weekdays, we have managed to have several conversations and email correspondences to work out major details but not enough time to sift through the finer details.  My strategy had to be reworked since he has to sell the book exclusively through Amazon per his publishing agreement.  No website to sell the book and track where sales are coming from.

This is a bit different from what I peddle to local businesses.  This is about sales not fan growth.  Rather than a flat monthly rate my compensation is a small cut of each book sold.  It’s more about online book reviews than facebook fans.  This is really about virality.  Can I set off a chain reaction that sells tens of thousands of books?  I know I can sell hundreds of books to old and new connections but that is hardly worth the time I will be putting into this.  He wanted me to tier my compensation based on sales targets (probably to motivate me…as if I need it!).  I couldn’t.  I can’t put numbers on it.  Wish I could but can’t.  In a low virality scenario we sell a few hundred.  In a high virality scenario we sell 10’s of thousands or a million.  Obviously, I’m shooting for the 10’s of thousands.  That’s where it’s worth it.

I can’t say much about it now until after the launch which is looking like Monday.  Going to be a lot busier now but I will post about my strategies, successes and failures as I go as often as possible.  I’ll throw the free sample chapter up too.

Still have to find the time between now and Wednesday to put together the pitch for the interior designers as well.  Oh and move out by Feb 1st.  It’s official….couldn’t be a worst time.

The New Flyer is Working

The new flyer I designed a few weeks back seems to be doing the job.  The big change I made was putting a bunch of social media logos around my giant digital whale logo hoping that it would make people realize I do more than just Facebook and Twitter.  People are drawn to the logos and ask me about the ones they don’t recognize.  “What’s Pinterest?”  “What’s Foursquare?”  It really get’s the conversation going and gives me the chance to instantly establish myself as an expert.  Some even circle the ones that interest them the most during our conversation.  Most don’t even read the copy even though it’s less than 100 words.  More affirmation that visuals are much more powerful than words, especially when it comes to first impressions.

A Chance

I went out selling yesterday and landed a meeting for next week.  I have a chance to earn my first paying client!  It’s a small interior design business that is equally owned and operated by two women.  Their online presence is nothing more than a bare bones website and a listing in a few directories.  They want to utilize social media but they don’t know anything about it beyond a vague familiarity of Facebook and Twitter and they don’t have the time to delve into it.  This is just the type of client I am looking for.  I am excited and enthusiastic as I put together a strategy to present to them at the meeting.  I just hope they can afford to pay me enough to make it worth the time I will have to put into it.

Things Always Get Worse Before They Get Better

After finalizing my logo, I established a facebook and google+ page for Digital Whale.  I sent out invites to friends expecting mediocre results however I only got back a handful of likes and 1 comment.  Ok no problem I thought since my network isn’t really choc full of business owners it’s understandable that no body cares.  Over time my fan base will increase one person at a time.

I created some flyers and stopped by some local businesses that I thought would be good candidates for my services, expecting nothing more than doors slammed in my face because local businesses are constantly solicited by marketers and advertisers.  Instead, most business owners and managers were eager to talk to me.  Many told me to come back after the holidays and scheduled an appointment for this Thursday at noon.  Looking good.

What’s not looking good is my evening job and finances.  I had planned on making at least $500/week if worked 6-7 nights a week.  I worked the 18 nights in a row and even worked doubles on Sat/Sun a couple of times and I’m averaging just $300-$400/week.  I give excellent service but people just aren’t tipping.  Some highlights are $5 on $109 and $20 on $218.  I have to automatically tip out 3% of my sales to the bartenders, hosts, and bussers so even when I manage to eek out a respectable $70 on a shift I usually only walk with $50.  My boss even felt sorry for me and put me on Monday night even though I wasn’t scheduled or able to pick up a shift from anyone.  He gave me a rockin’ section and told the hostess to keep my section full no matter what.  The night ended up being unbearably slow but I was relatively busy.  Ended up with the best table of the night that racked up the previously mentioned $218 check but didn’t tip me well.  The whole restaurant wanted to see my tip and gathered around when I opened up to see $20 on the credit card slip.  They all went, “Awww” and it sucked the air right of the room.  My boss was going to put me on last night too as a favor but knew it was of no use.  So he told me not to come in and gave me a $50 gift card to Bonefish Grill/Outback.  Nothing like drowning your misery in a Kobe Beef Burger.  Although, it was nice to take the girlfriend out and forget about life’s worries for a bit.

Life’s worries were still there in the morning.  The first is tomorrow and I had to choose between the car payment and the rent payment.  I chose the car payment.  My girlfriend is obviously not happy because she has to drain her savings (again) to keep this shanty of a roof over our head.  I will pay her back this week and next week.  Moreover, Christmas is barreling down and we hope to go to New Orleans for family Christmas (both hers and mine) but that won’t happen unless I land some clients this month.  No pressure, right?

I was excited over the last few weeks because for a moment it seemed like things were turning around.  Although, I had been experiencing a bad run of tips at work (which happens), I kept telling myself it can’t be this bad for the rest of the month.  Eventually, I’ll have a good night or a good weekend to balance it out.  My break just never came.  Sometimes I feel like the universe is just punishing me.  For what I don’t know.  Other times I think maybe it’s just what I need to have the drive to succeed in this new venture.  After all, most successful entrepreneurs will tell you things always get worse before they get better.  Despite the issues I am making progress.

Create Online Presence:  CHECK

Create Flyer:  CHECK

Get Out and Sell:  CHECK