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.

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…

Telling a Potential Client Not to Hire Me

I finally had my meeting with the interior designers yesterday.  In preparing a strategy I decided that the best strategy would to use social media and blogs to show off their design point of view.  This would be best done through pictures (lots of pictures) rather than writing and I suggested Pinterest, Tumblr, WordPress, and Facebook. I had lots of ideas on how to use each platform, build traffic, and all that stuff but we didn’t have time to get into it.  The catch of the whole thing was that to establish their point of view they would have to curate the pictures and create most of the content…..it’s their point of view not my point of view

Moreover, designers typically develop personal relationships with their clients so that they may serve them better by getting to know their tastes and preferences and because they typically work with clients over a long period of time.  And these girls proclaim to be especially big on that.  So it’s totally different than the pizza place around the corner where the transactions are wham-bam and are carried out fairly anonymously.  Their brand is different too because they are their brand.  So I suggested that they do most of the networking too….

What do they need me for?????

I saw this coming and was prepared to answer before they even asked.  I told them I would set everything up so it’s professional looking.  These girls don’t know anything about social media…not even Facebook.  So I stressed that it will save them a lot of time and frustration if I set it up for them and would also look better.  So that they could handle their end of the efforts I offered to sit down and teach them how to use each platform to get them comfortable.  Since they only wanted to spend 30 minutes a day on it I tried to explain to them how I would handle all the behind the scenes crap like photoshopping, peppering in some marketing messages, tracking the data and compiling a monthly report, guidance to reach goals, sending them content to curate, and resolve any technical problems that can and will crop up.  They didn’t seem to see what I would actually be doing….

They just didn’t seem to understand how much time I would be saving them if I did all the behind the scenes shit.  They don’t know what goes into it.  I tried to tell them that it can take several hours a day to do it all well and for them to get it done in 30 minutes they will have to have someone doing the dirty work so they can focus on just the blog post or adding new things to their Pinterest board.  I envisioned even sending them tasks to ensure they make the best use of their time.

They replied with oh no’s and sigh’s and groans because they don’t want to get into it.  I got a sense that they were somewhat afraid of it and one said how much she hated writing.  She told me that she was looking for someone who would just do it all for them so they didn’t have to.  I can’t blame her I guess but that just wouldn’t make any sense.  How could I speak for them on fabrics and curtains and shit?  I can’t…and like the all mighty Oz in the Wizard of Oz our charade would be exposed.  Imagine a client coming in and saying hey I enjoyed our conversation online about carpet and I really liked the one in such and such picture on your pinterest….uh, who are you?  What picture?

Anyways, they said they’d think about it which sounded more like nah no thanks but we’ll see.  Maybe they dive into it themselves and realize how much time it takes and how complicated it can get and how hard it is to grow a fan base across multiple platforms and they give me a call.

I could have gone in there and promised to do it all for them and taken their money knowing full well it wasn’t going to work out but I just can’t do that.  I don’t want that kind of a reputation.  I want to be the type of guy who will tell a potential client “this isn’t for you” if it’s not or “you need to do this on your own” if that’s the best way.  Damn I really needed the money though!

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.

“Reschedule? Sure I’d Be Happy To…”

It was going to be a day in hell.  Work meeting at 1:30, pitch meeting at 3:00, work at 5:00, conference call with the author at 10pm.  I expected disaster since everything had to fall just right for me to be prepared and on time to everything.  If the 1:30 runs long which it usually does then I am late for the 3:00 which means I’ll be cutting it close getting to work and if my last table at work is a couple that camps out until a half hour after close I’ll be an hour late on the conference call.

The 1:30 meeting is our quarterly meeting for the restaurant where they present the new specials and policy changes that marginally affect us.  In other words a complete waste of my time except for the free food involved but I have to go if I want to keep my job.

The 3:00 was with the interior design ladies (remember them?).  I didn’t want to reschedule because I didn’t want them to think that I was unprofessional, unprepared, too busy or anything like that.

However, I was unprepared or only half prepared.  I had spent all my time on the author.  I was hoping to wake up an hour early, review what I had done a week ago, polish it up, and draw up a contract so if they like it they can sign on the spot.  I woke up two hours late!  Damnit!   I scrapped putting the contract together and just focused on my pitch.  I started to feel like it was going to be alright and I’ll probably land the job.

Just before I am about to get dressed for the 1:30 pow wow, one of the designers calls and wants to push it back to next week since her partner “had to go on vacation.”  Sounds like bullshit since nobody has to go on vacation.  Nor do they spontaneously plan and embark on a vacation within 1 week.  A red flag would’ve gone up when we set up the meeting last week that hey I am on vacation next week.  Either something awful happened, like a family death, or I got bumped for a meeting with a client.  Either way someone is a bad liar.  But what do I care?  This is best thing that could’ve happened!  Hell yeah we can reschedule for next week!  See ya Tuesday!

The 1:30 meeting was thus refreshing because I didn’t have to stress about whether my bosses tangents would run us long and it was far less stressful than the home office.  By the way, it ended at 2:30 on the dot for the first time in a long time so I would’ve made it on time to the 3:00.  Instead I use the time to prepare for my conference call with the author after work.

Work is dead, meaning slow.  I don’t get any campers or any tables of any sort at the end of the night so when I’m cut I get out of there lickity split at 9:30.  That never happens.

Turns out the author was entertaining visitors so we didn’t connect until 11pm so I got to spend some time with the girlfriend watching the Savannah episode of American Idol, which made me a little embarrassed to be living here with the seemingly high ratio of nut jobs….

The call went well.  He likes where I’m going with things and we sold our first book.  Couldn’t have been a better day.  Things just don’t fall my way like that.