Tag Archives: John Jantsch

Stories as Business Strategy

Stories are the oldest and probably the best way to communicate ideas, truth, and beliefs. Stories as business strategy can be extremely powerful. Think of the key stories that are foundational in the great religions. Or think about the stories behind the phrases “sour grapes,” “the fox in the henhouse,” and “the emperor’s new clothes.” They all have power because they communicate. They resonate. We recognize their truths.

“All human beings have an innate need to hear and tell stories and to have a story to live by.”

– Harvey Cox

business stories

Stories are a great way to define and communicate business strategy. A strategy that can’t be told as a story is doomed. And a strategy could be laid out as a story that includes the main factors, for example. And  it could be as simple as a story defining the problem your customers have, the solution your business offers, and the factors that make your business especially suited to offer the solution. In this method the problem is also called need, or want, or, if you like jargon, the so-called “why to buy.” Strategy should be flexible. And a lot of successful presentations start with the problem and its solution.

Your Essential Business Story

Strategy starts with an essential business story. Imagine a moment of purchase. Somebody is buying what you sell. It happens with every business. For example:

  • A group walks into your restaurant.
  • A web browser subscribes to your membership site.
  • A customer in your store picks up one or more products, puts them into a basket, and walks to the checkout counter.
  • A potential client decides to take on your management consulting or social media marketing.

In every case, there is a story. Think it through. Who is this person? How did he or she find you, your store, your restaurant, or your website? Was it by answering an email, looking at an ad, talking to a friend, or maybe searching in a Yelp app on a mobile device?

Every transaction is a solution to somebody’s problem. Understand what problem – need, want, or why-to-buy – you’re solving. Marketing author Theodore Levitt used to point out that people don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.

So you don’t invite somebody to a sushi restaurant just because you’re both hungry. You want an interesting meal; you want to sit down together for a while and talk. It’s an event, an activity, with hunger satisfaction far from the top of the list.

You also need to understand what business you’re in. The restaurant business is often about occasions, not meals. The drive-through fast food business is about convenience. Starbucks is about affordable luxury, not just coffee; and in some cases, a place to meet, or a place to work.

So the solution has to match the problem, but it should demonstrate what’s different about one company when compared to all its competitors. For example, to make a restaurant story based on fine food credible, you need to add in how this restaurant’s owners and team can credibly deliver fine food. And in the software company example, there must be a sense of this company being qualified to deliver useful content in this topic area. That takes us back to the Identity component of the IMO framework; but it could also be called simply the secret sauce, or why we’re different, and presumably better.

A Real Example

Let’s return to a social media consulting company: HavePresence.com. Here’s its essential business story:

Terry loves her business, puts her heart and soul into it, and is successful. Her sales are growing, her customers are happy, and her employees are happy and productive.

She’s worried about social media. She knows it’s important for her business’ future. She knows her business should be on Twitter, Facebook, and the other major platforms. Experts seem to agree that business owners should engage. However, she’s already busy running a business, and she doesn’t have time to do meaningful social media as well. When she’s not running the business, she wants to be with her family, not on the computer.

Terry tried having an employee handle the social media, but it was still taking too much time. She made inquiries with some consultants, but they are expensive.

Finally, on the web, Terry finds Have Presence, a small business like her own, run by three co-owners who love social media, understand small business, and do only thoughtful, strategic social media updates for clients they know and represent well. They aren’t selling expensive consulting, telling Terry what and how to do it. Instead, they do the work, manage the social media, and give Terry’s business social media presence, for a monthly fee that’s considerably less than a half-time employee, without the long-term commitment.

That story defines three important factors. Identity is there in the phrase that begins “the three co-owners love social media and understand small business.” Target market is there in Terry, the business owner, and her problem with social media. And offering is there in the sentence that begins with “They aren’t selling expensive consulting.”

Stories can describe some important visions of truth better than, say, statistics. The real market isn’t a number on a chart or in a table; it’s that collection of people. Sure, the number is nice, once you know the people, but first you have to feel like these people actually exist, and the reason to buy exists, and that the people and the reason match up.

The Story Your Customer Tells

Imagine how your customer found you. What did he think was good or interesting or remarkable about you or your business? Why does she go back for repeat business? What do you want that story to be, and how can you influence that story? This is where the story leads to better business planning as alignment of all the elements of the business with your ideal story.

Your most powerful branding, like it or not, is the story that the customer tells her friends. Imagine your customer explaining your business to a friend. How would she describe your business? What can you do to influence that story?

Even before social media, there was viral marketing, and before that, referral marketing, guerilla marketing, and going back even further, word of mouth. John Jantsch, author of Duct Tape Marketing, calls it getting people to know, like and trust you. Seth Godin, author of All Marketers are Liars, calls it being remarkable.

And now, with social media, Jim Blasingame, author of Age of the Customer, says your customers control your brand. Your business depends on collective opinions published in tweets and Facebook updates, Google+, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. It’s amplified word of mouth, and it’s in the hands of the world at large, independent of your advertising budget, signage, and tag lines.

Know the story. Create the story. Plan in useful steps how to make it true.

Management, Done Well, is a Collection of Stories

Your business revolves around the story of your history and your values and your team as it grows.

With business planning, you don’t just tell the stories of the past, you also create and develop the stories of your future. Look ahead with your plan, control your destiny, and drive it in the right direction. Go from vision to imagination to focus and step-by-step concrete measurable activities.

(Ed note: this is taken from a section of Lean Business Planning)

Social Media Marketing Earthquake, Content Tsunami

(My latest column in the Eugene Register Guard. Click here for the original. Reposted here with permission)

content marketing tipping pointSocial media marketing earthquake

The social media marketing earthquake is already here. And, in keeping with the forecast theme in this month’s blue chip, here’s a prediction: content marketing tsunami.

The shaking started as social media took off with Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and early blogs. It continued with Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

So-called content marketing emerged. Marketing is getting people to know, like and trust you. Content marketing does that with blogging, online videos and other online content that businesses offer to people for free, through social media. Content marketing is theoretically free to businesses because they don’t pay for space, like they do with traditional advertising. But what isn’t free is the production of content that is interesting, useful, funny or just plain not boring on social media and blogs, as an alternative to advertising.

You can find examples of successful content marketing on the Web. Anita Campbell of Small Business Trends turned a thoughtful blog into a multi-million-dollar information business. John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing turned a book into a multi-million-dollar blog, consultant network, and speaking business. Gary Vaynerchuk of VaynerMedia made a fortune in writing and speaking. They were individual experts, but these businesses grew because people found their content interesting and useful. Readership became relationship, which led to customers.

This earthquake has already changed the business landscape. Marketing stories are more important than ever. Smaller companies with good stories can compete effectively against big brands. Advertising is no longer as simple as value proposition message repeated in media. The bigger budget doesn’t always win.

Content marketing tsunami

And the tsunami? Billions of dollars that have been flowing into big-brand advertising budgets are now going into social media and content marketing. What we’ve seen so far, however, is a trickle compared to what’s coming.

Those big budgets are managed by a generation that grew up with advertising as the key to big-brand marketing. Those people are being dragged, kicking and screaming in many cases, into this new world. They may not like it. It’s not what they grew up with. It’s not what they came to power with. But these are smart people and more of them get it.

For example, Target created a free iPad app, “Made For U College Styler,” that helps college students design their dorm room decor. It gathers information from their social media accounts to guess at style, then suggests items they can buy at Target. They want loyalty so they offer utility. Zappos, originally an innovative online shoe retailer, rode social media to a lucrative sale to Amazon and big-brand success. One of Zappos’ biggest successes was a Pinterest page that posted pictures of free products. Burger King, Snapple, Red Bull, and BMW are offering brand-related content on multiple social media sites.

The big-budget attention is going to create increasing competition in content marketing. The innovators had the field to themselves when it started 10 to 15 years ago. Not so much in the future.

Yet few people understand how evolving social media and content marketing will carry an implicit trade-off­ between short- and long-term success. The kind of tactics that might generate immediate business leads won’t work for the long haul. Long-term success in this new world is about legitimately helping people, offering useful information and being interesting — or at least not boring — to establish long-term relationships with potential customers.

Long-term success will be won by people and businesses that create, curate, and share legitimately good content, not self-serving, thinly disguised infomercial-like content. New technology has leveled the playing field in ways that neutralize advertising budgets and reward real sharing.

It’s going to take work and patience. But here’s the good news: Business owners who stick with it will be rewarded through long-term relationships with customers, which, by the way, is what marketing is all about.

A Marketing Expert’s Must-Read Advice on Living Better

I’m proud to say John Jantsch, the world’s number one expert on small business marketing,  is a friend of mine. I’ve worked with him for years and I’ve learned a lot from him. For example, I still use his definition of marketing (“getting people to know, like, and trust you”) almost daily. 

His wisdom has spread well beyond marketing for a while now. For example, it was John who first suggested to me, several years ago, that regular exercise pays off in productivity time, instead of taking productivity time. 

And I’m glad to see he’s sharing some similarly important concepts, about life as well as business. in his Recover You series on his Small Business Marketing blog. This is must-read material. 

Today’s post is How to Breathe and Why You Must. Here’s a snippet:

Breathing is perhaps the most mindless of all human behaviors and what I’ve discovered is that an intentional practice of mindful breathing is perhaps one of the most powerful tools you can employ.

Earlier this month he posted How to Change Your Thoughts and Why You Must. Here’s a bit from that one: 

Starting today, carve out a 15-minute period and consciously commit to foregoing any thought of judgment. Take a walk on a busy street while you monitor your thoughts and see how actively your mind want to make judgments about everything you see. For some people just keenly witnessing their thoughts for even fifteen minutes is incredibly mind-opening.

Do yourself a favor. Read and follow this series of posts. 

(Image: Taken from John’s post. Photo credit: Mait Jüriado via photopin cc)

10 Tips For Starting a Service Business

You can see the request here on the right, posted to me on Twitter. I decided it’s a good subject for a blog post here, and I went on my own first as a service business and survived that way for 12 years before Palo Alto Software finally established itself as a product company.  So I do have some tips I can share.

  1. Set your goals right and define success well. Service businesses generally take less start-up capital but are also much less likely than product businesses to offer eventual leverage and scalability. There are exceptions, but in most service businesses the assets walk out the door every night. Those businesses are relatively easy to start, relatively easy to survive and prosper with, but also hard to grow beyond small, hard to sell, and hard to attract outside investors.
  2. Look for a business anchor. That’s a former employer and/or a strong client.  For example, I had Apple Computer, a former client, and Creative Strategies, a former employer, both willing to contract my services from the beginning. Apple remained critical to – and loyal to – my business services from the beginning in 1984 until Business Plan Pro changed the business to product-driven in 1994.
  3. Understand your first client is twice as hard to get as your second. And the second is a third harder than the third. Land those first few clients well. Make sure they’re happy. Give them a huge discount to get the relationship going, and expect to keep your rates low for them, but ask them, in return, to not tell strangers what they pay you. Work free if you have to. You need references and testimonials.
  4. Find a focus. Be different from anybody offering similar services to similar clients, in a way they can understand immediately and will share with others. Example: I was a business plan consultant who had a fancy MBA degree, no big deal; but I had also built my first computer, programmed extensively, lived in Latin America, and spoke fluent Spanish. My clients tended to be high-tech companies doing international business.
  5. Use social media and blogging and your website as your main tools for marketing. Create and share content that validates your expertise. Your marketing today is so much easier than it was when I went out on my own; where I had to get through editors and publishers and conference organizers to get my expertise in front of clients (specifically, I wrote magazine articles, and books, and I spoke at COMDEX and the like), you can do it yourself by posting on blogs and Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn. And, soon, RebelMouse. Oh, and that reminds me: Read Duct Tape Marketing, by John Jantsch.
  6. Spend wisely on your logo and look and feel. Look into 99Designs, I’ve seen some sensational work from them. A professional look to your logo and website (or Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn profile, if that’s all you do for a website) is really important. It isn’t a matter of business cards or stationery anymore, but it is how you represent yourself.
  7. Don’t ever spend money you don’t have. You’ll get lots of suggestions for ways you can spend money now to make money later; mail lists, marketing programs, they never stop.
  8. Don’t ever lose a client. Repeat business is vital. Keeping your existing clients is way cheaper and easier than finding new ones. Always go that extra mile, when you have to, to keep your existing clients happy.
  9. Know your numbers. If you don’t know the difference between sales and money in the bank, between profits and cash, learn it. It’s vital. Know your numbers like the back of your hand.
  10. Never compromise integrity. You’re going to succeed or fail based on your reputation. Don’t cut corners with credibility.
  11. (Bonus point) Expect to make mistakes. If you can’t acknowledge and learn from and apologize for your mistakes, then you’re doomed. You will make them. If you think you won’t, keep your day job.
  12. (Second bonus point) Do your own simple, practical business plan. Do it for yourself, not outsiders. Make it just big enough. Keep it fluid and flexible and review it often and revise it frequently. Read The Plan-as-you-go Business Plan, by me. Sign up for www.liveplan.com. [Disclosure: I’m the author of that book (but I’m linking you to where you can read it free) and I own Palo Alto Software, which publishes liveplan, a web app for business planning.]

What Kind of Advertising for a Startup

I revised my timberry.com website a couple of months ago and one of the additions was the ask me page where I offering to answer questions people ask. This question came to me from that page and I think it might be a useful answer for this blog.

Question:

I just started a small business in [a US medium-sized town] home improvement contractor. My question too you is what kind of advertising do you prefer when just getting started

Answer:

First answer, specific to a home improvement contractor: I think you should immediately buy John Jantsch’ book Duct Tape Marketing and read it cover to cover. That’s one of the best ever books on marketing for small business in general, and John uses home improvement contracting for a lot of his examples. It’s as if one of the best minds in marketing had answered your specific question with a brilliant book tailored to you. And that might lead you to his more recent book, the Referral Engine, which will also apply very well to home remodeling.

Second answer, more general, for all small business startups: the question isn’t what kind of advertising, but rather, what kind of marketing strategy. John Jantsch defines marketing as getting people to know, like, and trust you. What works best for you depends entirely on the specifics of you and your business and your target customer. It might be advertising and advertising alone, but I doubt it. I think it’s probably a mix of website marketing, social media, yellow page marketing, and mainly referrals. You need to think first about your business focus, your key target customers, what your message is, and from there, one to best get those key target people to know, like, and trust you.

I did a column a couple of months ago outlining how to do a marketing plan. That might help too.

5 Good Posts for Friday April 22

It is now fixed so I haven’t lost my last two weeks of blogging, and all of your comments, from yesterday’s Amazon Cloud server failure. In the meantime, life goes on. These are some posts I’ve collected this week, posts I want to recommend:

  1. Little Bets Can Make a Big Difference: Dan Schawbel’s review of Peter Sims’ new book Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries. I’ve been meaning to review this book myself, because I like it a lot. Dan beats me to it with an interview style coupled by some specific helpful lists. Here’s a good summary in one quote from Peter:

    I’ve heard thousands of entrepreneurial stories, some extremely successful, many mediocre, or not successful. That combined with the extensive research my team and I did for this book leaves it clear to me that instantaneous ideas are extremely rare, in business, art, science, or you name it. Mozart was an exception. He was a prodigy. But for the rest of us mortals, it takes lots of small steps and constant iteration to identify big opportunities and problems.

  2. Anita Campbell posted Are You Too Old to be Innovative on the Amex OPEN.  One of the highlights is that being holder helps to spotlight trends. I hope so.
  3. And on Anita’s Small Business Trends blog, Lisa Barone posted The 7 Types of People to Avoid in Social Media. Do you recognize yourself there? Scary question.
  4. My thanks to John Jantsch for pointing me to 5 Tips for Better Business Storytelling, by Jeanne Hopkins, on Hubspot. Very practical tips. I think story telling is extremely important, and not just for blogging.
  5. Andrew Sullivan’s Look At Me When I’m Talking To You. Very disturbing. I’m guilty of this. Read it.  By the way, has anybody else noticed how prolific he is? Like 10 blog posts a day?

A Few Good Posts for a Friday

These are some posts I recommended reading this week.

  • My absolute favorite this week was Mark Suster’s 9 Women Can’t Make a Baby in a Month, on TechCrunch. Mark’s Both Sides of the Table is a great blog, by the way. And this is the thought at the heart of that post:

    Over funding often produces bad behavior in early-stage companies. You hire people too fast, you over build your products, you try to force market adoption and you do PR blitzes before your product is really ready for prime time. And having too much money certainly raises board expectations that you will do big things quickly.

  • Inside Facebook explains how to convert your Facebook profile to a business page. Thanks to John Jantsch for pointing this one out. I’m a perfect example, I think; I’ve used Facebook only to support my writing and speaking, so it’s much more of a business page than a personal profile anyhow.
  • TechCrunch features Jonah Paretti, entrepreneur, teacher, and true expert on contagious media (in fact I think he coined that term).
  • I really like Denise O’Berry’s post Google Cracks the Code on What Makes a Good Manager. Here’s the quick summary:
    • Be a good coach
    • Empower your team and don’t micromanage
    • Express interest in team members’ success and personal well being
    • Don’t be a sissy: be productive and results-oriented
    • Be a good communicator and listen to your team
    • Help your employees with career development
    • Have a clear vision and strategy for the team
    • Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team
  • And finally, since today is April 1, otherwise known as April Fool’s Day, this one by my daughter Megan Berry of Klout.com: Measure Your Text Messaging Klout.

10 Blogging Tips. My 1,000th Post on This Blog

Last night I was halfway through a draft post patting myself on the back, illustrated with champagne glasses, when my youngest daughter, Megan, called from San Francisco, where she lives now. That’s @MeganBerry to you, blogger and social media expert,  marketing manager of Klout.com. So I asked her this: “What do I do with my 1,000th post?”

stacked stones“Do something that matters,” Megan answered. “Do something special.”  She talked about favorites, lessons, advice, and reflections.

So, about 12 hours later, this is it, number 1,000. Gulp.

I started in 2006, but did only a dozen posts in the first year. I really started in April 2007, with reflections on family business, a personal note about passing the torch to a second generation. I changed jobs then – my choice – from owner-entrepreneur-president to blogger president of Palo Alto Software.

My personal favorite posts are on the sidebar here to the right. My favorite search is the one for fundamentals, particularly the series of 5 posts on planning fundamentals. My favorite categories come straight from the blog title: planning, startups, and stories: that’s specifically the categories planning fundamentals, true stories, and starting a business. And I also really like advice, reflections, and business mistakes. But I like most of my posts here. You kind of have to, to keep doing it.

Here are 10 blogging lessons I’ve learned:

  1. Imitation isn’t just flattery, it’s learning. When I said I wasn’t a blogger, Sabrina Parsons said “you will be. Just start reading blogs.” So I did. And I imitate a lot of other bloggers I like to read. So many that I can’t name them all here; but my thanks to Guy, John, Pam, Anita, Ann, Steve, Seth, Matthew, Ramon, and so many others. Every blog on my blogroll here to the right.
  2. Titles make a huge difference. That’s not just blogging. It’s been true for a long time. My son Paul, CTO at Huffington Post, teamed up with his younger sister Megan to teach me titles. And Ironically, what they taught me was a lot of what I learned at UPI plus the power of questions, and lists of 5 and 10.
  3. Short and simple: short sentences, short posts. Short thoughts? I like one-word sentences, and one-sentence paragraphs. And short posts, in theory: despite how much I admire Seth Godin’s short posts, I try, and usually fail.   
  4. Break grammar rules. Carefully. Rarely. Like right here. There’s no verb in either of the previous two sentences, so this post would have gotten me an F in Brother Salvatore’s 12th grade English class. 30-some years later, I’m glad he gave me that F on a 10-page paper for using “it’s” instead of “its” once. That lesson was worth it. But jeez!
  5. Pictures add meaning. Thanks to John Jantsch for that one. And to Shutterstock for supplying me with the bulk of the pictures I’ve used on this blog for the last year. And don’t ask me to explain the illustration on this one. I didn’t want champagne glasses or cakes and candles.
  6. Write Often, and keep writing. Find your pace. Honor consistency. Once a month doesn’t feel like a blog, but three good posts weekly is better than two good and three not so good. Break your routine occasionally for mental health. I write a lot and like it.  I’ve done 1,000 posts here in three years. Plus 700 on Up and Running, and another 200 or so on Small Business Trends, Huffington Post, Amex Open, Industry Word, and Planning Demystified. Plus some guest posts on others. It’s easier to maintain momentum than overcome inertia.
  7. Love the comments. Thank you. Not you spammers. But even you critics with annoying comments. Especially you critics with smart well written disagreements. Not the dumb generic praise intended only for your own SEO benefit, which I delete.  But I love the comments, they make it live.
  8. Love Twitter. Twitter has done wonders for my blogging, my daily work flow, and my growing satisfaction with web 2.0 or social media or whatever you call it. If you don’t get twitter, it’s not clutter, it’s not what they had for lunch, it’s blog posts and links and what’s going on in the world, as shared by people you like, now. My 18-point Twitter Primer feels as valid today as when I posted it.
  9. Tell the damn truth. You can’t fake it for long. Keeping track of all your various personae is exhausting. Write as yourself, or maybe (just maybe) who you really want to be. I know this is a lame old quote, but I heard it first from Chris Guilleabeau and I like it: “I have to be myself. All the other people are already taken.”
  10. Tell don’t sell. Lots of us blog for business. Much as I sincerely love the books and software I’ve done, I don’t blog about them here. Sure, the sidebar sells, I hope, but my posts don’t. 

Here’s advice, in honor of this being post number 1,000:

  1. Anything anybody can believe is an image of truth (paraphrasing William Blake).
  2. Time is the scarcest resource. Time, not money.
  3. Your relationships with the people you love are WAY more important than proving that you were right.

Dear reader: thank you. 

(image credit: Arsgera/Shutterstock)

Build A Referral Engine Right

The Referral EngineI love this paragraph:

There are three ingredients necessary for a rewarding and successful business experience: You must enjoy what you do and feel a sense of purpose; you must be good at what you do; and you must be able to convince other people to pay you for what you do.

That’s from John Jantsch’s new book, The Referral Engine, which is out on the market and available today. John is the world-famous author of Duct Tape Marketing, perhaps the world’s best thinker on marketing in the real world, in a practical, down-to-earth (hence the duct tape image) way.

If you’re running your own business, trying to grow, it’s hard to imagine a better way to spend $15 or so and a few hours than on this book. We all take referrals for granted; it’s second nature. We assume that if we do a good job then referrals will happen. How many times have you heard and accepted the phrase “word of mouth” as the most powerful tool in marketing?

What John does in this book is take you through a process that makes referrals a key driver of your business. He starts with defining what referrals really are (aside from the common assumptions) and how they work. He links that to the high-end strategies that drive real business growth. From there, he goes into the actual nuts-and-bolts systems that create what he calls referral engines.

I know you’re busy. It won’t take your time and money, it will save your time and money. So read this book.