Month: January 2012

Focus on the little wins

Everything you do should be focused on success. One of the questions you should ask every employee, all the time, is “Was it successful?” You should do this for several reasons. First, it allows you to know what to repeat. It creates a deadline and forces a quantifiable action and result. Otherwise it’s very easy for projects to drag on or to have no idea what works and what doesn’t.

Second, it helps everybody understand what the vision looks like in real life. Visions are great, but you can’t execute on a vision, at least not daily. The better framework you can create to help employees understand what success looks like in the flesh, the easier it will be for them to attain it.

And third, it allows you, and them, to enjoy the successes. In a growing company, there’s always a million things to do. It’s very easy to do one task or project, then immediately jump to the next one. This gets tiring and kills moral. The more you can take time and celebrate your successes, the more you want to keep getting them. Those high level revenue goals are essential but it’s so hard for an individual employee to feel ownership over those numbers.

A much better way for them to feel ownership and pride is through their individual successes along the way.Help your employees understand what success looks like, how to quantify it, and most importantly why they should even care about the small wins. The only way to hit your big revenue goals is through smaller successes. The more little wins you get the bigger the snowball becomes.

Why bold, offensive people are more successful than you

You may not like it – but more often than not – the boldest, most fearless, most offensive people are the most successful.

Take for example Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Larry Ellison, and Donald Trump. They’re all controversial in their own way, yet all extremely successful. I bet every one of them makes more in a day than you do in an entire year.

So what makes these anti-role models so smart? They understand controversy is good for business.

Unless you’re Google or Coca-Cola – huge brands with mainstream products everyone likes – you should be trying to create controversy.

The mega-brands are all about positioning themselves to offend nobody, because they want to sell to everybody. This positioning is only possible with a mega-advertising budget.

It’s kinda like saying “hi” to every passerby on the sidewalk. Hoping they’ll stop what they’re doing and engage in a conversation with you.

Sure, “hi” won’t offend anyone. But it also won’t spark any interesting conversations. Why? Because everyone says hi to passerbys.

Instead of “hello”, try something like “wow, what an ugly sweater”. I guarantee you’ll stop people dead in their tracks. Sure, 80% might be offended, but 20% might think it’s funny or maybe you share a story about how you love ugly sweaters too. Instant connection!

How being controversial can build your company’s brand

The trick is finding the ugly sweater of your industry, or becoming the Britney Spears of your niche.

For 37signals, it’s “to hell with installed software” and “f#c$ venture capital” – both controversial statements in the high-tech software world.

For Britney, it was I’m a hot 18 year old sex symbol not afraid to show it. And then later she evolved her controversy, recording the song You want a piece of me, openly boasting “I’m the oh my god that Britney’s shameless. You want a piece of me? It’s Britney, bitch!”

Britney rode this kind of controversy her entire career, selling over 100 million records and becoming the best-selling female artist of the decade. Remember: tons of people hate her music. Yet she sold 100 million records, laughing all the way to the bank!

So many successful marketers understand these concepts like the back of their hand. If you can internalize this and apply it to your business, you will become the next Britney!  … bitch

PS – This is what I’m talking about. She’s the badass of her niche. The entire video a bold statement hard to ignore. She’s pushing the limits of acceptable behavior. If you like it, you talk about it. If you don’t like it, you still talk about it.

Guarantee your solution

Most companies do a great job of explaining what they do. Tell you how they can solve your problem. Express their marketing message correctly or show how their product will improve your life. Whatever they do, they can usually articulate it fairly well. What very few companies do is guarantee their solution. They’ll help you improve your life but they wont guarantee it. Or if they do, it’s usually a marketing ploy and they don’t really mean it.

Guarantee is a very harsh word. It’s black and white. You either succeed or you don’t. There is a huge risk of failure. This also provides a chance of great success. It forces focus and helps limit scope creep.

Guaranteeing a solution is most important within your  company. However your market your service, you should always say you guarantee your solution internally. Every employee should focus on this guarantee. Strive to ensure this guarantee comes true in everything they do and in every interaction they have with their customers.

You’ll be surprised at the excitement, and fear, you hear in your employees when you tell them you’re going to guarantee your solution. You’ll also be surprised at how well they rise to the challenge.

Why you should forget ‘going viral’ – a personal story

I’ll be the first to admit I couldn’t resist. When we first launched Printfection in 2006, I was in charge of getting the word out. Even though I knew nothing about marketing, I knew ‘going viral’ was like winning the lottery – sounds cool in theory, never going to happen. Yet I tried it anyways, and it worked! But the results were devastating.

Let me tell you a little story about why you should forget the temptation of launching a viral marketing campaign

One of our first big Printfection marketing campaigns – way before SwagLove – was a $2 t-shirt special for new customers. We coded up a landing page offering $2 custom-printed t-shirts, plus $5 shipping. A custom printed shirt with unlimited colors in your design for $7 out the door. This was unheard of at the time, and still is. So was this the perfect recipe for ‘getting known’ and rising from startup obscurity to stardom? Hardly.

I thought a few hundred people might try the promotion over the first few months. But before we knew it, we were a featured deal on SlickDeals and FatWallet. These were the ‘deal of the day’ sites before Groupon ever existed. And they sent us tons of traffic.

All of the sudden we were getting literally three orders per minute, for days!

Awesome, right? Just a few weeks after launching our site to the public, 5,000 orders poured in over less than 24 hours! But looking back, it was a disaster. Here’s why:

  • Our company wasn’t ready for 5,000 orders per day. We had to hire temporary help to print the shirts & get the orders out the door. And my co-founder Kevin spent weeks debugging and scaling our servers to add capacity. Capacity that was unnecessary for years to come if we hadn’t ever done this deal in the first place.
  • We barely broke even on the orders. Which would have been fine, if these were good customers who’d reorder down the line. (It’s all about customer lifetime value). But people shopping ‘deal of the day’ sites are not loyal customers ever willing to pay full price.
  • Because the deal hounds weren’t willing to pay full-price, we started sending out regular coupons and specials offers to get them to buy again.
  • We were getting dangerous customer feedback, skewing our product roadmap and marketing priorities. Since the cheapskates made up the vast majority of our customer base, our customer service department (me!) kept telling marketing (me!) ‘everyone wants us to keep mailing out coupons’. Looking back, of course cheapskate customers want coupons! Told you, I’m not very smart.
  • We were trying to build a platform to help people sell t-shirts online. Buying your own shirt wasn’t the main thing, yet by structuring our promotion in the way we did, we attracted a ton of people who only wanted to buy a custom shirt for themselves & never had intentions to setup an online store. Basically, we attracted the wrong type of customer. And the reason I didn’t design the promotion strictly for ‘online t-shirt sellers’? Because I wanted it to go viral, of course! I didn’t think it would be possible to go viral with a hard constraint.

So for all the people in startup land trying to get a web app off the ground, think twice before designing a viral marketing campaign. What’s worked for us in the long run are the unsexy things: An easy-to-use web application. High quality printing. Great customer service. Basically, trying to provide the most value possible, not the lowest prices.

We got off track for a while, but now we’re focusing on the basics again. And it’s working. If you don’t believe me, take it from someone a lot smarter than me, David at 37signals:

Forget viral. Forget this notion of this automatic viral thing that will infect and spread. You know what’s viral? Shoes. Shoes are viral. When you buy them from Zappos at 10 o’clock in the evening and you get an email 15 minutes later saying ‘you’re such a swell customer we’re going to put you on overnight delivery and you’ll have them in the morning’. And getting that box tomorrow morning and opening the box, and saying ‘hey, there’s a pack of Puma’s I just ordered last night a few hours ago’. Another words, just great service. Just a great business. It doesn’t have to be an ingenious idea. Often the simplest ideas in the world like treating your customers nicely, while still asking for money for what you do, can work! And you can build great businesses like that.

David Hennemier Hanson, 37signals podcast #5

What do you think? Have you launched a successful viral campaign? Or have you failed like me? Let’s keep the conversation rolling in the comments!

Learn from Your Team

You can set your vision, figure out how you sit in the market or how you’re going to revolutionize this or that. What you can’t do, is determine how to get there. It just wont work. There are too many things to do, too many areas of the company. Your only hope of ever finding your way to your vision is through your team.

And you’ll most likely disagree with their suggestions. But that’s the point, and that’s why you have to listen. They know more than you. Whichever area of the company they’re passionate about you have to learn from them. Ask them questions. If you don’t think they’re right, figure out where they’re coming from, don’t fight them. The more you listen the more you’ll understand how to grow your company.

You’ll also find they listen to you more. The more you force your way of thinking, the more defensive they’ll get and the less they’ll care about what you have to say or how you can help. Instead, just listen and ask questions. The more respect they feel from you, the more they’ll want your help want to learn from you too.

Keep track of how much you talk and how much you listen each day. Then double your listening time.


Some unusual, awesome advice from one of my mentors

You’re probably building out your 2012 plans, trying to grow your brand as fast as you can this coming year. Which often means hiring on additional resources. I know a lot of startups are hiring like crazy right now to meet their growth goals. Which is why I wanted to share some advice I received from one of my mentors. Someone who’s built and sold multi-million dollar companies for a huge profits. Someone who lives for the challenge of building great companies.

Looks like you are moving things along nicely. Resist the temptation to hire too fast. Better to have a growing savings account and work a little harder than a depleting one and be able to go home early every day. I’ve found it hard to “force” growth, reinvest only where you’ve tested sufficient ROI from a marketing standpoint.

In a world of $10,000 hiring bounties you don’t hear advice like this enough. Thankfully though, a lot of the smartest, most successful entrepreneurs I know advocate a hire less, hire later approach.

What do you think? Why is there such a fundamental difference between how some companies hire, hire, hire and others hold off as long as possible?

Encourage cheating

Whether it’s food, exercise, work, getting up early, what ever it is, at some point we’ll mess up. We’ll binge one day, skip a work out, work on something fun instead of doing our exact job duties. This is normal, there’s no way around it. The problem is what happens afterwards.

As soon as you cheat you start walking around with a weight on your back. Now you really have to do better tomorrow or you’ve screwed up twice. And every time you mess up it gets added to the list until soon enough, you’ve stopped all together because your sick of being stressed about messing up. No wonder diets never work.

Your team is exactly like you. They need to cheat. They need to do a fun project with no tangible results. They need to make a small improvement without consulting the right departments. And they need to do this outside of any structure. Hence the term cheating.

Allowing your team to cheat provides two benefits. It lets them relax and really have fun. And it gives you a chance to learn what they care about.

What do they do when they cheat? How often do they cheat? Are they able to complete their primary projects or duties regardless of how much they cheat? And if they are cheating too much, or unable to complete their tasks, then you’ve probably got them working in the wrong area.

Cheating is a great way to learn how to help your team be successful. If you never let them cheat, you’ll never know what they should really be doing.

Sell Your Team

Selling to the customer or a market segment is widely talked about but the same principles apply to your team. Your goal, at every meeting, during every interaction should be to sell your vision to your employees. If your own team doesn’t buy your vision, how will the customer? And I mean truly buy it. You’ll know it’s working when they believe it’s their own vision and take it beyond anything you had imagined.

You can preach all day, you can force them to work on project X or project Y, but you’ll never fully utilize your team until they believe what you’re selling. This includes company wide visions, marketing plans, the importance of simplicity, whatever it is your selling, they have to buy it, whole heartily.

It’s hard work to sell. Much easier to dictate. You’ll have to sit down for hours at a time with your team, with individuals, time and time again. You’ll have to refine it, simplify it, package it differently. But once you finally do sell it, the ROI is through the roof.

You’ll be amazed at the results. Communication will flow 100 times faster. Meetings will actually mean something. You’ll get help from areas of the company you had never thought of. You’ve got an amazing group of people helping you build your company. Take the shackles off and really let them work with you, not for you.