Planning to write a book? Attend our workshop!

Last December Kira Henschel invited me to present on blogging at her publishing workshop. Kira runs HenschelHAUS Publishing, and offers workshops to help people get moving on their book ideas. She asked me to speak on blogging and social media from a how-to perspective.

It was a lot of fun, and quite successful too — one of the attendees has already finished her book and begun the process of marketing it. Jill Baake’s got an I Love Me Mom blog, and I Love Me Mom available at Amazon.

Writing a book is surely a difficult thing to do, but marketing seems to be the hidden valley of challenges for many authors. I know I always thought that being author went something like:

  1. Write really great book.
  2. Sign deal with grateful publisher.
  3. Wait for phone calls announcing each successive step up the best seller list.
  4. Enjoy being rich.

Seriously, I think most folks believe that the writing is the hard part. Actually, it’s editing the book into its most productive form and then marketing it effectively.

What’s also interesting is that while it used to be there weren’t too many publishers that was the only way to get a book in print aside from paying to have the book printed directly. Between changes in printing technologies, publishing technologies, and all the rest of the technologies there are now a lot of new options and many hybrids.

Kira’s invited me again for her next workshop on July 23rd. If you’ve got a book in you that needs to get out, this is a great way to develop a plan to make it happen. From Brainchild to Bestseller: An Insider’s Guide to Birthing and Publishing Your Book will untangle the mess for you, and leave you with a clear path to follow to your book.

I’m not your spam filter, LLBean

I’m running into this more and more, and I’ve decided to start walking away. I’m talking about captchas, those little boxes of nearly impossible to read text that they want you to enter to make sure you’re not a robot.

I will put up with it on registration pages for free online services, but if it’s a corporation asking me to enter a contest via an email invitation, forget it. Don’t ask me to be you’re spam filter.

I’m looking at you LLBean.

Dear Amazon: Fix your recommendation engine

Dear Amazon,

Still loving the new Kindle. I’ve even bought a few new books, and then I got an email from you with recommendations for more.

The first book mentioned, Business Model Generation looks very interesting. One problem though; it’s not available on the Kindle. Because there’s no “other editions”, or “tell the publisher you want to read this on the Kindle” button in the mobile version of Amazon, in order to figure this out I had to exit the web page, start up the kindle app and do a search. Not very convenient.

While you’re fixing that, how about you also change the way samples work so that when I buy the book the sample is automatically deleted after the location is saved on the purchased copy. Having to find where the sample left off in the new copy is a pain. Having to delete the sample is also a pain.

On Trade Show Exhibit Justification

How do you justify exhibiting at a trade show? I suspect this is a thorny issue for a lot of companies. It’s a large expense, it’s not usually measured very well by the exhibitor, and the show company can’t measure the benefit to the exhibitor directly. With no one measuring, it can be hard to justify trade shows in the marketing mix.

People think that trade shows are about getting new leads. This is a little like saying going to the mall is about increasing your self-esteem and life outlook. Yes, the trip may result in that, but what you do at the mall is shop and buy stuff. What you do at a show is meet with people and communicate with them. They may become leads, but really you’ve made a connection that can’t easily be made any other way.

So rather than calculating what a lead is worth, or wether or not a sale would have been made but for the show, let’s consider this on a much more basic level. It’s about visiting with people.

Let’s start with a basic assumption: On average, your company meets with one person per hour per employee while at the show. I’m not considering just planned customer visits, but all the contacts that happen. Industry colleagues you chat with, but otherwise wouldn’t. New people. Competitors. Suppliers. Press. Your network, old and new.

Sure, there are empty hours, but there’s also the 3-hour dinners with customers and others as well. I think one visit per employee hour is probably quite conservative, the real answer is probably closer to 2-3 per hour.

So let’s say you have a small booth at a major show. You’re going to take 5 employees, and the show is 4 days long. That’s about 200 visits that will be made at the show. What would it cost to make those visits? Would you even bother, with most of them? Now many of these visits wouldn’t merit a trip on their own, because it would be far too expensive. But that’s where the value of a show really comes in – bulk buying of visit hours, with very low marginal cost per visit. It’s a unique situation in business, except for similar events like conferences.

Going back to our example, you have 5 employees going to a show, travel’s probably $7000, booth is $3000, another 5k in other stuff. Let’s round it up to $20k and you have $100 per visit. that’s pretty cheap.

But STEVE, c’mon, what about shipping equipment and samples and what not to the booth? What about the booth itself! Do you know what these things cost?!?

Yep, they’re expensive, but they’re not really part of the visit, are they? Companies do these things for branding and image related reasons, not because they couldn’t meet with customers without them. I’m not advocating they just put up card tables and leave all the product at home, I’m simple stating that costs need to be allocated where they belong.

Even so – let’s add them in. Wow, that per visit cost went up, didn’t it. BUT you have to remember that now we’re talking about a visit where your employee toted along some rather expensive equipment just for that visit, including a custom-built meeting room. That doesn’t happen very often, does it?

Now let’s consider another aspect of this: Scheduling.

In our example, there were 200 visits. Do you think you could schedule those 200 visits in four days without the trade show? Do you think you could get them all in even in a year? Probably not – many of those visits were ‘dry holes’ – people you thought could help but couldn’t. Or thought would be interested in having help but weren’t. Or whatever. 1 in 10 perhaps turns out to be valuable, but that one probably wouldn’t have taken your call without the show. Think about it – many of the people your company met with aren’t friends or acquaintances, they’re people who don’t really know you. Are they going to jump at having you come visit them in their office – let alone fly to see you? What would you have to offer (i.e. dinner, lunch, whatever) to help persuade them to give you some time?

Consider the opportunity cost of this.

When I was a product manager in the printing equipment business, I remember one show where a customer had come to talk about a rather involved, space-age kind of project. Very cutting edge, and there were a number of technical issues. Because I was at DRUPA (the largest printing equipment show on the world), in one day I could meet up with the relevant people to determine the feasibility of the project. Outside of that show it would have taken months. The point here is not that new projects are likely to crop up, but that you have access to a huge array of people in a very convenient way.

One last thing

Do you have employee meetings? They’re expensive, right? How about team building sessions, or other events designed to get people out of the office together for a little bonding? Travel to trade show, along with the time spent a trade show provides some of the same benefits.

Online Bully Defense

Yesterday I wrote about how one’s email address has become their online identity. As I think about online identity, it occurs to me that a difference in strength of identity might be enabling online bullies. Just as a physical bully seizes initiative to exploit another’s physical weakness & lack of vigilance, online bullies can operate in the same way. If your whole online life revolves around one site, and the bully has a stronger presence, bullying is enabled. It’s a difference in strength of online presence and reputation.

The internet is so new, has moved so fast, its not surprising that this is happening. Even well-funded corporations who have devoted huge resources to PR are still challenged to manage their reputation online. No wonder kids can find themselves exposed.

Helping my kids develop a stronger online identity, in advance of them really needing it, will help them be more bully-resistant. Having their own place to publish content is also a hedge against social sites changing terms or moving from free to paid. At the end of the day, what will matter in the long run is what comes up when someone types my daughter’s name into a search engine.

I’ve pulled their firstnamelastname.com domains, and when needed we’ll develop sites for them. They have control over the content, and can build whatever presence fits them. They can probably manage the SEO of their own site well enough to make it place higher than Facebook or other pages, which is a hedge against the inevitable, regrettable social media content. It can be the site they mention to prospective employers (preferably, investors) or whoever else they need to impress.

They can still enjoy all the fun and drama that comes with Facebook and other sites, but they will have their own presence on the web as the anchor. This is the same strategy recommended to businesses, and the same logic is applicable to personal brands as well.

How not to have a web presence

So I’m after some woodchips to use as mulch, and I was very happy to find this great offer on the Dorshak tree service web site:

Dorshak Tree service is offering free woodchips to anyone interested. No hidden costs, no catch. Woodchips can be used for many different things including landscaping around your home, flower gardens, areas you would like to keep weeds to a minimum and many other uses.

The woodchips come from our daily tree removals and may contain various different species of trees. We do not distribute pine (unless requested) or diseased material. We will deliver to you a full truck load which may contain from 15-20 yards of chips. We do not deliver specific amounts and what you will receive will be within these totals.

I fill out the form they provide, and off goes my request. I’m wondering if I’ll get a response because last year when I was thinking about having someone take a tree down I filled out their quote request form, and after the obligatory ‘We got your message, and we value your message, and we will respond to your message Real Soon Now” kind of email I never heard from them. After a few days, I make a mental note to give them a call, and of course forget.

Yesterday I took a moment to look through my spam folder and happened across this message from Dorshak:

Thank you for your woodchip request through Dorshak Tree Specialists.
From tree removals to stump grinding and plant health care, Dorshak Tree Specialists can take care of all your tree care needs.
A delivery of woodchips will arrive to you shortly if you need more information please call one of the numbers below.

Uh oh! I was headed out of town (As I write this I’m on a train to Cleveland) and not going to be back for a few days. I suddenly had this vision of my poor wife coming home from a day with the girls and finding 20 yards of mulch in the driveway. I call Dorshak to find out if they can at least tell me when to expect my bounty of chips. Brad, the first guy on the phone, gets my name but doesn’t really know anything about chip deliveries, so he puts me on hold to check with someone. Someone else picks up. The next guy, who’s name I missed, explains that due to customer complaints they really didn’t do residential deliveries anymore. He explains this in a voice that makes it clear the policy has been changed for a long time, and I’m one of the infrequent folks who uses the web form.

Now I haven’t yet had the pleasure of doing business with the Dorshak Tree service, so they may be phenomenal with trees.

However, as a web presence they are similar to far too many other companies who get a nice site put up, implement some features to respond to customers, and then fail to follow up on the implementation. I’m sure they got busy, had enough business where they could just accept the customers who are willing to call and ignore the rest. It might never be a problem. Or, a big recession happens, and then every customer is dear…except those that were alienated during the boom times.

It happens, and it always will happen, but it should happen because of things that are hard to fix. Text on a website is NOT hard to fix. I’m sitting on a train right now, and there’s maybe 15 people in this car. I bet if I got up and asked if anyone did website work I’d get 3 or 4 takers. Heck, I’d fix it for a load of chips. Or two.

Fix your web site and stop annoying people who might otherwise be your customer someday.

Gymboree, Sales, and Secrets

My wife is a children’s clothing enthusiast. I don’t know if there is a proper name, but she has an addiction, as the 30-odd tubs of clothes in our basement will attest. To her credit, she’s very frugal and a careful shopper. Even though she buys mostly Gymboree clothing, because of her shopping skills, we pay about what we would clothe our kids at Target.

She’s very active on a board called GymboFriends. It’s a forum of women who all share this same addiction. They trade shopping tips, revel in the joy that is being addicted to kid’s clothes, and of course talk about the upcoming sales and sku’s that Gymboree is releasing.

Lately the sales have stopped. I’m getting this 3rd hand, but apparently the leadership at Gymboree has cancelled the last three sales only days before they were to start. The theory is that they are fed up with store managers leaking knowledge of the sales to the people at GymboFriends.

While my father was in town we ended up discussing this, and I think it’s an interesting question. Does advance knowledge of an upcoming sale hurt Gymboree’s business, or does letting the community of GymboFriends have advance notice build a better customer community?

Some observations we made:

  • The last sale that got cancelled coincided wtih a Gap sale. Mom’s with play money saved up for the Gymbo sale probably didn’t let it go unspent – did Gap get the revenue instead?
  • Gymbofriends members never buy anything at full price. They’ll wait for the sale. Always. It’s not a matter of opportunity, it’s a matter of pride & principle.
  • The people who do pay full price aren’t bargain hunters. They’re either rich grandmothers who aren’t price sensitive, or people buying gifts who cannot wait for a sale.
  • The leaks are the result of relationships between managers and their clients. Many businesses would be happy to develop these kinds of relationships. They breed loyalty & word of mouth marketing, and turn customers into an extended sales network.
  • If there is some financial metric that is suffering, why aren’t store managers’ compensation tied to it?

What do you think?