How To Ensure Your Very Best Meeting Experience

Conference call group:

“Can you repeat that again, Rick? I couldn’t quite hear that last part.”

Rick: “Oh, sorry. I was going through a tunnel. What I was saying was as;dlkfjad;flkjasd;gajk;dklafj;daslfjkdsz;laskjf;.”

Conference call group:
Ummm…yeah. That’s still not quite coming through.”

You know and I know it’s happening all the time. It’s happening on conference calls. It’s happening on Skype. It’s happening on Google Plus. It’s happening on Webinars. And I know it’s not just happening to me. So let’s not pretend for all of our innovation that we’ve got perfection at work because we don’t. We can see and hear each other. Congratulations. We can do things we couldn’t do in 1984. But we’re not there yet.

That’s why I’m proud to announce the greatest, clearest, most satisfying experience in meetings ever. It’s dependable. The communication is clearer. It’s like I can see the person right in front of me. Wait. I literally can see the person in front of me and it’s not a hologram:

It’s called Face-To-Face Meetings. 

I know it’s pretty wild stuff. See, in a Face-to-Face meeting, you’re actually there. Not kind of there. Not on a screen or listened to over crappy audio where I have to lean in to hear you like I’m a 99-year-old.

“Oh, but that’s not practical.”

Driving isn’t practical? Getting on a plane isn’t practical? That’s hilarious.

You paid for a tricked-out conference room. You can pay for a plane ticket or gas money. Maybe it’s time you asked yourself a hard question about what kind of company you want to be: The kind where people are literally seen or the kind that lives in Virtualville.

I love this ad from United so many years ago that still rings as true today as it did then:

Yes. This is harder and more expensive. But guess what? The one thing you never have to worry about in going belly-to-belly with someone is the quality of the audio or the picture. Ever. Trying to present your work is hard enough. You don’t need the extra hurdle of lousy technology to get in your way for a second.

The irony here is I love the heck out of new gadgetry and technological tools. But in this department, technology hasn’t caught up. And it needs to nail it for us 10 out of 10 times. But no, you’re on a PC and I’m on a Mac so our stuff can’t talk to each other. Did you bring the right cord for this projector or did you leave it back at the office? The browser is too slow. The PowerPoint isn’t showing the slides the right way.

Hell, I was recently at an otherwise enjoyable conference and a presenter cued up a video that DIDN’T FIT THE SCREEN.

I mean…come on now. This is the best we can do in today’s day and age? REALLY?

Here’s the thing that happens in a Face-to-Face that doesn’t happen too often in the other applications: Follow-up questions by other people in the room who feel just a tad more comfortable raising those questions because they don’t have to scream into a speakerphone or try to be seen on-screen. And those little follow-up inquiries are big. Because they actually make that person feel that much more involved in the conversation.

In the agency business, we romanticize the idea of the Golden Age of our business characterized by “Mad Men.” Whether you’re talking about David Ogilvy or Don Draper, you’re talking about personal selling at its finest. Good ol’ handshakes, meet and greets and hopefully knocking their socks off in person.

But reserving that personal touch for the pitch alone may be why some clients feel as though a bait-and-switch occurs once the business is awarded.

Hey, what happened to that Creative Director and the Agency President? That was just for show, huh? Oh well. I guess we’ll see them again when it’s time for the account to go into review.

Relax. I’m not suggesting you toss out your iPhone, iPad or anything else that starts with an “i” like an Amish person.

What I am suggesting is that we tend to use these as a default method of communication rather than remember that our very best relationships are still built on human interaction every chance we get. It’s not always convenient, that I grant you. It can be a downright pain in the butt to get from here to there. But once we do get from here to there, that journey can be the foundation of a longer lasting client relationship.

What are we really talking about here that’s so much harder? Another hour of travel by car? Another four hours in the air somewhere in the country for a meeting today or tomorrow?

What’s it worth to your business to literally go the extra mile?

Wouldn’t you like to find out?

I’m in Chicago but can meet anywhere for a qualified prospect. If you’d like more information on what that kind of person looks like for me and vice versa, what you’re looking for in a brand and content strategist so we’re making the most of each other’s time, connect with me at dan@chicagobrander.com and I’d love to chat with you about the possibilities for getting together.

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Agencies Offering Too Many Side Dishes With The Meal

I recently came across a firm that claims supreme expertise in brand strategy, content, graphic design, web development, SEO, advertising, public relations, video and business operations.

Oh really. Is that all?

Some web development firms say they are also experts in SEO. Fair enough. But oh, by the way, they also do content and graphic design and strategy too.

My, where do you ever find the time to be absolutely brilliant in these five different areas at once?

I believe many of these folks do have genuine talent. In one thing. Maybe two.

The rest of the items they list? I don’t think they’re necessarily bad in those areas. Just not as good as the core one or two. And that’s where the problem starts.

Let me ask you: If you go into surgery to have your appendix removed, would you like to have a doctor who can technically perform the surgery because he watched someone do it a few times and it’s not a procedure he’s done very often or a doctor who has done that surgery 2000 times before?

Personally, I’m going with the expert over the guy who can “do that too.”

Every time ad agencies, PR firms, marketing firms, web development shops and more speak about all those extra side dishes they bring to the table, they’re representing an area that they know they’re not as strong in but Heaven forbid that they say it is something they can’t do. Or can’t do as well as what they’re very good at.

Herein lies the issue. It’s not about what you CAN do. It’s about what you straight up ROCK in. And if you’re making a laundry list, I’m skeptical by the time you get to Item #3 and calling BS by Item #4.

People who do this are not being honest with themselves about their true strengths. I suspect that for several of them, it’s a money grab. Even worse, they’re not being honest with clients about what they’re fantastic in and what they don’t do as well.

Trying to say you “do it all” isn’t good branding. It’s some jack-of-all-trades talk that stands for nothing.

I just don’t believe that people can be that awesome in 17 different things. If we want to perfect our craft, we can be better and better at one or two things.

Let’s think back hundreds of years ago. You had villages where there was a tailor, a butcher, a baker, etc. One shop had one specialty. If you had an issue, you knew which shop to go to. It was that simple. I don’t ever recall hearing of Ye Olde We Have Everything Shoppe.

“We’re a marketing agency.”
People in our industry say it so often. But what is that, really? Could that really be any more bland and broad? What meaning does it have without further qualification? A marketing agency for what? For who? Anybody with a pulse and dollar?

“We’re a digital marketing agency.”
Ah. That’s much clearer since practically any business that would like to be relevant to other humans should be operating in the digital space in some capacity anyway. So again, you work with anybody. Which is not good.

“We provide everything from branding to web design to startup incubation to storefront development for startups and long-standing companies.”
So you do a lot of things for a lot of people. Congratulations. I still have no idea what you’re actually the best at. Just PICK ONE OR TWO and plant your flag in the ground and say, “Hell yes, we are the best at this and we have the goods to prove it. It is what we live and breathe. And if you need something outside of that scope, we will refer you to someone we like and trust for that.”

I didn’t ask your agency what you provide. I’m asking you what you’re the best at. And you’re not the best at all of those things. You couldn’t possibly be.

Those 8-10 extra side dishes you listed are distracting people from the main course of what they came for.

By the way, here’s another residual effect you may not have considered on the way to filling your capabilities listing with 12 commas: The more you get into the laundry list of things you can do, the fewer Strategic Partners you may be able to have. So rather than bring in someone whose business is built around that area 24/7, you limit your opportunity to have a partner for new business referrals by keeping it yourself and getting by (and thereby limiting the client too).

I have 2 things I believe I do very, very well: Content Development and Brand Strategy.

Within those two core competencies, I have the ability to use all of the writing, creative direction and strategic skills I need. Plus, those two areas are always evolving, with new tools and trends to learn about. I have the passion for those as it’s what I love most and it keeps me busy. I’ve known those two things like the back of my hand for years and I can look anybody in the eye and have the utmost confidence in delivery of those services. What else is there?

I would encourage you to think this way: If it’s what you are passionate about, there is a demand for it and it’s a constantly shifting niche that challenges you to stay abreast of its developments…how many more areas like that one do you need?

If the theory is that it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert in one thing and we use a standard work week, it would take roughly 5 years to be an expert in ONE area. But you don’t stop learning when you get to Year 5, because otherwise you’d go stale, right? So you have to invest time on top of those 5 years to maintain your expertise. You never stop.

“OK, but what if we have a bunch of specialists for different things under one roof? Then we can say we’re really good in all those things then, right?”

No.

For the sake of argument, let’s say you’ve assembled an All-Star team of talent. One, it’s probably not going to last for very long because if those people are so incredible, they’re going to move on. Maybe due to ego, leadership opportunity, pay, outside factors, etc. Two, it’s highly unlikely that they’re all equally magnificent. So if you cater to speaking to the greatness of all those people, you still can’t tell me the one or two things that your agency does best because apparently you’re just the bees knees in everything. And once again, that’s harder to remember.

The only way that’s practical is to go narrow and deep. Not wide and shallow.

Wait a minute. Doesn’t this also apply to a lot of businesses that try to be all things to everyone?

Yes. It absolutely does.

Generalists are losing out there. Partially because they’re getting lost in the crowd of do-it-alls who stand for nothing in particular. Aim to join the ranks of the specialists. It’s more fun, more distinguishable and more genuine. And if you’re truly exceptional, it’s more than enough.

Walking Barefoot Into America’s Top Wine Brand (part 2)

A continuation of my conversation with the founders of Barefoot Wines

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In our previous post, I spoke with Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, the founders of Barefoot Wines, on their advice for aspiring entrepreneurs like they once were, as they were about to release their New York Times bestseller, “The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand.” They had so much to share in our time together that I had to share a second helping of their advice in a second post.

 

DAN: I’ve attended events in which entrepreneurs are put into “Shark Tank”-like situations where they have to pitch a venture capitalist on their concept. And they may have only 5 minutes maximum to do that. If you were sitting on a panel listening to this style of pitch, what would you want to hear most from the entrepreneur presenting?

MICHAEL: I’d like to hear them say they have a buyer who is interested in their product. The words, “I have a purchase order” would get my attention. In the wake of our most Recession, so many investors don’t want to throw a lot of money at R&D anymore like they used to. They got burned by that and used up so much money on development that they had no money left for marketing. Today, they prefer to invest in expanding a business that already has some kind of traction in the marketplace.

  

DAN: We often talk about separation of work and play. But so many times your business is your life as it is your passion. How were the two of you able to separate your work and your life so that you didn’t completely lose yourself in Barefoot?

MICHAEL: Bonnie and I were blessed with two different skill sets with great respect for each other because of that, so we meshed and didn’t butt heads. She handled the back office, dealing with leases, compliance, contracts, applying for lines of credit and more. I couldn’t have handled that. I was the front man talking to distributorships, cold calling, negotiating deals and meeting with salespeople. So we both had exactly the same goals but came at it from different tracks.

BONNIE: As far as business, that worked out just fine. As far as our personal lives, we had a rule that there was no business talk at home. We’d commit to setting time aside for a vacation. To ensure we’d have the time to do the things we loved to do, I would even buy non-refundable plane tickets to Hawaii that forced us to go since we couldn’t get our money back! By having that kind of attitude, we’re able to balance both worlds.

 

DAN: In the settings you’ve been speaking at, you’re talking to entrepreneurs at the very beginning of their journey. But you’ve talked about the importance of thinking about the endgame too, which may feel light years away.

MICHAEL: On Day 1, start thinking about what your acquirer’s due diligence looks like. What does he want? He likely wants all your intellectual property, including getting a release from the designer who’s done your a logo now rather than 25 years from now when it’s worth over $100,000. The same is true in working with anyone who does a website for you or performs any writing or social media. You have to have contracts with releases built into them.

Similarly, you have to vehemently protect your trademark. Are most students thinking about that? No, because it seems so distant and removed from where they are now. But trust me, it can become a full-time job when you get popular – and if you get popular in a hurry and haven’t addressed that, it could take you by surprise.

Many of these issues impacting their business tomorrow are crucial to think about today, long before they occur.

 

DAN: Social media shares some similarities to your experience, in that brands are seeing a revolutionary way to tell their story outside of the boundaries of traditional media. What’s your view on the evolution of social media marketing over the last decade?

MICHAEL: Social media has to be used like any tool in the proper way to achieve the desired result. It’s not how many friends you have. It’s whether or not you have the 5 friends who are going to play an influence on who buys your product. Social media as a business tool is only as good as your ability to target. Hits and retweets don’t mean anything if you don’t sell any product. Social media is a great way of communicating with people, finding out what your clientele wants, doing comparison shopping, obtaining endorsements and more.

When it comes to starting relationships, we believe face time trumps Facebook. Ice breaking and rapport building requires face-to-face contact. But once you’ve done that, absolutely go ahead and engage with them on social media. Back when we were launching, our version of social media consisted of bonding with local non-profits who would influence the purchase of our product in the community.

BONNIE: Social media affords a company the opportunity to tell their story easier, that’s for sure. But what is that true brand story? Now more than ever, companies have to stand for more than the service or product that they’re offering. Barefoot is a wine product, but the essence of that product, the “Barefoot Spirit,” is about how to treat people, support your community the right way, how to work with others in your distribution network and so on. Having a great product is one thing. But living up to your brand promise – and keeping it – is another. Because in reality, your brand is owned by your constituents. Always.

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The future of the country lies in the hands of entrepreneurs and I can’t think of two better people to share their wisdom with such an audience on a regular basis than Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey. If you’d like to get some insightful business advice from them weekly, catch up with them on one of the two weekly blogs they write:

www.barefootwinefounders.com

www.thebrandauthority.net

 

 

 

Walking Barefoot Into America’s Top Wine Brand

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Dan with Bonnie Harvey and Michael Houlihan, founders of Barefoot Wines

A 2-part conversation with the founders of Barefoot Wines

When I first spoke with Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, founders of the brand we know today as Barefoot Wines, they were about to release their New York Times bestseller, “The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand.

Our conversation at that time was about Michael and Bonnie’s most improbable journey of entrepreneurship, with humble beginnings of running a business out of a laundry room in Sonoma County. Without a lot of capital whatsoever, Michael and Bonnie became the brand of Barefoot Wines – a brand they would ultimately sell in 2005.

These days, Michael and Bonnie are enjoying sharing their experiences via speaking engagements to entrepreneurs across the country, so I caught up with them as they came through Chicago to do just that at an event at McCormick Place.

 

DAN: Michael and Bonnie, when we spoke the first time, we retold the inspiring story of success you enjoyed as founders of Barefoot Wines, bootstrapping the company. I think what would now be fascinating for many to know is the story after the story – what happens once you move on from the company you launched and how do you continue to inspire others while finding your own excitement? What does that next chapter look and feel like?

MICHAEL: Certainly imparting what we’ve learned – good and bad – in our time as entrepreneurs has provided its own kind of excitement for Bonnie and I. Some of the ways we’ve done that is through our book authorship and speaking to aspiring business owners as early in their process as we can.

For “The Barefoot Spirit,” we published the book 1 day after our 30th anniversary and we were thrilled to find it would reach #2 on the list of New York Times bestselling paperbacks in the Business category. We spent a lot of time pre-selling the book with free downloads and approaching the distributors of Barefoot Wines to help promote the brand story.

Our goal is to make the book required reading at colleges and universities that teach entrepreneurship. Some schools were teaching entrepreneurialism in the 1970’s but actual Schools of Entrepreneurship are still a relatively recent thing. At this point, we’re proud to say 12 universities have made “The Barefoot Spirit” required reading and we hope all of them will add it to the course list.

 

DAN: Are there other categories of entrepreneurs than typical young professionals you’ve been speaking to?

BONNIE: Absolutely. We’ve been speaking to the Entrepreneurial Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV), which is a year-long study, the first month of which is spent online preparing vets to go into business on their own, followed by intensive study at the University level, followed by a year of online study with mentors and professors. And some of these vets have already started their own businesses.

When you have a book that includes ‘hardship, hustle and heart’ in the title, it’s very interesting to talk to a vet because they know all about hardship, they know about hustle through their prior experiences and they’ve all got big hearts. So they’re very receptive to what we have to say.

 

DAN: What would you say the both of you offer in speaking that isn’t frequently taught in school?

MICHAEL: Entrepreneurship in school is kind of like automotive engineering in that it teaches you how the car operates. You learn that you’ve got to have a business plan, be able to write a loan application, know how to hire and fire, be familiar with compliance laws, understand all the licensing you have to obtain, etc. These are the technical aspects.

What we offer is the navigation of actually getting the car from here to there – and in the worst of conditions when you face them. What obstacles need to be overcome? The minute you open your doors for business, it’s not the business plan anymore. It’s the cash flow plan and all about paying your bills.

BONNIE: We came to realize we had seven sales we had to make in order to get our product to market – and for each of those people along the line, we had to figure out what they wanted most so we could get the product on the shelf to be seen by the end consumer. As we’ve been talking to students about this area of distribution management, it seems to be an area that isn’t well addressed at the university level. We thought if we had an award-winning wine at a low price that featured a cute label you could remember, it would fly off the shelf. At first, it didn’t. What we had to learn was the entire distribution network and the series of sales that had to be made. That was a huge lesson for us and a big lesson for any student today.

 

DAN: What are the biggest fears that students express to you?

BONNIE: They’re afraid that they don’t have enough money to start the business and they’re afraid that they don’t have enough knowledge and experience in that industry.

But I can tell you when we were starting our business, Barefoot would not be here today if Michael or I had either one of those things.

If we had money to throw at the problem, that’s exactly what we would have done. And you know what? We would’ve run out of money and still had a problem. We had no paid advertising because we couldn’t afford it, which led us to discover “worthy cause” advertising that led us to support non-profits in our community. The membership of these non-profits understood that we were caring about their concerns, so when they had an option to buy a bottle of wine, they knew ours was the one that supported their fundraisers – and they supported us. It was a great way to get our message out to the greatest number of people in the shortest period of time.

If we’d had experience in the industry, we’d have done things exactly the way they had been done before in the business and there probably wouldn’t have been any great change in the wine industry for a number of years.

For example, when we understood the majority of wine buyers in our area were women, we realized that the quality many of our female buyers wanted was consistency in taste from year to year. Well, when you’re a vintage wine, different vintages taste different. So one of the things we did outside of the norm of the industry was to be a non-vintage wine. Our busy female buyer making all the purchase decisions for her household at the grocery store wouldn’t have to worry about that lack of taste consistency. Our wine gave her that ability.

In addition, while the wine business was generally a bit stuffy and the labels featured fancy French-sounding names, we decided that it should be more fun, with a product that was easy to recognize and easy to pronounce. So our Cabernet Sauvignon was called “Barefoot Cab” and our Zinfandel was called “Barefoot Zin.” I hadn’t been a wine drinker and the whole business to me had been intimidating. What we were creating was a brand that was more approachable, something that, frankly, hadn’t been properly addressed in our industry.

 

In part 2 of our conversation, I speak to Michael and Bonnie on how they advise entrepreneurs to brush up on their “pitch,” why it’s important to think about selling your business on Day 1 and their views on social media in brand building. Stay tuned for that in our next post.

 

Whose Rabbit Are You Chasing?

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Today’s guest post is by Josh Middleman, Co-Founder of Present Possibility, a company that helps people discover and develop their power through a focus on self-awareness, self-expression, gratitude and purpose, leaving them capable and confident to achieve their goals and face their challenges.

 

 

“There was not a moment to be lost: away went Alice like the wind, and was just in time to hear it say, as it turned a corner, ‘Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it’s getting!’”

– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

 

Why do you chase the White Rabbit? Yes. You. The one reading these words. Why do you do it?

Seriously. Have you thought about what it is that you are chasing after in your career? Is it money? Prestige? Are you seeking greater control over events in your life, or possibly freedom?

So how’s that working out for you?

If you’re still reading this, you are either nodding your head in acknowledgement or beet red in anger. Either way you are willing to look at what you’re really out to accomplish with your career and I commend you for your curiosity.

Far too many of us are going through the motions in our career. We’re in a job because at some point we chose that job and we haven’t explored other options since. We’re on a particular track, maybe upper management, because that’s the way to “get ahead”.

And you know what, there’s nothing wrong with any of that.

Not everybody wants to jump from career to career and some people make excellent managers and executives. For most of us, however, we haven’t even given these questions a second thought. We have taken the path we’re on for granted and adopted its attendant goals as our own.

We’re chasing someone else’s rabbit!

This is a dangerous game. Before you know it you’ve spent years striving for a post higher up the chain – with all the attendant perks – only to get there and find that this isn’t what you love to do, excel at, or find worth sacrificing time away from family for. Just like Alice you’ve tumbled down the rabbit hole and embarked on a journey into the unfamiliar, unsettling and yet, I’m willing to wager, far less trippy.

What’s really at stake here is your happiness and fulfillment and, because how you show up in the world (mostly happy, sad, etc.) has a real impact on others, the happiness and fulfillment of your family, friends and everyone else who is close to you. Said another way, pursuing the career that produces the happiest and most fulfilled you, enables you to increase the well-being and contentment of all the people in your life!

In the end, it doesn’t matter what career path you choose for yourself, it only matters that you choose it for yourself. So chase the White Rabbit; just make sure it’s the one you want to be chasing.

To learn more about the captivating work Josh and his team are doing for clients to help them communicate with unparalleled clarity and lead others with confidence, visit Present Possibility’s website at http://www.PresentPossibility.com.