You never know – always be open

When you look there are a lot of doors that can be opened

When you look there are a lot of doors that can be opened

I’m in the midst of a bit of travelling at the moment, currently in BC, where the weather is just beaming down goodness upon us.

This post started the minute I got on the airplane. I was headed to seat 11A only to find out that in fact it was already being sat in. So what does a red-headed adventurer do? Well since I’m usually the last one on the airplane anyway, I just went and sat in another seat – 11D, which dammit, turned out to be someone else’s seat. This lady came after me, I mean come on I’m always the last one on the plane. Well there was another option – 11E was free. I scooted my butt over to the middle seat, jesus how I hated the middle seat, what a shitty seat (stupid friggin’ first world problem – right? I mean soon I would be soaring through the clouds like a goddamn bird.)

Fast forward a little and now I’m chatting with the 2 ladies on either side of me. To my left is Candace and to my right is Janice. Janice was on her way home to Vancouver and Candace was on her way to visit her son. We all chatted for quite some time about all kinds of things that just didn’t matter to anyone, oh the joys of small talk. Then of course the conversation, as always, inevitably turned to what do you do for a living? Funny how that comes up a lot.

The best part though was that as we chatted more and more Candace shared with us this really great story about the digital divide and about missing chances to talk to human beings. Candace began telling us about a book that she was reading about digital distractions. The entire story was pretty funny because at the end of the story the punchline was that in fact she had got on this very plane without that book because she was interrupted from reading it by the ring of her cell phone, Candace put down the book to look at her phone and then was in a rush to load onto the plane, thus leaving her book about how we are being distracted by digital media in the airport lounge. Ironic much?

A small story but a rather funny story and one that happens pretty much all the time in one way or another.

I’m happy she left her book in the lounge and I’m happy you have to turn your cell phones off while you’re on an airplane. It gave me a chance to really chat with 2 other human beings that I otherwise probably would have never met.

I got to learn their stories and one of them, Candace, and I found out that we are both very much creatives and in fact Candace’s entire family is creative – movie director, writers, painters, etc….

By the end of the plane ride I had found out that one of her sons was a stand up comedian so I asked her if her son would be performing while I was in Vancouver. He was, but I couldn’t make it unfortunately. We did want to chat more though, so I ended up meeting her and her son a few days later over a really great brunch.

You just never know when you will run into someone that might be extremely interesting, that could be good for business, or might just turn out to be a friend. In this case, I think I hit the jackpot. Who was this woman? Who was this family? We really could have spent all day talking about the creative industry and our work.

I was open to having a discussion, open to listening, open to learning, and in the end Candace and her family have hired Creativision to help them examine ways to garner attention as well as to strategically grow their various creative pursuits.

Next time you get on a plane, on a bus, are sitting alone at the bar, don’t be afraid to be open – human beings, for the most part are pretty awesome people. (I didn’t even tell you about the amazing chat I had with a really wonderful law student I had on my first flight).

***ok so I was about to post this and then I found this crazy little video about a few things but underlying it was the ability to be open and to start small talk and since I thought it was amusing of course you will too, right?

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A marketing deal with the CEO

shakinghandsYesterday I got a phone call from someone working in the marketing and social media department at a rather large company in Ottawa that operates internationally. This person, lets call her Christine, called me to pick my brain, as I’m working as a consulting partner for the company, about a task she was just assigned. Christine proceeded to tell me that her boss had walked into her cubicle telling her that by the end of the week he wanted to see 1000 more likes on Facebook. So Christine had called me asking me how to do that. Of course if you’ve been following along on here or know me at all you know what my response would be, why the hell does he need that number? To which she replied and this is what I heard: “blah blah blah wah wah wah….statistics…blah blah blah board members…important growth…wah wah wah.”

It took me about 10 minutes to tell her that I would be coming to visit very shortly and we could talk about the strategies very shortly in person. I also proceeded to book an appointment with the CEO and the Executive Board at the regular meeting.

A few days later and the evening had arrived, there we were all sitting around the mahogany table, even Christine was there much to her embarrassment and dismay (she didn’t think she belonged there.) The first point on the agenda was the companies outreach and their social media strategy. The first questions came from me: “what do “likes” on facebook me to you?” “what is your message on social media?” “what does social media mean to you?” Then I shut up and sat there in complete and utter silence. I laughed inside as the CEO and all the board members looked around the table at each other. They kind of looked like I was speaking another language, they didn’t know what I was asking. After probably 2 minutes of utter silence each and every one of them slowly turned their heads towards Christine and the CEO said “well Christine can answer that best.” Of course I knew she could answer it best but I wanted to know since it was so “important” to them what their answers were so of course I challenged him. “I know Christine can answer it but I’m just curious about what you folks think about social media and it’s importance in your company. Why are you using it?” was my response. Then corporate dribble spewed out at me. All I wanted him to say was that it was a chance to connect with their audience, to build relationships, to grow as a company, to understand their customers better, anything along those lines.

Now you know how the conversation went (how the conversation with every company I work with goes) and it was time to get to the point, the ominous question. Why did they need 1000 new likes on their facebook in such a short period of time? We talked about it and we had a really great discussion which I was very happy about.

The CEO was still very stuck on the idea that they needed this many likes really quickly so I offered him a challenge. He was keen to hear the challenge.

CHALLENGE GIVEN: Christine and I will get 1000 new likes if you do 1 thing for us. I want you sir to go out this week and meet and make friends with 1000 new people. 

Of course his response to me was “well that is crazy I couldn’t possibly do that.” My reply, “that’s right.” Then we got into the discussion about quality over quantity. Read more about my thoughts on that in an earlier post: It’s a numbers game

It can be rather easy to go out and get a bunch of “likes” for your company page but we, as human beings and especially as marketing and communications folks, have a big responsibility to educate people about what social media is. Not even really sure anyone has this answer but the one thing I know about social media and am very adamant about  is that it is a not a number producing factory. It is a place to be social, to share (NOT sell ALL the time), and to be a human being. 

Christine’s problem was resolved and the company is now on track to becoming more human like. They are sharing all kinds of interesting tips and tricks and sharing other people’s tips and tricks, heck their even admitting their errors on their own page and assuring customers that they are working hard to minimize those errors. Guess what is happening? Their numbers are growing, albeit slowly, but it is steady slow growth. Each and every one of their new “likes” or fans is becoming a part of the company.

Christine, the CEO, and even the Board Members are so much happier with their Social Media existence and they can’t believe how this new community is so supportive of the work they are doing.

Remember to put the social in social media

social_partyAbout a month ago I spoke at the Social Capital Conference in Ottawa around some of the play…oh ummm…I mean really serious work that I do. I was basically given a carte-blanche to talk about anything I wanted. I was thrilled when this opportunity came up because for far to long have I been working with clients who tell me “we do social media”. First of all I really dislike that wording. I dislike it because to me it brings up connotations that this is just another thing that people DO, that people check off on their lists to get business rather than immersing themselves in this technological marvel that is social media bringing us closer to way more customers than in any other time in the history of business. Social media is a veritable wasteland of all kinds of “HBD’s” (if you don’t know what this means write me a note and I will indeed share my biggest rant with you about this), “Like me for access to this coupon” , and “RT this awesome video pls”. I mean when I see these things and then hear companies say they are “doing” social media I just want to vomit. And I don’t just mean the little baby dribble version but rather the full on exorcist, head twisting, blasting across the room type (good enough visual for you?) “Doing” social media implies that it is just another task and that when the posts have been uploaded and updated then they are done for that day. Secondly to all those who tell me they don’t have TIME to “do” social media I say scream BULLSHIT. This one I actually cannot believe because for most of the groups I work with they have hired me because they are having some kind of challenge and it usually translates into not enough customers so obviously how they are spending time is not working so why not be open to change and try a new approach? Social media, if done properly is all about time. I often encourage companies to spend a whole day just browsing the internet. Read, watch, write, sit and follow a twitter stream for an entire hour (blasphemous!) . These are all little things that you can be doing to learn just a little bit more about how to engage. “But Shawn that is such a waste of time” I hear you saying. Is it? I mean really isn’t learning just a little bit more about your customers and your competitors all part of the world we live in now? If you can’t let yourself take a few hours or heaven for bid a whole day to explore then there is more wrong with your business than you think. I once had a business that told me they couldn’t have meetings because they couldn’t take 1 hour to close the store front. I forced it and in that 1 hour so many challenges were examined and resolved. 1 hour of dedicated time to understanding each other and some of the challenges the store was too busy to deal with on a regular basis were solved. Who knew? The store reopened and lo-and-behold it began to run so much smoother.

Perhaps one of the best readings I have come across when it comes to social media comes from a recently fresh pressed wordpress post from Tara Hunt in her piece: The Secret to Great Social Content 

When I saw the title I wanted to scream. There is no fucking SECRET. Believe me for so many years people have been coming up with formulas and telling people to post “x” number of times to increase their followings and drive more traffic. Post a certain number of pictures and you will be way more successful. More successful at what I’m not sure. I think the goal is to have 1 million followers. Does that mean you are successful? Do those numbers translate into relationships with customers? Are you selling more of your shit? Are you helping the world in anyway? I guess that is all up to you to decide. But that is not really what Tara was getting at in her post. Her big secret was to go with your gut. In particular my favourite line was:

“If you start using rules you stop using your instinct”

In Tara’s post she writes out 5 little tips (take note, NOT rules) that I completely agree  with and they are as follows:

  1. put down the content calendar and just hang out with your customers (AND your competitors’ customers) more. Not with a clipboard taking notes or with the desire to convince anyone to try your product. JUST CHILL and absorb.
  2. stop thinking of your audience as content consumers. They do not live for your ‘sharables’. They aren’t sitting with index fingers hovering over the like button, eagerly awaiting your next witty post. They have lives and you are a small, teensy part of their daily thoughts. If they don’t think of anything else other than you, you have a bigger problem on your hands.
  3. go to a movie, read a book, subscribe to blogs, skim through magazines — outside of your industry and outside of your comfort area. Embrace diversity and different points of view. Have conversations with people you would never dream of having conversations with.
  4. think really hard about what you are truly passionate about. What makes you laugh, cry, sing…what inspires you. What are you drawn to? Think about this honestly outside of the context of your business. Do more of that. Learn how to trust your instincts again and when they lead you astray…
  5. don’t fret. Some things will work and some things won’t. But keep going and learning from those mistakes. Take criticism with a grain of salt and start to learn what is constructive and what is not. Being experimental and open doesn’t mean you have to bend with every whim either. You’ll learn over time and hone that instinct beautifully.

So where does all of this lead us? For me social media is about just being social. It is about putting yourself out there in a way that you want to and about finding those that exist out there that you are compatible with and that you can help in some little way. I mean almost every company now has the media part down pat that is for sure. They are “on” facebook and they are “on” twitter and they are “on” every and all other mediums but when you look at their posts about their latest products, sales, or their last post was in 2010 it really screams that they are just “on” and nothing more. They are not actually being social, they are not actually engaging in these amazing platforms that help us make deeper, wider, and way more amazing connections than we ever could have before.

Being “on” social media but never updating it is like opening your store front and then going to the back room and never coming out to talk to customers.

So to that I say get the hell out of the back room and go talk to your customers. Don’t think that being “on” social media is good enough. You actually have to be social in order for you to grow. And believe me the more social you are and the more time you put in the more relationships you will build. You make some really interesting connections and who knows you may even come to know, appreciate, and love some of those amazing people we call customers. Holy shit you might even care and be able to make some money-wow what a world we live in.

My message at the conference, with the clients I work with, and right now just BE A HUMAN!

A short take on strategic planning

doingthingsFor a couple of days now I have been doing presentations in various universities and adult learning seminars about entrepreneurship and business development. In addition to those seminars I have of course been attending all the end of year Christmas business functions and events. So I have had the pleasure of roaming around and chatting with all kinds of other entrepreneurs and business folk.

In one of the classes I was in, a student raised his hand and asked me about strategic planning and business plans. He asked how important they were and before I could get a word in his professor (who has never ran a business in his life but does have a PhD in something) jumped up and said “most important thing a business can do. It is the back bone.” I’m not saying he is wrong. I think strategic plans and business plans have a certain place in business but my response was much simpler. My response was that business plans can only take place AFTER you have been in business for a period of time. Yes that is right, before you build a plan you must first test and do. I don’t think anyone can build a successful plan until  they truly understand the markets, themselves, their business, their customers, the ebbs and flows of business, and no matter how much you read or how much you write you will not understand any of this until you DO.

While at a Christmas function I told this story to a fellow serial entrepreneur (without telling him the answer I gave) and he jumped right in and said this, “yes of course they are important, if you need a bank loan, but who the hell does that any more.” This colleague of mine then proceeded to ask, “did you tell the students to get out there and just DO? Test the waters, be adventurous, don’t be shackled down by writing plans.” He then went even further by telling me a story about a partner of his that once wanted to start a business, that was 3 years ago. What is this fellow doing now? Just putting the final touches on a really great business plan.

My lesson is this: yes indeed plan, but don’t become so overwhelmed by the plan but rather become overwhelmed by doing things and analysing things. Put your efforts into trying to understand rather than planning to understand something that is always changing. Yes there are trends and some stick but sometimes there is a lot to be said for debunking the trends and beating your own path.

Of course this needn’t be said but this advice goes for both business and life. Get out  there and DO. Then when you have done, LEARN and do again.

13 tips to growing business relationships

Today I had 3 clients give me a call about growing their business and they were looking for the BIG secret (dammit I hate the way society has interpreted that book) about how to make successful partnerships. Here is my advice:

  1. Be human.
  2. Love people (even if you have to pretend a little. *caution you are only allowed to do this for a little bit. See below for more on this topic).
  3. Look up people (businesses) you think are cool.
  4. Reach out with an email, a phone call, or my favourite a letter (you know with stamps and everything). Don’t be afraid if they say no, what do you have to lose? You don’t know them now anyway? Just makes room in your schedule to meet with other way cooler people.
  5. Stop being so damn stiff.
  6. Read as much about their stories before you meet them as you can. It is time well spent learning fun facts. It is also usually seen as someone really doing their homework.
  7. Have a meeting at an ice cream parlour, a bar, over some wine, at an art gallery, take them on a hike (aka be different. Show them part of your world or get to know their world a bit). My favourite meetings have been on the canal with some hot chocolate and beaver tails. And no this not some crazy younger generation thing. Last year I met with someone who I did work with on the canal and he was 56 years old and willing to try anything. Remember life and work can be fun if we choose to make it so. I mean all you have to do is ask (what’s the fear, they say no). Throw out the invite or ask them for an invite to a fun spot they love. Most of the clients I know are thrilled to get their butts out of the office.
  8. Listen to their stories.
  9. Ask questions.
  10. Tell a little bit of your story.
  11. Decide whether or not you want to spend more time working on something, anything with them or if you want to jump ship. Then proceed to go or no.
  12. Go away and brainstorm some cool projects and then throw them their way, see if they are interested.
  13. If they seem like good people then nurture that relationship and you just might find yourself beginning to love people, your work, and yourself a bit more.

My strategy all along in life (and it only keeps getting more and more engrained) is that I work with people who I love, who make me laugh, who I have a good time with. You know the saying ‘life is too damn short….well just don’t hang out with people you don’t get along with.

Of course sometimes this can be easier said than done because to be able to know the people you get along with you normally have to know yourself a little bit. If you follow along on here you will have probably figured out I don’t think too many people really do know themselves all that well. In fact I think part of us gets lost everyday when we aren’t doing the things we love. So maybe that is step 1. figure out who the hell you are and what you like first. Really think about it. What are some of your hobbies? When are the happiest, like really really happy? What are you doing? Who are you with? Inside or outside? Crowded or small group? What is something you could talk about all day long without ever knowing the time?

Back to my point, find the people that make you smile and harness all their energy. I have found so much power in reaching out and listening to their stories every day. Good or bad listen to what they have to say and you will learn lots, about them and about yourself. Who knows you follow this sage (hardy-hard) advice and you might just find some new friends along the way to building an amazing business.

ps. The biggest fear I hear all the time about reaching out is “well what if they don’t like me?” Well that is fine. Isn’t it? I mean if they don’t like you then you get to move on. Remember be yourself. I mean if you try to be funny, outgoing, and edgy but really you like being reserved and pretty calm then what is the point of putting on the fake personality? If they don’t like who you genuinely are then working together would probably only be a huge pain anyway.

Now get outta here and go reach out to someone you think is cool (this isn’t high school anymore, even though sometimes it might feel like it, you can talk to anyone. The playground is HUGE).

Word of mouth is social media

Lately I have been hearing a lot of the same comments be it in a training I am offering, a conference I am speaking at or attending, and/or a client I am working with, “I just don’t have the time to do social media.” This is usually followed by, “plus my business really runs on word of mouth advertising so social media isn’t really that big for me.” To all of that I sincerely say “bullshit!” I’m not sure if people have realized this or not yet but social media is word-of-mouth. I mean you are literally taking your word-of-mouth and exploding it’s reach. Therefore making time for social media is not something people should be scared of. I say scared quite deliberately because honestly I know what that feels like. “I won’t have anything to share”, “who will follow me?”, “what social media tools should I use?”, “couldn’t I spend a whole day on those sites not really being productive with my time?” These are all questions that flood people’s minds and I know this because they have all been a part of my thoughts as well at one point or another. All of this to say I am not touting social media as the ultimate solution to any business or even that social media should be king of all. What I mean to say is that social media is what it is. It is a way to build relationships and get to know others who you may never otherwise have the chance to meet (hi Gary Vaynerchuk and Sir Richard Branson). Social media is simply a tool. It is not something to be feared and it is not something to be overwhelmed by.

Of course not being feared and not being overwhelmed by it is easier said than done. My advice has always been for people to learn, to watch how others are using various platforms, to play with various platforms, to really take the time to understand how each of them operates and then and only then decide which one (or few) suits them. There is a social media platform to help just about anyone get more engaged with current clients, colleagues, future clients, and just people in general so you need to learn which one is best suited to your needs and capabilities. And yes it is going to take time. If you put the time in learning how to use Twitter properly and not just dismissing (without ever really seeing how people are using it productively) it as a 140 character narration of people’s useless lives with minute details then the benefits will be there. Social media is like anything else in your business it takes time to learn it but it can add great value.

One other thought on all of this, don’t ever let social media be all about you and what you are doing. While you are great and your services are amazing I don’t know how many times I visit a facebook page or a twitterfeed or anything for that matter only to see a sale notice or a discount notice or a new product being featured. Social media is an opportunity. It is an opportunity for others to get to know you. Interact with others, give opinions, take a stand, say what you are thinking and for goodness sakes be honest! Also just like real world interactions with business partners and clients social media is about relationships and conversations. Who do you trust? who do you listen to? who do you talk with? why? All of this translates directly into the world of social media.

Finally I must revisit the statement I am hearing over and over “I don’t have the time to do social media.” Fuck! if I hear that one more time from an entrepreneur who is struggling with customer engagement I’m going to pack up my bags and move into the woods (might do that anyway, still dreaming and scheming). Hello, Einstein can you say your famous line one more time? “by definition insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I mean holy crap people if you have been doing newspaper ads for hundreds of years and all of sudden they aren’t working like they used to (a very overused statement that I hear often, “oh but for years and years this has always worked”) isn’t it time to invest in learning a new form of communication and to try something a little different.

All of this to say I would never advocate ditching all the old methods because some of them are about who you are as a person and what the company’s character (do you think your company has character? what does it look like?) is all about. I still send old fashioned hand written letters to clients, prospects, and partners and I LOVE receiving them in the mail.

I guess the end result of this really long rant has been don’t be afraid to try new things and don’t forget all marketing or any selling is about RELATIONSHIPS. It is about having an open and honest conversation. So please go out and play, listen, learn, watch, and have a good time figuring out how best to connect with whomever it is you are trying to connect with (answering who you are trying to connect with is a great question and a much longer post at another time. Because believe me your business, even though you think it is, is NOT for everyone.)

The ever elusive viral video and the penguin.

So about 4 or 5 times a month I have a different business email me to ask if I would be willing to work to help them produce a viral video. I’m always excited to be contacted because of my creative design, my brainstorming skills, and my desire to work on the abstract and the abnormal. I always find it a huge compliment when people come knocking but I do have a few things to say about this so-called viral video phenomenon.

As a follow up to the viral video requests I usually send a message filled with all kinds of questions about their business, their message, their personality, their customers, and their expectations. This is the exact point where most of these conversations fall apart. Businesses know they want VIRAL and they know they want to make a video but what they rarely seem to know is their message. What is it that they will try to convey to their customers? I love asking 1 question in particular: What is the personality that you would like to show? A business almost never has an answer to this one. If you think about a business as it’s own entity then shouldn’t it have it’s own personality?

Here is my response to those that aren’t certain a personality is necessary but still want a viral video. I usually send them a copy of this video (mostly because I think it is funny and quite cute, wait can professional ass kickers say cute? Well I said it so get over it):

Then I ask them if I should make a video with a penguin in it because it has nearly 5.5 million views, pretty viral if you ask me, then we could just stick their website at the end (hmm…maybe I’m a bit too crass, what do you think?)

Yes video can be important and yes reaching out to potential millions if not billions of people on the web is an exciting thing but it takes a bit of time and a bit of planning. It also take a lot of getting to know what your message could look like? Then once you know your message how do you visually want to show it? 2 very important questions that will take time but should be fun creating if done properly.

So how do you hone your message? Your personality? I have a few easy tips from other projects I have had the pleasure of working on and some recent advice from an awesome guy I just had the pleasure of chatting with (thanks Drew Dudley).

1. Look at your current content and take all the individual words and images out leaving them by themselves on sticky notes. Then move them around and ask members of your team to pick only their top 3 words and/or images as it relates to the business. This should tell you something about your business and it’s personality.

2. Look at a competing brand/business and look at their messaging and images (are they doing some good work, some bad work, is it similar?). Now do the same thing as activity 1 only with their words and images. Do those words fit your business? Your brand? Your personality? Now ask yourself one VERY important question, how are you different? Why would a consumer want to pick you over them?

3. Ask. Throw out all the words and images you have and start all over. Ask both colleagues and consumers for 1 whole week to just describe your business over and over and over (you can do this in a million different ways-seek creative help if need be to do this in a fun and engaging way). Let those who work in your service and those who USE your service describe you. Believe me this will be an eye-opener for sure. Let it be honest and let it be anonymous (that’s usually where having someone like me come in can be helpful. I don’t work for the business and I can group lots of answers together so people tend to talk a whole lot more freely around me.)

4. Play! Brainstorm all kinds of ideas, play with words, do some colouring, redesign with some mock ups, let loose (again, something adults have become crappy at but an area where I can help most excel. Tends to be the number 1 reason most hire me). This means creating both time and space to do this.

5. Watch. Find some of the funniest and most impactful videos that you can on the internet and look for the cues that really got you hooked. How would those work with your message? With your personality?

6. Plan. Find a bit of time to go over various concepts and put together some storyboards (this by no means has to be a professionally drawn concept but rather a rough outline of how the whole production would flow). Ask yourself what could each part of the video look like? Do all the scenes lead to a strong message? A strong personality?

7. Finally this is a step I just heard about yesterday thanks to Drew. What about thinking about an Anti-Commercial. What would that look like? What kind of language would you use? What kind of corny nostalgic material would you put in it? Who would you get for a cameo? What if you wanted no one on the planet to buy your goods or services, what would that look like? I bet there is some hilarity in there that might just spark a few good ideas.

8. Ok now you are all done and you have shot your video, wonderful! Now what’s the plan for getting it to the masses?

These are some of the tips and a hint at just some of the process I would use to help you design any kind of video you like. So the next time you hit that send button to any company about making a viral video you better be prepared to share your message (a good company can help you craft this) and your personality (one last hint, if they don’t ask you about your personality then chances are that company probably isn’t the right one to work with). Also a good company will be able to gather stories and help you define your personality.

I guess in the end I can ask this: What is your penguin that you would like to show the world?