My Horse and Buggy Era
I started my business that year, when many were just learning about the World Wide Web.
Working from a converted attic in a 1200 square foot house in Seattle, I spent many summer days (and nights) in that hot box trying to find clients.
My tools of choice?
A Rolodex (remember those?)
The clunky, metal, alphabetized wheel was home to all my potential customers.
A tickler file. Yes, it sounds kind of purvy, but this was my analog tool of choice to schedule calls. Nothing kinky about it, just a plastic box full of index cards.
For much of the day and night I was tethered to it.
The phone book
From A-Z, I would work to find businesses in need of my services.
I was the proud owner of Power Macintosh 6200.
And I was connected to the word by a brand-spanking new 28.8 dial-up modem and my AOL account. Want to giggle?
How did I find clients?
Cold-calling was painful, time-intensive and often soul-crushing, but it worked.
I did this, a lot.
A typical call circa 1995 would go something like this:
“Hello, Barb, my name is Craig McBreen. My company is McBreen Design. “We” provide graphic design services and can help you develop brochures, trade ads and even design a logo … I thought “we’d” be a great fit for your business and was wondering if you’d like to meet in person to discuss?”
If I was lucky enough to get a meeting, it was just me, my portfolio and a business card.
But between the summer of 1995 and my first downtown office in 1998 I had built up a nice client list.
From the NASDAQ crash in 2000 to 9/11 to the 2007 financial meltdown, to life, kids, and a bazillion other fits and spurts along the way, it has not been easy.
But guess what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.
In September 2011 I published my first blog post and since then have had a love affair with blogging.
I’ve learned a ton over the past two years, but nothing can replace the hands-on knowledge I’ve learned over the last 18.
What does this have to do with branding, online marketing and business blogging? Well, read on and find out …
Lessons Learned From 18 Years in Business (and 7 Ways to Grow Yours):
1. Focus on what energizes you and delegate the rest.
This is not easy. I think it takes years of experimentation and failure to really know what depletes you and what lights you up. Work daily to find “it” and learn to outsource. Then work even harder to find the best and brightest to handle the work.
Chris Ducker writes about this stuff all the time. Heck, he owns a business built on delegation. He’s a friendly guy too, so if you have a question drop him a line. Or, simply follow him and read his words of wisdom.
2. The “hard sell” never works.
As a business owner you often want to push. I sure did. But too much “convincing” creates resistance and often backfires. This was true then and is true now.
There’s a Pool Guy who has this down pat. With a combination of value-infused writing, specific keyword terminology, and a consistent story told over time, his content is a magnet for qualified visitors (the great customers he wants to work with).
Work daily to create your own useful, targeted and consistent narrative. This brings those ideal customers to your doorstep.
3. Think like a teacher.
I don’t care how inexperienced you think you are, there’s always something you can teach someone else. If you’re in business, work to instruct your clients every day.
In 1995 this wasn’t easy … Now? You now have a golden delivery system in the form of your blog. If you want to build authority and earn the right to sell, you have to know your audience and teach them how to get past a problem.
One of the most successful blogs on the planet is Copyblogger. If you’re familiar with Brian Clark’s creation, you understand how masterfully he’s used story to build a massive audience and sell products that help. If you want to think like a teacher, study Brian and the history of Copyblogger to see how well teaching can be done in the online space.
4. Negative expectations bring negative results (so expect the best).
You’ve heard the term, self-fulfilling prophecy, right? We all do this to a certain extent, but working daily to accentuate the positive is one of the keys to having a business that thrives.
Stanford Smith has built something quite special, and I think a huge part of that success is the result of his positive outlook. This guy is never negative and I challenge you to find that kind of writing on his site. He accentuates the positive in his writing and I’m sure, in his life.
Part of the fun here is visualizing something amazing. I try to do this every morning. I’m not sure, but maybe Stan and I have this in common.
5. Extreme focus is key.
I’ve gone off the rails more than a few times and these stupid-ass moves came when I lacked focus.
If you’re a dreamer you really need to rein in these grand visions, lay out some plans and get busy. You can’t do everything, so work daily to focus on one thing at a time.
I consider Joe Pulizzi a part of the C-Suite. In fact when I think about content marketing and big business, I always think of Joe. Why? Well, together with the great team over at The Content Marketing Insititute he’s built an empire of sorts. His focus is on the content marking message and he never waivers.
Do not lose focus and go off the rails like I did so many times.
Like Yoda say, Do or do not. There is no try. And the only way to “do” right is by practicing laser-like focus.
6. Sometimes you have to work for free.
While I don’t work on spec I work for free all the time. And guess what? If you’re in business and blogging, you do too. The articles you publish, the advice you dish out, the help you provide to others in need. This is all good.
Danny Brown always takes the time to offer advice and has helped me on more than a few occasions. You might not think this is a big deal, but this guy has an AdAge Power 150 blog, a business to help run, and a Twitter following of some 35,000 + people. He’s also an author and has about 1,097.5 other things to do.
But … he’s simply taking the time to be really helpful and you should too. If you’re a busy professional, it’s not easy. But try it and see what happens.
7. Ideas are worthless without action.
Your brain is an idea machine and I’m sure you come up with ingenious stuff daily. We all do, but your ability to bring just one idea to life is way more important than the idea itself.
Many amazing businesses were hatched from one idea. Figure out how to make your one idea work.
All of the bloggers featured here have done this. They might not have one specific product or niche, but the content they deliver is consistency in action. Their “one idea” is infused in their content.
Number seven ties it all together, really. The people mentioned above sure know how to take action. They are also part of my A-Team featured in a book about finding the right customer for your business.
If you’re interested in my A-Team and my coming eBook, see the handy dandy sign-up form above, under that giant red book.
Craig McBreen is Principal of McBreen Design. A Puget Sound area branding and visual design firm which helps small companies bring their purpose to life with branding, graphic design, and web design services.