Being the Best Isn’t Good Enough

It’s no longer enough to be the best at your craft. If you’re not doing the extra work to communicate to the world, provide value, and build some long-term relationships even if there is no short-term gain or immediate payoff, then I don’t see how you can possibly expect to grow.

To get people to care or appear on the radar of your target market, you need to do a lot of little things besides your regular work, which many of you don’t want to do — Examples: Putting out free content, mentoring, doing free work for influencers, making time to help others and do favors without expectation of getting anything in return.

Be great at your craft. Find as many paying clients or customers as you can. But you also have to do a lot of work that has no immediate payoff. I have been doing much of this work and it’s led to many opportunities, such as referrals, clients and people reaching out because they heard of me or saw my content.

If you’re not willing to do this extra work or view it as beneath your dignity, please understand that a competitor willing to do the work will be more than happy to take your spot. You can rant about it on LinkedIn and in networking groups or among colleagues over a few drinks. But no one is listening and no one cares. Think long-term.

Sell to the Sold: Who am I selling to?

Over the weekend, I had a lively chat with a friend and businessman who is a distributor of snacks, tea, and coffee.

His products are tasty and low-cost and while his sales are decent, he has not done much in the way of branding. Many people consume his goods without being familiar with the name and would purchase similar commodities at a lower price when presented the opportunity.

As he lamented the fact that his brand is basically invisible and he lacks a loyal customer base despite the extensive distribution of his goods, I mentioned that social media and Facebook ads, in particular, could help him grow.

“Ah, remind me of what you do for a living?” he asked sarcastically with a smirk. “Listen, you sell to nerds, but, my customers aren’t on social media.”

While it’s true that his largely Orthodox Jewish customer base is less engaged with social media relative to the wider population and many of the more stringent members of his target audience eschew smartphones, he definitely doesn’t have his finger on the pulse. Living in Brooklyn, I can assure you that a wide swath (the vast majority) of his kosher customer base does use smartphones and social media, particularly Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram and they do so with the same gusto as the rest of the population. Not to mention, there are other markets who also enjoy his products, which he could be doing a better job of reaching.

He wasn’t done beating me up. “You understand the virtual business world. In the real business world, people aren’t using this stuff.”

I nodded. “Sure, many businesses get by with minimal social media presence,” I accepted. “But businesses who aren’t building a brand on these platforms will be totally irrelevant in 5-10 years from now and are becoming increasingly irrelevant today.”

“Your sales pitch is terrible,” he mocked.

Ouch. He obviously isn’t able to see the writing on the wall and he doesn’t want to hear the truth.

It’s kind of funny when a business owner acts as if there is a major world of difference between the online business world and the physical one. As if digital marketing is only effective with, as he puts it: “nerds.”

I’ll admit I was surprised to hear this talk from someone under 40 years old. While that line of thinking was understandable in the late 90’s and early 00’s at the dawn of ecommerce or ten years ago when social media was just getting started, it couldn’t be more out of touch with the current times.

Nerds and teens are not the only ones spending an inordinate amount of time using mobile technology. In March of 2017, it was reported that the average US consumer is spending over 5 hours a day on mobile devices.

As I pointed out to him in our brief exchange, people aren’t turning to page 8 to see his ad in a magazine or looking up at billboards or paying attention to TV and radio commercials. Their eyes and ears are glued to one thing — the little smartphone in the palm of their hands. In any other context, say if we weren’t talking about business or marketing, but the state of American youth, he would readily agree.

What kind of world do you think we’re living in? We already live in a virtual world. Thanks to smartphones, the lines between the virtual and the physical are becoming more and more blurry. And, this will only continue as AR, VR, iOT, and audio technology picks up steam. Anyone who is not paying attention to where their customers are increasingly devoting their attention is leaving money on the table and risks getting left behind.

People have options now, which leads to a more divided attention span across multiple devices (laptop, smartphone, tablet, Amazon echo dot, Google Home) and platforms (email, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Alexa, Instagram, review sites, and podcasts) and they can fast-forward or do something else during commercials. The old days of a captive audience willing to hear a pitch from a brand name they do not yet know or trust are gone.

But, I didn’t belabor the point. I was not trying to sell him, because I would never waste my time. I don’t try to sell to people who do not understand or appreciate the value of the service I offer. If the deliverable isn’t something they believe in, and sadly most of corporate America, as well as many small businesses, are still slow to get the memo about the importance of social media marketing, then I don’t waste my breath.

One of the most important rules of sales: Sell to the sold.

Tweet: I don’t sell people on what I do. I sell them on why they should hire me to do it.

It’s counterproductive for me to sell someone on what it is I do. If they are not sold on the service itself, then I can talk until I’m blue in the face, but they will not likely change their mind or, if they do, they won’t stick around for long. However, if they are in the market for social media marketing or content marketing and need the direction of a professional who can help them strategize and execute, now we’re speaking the same language and we can have a conversation. And, it will be a conversation based on mutual respect and understanding, even if it doesn’t lead to a transaction in the short-term. I’ll all for educating the prospect, but I don’t believe in trying to force them to see the value of my industry.

Identify those who would be receptive to the message before you start pitching and don’t waste time on those who don’t even respect what you do for a living. Don’t bother trying to convince them that they need your product or service. First, find out if they have a need or a pain point that you can solve and then respond with your solution. An important part of marketing and communicating with people in general is paying attention to the other party’s needs and responding accordingly.

What are they paying attention to? What do they care about? What are their problems, concerns, or desires?

Listen before you speak.

I think this is one of the most important rules of prospecting and selling.

I Do Things My Own Way and it Works.

I have no time for annoying formats, plugging into formulas, or regurgitating someone else’s process.

This is in part because I simply don’t have the patience to follow along with someone else’s rules and instructions and partly because I like to do things my own way. This is how I’ve been in many areas of life in ways that are both good, and perhaps, bad at times, for as long as I can remember. Might be one reason I didn’t enjoy school.

Of course, I studied the fundamentals of copywriting and I have listened to experts and learned about different headlines and certain words that work etc., but at the end of the day, I spend much more time these days creating than consuming the work of others.  And, experience has shown me that the things I write straight from the gut do far better than things which were written while following a recipe or applying some sort of methodology.

Nowadays, I write more like I speak and I let it flow. So far, the responses have been great. 🙂 I understand that not everyone is going to dig me or my style. Not everyone is going to buy what I’m selling. There is nobody who is for everybody.  What matters more to me is making an impact and connecting with others authentically. Keeping it natural.

It Isn’t Supposed to Be Easy, but You Can Still Enjoy the Journey.

Building a business is hard.

Coming up with content every week (day?) is hard.

Earning the trust of people in a cynical world with so much competing for our attention is hard.

But, if it wasn’t, would we ever appreciate the reward?

I think how you answer the following question is very telling of how you feel about your work: If you were handed a million-dollar check every year, what would you be doing with your time?

If money were no object, would you be investing it in building your business? Would you be trying to earn more than that? Would you be exploring a different passion or hobby which you had not previously had the opportunity to pursue?

Or would you chill all day at the beach with a drink (or play video games or insert whatever other leisure activity you enjoy)?

I don’t think there is a wrong or right answer here.

But one thing is for sure. Nobody said getting to live life on your own terms doing something you love was supposed to be easy.

It isn’t, but I think embracing the struggle of it and loving the process will be a huge part of long-term success Perhaps, we can learn not only to savor the rewards but to love the journey itself.

Respecting Your Time is Respecting Your Clients’ Time

It’s important to set healthy boundaries in life and in business.

I believe in two rules for success with clients:

1) You’re not at beck and call.

2) When you’re speaking with a client, you give the client your undivided attention.

If you don’t follow rule #1, you will be incapable of following rule #2.

Unless you’re a doctor or it’s part of the nature of your business to respond to medical emergencies, you’re not “on-call” 24/7.

When your phone rings and it’s a client, many freelancers and others who work in client service feel obligated to answer or guilty if they don’t.

In my opinion, you should never feel obligated to take a call that isn’t scheduled. Making appointments isn’t snobby. It’s a way of making sure each client gets your full and undivided attention.

You are not expected to drop everything at a moment’s notice. We’re all busy. Our clients are busy. We all have families and careers.

If you don’t respect your own time, then you will not be able to respect the time of others. And, time is money so you must respect time.

In the beginning, it’s easy to get seduced by the notion that catering to your clients means you’re always available anytime they want to speak to you.

But you owe it to yourself and your clients to have some boundaries.

Are you a freelancer or an entrepreneur? There’s a Difference.

Writer or entrepreneur?

Artist or businessman?

There is a big difference. These questions are ones that I often think about.

Some people are amazing content creators. It doesn’t mean they should start content marketing agencies.

Some people are great at their craft, but they aren’t great at selling or managing people or invoicing or dealing with clients.

Some make fantastic freelancers, or solopreneurs, but they can’t necessarily create an organization bigger than themselves with employees.

They’re better off as one-person shows.

One has to have the self-awareness and the honesty to figure out what is right path for oneself.

So, what makes me think I can go from content writer/strategist to founder/CEO of a new marketing agency?

Over the past two years, I’ve proven to myself and others that I can fly solo very nicely.

Will I be able to grow it into something bigger?

We’re about to find out.

Call it chutzpah, call it foolishness, call it arrogance, but I’m trying. I’m starting. I’m DOING and not just talking.

I’m going for it.

And if I fail, then I fail forward and can always rely on my craft — writing ✍️ to support me. I can always go back to being a solo artist.

However, I’m behaving as if there is no other option.

I’m going full speed ahead as an entrepreneur. I refuse to be another statistic in the game.

Sure, there are a lot of players. Most of them don’t make it. But, as my mother always said:

“Cream rises to the top.”

I invite you to come along and follow me on my journey.

— Zev

The Gate is Closing on the Gatekeepers

For the past hundred years or so, the gatekeepers held the power.

The magazine, newspaper, TV network, or radio station decided who was hot and who was not. What would be published and what would be left on the cutting room floor.

Advertisers decided the trends and which brands we would be exposed to.

And, we content creators were at their mercy. We had to please the gatekeepers and accept insufficient payment or no payment at all for the privilege of the exposure. Our fates were usually in the hands of an old white male executive in a suit puffing on a cigar.

No longer.

Today, the Internet is the middleman.

Media content has never been cheaper to produce and distribute at scale than it is now. Today, we all have the power. Anyone with a phone in their hands can create a buzz, break the news, get heard, or build an audience.

Content creation and distribution have been democratized. These are exciting times we are living in and most people fail to grasp how incredible it is right now. In the future, people will look back on this time and regret that they did not act sooner by staking out a claim of digital real estate to make their mark in the early days of the Internet.

Having an online presence is a powerful thing indeed and those who have one, have the leverage.

This means traditional publishers, though not irrelevant, have far less leverage than they used to. Perhaps, this is why those gatekeepers who abused their power *cough*Harvey Weinstein*cough, cough* are finally being outed for their diabolical deeds.

This would also explain why many journalists and others are now freelancing on the side or full-time.

Getting a piece published with your name on it in a publication is still a good thing to do. If the publication has a brand name that the public views as prestigious, it’s certainly a nice notch on the old belt, which makes for an impressive mention in a bio. That third-party affirmation can lend you some credibility in the eyes of others. However, it’s a vanity metric more than anything else.

More valuable than being published in a mainstream big-name publication is being published on a blog or on any platform with a high amount of engagement. If the readership actually cares about the content, it will get far more positive attention, even if the audience is very niche. For example, your article about camping in the mountains will most likely receive more interest and engagement on a popular blog about camping and hiking than it will in the New York Times.

Now that anyone can potentially become an influencer by getting attention on social media platforms and guest posting/appearing on popular blogs, vlogs, and podcasts, content creators can control their own destinies.

And, when you control your own destiny, you can also determine how much you get paid.

Recently, a relatively new business magazine with a very small following in whose pages I’ve been published approached me about a new project.

While my normal standard is to be paid my fee and paid upfront, they insisted that this time I behave in accordance with conventional magazine standards by getting paid by the word and only after the final draft.

The difference between me and most writers/creatives is that I’m not simply an artist. I’m an entrepreneur.

“If you pay me by the word,” I countered, “then that doesn’t take into account a) the research for the piece, b) the interview/s with the subject/s, or c) the edits and revisions.”

As a freelancer, I set my own standard procedures and protocol as well as my own fees. And, after getting burned in the past, I decided to only accept payment in full up front. To my knowledge, no one goes to a store, takes some items home with, and only pays after they get home or whenever they feel like it. That would be called shoplifting. And, I don’t see why my services rendered should be treated any differently.

The magazine editor protested that the exposure justifies the raw deal.

What most of these publications fail to understand is that we no longer need them for exposure. If the publication doesn’t have an audience of people likely to hire me or pay me for anything, it’s not that valuable.

On the flip-side, I would write something for FREE if it was likely that the exposure would likely net me greater brand equity or new business. But, getting published does not in itself make that a likely possibility, especially when the article is in print. Being published online can more easily lead to a comment, a DM, or some other form of direct engagement that can lead to something greater.

So, if publications want to remain relevant they have to:

A) Acknowledge that they are more dependent on freelancers than on staff and will have to pay their rates.

And,

B) Double-down on growing a brand on social media and other platforms that have their reader’s attention.

Finally, it’s up to creatives to put themselves in a position to win. Spend more time building an audience on social media, creating and publishing your content on your own, and directly engaging and interacting with your audience. Instead of trying to get published in traditional media outlets, create your own buzz and your own leverage. Once you do that, you can name your price. When you’re an influential content creator, publications, brands, and others will dance to your tune instead of the other way around.

The days of the gatekeepers deciding what content we consumer are over. Consumers and content creators are now in the driver’s seat. It’s time for publishers to take note and embrace the new reality.