Thursday, July 31, 2008

Trade show materials: know your audience

Over the summer, I've been fortunate enough to check out a couple of different trade shows; first the HOW Conference in May, where a number of stock photo, paper companies and others gathered to show off their wares, and then the Fancy Food Show, where, well, I got to eat some really amazing food and make contact with Makers of Tasty Things. And during both, I got to see a lot of trade show materials - some that worked, and some that really didn't.

The point of trade shows, quite often, is not just to introduce yourself to the audience at the show, but to a) find good leads to follow up with, and b) give them something to remember you by once the show is over - preferably something that will encourage them to make a purchase. There are all kinds of ways to do this. At the Fancy Food Show, a number of vendors offered samples of their food (I was stuffed within an hour or two!), but little else aside from maybe a sell sheet or postcard.  At any trade show you're going to run into dozens, perhaps hundreds, of vendors - what's there to help me remember who you were beyond that one moment of trying your food?

Other folks gave out free samples that you could take home - which I think is a great idea. Buywell Coffee gave me a couple of free bags of their Screaming Monkey coffee, which I've been drinking iced for a week. I can't wait to find it now - it's amazing stuff. But if I hadn't gotten that sample, I wouldn't have remembered them beyond meeting them at the show.

Other companies had really well-designed, almost keepsake, materials. Chocolate Company Pacari's postcards, in particular, were so beautiful that I put them up on my office memo board. Information about the chocolate was on the back of the card, but the front was completely covered by a gorgeous illustration related to one of the specific chocolates.

Another tactic, which I saw a lot at the HOW Conference, is to give away branded merchandise - from notebooks to bobbleheads to the much-coveted Masterfile laptop bag (which I was lucky enough to get and I still carry around with me). This tactic is a definite winner to me; it gives me something to hold onto, and something I can use, which will remind me of that business every time I use it. I have, however, also seen this tactic used badly - for example, the too-ubiquitous coffee mug or stress ball. I don't know about you, but I have more than enough coffee mugs. Why give someone something they likely already have plenty of - and if they don't have plenty of them, then they probably won't have any use for it anyway?

The key to any trade show giveaway is to know your audience. What are these people here for? How can you make yourself memorable? What will they respond to? In the case of the folks at the HOW Conference, they knew that their audience (professional designers, and the vendors who love them) love getting well-designed, useful, really cool stuff. And the booths that were the most popular were the ones giving that stuff away. Meanwhile, at the Fancy Food Show, the folks who did well knew that, in order to really understand what made their product great, they had to taste it for themselves. 

Monday, July 28, 2008

Using LinkedIn Recommendations

One of the things I've always admired about LinkedIn is its ability to not only connect me with people I know (and want to know!), but also to allow me to give anyone who finds me online an idea of what it's like to work with the zen kitchen. The Recommendation feature is a great example of that. I work with someone on a project, it goes along swimmingly, and I ask them to write up a quick recommendation, so that others can see how good I am. Great for the ego, and great for business.

But then there's the occasional person who takes unfair advantage of the system. These are the folks who either ask you for a recommendation 5 minutes after meeting you, or the folks who write you a recommendation without really knowing anything about your work - ostensibly in the hopes that you'll return the favor. My advice - don't accept them, and certainly don't give them.

Here's the thing: a LinkedIn recommendation is basically a testimonial for your brand. And as with all testimonials, the savvy consumer can sniff out a fake one a mile and a half away. In the case of one recommendation I got unsolicited from someone I hadn't worked with before, the text was so generic ("Dani prides herself on providing 110% customer satisfaction!") that I couldn't, in good conscience, keep it active; while I do pride myself on providing 110% customer satisfaction, how does this help the average profile reader determine what it's like to work with me on a specific project? How does this help a potential client understand how I can solve their business's brand communication problem?

The best way to get solid, genuine recommendations on LinkedIn: work with someone on a project. It goes well, write them a recommendation about what it was like working with them on this project, and humbly ask that they return the favor. 9 out of 10 times, they will - and what they write will be INFINITELY better than any generic recommendation from someone you just met.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Where are your clients?

I just happened upon this post by Jeff Fisher, one of my creative buddies over at the HOW Forum, who speaks about the geographic boundaries often imposed by creatives upon themselves. In the post, he expresses surprise that so many creatives think they have to restrict themselves to their specific location:

Huh? I don't think I got the memo about the Federal government building walls around local communities to keep designers, writers, photographers and others trapped in their hometown environments.

Admittedly, when my initial Internet presence went live in 1998, my website was intended to primarily serve as a portfolio for a predominantly local clientele. I wasn't expecting email requests for information about my services from potential clients across the United States - and then from around the globe. Suddenly there were no restrictions to the target market for my business. In the decade since, 80-85% of my business has been for clients outside of the State of Oregon.

He makes a great point. I, too, have had great success with clients from around the country as a result of maintaining an active Web presence and being active on forums, e-mail lists and the like. But one thing I'll add is that, in my mind, there's a lot of good to be said for working with local clients. For one thing, it's often easier to make solid connections, since you get instant face-to-face contact. For another, I for one find that collaboration is much easier when you can get face time with a client - as wonderful as the Internet and cell phones are, it's just no match for being in a room with someone hashing out what needs to be done. And for yet another, I just happen to enjoy supporting my local economy.

All this said, I don't think that focusing on either is really the best choice. Currently, I'd guess my clients are about 50% local/50% non-local. The key, in my opinion, is not to rule either out, but to figure out who you want to attract, and then set up your communications to speak to those specific people - and then set out looking for those people.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


This morning, discussing business over coffee with a friend of mine, we got into a discussion of networking groups, and how difficult it was to make that initial connection with people sometimes, especially if (like my friend) you're a bit shy. 

Recently, I had my own experience with something similar to this - as the zen kitchen grows, I've found myself having to break into - gasp! - cold calling. And it was scary at first, until I took a moment to ask myself: "what's the goal here?" 

In my mind, part of the reason networking events (or cold calls, for that matter) can be difficult for some folks is because it's hard to tell what the point is. What are you looking for? What do you expect to happen? What would you LIKE to happen? And often, I've found that just articulating that one thing before you get to an event, or before you call a prospect, can make all the difference between leaving the situation feeling like you've gotten something done and leaving feeling like you've just wasted your time.

For example, in my recent cold calling efforts, I decided that my goal was just to introduce myself, and learn more about the organization I was calling, what kind of materials they outsource, etc. If I could send them more information, or add them to my newsletter, even better - but the primary goal was just to get a conversation going. And knowing what that goal was (and leaving it pretty easy to manage) made it inconceivably easier to do calls, to the point where I actually started enjoying them. Plus, the relaxed attitude I had towards the call actually made the calls more productive, since the person on the other line felt more like they were having a conversation and less like they were being sold something.

I take a similar approach to networking events - after figuring out who I want to meet and finding a meeting where I'm likely to meet those kind of people, I spend a couple of minutes before the meeting setting a goal for the event. Some nights I want to meet 5 people who'd be good to follow up with; other events I want to find 3 people I can give helpful information to. It helps me get a meeting off to the right foot, and it helps me get back on track if, on the odd occasion, I start feeling a bit shyer than usual.

What are your best strategies/goals for networking?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Working from Home: a perspective

As you may or may not know, the zen kitchen is a virtual studio - which means that I, along with my programmer and anyone else I happen to collaborate with on a particular project, work from home. Normally, this works out quite well - but as many other home-based entrepreneurs I know can attest, it takes some serious getting used to.

Recently, I've been thinking a bit about the stuff I've needed to figure out since I started working from a home office. As attractive as it sounds to the cubicle slave, working from home is really not an easy thing - especially if, as I am, you tend to be a bit too much of a multitasker. I've had days when I was so productive I forgot to eat lunch, and I've had days when I spent so much time on laundry, the gym, the dishes, my garden, etc. that all the stuff I had on my studio to-do list went by the wayside.

So what's a girl to do, then? How do you run a business out of your home without either burning out or wasting the day on home chores?

I can't pretend to know all the answers, but here's some of the stuff I've learned along the way:
  • Get up early, but don't get too caught up in getting straight to work. Once I started waking up around 7am and easing into my day instead of waking up around 9ish and trying to get straight into my day, my productivity increased about 150%. I can't say enough about this - it really, really is key. I also try to fit my gym time into the earlyish mornings so I can get my workouts done before I have to get focused on other things.
  • Have an actual office, or some system that clearly delineates "work space" from "home space." A spare bedroom is best, but even if you have to set up on the dinner table, find a storage system that allows you to put your work away when you're done for the day and not look at it until the next day. One of the biggest challenges of working from home is that your work and home life can get so intermingled that you feel like you need to be at work all the time, and that'll make you resent your home - you need to be able to separate the two.
  • Make your workspace pretty. It seems fairly elementary, but it's really not - if your space is poorly organized, or cluttered, or generally unattractive, it's not going to help you get things done. Recently, I realized that one of my major issues with my current workspace was that the walls, which were painted about the color of butter, were so bland that I just couldn't feel creative, and the space generally felt cluttered and icky. A couple of coats of paint and moving around all the furniture later - I've had a string of productivity that's in its third week and shows no signs of letting up.
  • Make time for little breaks during your day. It's very tempting to work straight through the day, but you need those little breaks in order to stay on track. I take about 5 minutes every hour or so to go out and visit my garden, and it's been much easier to get back to work after that bit of breathing room.
If you're one of those who works from home, I hope that these tips help you. What are your strategies for working from home?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

What are your materials really selling?

Yesterday I happened across a great marketing article written by Stacy Karacostas on Biznik (which, by the way, I suggest checking out if you haven't yet). In it, Stacy points out an important mistake that businesses often make in their marketing materials.

“If you were looking for a chiropractor, bookkeeper, massage therapist, or other service provider, what would you need to know in order to choose them over anyone else?”

Chances are it would be things like:
  • A bit about the types of services they offer
  • If there is anything unique or different about what they do
  • Whether or not the specialize in, or have experience with, your particular issue
  • Who else uses them and have they been satisfied
  • What you can expect and how long it will take
  • How they are better or different than the competition
  • Where they are located, their hours and how soon you can get in
  • If they accept credit cards or your insurance
  • What to do to make an appointment
What you probably don’t want—or need—to know are the basics like:
  • What is massage or chiropractic or bookkeeping
  • The history of massage (or chiropractic, or bookkeeping)
  • Why you need a massage therapist, chiropractor or bookkeeper
Yet time and again this is exactly the type of info service providers focus on in their marketing.

The result is that they end up spending all their time and money trying to convince people they need a particular service. What they should be doing is trying to convince prospects to hire them in particular.
Interestingly, how many designers (or coaches, or green retailers/manufacturers) make the same mistake? How much time do we spend trying to convince people of our basic worthiness to people who don't get it instead of looking for the folks who DO get it, and convincing them that we're the best person for the job?

The way I see it is this: the more you try to convince people that what you do is actually worth paying for, the more it seems that you feel people need convincing. And this raises the question: do YOU believe in what you're doing? And if you do, why do you seem so convinced that other people won't believe in it? 

In my experience, half of success in selling comes from confidence in your product - and that means knowing what you're worth, and sticking by that. Your job is not to convince the non-believers. Your job is to find the folks who already believe in what you do, and convince them that you're better than the others.