First, a special thanks to those who made this event possible: the organizer Garrio Harrison, Brent Stickels, and Don Ball.
I recently had the pleasure of listening to The Business Conversation with Brent Stickles and Don Ball. Brent is a Partner at YYES, a design company based out of Minneapolis. Don is the Chief Social Officer at Fueled Collective, a coworking space and social club in downtown Minneapolis.
“I am very low theory and very instinctual and more human than anything.”– Brent Stickels
Brent had great advice for business owners and doesn’t subscribe to the belief that his organization can be better at everything than everyone else. I found this refreshing as this mindset helps business owners find balance and focus in their industry. YYES has been successful over the last 20 years because they know their strengths and play into them masterfully. Here are the top 10 lessons I learned from Brent and Don’s conversation.
- Trust your gut. If a concept doesn’t hit you in the gut it’s not worth anything.
- Develop empathy. The human and user experience are more important than anything for creatives.
- Let creative ideas sit. Brent said they have a saying in the studio “Is it still funny in the morning?” If something doesn’t last the day it’s better to move on.
- Find your strength. It’s not possible to be great at everything, so you should capitalize on what you’re good at.
- Be up front with prospects. Clarity will help both you and the prospect realize if you’re the right fit.
- Strategy over decoration. If you’re not designing based on strategy, you’re not swinging at a target — you’re just decorating.
- Let the client sell to themselves. When you get the client thinking it’s their idea, that’s the Jedi mind trick. They’ll be much happier with the outcome.
- CEOs don’t care about the details. As experts, it’s our job to educate and help them turn their idea into reality.
- Good ideas come from all over. Great creatives have a knack for listening and interpreting. Brent shared how his walk in to work takes him past the Walker Art Center, and through the Minneapolis Scultpure Garden. This exposure helps him start every day full of inspiration.
- Be open-minded. Open yourself to be influenced by other industries and ideas. That’s when amazing creative work happens.
The Business Conversation is a fantastic event and I encourage business owner’s from all industries to attend. The ideas and inspiration won’t disappoint.
Sign up for the next conversation on the AIGA website.
Why you should care about Contagious: If you’re a business owner or marketer, then you spend a lot of your time trying to get noticed by potential customers. This book can help you create content that’s engaging and made to go viral.
“Virality isn’t born, it’s made.”
Why this book review is different
Reading books is often touted as one of the best ways to excel in your field. But, while many books are beneficial, not all of us have the same workflow or creative process. Some may be looking for a how-to book that lists the steps while others want a book that helps them see the bigger picture and come up with their own ideas.
In this series, I’ll document my journey through some of the highest rated marketing books. I won’t be leaving a critical review of the author’s voice, grammar, or other things book reviewers tend to focus on. Instead, I’ll talk about what I found useful for marketing, and how I plan to use the information. My goal is to help you along your journey of learning as I share how I’m benefiting from mine.
“Contagious content is like that—so inherently viral that it spreads regardless of who is doing the talking.”
I chose Contagious because as a marketer I’m constantly confronted with the challenge of making things stand out. The problem is that we all compete in a sea of advertising, brands, and marketing efforts. So naturally, I was intrigued when I read the title of Jonah’s book.
A short point about the way I like to read marketing books. While I like the practical points that they offer. I enjoy their role as a thought catalyst even more. What do I mean by this? As I’m reading or listening to a book I like to let my mind wander with interesting points and see where it takes me. This has often led to refinements in the way we do things at The Content Reactor and helped me come up with ideas for new services.
“If something is built to show, it’s built to grow.”
A roadmap for creating viral content
Contagious is based on six principles or steps to creating contagious content. These include social currency, triggers, emotion, public, practical value, and stories. Instead of giving you a to-do list that you can follow when creating contagious ideas he uses these 6 points as guidelines for creating sticky content.
Jonah uses plenty of real examples like Blendtec blending marbles and how airline miles make people loyal to back up his principles. These examples help you think about how the principles can work for your business. While some of the points may seem like common sense for a marketer, he does a good job of showing the relationship between the 6 principles which gives you a clear roadmap for making your next idea catchy.
I would put this book in a similar category to Made to Stick by the Heath Brothers, which Jonah cites as inspiration. If you read and benefited from that book then you’ll enjoy this one too.
“People don’t need to be paid to be motivated.”
What Contagious taught me about emotion
Emotion: Emotion was my favorite point because Jonah showed how you can harness emotion to make a seemingly boring topic interesting and contagious. My favorite example was Denise Grady’s writing on the topic of how fluid and gas dynamic theories were being used in medical research. In her article, The Mysterious Cough, Caught on Film Grady wanted to give people a “eureka moment” by making this difficult topic super easy to understand. By doing this successfully she evoked awe in her readers (which Jonah talks about) and created a viral article. If she could make that topic go viral then the rest of us shouldn’t have a problem.
Game mechanics: Jonah talked about how using game mechanics could boost adoption because it increases the likelihood that people will share it with others in their peer group. I found it interesting that the user’s perception of a boost in their status among peers could be a bigger incentive than a monetary reward.
Stories: Recently storytelling has become a buzzword in the content marketing industry. Even so, content is still not written in story form very often. This is probably because it takes research to find the right example for your story, and content production is often underfunded. But Jonah shows how wrapping your message in a story can get you past the natural dislike people have for advertising.
“Marketing is about spreading the love.”
What I’m excited to use
As a content marketer for B2B companies I think it can be easy to overlook the importance of emotion and storytelling when writing. The assumption is that people just want the facts with no fluff. But business owners are people too and they want to use companies that have values similar to their own. I’m excited to continue working on my storytelling ability and improving how I use it to build the brands I work on, including my own.
“People don’t think in terms of information. They think in terms of narratives. But while people focus on the story itself, information comes along for the ride.”
3 ways marketers can apply the lessons from Contagious
- Harness emotion in your communications. This one may seem obvious, but it’s so important that it needs to be first. If your article doesn’t evoke an emotional response, it may be time to go back to the drawing board.
- Tell people why your product is special. In Contagious Jonah shares how Blendtec made a blender special by blending crazy things on Youtube. This led to massive growth with almost no marketing budget. Find what makes you unique and run with it.
- Find stories that make your content relatable. Topics like that include 10 tips for doing something are great, but if you can wrap those tips in stories it’s even better. Seeing how real people use advice and benefit from it is much more powerful than the advice alone.
Thanks for reading! If you liked this article, and want to recommend I review a specific business book leave it in the comments below. Or if you just want to talk about your marketing challenges. That’s cool too, just shoot me an email and I’ll get back to you at the speed of the internet.
What you’ll learn: the challenges of targeting the right customers, how to expand your client base through referrals, and why golf is Nate’s new favorite sport.
For this feature of Local Business Spotlight we sat down with Nate Allen, the managing partner of Gries Lenhardt Allen, P.L.L.P. They’re a fully-staffed law firm located in St. Michael, Minnesota that handles a variety of legal matters in the areas of corporate law, real estate, estate planning, elder law, construction law and sports law, to name a few.
Some of their guiding principles include one-on-one client meetings, community support, and a high standard of service.
Now that we know a little about the firm, let’s take an inside look with Nate Allen.
Tell us a little bit about what you do.
Nate: My practice is focused on representing small to medium-sized closely held companies, non-profit organizations, and sports organizations. I work on a variety of legal issues for these clients, from setting up new businesses to helping business owners buy and sell their companies. I also assist a lot of them with employment-related matters, such as employment agreements and other key-executive related issues. I also do a lot of commercial real estate work, particularly in the areas of land acquisition, project development, and leasing. I represent both buyers and sellers, as well as, landlords and tenants.
Why did you decide to focus on the commercial sector?
Nate: I worked in-house for Dayton-Hudson Corporation during law school as it was transitioning into being recognized as Target (Dayton Hudson was the parent of Target), so it was a very exciting time. I realized then that I wanted to be involved in representing businesses with their legal issues. However, what I missed while I was in-house was the opportunity to work with a variety of different clients; in-house, the client was always the same – it was the company. Working in the commercial sector in private practice gives me the opportunity to work with a variety of dynamic people, business owners, and entrepreneurs. Plus, those people are a lot like me. I‘m also running a business and working with other business owners gives me a chance to see (and talk to them) about the challenges we face.
How did your family influence/support your decision to become an attorney?
Nate: They’ve always supported me, which is great. They’ve been a tremendous influence on the type of practice that I’ve tried to develop. I got married in the first few weeks of law school and my wife and I wanted children. So, I knew family would be a priority of mine and I wanted to create a practice that would give me the flexibility to be present in their lives. Having the ability to take time off during the day to go see my kids’ school concerts or leave early to go watch one of their athletic events has been priceless. I also live very close to the office, so I don’t waste time commuting, which allows me to maximize the time I can spend with my family. Knowing what I wanted out of my family life really influenced my decision to go into private practice and build what I’m doing now.
Elisha: That’s a great motivation. A lot of people you hear are like, “Career, career, career”. They don’t really think about their family.
Nate: Yep. I was the other way around. I started with the family and built my practice around it.
What habits helped make you successful?
Nate: First, I think goal setting is important. In fact, I think it’s critical. I’ve always been a firm believer in setting goals for myself, whether they’re daily, monthly, quarterly, annual, or 5-years out. Also, since sports were a big part of my upbringing, I learned the value of hard work and preparation. I know that if I work hard and plan strategically, I maximize my chances of accomplishing my goals. Finally, I’ve embraced the concept of work-life integration instead of fighting the pursuit of work-life balance.
What’s the biggest marketing challenge you face?
Nate: This is a great question, but for us, the answer is pretty simple: trying to reach the right prospective client. I’ll give you an example. We recently converted from a very static webpage that we had for many years to one that is more dynamic. In the process, we broadened our marketing exposure and tried to expand our reach online to generate more leads. What we found very quickly was that we were getting more calls and inquiries, but the callers were not always the right type of client for us. Although we handle a variety of legal matters, we don’t do everything, such as family law. With all the attorneys we have, that’s one area we don’t practice. Believe it or not, even though we don’t advertise in this area on our website, one out of every six or seven inquiries we get through our website is from somebody who wants assistance in family law. So, our attempt to broaden the reach of our prospective clients has taught us that we have to be more focused on the specific client we are trying to reach. With that said, the website has generated some additional leads and new clients for some of our practice areas, such as estate planning, but it has been difficult to attract small to medium-sized business owner who really wants value-based legal counsel in running and operating their company. Getting to them has been a challenge.
Elisha: One thing that we’ve seen that helps with that is buyer personas. That’s where you create a fictional persona based on your ideal client. Then you target all of your writing and marketing towards that person. What was the percentage of traffic increase that you had?
Alex: It increases site traffic by 210% according to some studies. It can increase sales by 94%, that’s e-commerce. So, it’s probably different with a law firm, but you get good results across the board.
Nate: Yeah, it’s great to know that, because not all the attorneys at our firm represent small businesses. We have 4 attorneys who do estate planning, probate and trust administration. They’re not necessarily looking for the small business owner either. So, we have to be careful in how we’re writing to reach each segment of the various practice areas we have while trying to exclude the clients we can’t help.
Elisha: I see, so your website needs to be multifaceted so that you’re targeting different people at the same time. I recently wrote an article about Red Hat’s content strategy and how they target their customers, their partners, and also the developers. But they have a different approach for each person, so this is where the buyer persona comes in. You would need one for one type of attorney, another for high standard attorney…
Nate: Exactly. Or at least one for each of our practice groups.
What has been your biggest marketing success?
Nate: This sounds cliché, but it’s so true for what we do, and that is providing consistent, top-quality legal advice and great customer service to our clients. Hands down, personal referrals are our best source of marketing. Historically, our firm has not done a lot of traditional marketing. For example, we’ve never had a billboard or TV commercial. We’ve done some small radio ads, but those were mainly to support our local sports teams that go to State. Our number one marketing strategy is to do good work, take care of people, and hope that they tell their friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues about us.
Elisha: Referrals are the best. You have the highest return on investment with referrals. When somebody comes on a referral, they’re usually going to hire you.
Nate: That’s exactly right and to piggyback on what I just said about the challenges we face in finding the right client, referrals are usually the type of client we’re looking for. If I do good work for a business owner client of mine, it dramatically increases the chances that if that client is at a breakfast meeting or a networking seminar, he or she might refer someone they meet to me who’s looking for a new lawyer. By far the best marketing success we’ve had is consistently doing good work.
What’s one thing you find to be true that most people would disagree with?
Nate: This is an interesting question. Let me answer it two ways. From a purely legal perspective, it’s that the court system is broken. Although it serves a vital role in our society, it doesn’t serve the general population of citizens or small business owners the way it should. It’s become too much of an expensive, time-consuming procedural game amongst lawyers, rather than a fact-finding institution to resolve conflicts.
Outside of the legal world, I would say that the focus of businesses should be on adding value. I think a lot of people in business would disagree and say that making money should be the focus. For them, making money is the barometer of their success, but I don’t approach work that way. I try to focus more on adding value – to my clients, my staff, our community, etc.
If you could time travel back to day one of your career to tell yourself lessons you’ve learned that would save a lot of problems, what would you tell yourself?
Nate: Focus on doing what you enjoy. I say that because I think ultimately that’s what you’re going to find that you’re the best at. And, in our industry, I’ve learned that people can spend countless hours, days, months and even years working on certain legal matters, even though they don’t like it. Our industry is competitive and young attorneys are frequently entering the workforce with significant debt from student loans. So, there is a lot of pressure to simply find a job. There are a lot of different areas to practice law. Find one that you really like and stick with it, regardless of how lucrative it might be. If you’re going to do this for a long time, you better like what you do. Find something you are passionate about, chase it, and you can be great at it.
What sport do you enjoy playing the most and why?
I am a bit of a sports enthusiast. I grew up playing sports and for the record, soccer is by far my favorite sport. However, I can’t play it as competitively as I used to, so the answer to your question is golf. A lot of my clients play and I’ve met a lot of new clients on the golf course. Golf gives me an opportunity to interact with my clients, referral sources and prospective clients on a more personal level. I truly believe that I can better serve my clients if I know them as individuals and human beings. I can learn about what motivates them, how they approach business, and what their goals are, in life and at work. I love spending 4 or 5 hours with a client, referral source or prospective client – just getting to know them on an individual level. And, you know what, you can learn a lot about someone’s character while playing golf.
Elisha: Yeah, I love golf but I’m really bad at it. (Laughing)
Nate: It’s hard! People don’t realize how hard it is. I didn’t grow up playing golf. I started playing during law school and didn’t really get the bug until after law school. Despite how hard it is though, it’s a lot of fun.
Nate has seen from personal experience that providing a great customer experience is invaluable to the success of his firm. He believes that when you consistently do quality work, word of mouth will sell for you. He believes in building personal relationships, and not viewing his clients as a means to making money. To quote him, “If you can add value to your clients, you’ll enjoy your work more and create a relationship for life.”
If you’d like some help with your business’ legal concerns, you can contact Nate here.
This is the first article in the monthly series “Local Business Spotlight” where we get to know local businesses. For our first feature, we interviewed Justin Grimes, the founder of C3 LLC. What does he do and what can startups learn from his journey? Let’s take a look.
Justin’s company manufactures the patented C3 Caster-lift Shopping Cart Safety Rope. What is it? It’s an innovative solution to shopping cart retrieval that improves both productivity and safety.
What benefits does the C3 safety rope bring? Cart attendants routinely injure themselves from the strain of maneuvering heavy lines of shopping carts. Shopping carts can also get away from attendants even striking cars or people. Here are 4 ways the C3 safety rope improves the lives of those that use it.
- It reduces costly wear-and-tear on non-pivoting casters (flat spots created by scraping a line of casters laterally while maneuvering them).
- It increases productivity—thanks to reduced fatigue and the fact that more carts can safely be retrieved per trip.
- It reduces the likelihood that an employee will sustain a strain-induced injury from pushing a line of carts.
- It reduces company costs related to runaway shopping carts.
Now that we know a little about what C3 does, let’s listen to the interview.
Justin who I mentioned earlier runs this company with his wife Kassie. He’s (left) talking to me (middle) and my business partner Alex (right) about his company and product.
Let the Interview Begin
Elisha: How did you come up with the idea for your product?
Justin: My father was the original inventor of the C3 Safety Rope. He was an operator who worked for Walmart and Sam’s Club for a number of years. He was the General Manager of a Sam’s Club here in Minnesota and he called himself the highest paid cart attendant in the company. He needed to figure out a way to retrieve shopping carts from the parking lot in an easier and safer way. Originally, he was developing an electric cart retriever and his idea was to attach a line of shopping carts and pull them like a train.
Since he needed a way to do that he used a ratcheting device, attached it handle to handle, and cinched it tight. The way he always told the story was that when he leaned against the carts, he nearly fell down – they spun like a top. So, he thought there was something to that and he secured a utility patent for that process. He had other interests and was busy working for other companies for many years, so I helped him refine the product and take it to market. They say, “necessity is the mother of invention” and that was definitely the case with the C3 Safety Rope. It came about out of the need to make shopping cart retrieval easier, safer and more productive.
The patented C3 Caster-lift Shopping Cart Safety Rope today
Elisha: Awesome! That’s a cool story. How did your family influence your decision to start a business?
Justin: My father is the main driver to me becoming an entrepreneur. He had a tremendous entrepreneurial spirit. He wasn’t able to run his own business for most of his life with the demands of raising a family, but he always wanted to. We both got a tremendous satisfaction out of seeing his idea turn into a fully developed product and then transition that solution into a company and brand. He always gave me credit for the heavy-lifting, but C3 LLC is truly part of his legacy. I loved working with my dad and I miss him dearly.
Elisha: Really cool. What habits helped make you successful?
Justin: Really just being persistent and trying to break down really large, overwhelming tasks into smaller steps and processes. Also, not being afraid to ask the dumb questions and ask for help when needed. As much as anything, I attribute our success to surrounding ourselves with good people that can help us.
Elisha: What is the biggest marketing challenge that you face?
Justin: Our solution is very specific. We’re starting to add accessories and other products and it’s a large market, but we are in a very narrow niche. There really isn’t another company that offers a solution quite like ours, so the biggest challenge we face is competing for the right decision makers’ time and attention. These are extremely busy people and we’re not the only ones that are trying to work with them.
Elisha: I can see how that would be hard. You’re trying to get in front of the busiest people.
Justin: Yeah, absolutely, that’s what it comes down to.
Elisha: What do you think has been your biggest marketing success?
Justin: Word of mouth, really. I think right now, we’re starting to get a groundswell where people are seeing our solution with other clients and then inquiring about it and ordering directly as a result. We have taken the trade show route, and while that’s been useful in getting the attention of some people, I don’t know if it has paid for itself or not. We’ve tried to focus on listening and responding to our clients and to be a really good vendor-partner. As a result, we’ve continued to improve and see slow steady growth.
Justin & Kassie Grimes, owners of C3 LLC
Elisha: That’s awesome. It’s kind of funny, I think word of mouth always ends up being one of the most important forms of advertising, especially, when you’re working in a niche market.
Justin: Yeah, it definitely is.
Elisha: What is one thing you find to be true that most people disagree with?
Justin: I will say that it’s a common misconception right now that in order to grow a business you need to seek venture capital or outside investors, and I don’t think that’s true. We bootstrapped our business from the very beginning. We started out of a garage and grew the company slowly as we were able to, debt free.
I think another common misconception is that, in order to be successful in business, you need to be aggressive and somehow bulldoze people. I’ve never tried it, but I know that is absolutely not true, especially with the companies that we work with. They want to do business with people that they trust and that can deliver. I would say that trustworthiness is vital for any business endeavor to succeed long-term. And, you can’t fake it. It doesn’t have anything to do with the right handshake or eye contact, it comes from genuinely wanting to add value to your client.
Elisha: I have one more crazy one here: If you could time travel back to day one of your startup and have 15 minutes with your former self to communicate any lessons you acquired with the intention of saving yourself mistakes and heartache, what would you tell yourself?
Justin: My father always used to say, “Hope for the best and expect the worst.” That one has always served me well. I would add to that and say, “everything is going to be OK.” You definitely learn over time to try and not sweat the small stuff. With any small business, challenges come up that can seem really overwhelming. With time you just kind of learn to face them and move on. As a manufacturer and assembler developing an original product, we faced several challenges early on. The first couple hundred C3 Safety Ropes we sent out we were like, “Are these definitely going to work!?” Later, but still early on, there were a few quality control issues that we worked through with one large client in particular. At the time, these issues seemed completely overwhelming and potentially devastating. There have been a few times we’ve asked ourselves, “well, I wonder if we’ll be able to keep the doors open.” But being around other small businesses and entrepreneurs over the years, I’ve come to realize that these challenges are always going to occur. Things are never going to happen perfectly. So if I could go back in time, I would tell myself, “Keep at it. Everything is going to be OK.”
Elisha: Cool. So, lastly, what’s your favorite music album? I know you like music.
Justin: Boy, that is a really hard one. I will say…
Elisha: Or something in your top 10.
Justin: I’ll say that one of my favorite albums is Arcade Fire’s Funeral…
Elisha: I love Arcade Fire!
Justin: And I would say that the album that I have listened to the most, more than any other, is for whatever reason, Radiohead’s Kid A. I listened to it a ton while I was at school. For whatever reason, it held up to so many repeated listenings for me. So, Funeral and Kid A are both in my top 10, but I know for a certainty that Kid A is the album I’ve listened to more than any other.
Justin, like the rest of us, faces business challenges every day. But, instead of getting overwhelmed, he breaks them into manageable chunks and keeps at it. He knows that ups and downs are just part of a business owner’s life. What matters is keeping your cool. He’s an inspiration to everyone who’s holding back because they worry about finances or other challenges. Start small, be smart with your money, and most of all, be patient.
If you’d like to take a closer look at what C3 has to offer, you can visit their website here http://c3llc.com/.
If you’d like to talk about how you can modernize your marketing strategy, email us at [email protected].