Coaster Blog

The importance of the title

title

Let's be clear - It's been a while since I've ranted and this is going to be a good one, but bear with me, I promise there is a point to it all. SO:

PR isn't dead, and content marketing isn't new. While we're at it, PR isn't promotion or (personal) management either. And good business development is so much more than sales.

I'm sick of all the talk and labeling to the contrary. Call things what they really are, own what you do.

Every field has areas of focus, new and shiny ways of doing things. Crazes. In technology it was the cloud, now it's the Internet of Things (or everything, or if if you're like our team at Rollercoaster Digital - the Internet of Agents). In online marketing it is all about "inbound". In food it's all organic, whole foods. Whatever you do, whatever industry, there will always be something new that everyone wants to get on board with.

I don't have a problem with that. I think it's good, it keeps entire markets evolving, challenging what they're doing next and generally trying to be better. The problem is when parts of the market don't keep up. They start to make claims about being things they aren't, which leads to the "X is the new Y" and "X is dead, only Y matters now" type claims.

Sure, you say. But so what?

Well, this is where I start to get angry. Too often these claims are convenient labels to give consumers the impression of something that isn't really the case. I have two examples, from different sides of the equation, that hgihlight the way changing the way something is referred to can alter a whole industry.

1. PR

Public relations is probably one of the most misconstrued fields there is. It has a reputation for being underhanded and anything but genuine. The truth is though, effective PR has to be opposite. It's a strategic field, based on bringing all the things a company does together and helping "tell a story". There are two things that really annoy me about people talking about PR lately:

Content Marketing

Content marketing isn't new. It is traditional, good PR done primarily online. It is about engagement and genuine, original content, which good PR has been about for decades. Just because the content is on YouTube or Facebook doesn't make it different.

To the businesses saying they are cutting edge because they do "content marketing" - STOP. You're PR companies, the fact that you're able to do it online means you are keeping up, not cutting edge. Be honest with yourselves and your clients, and get back to doing good work, instead of trying to be innovative when you aren't.

Promotion and management

This one really gets me. It's common with artist, musician and model managers now to say they're a PR company. No you aren't, at best you're publicists and fit in to someone else's PR strategy, at worst you do promo bookings. I understand that personal management and booking agency became dirty words. There's a reason for it though, they were screwing over their clients because they were chasing the big commision dollars. Calling the same practices PR isn't really fooling anyone - it's just confusing what people think of a much bigger discipline.

At Coaster we work with individuals like we work with businesses, strategically and as partners. Not based on a media scorecard and bottom line. The key difference is simple - long term brand vs short term attention. I'm happy for any personal "PR" agency to contest this, on the proviso that you share your methods publically and we have a discussion. My opinion is based on those I've seen, I'm sure there are good ones, and I'd really like to meet them.

To the rest: Call yourselves what you are. Clean up your own field, stop tagging on and tarnishing other people's.

2. Business Development

Ok. Sales became a dirty word. I get it. But really, this is very simple. Sales is a function of business development, it works to it, it isn't all of it.

Head to any job listing and look for Business Development Managers - I guarantee every listing has a criteria something like "at least 3 years sales experience". Why? Because that's all they're really looking for. It isn't business development, the company has just given a grand title to a senior sales manager. Business development is so much more - it should be long term, strategic and partnership focussed. We all know it costs more to gain a customer than to retain one, so business development should be focussed across sales, marketing, product and development. That's a big role for a sales rep.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not anti sales. It's vital, and I'm terrible at it. I would happily hire as big a sales team as I can afford. But I'd also hire a BDM, to oversee that team, and work with PR and marketing, and do market research to work with product developers. And most importantly - to grow the business based on opportunity and strategy, not pure revenue.

Sales focused business development will never look at a marginal market and say "it's the right thing, but not because of numbers". That's not good business, and it doesn't encourage innovation.

 

I know this might seem trivial or unimportant - but it isn't. Job titles and names influence responsibilities. What we consider important in a role is what is focused on by the business, if we're leaving out key areas of responsibility for the sake of inflated titles the business suffers. Ultimately, when that spreads, we lose it from a field of practice. Then we lose it all together from the market.

My request is simple - if your job has a tarnished reputation, don't jump on something else. Be the difference. Be better. Be a leader and work to fix it. Show you're more than the quick buck.

~A

twitter.com/andrewdsnell

Loopholes - Find yourself one!

loophole

Let's be straight, there's a massive stigma about utilising loopholes in systems, regulations and statutes. The perception is that businesses finding ways to make the most of conditions are in some way doing the wrong thing. While there is a point where structures and classifications can mean some businesses benefit greatly from their ability to sit just outside a wide array of rules, my stance is that the onus is not on the private sector to place themselves within conditions they are legitimately able to sit outside of. They are, after all, there to make money - the more they make the more they expand, and the more people they employ and supply to.

Any legal requirement should be definitive. Grey areas in legislation or regulations mean poor drafting, to me that's the end of it. If the legislature or regulators haven't been diligent enough to close loopholes that is their problem to fix. It isn't the responsibility of those the instrument is meant to affect to "opt-in". It's the same as in business, if my product isn't good enough or doesn't work as it should it isn't the responsibility of my customers to say "I know I don't need to, but I'll use this anyway". It's about quality control, skill and talent. Everyone makes mistakes, and any piece of work will undergo revisions and be updated as time passes, but if it doesn't work it needs to be fixed.

My message to those creating the instruments, regulations, legistaion and any other "rules" applying to business:

Don't complain when your work doesn't achieve what you wanted it to. Do what the rest of us have to when we make a mistake - become better at what you do and fix it. It's not our fault - responsibility for it lies with you.

On the other side though, as a business you should be looking for ways you can increase your efficiency, wherever they lie. You should look for loopholes relevant to you to, across the board.

It could be R&D benefits, advantages of particular structures, the way you class your product, or even where you're located.

I'm not saying it is ok to break the rules. But placing yourself outside them can create a far better environment for your business to operate in. Your accountant and legal advice should be able to help you, and advise if what you want to do is the best way to go, but remember - you know your business, it's up to you to be creative and look for opportunities.

I should state here very clearly - I'm NOT talking about EVASION techniques. There is a big difference between it and MINIMISATION, which is simply good sense and good business. Paying more for anything (especially things you get no return on), just because, is not going to get you ahead as quickly as you should.

So, how can you find the loopholes relevant to you, and reduce your operating costs at the same time? There are four things I look for:

  • Structure

How is your business set up? What is your status, your conditions and reporting periods? Are your team employees, contractors, affiliates - and what would work best for both of you?

A really good accountant is a great place to start here (I mean the good part, I've had some which have turned out to be unable to do what they say, and I'm still paying for it). My biggest tip is to set up properly for where you want to end up from the beginning, otherwise you will end up paying over and over again for restructures.

  • Market and Customers

What, where and who? Look at what your business really does and where it sells most. The way you sell to your customers (franchise, retail, direct, online, subscription) can drastically change your obligations, and costs. Do your research, work out what your customers want and how they want to buy, compare it to what it will cost you and find the best fit. As always, don't shy away from being creative with how you sell!

  • Product Classification

The way your product is classed can make a huge difference to the regulations it has to adhere to, especially in electronics. Your product features may add more cost than they will return, by changing the classification of the product.

Manufacturing all components yourself can also add extra costs - if there are parts you can buy and incorporate you may be able to save a lot by leaving compliance to their manufacturer and obtaining a licence for its use with the purchase.

It's important to know your product - it could save you a lot of time and money.

  • Timeframes

This is a big one for companies doing their own research and development. Make sure you know the timeframes and limitations on any work or expenses you have, in terms of making the maximum claim you can on them.

Sometimes this means carrying expenses for longer before claiming, so you meet thresholds, sometimes it means quickly shifting them and reclassifying. It might also mean you have to complete a specific task within a time frame to be eligible.

Do your research and find the timeframes relevant to you - use them to set your deadlines, there's nothing like money to provide incentive to complete.

 

Loopholes aren't bad. They can help build a business, especicially in its early stages.

As a business you should be looking for them. If a rule doesn't apply to you, you're not doing anything wrong by not abiding by it.

Regulators - stop complaining about business not opting in to your rules when they don't have to. Do a better job, and regulate fairly and we'll comply.

 

~A

 

Start-ups want understanding, not (conditional) handouts

This is something that makes me more angry than it probably should, but I see it holding back innovation and great ideas.

The conditional support of start-ups.

I'm not talking about terms of an investment agreement with an angel or VC. I'm not talking about the milestones associated with accelerators or client agreements.

I'm talking about grants. It's not even the way they are administered that really gets to me. It's the pretence behind them, the notion that the start-up should be honoured to be deemed worthy - what really gets me about that you ask?

Who are they to make that call?

Most grants programs have great mentors and assesment panels. They are usually individuals actively involved in the business space, relevant industries or investment markets who have genuine interest in seeing recipients succeed. The elephant in the grant-funding room is the administrators, particularly in government funded grants programs.

Unfortunately the staff within these teams often lack any experience in the areas they are meant to be supporting. They approach the start-up sector from a traditional bureaucratic perspective, looking to achieve arbritrary benchmarks rather than supporting the truly innovative ideas - which by their nature are usually the ones with the most risk associated.

The issue I have is exemplified by the kinds of companies and projects that receive grant funding. The common pretence of supporting innovation and fostering new ideas and technology is often not followed through. The ones I see receiving funding are those with the most stable present position, the safe bets in known industries.

That's not true innovation.

And that's just the thing, Government by its very nature of checks, balances, approvals and justification can on ever be a second tier innovator. I'm not saying that's a bad thing of itself, Governments are responsible for public funds and have a duty to justify where they are spent. It makes them wrong for fostering true innovation though. 

(I still don't think the grants given to those businesses are necessarily wrong, just that the notion that by supporting them they are at the cutting edge needs to be adjusted)

The next problem with grants is the conditions placed on them. In the tech space a lot of a new venture's resources are going to be spent on development. Real, human hours spent coding, testing and fixing. For a grant to say "we like your idea, we want to support you, but you can't use the money on people" is ridiculous, insulting and detrimental. It is saying to that start-up that "your time is actually worth nothing - we don't care that you can't afford to eat because you're dedicating 18 hours a day to this, you'll have to find something else". For people sitting on a regular salary to hide behind the excuse that this type of condition is to ensure the dedication of the founders and team shows the lack of understanding. Both sides of the equation are needed, it doesn't make the needs or value of one party more worthwhile than another.

Another common condition is matched funding. I understand equal contributions, but to say "we'll only give you enough to match what you have" seems to be like saying "that's great you have a burger to eat, how about two?" The initial funding for most projects is hard. If a grant is already stipulating funds can't be spent on wages, to enforce the start-up to match capital investment actually puts them in a position where they are receiving a contribution more like a quarter to a third of their requirements, not one half.

Before we go on, I want to make something very plain:

I am a big fan of self-funding and bootstrapping

I think it keeps projects honest, efficient and most of all, desperate. One of my favourite sayings is "we hunt best when we're hungry". Sometimes though, a project needs more cash than the founders can self contribute. Tech can be expensive, so can people. As simple as that. Bootstrapping reaches a point where it has run it's course and more cash is required.

So funding is good. Grants programs, on the surface are good - I think there should be support for the businesses which do or have potential to, provide large injections of revenue into economies.

So what do I think is the REAL problem with the current systems?

Start-ups don't need hand outs.

It's condescending to consider that they do. Some projects do need handouts. My opinion is the natural attrition of the market place should consume them. They should be bought or crushed by competitors or partner companies. They shouldn't have any infuence on the sector as a whole - their great idea can live undera different structure.

The emphasis should be on understanding the challenges the business structure places on a start-up. Tax, compliance and regulations can be time consuming and capital intensive. If government could place more emphasis on assisting to remove barriers for early stage businesses rather than small cash handouts the sector would be stronger.

True innovation is a creative pursuit. It's finding new solutions for new problems - forcing a new idea to comply with old constructs before it even begins cripples its potential before it's even identified.

I call on governments at all levels to consider their motivation - are you looking for marks on a scorecard or to grow your economies and communities? Value your start-ups and entrepreneurs. Give them confidence. Respect their abilities and their courage, don't try to get their skills at bargain prices through public funding programs and competitions.

Change the perspective.  Let innovation grow and prosper, don't try to prop it up.

~Andrew Snell
Founder and Principal

 

You have to follow through.. Seriously.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again because I keep seeing it.

BUILD YOUR PROFILE, BE AN EXPERT AND A THOUGHT LEADER. BUT FOLLOW THROUGH ON WHAT YOU SAY.

Please.

Being in business is hard, building a profile as a professional in any capacity is competitive and time consuming. The best way to stand out is to be really good at something different, and to tell everyone who will listen.

The problem is that almost everyone is starting to do it, which means to stand out there are some pretty outrageous claims people are starting to make about the things they have done, can or will do. Now, I am a fan of outspoken opinion, controversy, disruption and generally challenging the status quo. However, if you make a claim, make sure it's actually a direction you can take.

There are three types of claims and ways to position yourself, each with their own challenges and benefits.

  1. The Aggressor
    This is the person who takes the approach of pushing themselves forward and any competitors aside. They are the ones with a view to dominate their field by attacking the way others operate. They take a position of authority over their contemporaries.

    Taking this position gives the Aggressor the advantage of a stark point of difference from those around them. From there they are able to make their opinion clearly and without competition. The Aggressor doesn't make their case as being in someway better than others, instead they are different.

    The challenge for the aggressor is making sure their actions are as bold as their position. Political leaders are common examples of aggressors - the damage to their reputation and sentiment towards them is directly affected by the way they deliver on their claims. For anyone taking this approach, it can be a hard road, but the success of it is linked to the commitment to the full extent of the claims made.
     

  2. The Revolutionary
    This person is about doing things in brand new ways. They aren't necessarily about the current way being wrong, but seeing better options for the future. The revolutionary is generally positive about the way forward, encouraging positive thinking and action. Usually they will call for people to follow them in changing the way they act.

    Revolutionaries tend to be inspiring to most of the people they speak to. This makes being a good one very beneficial as you can build support quickly. The flip side is you can lose support very quickly too.

    Many Revolutionaries are people starting their own business, who speak about changing the way things are done and generate a following built around those who already have a connection to them. The more vibrant they are, the more that following spreads. In the short term the Revolutionary is usually able to back up their position effectively.

    The most common problem they will face is due to the 'real world'. Unfortunately the need to cover costs and pay bills often gets in the way of the Revolutionary completely following through on their claims.

    We need the Revolutionaries - if you're going to be one though, be careful how bold the claims you make are. Over delivering is always the better choice!
     

  3. The Challenger
    The final type of person is the one who sees the current way things are done and asks why. They make others justify their position, looking for reasons behind the actions. At one level the Challenger is a middle ground between the Aggressor and  the Revolutionary, however it can be deeper than that.

    Challengers are often highly analytical, making informed decisions based on research and discussion - they are less likely to 'go with their gut'. The result of this is usually a more balanced stance on an issue, which means they are easily agreed with by a wide audience. They are common participants in panel type forums, rather than being presented on their own.

    This makes them ideal as representatives of large organisations, as they provide valuable perspective without ostracising parts of their audience. Being a challenger usually requires experience and reputation to be successful, as the claim isn't as striking as the Aggressor or the Revolutionary,

Whichever position you choose to take, the key to its success is the same:

IF YOU DON'T FOLLOW THROUGH, YOU DO MORE DAMAGE THAN GOOD.

Being seen as not able to deliver on your claims is only ever perceived negatively. Even if your audience has sympathy for some period of time, eventually they will turn away from you.

And getting them back when they've found someone new to follow is much harder than it was to win them in the first place.

Be better for yourself than your customer

This article was originally published on SavvySME - find it here

Just about every business falls in to one trap at some point in its life - delivering its own service for the business in a substandard way.

The business doing for itself what it provides its customers or clients presents a range of benefits, it offers cost savings, opportunities to train and develop staff and the chance to showcase specialties and expertise. The risk that the business then faces is producing sub-standard work brought about by outside challenges (such as time pressures from paying work).

When customers and competitors look at a business they judge it on the way it compares - how it presents itself and the work it does. If both are covered well the business presents well. If (or when) they fall short of the expected mark however, problems can arise for the business.

The principal issue is of credibility. The notion that "if they can't get it right for themselves, why should I trust them to do it for me" plays a major role in the way customers make their purchasing decisions. The commercial impact of going out too soon with a product or service can be long term, especially in relationship based sales markets.

A good example of this is in the relatively new market space around online communication. There are countless "rules" for posting and sending material online, based on effectiveness, audience engagement and fatigue and the way content is generated and what is deemed relevant. 

Recently one business which pushes itself as an industry leader has been breaking the rules it preaches to customers and competitors - mass email outs, overly frequently and drawing on unoriginal content, as well as repeating the same social media posts multiple times. While there are a range of reasons which could be given for each individual part, the problem arises from the overall picture created. 

In this particular case there is a feeling of the business being desperate to dominate the conversation, but not having the content to do so. While the real reason for this is probably that it was flat out completing work for clients and developing their content, the feeling their followers are left with is quite different.

So how do you avoid the pitfall of not being at your best for your own business?

  • Do the full job.

In almost every business there are levels of service. Sometimes clients or customers aren’t willing or able to pay for everything, when you’re doing the job for yourself though you should always go from top to tail.

Complete the full planning and review phases, seek feedback, allow time to complete each phase and make sure your best skills are utilised.

  • Plan it with your workload.

Paying work has to come first. It’s the reality of being in business, and really it just makes sense.
When you’re planning the timeframe for the internal project be sure to take into consideration the work the business has on. Try to line up with quiet periods, or extend the timeframe for longer than you normally would for a similar project to ensure maximum attention can be given to each phase (see point 1).

  • Push boundaries.

If you’re the best at something you should demonstrate it wherever you can. On the business itself is a perfect example. Whether you’re a professional service, a product or a combination business, the business itself is your best marketing tool.

If you are innovative in your field, showcase how that’s the case. Apply it to your own business - not only does it become a great case study, but it provides you with a good place to beta or bug test, to iterate design and features and find problems before your clients and customers do.

  • Be humble.

Let the work do the talking for you. We’re starting to get into the psychological realm here, but your potential customers aren’t looking for you to tell them how great you did on your own business. They want to see that and make their own assessment, while you tell them what you can do for them. There is a big difference between being all talk and all show.

Your skills and the way they’re applied to the business should seem natural. It shouldn’t be surprising to you or anyone else that you delivered a great result on your internal project.

  • Leave it alone.

You’re going to be with it every day, and that means you’ll come to dislike elements of the project. Don’t fiddle with it for the sake of fiddling, if there is a major fix needed then roll it out as quickly as possible, otherwise once the project is signed off and implemented or applied JUST LEAVE IT!

Constant revisiting is expensive, more than that, it makes current or prospective clients and customers uncomfortable.

If your business can’t stick to these five points, there may be merit in considering engaging a subcontractor to deliver the project for you. Being too close to something is one of the most common ways to damage the potential of a project. It might be a hard sell internally, but remember, your customers care about the result too. Get it right the first time!

 

~Andrew