Small businesses don’t always have the easiest time with marketing. In fact, roughly 50% have no marketing plans at all.

Scorpion is on a mission to change that—with technology, marketing services, and expertise businesses of all sizes can rely on to achieve sustained growth. And it’s not just about bringing in more revenue. As Scorpion’s Chief Growth Officer Jamie Adams explains, an intentional and authentic marketing approach elevates a business’s values, community impact, and customer experience.

In this video, Jamie and Ruby Partner Development Manager Steffney Jones talk about the fundamentals of authentic small business marketing, as well as a few underutilized tips for growing a business. Topics include word-of-mouth marketing strategies, how to encourage customer reviews, calculating marketing ROI, and more!

Read the interview.

Steffney Jones: Hi, folks. My name is Steffney Jones, and I am a Partner Development Manager here at Ruby. Welcome to our small business series. I have the honor of introducing you to our guest today, Jamie Adams, the Chief Growth Officer at Scorpion. For 15 years, Jamie has been helping small companies leverage technology and digital marketing to grow their revenue. And Jamie, I hear that your love of this kind of work is a part of your story, having grown up in a smaller community where local entrepreneurs largely drove the economy. Can you tell us a bit about how that passion manifested over the years?

Jamie Adams:
Yeah, sure. I think I kind of tripped into it, but it was certainly when I started working with local businesses… I realized that it felt oddly natural, I think, just because of the situation I grew up in. I’m from a really small town in North Louisiana on the Red River, about 40 miles south of Shreveport, which you may be familiar with. Name of the town is Coushatta. The makeup of the town was quite simple from an economic perspective. We had some paper mills, which are really big industry in North Louisiana. We actually had a manufacturing plant. There’s a company called Sunbeam that built irons and different appliances. My family owned a farm, or one side of my family owned a farm. Another side of my family dabbled in a bunch of small businesses, owned a concrete plant at one time. But I grew up just around a bunch of people that worked in and operated small businesses.

Steffney Jones:
As a full-time marketing and technology company who consults with businesses of all shapes and sizes, some of your attention is focused on local marketing. How can businesses elevate local marketing efforts beyond Google My Business?

Jamie Adams:
I still believe that today, and probably for the foreseeable future, at least from what the data tells us, a business’ website is still a really, really important part of their web presence, their digital presence. So Google My Business is certainly a path of how people discover you, but more times than not, if they can, they’re going to click into your website. And that’s the one place, that’s the one asset that represents your business that you really do own everything about. You own the domain that you host the website on. You own the content, everything about that experience from the visual representations of your business, to the content, to the calls to action, to the things that really separate you and you want to invite your customer or your prospect to do, because it’s differentiating about your business. All those things you own as a business.

And you can work with companies like Scorpion to help you kind of bring that vision to life. But certainly, your website has got to be a key piece of that strategy beyond the Google My Business piece. And then once they’re on your website, you’ve got to be thinking about making it easier for them to get in touch with you. And a few years ago, that was clearly the phone. Make sure your phone number is prominently displayed on your website. Top right-hand corner, by the way, is a really great place to put a phone number. Don’t bury it down midway through the page. But other ways today that are really important, you need to give people an opportunity.

If you’re a service-based business, give them an opportunity to schedule an appointment directly on your website. That’s different than just putting a form fill, but actually give them specific times to choose from. Really important. And then another place that I think we both play a hand in is things like chat, or text messaging. Because again, most people today are getting conditioned through having mobile devices that they want to text instead of picking up the phone and calling. So you got to give them multiple ways to get in touch with you once they’re in your website.

Steffney Jones:
Those are what I would definitely consider to be the building blocks of a successful marketing strategy. And we do see and hear that word of mouth is a preferred method of lead generation, but it can be a tricky form of marketing. And for many businesses, it’s their primary marketing channel. What are some ways to positively impact word of mouth beyond customer service?

Jamie Adams:
Yeah. I mean, word of mouth is critical, because typically if someone else is telling someone about your business, there’s no really better form of marketing than that. That said, I think in order to really take advantage of word of mouth, you’ve got to be really intentional, and you’ve got to have a plan to do it. So it shouldn’t be happenstance. If you’re going to rely on word of mouth, you really need to formalize a process for all of your employees to play a hand in that.

For instance, hey, we’re going to say every time someone buys something from us or pays us and that transaction experience is ended, immediately thereafter when you’re standing in front of the person or you’re on the phone with that person, you need to have a scripted plan of saying, “Hey, I hope you had a great experience. And if you did, I would really appreciate you doing one of two things, or both. One, let your friends and family know about the experience you had. And if you really want to take an extra five or six minutes, go to our Google My Business page and leave a review about your experience, because that’s going to allow your word of mouth to be amplified for us across the internet.”

And really, just explain to them what it would mean to you as asking for that referral. Don’t just ask for the referral. Communicate what it would mean to you and how thankful and appreciative you would be if they took that time. So those are two simple things that I think every business should do today, because look, a lot of times, if you don’t ask for that word of mouth referral, or you’re unsure of the experience they had, you’re going to risk them just going out and saying whatever they’re going to say on a review site about it. But if you just took that extra 30 seconds or 60 seconds just to have a conversation, you may find that, “Hey, yeah, I am willing to go that extra step and leave a review.” Or perhaps, maybe they didn’t have the greatest experience, and you have a chance to influence that in some positive way that may influence how they go and talk about that experience to their friends and family.

Steffney Jones:
Yeah, I think that is a great point, especially whenever you think about those positive reviews that you do receive. They typically happen shortly after the event transpired with the employee.

Jamie Adams:
That’s right.

Steffney Jones:
So that training is so important so that it is a knee-jerk reaction, it’s something that automatically happens so that you can get that customer to be thinking about that review and what they would like to say as quickly as possible so that you can capture that. I love that. And I think it’s very clear that great marketing practices encompass far more than just campaigns and marketing tools. There’s training, but also for example, many businesses don’t take the time to concretely identify their values and mission statement. What do businesses gain by formalizing their values and mission statement?

Jamie Adams:
Yeah, I think that’s a big miss for a lot of small businesses. I think a lot of small business owners just kind of getting the motion of, “Hey, I got a business to run. I don’t really have time for the fluffy stuff like values and mission and things of that nature.” But the businesses that do that, clearly they set a tone and they set a foundation for how their business operates and what their expectations are of themselves and of their people. And I think that when they do that, they have a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Because there’s the age-old… It’s becoming a little bit cliche, I feel like, in some circles, but the whole concept of “starting with why” that was made popular by Simon Sinek in his book called Start with Why. But when you really give yourself and your people a “why,” and that’s clear to them, then that’s something beyond just having a job or running a business.

It’s deeper than that, and it gives all of your people a real sense of purpose of why they’re coming in and they’re choosing to work with your organization every day. So I think that is probably the biggest reason. It sets the foundation. It gives you a guiding compass of what you’re really all about beyond just the products and services that you sell. And one of the things that we hear a lot about today in the local business space is how hard it is to get employees and to retain employees. And I think that it wouldn’t solve all their problems, but certainly the businesses that have a clear value and clear mission, they’re going to have a leg up and a strategic and competitive advantage getting employees relative to the businesses that don’t have those things in place.

Steffney Jones:
Yeah. And I often hear folks wondering: How can we get these better reviews? How can we get to this point? And I think you have to step back from the ladder. To get great reviews, you have to have excellent customer service. To have excellent customer service, you need excellent training. To have excellent training, you need to have that base foundation of that “why,” the core of everything you do as a business owner, that firm foundation. And I think that foundation is key as you consider how your business even fits within your own community. In fact, impacting communities is a smart way businesses can influence their integrity and bottom line. What’s some advice to businesses who aren’t sure how to serve their communities?

Jamie Adams:
That’s a great question. By the way, I think the way that summed up the importance of values was much more concise and better than I did, so well done on that. That’s a great summary. Look, I think in terms of impacting communities, I think the first step is just to get involved in your community. And look, within every market, doesn’t matter if you’re in a big city or you’re in a really, really small market like Versailles or Coushatta, the two places that you and I are from… But in every big city… I live in Dallas today, but I consider myself part of the Oak Cliff and Kessler Park community, which is the area of Dallas that’s probably three to five square miles that I live in and that I spend a out of time doing business in, buying from restaurants, buying from local service providers there.

So I think if you’re a business, I’d start with your community, your immediate area that you’re in, and get to know other business owners. Get to know events or networking opportunities that are made up of those business owners. A lot of my friends are part of BNI groups and things of that nature. I think that’s a really important way to start, just finding out… Hey, who are my other fellow business owners in this areas that I can network with? And what are they doing, and what events are they attending? I think another really smart play right now is there’s a newer app on the market called Nextdoor that is really made up of micro-communities, even in big markets, where the people that want to get on Nextdoor actually have to validate that they live in that specific area.

So that’s a really great way just to get involved and see what people in the community at scale are talking about and what’s important to them. And then, of course, there’s all the other traditional ways, like your local religious functions and institutions, churches, things of that nature, places of worship. And just getting out and letting people know that “Hey, I’m a small business owner in the area, and if you have a need or you have a want because you’re looking for whatever it is that you’re selling, we’d love it if you just consider us in your process.”

Steffney Jones:
It can be for businesses to justify spending time or money on something that they can’t immediately quantify a return on investment for. What advice do you have for them?

Jamie Adams:
My advice on this topic is actually quite commonsensical from my perspective. When you use the word investment, there are very few places and in your entire life… It doesn’t matter at an individual level, or as an employer, or as an employee. When you throw the word investment around, investments typically take some time to pay off. I’d like to lose 20 pounds. Ideally, I could go to the gym tomorrow and lose 20 pounds, but that’s just not how it works. In order to do that, I’ve got to invest time day after day consistently around my nutrition, around how often I work out in order to see the payoff of those things. If I put money in the stock market, I’m not going to see the amount of money back in my account that I’d love to see tomorrow.

It’s going to take years of consistency. If I’m a realtor or I’m a real estate investor and I want to go buy a home because I want to flip it in a few years, or I want to go be a landlord and have someone rent it from me, it’s going to take time for me to recoup that investment. So you can go just example after example after example. I’ve always struggled to kind of figure out why do business owners see marketing as a silver bullet, because everything you think about it from an investment perspective just takes time. So rather than get really fancy… When I have conversations with local business owners and they say, “Well, hey…” They ask a question. “Hey, in what timeline am I going to see this whiz-bang result?”

Rather than give them a really cheesy objection-handling answer, response that’s probably going to be full of BS anyway, I just try to get them to understand and take a step back and think about the word investment on a broader scale. There’s a lot of things that you can go buy today, and I think some of this is just the nature of the world that we live in, you go buy today that give you gratification immediately. But they don’t really pay off for you like an investment does, so I think we get caught up in confusing gratification for payoff on an investment. And I think a lot of it is just really taking a step back and thinking about that word and what it really means, and then on a broader scale, examples of how investments take time to really manifest and get the outcome and the result that you want. So that’s how I typically try to address that question.

Steffney Jones:
No, I think that’s brilliant. And I think with an investment, trepidation is normal. But as a business owner, there is risk involved in starting a business, and you still did it. Jamie, you have dropped so many gold nuggets. I love this. And to our listeners, I challenge you to comment on your favorite tip or revenue-generating tactic that you plan on implementing below in the comment section. To see more content like this with experts like Jamie, please subscribe, and give this video a like. Thank you so much for joining us today, Jamie.

Jamie Adams:
Oh, thank you for having us, Steffney.

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As a trusted attorney for clients with business, real estate, and estate planning matters, Craig Rashkis of Farwell Rashkis LLP understands the value of individualized service. That’s why, when business grew and his team started receiving more calls than they could personally handle, Craig turned to Ruby.

We spoke to this long-time customer about why he relies on Ruby to connect with his clients, as well as how our virtual receptionist solution ensured an easy transition to running a virtual practice.

Read the interview.

Jill McKenna: Hello. Thanks for joining me today. I am Jill McKenna, the Brand Manager here at Ruby, and I’m delighted to be speaking today to Craig Rashkis. Craig is a partner at Farwell Rashkis, LLP. Craig, do you mind telling us a little bit about what you do and what your work is?

Craig Rashkis:
Absolutely. Well, thank you for having me Jill. It’s a pleasure to have an opportunity to speak with you and talk a little bit about Ruby, and the services, and how we utilize it, and our thoughts on all that. But I’m a lawyer, and I’m a partner in the law firm of Farwell Rashkis. We are a general civil law firm and we represent businesses, families, and individuals, and what I tend to say are the big three areas of business, real estate, and estate planning, and we provide representation in both transactional and litigation situations.

Jill McKenna:
I imagine with so much that’s changed in real estate and business over this last year and a half, that you all have maybe seen an increase in business and maybe an increase in the kind of client service that you provide.

Craig Rashkis:
You know, it’s interesting. I think as everybody in the entire world wondered a little over a year ago, what did the future hold, we wondered the same. And initially when all the shutdowns occurred … Well number one, I think like again most everybody we did make a shift to working from home. In California, where our firm’s located, we were classified as an essential worker due to the type of matters that we handle, so we could be a little more fluid. We could be in the office or work from home, but we definitely did work home.
And I’m happy to say that we … Well, that move in general, being able to work from home, really was seamless when we reflect on our use of Ruby. Because, as you well know, a client of Ruby can be anywhere and the service still works, and you don’t have to be in your office. We actually run all of our communications off of our cell phones so, again, we’re very portable, very mobile. And I think we could say it’s one of the highlights I think for us because we’ve been a client with Ruby for at this point a very long time, at least in our eyes, a little over a decade, it was just confirmation really of how valuable the service is to us.

Jill McKenna:
What’s the main problem that you were trying to solve when you went searching for a solution like Ruby so long ago?

Craig Rashkis:
Well, I would say that there were two primary needs that we were seeking to address when we became aware of Ruby and then obviously we ultimately decided to use Ruby. And that was, we were trying to find a solution to literally just answer our incoming calls and do it in a way, the second part was really just do it in a way that had some personality to it and I think reflected the type of firm that we wanted to be at the time. I’d like to think that many of our clients would say that, yes, we’ve achieved this goal, and that is being personal. In fact, we tend to market ourselves from time to time as personal counsel, and it definitely has a meaning in the legal arena—not a formal one, but an informal meaning. But for us it is that idea of being personal, being approachable, and customer service, things like that. We knew initially when we started out, at the time it was just my law partner and myself, we knew that we would have the time to answer incoming calls as they came in. But we also I guess hoped, and we had a relative level of confidence, that at some point as we began to get traction and become successful and the practice got established, that there would be a point in time we wouldn’t be able to just answer incoming calls as they came. So I think as most diligent business owners, we were looking for that solution early on.

Jill McKenna:
How has Ruby improved your day to day? How has it solved the initial problems you thought it would, and how has it maybe grown with you?

Craig Rashkis:
Well, I think that now that our firm is established and we’ve grown, it isn’t just my law partner and myself, we have other lawyers who work with us, support staff. We get calls from an array of different people. On some days, or quote-unquote, we’re getting calls all day long, but some days we don’t. But the bottom line is, we get calls from current clients, prospective clients, other lawyers, courts, administrative agencies, expert witnesses, and consultants that we’re working with. I mean we even get calls from solicitors and misdials.

So that to us is a reflection of the fact that we’re established, we’re an established business, and people know who we are, and how to get to us, and all that. So having Ruby there has really become a seamless part of our firm’s daily function in the sense that we never think about or worry about how our phones are getting answered. When a prospective client calls Ruby will, through a series of questions or just interacting with that person, when they identify the caller as being a prospective client that actually gets formally earmarked and we get that… Well, we get it in an email.

But I think at this point we interact with mobile apps so much that we see that on the mobile app. It actually has an icon that says “Lead” on it, and that’s always nice to know. We see that, “Oh.” You can just recognize it from the icon that you’ve got potential new business. We have our own process for handling that, and it’s just nice that, again, Ruby’s providing a service that just works hand-in-hand in terms of allowing us to be as efficient as possible.

Jill McKenna:
That’s great. I love to hear that experience. You also touched on something else I think we’re really proud of as a benefit. When folks call into you, your clients or your perspective new clients call into you, with Ruby they don’t necessarily know that they’re not calling your office because we do have that sort of personal connection. We make a connection with the person, and it’s not obvious that they’re calling an answering service or anything like an answering service. There’s definitely the elevated aspect of client care there, which I as somebody who’s an advocate of small business, highly value. So I’m glad to hear that.

Craig Rashkis:
My quote-unquote funny story is, way back when we first started with Ruby, we had the option to have the receptionist literally say whatever we wanted them to say. And I know in large part that’s still the case. But what we actually did is, we had the receptionist just say, “This is Ruby.” Right? Somebody would call and they’d answer, the receptionist at Ruby would answer the phone and say, “Farwell Rashkis. This is Ruby. How may I help you?” I cannot tell you, for the first few years I think almost without exception, a client that had called our office even if it was more than one time and spoken to a receptionist with Ruby, and then inevitably came into our office maybe to sign some documents or to have a meeting, they would come in and they would look around and they’d say, “Well, where’s Ruby?”

And we would have to say, “Well, Ruby actually is not on site. Ruby is offsite in the state of Oregon.” And in the best kind of way, every time the client would react to that and say, “I can’t believe that.” They were amazed but, again, in kind of that wonderfully pleasantly surprised kind of way, that a remote reception service was so convincing that they were right there in the office. Even now even though as Ruby has grown and now the receptionists just use their own name, from time to time we still get that question. “Oh, you don’t… Where’s your receptionist?” And we still get to tell that story. But I think for the first few years, again, well almost every time we had somebody come in the office who had first called us they would always ask, “Where’s Ruby?”

Jill McKenna:
If folks want to find you all at Farwell Rashkis, where can they go to and where can they find out more?

Craig Rashkis:
We will have the new website up hopefully shortly, and you can find us on the web at FarwellRashkis.com. That’s all one word. It’s F-A-R-W-E-L-L-R-A-S-H-K-I-S.com, and always with anything if you do an internet search you’re bound to find us on LinkedIn, or some other forums, and other websites.

Jill McKenna:
Fantastic. Thank you so much for your time today. It’s just been a joy to speak with you, and I wish you all the best.

Craig Rashkis:
Thank you. My pleasure. Have a wonderful day.

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All businesses have been deeply impacted by the last year, but people-focused work, such as that of the legal industry, has had to morph at warp speed, embracing technology and makeshift solutions to keep moving important legal work forward.

In this second part of our discussion, Houston-based attorney Ashton Taylor of the A. Taylor Law Firm tells us more about the unique problems lawyers have navigated in recent months.

Read the Interview

Jill McKenna: Something else you said made me think of an experience I had as a small business owner and I think a lot of other small business owners do too. And I’m wondering how you saw this evolve or if you do see it. So when people hear small business owner, they for some reason always think that means successful and wealthy. Like that means we’re just thriving. And I’m sure even more so as a lawyer. So what do you wish people understood about being a small business owner and a small business lawyer?

Ashton Taylor:
Yeah, I think that it’s a great question. And just the expenses that we have, the overhead, as I mentioned earlier, you have to have somewhere to work. You can’t, because like you mentioned that earlier, I had an issue with a… I had a court case with an Attorney General. Now, they work for the government, but they still have their kids at home also. So it’s just a big challenge. And so to answer your question specifically, yes, I do believe that they have to understand that we still have to pay the overheads and we have the expenses. And at the end of the year, when we do our taxes, that profit isn’t really there all the time. It’s just, I mean, I know I used to hear that a successful business doesn’t make a profit for three to five years.

Now, I can’t quote where that came from, but I’ve always heard that. And so I’m in my 10th year yet and I’m still waiting for the huge profit. And so I just wish people would understand that we need support. The support staff, that’s why I love Ruby because I’m able to kind of push my phone calls off. Not push them off, but you get it. People want to hear a live voice. I mean, that’s definitely your business model, that’s why it’s great. And I don’t have time to answer the phone all the time. That’s one thing I will say too, not even a financial thing. People think because you have your own business, you’re an entrepreneur, you have all this time in the world to talk or to handle this or to answer this question and to be flexible with the prices and with the payment plan. Like you said, “You’re a lawyer, you have all this money, just give me a break.” But no, that’s not the actual factuals.

Jill McKenna:
No. And from the work you do, it’s obvious that you do it, and there’s so many lawyers who do, who do it because they believe in it. They believe in the work. They believe in the people and the representation that they can offer, which people forget about. So what has changed about the way that you physically work day to day now with COVID?

Ashton Taylor:
Well, I’m working from an office, but it’s not my home. And so that’s different, and then we don’t go to court. And so we do a lot of Zoom, just like this, a lot of Microsoft Teams. But even that is challenging because the normal thing was when I would go to court, I practice in a couple of different counties. So one county outside of the county that I actually… My office is, is about 40 miles away. And so you would think, okay, that’s easier now because you can kind of… But the judges, they don’t have a lot more leniency of running late. I’m running late or I’m in another county. They all automatically think, well, you can be on. So sometimes I’ll have, like right now I have an iPad, MacBook, and I have to be on hearings, muting at the same time.

And it’s almost like not only do you have to be an attorney, you have to have great technology. Also, you have to have high, high speed internet because they don’t want you in a hearing where it’s buffering and all that. And that’s an increase in cost. Like I mentioned, I’m blessed to have two computers. I know it may be some lawyers, business owners that can’t even afford that. And the thing is you have to have good technology. You can’t just have a computer these days, because you have to have a computer with great access, high speed internet, no cookies popping up and all of that. You have to have the best Zoom and it’s just, it’s the technology and the cost has just drastically went up.

Jill McKenna:
That’s incredible. It’s something I didn’t think about of the needing… Now that everybody thinks, well you’re just always available because you’re in one place, I didn’t think about what that would mean for lawyers of this constantly being on sort of a feeling. Whereas before, you could have been driving to court or from court or take some phone calls in the car or whatever, that seems like it must all be gone now.

Ashton Taylor:
It’s over. It’s over. And you can do it, but like I said, if you’re driving and I’m on a CPS hearing, a real serious hearing and I’m buffering while I’m driving. So it’s like, yeah, it’s definitely, I mean, it’s challenging. It is really challenging. I do think that it can be efficient, but it won’t be efficient for another year or two. Because I do like the fact that I can log on and I don’t have to go to a five minute hearing, 40 miles away. I do like that. But at the same time, you definitely have to be prepared for that with the technology and the time management and things of that sort. And like you said, not having my kid in the background on his class, his Microsoft class.

Jill McKenna:
Yeah, that’s a whole thing.

Ashton Taylor:
Yes, yes, yes.

Jill McKenna:
That’s interesting because all the research I’ve done into the legal industry and the changes have all said exactly what you just said, which is like this huge vanguard of need for technology that isn’t necessarily there for the industry yet. And so everybody’s just kind of band-aiding solutions together until something better appears or somebody learns how to do things better. But I mean, that’s a major pillar of our country, the legal system that is operating this way. It’s incredible.

Ashton Taylor:
Exactly, exactly. So I do also, I didn’t mention this, but I do a lot of, a ton of mediation. And the mediation part of it with this is great, because a lot of judges, they don’t want cases to be heard. They don’t want long, lengthy trials. Like right now, because you can’t even have jury trials in a lot of places. So if we can get it taken care of in the mediation part or the arbitration part outside of court, I think that’s going forward, I think a lot of judges in the legal industry will start pushing more on that end of it.

But that, you have to have great technology because when I first tried to do my first one, I didn’t even know how to put people in different rooms and because it’s confidential. So if you mess up and have somebody, a dad in a room hear something that mom says that’s supposed to be confidential, that’s a major… That might be an ethical violation. So yeah, I mean, I hate to keep harping on the technology and having it. I’m almost wanting to hire someone to come in and make sure everything is good.

Jill McKenna:
Last question. You’ve mentioned some things that have had to change and some things that you’ve found solutions for, but in this last year, are there changes and realizations that you’re glad have come about? Or solutions that you’ve found or things that are really working that you hope never change?

Ashton Taylor:
Yeah. I love the DocuSigns of the world, the Dropboxes, the iClouds. I had a young associate, I’m 43, so I had a young associate who’s in college. She’s like 19. She would always laugh at me because I have a whole stack of papers. And she’s just like, “You need to learn Dropbox and Google.” What’s it called? Google’s Teams. I don’t know. I don’t even know. But yeah, I love the… I complain about the technology, but I love it. Because once you have the good technology where I can look up a case on my phone at dinner, or everything’s connected with the iPad, the iPhone, and everything’s connected. And they’re uploading it at the same time. But as far as the apps, the Zoom and the DocuSign has been great, especially the DocuSign. The DocuSign is just a hidden gem that is just… Now, I really, I do think that company, everybody invest a lot of money in that company because I don’t think they’re going anywhere anytime soon.

I just think that just the business that you guys have, it’s been great for me personally. This is my second time speaking with someone from your organization and the level, I don’t know if I would have made it. And this is not a commercial or whatever for Ruby, but I would not have made it without having Ruby. And that’s the technology side of it too, just being able to get an email or a text to say somebody just called, a live person spoke with them. It goes a long way. It goes a long way and I would just encourage you guys to just keep hammering that into your marketing, that people want to talk to people, at the end of the day.

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Diversity Marketing and Business Consultant Michelle Ngome has seen an increase in business this last year as companies are being thoughtful about how they reflect the world they want to live in and the organizations they want to be.

In this first of our three-part discussion with Michelle, she explains what Diversity Marketing is and outlines important points to consider when creating an inclusive marketing presence.

Read the interview.

Jill McKenna: Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining us here. My name is Jill McKenna. I’m the campaign marketing manager at Ruby, and I’m joined today by Michelle Ngome. I’m deeply excited to have you here, thanks for being here. Michelle is a diversity and inclusion marketing consultant, the founder of the African American Marketing Association, author and podcaster, wearing many hats. Michelle, thank you for being here. Can you explain a little bit more about your work for our audience?

Michelle Ngome:
Yes, thanks for having me. I help large organizations look at diversity and inclusion from a marketing perspective. Everyone’s doing marketing in some capacity, I’m making sure that your content and your visuals show diversity and inclusion in all of your marketing material for your campaigns.

Jill McKenna:
I imagine that your work has really changed in the last year with shifts to social awareness, social justice, initiatives that have happened as a culture. Can you explain a little bit more about how you are seeing companies embracing inclusive marketing now?

Michelle Ngome:
Yeah, I think the companies have definitely become a lot more aware since June 1st. I think it’s always been affirmative action/diversity, equity and inclusion, or diversity, inclusion and belonging, each company has their own name for it. I think it’s always been a component, but since June 1st it’s definitely gone in hyper-awareness mode. I definitely see companies making strides as far as galvanizing their own employees to say like, “Hey, what are we doing? What are we doing wrong? How can we do better?” And then, of course, hiring experts to come in and assess what that process.

Jill McKenna:
Yeah, I can see how you would have amplified your business because those are a lot of questions in a lot of areas that that companies need to cover.

Michelle Ngome:
Yeah. I think the unique thing about me, I say that I look at diversity and inclusion from a marketing perspective. I don’t have an HR background, I haven’t done talent recruiting and all that kind of stuff, but I have expertise in finance and marketing that overlaps when it comes to trends, reading reports and stuff like that. But I realized that the marketing department wasn’t talking to the HR department. In order for you to have an inclusive campaign, I think it starts from the inside of the organization, so that’s how I go in and help teams. I prefer working with the marketing team, but I’m like, “Hey, now that we’ve got this together, we need to work with the HR team.” That’s what I assist with.

Jill McKenna:
To that point, if people are wondering, is this for me, is this something I need, what is this exactly, can you explain a little bit more about inclusive marketing and exactly what it is for those who aren’t sure of the definition?

Michelle Ngome:
Yeah. Inclusive marketing is about creating an internal environment that’s going to allow for you to have a successful marketing campaign, because the marketing campaign is the external output that you’re promoting your company, brand awareness, sales, whatever the objective may be. What I realized is that there was a lack of representation or misrepresentation when it comes to Blacks and other minorities, but I feel that if you’re creating the environment where Black and Brown people are in the process, the decision making process of your campaign, that would help with the inclusiveness.

Jill McKenna:
That makes a lot of sense. I think it’s something that we see a lot as consumers too. A different example is I remember I used to watch really heavy gaming, like people win millions of dollars playing video games, and I noticed that all that was happening was this was being marketed to men. I was like, “You’re missing 50% of your customer base,” and so it’s only logical to think about not only doing it for the right reasons because we want to be inclusive, but you’re also cutting yourself off at the knees if you’re not thinking about the wider audience. Do you run into that a lot?

Michelle Ngome:
Oh yeah, absolutely. I think it’s one of those things, for so long it’s been the white audience is the mainstream audience, it’s mainstream America. I think most companies have looked at it just very broad and people are going to fall in where they fall in, if they like the product, they like the product, but lately we’ve been seeing where representation matters. Also, with that representation, you have a large number of Black and Brown people that are wealthy, that have disposable income. Nelson Media reports when you look at Black consumers, Latinx consumers, Asians, and even people with disabilities, each of those groups spend a trillion dollars in consumer spending. Your brand, your product caters to them, but they want to see themselves in their marketing because then it’s like, “Oh, I need that. I relate to him, her,” or whatever. Then, “I want to buy a house. I need to sell a house,” it’s like, “I see myself driving that car or wearing that makeup. All of those things are important and I just want to encourage individuals, even small business owners as well as the larger companies, that let’s be mindful of that moving forward.

Jill McKenna:
Are there other fundamentals of inclusive marketing that people should be keeping in mind when they’re doing this work or starting to look at themselves through this lens?

Michelle Ngome:
I think that’s why it’s important to create your team. I think diversity comes in an array of ways, diversity of thought, experience, socioeconomic, education, location. Diversity goes beyond race, we have religion, we have culture, and so many things. You want to bring those people to the table. You need to create that environment where individuals on your team feel like they can contribute, they can speak up when it comes to creating these marketing campaigns or even these job descriptions, that you, once again, hire the right people. That way, anything that goes out, it’s like your team has some input and it’s a representation of your company, of your work culture. I feel like for the longest we have lost sight of that, so I’m always encouraging people to be mindful of that.

Jill McKenna:
For marketing, beyond using stock photos of Black, Indigenous, and people of color, what can marketing teams do to also be creating that reach?

Michelle Ngome:
Yeah. Let me say this with the stock photos, because that is tricky, because the stock photo platforms are not that diverse in itself so that can be a challenge. If you’re able to create original photos, the best way possible during this time, I would definitely encourage you to do that. Some other ways, there’s actually a company in Portland right now, Intuitive Digital, I think they’re doing a great job. They’re a great example, where they did hire a consultant. They have this on their website and I think that’s what I loved about it. You see how they’re doing the work and they’re tracking it. They did hire a consultant, resources that they tapped into, they started a scholarship, an essay scholarship specifically for minority candidates. Those are the three things that I can remember right now. I think that’s the start. Once again, if you’re in Timbuktu, North Carolina, if you’re not in a major city where maybe there’s not a large Black population or a Black marketing population, you’ve got to get creative. You’ve got to find other ways to support the Black Lives Matter movement or just minorities in general.

Jill McKenna:
Thank you so much. I have just enjoyed myself so much. I’m really appreciative of your time. If people want to find out more about you, where can they go?

Michelle Ngome:
Yes. MichelleNgome.com, Line25Consulting.com is my company. You can pretty much find me, first and last name, Michelle Ngome, N-G-O-M-E. I’ll say follow me on Instagram for the cool stuff, Facebook for the real stuff, and LinkedIn for the professional stuff.

Jill McKenna:
Perfect. Thank you so much, thanks for your time.

Michelle Ngome:
You’re welcome.

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Business and marketing consultant Melissa Barker has something of a cult following, and for good reason. Her experience navigating large projects and optimizing digital strategy, growth, and visibility makes her a go-to consultant for business of all kinds—and that means she’s perpetually in demand.

In this discussion with Melissa, we learn how to balance multiple high-end clients, manage expectations effectively, and build trusting relationships that translate into revenue.

Read the interview.

Jill McKenna: Hi, everybody. I am Jill McKenna. I’m the brand marketing manager here at Ruby, and I’m so delighted to be speaking with my friend Melissa Barker today. Melissa is a digital marketing consultant. She’s also an author and a jack of all trades. Melissa, do you mind talking to us a little bit about what you do?

Melissa Barker:
Thank you so much for having me. My name is Melissa Barker, and I am a digital marketing consultant, as Jill mentioned, as well as the author of the first college textbook on social media marketing. Really, my specialty is working with tech companies with their digital marketing strategies, as well as small business owners—helping them with their marketing sales and scaling best practices and figuring out how to grow their business.

Jill McKenna:
We’ve had the joy to work with you in the past and have had just an incredible experience. And I’m so delighted that we’ve been able to do that and that I get to speak with you again.

Melissa Barker:
Wonderful. I so appreciate it, too.

Jill McKenna:
I know that business services clients often come with high expectations and sometimes high dollars attached to them. Can you speak a little bit about developing and managing those unique and special relationships?

Melissa Barker:
Absolutely. So the business service clients are absolutely my favorite in terms of those to work with. But like you said, they definitely come with different relationship dynamics, especially with larger organizations where you generally don’t have just one point of contact, but you need to be building relationships throughout the organization at large. So the biggest things that I recommend around this is really getting clear on how you are building credibility. So showing previous client examples, having those references, but then also building trust. And so when we’re thinking about really building and developing trust with bigger clients, it’s all about delivering high quality work, strategic recommendations, and then delivering those on time. So, yes, you need to deliver quickly, but you can’t let the quality of your work suffer.
 
In terms of actually managing the relationship, there are three things that I always recommend, especially when you start with a new client. First is to get a clear understanding of the expectations the client has in terms of how frequently you need to be communicating, because there’s a lot of variety in that, in my experience. Some clients want to talk to you every single day; others say, “Hey, here’s the project. I’ll talk to you when it’s done.”
 
[You also have to] understand their preferred methods of communication. For some of my bigger clients, they have me on Slack, so they have that really high-touch, frequent access to me. Other clients, on the other hand, are really happy with email. So, it’s not only understanding how frequently they want to be speaking with you, but also what is their preferred method of communication.
 
And then, finally making sure that you’re integrating within their team. Even if your point of contact does not necessarily say, “hey, set up meetings with everybody on the team,” if there are names that keep coming up in those initial conversations, or people whose work you know you’re going to have to learn more about, being proactive in having those conversations, setting up those meetings, and building those relationships from the beginning.

Jill McKenna:
It sounds like you attack it from the get-go, but mindfully, and respond to what it is that they need and they’re looking for.

Melissa Barker:
Yeah, absolutely. And really focusing on developing a relationship that has the potential to be a long-term relationship, so you become that trusted provider that they reach out to whenever they have a question. If you’re a little bit more relaxed about building that relationship at the beginning, they may or may not come back to you in the future.

Jill McKenna:
That makes sense. It makes a lot of sense. What type of client experience and service standards do your customers tend to expect? Because I’m sure that they’ve not only worked with you in the past as a consultant, but other folks as well.

Melissa Barker:
Yeah, absolutely. And there are the fundamentals of creating great service, which is that quick turnaround, really high quality work, delivering, developing against your timeline every single time. But in addition to that, there are five things that I always recommend for service providers, especially when it’s a high-dollar client or someone that you’re looking to build that long-term relationship with. First is getting comfortable using their tools and systems. Oftentimes I find that service providers don’t necessarily want to integrate or learn all those tools, but it is worth that time investment, especially for your high dollar clients. Because of that, I’ve learned things like Basecamp, Asana, monday.com. So getting really comfortable with all the different project management tools. And it will be really worth that time investment for you as a provider as well because inevitably there will be other clients who use them too.
 
Second: make sure that your recommendations in whatever type of service you’re providing really fits within what they’re capable of, their scope, the budget that the client has said they have, the people, the staff, the budget—because oftentimes what I see with a lot of my one-on-one business coaching clients that are also service providers is that they’ll make these really big complex recommendations, or they’ll make recommendations that are smaller than what the client wants. And both of those leave your client in a very strange position where they can’t really implement your recommendation. So, be mindful to fit within the scope that you get from the beginning.
 
Third is make sure you’re reporting on impact, or showing them how to report on the impact of what you’re providing. And not just telling them the quantitative story, but really getting into the qualitative side and giving some analysis around whatever metrics and numbers you pull, and telling that story. Creating the story for the client is super critical.
 
Fourth is make sure that when you’re delivering your recommendations, you leave your client feeling really empowered to follow through. Because I think it’s easy to come in and say, “Here’s everything you’re doing wrong,” versus coming in and saying, “Hey, here’s the baseline and here’s the opportunity.” So I think, again, not framing the recommendation, making sure that you can take it from that 50,000-foot view, and give the exact steps that they need to follow to be able to implement your recommendations.
 
And then last is treating their business like your own—really taking the time to understand the client, the history, the product or services that they offer can make you really valuable. Because when consultants come in, for any kind of business services, and they’re giving all these recommendations, but they don’t fully understand the history of your business or the nature of your products completely or your industry, it really makes it hard for the client to want to follow through on the recommendations. So again, that upfront time investment. Even if they’re not asking, even if it’s not billable hours, doing your homework and really thoroughly researching the business ahead of time, or asking those correct questions from the get-go can make you feel like a part of their team.

Jill McKenna:
That’s very thorough, and it is obvious that you’ve developed that over time in working closely with some of these people.

Melissa Barker:
Thank you. Yeah, it’s been a learning experience, too, because I think initially I maybe didn’t do all of those things, but as time went on, I’m learning the importance of yes, a little extra upfront time investment in learning their systems and being willing to integrate, make a big, big difference.

Jill McKenna:
And once you work with your clients over a period of time and over years, how do those relationships tend to change or more for what do they need later on?

Melissa Barker:
The biggest thing I’ve noticed over time is that I get brought into lots of different kinds of marketing projects, or things that even maybe sometimes fall a little outside of marketing because they want to work with the same people, right? Because there’s that foundational understanding of the business, they trust the quality of the work that they’re going to be getting. So sometimes I’m actually learning some things in the process as well, to be able to fully serve the client in the way that they’re asking for.
 
But I think the biggest changes over time are really that, there’s less negotiation actually in the proposals. They’ll sometimes even tell you the budget and say, “Hey, what can you do with this amount? How much can you fulfill of this?” And so it becomes less of a negotiation and really trying to prove credibility, but there’s that high degree of trust already. So it’s really about making sure that you understand what their needs are and you can deliver against it. And then I think the way that the needs change are really just that they sometimes actually end up meeting more tactical support. So once you’ve given them the strategy, they’re coming back to you and saying, “Hey, could you actually help us with certain parts of implementation?” And if there’s that element that you actually do offer, it’s a really wonderful, longer term relationship opportunity.

Jill McKenna:
I’m sure that that serves you both really well. That’s great. Great. Thank you so much for your time, Melissa. I appreciate you so much. And if people want to find more about your work, where should they go to?

Melissa Barker:
You can find me at melissabarker.com. You’re also welcome to add me on LinkedIn. I’m Melissa Barker there as well. Either is great, but I always love to connect with folks, especially those who come from Ruby, and these conversations are always wonderful to have.

Jill McKenna:
Great. Thank you so much, Melissa.

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Some months into COVID and work-from-home, I was taking a meeting from my bed. I’m generally exiled to my bedroom, as my six-year-old is simultaneously schooling from home, and with four classes per day, sometimes hours apart, her non-class time is spent spread out playing in the common areas while listening to kids’ podcasts. On that day, while I was speaking in the meeting, my child wandered into my room, grinning, with green marker all over her face, eyelids, lips, and neck. It was a new bead on a string of parent-life and work-life collisions that now happen regularly.  

I sighed and kept speaking.

I can’t complain. In all, she is a joy and an easy kid. She’s generally happy, I can mostly figure out what she needs, ands she has a rich imagination she can occupy herself with.

But when I first began working from home, I was suffering from COVID. Living in the Pacific Northwest, I was an early case; too early for testing, and when antibody tests came out, too far past infection to measure for those. But doctors noted my inability to draw anything but shallow breath, as well as a decreased blood oxygen level, severe lethargy, fatigue, muscle weakness, kidney pain, blinding chronic migraines, confusion, sinus difficulties, and inability to smell, and they concluded I was an extreme case. Still suffering, in the same way, six months later, I was diagnosed as a long-hauler

At this time last March, I also experienced grief over the fact that I could no longer work how I used to. The number of plates I could spin reduced by a third to half depending on the day or week—sometimes more. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone in this regard at work, and my colleagues supported me. But there is no adjustment to an unsustainable reality. While I was trying to get “ahead” by making dinner for us during lunch, walking the dog, and reading to my child all within an hour, I wasn’t registering that intense productivity at all. I was erasing it, concentrating only on what I wasn’t doing. And somehow, through illness, I kept working and parenting full time. During the worst months, I often had to call a friend to come make dinner and play with my child because I couldn’t stand up or lift my arms.

Still, I could recline with a computer on my lap, weak arms propped on pillows. And though I was completing task after task at work by computing when my child was asleep and before waking, I dismissed the value in it. All I could see is where I was falling down. Like so many, I couldn’t keep the house clean like I did before. I couldn’t find time to recenter myself or feel like anything but a brain at a computer and a parent trying to meet needs, day after day. It was hard to find any personal meaning or value in the haze of chronic productivity.

“One thing that has saved me is TikTok. Really.”

“One thing that has saved me is TikTok. Really.”

As the months dripped by, that haze and that constant feeling—the feeling that I was never close to the waterline, let alone above it—became totally blurred by a smear of work and life enmeshment. My computer was always open. I was constantly monitoring what was happening and ready for an extra 15 minutes of work whenever I could manage. My health finally picked up a bit in summer, but I immediately did too much in an attempt to catch up to some imaginary bar I had set for myself, and my health went into a tailspin again in autumn. 

In this cloud and always sitting on the brink, the ways I thought about myself and reflected on my life evolved at a crawl. One thing that has saved me and served as a mirror, aside from amazing friends, is TikTok.  

Yes, TikTok. 

In March of 2020 I found myself cranking through story after story on TikTok—not only content creators doing clever dances and creating happy trends, but moms working from home, trying to do everything, feeling like no matter what they were failing, always dressed in yesterday’s sweats; juggling a kid, a phone, a computer, laundry, snacks, a dog, dishes. And yet, still knowing what shoe size their kid was in and when they would need to upgrade, still setting up and getting their kids to doctor appointments, still reading parenting books, still working with their kids to build their emotional IQs and help them through quarantine, still sending out birthday cards, still scheduling virtual playdates, still making holidays special for children. 

One day a friend listened to me as I cried recounting all the ways in which I felt like I was failing and how at sea I felt floating among it all, and very far from the fulfilling creative projects I had abandoned. She reminded me that I was measuring myself through an impossible lens, a lens solely focused on productivity, and one that says nothing about the quality of a person, their soul, their evolution, their growth or development. It struck me in that second, as though my head knew that—that the target always moves, and enough is never enough—but my heart was late to the integration. 

Over on my beloved TikTok, other people—and especially moms—are starting to connect that messaging too. People are raising the idea of a four-day workweek, for example, or more vacation time, more time self-development, more time for being filled up as a person. These sorts of changes could transform the world, the habits, and the model our children inherit for the better.

It’s curious to see this connection and mental shift, which looks like a collective realization—one that has shaped in the wake of feeling like we are chronically falling short, because maybe, probably, it isn’t us. Maybe it’s the untenable expectations to be perfectly ideal parents and chronically productive, all of the time. Those expectations don’t serve us in our current reality—nor, likely, our future. 

“We are continually told that we are the flaw. That if we just got up a half-hour earlier, read those books, watched a certain webinar, stopped buying avocado toast…”

“We are continually told that we are the flaw. That if we just got up a half-hour earlier, read those books, watched a certain webinar, stopped buying avocado toast…”

My brother-in-law is a Deputy Chief in the Fire Department of a major city. He’s second in line, managing city catastrophes and hearing FEMA’s plans, thinking, and processes during national and local cataclysms. He has always maintained our country is two simultaneous disasters away from total fallout. After this last year, it’s clear most of our lives are like that too. We’re so chronically taxed, racing, wildly chasing mechanical hares, stretching for brass rings that are purposely unattainable, that when stresses pile on, we are in a state of shock and dither or overcompensation and performative busy-ness until we swallow the knot in our throat and have the courage to realize: it isn’t us falling down, it isn’t us that’s failing.    

We are continually told by media, blogs, influencers, that we are the flaw. That if we just got up a half-hour earlier, read those books, watched a certain webinar, stopped buying avocado toast, and so on endlessly, that then, and only then, would we be deemed “highly-functioning.” This mode of mentality erases everything else we do, and the places where we have soul-worth; worth for ourselves outside of external validation, which might be meaningful, or not. It inhibits our ability to be real people who come into union with ourselves and our personal sense of curiosity and interests; people who are free to revel in hobbies, who have regular and sustained joy for joy’s sake, who are sparked by wonder and throw themselves into exploration.   

Work can, of course, fulfill us, but not totally, and parenting can fill us up, but not all the way. We need our hands in the earth, planting and tending, or our minds creating open-ended paths for projects, exploring ideas, stringing together our own words, or wondering, or woodworking, or reading, or resting, or programming something just for the joy and exploration that feeds us alone. 

“Work can fulfill us, but not totally, and parenting can fill us up, but not all the way.”

“Work can fulfill us, but not totally, and parenting can fill us up, but not all the way.”

This moment has unfolded as an opportunity to reimagine our whole world. We can spend more time on what we love, even if it doesn’t have a measurable impact of some kind—especially if it doesn’t. We can make the work-at-all-costs attitude a relic of the “Before Times.” We have a singular chance to create a foundation and show our communities, children, and loved ones what it means to keep growing, evolving, and developing, modeling curiosity and depth that we can portray and share. 

I hope we sustain and retain the idea to let go of telling each other what we do, and start finding out who we want to be and are becoming, outside of productivity, far outside of what is measurable; wonder for wonder’s sake.

This last year has vibrantly reflected so many absurdities and traps of output-at-all-costs, and thankfully connected my head to my heart in this regard, altering not only my own measurements for success, wholeness, and worth, but that of many others, and I hope that understanding is something that becomes highly communicable… in a good way. 

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Marketing agencies, IT services, design and development firms, video studios, consultants—the world of business-to-business services has changed radically in recent times. As clients approach their trusted service providers, they do so with new needs, new demands, and historically high expectations. How can businesses best satisfy and retain clients who are counting on them?

We sat down with Justin Dunham from Ercule, a full-service content and search engine optimization agency, to find out how he’s adapted his business and stayed on top of evolving client expectations.

Read the interview

Jill McKenna: Hello, everyone. I’m Jill. I’m the brand manager here at Ruby. And I’m so delighted to be speaking with Justin Dunham today. Justin is owner of ércule. Justin, do you mind explaining a little bit about your work and what ércule does?

Justin Dunham:
Yeah. So, ércule is a boutique digital marketing agency and our mission is to make it so that your content is successful. One of the things we’ve noticed is that people can write and produce all kinds of things, but there’s so many other things that you need to know to actually translate what you write and create into success. We do a lot of SEO for clients. We do a lot of content strategy, and we situate that in a full-service agency. We often do things, like marketing operations and analytics, too, and even paid media for folks as well. That’s what we do.
 
Jill McKenna:
I know business services clients can often come with high expectations and sometimes high dollars attached to them. Can you speak a little bit about developing those unique relationships and managing them?
 
Justin Dunham:
The number one thing we’ve found in this business is it’s all about creating that personal connection. You just can’t templatize everything. It has to be about the people who you’re dealing with on the client side and the people that you are dealing with on the agency side, and the relationship between those people. And of course, it’s about the work, but the relationship has to be really good for it to be successful.
 
So in terms of managing these projects, I think a lot of it is the emotional energy that you bring to the interactions with people. It’s being responsive to what they’re looking for. It’s being willing to sometimes not necessarily go way beyond the scope of what you’ve been hired for, but trying to be as responsive as you can to all kinds of unexpected or perhaps even uncommon things that might come up during the process. And your job as somebody who’s in client service is to do the best you can to actually help the client with that problem and help them look really good at work.
 
Jill McKenna:
But how do those relationships change over time and through multiple projects? Because you can have these relationships for a very long time. So how does that evolve?
 
Justin Dunham:
I think the way those relationships evolve, hopefully they get a little bit deeper. And as a result, they get more efficient. So I can think about lots of examples where we’ve been hired to work in one very specific area and it becomes possible to expand that work or deliver more value for our client because we’ve gotten to know them in this one area. We know their approach. We understand their business. We can work together well with them. And that lets us work on other things that might be more challenging or that might be adjacent to what we were originally working on.
 
And that’s what you really want. And that’s a huge part of this business is being able to evolve the relationship in that way. I think the other thing that happens too, is your client hopefully becomes an expert in a lot of these areas along with you. Or maybe not an expert-expert, but part of job as working in client service is to really help educate them. And so, they’re asking better questions. And so they can work with you on getting deeper and deeper into the real challenges, the real places that you might be able to create value for them.
 
Jill McKenna:
So, what kind of client experience and service standards do your customers tend to expect and how is that driven by that relationship that you’ve explained?
 
Justin Dunham:
We’re an agency with a real focus on partnership. We’ve had clients who have engaged us and a big reason has been, hey, we’re not talking to your salesperson. We know we’re talking to the actual team that we’re going to be working with. And that’s a big deal for our folks. So in terms of how the engagement works, we always try… And again, let me know if I’m giving you the answer that you are looking for here. In terms of the way the engagement works, there’s a lot of responsiveness in terms of, for example, all of our clients have their own Slack channel with directly with us. And we don’t have an SLA. You know, we don’t say like, we’re going to get back to you in an hour or two. It might take longer than that. But just having that channel where they can actually really talk with us at any time they want, even if we don’t respond right away, makes a big difference.
 
So I think that’s part the engagement and that’s part of creating that relationship with them. I think the other thing is, of course, you have your weekly meetings and there’s all sorts of other things, too. When we do reporting with our clients and updates, our decks are always in the same format. They’re really easy to read. We think a lot about the user experience that our clients are going to have in terms of parsing the data that we’re giving them. A lot of agencies, we’ve seen them send clients like Excel spreadsheets that are not very well-organized or long memos that are not formatted or not well-written. Writing is a really key part of communicating as well, especially digitally and in digital marketing with clients. And so good writing, good, well-structured writing is also a really important part of that.
 
Jill McKenna:
What do you wish people knew about business services work and what you all do and what this is really like, tending those relationships every day?
 
Justin Dunham:
I wish people knew that business services is this: To do it well is this incredibly complicated and often very fun—a combination of technical expertise, which you have to bring to the table. You have to know what you’re doing, that’s what you’re being hired for. But together with that, there’s a big emotional component to it, which is around explaining what you’re doing and why it’s valuable, being responsive to what your clients, perhaps their fears about what might happen with a project or even what might be going on with their business. And also responsive to the fact that usually clients hire you because they don’t know very much about a certain area and they don’t have the expertise.
 
You have to find a way to communicate that to them and help them understand more and feel really good about what you’re doing for them, knowing that by definition they’re not in a position to always deeply evaluate everything that you’re doing from the position of an expert. I think people really overlook that emotional component to the service. And again, technical expertise is the foundation for the whole thing. Providing the services, doing it efficiently—that’s the foundation, but there is a huge component, which is just about building the relationship, good service, keeping your client first, really thinking about what their needs are even beyond the technical stuff you might be delivering for them.
 
Jill McKenna:
Thank you for that answer. Justin, it’s been so great to talk to you today. I’m so thankful for your time. Where can people find you online?
 
Justin Dunham:
Check us out at ercule.co. We have a library there—we’re constantly writing about topics that are useful to know for small businesses and startups around marketing and how to make yourself successful and how to get everything set up. I’ve also got a chatbot. We’re always happy to do office hours. You can reach out to me on LinkedIn—Justin Dunham. I’m right up there and posting all the time. So it’d be great to hear from you all.
 
Jill McKenna:
Thank you so much.
 
Justin Dunham:
Yeah, thanks a lot.
 
Jill McKenna:
Have a good one.

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For lawyers like Ashton Taylor of the A. Taylor Law Firm, recent months have brought rapid change. Ashton, like many lawyers dedicated to using their knowledge and skills to support their communities, has embraced and leveled up his technology, apps, client services, and equipment at a much more accelerated rate than expected. 

We were delighted to sit down with this valued Ruby customer to hear about what has worked, what hasn’t, and how changes have revolutionized his service and trajectory.

Read the Interview

Jill McKenna: So first, this is my first time getting to talk to you, which I’m super excited about. So I’m Jill, I’m the Brand Manager here at Ruby. Do you mind please telling us a little bit about yourself and your work?

Ashton Taylor:
Okay. I’m a small business owner, as you said, an attorney here in Texas. I’ve been practicing on my own for about nine years—well, it’ll be 10 years this year. I started back in early 2011. My background is in accounting and finance. I worked in corporate America and oil and gas accounting finance here in Houston, Austin area. I decided to go to law school, like a midlife crisis thing. A lot of people go backpacking and jumping out of planes—I just decided to go to law school. I went to law school up here in Texas at Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University and got out. It was a change for me.

School was challenging. I was an older student at the time and just wasn’t used to studying and staying up late and having the weekends where I still had to work. I was working in corporate America. As you know, in business, the weekends were for me. But back in school, it was changed because it wasn’t really any weekends. You just worked through the weekends—Sundays, Saturdays, the same. So that was a big adjustment for me, and it was a different industry. Fast forward—I finished, passed the bar exam. My wife—she wasn’t my wife at the time, but she’s my wife now—she’s an attorney here in Texas and she was just looking for jobs and everything, so I came back and I just started my own firm.

In the beginning, I was just doing anything that came into the door. Because I was on my own, I didn’t have a lot of money for overhead, so I had to get the computer and thank God, my wife, we got married, so she had health insurance, so I didn’t have to worry about that, which was a tremendous blessing.

I was able to do a lot of same kind of work with people that couldn’t really afford attorneys. A lot of my work was court-appointed and court-appointed attorneys, indigent defense work. I did some car accidents and things of that sort.

To fast-forward, over the past 10 years, that business has just grown. And I didn’t do a lot of advertising. I was just blessed to get caught appointments, and through that, get some private business also through Facebook and friends of friends, and things of that sort. I have a good foundation of colleagues and friends from working in the corporate world—and then being from New Orleans, a lot of people that transitioned from New Orleans to Houston in ’05 from Katrina.

The thing about New Orleans—and like you were saying earlier about you being from Chicago—New Orleanians like to put their faith in other New Orleanians. That helped me out being in this big pond in Texas, because everybody that I knew with the Louisiana connection would still come to me and, thank God, give me the business.

I’ve touched every area of the law that’s on a solo basis—family law, criminal defense, I had a business client, breach of contract fraud, I’ve been in federal court, probate, wills, estate planning—and that goes back to my accounting background, I was able to do that. But just now, it’s been good. I’ve been able to hire some other associates. I have another full-time attorney who’s working with me now. She came on staff, and so that’s where I am. I have been pretty successful, I will admit, but up to the pandemic…I’ll stop there and explain to you now where I am.

Jill McKenna:
So, first of all, how did COVID change the kind of businesses that are coming to you?

Ashton Taylor:
To be honest, I’m a community attorney, I feel like. Like I said, I don’t advertise, I’m not on a billboard, but I represent a lot of people in my inner circle, which is in my community. I come from New Orleans—I come from an “impoverished background”. My parents were great. My parents always had us in the best schools and everything like that. So I’m not going to tell that story, like, “I didn’t have any money.” My parents took care of us. They took care of us. But I know that area because I know that, so most of my clientele are people that are low-income. And especially when COVID hit, because like I said, I do get court appointed when it comes to criminal, but a lot of people in family law—because I have a big family law business—that are dealing with divorces and child custody issues, I still have to charge them.

When COVID hit, all the family law business went that way—went up—but the people didn’t have money to pay for an attorney. I had to start just taking things and working with people with payment plans, and it was really, really frustrating, because the level of someone, maybe full-time employer not knowing if they were going to continue to work—I know I have a lot of friends and clients that are bartenders, that work in the hospitality industry, and so you know what happened with restaurants and bars, they immediately shut down. So a lot of my clientele or a lot of people that needed the family law because they’re shut down, but people still have those children issues and those custody issues: “Oh, it’s a lockdown. I don’t want my kids to go to online schooling.” So the issues just went up, but the money didn’t. That was a big challenge. My family, my business—it picked up, but I had to turn down a lot of cases because people didn’t have the money to pay me.

Jill McKenna:
Wow. I mean, talk about a shift in structure, and I feel like we’re seeing that in so many ways. There’s healthcare—people who are out of work can’t afford it. So all of a sudden I feel like we’re seeing more sliding scale, we’re seeing more payment programs arising, and probably that’s an overdue thing for our economy.

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Most small businesses have encountered forced changes this last year involving commerce, tech, and customer shifts. We sat down with well-known small business advocate and journalist Loren Feldman of 21 Hats, to talk about collaboration, creativity, and resilience among small business owners.

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Jill McKenna: Thanks, everybody, for joining us. I am Jill McKenna. I’m the campaign marketing manager here at Ruby, and I’m delighted today to be talking to Loren Feldman. Loren is many things, wears many hats—he’s a writer, editor, podcaster, blogger, entrepreneur. And Loren, you’ve been working in the small business sector and industry for a very long time. I know you’ve been an editor and writer for The New York Times, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc.—can you explain to our viewers a little bit more about your background and how I got to speak to you today?

Loren Feldman:
Sure. Well, thank you Jill. It’s a pleasure to be here. I appreciate your having me. I have been doing this a long time—about 20 years now, it pains me to say. Previously, I’d been a general interest journalist with magazines, a little bit of business stuff. I did go to business school, undergraduate. But in 2002, a friend of mine was named editor of Inc. magazine, and he was kind of figuring out what he was going to do with it, and I happened to have been fired from a job as editor of Philadelphia Magazine previously, So I was looking for something to do and he invited me to sort of just hang out, no pressure, see if I could help and get to know it.

I had had some experience with business journalism, but no experience with entrepreneurship, and I kind of fell in love with it. I thought I would be there for a few weeks, and 20 years later I’m doing the same stuff. It’s been great. I spent about six years at Inc. and then I went to The New York Times. They kind of asked me to build their version of an Inc. magazine as a web vertical inside The New York Times. I did that for about six years, and then I went to Forbes and they wanted me to do their version of it. And I spent about five years there.

They’re all great publications with really smart people. At each place, they all wanted something a little bit different, and I learned something really important at each of them. And then ultimately, about two years ago, decided to leave Forbes and try to bring it all together in one place. I found a partner who was kind of my backer and we created something we called 21 Hats, referring to all those hats that an entrepreneur has to wear. The idea was to try to bring together everything I’d learned at Inc. and the Times and at Forbes, and create the platform for business owners. Unfortunately, we ran into this pandemic thing you might’ve heard about, and our plans haven’t quite played out the way we hoped, but we’re still working on it and still trying to do some good stuff.

Jill McKenna:
Are you seeing any industry or business model shifts that are working right now?

Loren Feldman:
The one obvious shift that is really widespread is that people who have been reluctant to adopt e-commerce and really go online have been forced to do it. That’s another difficult transition. That doesn’t work for everybody. But people are being forced to do it now. Some are succeeding at it, some are not. There are a tremendous number of small businesses that are run by people who went into the business not because they wanted to be famous or make a fortune, but because they loved whatever it is they do. Maybe they make a product that they’re passionate about. They create a service that they’re passionate about. Maybe it’s artistic, involves crafting or artwork of some kind. So they focus more on the art and less on the commerce. And they’ve been able to make it work in a brick-and-mortar setting and now that’s more challenging. So, can they translate that to doing something online? I think that’s the big shift right now.

I mean, it’s happening to big companies and small. We’re all buying a lot more groceries online than we ever thought we would. People are adopting that much faster than was expected. I don’t think there’s any going back on that.

But the same thing’s happening to brick-and-mortar stores. I actually have been working on a story I’m writing about the yarn industry. It’s a very small industry, but it’s exactly what I was just describing. It’s made up of wonderful people who care deeply about the craft, are very passionate about it. Most of them have your typical neighborhood yarn store—probably does, if they’re lucky, a few hundred thousand dollars a year in revenue. Maybe there are 10 yarn shops in the entire country that do more than a million dollars a year in revenue. So, it’s small, but you can imagine during the shutdown, if you didn’t have a presence online, you didn’t have a business. And so there have been a lot of people headed to Shopify, and a lot of them, I hear, are very happy with it. I’ve never used it myself. I don’t mean to give them a plug, but I have heard that over and over.

It is a difficult transition. If you go looking for somebody to help you design an e-commerce site, you’ll wind up with a list of gurus who will promise you the world. How do you know which one to trust? It’s so easy to take that leap down the rabbit hole and spend way more money than you expected. Shopify is something you can take off the shelf and use very easily, whether you have any technical skill or not. I’ve been told, it helps to have a consultant who’s got some experience. If you have no experience, you might want to talk to somebody who can help you optimize your site. To me, that’s the big transition that’s happening right now.

Jill McKenna:
Yeah. We’ve seen that a lot. A lot of our customers are attorneys who have just kind of put off their online presence. A lot of people, they don’t even want to pick up a phone right now. So we’ve seen this huge rise in web chat and web chat apps. So that, when somebody goes to a website, it’s not a static experience, it’s like you’re having a staff member there who can actually engage and get people to the right place. But so many questions about: Do you require masks? What time are you open? Do you have special hours? And all of those can get answered so quickly from somebody’s phone with typing instead of them having to call. So we’ve seen a lot of that.

Loren Feldman:
There are also all kinds of social media tools that people are using. Some of those yarn shop owners I’ve talked to, a lot of them basically started running their business on Instagram. With Instagram IGTV, they could basically do a show from their shop. Somebody would be looking at them on their screen and say, “What color is that over your shoulder? No, the one below that.” And just literally on social media, grab a ball of yarn and put it in a bag and ship it to somebody, which is not something that people were doing a lot of before this happened.

Jill McKenna:
Do you find that there’s a rule right now about which small businesses are doing better? Is it by industry, by model, or by attitude? Or do you see any trends kind of popping up that way?

Loren Feldman:
Nothing that isn’t obvious. I think the most important thing… Here’s a great example. I think there’s no set formula, there’s no right answer that works across the board. And it’s important for business owners to understand that and not put that pressure on themselves. For some people, we’ve heard so much talk about pivoting and how important it is to be flexible. I can give you great examples of pivots. I know you could give me probably more examples of pivots that have succeeded and that weren’t obvious, and that are really impressive and inspirational, but that doesn’t mean there’s a pivot for everybody. There’s some businesses, it’s just not going to work right now. The smart thing might be to shut down and keep whatever powder you have dry until the situation changes a little bit.

We had this conversation on the podcast recently. One of our business owners makes high-end conference tables that he sells primarily to other business owners. Somebody who wants to have a statement table in a board room that will impress people, clients, or board members, whatever it is, will buy a table that can easily cost $30,000 or $40,000 from Paul Downs, who’s my podcast regular. Right now, not only is there economic crisis and people aren’t spending money, a lot of people aren’t spending money the way they before, a lot of businesses are struggling. That’s an issue. But we don’t even know who’s going back to work when this thing’s over and who’s going to want that impressive table in an impressive boardroom if everybody’s working from home. So he’s got a really big question mark hanging over his head and he’s had lots of people giving him unsolicited advice saying, “You know, you should start making other pieces of furniture.”

Well, he developed his success 20, 30 years ago because he focused really tightly on doing one thing really well and becoming known for it and doing it right. So what should he make now? People have told him, “You know, you should make some kind of desk that people can use when they set up their work from home office.” The thing is, you can find something for a couple hundred bucks on Wayfair. He sells tables for $30,000. He’s not going to be able to employ his full factory contingent of employees making $200 tables competing with Wayfair, which doesn’t make any money of course. There’s an example. He’s pretty much decided, we have some work to do, we’ll see how much comes in. Sometimes there are government offices or embassies or police departments that need a table, maybe we’ll get enough work to keep going with that.

He’s already had to reduce his staff, some. He’ll reduce it more if he has to. But his goal is to not waste money, not to blow money on marketing a product that he’s not sure he can make money on and live to fight another day. One day, this will stop and his hope is that we won’t all work from home, there will still be offices, and he will go back to making lots of tables someday. He wants to be ready to do that when the time comes, but he’s not going to risk his company by trying to do something he’s not good at doing right now.

Jill McKenna:
Yeah. That makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, a lot of people are in that position of having to make those types of decisions. It’s probably not going to change anytime in the near future. So if folks want to find out more about your podcast, your daily email, where can they go and find out more?

Loren Feldman:
Well, they can find me on LinkedIn if they’d like to connect. I’m always happy to connect with people. It’s a Loren, L-O-R-E-N, Feldman, F-E-L-D-M-A-N. They can go to 21hats.com and find our archive of podcasts there. We’ll be publishing a new one on Tuesday. We always publish on Tuesdays. Or they can go wherever they get podcasts, whether it’s Apple or Google or whatever.

Jill McKenna:
Thank you so, so much for your time and insight. I’m really appreciative.

Loren Feldman:
My pleasure.

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We are so grateful to sit down with well-known small business community leader, journalist, podcaster, and entrepreneur Loren Feldman, of 21 Hats. In the first of our three-part conversation with Loren, we discuss necessary collaboration, problem solving, and shared knowledge for survival and success.

Read the Interview

Jill McKenna: Thanks, everybody, for joining us. I am Jill McKenna. I’m the campaign marketing manager here at Ruby, and I’m delighted today to be talking to Loren Feldman. Loren is many things, wears many hats—he’s a writer, editor, podcaster, blogger, entrepreneur. And Loren, you’ve been working in the small business sector and industry for a very long time. I know you’ve been an editor and writer for The New York Times, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc.—can you explain to our viewers a little bit more about your background and how I got to speak to you today?

Loren Feldman:
Sure. Well, thank you Jill. It’s a pleasure to be here. I appreciate your having me. I have been doing this a long time—about 20 years now, it pains me to say. Previously, I’d been a general interest journalist with magazines, a little bit of business stuff. I did go to business school, undergraduate. But in 2002, a friend of mine was named editor of Inc. magazine, and he was kind of figuring out what he was going to do with it, and I happened to have been fired from a job as editor of Philadelphia Magazine previously, So I was looking for something to do and he invited me to sort of just hang out, no pressure, see if I could help and get to know it.

I had had some experience with business journalism, but no experience with entrepreneurship, and I kind of fell in love with it. I thought I would be there for a few weeks, and 20 years later I’m doing the same stuff. It’s been great. I spent about six years at Inc. and then I went to The New York Times. They kind of asked me to build their version of an Inc. magazine as a web vertical inside The New York Times. I did that for about six years, and then I went to Forbes and they wanted me to do their version of it. And I spent about five years there.

They’re all great publications with really smart people. At each place, they all wanted something a little bit different, and I learned something really important at each of them. And then ultimately, about two years ago, decided to leave Forbes and try to bring it all together in one place. I found a partner who was kind of my backer and we created something we called 21 Hats, referring to all those hats that an entrepreneur has to wear. The idea was to try to bring together everything I’d learned at Inc. and the Times and at Forbes, and create the platform for business owners. Unfortunately, we ran into this pandemic thing you might’ve heard about, and our plans haven’t quite played out the way we hoped, but we’re still working on it and still trying to do some good stuff.

Jill McKenna:
I’m curious, with your work with the small business owners and in speaking to them, what are the creative collaborations or problem-solving practices that you’re seeing entrepreneurs embrace now? Which ones are working, and which ones maybe are not so much?

Loren Feldman:
Interesting. That’s a really good question—that I should have some more time to think about.

Jill McKenna:
I can come back to it.

Loren Feldman:
No, let me give it a shot. I’m trying to think of a good example. I think we’ve all been so thrown off by what’s happened. We’ve all had to develop new routines and figure out new solutions, do things differently. Again, a lot of that’s been out of desperation, and it’s been difficult and not all of it has succeeded, but I think it’s broken down barriers that will help a lot of people in the long run.

Just the fact that you and I are having this conversation over video right now—this kind of conversation happens—you’re doing this to publish it—but people are doing this all the time not to publish it. And one of the things that changed for me, we collaborated with a lot of people on webinars. I mean, webinars have existed for a long time, but the idea that we could get a large number of people to set aside time in the middle of their workday to watch a webinar at the drop of a hat—it never would have occurred to us. But it became something that was acceptable and people started doing it, and we found ways to partner with other companies that had information to share.

I just did a webinar for a really terrific organization called The Great Game of Business. They’re not that well known. They’re not a household name, but they have a cult-like following among people who believe in the practice of open-book management—the idea being that if you share what really drives your business with your employees, your employees will get much more engaged, they will care more about their jobs, they will look for opportunities to help the business, they will generate ideas from the frontlines that you otherwise wouldn’t have gotten. A lot of business owners who do it actually say it takes the weight of the world off them because it means they no longer have to answer or solve every problem themselves. A lot of the best answers—better answers actually—come from the frontlines, up to the top.

So anyway, they have a terrific organization. I’ve been going to their annual event every year for, I don’t know, close to 10 years. I’ve made a lot of great contacts there. This year, they to cancel it. Actually, I think it was held last week, or maybe this week—I’ve lost track now—but I suggested to them that they let me do a pre-conference webinar talking about all the reasons not to do open-book management, because a lot of people are skeptical of it. A lot of owners say, “Why do I want to share that information?” If they’re not doing well, they’re concerned that they’ll scare their employees away. They’ll run in the other direction. If they are doing well, they’re concerned that their employees will ask, “Well, why aren’t I getting paid more?”

Those are very legitimate questions. There are good answers to them. So, I pitched this collaboration: Let me do it. We’ll host it, but I’ll do it for you. And it’ll turn into a video that you’ll be able to use for years, because anybody who considers joining your organization and adopting this practice is going to have these questions. They’re going to want to get them answered. Let’s just create the best possible conversation we can. I took three of the owners from my podcast, who I knew were skeptical about open-book management, and got the organization to supply three of their superstars, people who have done this for years and had success with it, and we had a conversation. I orchestrated it, it got a little tense at times, because there were differences of opinion, but we got to the heart of the matter. We had entrepreneurs asking very real questions.

I’m sure we scared some people away. I’m sure we brought some people in. But that’s what we wanted to do. It’s not for everybody. Some people who were scared away should have been scared away—it’s not right for them. But for others that would work. And I’m hoping we had a conversation that helped a lot of people. I don’t know if that is what you were looking for, but that’s a collaboration that would not have happened if it hadn’t been for this crazy environment.

Jill McKenna:
Yeah. I mean, that’s exactly it. I’m seeing things happen that we…I liked to say as I was an entrepreneur with competitors and people in my industry, rising tide raises all ships, right? There are so many different ways to come together. When this all started, I was reading an article that was about Mark Cuban speaking to nonprofits about they’re going to be facing. And kind of the hard answer for them, from his mouth, which I think makes a lot of sense, is you might have to combine forces. You might have to meld your ideas into one. You can’t all survive and ask for the same amount of money. Some of you have better mailing lists, some of you have better adoption events, some of you have better whatever, and it’s maybe time to group, which I think makes a lot of sense. And I know that there’s even small businesses doing that. Does the city of Chicago need 25 comic book shops? No, but maybe it needs 10 or 15, and maybe you’ve got a better back catalog than I do, or whatever.

Loren Feldman:
Right. Some of that’s painful collaboration as people are weeded out, but certainly that kind of thing is happening.

Jill McKenna:
Right. And I’m curious, to that end, what do you love about entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship? This is your primary language. What do you love about it?

Loren Feldman:
Oh, I could talk for hours about that. I had no idea what I was getting into when I got into this. As I told you, I went to Inc—at the time, I had kind of specialized in helping magazines redesign and rethink what they were doing. I’d done that at a couple of places, and I thought I would do that at Inc. and then move on, but I really did fall in love with it. Part of it is I love the intellectual challenge. I love trying to figure out which businesses will succeed and which ones won’t, and how much of it is the idea and how much of it is the execution. To me, that’s all really fascinating. So that was part of it.

Entrepreneurs are really interesting people. I’m not going to tell you anything you don’t know. Obviously, they’re by definition risk-takers. One of the things that I learned doing this is something that a lot of my colleagues as business journalists still don’t fully understand. I mean, I’ve worked with some of the smartest business journalists in the world at Forbes and The New York Times. And they would often ask me, “Why are you interested in covering small business or entrepreneurship?” To them, all they heard was the word “small.” They understood that it was important in the aggregate, but they didn’t necessarily understand what I found exciting about it. And to them, it was, “Alright, entrepreneurship—I get it if you’re talking about a venture-backed company that’s going to take over the world and change the world, Uber or something like that”—that they got.

But the typical, smaller entrepreneur, who’s not venture-backed, they didn’t realize that that’s real risk. That’s risking your own money and your own livelihood—and often your own house. Most business journalists have no idea that it’s routine for a business owner to borrow against their own home. They think risk-taking is what happens on Wall Street, which is of course risk-taking with someone else’s money in most instances.

I love that I learned from a lot of people at Inc. Their star writer at the time was a guy named Bo Burlingham, who’s written some terrific books, including Small Giants and Finish Big. He kind of took me under his wing and I sort of followed him around for a few years, met a lot of great people, and learned a lot from him.

One of the things I learned from him is that he discovered that a lot of the best ideas in business bubble up from smaller companies. If you pay attention to what’s happening, they’re the ones that are really being creative. He was aware of that long before you saw big companies creating accelerators, deciding that their own R&D department wasn’t working as well as the startups out there that were independent and doing their own thing and not dependent on the budget of a big corporation. You’ve seen this trend of big companies trying to create their own accelerators to harness that power of entrepreneurship and startups. Bo saw this a long time ago.

Even what I just mentioned to you, the open-book management idea—that’s something that bubbled up from a small, failing company. It was actually a division of International Harvester that was told that had to shut down in Springfield, Missouri. They remanufactured engines there. And the head of the union at that shop said, “Wait a second, give us a chance. We’re going to buy this from you and we’re going to make it work as a company.”

They did that about 30 or 40 years ago, and it’s a more than $600 million business today with all kinds of divisions—all predicated on this open-book practice and, in fact, on employee ownership. They have people who work on the frontlines, working on an assembly line who retire as millionaires because they own a piece of the company. They have a stake in the outcome.

That’s a long answer to your question. But to me, learning about these things was really exciting. I loved meeting the people, hearing the ideas, and sharing what these companies have learned so that other companies can emulate them and try to do the same thing themselves. To me, that was really exciting.

Jill McKenna:
Yeah, and I think we’re seeing so much of that “difficulty breeds ingenuity” attitude right now. When I had a business, it started during a recession and it took off like gangbusters. And a really interesting story I came across doing this series is I talked to two folks in Louisville, Kentucky, and they were attending a protest after David McAtee’s murder. And during the protest in Louisville, Kroger shut down in the neighborhood with customers inside, said, “We’re not doing this,” boarded up the windows, people coming in got kicked out, and left the whole West End of Louisville in a food desert. They ended up starting their own delivery and order service for groceries for their neighbors and community—a nonprofit—and then they realized that the community really needed it.

Now they’re starting a for-profit business, and I’m not sure what the model is called—they’re taking very low profit—but what they’re doing is creating living-wage jobs and giving the employees at this market that they’re creating some status in the community—”These are good jobs. We’re not going anywhere. We’re not a nonprofit who’s coming in here, fly by night, ‘we’ll only be here six months’—we’re going to establish and stay here and create a community market so that we’re not reliant on these other companies that are just going to leave when things get hard.” That’s one of the coolest stories I’ve heard come out of this. And what a business model to create from difficulty that supports its own community and become symbiotic. It’s been great.

Loren Feldman:
That’s a great example. And actually, what you were saying about your own business, you only mentioned it briefly, but that’s a perfect example too. When I first got started and started meeting entrepreneurs like you, it was all new to me. And the idea that growing really fast, that that seemed like, well, that’s everybody’s dream, right? That’s what you want. That’s everybody’s goal. But the stress that that can create and the dangers of failure that that can create, I had no idea. I’m not saying anything that an entrepreneur like you doesn’t already know, but for someone from the outside, learning that, trying to understand that, that’s just a perfect example and why I loved meeting entrepreneurs like you as I started trying to figure this out.

Jill McKenna:
Yeah. I mean, it’s a tightrope every day with no net. It is every single day. Before I came to Ruby, which is such a great place for me to be, because I’m really serving small businesses which I understand so much, every single day was…you never knew what you were going to get. It was often in the car, eating grocery store sushi on the way from meeting the banker to go meet somebody to see if I want to hire them, to go meet a manufacturer, to go meet a vendor—and then, if I’m lucky, get home at a decent hour, eat dinner, and then start working again until midnight. It’s every day, and that was for 10 years. And yeah, I’m just sad I didn’t meet you sooner because I think we would have avoided some of the pitfalls of being successful. Nobody tells you in our country, with our model of business, that you can be too successful and you can be too successful too quickly.

Loren Feldman:
If you haven’t seen it, there’s a terrific book called No Man’s Land. It was written by a guy named Doug Tatum. What he writes, essentially, is that every company that has any success is eventually going to reach a point that he terms “no man’s land,” where the things that allowed you to succeed to the point where you succeeded are no longer going to work. You reach a point where you get a big contract or something happens and you have to step it up. And the people you have in place, maybe they’ve been great. Maybe they’re your friends, maybe they’re your relatives. They’ve been incredibly loyal, you love to see them, maybe you spend Thanksgiving with them, but they’re not the right person to take the next step, and you have to have a really difficult conversation with them. That’s just one small example. It might be your relationship with your bank that you’ve outgrown. There are any number of things. You’re going to hit a wall in all sorts of ways—and that’s if you’re successful! And that’s something a lot of people don’t realize. It’s just so hard.

Jill McKenna:
So if folks want to find out more about your podcast, your daily email, where can they go and find out more?

Loren Feldman:
Well, they can find me on LinkedIn if they’d like to connect. I’m always happy to connect with people. It’s a Loren, L-O-R-E-N, Feldman, F-E-L-D-M-A-N. They can go to 21hats.com and find our archive of podcasts there. We’ll be publishing a new one on Tuesday. We always publish on Tuesdays. Or they can go wherever they get podcasts, whether it’s Apple or Google or whatever.

Jill McKenna:
Thank you so, so much for your time and insight. I’m really appreciative.

Loren Feldman:
My pleasure.

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The COVID-19 pandemic redefined healthcare models and spurred a new openness to change for healthcare consumers. More than ever, patients are willing to shop around to find their ideal experience, searching for convenient, connected approaches to care.

How has the healthcare landscape changed over the last 12 months? What do the present and the future look like for patients and providers?

The answers lie in telehealth. According to Chris Jennings, healthcare policy consultant and former advisor to the Obama and Clinton administrations:

“There’s the assumption in primary care that you always had to have in-person contact, and that telemedicine would be unsatisfactory, or wouldn’t fill the void. That’s been exposed—actually, it’s safer, it’s quicker, and it’s easier. … People are now seeing this model, which we thought would take years and years to develop. And it’s probably been accelerated by a decade.”

See why telehealth is here to stay post-pandemic, what healthcare industry leaders are saying, and what patients look for in a provider. Explore Ruby’s infographic, Telehealth in 2021 and beyond: data, trends, and opportunities.

(By the way, the statistics used in this infographic about telehealth in 2021 come from a guide we recently published and which you can download for free.)

Ready to grow your practice in 2021? Ruby is here to help.

Healthcare providers of all kinds rely on Ruby to connect with their patients online and over the phone. Our HIPAA-compliant live virtual receptionist and chat services elevate client experiences from the first “hello.” We’re available 24/7/365 to offer support and answer non-medical questions. It’s all private, secure, and 100% based in the United States. See how Ruby’s digital patient engagement capabilities work at ruby.com/healthcare.

For more information about how COVID-19 has changed the healthcare industry, and how your practice can succeed in the new landscape, download our guide: The Shifting State of Healthcare.

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Is your website ready for customers to visit? We have a short window to tell site visitors what we are about once we get them there.

In this last part of our discussion with David Lambert, David reveals the best rule of thumb for thinking about ad spend and how to identify an ad budget. 

Read the Interview

Jill McKenna: Hello, everybody. Thanks for joining us today. I am Jill McKenna. I’m the Campaign Marketing Manager here at Ruby, and I am truly delighted today to be speaking with my friend and colleague David Lambert, who works with us at Ruby. David, can you say a little bit about what you do for us and your background?

David Lambert:
Hi, Jill. I take on all of the paid media here at Ruby. So I do all of our digital advertising spend, Google Analytics, Google ads, Facebook ads.

So mostly anything that we do from a paid perspective, I’m involved in one way or the other when it involves marketing, and then really trying to tie that into long-term goals and optimization and efficiency. So that’s where I spend the majority of my time, as well as helping some of our systems connect and talk to each other.

Jill McKenna:
When you’re meeting with new clients, are there one or two or three things that even if they’re not going to work with you, you want to impart upon them? Like, “Hey, these are the things you really need to be doing, even if you don’t work with me?” What would those things be?

David Lambert:
It is always finding your hub. You need to have a dedicated space for people to look at you and look at the services you do. Whether that’s your website, whether that is your social profile, you have to understand if I’m telling people to check me out, see how I can help you, you need to be sending them somewhere and then that needs to be the hub of your operations or your marketing.

Generally it’s your website. You want to have your campaigns funnel into this one spot, so that you’re really proud of that one spot that you’re sending the vast majority of people that you interact with. And it’s a really good starting place for a lot of companies because they don’t necessarily think of it in that manner. But you know, your emails are all being driven to one spot. Your social networks are being driven to one spot. Your advertising is being brought to one spot.

And then getting that messaging right. I think that the five second rule is really helpful to people understanding you need to communicate something very, very quickly or else they could be lost in the shuffle, which is fine, but you really want to put that best foot forward: This is who I am. This is what I do. This is how I help you. And generally you only get a sentence, a couple of words, and maybe a little context paragraph underneath, but it might be two sentences. As much as you can whittle down your value proposition, what you do and what you want to help people be doing, boil that down to one or two sentences and then showcase that. That’s where you stand, so that’s super important because if I’m a potential customer and I hit your site and I don’t know exactly what you do, if I’m confused, that might be the only chance that I had eyes on you and I might never come back.

The likelihood of me coming back or digging into your website more is if I understand what you do and how that could help me specifically. And then you kind of build out the rest of this stuff to fortify that and help prop that up. But having those, if you have one customer, what’s the two sentences you would tell them now? I think that is super powerful and then creating, starting to think about your operations as a hub, like your website is generally that, because we don’t have as much especially now brick and mortar experiences. You want to turn your website into your store.

Jill McKenna:
That makes sense. For people just starting out or tracking their ads and their marketing spend, do you have favorite programs or software or what do you recommend for maintaining and monitoring your ad efforts?

David Lambert:
So when you’re first starting out, you’re going to be utilizing the native dashboards. So you’re going to be utilizing Google does a really good job of showing you everything that’s going on. They’ve improved vastly in the last eight years that I’ve been using them.

Once you get up to the system, it’s easy to dig into a lot of insights there. Same with Facebook. Unless you’re doing a lot of advertising, you’re just going to be utilizing those platforms and hopefully you have something on your website where you’re able to track web traffic or these other programs. It’s very common to have Google Analytics on your website where you’re able to see where people are coming from, but as you get more refined, you’ll generally want a customer relationship management software, CRM, where you’re putting all these leads into a database and attributing them to certain efforts, but it gets more refined and it’s definitely a lift from a software management perspective.

For a small business, I wouldn’t say that that they may or may not have a CRM. They may not have a person with that aptitude. It’d be really utilizing the dashboards and relying on that information and as you mature, and these are successful, then you’ll want to have more analytics set up on your website, whether you pay for someone to set it up for you so you can easily read dashboards. But to have that insight and that feedback, it does become important, especially as you start to invest more and more into your business and into advertising.

Jill McKenna:
Great. Is there anything else you’d like to impart on people who are so wondering how to go about advertising before we finish up today?

David Lambert:
I’d say I find advertising these super exciting. It’s also, nerve-wracking when you’re first starting out because you know, you worked hard for that hundred dollars. So I would take it seriously when you’re deciding to spend money for someone to look at your site. So, that’s always the test I try to give someone when they’re talking. They say, “Hey, I want to run Google ads, or I want to run Facebook ads, or I need to be all over Twitter.” So, I like to come with them with the anecdote of, how much would you spend for someone to look at your website?

That really puts it in a good lens of, “Oh, I haven’t thought about it that way.” Like, I don’t want to spend a dollar for someone to look at my website. I don’t think it’s ready. I don’t think me giving someone a dollar to visit it, would end up in a sale or a lead.

When you start to put it in that perspective, I think you get much more critical about what you want to say about the look. If you’re set, if you’re willing to spend 50 bucks for someone to click, it’s been five seconds on your site, make that five seconds impactful and really try to look at it in that lens and how am I communicating to this person? Who is this person? What are they really looking for?

Jill McKenna:
And of course you don’t want to spend $50 to get somebody on your site if your average sale or your average service is $65.

David Lambert:
Exactly.

Jill McKenna:
It’s probably not going to be your best effort. But like you said, like just monitoring it and dialing it in, it does become a puzzle. I think that one thing I see is people launch efforts, and then they feel intimidated and they don’t follow up with how it’s actually doing and then they call it a failure. But really it just needs a little bit of babysitting and tending and tweaking.

David Lambert:
Yeah, so know your numbers. That’s a great point. If it might not make sense for the $50 person to visit, if your sales aren’t there, but knowing if you sell to your customer one time or five times, if you know, most people buy five products. They come back to you several times—use the first sale. Like, you break even on the first sale. They spend 50 bucks on your site, spend 50 bucks to get in there and then they’ll, as you kind of push them to buy more, then that becomes a profitable customer for you, that’s a really good way to offset it or to think about your funnel and your numbers. And then, yeah, it’s off to the races.

Jill McKenna:
It is. I find it exciting too. Thank you so much, David. Thank you for your time and all of your thoughts and your energy and you can reach out to us at the marketing team at Ruby, if you’d like to hear more thoughts or hear more from David. We are more than willing to help out with ideas and experiences that we’ve been through. Thank you.

David Lambert:
Of course. It was a pleasure. Reach out if you have any questions. We’re happy to help in any capacities. Hopefully this was helpful to all you.

Jill McKenna:
That’s marketing@ruby.com—and one of us will field it and get back to you all. Thank you so much, David. Thanks for your time.

David Lambert:
Great. Thank you.

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Can paper mailers, radio, and print ads still matter? Absolutely!

In this second part of our discussion with David Lambert, Sr. Manager, Growth Marketing at Ruby, we talk about how technology has changed the way we use paper mail and why clients and customers are ready to see you in their snail mail.  

Read the Interview

Jill McKenna: Hello, everybody. Thanks for joining us today. I am Jill McKenna. I’m the Campaign Marketing Manager here at Ruby, and I am truly delighted today to be speaking with my friend and colleague David Lambert, who works with us at Ruby. David, can you say a little bit about what you do for us and your background?

David Lambert:
Hi, Jill. I take on all of the paid media here at Ruby. So I do all of our digital advertising spend, Google Analytics, Google ads, Facebook ads.

So mostly anything that we do from a paid perspective, I’m involved in one way or the other when it involves marketing, and then really trying to tie that into long-term goals and optimization and efficiency. So that’s where I spend the majority of my time, as well as helping some of our systems connect and talk to each other.

Jill McKenna:
So let’s say somebody goes and they do all these great advertising efforts and they really make a point to invest in engaging people and bringing them to their website. What are the biggest mistakes you see when people get people to their website and they don’t necessarily have a great experience?

David Lambert:
There is quite a bit there. A lot of it is the initial messaging. It is easy to get… You’re just trying to cram so much into your website. So you really want to be careful of when someone hits your page. What’s the one message? What’s the one thing you want them to do when they’re there? Do you want them to click to call you? Do you want them to read a headline of who you are? A big thing in web development is the five-second test. If someone hits their page, you know within five seconds who the company is, what they do, why you’re there.

That’s a really, really strong first step that you want them to know, I’m a hairstylist in Chicago and this is my brand—that “Oh, I’m in the right place. I’m looking for a hairdresser.” But then having the contact being easy to reach out, that’s the next thing. So they’re in the right spot, but how do I connect with you? There’s a couple of ways that you do that. There’s forms or telephones or emails being listed up, but we’re also seeing web chat be such a big driver of that, when it can directly communicate. I know as younger audiences, sometimes we don’t like to pick up the phone as much, but when we do, it’s really beneficial.

Sometimes that bridge of having that low friction of “I’m just going to chat to this person to ask a quick question”—that’s been super helpful for many businesses. I know that I do it when I don’t want to fill out a big form or go into their email. I just want a quick response. Then that helps me dig into further what that company does or it helps put me in this perspective of, “No, this might be a service I actually want. It needs to do this or that and I’m not finding it on your website.” It kind of replaces some of the search functionality that we’ve had to do on websites, which is often difficult to get exactly what someone’s looking for.

Having someone answer it directly to your chats, I’m sure that many people have experienced that, where it is a much quicker version of I’m able to find what I’m looking for right off the bat. Then I can decide: Do I want to call? Do I want to pursue this more? But we’ve seen really good results with helping companies utilize that, specifically at Ruby.

Jill McKenna:
Yeah. We’ve seen a lot of rise of chat since COVID began. I mean, for a lot of reasons, right? We’re in Zoom meetings all day. We don’t have time to pick up the phone, but we can get on a website and see are they open? Do they require masks? Is there a pickup protocol that I need to follow? It seems like so many industries are really embracing that. You would never open a store and not have a staff member there, and that can be the experience when you go to a website and it’s like, “Well, what now?”

David Lambert:
Yeah. Well, it’s so easy to get lost in the shuffle of things. If you went into Walmart and there was no signs or no people in there, it would take you forever to find what you’re looking for, and then the signs are helpful, but we’ve all walked down those large aisles and I just cannot find the sign that says batteries and I’m stuck. I just want this and I can go. So you flag down someone in a vest and that they kind of point you in the right direction. It’s very akin to the chat service of, I’m looking. I don’t want to dig through your FAQs. I don’t have time. I’m running between meetings. I just want this quick question answered to know if this is going to work for me or not.

Generally, those really start to prod out different things that companies wouldn’t know about that potential customer, whether that is what they’re really looking for, the questions they sort of ask. So it helps dig into their perspective of a potential lead for you. So even if they don’t convert into a paying customer or they never visit your website again, you can understand who the audience is that first was driven there and try to align either your product or service more closely to those results, or try to make those messagings more clear. If you get always the same questions, try to bubble that up so that people have that and you can check that box right away so that they’re not having to dig through.

Jill McKenna:
Yeah. I’m curious about retargeting. So for those who don’t know, you’ve definitely experienced retargeting. It’s when you look at something online and all of a sudden you’re seeing it on every webpage you go to. It’s popping back up trying to get you to look at it again and hopefully buy it. So when is retargeting worthwhile? When is maybe it not? How does somebody start thinking about retargeting for their services or brand?

David Lambert:
That’s a great question, and it comes up in 100% of conversations I have when I’m consulting for this kind of thing, it’s kind of an art and science. So it is, there is a bit of unknown of, especially when you’re starting out your first ad campaign, you really don’t know the response, or how many customers, how many potential customers have to see your website or see your ad before they convert into a sale, or even a lead. So it has to be something you’re comfortable with. You have to have enough for it to be impactful for, you know, a few hundred dollars generally a month would be pretty minimal. So you want to be looking at it in that framework. But if you know you have a high value customer, a lot of Retargeting is—I would honestly say there is mostly no situation where retargeting isn’t helping you out. It is far cheaper than getting someone to click on your site the first time. So if I’m running a Google search ad and someone clicks and gets to my site, that’s going to be far more expensive than when I’m following them around for a period of time on the internet with some graphic of reminding them, “Hey, you checked out our site. Do you still want the solution?” So as long as it aligns with your business, I think it always is fruitful, especially when you’re not charged unless they click on that banner ad or that retargeting again. It only helps to keep that conversation going.

A big thing with advertising is frequency: how many times someone sees your brand in general. Because like we were talking about, you’re bouncing between meetings and different things, and you’re trying to purchase all this different things. Once you get out of the search mode, it’s on the back burner. I might never think about those sunglasses that I actually thought were cool but I was on the fence because I didn’t want to spend 50 bucks right now. So then I’m going about my day, I’m looking at other stuff, and then that sunglass picture pops back up and I’m like, “Oh, I really do like that. Maybe I should just purchase it.”

So that’s essentially how it works, where you’re just putting a pixel on your site. People that visit then are put into an audience and you’re able to advertise based on their web traffic to other places and kind of follow them around a little bit. I would say it’s super strong. It usually has a better return because you’re utilizing those first web traffic hits and you’re trying your best to say, “Hey, we’re still here.” Especially for someone that’s not familiar with your brand at all, they might’ve searched and found you that one time, you aren’t as familiar as you need to be, you need to kind of see and be reminded a few times before you’re just going to go out with this person. It’s like hanging out with someone for the first time. You kind of want to see them a couple of times and then you’re like, “Oh, we could hang out. It wouldn’t be awkward.”

Jill McKenna:
Yeah. You want to judge how they treat the waiter or the waitress.

David Lambert:
Yeah, exactly.

Jill McKenna:
That’s going to inform everything you need to know.

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Small business owners have a few top questions like: How do you create Facebook ads? How do you identify your ideal target audience? What’s the best way to allocate budget? What are the best channels to use?

In this fantastic first installment of a three-part interview with our brilliant Senior Manager of Growth Marketing, David Lambert, we discuss the questions we hear most from small business owners and how to navigate being new to marketing.

Read the Interview

Jill McKenna: Hello, everybody. Thanks for joining us today. I am Jill McKenna. I’m the Campaign Marketing Manager here at Ruby, and I am truly delighted today to be speaking with my friend and colleague David Lambert, who works with us at Ruby. David, can you say a little bit about what you do for us and your background?

David Lambert:
Hi, Jill. I take on all of the paid media here at Ruby. So I do all of our digital advertising spend, Google Analytics, Google ads, Facebook ads.

So mostly anything that we do from a paid perspective, I’m involved in one way or the other when it involves marketing, and then really trying to tie that into long-term goals and optimization and efficiency. So that’s where I spend the majority of my time, as well as helping some of our systems connect and talk to each other.

Jill McKenna:
I have a whole list of questions for you, but I want to start with the one that I hear the most when I’m in any of the marketing groups I’m in—the women in business groups, the entrepreneur groups. The number one question that small business owners seem to have that I encounter is: How do you do Facebook ads and Facebook boosts successfully? So first, can you tell us if there’s a difference between boosts and using the ads?

David Lambert:
Yeah. The difference is pretty small. It’s pretty minor, but a boosted post is essentially something that you just put out for free. It’s an article, it’s a picture. It’s a status update, but then you’re telling Facebook: “Hey, I want to show this to an audience outside of the people that come to my page.” So I want to be promoted to, there’s different targeting parameters, but essentially it’s a post you’ve already put out there, and you’re like, I really love this post. It’s getting Likes. I want more people to see it. So then you just put it out into the world. An ad creation is essentially the same thing, but it didn’t start from a post that you’ve already done. And that’s the biggest difference. All the targeting options, being able to pay to promote it, are still all there. It’s just kind of where you started in that initial journey of things.

Jill McKenna:
Great. And to that end, for both, you really need to know who your target audience is, right? You really need to know who it is you’re targeting. Otherwise you’re just throwing salt into an ocean and it’s not going to make a difference. So how does a small business owner go about identifying their ideal customer profile or perhaps their target audience?

David Lambert:
Sure. That’s a great question. So you worked hard on your content. You know what your messaging is. And really the biggest point is: What audience do I show this in front of? Just like you’re saying. There’s a couple of ways to go about that, especially on Facebook. There’s so many different parameters, whether that’s demographics, whether you’re going after men or women, location, industry, there’s a lot of things. It’s easy to get caught up in really dialing that in super narrow, or going way too wide. The biggest thing is to find a balance. And the easiest way to do that is connecting your Facebook to your website. So you add a little script—they call it a pixel—and basically it evaluates your website traffic.

And you can go then into Facebook and say, “Hey, Facebook, do your thing. You’re an algorithm. You’re automated. Look at my traffic and find people who are similar to that.” So they do a lot of legwork, and there’s different percentages without getting too technical, but there’s like a 1% match, a 2% match, 3% match and so forth, I think up to 10. That’s a really great place to start, because you don’t have to necessarily ping down everything you’re doing. And Facebook does a good job of trying to find those people. So I think that running those kind of campaigns, along with another segment, or audience, is really powerful. So generally I start with one lookalike campaign or ad that targets what Facebook is automating, and then create an audience, a saved audience, based on who you think your customer is. Whether that’s industry specific, like lawyers, or home services, or if it’s demographic, if you know that [age] 30–45 is really where your sweet spot is with people resonating with your product, you kind of drill those down.

And Facebook does a really good suggestion for how big your audience size is. If it’s too narrow, if it’s too broad, they’ll tell you. There’s a little graph that it tells you exactly where you are. So that’s a good thing to look at in general, to know if you’re close or not, but that’s where I dig in. And then you can play with going after different little audiences. I’d start out a little broader, unless you know that this is your customer. Like, if you only sell to barbers, just go with that. You don’t have to do ages, you don’t have to go too narrow, but you want to pick a point where you’re kind of comfortable and it’s all about monitoring that success, and how many click-throughs you get, and the web activity. So I’d start a little broad, unless you are a hundred percent certain who you’re talking to, and then you can narrow it down over time and kind of save yourself some dollars there.

Jill McKenna:
And when small business owners and small business managers think about starting to dedicate a budget to ads on Facebook, or on any social media, how should they start to think about allocating dollars? And what’s a logical way to go about creating that budget?

David Lambert:
That’s a great question, and it comes up in 100% of conversations I have when I’m consulting for this kind of thing, it’s kind of an art and science. So it is, there is a bit of unknown of, especially when you’re starting out your first ad campaign, you really don’t know the response, or how many customers, how many potential customers have to see your website or see your ad before they convert into a sale, or even a lead. So it has to be something you’re comfortable with. You have to have enough for it to be impactful for, you know, a few hundred dollars generally a month would be pretty minimal. So you want to be looking at it in that framework. But if you know you have a high value customer, a lot of times people take a portion of what that first sale will be.

If your first customers walk in the door and spend a thousand dollars, you could easily calculate: I’m willing to spend 200 bucks to acquire one customer. And then I’m going to test a campaign—say I’m going to spend it a thousand dollars over the course of a month and kind of see what leads I get, how the response is and formulate it there. So it’s really important to know what your lifetime value of your customer is. But a lot of business owners, that’s a sticking point for them. They’re not too well-versed in that. In that scenario, I usually suggest, if you know your profit per month, take a percentage of that, that you’re comfortable with, whether that’s 10, 25% of your profit, try to utilize that for finding future customers, because that’s going to help bring leads into your funnel, without getting too technical, of like you’re building up an audience that you could sell to next month. You always want to be bringing people in of interest so that you’re not struggling, you’re all of a sudden, “Oh, I don’t have enough customers this month or this week. And now I don’t know what to do. I need to just spend enough money to keep the doors open.” You want to be trickling that out, and being better about optimizing or refining that, so that people are able to find you amongst the other free ways that you’re promoting yourself or improving your website. So I’d just kind of pick something that you’re comfortable with, whether that’s $100, $200, or, if you have a 10k budget, great, I probably wouldn’t throw it all at once. I’d probably slowly ramp up, but it’s deciding what you can sustain as a business and try to lure in more people to see your message.

Jill McKenna:
So, some broader questions, and transitioning to just some things I hear from: I know a lot of entrepreneurs, I know a lot of small business owners, and I see some patterns develop once their businesses is maybe a little bit established, but they’re not totally sure what to do next. And marketing or advertising can seem really overwhelming, and like something that would be a time-suck to learn and start doing. So. I’m curious if you can give a brief overview of some of the best channels for advertising for small businesses. What’s the best return on investment they can seek through some channels?

David Lambert:
Sure. There’s a lot out there, so it is easy to get daunted. I would say probably, my favorite channels, especially starting out, are generally Facebook or Google search ads. And those are for two different reasons, Google search ads, you can really get to the intent of someone. So when someone types something into Google, flowers nearby, or pool cleaners in Houston, Texas, and you see the ads pop up before the organic results, and those are people bidding on those strings of words, they’re keywords, they can be phrases, and it’s really easy to get to that intent. They cost more than, say, going to Facebook, but you know that person is actually looking for your service. So it’s easier to get into that mindset and craft your message to someone looking for pool cleaning in Texas, rather than interrupting their feed through Facebook.

And that’s more if you’re a service business. I feel like that’s really strong if you offer a service, just because you can talk to that person looking for that right now. So you have a good chance of getting there, but it’s going to cost you a little bit more for someone to click on your ad, say, five to a hundred dollars per click, depending on the audience. Like, if you’re a dentist, you’re going to be paying quite a bit of money for that click, but if you’re a pool service cleaner, it might be $15, $20 in your area. It’s an auction, so it’s hard to say just flat out, but that wouldn’t be uncommon. For Facebook, you’re kind of interrupting. They’re searching for other things, or reading news articles. And the cost is much, much cheaper. So a cost per click in that scenario could be a dollar or two; $10 would be pretty high for Facebook, depending on your segment. It could be well above that. But for general small businesses, I think that that’s realistic.

But that ad is shown to many, many more people if you set it up in that way. So even if they’re not clicking, hundreds of people are going to see your graphic. And it’s a good way to kind of establish brand, especially for consumer products like sunglasses, or food products, or something I could buy on Amazon and ship to my house in two days, those perform really well on Facebook, not that services don’t, but it just takes a little bit longer, because you’re interrupting their search. They weren’t thinking about pool cleaners necessarily.

And then they have to kind of categorize that in their mind. And if you’re shown to them several times, then it’s likely that they could convert, or they could be more interested, but it’s not as direct to the conversation as say, Google search ads would be. So I think that those are probably the best, and they’re also the biggest platforms. So if you figure those out for your business, it becomes a big staple of your marketing campaigns, and you can refine and have these new, very well-known channels that are very effective, if you figure out your formula for your audience.

Jill McKenna:
Awesome. How does a business owner go about knowing which channels might be best for them? Are there certain channels that are better for certain industries? You explained a little bit of that, but I’m wondering if there’s a hard and fast rule for some of that.

David Lambert:
I wouldn’t say super hard and fast. It tends to be a little split that way, where I would say physical services, or like people powered services, Google does a really good job. If I’m looking for an accountant, if I’m looking for a trusted professional, I think Google is just better about that. It’s more likely that they’re going to see your website. So you have more real estate for them to actually click, because they’re looking for that. So it tends to be a little higher value, but Facebook is super good about digital services. If you’re selling widgets, if you’re selling marketing services, if you’re selling some ebook, or even Amazon books, those are kind of the impulse, lower value, is a really good way for a lot of companies to start out there. But I wouldn’t say that if you’re in this segment, you can’t advertise on both.

I’ve seen it work across the board. There are ways that I would tend to go and test out. That’s the fun thing about advertising, or the not-fun thing if it’s your dollars and they’re not directly turning, but it is sort of experimenting on every channel. The investment level also really dictates where you’re going to go. Most people can’t… The small business, their first venture in advertising—I would pick one channel and really try to walk up your experience and see kind of the feedback you’re getting from it, whether that’s web traffic, whether you’re starting to get leads, rather than say, “alright, we’re ready to go, we’re ready to advertise—let’s go on all channels.”

I think that that’s the biggest thing that holds people back when they’re doing small businesses—”I need to be everywhere, right now, all the time.” And that’s really not the case. I find you’ve got to put your effort in one area and you can have it split up a little bit, but you really want to figure out one channel, whether that’s getting your website dialed in, whether that is getting a Facebook profile where people are starting to interact and comment on your stuff, or whether that’s trying Google search ads, or display ads, or YouTube if you happen to have video content, and then trying to figure—once you get some legs there and are sustainable—then you can start to think about bringing on these other channels and broadening your audience to your products.

Jill McKenna:
With that train of thought, what are some easy ways to advertise that people often look past? Often, it feels so overwhelming, we think we’ve got to reinvent the wheel, and we kind of dive in the deep end and then we feel overwhelmed and quit our efforts. So what are ways that small business owners and entrepreneurs can look at advertising in just small ways to see if they’re happy with what it might yield?

David Lambert:
Sure. I always think the most underrated campaign is not direct advertising, but word of mouth. I think we overlook that so much as just businesses in general. It’s not that well understood. I would put money toward your customer referral programs or anything, because you have someone that’s happy with your service. It can act like an advertising avenue, if you say to your happy customers, “You refer someone, we love the business.” Especially if you’re a small business, making a case, people love to help out services that they really enjoy. So I would think about putting together a program where for every sold referral, you give them some incentive, whether that’s 50 bucks, whether that’s 10% of the sale. I think that that’s a really good avenue, and it really helps you think about some of the biggest assets you have, which are your customers, and people really take recommendations and testimonials very, very highly. It’s a channel that I’d really look at.

From an advertising perspective, ones that we haven’t really hit on are, it’s a little more difficult, but those influencers, they can be really beneficial to your company if they speak directly to your customers. Or even better, is partnering with a company that’s aligned with you, but not competitive. So if they’re complimentary, that’s a really good channel to get into. So if you sell digital marketing, like SEO, search engine optimization, but that’s all you do, and you find a company that does graphic design, or they do web design, try to partner up with another small business and say, “Hey, we can pass referrals back and forth. Here’s a finder’s fee for it both ways.” That’s a really good way to try to utilize some business, because a lot of people get leads that they can’t fulfill.

So, either finding a complimentary service, or people at different stages of company size. If you’re better at working with really small businesses, it’s likely that a bigger ad agency or service provider, that’s not a good customer for them just for how they practice business. So if you can come help underneath and support customers, or leads that they’re already getting, that’s a good way to start capturing that and figure out some agreement there.

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