Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

When I started my career, the end of November and December brought peace, quiet, and a great opportunity for reflection, planning, and catch up.  Things got slow.  Coworkers and clients took vacation.  A skeleton crew was in place.  It was the perfect time to start a personal pot of coffee and tackle that perpetual "when I have time..." task list.

This year, I've been looking forward to December for that very reason.  2012 has been busy.  I, like others, have been ready to dial down intensity a bit and reflect on strategies and challenges with a fresh perspective.  I wanted to use my remaining time in 2012 to plan ahead and position better for 2013.  I was going to come up with great creative ways to build upon what I've done since starting my business.  And my desk?  It was finally going to get cleaned off.  It would be immaculate.

Despite my good intentions, the calendar has remained especially full.  Things haven't slowed down.  Thankfully, work has been steady, and planning ahead and catching up on "it would be nice" projects continues to look like a luxury of years past.

Like Santa, I've made my list. I've checked it twice.  I might not get to everything, but I've established priorities and am determined to schedule in time for catch up. 

The calendar isn't clear, but now is as good a time as any. 

What nagging tasks can you and your business tackle before the year's end?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pep Talk

My husband and I recently opened our home to an exchange student.  Since August, we have been touring Pierre around.  We've been to Fiesta Texas and the River Walk in San Antonio.  We went to an Aggie football game in College Station.  We explored Houston, and most recently, Washington, D.C.  We  bought Pierre occasional gifts and French cookbooks to welcome him to our family and encouraging him to share culture with us.  We drove him to early morning cross country practice, taught him to play catch, helped him sign up for drivers ed and get a driving permit.  Most recently, we created a huge collection of classic Christmas movies to share.

In recent months, we had behavior issues with Pierre.  After ongoing talks with him, the agency, and even his parents, we knew things would get better.

However, Thanksgiving night, Pierre picked a fight.  I told him to sleep on things.  We could talk the next day.  He continued arguing and told us he wanted to live with another family.  With a shaky voice and tears in my eyes, I called our local agency contact to have Pierre picked up.  I emailed agency headquarters and Pierre's parents, apologizing that things did not go better.

In the past week, we have heard nothing from anyone.  Pierre has deleted us as friends on Facebook.  His parents and the agency have been silent.  My husband and I can't help but feel angry, frustrated, and, more than anything else, used.

I keep trying to spin this experience so it's less personal.  I keep thinking about sunk costs in business, hoping that will make it easier to cope.  Like sunk costs, our experience is in the past.  We can't change our decision to host.  We can't get the money or time we spent back.

Then, I am reminded of volunteering with the homeless, giving out jackets and sandwiches.  I remember the shock of being asked for a different color jacket, or a sandwich with a different kind of lunch meat.  I remember how frustrating it is to give and not be appreciated.  However, I also remember that lack of appreciation by a few is no reason to quit. 

As sad and hurt as we are, it's time to stop looking back.  In life and in business, when challenges come up and things don't go as planned, we must pick up the pieces.  We must refocus our efforts and build ourselves up.  We must recognize we've tried our best, learn what we can, and move on.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Harder We Work, the Luckier We Get

My mom is a huge fan of Aggie athletics.  When I was growing up, one game was often on the radio while several others were being flipped to and from on TV.  One weekend, and I'm sure pretty this has only happened once or twice in history, A&M lost a game.  My mom was devastated.  She lamented the opposing team "always being so lucky!"  My dad didn't empathize for a second.  He said "the harder people work, the luckier they get," and left the room.

Despite agreeing with my mom and being sad about our Aggies, my dad's comment stuck with me.  I have found his words to be relevant and inspiring in sports, but also in business.  As such, I'm a firm believer in staying busy, learning more, and always pushing to accomplish or attend one more thing.

Keeping active increases your personal network.  It exposes you to new opportunities, friends, and business contacts.  It often also provides information you can use to help yourself or others.

In college, I joined my dad at a Kiwanis meeting.  I met the speaker, the marketing director for the local chapter of the American Red Cross, who later provided my first internship.

After college, I got involved with Texas A&M's Association of Former Students.  My new connections led me to a great job at HDR Engineering.

At a recent training session, I facilitated a discussion that encouraged attendees to talk, brainstorm, and make suggestions for each other.  Many people left with great contacts and new ideas that would have been missed out on had they stayed at home.

The stories go on and on, but the positive results are the same.

Make something similar be your experience.

Lady luck is waiting.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Enough is Enough

There are a lot of things I like about marketing.  I like that there are many paths and multiple solutions.  I like that there is opportunity for creativity.  I like that there aren't rules, but best practices and metrics that can help us make sure we're on the right track.

One thing I'm not a huge fan of is invasive advertising.

Don't get me wrong.  As a marketer and business owner, I know properly placed advertising can help communicate and attract prospects.  As a consumer, I like advertising when it helps me make decisions and learn who provides products and services I need.  But in recent years, ads are everywhere, willing and able to annoy and bombard us at every corner.  And there are some places ads just don't belong.  My Kindle is such a place.

A few years ago, my husband bought me my first Kindle.  I had sworn off electronic readers in favor of real books, but quickly saw the appeal of e-readers.  Recently, we started looking at upgrades, finding that new Kindles are cheaper, but include ads.

At one store, a vendor offered me a deep discount if I would only take the Kindle with ads.  I tried to buy it.  I really did.  But in the end, I had to decline.  Ads are everywhere, and I needed to take a stand.  I couldn't let them invade my quiet reading sanctuary time too.  My old Kindle would have to do.

Monday, my husband surprised me with a new Kindle.  The one without the ads.  The one he had to order special, just for this strange quirky marketer he married.  But thanks to his thoughtfulness, my reading haven remains!

Even marketers need an occasional advertising break.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It Takes a Team

I love working for myself.  I make my own hours, call my own shots, and do what I love.  However, I miss the brainstorming and encouragement that comes with being part of a team.

This weekend, my Kiwanis Club had its annual apple sale.  Because my schedule is flexible, I took on extra responsibility planning and publicizing.  I wanted to grow our sale and ensure our Club raised as much money as possible.

Things were going well, and presales were high.  Then, I learned our apple order was cut.  The unapproved decision was a devastating blow.  We had worked so hard.  Personally, I had taken on way too much, only to find those efforts wouldn’t pay off as I had planned.  I knew the answer was to persevere anyway, but I couldn’t.  I was burnt out and let the setback deflate me.  I felt frustrated, angry, and powerless to make a difference.

The day of the sale, I talked with my friends, and learned they shared my disappointment.  I was reminded of the children we fundraise for, and inspired by those who came out to support our efforts.  My spirits were lifted by a team of friends who were anxious to remind me of all the progress we had made and the ways we could do better next year.

We didn’t achieve the lofty goals I had hoped for, but we sold out and our team raised the money needed to continue funding Driscoll Children’s Hospital’s Camp for All.

As for the increased volume?  I am confident we’ll achieve that next year.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Good Things are Happening Here!

Sure, my blog is meant to discuss marketing and business.  But sometimes, I will shamelessly use it to plug things I’m involved with.  Today is such a day.

Corpus Christi Under 40 recognizes local young professionals who exemplify professional and civic achievement.  Each year, nominations are solicited throughout the community and a selection committee picks Corpus Christi’s best.  These recipients are recognized at a breakfast with the Mayor and a party where recipients can hang out with old friends and meet new ones.

In 2009, I was recognized by CCU40.  Despite considering myself relatively well connected, the Mayor’s Breakfast blew my mind.  I was surrounded by young people who are accomplishing amazing things.  Most of them were people I’d never seen.  I wanted to continue supporting the organization that brought these people to surface.  I have nominated professionals and been in involved with CCU40 ever since.  Currently, I’m serving as program co-chair with my new friend, Julie Bedsole.

Since 2006, CCU40 has been supported by our local Chamber of Commerce.  In 2012, we teamed with Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, which has been an amazing partnership already.

In addition to recognizing young people in our community, CCU40 gives back annually to our community.  This year, we are proud to share proceeds with Corpus Christi Metro Ministries.

Many good things are being done in our community, but lack publicity.  Corpus Christi is filled with opportunities to make and impact.  It is my hope that, if we continue to recognize and promote the positive, others will come to appreciate our community more, and become inspired enough to get involved as well.

I hope you will consider supporting CCU40.  Nomination applications are available at www.ccu40.org and will be taken until midnight November 2nd.  Help us promote the good things that are happening here!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Trouble with Blogs

I recently facilitated training where participants asked about the value of creating a blog.  I advised them that blogs help generate fresh content and keywords, which increases a website’s visibility to search engines.  Blogs also help friends, colleagues, clients, and others learn more about you and what you’re doing.  For business purposes, this can help increase brand loyalty and client engagement.

Creating a blog can seem like a great idea, but it can also be difficult to find the time and discipline to write on a regular basis.

Some people blog daily.  I knew I couldn’t pull that off, so I strive for every week… or two… or so…

In my opinion, the problem with blogs comes when a website links to a blog that is the web equivalent of a ghost town.

This seems to be the case with most of the small businesses in Corpus Christi.  A blog is set up.  Maybe it has a post.  But after the initial effort, nothing.

If a blog is something you want to do, I recommend taking the time and effort to use it to your advantage.  Let your customers know what’s new.  Help them understand things that will help them out.  Teach them more about your area of expertise.

If blogging isn’t your thing, perhaps it’s best to focus on another means of engagement.  After all, it’s often better to acknowledge time constraints and limitations than to refer clients and prospects to an empty and abandoned shell of what you meant to do.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Yoga Marketing

Last year, I completed a 200 hour yoga teacher training program offered by the Yoga Studio of Corpus Christi.  Despite my curiosity about yoga, my professional background made me especially interested in a session called “Business of Yoga.”  As the course progressed, our instructor worked to fit in thousands of years’ worth of history and wisdom, but ended up with only a short discussion on business.  I couldn’t complain though.  Our year was packed with so many good things.

I eventually taught a yoga weekly class, but dropped it when I started my business.  I continue helping as a sub, but no longer practice or teach as much as I’d like.

Yesterday, I was driving to sub at the Yoga Studio of Corpus Christi, and began reminiscing about great teachers who have inspired me.  I thought about friends and remembered the genuine and unconditional acceptance I always felt at the yoga studio. 

Then it dawned on me.  During teacher training, I had looked forward to a weekend focused on business.  When, in fact, my lesson was all around me.

Yoga teachers are taught to empower and care for others, while cultivating peace, beauty, and goodness.  Teachers offer themselves completely in service to help others. 

Shouldn’t this be the case in business and marketing?  Can you imagine companies wanting to know and understand you, their target market, all so they can better serve?  Who wouldn’t love to do business with people who truly care?

It turns out, I got my “Business of Yoga” training after all.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

First Impressions

One of my favorite slogans is from an ad I’d never seen.  A teacher once told my class, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”  What I later learned to be a Head and Shoulders tagline has stuck with me for years. 

Right now, I’m witnessing this tagline in action.

My husband and I are hosting a French exchange student who arrived last week.  Pierre is a really great kid, but his English is limited.  The judgments he makes remind me of the importance of visual appeal and first impressions.

At the grocery store, I asked Pierre to pick out cereal for breakfast. His preference?  Cocoa Puffs.

On his first day of school, Pierre wasn’t sure which group in the gym was his track class.  So he went to the class with students that appealed to him most.  Cheerleading.

At the mall, Pierre quickly found a black t-shirt with white writing that reads, “Overdosed on Confidence.”  My husband and I tried to explain what the shirt meant.  We tried to help Pierre understand the innuendo associated with the word “overdose.” Pierre didn’t mind.  He said that in France, people wear shirts because, despite not knowing what they mean, they look cool.

Every day, people make judgments based on what they see.  And though most of us do speak and read English well, the lesson remains.  Whether an advertisement, a memo, our appearance, or our website, impressions matter. 

Always strive to make your first impression a great one.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Opportunity is Knocking

Last week, Del Mar College hosted “The Big Event”.  The seminar featured topics related to our region’s Booming Oilfields, International Trade, and Government Contracting. 

Experts addressed Eagle Ford Shale and anticipated regional impact.  State Representative Todd Hunter spoke about his intent to bring the cruise ship industry to Corpus Christi.  Sandy Sanders, Deputy Director of the Port of Corpus Christi, talked about huge projects that are underway, including the La Quinta Trade Gateway Terminal Project and preparations to ready the Corpus Christi Ship Channel in preparation of the Panama Canal widening and deepening.

With all this opportunity and activity around us, businesses should be positioning to get their share of the pie.  That’s where Del Mar’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) came in.

PTAC representatives provided information about how to register with the U.S. government and be considered for projects.  They discussed procurement systems and how to search for government project opportunities.  They also arranged for groups such as the Small Business Administration (SBA) to discuss programs geared towards helping small and disadvantaged businesses compete in the federal procurement market.  Representatives from local, federal, and municipal entities were also present, all willing to offer small and local businesses a hand. 

“The Big Event” affirmed that no matter what your industry, big happenings in our region translate to significant opportunity for all of us.

All this great, but useless, unless we do something with it.  So the “Big Question” now becomes: With so much opportunity knocking, will our small and local businesses answer?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Forcing the Love

The Olympics are in full-swing and celebrity endorsements are commonplace, which reminds me of a recent “guerilla endorsement” I got to make. 

My Volkswagen has ongoing issues, including a sun roof and electronic mirrors that move on their own, which scares me since I don’t know what else will do the same.  I was dreading another appointment, more inconvenience, and the dealership’s denial of my issues, until I was told I would be given a loaner.  “Hooray,” I thought!  “What a nice, unexpected gesture!”

The loaner had the dealership’s name all over it, looked like a Smart Car, and said “Peace and Love, My Friends” on the back, reinforcing a cheesy and obnoxious ad that makes my skin crawl.

I didn’t have an alternate means of transportation, so I took the loaner.  I would have preferred a root canal.

What initially looked like an act of goodwill quickly became an embarrassment and offense.

Thankfully, my car was back that afternoon (issues still an issue) and that love-mobile was returned to Volkswagen.

Certainly, we all want people to love our business.  But forced promotion under the guise of goodwill made a bad situation worse. It felt crummy to drive around town advertising and promoting a car and dealership that have continued to let me down and let issues with my car go unresolved. 

I don’t love them.  I don’t like them.  And yet, I was forced to promote them.

Next time, I’ll pass on the loaner... and on purchasing a Volkswagen.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Why Bother with Internal Marketing?

At Texas A&M University’s second annual Mays Summer Learning Seminar, a former professor of mine, Dr. Paul Busch, presented on Internal Marketing.  Dr. Busch talked about the tendency of businesses to focus on external messages to clients (in forms like advertising and promotion), while neglecting to educate, empower, and communicate with employees so they are capable of implementing promises made.

Various seminar attendees provided real life examples of communication gaps and misunderstandings of expectations at work.

My favorite example came to mind back at the hotel.

Ever since the “green movement” came into prominence, hotels have left signage letting guests know that towels on the floor will be replaced.  Towels that are hung will be used again.  Despite this policy, over the years, not one hotel has let me use a towel again. 

I never fussed… after all, deep down, who doesn’t want a fresh towel?

Dr. Busch’s lecture made me rethink promises made to consumers and how we keep them.  In this instance, the promise of environmental responsibility sounds good, but isn’t being kept.  If hotels are truly trying to be “green,” they could use some help from internal marketing.

Employees need to understand and be familiar with company initiatives.  They need a chance to buy in, which enables employees to deliver.  Internal marketing helps organizations implement key initiatives, deliver on promises, and achieve goals.

Let internal marketing work for you and your business.  Engage your staff.  Show clients you mean what you say and deliver on what you promise.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

When Silence is Golden

Last week, my husband and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary in Napa Valley.  We stayed at the beautiful Carneros Inn.  It had amazing views and impeccably friendly and professional staff members who knew exactly how to provide great service.

Our first day in Napa, we checked out the resort grounds and wandered into the spa.  We started talking with Denise Spanek, a former esthetician who is CEO and founder of Air Repair, a skin care system created to combat the effects of flying and travel on your skin.  I smelled a sales pitch and was ready to feel uncomfortable and back away.  But I didn’t have to.

Ms. Spanek was an energetic entrepreneur working hard to establish and differentiate her product in a competitive marketplace.  It was fun to hear about her hard work and subsequent success.  But I was especially impressed with how she interacted with us. 

Although we were all actively conversing, each time my husband or I started to speak, she stopped.  Abruptly.  Immediately.  Her silence gave us the opportunity to provide our experience and insight while she listened.  It made us feel like what we thought mattered.

I love to get excited and talk.  I show people I’m interested by asking questions and speaking words.  But in this case, silence was golden.  Silence showed me that Ms.Spanek cared about us.  It allowed my husband and me to justify our need for her product together.

The silence was perfect.  It was respectful.  It closed the sale.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sweat the Small Stuff

I needed to purchase a volunteer recognition piece and chose to support a local small business.  My budget was small, but the company agreed to help.  After weeks of being unable to get a response by email, I scheduled an appointment to come by and talk in person. After confirming my appointment, I arrived but was told to come back later.  They were going to lunch.  Before leaving, they added that my project wasn’t worth their time, and that apparently, they were in the business of charity too.

A few days later, I called a local print shop to get a quote about another project.  I was told my project wasn’t worth their time. 

Recently, I drove to three hardware stores when I couldn’t find what I needed online.  At each store, my questions were referred to another department.  Eventually, I was sent back to the internet.

Scenarios like this are far too prevalent. 

Great customer service is imperative and the little actions and efforts we make reinforce our reputation and brand.  Our behavior dictates whether or not clients will return.  It impacts what they’ll tell others about us.

Our businesses cannot be all things to all people.  When mutually beneficial relationships do not exist, clients should still be treated respectfully and professionally.  Even if we are unable to help, we can often make recommendations or referrals to lend a hand.  Handling situations like these well could even end up increasing brand loyalty or leading to a new opportunity.

It’s worth sweating the small stuff.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Peace. Love. Phoebe.

I have been looking forward to teaching a “Stress Management / Yoga” class for City of Corpus Christi latchkey staff.  But 150 people?  Dressed in jeans and tennis shoes?  With rows of tables and chairs in the way?

I did tons of research to prepare, and finally felt ready.  But the day of the training, my A/C was out for the fourth day in a row.  And the cat was stuck in a mattress box spring.

As I walked into the training session, my nerves calmed.  I started my presentation.  But my first PowerPoint slide was blank.  I continued talking.  Another blank slide.  Recognizing my audience was young, tired, and ready for lunch, I adapted my plan and made fun of my problems.  I cracked jokes, stayed upbeat, and moved along like nothing was wrong.

I ended the training with a short yoga class, and after relaxation, much to my surprise, the class burst into applause!

My experience got me thinking about the importance of focusing on client needs.  It isn’t always easy.  Sometimes, we’re just not in the mood.  Sometimes, client’s needs aren’t quite as clear as we had assumed, so we have to look a little harder.  But doing business well requires putting personal and professional distractions and preconceived ideas aside.  We have to understand our customers and recognize that meeting and exceeding their expectations come first. 

When we do, they take notice.

And so you know, Phoebe the Cat is fine. 


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I Need to Vent

While surfing the web, I was struck in the gut.

Online rating systems should give consumers a realistic idea of what to expect from businesses.  Instead, many platforms are used by angry individuals set on slander.  And rather than telling you about their experience, these people provide minimal accusatory details, if they have the courage to provide any information at all (beyond a minimum ranking).

The post that angered me outrageously stated that a local business treated her like she “wasn’t white enough.”  Additional details were not provided.  But because I am working with the company, I took the comment personally.  I know the staff.  They work hard and mean well.  I also know they 1) don’t discriminate and 2) aren’t even white!

People who make comments like this get under my skin.  They don’t want to be constructive.  They want to be hateful under the protection of anonymity. 

Some review sites offer the ability to turn off rating capabilities or respond to comments.  Google Plus seems to be trying to eliminate the ability to hide behind a screen name.  However, I offer two suggestions I hope we will all keep in mind.  As consumers, let’s take online reviews for what they are worth.  (Many times, very little.)  More importantly, when we have good experiences, let’s take the time to rate that local business highly for a job well done.

We must all be honest if any truth or value can come from online ratings.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Wonderful World of Search Engine Optimization

It’s amazing how fast technology advances things.  And although I know my marketing stuff, technology changes that stuff.  So, rather than become an old dead elephant too soon, I’ve taken to studying Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

SEO is fun.  It helps organizations improve their search engine rank, and consequently, visibility to prospective clients.  However, my research has left me shocked at how few local businesses actually take advantage of all SEO has to offer. 

Simply having a website does not guarantee prospective clients get a chance to see it.  Websites that look cool and function well might not have been made with the intent of driving prospects to your site.  In fact, some local companies aren’t even visible when you Google their business name!  Seriously… some local companies aren’t even visible when you Google their business name!

Search engines use algorithms to determine your website’s relevance to an online search.  Some things, like how long your site has been live, can’t be controlled.  Other variables related to keyword placement, content, and links, can boost your relevance significantly.  Developing content and strategically placing keywords within your website appeals to search engines.  And although some industries and associated keywords are more competitive than others, simple steps can still improve your website’s visibility.

Sure, it can be challenging to learn or do something new, but SEO gives your business a huge leg up in a competitive market where it’s easier to stand out than it seems.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Much Ado About Branding

The Travel Channel recently aired an episode of Hotel Impossible that featured a struggling hotel in downtown Corpus Christi.

The hotel was in disrepair, filthy, understaffed, and branded with the previous hotel’s name. Hotel Impossible provided customer service, product quality, and management recommendations. Their branding recommendations appeared especially simple and easy to follow.

After the show, I couldn’t wait to drive by the hotel and see positive changes first hand.

Although the hotel’s entry way looks better, only one sign was updated with the hotel’s business name.  Two large and prominently displayed signs with the wrong hotel name remain.

Branding is essential because consumers don’t like surprises.  They want to know who you are and what to expect when they do business with you.  They want to make associations about you that reflect professionalism and quality.

The hotel featured in Hotel Impossible is literally facing a branding crisis that negatively impacts its bottom line.  Locals and visitors are unable to locate or name this hotel.  Those who can don’t have good things to say. Hotel owners have not developed or implemented a branding strategy.  The marketplace has developed a brand for them.  That brand, unfortunately, reflects chaos, confusion, poor service, and a bad product. 

As small business owners, we must think about branding and develop a strategy for reinforcing it.  We don’t necessarily need to be fancy, but we must be strategic and consistent.  If we aren’t, the market place will establish our brand and reputation for us.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Business World is a Stage

This past week I attended a conference in Orlando with my husband.  One morning, though I’d rather have been frolicking around the happiest place on earth, my husband encouraged me to attend a presentation by a speaker who shared what he learned during a 20 year career at Disney.  One of the speaker’s key points was viewing business through the perspective of the customer.

We always hear about the importance of customer service. Yet countless examples indicate forgotten and neglected customers. Employees act like they don’t want to be there. Repairmen require you to be home for a crazy length of time in the middle of the day. Restaurants are dirty. Business representatives are rude and unresponsive.

Such businesses are not focused on the client. Their employees have not bought into the idea and importance of customer service.

But what if we were different?

Walt Disney mastered the art of perfecting the customer’s experience. Most cast members (employees) at Disney work by his example. They smile, pick up litter, and do whatever it takes to set the stage for an amazing and memorable experience.

Although most of us aren’t running theme parks, we can still focus on the customer. We can make them feel that their business is wanted and appreciated. We can be respectful and responsive. We can create an office environment that is comfortable, clean, and professional.

In the end, we are all like Walt Disney. We are selling experiences too. And good experiences keep customers coming back.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ideas that "Pop!"

In my “What is Marketing?” blog entry, I discussed “the 4 Ps” of marketing: Product, Price, Promotion, and Placement (distribution).  The fourth P, Placement, seems straight forward and unexciting.  It generally gets me thinking of logistics and product delivery methods.  (Yawn.)

But when I thought a little harder, I was led to an outstanding example of what modifying a traditional distribution channel can do.

Robert Reed, Executive Director of the Corpus Christi Symphony, is an enthusiastic and “outside the box” thinker.  When he moved to Corpus Christi just over a year ago, one of his biggest goals was to take the Symphony to the public.  And boy, did he do it!

Most people expect to see the symphony in a performing arts venue.  Robert took the Corpus Christi Symphony outdoors.  He took it to Whataburger Field! 

“Pops in the Park,” was an enormous success.  More than 4,500 locals enjoyed a military fly over, patriotic symphony music, dancing lights on the Harbor Bridge, and a massive fireworks display.  The Symphony reached out to the general public and brought a community together for a fun and affordable evening of music and family entertainment for all.

“Pops in the Park” gave Corpus Christi an event to be proud of.  It literally left people begging for more.

Most businesses think in terms of advertising and promotion, when sometimes, thinking creatively is much more appropriate.  In this case, the Corpus Christ Symphony modified its traditional distribution channel, expanding their audience, increasing publicity, and easily exceeding fundraising goals.

Bravo, Corpus Christi Symphony Orchestra!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Is the (Prospective) Customer Always Right?

A contact of mine referred a small business owner who needed help registering to work with the government.  He was overwhelmed with systems and unsure how to write a capabilities statement.  I was thrilled for the opportunity.  Nothing is more fun than helping a small business owner!

When I picked up the phone, my bubble busted.  The harsh tone of the individual on the other line was short and curt.  Without hearing a word from me, he seemed convinced I was going to dupe him.  He asked my billable rate.  I told him, and he suggested I think about it and call him back. 

I called him back and again detailed costs and requirements of his project.  He wanted a guarantee he would win government work.  And a 50% price discount.  And for me to cover his company’s risk as a contingency to getting paid.  He admitted it appeared he was getting a better deal, but said there was no way he would work with me any other way.

As a new business owner, I want to put my best foot forward and help other small businesses.  I do not want my clients to feel taken advantage of, and I seek the same for myself.

With a smile and well wishes, I let this prospect know I was sorry but unable to accept his proposal. 

Although I’m one client and one project less, I am proud for having the courage to defend the value of myself and my company.  It wasn’t a paycheck, but it definitely feels worth something.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Last Minute Sales Pitch

I recently worked with a business that needed help with a media purchase.  They were dealing with a phonebook vendor and found themselves unsure how to handle another frantic sales pitch, as representatives were always making sales calls and pushing different products.  As is often the case, this particular deadline was “urgent”.

In a given year, this small business would spend thousands of dollars when faced with the pressure of missing the opportunity to advertise, without gaining a return on that investment.

The following suggestions can help when you are dealing with an aggressive sales representative:

1)      Develop a plan. Establish a budget and priorities so you aren’t pressured into something that doesn’t make sense for your business.

2)      Ask if “urgent” deadlines are flexible.  In my experience, the deadlines that are provided are rarely hard. If the turnaround sounds unreasonable, ask if it is firm.

3)      Trust your gut.  You know what’s best for your business.  Listen to what sales representatives have to say, but if you are uncertain, consider passing or delaying your decision.

4)      Measure results.  Ask your clients how they found out about you.  This will help you adjust your advertising plan and save dollars that can be allocated elsewhere.

In the case of my client, we established actual publication deadlines and made cuts to get spending within budget.  The sales representative was probably disappointed, but my client was satisfied, having made a smart and affordable decision that met his company’s needs.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Another Face in the Crowd

Whether seeking employment or marketing your business, establishing how and why you are better is key.  Differentiating yourself and incorporating that into your brand justifies why you are the best for the job and helps people remember you.

For months, a local gold buying company has saturated commercial breaks with tons of television ads.  They were looking to differentiate themselves.  And they did.  Each time I mention this frequent advertiser in conversation, locals know immediately who I’m talking about.

The problem?  When I mention this advertiser, people groan.  The company has differentiated themselves as the “in your face advertiser” who is always, well… in your face.

However, despite annoying people, this advertiser’s strong presence made them stand out and positioned them as the apparent industry leader.

But the plot thickened…

After the gold buying ads ran for months, a competitor had a genius response.  One night, during the news, the new company’s ad appeared.  And they had brilliantly differentiated themselves with one line: 

“There are many gold buyers, but only one Gold Master!”

In one sentence, Gold Master was different.  They stood out as the better alternative.

Differentiating yourself and your company doesn’t require a lot of money, nor anything over the top.  It mostly requires a thinking cap and a little creativity.  A well-differentiated brand resonates with consumers and reflects who you are.  And next time your product or service is needed, consumers will think of you first, because you’re more than just a face in the crowd.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Perfect Product

Since starting this blog, I’ve been looking for outstanding examples of local organizations doing a great job.  After all, these organizations have mastered something the rest of us can hopefully learn from and apply in our own line of work.

My plan sounded great to me, but what I was looking for was especially hard to find… until last week when I had the opportunity to visit the type of organization I had been seeking.  I hadn’t been in a while, but as always, was incredibly impressed.

In my “What is Marketing?” blog entry, I discussed “the 4 Ps” of marketing: Product, Price, Promotion, and Placement (distribution).  The organization that stands out to me has the first P, Product, down pat. 

The Texas State Aquarium offers an experience unlike any in the area.  They entertain, excite, and educate children and adults.  But, in addition to providing a consistently great product, the Aquarium strives to always improve its offering by rolling out new exhibits and programs including Amazon, Dolphin Bay, Tortuga Cay, Otter Creek, and Stingray Lagoon, which is expected to open later this year.

The Aquarium’s effort and ability to make their product better gives locals and tourists an ever evolving and improving experience.  More importantly, there’s always a reason for visitors to return.

There are many ways to improve the products we offer our customers.  And I, for one, am inspired by the Texas State Aquarium and its ability to get me thinking about what’s next.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Stop the Selling!!

I recently went to lunch at one of my favorite local spots, where I consistently enjoy tasty meals, good company, and a nice atmosphere.

I was first to arrive and got a table for our group.  The waitress asked me what I wanted to drink.  I said, “water.”  She told me about two types of special teas I should really try.  I said, “They sound nice, but I want water.” She ran off to get me tea.  I stopped her as she ran to the kitchen.

With water in hand, she told me about the day’s specials.  I interrupted her, trying to spare her the trouble, and mentioned it was Ash Wednesday, so I wasn’t eating meat.  She continued, confident she could sell me on chicken.  I reiterated that next time I would try it, but not today.

When my friends arrived, the selling continued.  Nothing could be mentioned without multiple upgrades being suggested.  “Would you like avocado?  Bacon?  Cheese?  A side salad?  A large, instead of the small?  I don’t want you to go hungry!”

Often, suggestions can make a meal better.  However, when it’s especially obvious you’re trying to add to my bill, rather than my experience, I get irritated.

Eating lunch shouldn’t feel like buying a car.

No matter your industry, consider playing it cool and easing up on the aggressive pitch.  Suggestions aren’t bad, but customers are more likely to return and buy more when they enjoy their experience and know you’re looking out for them.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Dear Diary

A professional contact at Del Mar College’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) introduced me to an entrepreneur with tons of experience and technical knowledge.  This small business owner worked for a large corporation and is now starting his own business while working full-time and going to college.  He is pursuing a government contract to work at a local military base and was new to the government’s procurement process.

Early last week, this entrepreneur was wondering if this contract “wasn’t meant to be” because he didn’t know how to responded to a Request for Proposal (RFP).  However, in less than a week, we developed a technical approach and finalized a proposal that was shipped ahead of schedule.  The craziest part?  It was really fun!

Like everyone else, I watch the news and hear depressing and discouraging things about the economy.  However, seeing the enthusiasm and strong work ethic of this entrepreneur, and being able to help him, inspired me and gave me hope.  This individual represented the gumption and grit of the small business owner, who is very much alive, well, and ready to achieve.

The shoes of an entrepreneur are an uncertain, interesting and exciting place to be.  Sometimes I know things.  Other times, I learn something new.  There are ups and downs, highs and lows.  But spending time helping clients achieve their goals is icing on the cake.

In the words of Little Orphan Annie, “I think I’m gonna like it here!”

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What's in a Brand?

A lot of people get excited about branding.  It’s like an art project for grownups.  And who wouldn’t be excited?  It signifies a new beginning.  It’s fun to be creative and produce a sexy new image that incorporates all that your organization is and aspires to be!

But is rebranding always practical?

I worked with a company that had limited marketing dollars and was very surprised to see people advocating for a trendy rebrand suggested by a consultant.  Not only were design fees unaffordable and unbudgeted, but undisclosed costs associated with updating marketing materials, signage, and other branded items would send costs through the roof.  Worse still, none of that expense would have helped bring clients in the door.

Rebranding is an investment, and more so than not, the return on that investment just isn’t there. 

Another company I worked with didn’t know when to stop.  Every year, color pallets changed, requiring disposal of old materials and time spent redesigning and printing new ones.  First, they asserted color was the trend.  The next year, it was white space.  Then, it was back again to color.

Consistency is key to successful branding.  Frequent changes can cause additional expense and confusion among consumers.

Although an updated look can be refreshing and necessary, sometimes rebranding projects become an expensive distraction.  In such cases, our time could be better spent developing the reputation and consistency of our brand instead of changing it altogether.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

You Know What I Don't Like?

I don’t like Valentine’s Day.

I know… it’s supposed to be romantic and sweet.  But sometimes it feels more like a predictable marketing ploy. 

As a singleton, I hated Valentine’s Day.  (A college friend of mine referred to it as “Single Awareness Day.”  I thought that was especially awesome.)

Last year, my then fiancĂ© and I went to a nice dinner and noticed other couples in the restaurant were not even speaking to each other!  We enjoyed our dinner and company, awkwardly laughing and wondering why no one else seemed to want to be there.

I was recently listening to the radio, and the DJ made a fantastic suggestion.  What if we made Valentine’s Day more about others… all others, instead of just those who expect it?  What if we make a genuine effort to show people, in general, just how much we love them?

Last year I surprised my then fiancĂ©, parents, and grandmother with breakfast tacos and a visit really early in the morning.  I was a little too chipper at Stripes and got plenty of funny looks from refinery workers.  But the smiles and surprises were priceless! 

Showing appreciation for others doesn’t take a lot of time or money.  It only takes thought.

So this Valentine’s Day, spread the genuine love!  Consciously recognize and acknowledge the important people in your life.  And don’t forget your coworkers and clients.  An honest smile or kind word of thanks can go a long way!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

It's Personal. It's Business.

Early in my career, I was determined to climb the corporate ladder.  I read countless books and sought out every mentor I could find.  I learned a lot.  I also picked up some terrible advice. 

Years later, a former colleague mentioned that when we worked together, I always turned down opportunities to go to lunch.  I didn’t recall turning down lunches, but knew immediately why I had.  A book I read said women in the workplace should avoid being overly social to be taken seriously.  So, I put my head down and made work my top priority, no matter what.  In the process, I alienated a colleague.  It was nothing personal.  It was business!

Work certainly should have been my priority at the office.  However, I made a mistake in not recognizing just how personal business is, and should be!

People decide whether or not to buy our products, support our initiatives, or build team morale.  How we treat clients either brings them back or drives them away.  Whether we’re dealing with colleagues, clients, or vendors, people and our relationships with them make things happen.  More important still, as people move, change jobs, and get promoted, they will most surely cross our paths again. Although goals, budgets, and profits often become a primary focus, strong relationships with people help us do business better.

I’m not sure who said it first, but whether it was Donald Trump or the Godfather, the idea that “it’s nothing personal, it’s just business” is absurd.

Business is always personal.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Feeling Uninspired?

When I was at the Caller-Times, I took short walks around a close park when my brain was tired or full.  One day, my boss saw me walking and figured something must be wrong.  He told me I could go home for the day!
Too many commitments, tedious projects, or sometimes even the weather can lead us into an uninspired funk.
Caffeinating may help, but running on extra-full throttle can leave you even more drained than when you started.
So what’s next?  Here are some suggestions:
1)      Take a break.  Make time to walk down the hall, grab a healthy snack, work on something else, or take some PTO!
2)      Get some exercise.  Take a short walk outside.  Do some yoga.  It might throw your colleagues for a loop, but it’s good for your body and brain to get that blood pumping! 
3)      Find inspiration in others.  Few things recharge my batteries and get me excited like new ideas.  Make time for a good book.  Checkout a blog.  Go to lunch with a friend.  You’ll find yourself rejuvenated, and maybe even inspired!
4)      Say No or Ask for Help.  We can only do so much, and there are always plenty of projects to take on.  If there’s too much on your plate, admit it.  Ask for help or consider passing on low-priority projects.
If we aren’t inspired, work is a chore.  Clear your head.  Increase your sanity.  Gain new perspective.

How do you stay inspired at work?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes

I love to learn from the lives of others.  It’s inspiring and gives hope that we too might achieve great things.

I recently read a biography about an inspiring man who was no stranger to dreaming big and achieving the impossible.  How to Be Like Walt: Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life by Pat Williams and Jim Denney reinforces important life qualities Walt Disney maintained: honesty, enthusiasm, confidence, courage, and persistence.

Before Disney had an empire, he was often bankrupt, unable to finance projects, and literally eating cold beans from cans.  His first successful character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, was taken, leaving his small studio to start again, from scratch.  When his cartoons and films became successful, Disney began plans for Disneyland.  His critics nicknamed the venture, “Disney’s Folly.”

I don’t need to tell you that Disney continued to dream BIG and achieve BIG anyway.

I found myself in tears reading about the death of Walt Disney.  After coming to “know” him, I literally felt the heavy loss of his optimism, tenacity, and creativity, which moved mountains and inspired so many.

Disney’s life and legacy left me wondering what else we could accomplish if we truly believed in ourselves and our dreams, instead of focusing on why they are too unrealistic.  What if we truly empowered those around us, instead of providing more reasons “why not”? 

Walt Disney’s life and achievements give us the answer.  Not even the sky is a limit!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Lesson from Mayor Joe and CCU40

Today’s change management blog was ready, but my friend Sally’s suggestion affirmed a last minute idea and inspired a related, but alternate approach.

Today was Corpus Christi Under 40’s (CCU40) annual breakfast with Mayor Joe Adame. 

(CCU40 recognizes high achieving young professionals and volunteers in our community. Check out www.ccu40.org and mark your calendar to submit an application next year!)

The ceremony was great.  Speeches were short, but Mayor Joe’s words resonated with many.  He spoke of the importance of mentoring our young professionals and empowering them to become our next generation of leaders.

I say this topic is related to change management, because it is not uncommon to find organizations where established professionals protect their knowledge, fearing that young people could be better or eventually replace them.  This fear of change inhibits possibilities for the future and is a losing strategy.

Mayor Adame and supporters of CCU40 see that our young people are already accomplishing so much.  They should be recognized, but also, developed further.

We need to mentor young professionals so our community improves, life goals are realized, and everyone’s quality of life is better.  But think about your family, place of work, and the organizations you care about.  Are mentoring and development actually happening?  Both are critical to ensuring continued progress and improvement.

Congratulations  2011 CCU40 recipients, and Person of the Year Vijay Bindingnavele!  And thank you to the mentors and role models who helped them accomplish such great things.