Is Your Business Hurting ‘Coz You Confuse Marketing & Sales?

There is no greater impediment to the advancement of knowledge than the ambiguity of words. Thomas Reid

SALE

Photo credit: Gerard Stolk (vers Noel)

The trouble with most of us who speak in the English language is that we assume that people actually understand what we are saying. This last semester, as I set out to teach a course on International Marketing, I happened to ask the class casually, “How many of you understand the difference between marketing & sales?” The faces,  more than the raised hands, clearly communicated the confusion over the two. So as I set out to clarify the difference, I learned a thing or two and reckoned I’ll share that with you.

Let’s get the basics out of the way. And in the interest of not reinventing the wheel, I’ll share what I reckoned was a good definition from Diffen.com. As they summarize it

Marketing The goal is to generate awareness and interest in the product/service and create leads or prospects, by influencing the perception and behavior of the target customer group.

Selling is focused on converting prospects to actual paying customers. Sales involve directly interacting with the prospects to persuade them to purchase the product.

This means the activities done by marketing and sales can be quite distinct

Marketing
  • consumer research to identify the needs of the customers
  • product development – designing innovative products to meet existing or latent needs
  • advertising and digital marketing the products to raise awareness and build the brand.
  • pricing products and services to maximize long-term revenue.
Sales focused on converting prospects to actual paying customers. Sales involve directly interacting with the prospects to persuade them to purchase the product.

So far so good. Now that we are clear about definitions, does this help us figure out when does your business require marketing (or sales) and how much of it does it require? As we set out to answer this for some examples, I realized that there was some nuance to this, especially when it came to a matter of

  • target customers – are yours’ consumers or other businesses
  • sales channels – do you sell direct or through channels

Of course, neither of the above is an either/or answer. You could have both consumer and business sales (think airlines, catering or training classes) and could be both direct or channel (advertising, over-the-counter medications).

While the role of marketing remains building awareness and generating demand – its relative contribution and nature of activities depend on which of these combinations your business falls into. With the rise of internet and e-commerce, certain categories of consumer-targeted businesses can operate without any sales force at all. Similarly, business-focused sales channels, which are businesses themselves such as aggregators or distributors, rely primarily on the marketing of their principals to drive demand. Even these folks have to market themselves to stand out from their competition.

Here’s a useful framework (and some examples) to think about this. What is the product or service you are selling and to whom are you selling it and how will you sell it to them? And what marketing will be directed towards whom? And what sorts of sales activities and personnel will you need to meet your goals?

Market_Sales_Channel_Customer

Here are two different examples of companies that sell primarily to consumers (airlines, cars) or businesses (Facebook ads) and what they do for sales & marketing. Of course, all these businesses serve both consumers and businesses to varying degrees.

Delta_Facebook_Mktg_Sales

I’d love to hear how this looks for your business. Happy hunting.

References
“Marketing vs Sales.” Diffen.com. Diffen LLC, n.d. Web. 18 Aug 2017.< http://www.diffen.com/difference/Marketing_vs_Sales >

What is marketing’s role in a business?

Marketing is probably one of the most misunderstood of functions – particularly in startups. Product development or even sales seem easy enough to understand but the average entrepreneur struggles with marketing. One of the reasons for this is our common confusion of activities (what does marketing do) and outcomes (what should marketing accomplish). The emergence of the internet, mobile and social media has only muddied the waters further.  Popular media, particularly television and to a lesser degree the movies haven’t helped, painting a picture of marketers as either slick Madison Avenue types or slimy snake oil salesmen.

Theodore Levitt, the American economist, said “marketing … view(s) the entire business process as consisting of a tightly integrated effort to discover, create, arouse and satisfy customer needs.” Whilst I certainly agree with Levitt’s definition in his book “The Marketing Imagination” I’d simplify it to the following assertion:

For startups, at any stage, marketing has to achieve only one goal or outcome – profitable growth!

I’d argue there are only one of three ways to achieve this.

  • shorten the selling cycle
  • optimize the selling price
  • maximize profit in absolute terms

A little math before we jump into each of these. Regardless of whether a business offers products or services, profits boil down to

Profits (P) = Revenues (R) – Costs (C)

This would imply that anything that improves revenues or decreases costs, is likely to increase profits. So ideally marketing will increase R and decrease C thereby maximizing P. As our Chairman was fond of saying, there’s the minor matter of managing cash – it’s better for money to come in today rather than tomorrow – in other words we could be profitable on paper but still fail as a business because we ran out of money.

So what should marketing do? Marketing needs to be doing whatever is required to achieve one or more of these objectives which will result in the desired outcome – profitable growth (in case you missed it the first time).

Shorten selling cycles If your customers buy whatever you are selling sooner (than they would if you didn’t do any marketing) then you are doing something right. So if the brand value (or recall) will help shorten selling cycles you’d do that. If educating the customer (inbound marketing) or free trials (freemium), partnerships or Google ads shorten the selling cycle you’d do those. Alternately, any of those if they have no impact on shortening selling cycles, you’d abandon them.  In other words, rather than doing what you did in your previous job, or what your competitors are doing, or what TechCrunch or HBR say is the hottest marketing trend, let the results drive what you do. You may use some or all the previous methods, but measure and keep only those that shorten your selling cycles. So any time your marketing team proposes a campaign or a strategy, you’d want to know will this shorten my selling cycle.  Shortening selling cycles is the knob that you likely have the most influence over.

Optimise Selling Price One way to shorten selling cycles is to drop your price – it’s also a good way to go out of business or rush to the bottom at least. If you make a loss on each unit, no amount of sales volume is going to make it up. And dropping price alone does not make selling (or revenues) easier.  Ask all those mobile app developers trying to sell a $0.99 app. And if that is hard, making a $2,500 course or $60,000 service, you’ll discover takes even longer. Selling at the highest possible price, that the customer is willing to pay or market can bear (real estate anyone?) is one way to maximise revenue. However, this may affect the number of units you may move and the time it takes to make the sale. The market for 5 million-dollar homes is finite – say you make one a year. Then again you’d have to sell fifty (50) $100,000 homes to make the same $5 million revenue, which may mean one a week!.  So marketing has to make two critical determination – who’s our customer and what are they prepared to pay and how do I get them to pay me the best price? Again brand perception, may command a high price ($120 white T-shirts) or positioning – can you afford to risk your family’s safety (Volvo) – the cost of alternates or non-purchase (insurance)  are all things marketers may do – with the optimising selling price. Different segments (homeowners vs farmers) may consume the same product (insecticide) in different volumes (frequency of use), form factors (storage constraints), and therefore price. The higher unit sales, at lower price (but high margins) of homebuyers may underwrite the lower price (and margins) at high volumes of farmers (which drives unit cost of production down). So segmenting, positioning and pricing are strongly correlated.

Maximize absolute profit  “We make 200% (or even infinite) margin on each unit we ship,” would be a true statement for products such as software – where incremental unit costs are negligible or even for a sandwich or burger. But such unit margin is illusional if you take the cost of all the software engineers or cooks (and the rent to house them). Unit (or gross) margins are important, but high or at least positive net margins are nicer. Even if you make a profit on each sale, funding new product development or growing your revenue requires more money – in which case profit (gross or net) cannot be a matter of only measured in percentage terms but in absolute dollar terms. Almost for any business (there are exceptions) this means growing revenues while maintaining or even growing margins, so that you can at least keep up with inflation that leads to increasing salaries or other input costs, even if you don’t wish to innovate or grow. Marketing can help achieve this by bringing growth – be it demand creation (new markets), greater market share (revenue growth) that will not just increase revenues but profits.

Everything else, you’ve learned or heard about marketing whether the four Ps (product, price, positioning, promotion) or four Cs (consumer, cost, communication, convenience), inbound or content marketing, paid or earned media or any other flavor-of-the-week are all mere methods or tools to achieve these objectives.

3 Simple Steps to Generating Revenue

A former colleague reached out to me recently seeking help. He’d inherited responsibility for a set of retail outlets in medium-sized city. Unfortunately the inheritance did not come with a marketing budget and he was wondering how he could set the business on fire. We briefly discussed what their business was about, what challenges he faced, what his competitors were already doing and such. We brainstormed a little and then tried to put down some specific action items or at least things to try.

As I reflected on our conversation it struck me how much of what we’d discussed was true not just for this retail gig, but for any business. As with all great truths, they seem simple enough to articulate, but is well worth reminding ourselves periodically. More importantly, regardless of the tactics we’d use, and these will change with both our business types, time and place, these three strategic steps will rarely change.

Creating Awareness People need to know you exist, before they can buy from you. It’s even better if they know why you exist, what you stand for and how you are different. But you gotta start with folks being aware. How do you create awareness, especially when you don’t have a marketing budget? In my friend’s case, it begins with the tried and tested real world methods such as handing out flyers at the street corner or a man with a sandwich board neither of which costs much. In his case given milk and dairy products he sells, targeting local apartment complexes, with both inserts in newspapers as well as display booth maximizes number of folks who get to know he exists. Of course getting his current customers to spread the word – word of mouth – is a great way to get the word out. This works whether you are an online school, SaaS B2B service provider or social network for new moms. Thought leadership, writing for the local (or hyperlocal) paper, presentations at local schools (or corporates) are ways to identify your brand/store/product to value for the prospective customer. Content marketing in many ways enriches all the above and builds a long tail of awareness creation.

Generating Footfalls Ok, now you gotta a lot of people aware that you exist. Now you gotta get them into your store – physical in my friends case, possibly online in your own. This is what marketers think of as Call to Action (CTA). How do you get someone who’s aware of you to act upon it – usually by visiting you. Promotions, contests or freebies are common ways of generating footfalls – for instance the chappie handing out flyers at a street corner, could offer a free ice cream (or n% of a second purchase) as a way to induce footfalls. Online free e-books, flash sales, or other forms of giveaways could be used to induce footfalls. Keep in mind, what tactics you use to generate footfalls will change with the nature of your business, physical vs online stores, target audience, time and place. In fact tactics that work at one time may not work or worse yet backfire at other times. Generating footfalls need not be only about price or giving away stuff for free, but is always about providing value for the customer. Skin type testing, bra fitting, financial education – all these are things of value to the user that can help them cross your threshold, and it need not cost you money, at least not a whole lot.

Building a relationship All of us, however good or bad, can get one customer or some customers to buy. The trick is how do you get a lot of them buying on an ongoing basis, bringing others in or inducing others to buy. This requires that we build a relationship with our customers. Just because we want to have a relationship with them doesn’t mean they’d want one with us. Worse yet, if you did a poor job with creating awareness, either by misleading them or worse, they’d want nothing to do with you. Also if you generate footfalls under false pretence – using bait and switch tactics or worse, they not only run away but tell 10 other people to avoid you. So being authentic, understanding their needs is the first step in building a relationship. Consistently serving their needs, ideally anticipating, setting and exceeding expectations is the way to build lasting relationships. While not trivial, it’s not rocket science either. In my friend’s case, it’s knowing the regulars, keeping in touch with them, not just in the store but outside. In your business it may involve newsletters, making recommendations or connecting with partners or other service providers and above all listening to them, what they are saying and what they aren’t.

As the writers Sean Platt and Johnnie Truant advocate Write, Publish, Repeat, to become a successful writer, building business is all about Create Awareness, Generate Footfalls, Build Relationships. Repeat.

Good hunting.

6 Elements of a Powerful Blog Post

 

Neil Patel’s QuickSprout blog has always been a great source of marketing information. This last week I caught up with some of their earlier posts and this great infographic on The 6 Elements of a Powerful Blog Post caught my eye. In summary,

 

  1. Include engaging photos or pictures
  2. Use clean design and layout
  3. Have a unique voice
  4. Connect with social media
  5. Have a call to action
  6. Go against the grain

 

You can see Neil’s original article and infographic here.

 

The 6 Elements of a Powerful Blog Post

 

Courtesy of: Quick Sprout

 

3 Reasons Startups Need PR

Public RelationsEvery startup should engage in Public Relations (PR) from day one. Does this mean you hire a PR firm? Absolutely NOT! When you talk about your start up at your local college, a Meetup or a friend’s wedding, you are doing PR.

Of course, as with all such activities, if you do it in a systematic and smart manner it can pay off in a big way. It’s easy (and wrong) to imagine public relations to be a matter of hiring a PR firm and talking to the media. It’s really about letting your stakeholder community know that you exist and shaping their perception of you.

As all-knowing Wikipedia quotes

“The aim of public relations by a company often is to persuade the public, investors, partners, employees, and other stakeholders to maintain a certain point of view about it, its leadership, products, or of political decisions. Common activities include speaking at conferences, winning industry awards, working with the press, and employee communication.”

With that said, here are three reasons for a start up to do PR.

Customers If customer’s haven’t heard of you or know that you exist, it’s hard to get them to buy from you. A well thought-out PR plan, even if executed by one person, usually the founder, can do wonders. This is particularly true for anyone in the B2B business. It’s nice if customers have heard of you before you show up at their doorstep. This can be done in any number of creative and no-money-spent ways from blog posts, contributed articles or op-ed pieces in your local paper, talks at industry bodies or local associations, or newsletters. A side benefit of such PR activity is that you get to practice and refine your company’s story, which is always a good thing. It’s also a great way to figure what resonates with your target audience and in some instances, even refine who your target audience really is!

Employees If you grow, or land that first or tenth customer, you’ll find you’ll want to be attracting employees. Even more importantly, if you’ve hired folks, you’d want to retain them and keep them motivated. Nothing works like seeing your company’s name in the paper, a poster, on the TV or in social media, to both attract and inspire folks. If like most start ups you’re asking them to work hard and make sacrifices then such inspiration is not an option. In time, you can get your team to do the PR, which will help build their own personal brands and bring goodwill and repute to your business.

Investors At some point if you wish to raise money, whether from friends, family or other fools, or professional investors, it helps – much like with customers – if they’ve heard of you. While a lot of ink offers no certainty of raising money, it provides folks the comfort that you’ve been around, survived and hopefully thrived by the time you approach them. The beauty about PR done well is that it allows you to drive the conversation about what your company stands for and sets context, so that you are really not an unknown or worse yet, a . Imisunderstood quantity to prospective investors.

So darn right, as long as you spend a finite amount of time and constantly measure the effectiveness of your activities, I’d assert every start up should invest in public relations from day one!

This post was inspired by a question on Quora

Simple Sales Tracker for Startups

This last quarter, I met several interesting startups, that had a clutch of good customers. When I asked them “How can I help you?” at least three of them asked for help with sales. Not what you’d think, as in find me customers or introduce me to prospects but how do I manage my sales pipeline. In fact two of them specifically had the question “How do I track my sales pipeline?”

Over the last several years, while I’ve used a variety of  tools from mere contact managers through sophisticated deal trackers to full-fledged CRM suites, I’ve found myself returning each time to a simple spreadsheet-based sales tracker, at least in the early days. The tracker has not only evolved as I’ve learned but stayed surprisingly simple and has worked just as well in a fund-raising function at non-profits as it has in a for-profit startup.

As I promised these founders, I’m open sourcing the sample tracker as an Microsoft Excel spreadsheet as well as Google docs template. The tracker can be used for selling products or services or combinations thereof. You can download it here.

The tracker has three parts.

1. Setup – your business basics

Based on the nature of your business (product or service), actual sales offerings and the sales process your business may have to follow, you can tweak the setup. All this is done in a single worksheet (the last one, titled “Stages, Categories, etc.” of the online sales tracker). This one time set up of your product or service offerings, your sales persons (or deal owners), and stages of your selling process, makes maintaining your sales tracker easy and minimizes human or data entry errors.

Sales Stages

Figure 1 – Typical Sales Stages

Sales stage this is simply the series of steps you have to go through from start to finish to close a sale. It begins with you first identifying a potential target customer for your product or service and runs all the way through receiving payment from the customer (never forget collecting the money is a critical part of making a sale).  Figure 1 shows one such typical sales cycle.

sales_stages demo

Figure 2 – Sales stages for a demo-based sale

Sales stages obviously can vary for your particular business – one common variant that I encounter is when a demo installation or trial period needs to be offered to a customer (something you ideally want to get away from, but unavoidable particularly at tech startups in the B2B space). In this case there may be more interim steps (or stages) in your sales tracker.

Similarly you can set up your product or service offerings, as in actual names or code names that tell you what product or service you are talking about.

Tip: Typically I’ve found it useful to precede the offering name with a numeral such as 1-Bluetooth Stack or 2-SEO Consulting, as this makes sorting and other types of numeral based operations easier. For instance variants could all be numbered within say 100-200 so reports can be easily generated.

2. Sales Tracker
The sales tracker is a straightforward spreadsheet, with each prospective sale or deal on a separate row. For each deal, the row (or record) spells out, who the customer is, what is it that’s being sold (opportunity or offering), what revenue (or selling price) you expect, what sales stage is the specific deal at, who owns the deal and what the target close date is. You can of course have additional fields such as comments, or next steps, key customer contact. Figure 3 below shows a sample tracker for product sales.

Sales-tracker

Figure 3 Sales Tracker

The tracker also has variants of the sales tracker, if you need to track number of units (N) and have a unit price (P) and therefore compute deal size based on NxP (tab, Sales_Tracker_B_Units). Similarly there’s a tracker variant for service or project selling, (tab, Sales_Tracker_C_Project) where you can add descriptors for a project in addition to any opportunity or offering name you provide. Of course your business may require yet another variant, but you can simply by adding columns make the tracker your own.

By using the Filter function in Excel, you can look up deals

  • of a particular size or greater
  • expect to close prior to a specific date
  • belonging to a particular sales owner or product (or both)
  • at or before a certain sales stage
  • that have closed but you’ve not gotten payment

In other words, an individual sales guy (that’s you) can see which of his deals he should focus on this week to close, what is the value of deals you intend to close this month (or week or quarter), which deals have NOT moved for more than a month – you get the idea, you can pretty much filter it any way you need.

3. Summary Report

Master Report

Figure 4 Report Master

The first tab Report_Master, is a quick overview report of your sales pipeline. It presently has both #deals and deal value by sales stage. I’ve set these up as formulas – these could just as easily be set up as pivot tables if you so desire. You could do without this master report sheet, by merely filtering the sales tracker sheet itself. Alternately if you find that you are running some searches often, you can just have them set up as reports. Its also useful to have a report if you multiple folks are using the tracker and you want a big picture view.

Good luck with your sales – as and when you make improvements do share and spread the love and knowledge. If you have any questions please feel free to ask questions in the comments below. Spread the word. Happy selling!

3 Steps to Find Those First Customers

CustomersA question posted in the HeadStart Forum once again reminded me of how easy many of us find it to build the product first before figuring out how best to get customers. Having bootstrapped two startups and mentored several more, here are three tips on bagging the first (new) customer.

Your ex-employer if you’ve worked before you started up on your own, your ex-employer & ex-colleagues are the best place to start. They know you, hopefully don’t dislike you & you know how much money they have. They also likely can give you honest, even if not favorable, feedback on your product or service. Other than your mother, this is likely the most friendly reception you might get from a prospective customer.

Your ex-employer’s customers This is how I got my first break – when my employer turned down a customer who was deemed too small. I approached them with a request to be able to address their requirement and was given the go-ahead. This let me take the PO, a 30% advance and then start my first company, with a customer and cash in hand. Don’t hesitate to ask and don’t be surprised if your ex-employer and their customers are amenable to such an arrangement – as everyone prefers to deal with a known quantity.

Reference customer Visualize who’d be your ideal customer and more importantly the customer for whom your solution would be ideal. Strike a deal – such as a free trial or finite number of units or one [week | month | year] of free product or service – whichever make sense depending on what your offering is – in return for a strong endorsement or further references. So if Amazon India or Procter & Gamble or some other name brand or market/channel leader is prepared to endorse your product or service, it can open the flood gates to more customers. This requires you to be able to articulate your value clearly to your prospective customer and explicitly asking them for a reference.

Of course as with looking for a job or in the Indian context, looking to get married, it’s a good idea to let everyone you know, that you are looking for customers. So trade shows, your website, entrepreneur community forums, family weddings are all fair game to chase customers. While this is more likely to result in business cards and contacts, it will be ripe for the picking once you have that first customer. Happy hunting!

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Marketing Your Services – Lessons from a Journey to Bhimavaram

Vijayawada Junction

Recently I had to travel to Bhimavaram in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. Of course I had to look it up on Google Maps to figure out where it was. It’s about a 120km north northeast of Vijayawada. As my  daughter had to be there at 9am on a Saturday morning and had forgotten to tell me but five days before, I had to scramble to make the arrangements. Now that I’m back in Bangalore I realize somewhat belatedly how everything we needed was handled almost a 100% online.

The Economist in its latest issue talks of Indian technology firms and where they may be headed. While I didn’t agree with everything they asserted, my own experience of making it to Bhimavaram and back resonates very well with their core premise that technology, the web and mobile have already changed Indian businesses irrevocably. Here’s what I found and learned.

Google – of course this is where it began – with Google Maps figuring out where Bhimavaram was and the nearest airport – Vijayawada in this case. Cleartrip was my next stop to check out airline tickets. Once I found Jet Konnect had the best connections checked out their website as well and bought the tickets there directly. Usually when travelling to a new city, I’d call friends, to see if they had any recommendations for hotels. Given I was travelling with my daughter, I checked TripAdvisor for reviews and everyone seemed to suggest the Taj Gateway awas the way to go. So off I went to TajHotels website. Then I had the bright idea to check hotels right next to them – as in centrally located by not as expensive.  I decided to check out Stayzilla who’s ads I’d seen in Bangalore – and they got me a good deal at the Taj Gateway. Then off it was to find a rental car. I called the Taj up and asked them to refer a cab company. Once again I felt the cab rates were quite high and so a quick Google search revealed a service called Saavari.com that fit the bill – they could get you a cab (including rates, ratings, the works) in practically any city – most importantly in Vijayawada in this instance. However, I couldn’t figure out a few things re quoted price online, so I called them on their toll free number. They said they’d get back to me and never did. So in the meantime I kept searching and here’s where Google Local came in real handy. Several cab companies in Vijayawada had excellent reviews ratings on Google and I reached out to one of them over the phone after checking out rates on their website (which I’m finding hard locate just now). So here we were four days before our travel, with flight tickets, hotel bookings, local taxi rental all done over a couple of hours online and on the phone – to a city we’d never been to, whose language we did not speak and with some measure of perceived safety for my teen traveller.

Lessons learned

  • Online reviews matter – the hotel we ended up staying in had good reviews on TripAdvisor. The cab we used had good reviews on Google local. These were instances of a local supplier beating out a larger national “professional” supplier. Social and community word-of-mouth is getting better, even it’s not from someone personally known to us.
  • Websites matter – Even after locating the cab company via a review, the fact that their website had clear rates, reviews and contact info is what tipped us over. Good websites matter – Savaari.com and Stayzilla I had to look up in my mail trial as I couldn’t recall their names – and in the formers’ case I couldn’t figure out the pricing and latter’s case I had to resort to the phone to resolve issues.
  • Customer service matters – Saavari.com said they’d get back to me and they never did. They had a beautiful website – clean and while my use case was not a clear fit to their standard offerings, phone calls were not returned. Similarly Stayzilla called me back to say that the Taj Gateway room was no longer available – that they’d put me in an another hotel on the same street. To give full credit to them, they constantly followed up but were caught scrambling. The place they finally got me I passed on due to poor reviews on Trip Adivsor. Jet Konnect won over ClearTrip as it was easier to cancel or make changes with them.

This was the first time that I travelled to a new city – let alone a Tier 2/3 town – without seeking direct personal inputs from friends or family and did so at short notice and had a uniformly pleasant experience – despite not speaking a word of Telugu in this instance and carrying minimal cash. Whether web and broadband penetration is where we’d like it to be or not, for businesses the web and mobile have changed how they do business forever.

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3 Rules to Keep Your Sanity in Social Media

“It seems like there is always another social network to join or another tool I’m supposed to learn. How can I keep up?”

You can’t, asserts Alexandra Samuel, CEO of Social Signal in her Harvard Business blog.

SM Marketing Madness @HubSpotImage by HubSpot via Flickr

Like all cliches, the assertion that the blogosphere is one giant echo chamber, has a good deal of truth to it. To newcomers, it appears there are the few and exalted stars of the blogosphere, and a vast ocean of unwashed unread masses, that is the rest of the us bloggers. Unlike in Mumbai or Hollywood, it doesn’t seem you can work your way up, being a waiter, then an extra, minor part player and eventually get that big break to become a star. Or then again, even without the casting couch, maybe building a social media brand is not that different from a movie career. A lot of hard work, some teeth gnashing, a great deal more of prayer,and a dash of luck to achieve your dreams goals.

So let’s learn from the folks who’ve gone before us. Having done a fair amount of stumbling myself, here are the insights I have gained, to keep my sanity in social media. And there’s a benefit to taking the long term view as Marc Meyer reminds us.

the summary

  • focus – pick a few sites to make your presence felt and stick with ’em. Use a tool such as Posterous or Tumblr to be able to write once & publish wide
  • specialize – be something very specific, even if it is to very few people. you are more likely to stand out and enjoy doing this in the long run. Others will find you.
  • community – better to have a few highly interactive friends than vast hordes of “ships that pass by the night”. Participate, give and weed periodically.

Focus We all have only so many hours in a day, that we can devote to any one thing. It is therefore critical to focus on a few – be it blogs you track/read (how many of us have more than 1000 unread posts in our feedreaders?), people you follow on Twitter, social media sites you will be on. If you had to pick only one, I’d choose Posterous or Tumblr – as these are simple ways to set up a your blog, even via email and get things sent out to all the other locations you’d like to be seen in. Sure focusing could mean that some times you are going to pick a Hi5 or a MySpace but find the world’s moved on to a FaceBook – you can move then. And using a tool such as FriendFeed or a Twitter client such as TweetDeck or Seesmic

Specialize Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Even when you think you are specialized, you can probably specialize further. Don’t be another parent blogger or Adobe Air specialist, dive deeper – be a father of pre-teens, or focus on UX on Air alone. It will be scary and will at times seem that you have gone too far. You can always step back, but focus on being yourself and bringing things of value to your reader. While Copyblogger.com and Lifehacker.com seem to have built broad based properties, that is not the place to start IMO, given where the world is in 2009.

Community The raison d’etre of social media is to build a community of interested, if not like-minded, individuals – a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. This implies two-way and many-to-many conversations. The secret to building such a community is to give of yourself first, commenting, re-tweeting, meeting in person and virtually. All best done with small groups first. So focus on building a high degree of interaction, one of high quality rather than quantity. If you view your community as a garden, weeding it is just as important as seeding and watering it.

Focus, specialization and giving to the community will act as a virtuous cycle, if done right.

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7 Easy Steps To Get Started with Social Media

Unless you have been living in a cave (or exploring one or spelunking) you’ve been bombarded by stories about Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media. And like most people I know over the age of 30, you have a vague feeling of “Is this something I should be doing?” or “Where the heck do I even start?”

Well look no further. This last year or thereabouts I have spent a good deal of time blogging, poking, tweeting, digging (more like del.icio.us – ing) around the social media sphere trying to separate the chaff from the wheat. While trying to persuade some friends, who I believe have a lot to offer, to start blogging, I realized, having a simple “Here’s what you need to do” might be the best way to get these folks started. In planning for one perfect yet tight post I nearly didn’t do this. Instead have opted now to get started and spell it out as I go. Clearly I build on the shoulders of others who have gone before.

For the skimmers, here is the quick & dirty version

  1. Have a written goal for why you are blogging
  2. Have one handle or name across all media properties
  3. Get started
  4. Do your homework
  5. Give, give and give some more
  6. Work across mediums – not just text
  7. Don’t forget the real world!
  1. Write down your purpose & goal This is as simple as being clear why you are doing this. Not because your boss told you, or your cousin thinks its a good idea or worse yet, your spouse wants you to. It could be as simple as “Coz I want to” which is want most mountaineers seem to state as their reason. Of course it’d be a whole lot better if you said specific thing such as
    • “Be seen as the #1 De-cluttering/organizing expert in the Tri-cities”
    • “Be perceived as a top 10 blogger in analog design in India” or
    • “Build a loyal following for my classical music compositions”

  2. Pick ONE name Think through the name you are going to use, for you are going to use it in a whole lot of places very soon – on your blog, on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, SlideShare – and that’s just for starters. It has got to be distinctive (so folks can remember it), specific and long enough for folks to make out it’s you but short enough to not chew up too many characters. This may not seem such a big deal, but it can be if you are successful. So might as well plan for it. Some good ones to emulate
      Of course there are no hard and fast rules – one of the most popular vcasters of all time is http://garyvaynerchuk.com/ (I had to look that spelling up) – his Twitter handle is a little easier & different at @garyvee. Sure http://rohitbhargava.com/ and http://sramanmitra.com/ are also popular, but no one outside South Asia will be able to spell their names without a lookup. Their success shows content trumps all other considerations. I’d still recommend that you use a short & descriptive handle.

  3. Get started As my dad was fond of saying, none of your preparation for swimming is useful, if you don’t get in the water. So soon as you finish reading this para article, get started. Put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard and start typing. Sure it would help if you make a writing calendar – could be as simple as, “I will spend 30 minutes each morning or 2 hours on Tue/Thur.” Whatever works for you. But don’t wait for the calendar. Start with your own “natural” voice. Sometimes it takes a few posts to discover what that is. Regardless don’t try to speak in a voice that is not yours – be yourself (probably the hardest advice to follow)
  4. Do Your Homework Building up a good social presence is no different than finding a job or getting hooked up. You gotta let everyone know and it helps if the people you talk to are themselves well connected and well thought of. Do your homework. Find out where the audience, you think you speak to, hangs out. Who are the thought leaders/bloggers in the space that you plan to blog about? Get your tracking infrastructure in place – starting with Google Analytics. There are any number of good posts & resources about building an audience for your blog – so when they come, you can know where they are coming from, what they are reading. If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.
  5. Give, give & give some more Your mom was right. You gotta give, before you can expect to get something. So focus on giving – I mean freely – what would be of value to your readers. This could be links to other interesting articles, gadget reviews, your grandma’s secret crochet techniques or other exotica (no, that was not a typo.) Find what you are good at, and what is valued by your audience and deliver it reliably with no further expectations. It’s also worth keeping in mind that much of the social media is about conversation, which usually involves more than one voice – yours – alone. The best way to give is to comment on other people’s blogs, to participate in conversations on Twitter or other social forums. Give first and ye shall receive!
  6. Cross mediums – try audio, slideware, video This might seem a stretch. Here you are still planning to get rolling or maybe just started in stringing a few words together, maybe Tweeting or mini-blogging (on Tumblr or Posterous). As one of the hottest social media stars, Gary Vaynerchuk has found – that video is his gig or as a zany Aussie hardware engineer did, you too may be a natural video star. Sometimes your content served up as a podcast may resonate with your audience on the go, as Chief Penguin Michael Katz has found. Till you play with it you will not know – iTunes, YouTube and SlideShare and others are changing the landscape of blogging & social media

  7. Real world exists In the echo chamber that is the blogosphere (& now Twitter and FaceBook) it’s easy to lose sight that there’s a real world out there. So don’t forget to get out there, shake hands and pat backs (or is the other way around). Write for your local newspaper (if it is still in existence), attend seminars and better yet give talks. Volunteer with your local NGO, or BarCamp or TweetUp. Teach a class. Anything that tickles your fancy, will recharge you and change the world a little. You will bring all that and more back to your blog and writing. If you are like me, visiting the real world helps to stay married and seeing the kids before they get old enough to drive (away). And it will make you a whole lot more interesting.

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