One of the neat things about writing your own blog is that you can pretty much write about whatever you want – you don’t really answer to anyone! And while ...
The internet has opened the door to an unprecedented opportunity to find a wide variety of products and services like never before. We are exposed to a tremendous number of businesses providing all levels within a given market – low, low-cost providers, to high-end ones as well. And while the concept of ordering online has some challenges – such as the ability to “touch and feel” something before we buy to the need to coordinate delivery, often times these are minimized over time and internet sales in all industries are growing every year. In fact, in many instances, what the internet business model has brought to us is the concept of commodity shopping.
While this is a little scary to many small businesses – and even some large ones too, what we are starting to find is the need to find the best manner in which to compete with the online competition, or even how to drive business to our own online storefronts.
One important way to compete, is to develop a value proposition that can be easily explained and communicated to our existing clients and prospects alike. What is it that makes you different than everyone else, and truly makes it worth the potential additional expense or means of dealing direct with you versus an easy online sale? Perhaps this is in the variety of options you can provide, or the technical support you offer. Maybe it is your convenient location - a hometown presence versus working with someone shipping from 3 to 4 states away! Or just the ability to actually meet and build a relationship with a real person!
Whatever your specific value is that can help differentiate you in the marketplace, know that it makes very little difference to anyone if in fact you do not do a good job of communicating it. We can all get a little lazy here, or even think that we do a better job than we really do – but as I have suggested many times in the past, most of us will get tired of repeating our message well before most people have even heard it!
A great way to share this value is through the use of content marketing. Instead of just developing a nice brochure about your company, product or service as was the accepted practice 10-15-20 years ago, now take the time to create multiple platforms that show your expertise through blogs, white papers, digital publications, resource guides, etc. Direct clients and prospects to these, and also consider printing them out to bring in person the next time you meet with a client. One of the cornerstones of social media marketing is the concept of social interaction - but often times we forget that this can be more than just online. The personal phone call or better yet, a personal visit, is just about as social as you can get!
In the end, there will be many individuals that will take the time and energy to find the lowest price online, versus taking a drive to your local business – and in most of these cases, there will be very little you can do about it. This is how they prefer to shop, and you will not be able to change them. However, there are those that will prefer to do business with someone they can talk to, rely on and interact with. It is your job to attract them and then communicate the why they should do business with you.
What is the value you bring?
In my previous post I shared how the concept of storytelling is a great marketing tool. Ideally the story engages the reader and shares the mission and passion about you organization. And while many times it is a story from a client or volunteer, or someone else that has been impacted by your organization’s work, the concept of sharing your own personal story as the leader can also be a way to personalize your work. With this in mind, I offer a bit of my own background – and how I came to be part of C L Graphics!
I had first become involved in Graphic Arts and Printing through my high school instructor – Len Wilson, at Hersey HS in Arlington Heights, IL. While my initial thoughts of a career might well have been in architecture (my creative side), the initial classes I took in Graphics were very interesting to me. Len was a strong influence, along with my brother Tom who also was involved in these classes (he actually pulled me in first). After 3 years I was so immersed already that I elected to continue my education in Graphic Arts at Illinois State University – also following along with my brother, who was 1 year ahead of me. While at ISU, I was mentored by two professors – Dr. Fred Kagy, and Dr. Dean Blomgren. They shared not only a good knowledge of the industry, but also instilled the drive to continually learn and also become involved – in organizations and trade groups. To this day, I believe the value of a college education is much more than just the classes you take, but rather the influences and networking that help shape who you become in the workforce.
Following college, I chose to begin my working career as a high school instructor – at Addison Trail HS in Addison, IL. Likewise I had great individuals who helped me become involved. Norm Sturm, Wayne Simms and others helped mold me. The students – some of which I have even heard from 15 and 20 years later, were the real reason for the work you do as a teacher. I continued gaining experience through teaching a night school class and then as an adjunct instructor at Triton College for 1 year.
While I genuinely did enjoy teaching, there was a part of me that wanted to do more – and to get further involved in the industry outside of teaching. With this in mind I approached my HS teacher – Len Wilson, and asked him how he had begun a part-time business that he worked out of his home with his wife Carolyn. Our discussions progressed to the point that he asked if I would be interested in joining them by taking C L Graphics full-time. This was a pretty neat opportunity I felt, and at the age of 25 I became part owner of the business! We found a building to rent, purchased some additional equipment and with the help of a bank loan at the then going rate of 18%, we were “all in.”
The beginning years were not easy. Carolyn would do typesetting, layout and camera work – I would do platemaking, presswork and bindery – and then I would put on my sport coat and not only deliver, but also then go out and make sales calls! After about 3 months it became apparent that the cash flow generated would not be enough to initially sustain us, so I also took to delivering pizzas – something just to be able to pay the bills. Over time though, our sales grew and we even needed to begin adding additional members to the team. I am proud to say that some of them – Dave Fisher and Pat Bauer, are still with us today, at 31 and 29 years!
The partnership lasted for five years, and then Carolyn, Len and I chose to separate. Not an easy transition by any means, and this required me to take on additional debt from family and a new banking relationship as well. Over time though, and with a strong work ethic and commitment, C L Graphics has grown and become successful. Over these years (33 now), we have received numerous awards for client work from trade associations, recognition for management and marketing achievements, and in 2012, I was named NAQP/NAPL Printer of the Year! I have been honored to have served on two national trade association Boards, several local ones and have been President of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce and the Ambassadors as well. I currently serve as Board Chair of the McHenry County Community Foundation as well.
Over time I have found that getting involved in the industry and other groups has given me so much more than what I have had to put in as effort. I also know that the individuals I have mentioned at the HS and College level, as well as my business partners, have been a strong influence in how I choose to run C L Graphics. My education experience has helped me in learning how to market ourselves, helped me be comfortable in offering seminars and educational opportunities for our clients, and no doubt has helped me in being able to tell my story as I have here.
I have much to be thankful for, and it is this experience that provides the passion for what it is I do!
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… pretty hard to beat a line like that from the Star Wars series of films to start off a story! And yet, all through history there have been a slew of well told stories that have engaged the readers and shared the mission of an organization or helped to launch a cause. In fact, I would suggest that a well written and passionate story can be one of the strongest ways to market your organization.
To help share this concept, we recently hosted a seminar entitled “Storytelling for Successful Marketing,” and while we have been presenting seminars with timely topics for nearly ten years now, this particular one has easily attracted the most attention so far. The interest and engagement by attendees I believe, really helps reinforce the concept.
So what can a good story do to help promote your organization? Well similar to the differences between push and pull marketing, a good story can do much to engage the reader into learning about your organization from someone other than just yourself. Typically the “storyteller” is someone whom either had a direct experience with your organization’s product or service, or could share how their life’s circumstances were impacted by your organization. Now, it is not just you telling others about yourself, but rather someone else sharing their experience. It is far more natural for us to believe what others have to say, rather than the “crafted marketing message!”
Beyond this concept though, within our seminar we also touched on the importance of an honest, sincere and compelling story. One that speaks from the heart and is passionate. Another strong way to enhance the written word is through images. Either with the use of photographic images, illustrations, or even video, one can create a strong visual that adds yet another layer of personal involvement/attachment.
To make your story even more impactful, we also have a variety of media formats to utilize in distributing the message. Whether through in person gatherings, the written word, online digital distribution or a very powerful option of social media, the concept of sharing the message is much more real now. Even the ability to update the “ending” to a story or communicate the results of a campaign built around the story can become a strong marketing component.
If you are looking for new marketing strategies for your organization, the concept of storytelling is definitely one to consider. Whether it be in the form of short testimonials or an in-depth, detailed recap of a personal experience, the benefit can be a much more personal relationship with your clients and/or donors.
We all have a story to tell… what is yours?
And to receive a free copy of the seminar presentation, click here: http://www.clgraphics.com/storytellingdownload/landing.html
In the book It Takes A Village by Hillary Rodham Clinton and attributed to African proverbs, the concept that it takes a whole village to raise a child, to me also speaks to the idea that for businesses to truly succeed, it takes much more than just a good leader. Rather, it takes a whole team of committed and enthusiastic employees to make that success – and then to continue the momentum over time.
In my last blog post I talked about the need to stay relevant, to change with the times, and how that is critical over time as organizations transition from start-ups though mid-life and then to future generations. I mentioned that it also needed to be a team effort. I very much believe that this is not only true, but really the cornerstone of success. Even the true visionaries and genuine thought leaders of business were only able to succeed with the “buy-in” of those that did the day-to-day work. It is those who embrace the leader’s concepts and also push themselves to advance that will make a difference. Over time, this effort not only helps a business grow and succeed, it also allows the individual to grow – to achieve more and contribute ideas that will advance their career path.
Within organizations, both small and large, you will find individuals that have different roles. Some are directly involved in generating new business/sales, or in nonprofits, the ones who bring in the donor support. There are others that manage the day-to-day operations – keep the machines running, manage workflow, schedule services calls, etc. We also need people who will take care of the wide variety of regulations that all organizations need to pay attention to – HR, legal, etc. Some of these roles we may have been hired in to – others we found ourselves assuming responsibility for when no one else was available. This concept is also very interesting, in that for many rapidly growing organizations, responsibility is not given, but rather it is taken. When our team members look to grow and contribute more than what is asked of them, then that is when forward momentum begins to happen. And when multiple people combine their efforts, then really great things happen!
Teamwork can also come from outside of your organization as well. Consider your employees that are tasked with a certain objective and they take it upon themselves to reach out to their friends or others in the community to gain knowledge or different perspectives. Perhaps they lean on a trade group or industry association for assistance – or seek out advice from a local community college or Chamber of Commerce. These resources can provide valuable information to help an organization grow beyond its internal limits.
When organizations are growing, especially at fast rates, the challenge of building teamwork is often easier. A culture of excitement and a desire to prove yourself as an individual that can help the organization grow is dominant. Each person quickly rises to the challenge, or if not, then the core group looks to move on with finding other worthy team members. As organizations mature however, the challenge becomes one of continually reaching for new achievements and adapting to the industry changes. If not, and the team becomes complacent or comfortable, then momentum can be lost!
How is your team positioned?
In keeping with my last blog post’s theme, the need for organizations to keep the momentum going, is truly an ongoing challenge. Whether you are a small business – medium or large, or even a nonprofit organization as well, there are often major shifts in the business climate that can drastically affect your ability to stay relevant. And sometimes, even though they may be significant shifts, they might well not be easily recognized right when they are happening – rather it might take a little time before we fully realize the impact.
For instance, while almost all of us will acknowledge a very real convergence of economic meltdowns centered around the 2008 recession, I would suggest that at about the same time frame, a number of technological shifts were also surfacing. As a result of these changes, the demand for new job growth and employment needs were actually lessened, right at the very time that we needed this new growth to fully recover. For instance, why would the financial industry need to hire “bank tellers” when now you can just scan a check from your phone to make a deposit! And while this is just one small example, many other businesses – including the print industry, found that significant changes in technology and communication formats had a “life changing” effect on how they do business.
In fact this effort to remain relevant is fueled by the concept of change. Whether through technological change or just the need to keep the company spirit moving forward, change is critical for companies to deal with especially as they shift from the initial “start-up” phase, through any “mid-life” crisis points, and then as they look to transition from one generation to the next. Long term business success is not a given. In a recent article in Inc. magazine, Jason Fried of the company Basecamp, talks about potential lessons learned from long-time business owners, and how we can all learn from them. Those businesses or organizations that have passed the “test of time” know that it takes much more than just a good idea or product. There must be a real value proposition for their clients to see and understand. There also needs to be a motivation and drive within all business team members to contribute to this value proposition in order to make it real, and then be able to shift and create new products or services to adapt to the changing business climate while still remaining true to the company values.
One advantage that start-up businesses have is the “all-in attitude” amongst its employees – their desire to make a mark and please the customer is second to none. As time passes though, complacency and the comfort of initial success can be hard to overcome. It is those organizations that can deal with this and adapt to change as well – to stay relevant, that will truly succeed.
How is your organization looking to stay relevant?
Over the course of the last several weeks, or even months I guess, I have heard numerous financial reports on how the economy is on a slow track to recovery. We are definitely in a growth mode, just not very fast! Predictions have been made that growth would be over 3% this year, then we had a rather harsh winter blast that seemed to throw everything backwards. Now growth in the first quarter was actually negative, but even still it is expected that we will top 2% for the year. But hang on, because things will surely change! Heck it seems like when some positive reports come out you would expect a good day on Wall Street, and just the opposite – we end up dropping 50 points. But then, on seemingly not so good news, wait for it… bam – the stock market shoots up!
Through all of this noise and clutter, most of us in business find ourselves just keeping at what we can control. At the start of the year we make our plans – put together a marketing strategy, look at new markets or perhaps try to bolster existing ones. And if we are smart, we stick with the plan without major changes. It is important not to get too caught up in the day-to-day fluctuations, but rather focus on the big picture!
Having said this though, it can be increasingly tough at times to keep the forward momentum going! It seems like all of us – and our employees as well, keep hearing the ups and downs, and this can begin to wear on you. Keeping up the positive attitude, looking to even just stick to the plan – all of this can be pretty tough at times. Yet it is our role as the leaders of an organization to fight the battle and keep pushing. We need to stay up with the latest industry news and trends to pick up new ideas or look for encouraging news that we can share with those at work. We need to plan company wide activities or gatherings that engage our employees and encourage teamwork. We need to push to find new ways to share our marketing message or to attract new clients.
All of this takes a good amount of energy and renewed passion from within ourselves as well! It can be very stressful to always be the one at the front – or the one that your staff looks to for the answers. In fact many times it is this pressure that causes owners to give up the fight and close the doors of a seemingly successful business. All the more reason to take some time now and then to re-charge your own batteries, and to make sure you have the momentum yourself to keep moving forward!
So how do you keep pushing?
A couple of weeks ago I had a rather busy day scheduled out. The first part was participating in the Axelson Symposium – an annual day-long educational event for nonprofit organizations in the Chicago area that is presented by The Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management at North Park University. As one of the sponsors of this event we are able to not only have a booth to share our services with the attendees, we are also able to participate in the presentations throughout the day, which are very insightful. Following this event, I was also scheduled to attend out local United Way dinner the same evening – suffice it to say that this was going to be a long day without much of a break!
I will admit though that I was very interested in hearing especially two of the presentations. The first one was at the Axelson event. The closing session was “Life is What You Make It: A Concert & Conversation with Peter Buffet.” While most everyone has heard of his father Warren Buffet, certainly I thought, that Peter would no doubt have some very interesting thoughts and insights as well. And that he did… while a fairly short presentation, Peter did share much about what his upbringing was like and how each of us is challenged with decisions in life with regard to taking the path of least resistance, or the path of potentially greatest satisfaction. As a musician and also a philanthropist, Peter combined his passion of music with his life experiences and philosophy on giving as well.
The second part of the day – actually evening, was an opportunity to not only meet up with many other community members that help support our local United Way, but also to hear the keynote speaker – Scott Parazynski.I was rather looking forward to hearing Scott talk, as I had the chance to read a little about his life experiences through the program book that we had printed in advance of the event. One could easily suggest that he is the classic overachiever – during a 17 year career with NASA, Scott had flown on 5 shuttle missions and conducted 7 spacewalks. In addition to this career, he was a commercial pilot and is also a physician – currently the Chief Medical Officer at the University of Texas. And oh by the way, he has also climbed Mt. Everest! It was truly an interesting talk that he gave – sharing his drive to achieve all that he has set out to do – and continues to do! More than one of us at the dinner made comments with regard to that even though we ourselves might have achieved much in our lives, compared to Scott, we did not match up that well.
Which ultimately brings me to the real point of my blog post today, and that is now two weeks later that I have had the chance to read thru the book that Peter Buffet had written and shared with us at the Symposium, entitled “Life Is What You Make It.” I was able to get some great insight and thoughts on what helps shape each of our lives – from the very beginning, thru some of the difficult decisions each of us make – including mistakes as well. One section in particular – What we mean when we say “success,” was a great read that suggests success is not just measured by the money we make, or even the achievements we reach – but rather by the value that we ourselves place on a given goal and what we feel in our own inmost hearts. And hence, even though we may not achieve the life of an astronaut, mountain climber or physician like Scott Parazynski, that does not mean that each of us cannot, or in fact do not, lead a very successful and rewarding life as we ourselves see it!
So what is your passion?
I had an opportunity this last week to participate in a unique community event, called On The Table. Actually, it was part of a much larger regional event coordinated by the Chicago Community Trust, that was designed to bring together a large number of small groups of people to talk about what was important to them in their communities. Looking back, 99 years ago, this was how the Chicago Community Trust was founded – by interested and community minded individuals meeting to talk about how they could make a difference.
Fast forward to today, and the vision of CCT was to again have individuals get together and share their thoughts of what is working well, and perhaps not so well within the whole Chicago land region. All together there were well lover 11,000 individuals represented on Monday night, the 12th of May. Locally in McHenry County, our own Community Foundation sponsored over 20 different “table” discussions, and then other organizations and individuals added several other gatherings as well.
At the table that I had hosted, the discussion was interesting and varied. Our main topic seemed to focus on the concept of volunteerism – how it is a real strength within our county and communities, and has been for some time, although we are beginning to see it start to wane somewhat. The talk was that this seems to be generational in nature – the youth seem to be more focused on volunteering for a given event rather than an ongoing organization or membership commitment. We also discussed the need for job growth, vocational skills and the elderly – which for McHenry County is the 4th fastest growing population sector in the state of Illinois! For other tables that met, transportation was a key topic, state taxes, education and much more were discussed.
The idea of getting a wide range of people together to share their ideas freely is really pretty unique. Often times there is a political driver behind these types of gatherings, which can stifle the conversation. This was not the case here – rather an open dialogue and the opportunity for people to meet others that they would not normally have a chance to talk with. I definitely enjoyed the opportunity to participate, and hope that both the McHenry County Community Foundation and the Chicago Community Trust can use the discussion information gathered to help foster better communities for all of us to share in for the future!