A few years ago, my Vistage Chair was sitting in my office. It was the beginning of our monthly two-hour one-to-one meeting and he was already challenging me on business growth.
I’ll never forget his saying to me, “You go around the country and talk to business leaders about how to use the web to grow their businesses, but you’re not taking your own advice.”
To this day, I’m ashamed of my answer, but I said, “We are a client services business. We sit behind our computer screens all day. The web won’t work for us.”
In that instant, I became every leader or owner who told me their business was different. Who said social media was a fad. Who said their websites didn’t really matter for growth.
I became the person I rolled my eyes at behind closed doors.
Though we were only 15 or 20 minutes into the meeting, my Chair packed up his stuff, said, “I’m ashamed of you,” and left.
I remember sitting there thinking, “He doesn’t know anything about my business” and was happy to get 90 minutes of time back.
Shame on me.
Many Misses Before Finding Any Wins
Clearly his challenge sat in my brain and I set about trying to figure out a way for a services firm to generate revenue online.
We tried charging for professional development. It didn’t work.
We tried charging for content—webinars and eBooks and the like. It didn’t work.
Heck, when Marketing in the Round came out, people didn’t even want to buy that. I got hundreds of requests for free books…none of which I could fulfill because a little known fact is the author has to buy their own books, too.
Not even the inbound marketing strategies we employed for clients worked. People don’t shop for communications firms.
I was stumped.
But I knew I had to find a way to use the web to help my little organization grow. I knew my Vistage Chair was right.
Grow Your Communications Firm
We did some research.
We discovered the following:
- Organizations change communications firms about every four years.
- Most hire firms—not because of their creativity or results—but because of their chemistry with the people they’d work with every day.
- More than half of the time, a new communications firm is brought in because management changes and they want their own guys…the people they already know they like.
- They may not shop for communications firms, but they do keep a short list of those that seem interesting, for when the time comes.
- It is impossible to predict or schedule new business wins.
- RFP pitches are not the best way to win new business.
- You must stay top-of-mind.
Armed with this information, we set about to figure out a way to become one of those communications firms everyone thought of when it was time to make a change.
With Spin Sucks serving as our key tactic, we implemented the following:
- I took over the blog in mid-2009 (at the time there was no editorial calendar, everyone on the team wrote whatever they wanted, no one was editing content…it was kind of in shambles) to see if we could do anything strategic with it.
- We decided we needed to take a stance and let our editorial show that (you know what that looks like when I get on my soapbox).
- We brought in guest bloggers who offered expertise that we don’t have internally.
- We got very consistent in our publishing schedule: The morning post published by 6:00 CT and the afternoon by noon CT.
- We delivered two posts a day via email (in one email) by 7:30 a.m. CT.
- We started social networks for Spin Sucks to extend beyond my own friends and family.
- We strategically brought in other voices from our internal team.
The results, as they say, speak for themselves:
- Two book deals that came to me versus my having to hire an agent and go woo publishers: Marketing in the Round in 2012 and Spin Sucks this year.
- Lots of speaking engagements I did for free in 2010 and 2011 to getting paid to speak from 2012 forward.
- Eighty percent of all our inbound inquiries come from people who read this blog (the rest come from my speaking).
Then, of course, there are the non-measurables:
- Industry awareness that has awarded us one of the top three PR blogs in the world for several years in a row.
- Consistently listed among the top PR executives on the social networks.
- Quoted in thousands of communications articles, blog posts, and stories every year.
The point is this: It doesn’t matter what your organization sells—software, time, products—you absolutely can use the web to grow.
Now is the time to plan for 2015. What are you going to do differently to have these kinds of results?