I recently visited with an entrepreneur whose journey over the past nine years included excitement, challenge, transformation and growth. Brand Castle founder Jimmy Zeilinger and I first crossed paths in 2005 when he and his wife, Andrea, were honored by Smart Business as one of that year’s “Rising Stars.”
At the time, Brand Castle was a scrappy startup with a few cooking products — some under the Crafty Cooking Kits name; others licensed under the Crayola name. The company was born from the Zeilingers’ passions of cooking and doing crafts with their children.
Today, Brand Castle looks much different. It employs a few dozen people (more than 50 in the busy season); does business internationally; holds expanded licensing agreements with well-known brands like Disney and Hello Kitty; engages in private label creations for top retail and grocery chains; and sells more than 500 active SKUs. For the Zeilingers, it has been an amazing journey that Jimmy says is still in the early stages.
All of us have our journeys, whether they are in life or in business. Each journey has its own purpose and length of time. Some take days; others weeks, months or even years. And what better time than a new year to pause and reflect on our journeys — those completed, those still in progress and even those that are just beginning.
Ken Lanci is another entrepreneur whose journey I watched this past year. Lanci has been on a journey of faith since 2007, the year he nearly died.
His journey involved re-evaluating his purpose in life. He re-devoted himself to his family and friends. He invested more of his personal time and money toward giving back to the community. He even ran for public office. And Lanci took the time to chronicle his journey in a book, “Working For The Greater Good of All … Really!!”
Next month, one of my personal and professional journeys reaches a milepost as my fourth book, “The Unexpected: How to Build Market Share and Earn Loyal Customers for Life,” is published by Smart Business Books.
Looking at lessons
What makes this journey so special is that the Smart Business brand will grace the book’s spine. Taking the time to reflect on this journey reminded me of a few important lessons:
1. Going to market is not a journey’s end. Unlike my first experience writing a book, I now recognize that publication is not the end. Instead, going to market — whether it’s a book or your company’s new product or service — is just the culmination of the first or second leg of a much longer journey. Too many of us forget that once the product or service hits the market, the real work actually begins.
2. You must embark on a journey for the right reasons. Many people fail to establish a concrete goal when they begin a journey. If you don’t have a plan in place, you’ll likely end up running in circles with little to show for your efforts.
3. Few things beat compelling storytelling. People love stories. They are what connect us. One of the greatest lessons we learned while researching “The Unexpected” was that strong storytelling can help enhance — or damage — an organization’s brand.
4. Entrepreneurship is the bread-and-butter of innovation. Speaking with more than 100 entrepreneurs during my journey reinforced a long-held belief that entrepreneurs are among the most innovative and energetic people on the planet. They are constantly on a journey. Never, ever, doubt an entrepreneur’s ability to achieve his or her goals.
I said it before and I’ll say it again: We all have our journeys. What is yours?
Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations for Smart Business. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7026.
Many people ask me how the new generation of leadership can honor the family legacy and tradition while still putting its own “stamp” on the company culture. This can be particularly difficult today when we have so many generations working in the same place. However, history and tradition form a strong foundation for the company culture and provide stability and help to build loyalty.
Below are some techniques that I often share with clients that have a desire to preserve and honor the best of the past while evolving the company culture to support the generations of the future.
Interview the elders
First, if you are in the new generation of leadership, you might consider interviewing members of your founding generation. Consider asking them about the values that were most important to them as they grew their business.
If your founding leaders are no longer alive or able, you could consider interviewing the oldest employees, or thinking back to some of your earliest memories of your parents, grandparents and others who worked in the company.
The next step is to answer those same questions yourself. In particular, how would you like to be similar to or different from the leaders of the past? Compare and contrast the values that you hold most dear, and the attributes of the people that you like to be surrounded with and consider as leaders.
Take the time to write it down. Think about ways to distinctly describe the traditional culture that was developed by your forebears. Once you’ve decided which aspects of that culture you wish to preserve and what you would like to change, rewrite a description of your company culture and values.
Hold an encounter
Several years ago I was working with a large family business. During our first family governance meeting, I divided the room in half, with parents and grandparents on one side of the room, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren on the other side. I gave each side a large piece of paper and asked them to write down the most appreciated values and characteristics that the other team brought to the company.
I asked the older generation to report first, and it was magical to watch the faces of the younger generation as they heard their parents and grandparents describe the value of their energy, fresh ideas, connectivity and sense of wonder.
The most touching moment, however, came as the children rolled out an exhaustive list of attributes they valued in their parents and grandparents. It was a wonderful way to develop a foundation for their family governance.
Expand the presence of the culture
Another important step in both honoring tradition and developing one’s own company culture is to utilize the cultural description of the company in policies, procedures, plans and professional development materials. Some questions to ask:
- How does your strategic plan reflect and support your company culture?
- What behaviors do you recognize, reinforce and reward in your organization? Do they support your company culture, or do they work to undermine that culture?
- Are you able to translate the language in your company culture and values into specific behaviors that you would like to see demonstrated by employees?
- What are five things that you as a leader do daily to support and nurture your company culture and the values you hold dearly?
Our country’s small businesses have a unique capacity to provide this legacy, honoring the best of the past and valuing new opportunities for the future.
Lisë Stewart founded Galliard Group in 2004 to serve the unique needs of family-owned and closely-held businesses. For more information, visit www.galliardinc.com.
I first visited Ohio City in the early ’80s with my parents and six siblings to shop at the West Side Market, and I remember my immigrant mother and first-generation father sharing their love of the old-world vibrancy of the market. I also remember how dilapidated the surrounding neighborhood was — but how it had a soul and energy that the insipid suburbs lacked.
Fast forward to the early ’90s. I was studying urban planning at Cleveland State University’s Urban Studies College, and I had a number of opportunities to study aboard. There was a trip to my family’s farm in Ireland and later a summer in Poland, along with more than a dozen backpacking trips to Europe, Asia, South America, the Middle East and all across North America. I’d become fascinated with cities and the way the best of them can make the lives of their citizens robust and happy.
These travels inspired new ideas to bring back home and have also made me love Cleveland all the more. It seems that the people who complain about Cleveland are the ones who don’t have a passport.
The rebirth begins
I opened my first restaurant on a whim during my junior year at CSU. After an eight-year run, CSU refused to renew the lease and I was on the hunt for a new location. After considering cities across the country and overseas, I realized how lucky we were to live in Cleveland at that moment in time. The opportunity present in this “post-industrial frontier” was astounding, and there was no better example than Ohio City. Wanting to control our real estate, my business partners and I were able to purchase the real estate for our first Ohio City venture — McNulty’s Bier Markt, Bar Cento and Speakeasy — for $400,000.
That’s less than my Manhattan friends were paying for a closet-sized condo. The year was 2003, and people all over thought we were crazy to invest in blighted Ohio City. They thought we were completely insane when we bought the building across the street that was condemned and vacant to open Market Garden Brewery.
Then something happened: We were joined by many other like-minded entrepreneurs who opened fantastic owner-operated businesses like Crop Bistro, Soho Kitchen, Bonbon Pastry, Joy Machines Bike Shop, Johnnyville Slugger Custom Baseball Bats, Vision Yoga and many more.
The skeptics went quiet when they saw that the rising tide actually was lifting all ships. The urban pioneering Conway brothers of Great Lakes Brewing Co. saw record sales at their 25-year-old brewpub. The 101-year-old West Side Market hasn’t been this busy in decades. And now our biggest challenge in Ohio City is finding parking for the thousands of cars that visit each week.
But something else happened too. All of a sudden, everyone wanted in on Ohio City. The rent on my one bedroom apartment above Third Federal Savings & Loan went up to $1,075 per month and a years-long waiting list formed for housing in the neighborhood.
As of this writing, there was only one available storefront north of Lorain Avenue and nearly 500 residential units are under construction or shovel-ready within a 10-minute bike ride. I just bought a scruffy piece of land a three-minute walk away and will build seven fee-simple townhomes where my mortgage will be less than my current rent. Naysayers will cry “gentrification,” progressive thinkers will see that progress and revitalization is happening at a pace and scale rarely seen.
Recognizing the need to diversify Ohio City’s retail so it’s not simply a restaurant/bar/brewpub district, we are actively promoting and collaborating with other forms of retail. And we’re putting our money where our mouths are by purchasing the Culinary Arts Building on West 24th Street and working to convert it to a 43,000-square-foot fermentation facility with a retail store open six days a week selling our house-made beer, whiskey, cheese, charcuterie, kombucha, vinegar, pickles and so on. We’ll also offer tours, classes, cooking demonstrations and culinary training programs on site.
Get back on your feet
So what does the future hold for Ohio City?
Now that the commercial corridor is vibrant and largely full, the big push is on housing. As the oldest residential neighborhood in Cleveland, we’ve got an amazing stock of beautiful historic homes. While most have been painstakingly restored, there are still historic restoration opportunities. New construction — both for sale and for rent — is where we can bring in the thousands of housing units that are in demand. I’m in the process of buying buildable land within a 15-minute bike ride of the West Side Market to meet the huge demand for housing close to the energy of West 25th Street.
There is much concern voiced about the high demand for parking in Ohio City. While it’s a great problem to have, it also performs double duty as a motivation to build out our neighborhood densely and vertically, with a strong bent toward public transport, protected bike lanes and walkable areas. When I move into the new townhomes in Duck Island (just next to the Velvet Tango Room), my walk to work will go from crossing the street to a whopping three minutes. And what was once a blighted piece of derelict land at the corner of Abbey Road and Columbus Avenue will soon be home to seven townhomes.
Sometimes people cringe when they hear words like density, walkability and bike lanes. Funny how they love these things in cities like Paris that were designed before the automobile became the exclusive focus of city planners. It’s ironic when the same people that are skeptical of bicycle commuting in the winter would think nothing of skiing at sub-zero temperatures and enjoying a beer après-skiing ankle deep in snow. Maybe it’s time we start living the lifestyle we so admire when we holiday overseas. Or more likely, it’s getting back to Cleveland’s roots.
Ohio City was once a dense, vibrant, walkable neighborhood with department stores, hardware shops, dentists, doctors, taverns and breweries galore. I hope it will be once again. We certainly are well on our way ... and the best is yet to come! ●
Sam McNulty is an entrepreneur and owner of Market Garden Brewery & Distillery, Nano Brew, Bar Cento, Speakeasy and McNulty’s Bier Markt in Ohio City. For more information, visit www.marketgardenbrewery.com.
Capital markets often treat smaller companies like Randy Newman’s song “Short People” suggests: “They got no reason to live.” Access to capital is often the difference between success and failure in business, and that access can be particularly challenging, even for smaller companies.
Bank loans are not always possible or favorable, and they can come with onerous requirements. Short of a bake sale, many leaders are left wondering how to find the funds needed to drive innovation, build market share and overtake competitors. Increasingly, leaders of these businesses turn to private equity.
For years, PE was misunderstood as a realm of multibillion-dollar deals. That’s true of the banner headlines, but most PE transactions involve smaller companies. PE can work for both owners who wish to cash out of the business they’ve built, and those who seek a partner with whom they can expand their business.
Why choose PE?
PE delivers results. A good PEfirm provides a lot more than money, creating opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable. A PE firm makes companies bigger and better while providing opportunities for wealth creation for everyone involved. A great PE partner will offer the following:
- Focus on growth.
- Move smartly through the due diligence and acquisition process in ways that minimize disruption and uncertainty while providing liquidity quickly.
- Pay a full and fair price.
- Be flexible.
How PE works
PE firms generally invest majority stakes in companies, but minority deals are not uncommon.
Some PE firms focus on turnarounds, but most invest in successful companies, then help them move to the next level.
What does PE deliver?
Financial support is the clearest benefit, but global, experienced firms deliver major resources and talent that smaller firms cannot otherwise access.
Boots on the ground and deep expertise are powerful tools for supercharging growth.
Aligning interests for the best outcomes
Great PE investments always involve properly motivating every stakeholder for the success of the deal. That’s why Riverside is delighted when the original owner retains a stake in the company, allowing the owner to receive what we call the “second bite of the apple” when our stake in the investment is ultimately sold.
Anatomy of a great deal
When the owner of Wildlife International approached us with an offer to sell in 2010, we were excited about the possibilities for this wonderful environmental testing company. Wildlife was an outstanding company, but the leaders were great scientists and by their own admission not great businessmen.
Riverside identified growth and efficiency opportunities, and then worked with management to fully realize Wildlife’s potential. In two years, we expanded and professionalized sales processes, improved management, and paid for and guided the creation of new lab space and expanded product lines.
The result was a doubling of the backlog, sales funnel and earnings during our hold. When we sold the bigger and better company to an industry buyer at a logically much higher price it was a huge win for our investors, but also a tremendous result for the company and its sellers.
When interests align, beautiful things happen.
Stewart Kohl is the co-CEO of The Riverside Co., a global private equity firm based in Cleveland. In addition, Kohl is active in many civic organizations. He is an Oberlin College trustee; co-chair of the board of trustees of the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland; a trustee of the Cleveland Clinic, as well as a member of its Wellness Institute Leadership Board and co-chair of the Cleveland Clinic Capital Campaign. For more information, visit www.riversidecompany.com.
Are you one of many professionals so busy working in your career that you do not have time to work on your career? How much time do you think you spend each day or week facilitating the right level of relationships and exposure to advance your career trajectory? If you are like many professionals, you simply run out of time each day and week.
The sad truth: Working hard and delivering on expected projects does not guarantee your next desired career step. Of course for some, miracle promotions and job offers appear; but for many, it takes more than just delivering great results to stand out and move forward.
The good news: With today’s access to information, people and groups, there are easy yet actionable strategies to elevate your professional brand for your next career leap. Even if you are not plotting for a promotion or career change today, it is still important to prioritize these activities so when you are ready, you have the foundation to propel forward.
For many, their professional brand often aligns to where they have been and often not where they want to go in their career. Think about your resume and online profiles. Do these overviews showcase where you have been in your career?
Take a weekly inventory
To brand yourself for the future, you must find time each week to integrate new information, new connections and new discussions related to where you want to go next. Think of yourself as a website for a moment; if people wanted to find you, what would they type in Google? Are these terms based on where you have been or where you want to go?
Here are a few suggestions to enhance your professional brand for your next career leap:
- Make sure your online profiles and resume are current and align to where you want to go since many refer to these websites before meeting you in person.
- Ask for online references to enhance your profile. This quickly notifies board members, recruiters and hiring managers how others perceive your work and impact.
- Join relevant online groups to stay abreast of current topics and key players in your desired industry. Participate in the conversation with relevant comments to help your online brand and relevant ranking on specific topics.
- Read current events within your desired field and share this information with groups, people and team members. Be selective and focused on your posts, as recruiters and hiring managers are looking for candidates with specific knowledge.
- Follow companies you are interested in working with/for on various social media platforms.
- Be open to new connections and groups, you never know which connection or group will catapult you forward.
Seek help if you need it
With the right amount of attention and focus, it is possible to enhance your professional brand. If you still have aspirations yet don’t know how you will find the time, this is not something you have to do alone. You can always get help or hire resources to get the process going.
After a short time, you should start to see indicators that your brand is evolving. Some clear indicators include these points: there will be an upswing in requests for your time, there will be a theme among new connections, there will be outreach from recruiters for new positions, or there will be people acknowledging or reposting your content.
It is your career — don’t leave your trajectory to chance!
JJ DiGeronimo is president of Purposeful Woman and Tech Savvy Women, author of “The Working Woman’s GPS” and “Before You Say YES.” For more information, visit www.purposefulwoman.com.
Leaders of organizations are role models — either good or bad.
If they cut corners, their people will cut corners. If they wink at bad practices, their managers will wink too. If they verbally abuse colleagues, others will follow their lead. If they focus only on today and ignore tomorrow, associates will do the same.
If they think public relations is some sort of game to “spin” information, they will encourage others to be less than truthful. If they do any or all of these things, they will detract from respect and therefore their ability to lead.
Make sure your personal brand stands for something.
Invest in your brand
A lot of people will tell you that the best investment you’ll ever make is in your children’s education. That’s actually the second best investment. The very best investment is in your personal brand. Do that well, and you’ll have no problem paying for your children’s college tuition.
Your personal brand is all about what you stand for. Ask yourself tough questions, such as the following:
- Do I always make decisions based on what’s best for the company?
- Am I consistent and even-handed?
- Am I clear and direct in interactions with associates?
- Am I fair-minded?
- Do I hold myself to the same high standards I set for others?
- Do I listen well?
- Would I rather be liked or respected?
- Am I a good role model?
The right answers to those questions are where personal brand-building starts. If you really want to lead, take those questions seriously.
Get close to the action
When leaders pay attention to their personal brands, organizations have a much better chance to flourish.
It’s essential to get out of the office and close to the action.
Three things occur the higher you rise. First, you get less on-the-ground information. Second, information can become so filtered that it’s worthless. Third, it’s easy to miss warning signals of trouble ahead.
A linchpin of leadership is to get out of your comfort zone and mix with stakeholders — employees, customers, neighbors. Your business will be more successful if you are as close to stakeholder issues as often as possible. And, that will set a powerful example for your troops.
Davis Young is the principal of DY Author & Speaker LLC and the author of “Trust is the Tiebreaker,” an e-book published by Smart Business Books, currently on Amazon.com. Contact Young at (440) 248-9550 or Dysolon@aol.com.
As CEO of a nonprofit with nearly 500 employees, my primary objective is to provide great services to the individuals entrusted to our care. Over time, it has become very apparent to me that one of the major keys to our agency’s success has been my ability to maximize employee productivity.
Nearly 30 years of heavy lifting as a nonprofit executive has netted a winning managerial formula: Let my employees see me as one of them.
Know it or not, we’ve been schooled on how to set ourselves apart as managers since childhood: Didn’t the all-powerful Oz have his command center behind the curtain? Get rid of the curtain. Get rid of the comfort zone you’ve surrounded yourself with and connect on a real level with your employees.
Be a member of the team
While some may view this as a risky concession of power, experience has shown me that the risk is well worth the reward. I have found that positioning myself as a member of the team provides the necessary reinforcement and motivation for many of my employees to take that extra step. In other words, I lead by example.
Yes, the concept of leading by example is not new or rocket science. But as a daily management discipline, it requires a consistent and hands-on application in order to command the productive outcomes a large organization demands. Being open and accountable to staff for my decisions, good or bad, has been vital to the formula’s success.
I encourage my administrative team to point out areas where I can make improvements and openly engage in a critique of decisions that did not work out. I have found that an active demonstration of transparency is not only a great motivator, but builds employee confidence in me, and by extension, the organization overall.
The other side of the formula includes clearly communicating your organization’s mission and vision and backing that up with a solid foundation of policy and procedure. The organization stands for much more than any one individual, and driving our corporate philosophy from day one is one of the most important things I do as CEO.
Meet all new hires
With this as a priority, I meet each employee that joins our team during his or her orientation. Yes, demands on my time can make this commitment difficult, but I’m not about to argue with results that work. Putting myself in front of each employee provides them with the opportunity to hear directly from me and gives me the chance to hear directly from them.
In the end, once policy and procedure have been digested at a level that successfully sets the ground rules, this management strategy opens the door for independent thinking to occur which leads to excellence in service delivery.
Simply put — being one of them allows me to communicate on a much more effective level. Employees know where I stand on issues. They know my expectations and they understand consequences. They know that I have faith and trust in them.
Over time, this has translated into lucrative managerial dividends. Employees take the investment I’ve made in them and leverage it forward with a personal commitment to co-workers and most importantly, the individuals our agency serves.
Terry Davis is president and CEO of Our Lady of the Wayside. The Wayside is a regional leader in residential, respite, transportation and adult day programming for children and adults with developmental disabilities. For more information, visit www.thewayside.org.
Forty marketing professionals. Fifteen pots of coffee. A hundred new marketing ideas. All in just 24 hours, on zero sleep and at zero cost to the community. The WhiteSpace Creative 2013 CreateAthon was our largest, most substantial effort yet.
One agency re-branding three deserving nonprofits — the Cuyahoga Valley Youth Ballet, the Battered Women’s Shelter and the Victim’s Assistance Program — from the ground up.
In 2002, when WhiteSpace was a nine-person design shop wanting to give back to the community, we kicked off our first CreateAthon. The brainchild of a South Carolina-based firm, Riggs Partners, the National CreateAthon was a fledgling round-the-clock creative marathon providing pro bono marketing and communication services to nonprofit organizations.
In retrospect, our inaugural CreateAthon’s uncomplicated nature reflected WhiteSpace as an agency at the time. We were just four designers, two account executives, a copywriter, an office manager and an intern producing a few modest communication materials.
Growth in size and ability
In the 12 years since that premier event, WhiteSpace has grown substantially in both size and ability. As our agency has evolved, so has our approach to CreateAthon. Getting bigger meant we could make a bigger impact.
Sure, increasing the number of nonprofits and projects also increased our stress level. Heads banging on keyboards at 1 a.m. Brisk walks through downtown Akron at 2 a.m. Adult beverages uncapped around 5 a.m.
It also added to our degree of satisfaction. Early on Friday morning, when we finally revealed our projects to the nonprofits, we got more heads nodding with approval. More smiles. More tears of appreciation.
To date, the WhiteSpace CreateAthon has benefited more than 100 nonprofit organizations throughout Northeast Ohio. That’s more than 300 projects — valued at more than half a million dollars — making a difference for thousands of people throughout the region.
Over the past two years, the WhiteSpace CreateAthon has morphed into an Extreme Brand Makeover competition where nonprofits compete for a branding “package” valued at more than $25,000. It’s another reflection of our company’s restructuring. Rather than producing individual projects for our clients, WhiteSpace — as an agency and for CreateAthon — is immersed in developing integrated programs.
You don’t have to outgrow the concept
CreateAthon is a perfect example of how a company doesn’t have to outgrow a concept. Yes, WhiteSpace has changed significantly over the past 12 years, but the important things have remained the same. Last September, as the sun began to rise and signaled the end of our 12th CreateAthon event, I looked around at the 40 WhiteSpace employees wearing sweats, baseball caps and slippers in place of their pressed pants, ties and heels. These are people who not only gave up sleep, but precious time with their families. I realized then, that whatever our size, it’s WhiteSpace’s commitment to attracting others who share the belief that “it’s not what you get; it’s what you give” that keeps us successful.
As WhiteSpace — and CreateAthon — continue to grow, I can’t help but think how fortunate I am to have gathered this exceptional group of talent that cares about the extra things we do as a company, that cares about each other, that cares about the long-term success of our clients and, especially, cares about our community. Even at 3 a.m. ●
Keeven White is the president and CEO of WhiteSpace Creative. He openly shares his expertise and experience with the community through a variety of speaking engagements and has been recognized for his business, creative and community service efforts. Contact him at email@example.com. For more information, visit www.whitespace-creative.com.
It’s safe to say that individuals are more likely to do business with organizations they trust. With that in mind, establishing and preserving a good name is critical to the long-term success of any organization.
In my book “Trust Is The Tie-Breaker” I provide checklists, step-by-step instructions and real-world examples organizations need to succeed. Here are the three cornerstones to building a good name for your organization.
Ask tough questions
Reputation building starts with asking tough questions and insisting on truthful answers. Here is a partial list of questions you should be asking:
- Are you getting and keeping the customers you really need?
- Are you able to recruit and retain excellent employees?
- Are you creating important new relationships on a regular basis?
- Is your business growing at the rate it should?
- Do stakeholders know what makes you distinctive?
- Do you really care about stakeholders in ways they understand and appreciate?
- Do you have vulnerabilities that need to be fixed before they blow up into a crisis?
- Do your company’s actions match its words?
- Do you give people reasons to trust?
If a good reputation is on your wish list, ask the tough questions and get the right people in the room to help answer them. Then, implement an improvement agenda.
Focus on the relationships that matter
Every company has 10 or 20 key relationships. It’s never a big number, but it’s the people who can make or break your enterprise. Their impact on your company’s reputation is huge.
Keep them current. Ask for their advice. Track those relationships. Provide lots of TLC along the way. Be upfront with those key relationships when there is a problem or an issue. Never, ever surprise them. Whether the news is good or bad, they need to hear it from you first.
Set the bar high
What goal is higher than wanting to be the organization of choice?
That starts with establishing your organization as distinctive in ways that mean something to your stakeholders.
You can achieve distinctiveness in the workplace when you encourage a culture that values teamwork or which constantly reinforces the expectation of high ethical standards.
You can achieve distinctiveness with customers by constant repetition of actions that place their interests ahead of yours or by services that are truly easy to navigate.
Almost without exception, organizations can identify distinctiveness and those that can’t do so today can identify potential to reach that goal tomorrow.
Define what your organization does really well. Make sure everyone reinforces that distinctiveness in ways that address benefits to others. ●
Davis Young is the principal of DY Author & Speaker LLC and is the author of “Trust is the Tiebreaker,” an e-book published by Smart Business Network, currently on www.amazon.com. Contact Young at (440) 248-9550 or Dysolon@aol.com.
The idea of driving aimlessly seems glamorous in movies and songs. In reality, few of us get in a car without knowing how to reach our destination. We’ve created smartphone apps, GPS devices and satellite mapping to make our trips as efficient as possible and to avoid what we know to be an inconvenient, expensive outcome — getting lost.
I bring up this idea because many companies using social media have inadvertently become lost drivers. They start using social platforms with the goal of reaching some number of likes, retweets or shares, but as they embark on their social media strategies, many experience a disconnect between the content they post, blog and tweet and their progress on measurable business goals. These companies are driving without a roadmap; they just don’t know it.
Sound familiar? If social media isn’t working for you, your social media approaches may be missing a fundamental component: an effective content strategy. Here are three ways a solid content strategy will enhance your company’s social media success.
A like is just a like
All social media engagement is not created equally. To be successful, the social media activity that you generate needs to support your marketing goals — whether you want to improve employee engagement, boost customer conversions or build interest in a new product.
Creating a content strategy before you engage in social media will help your business clarify the specific marketing goals you want to achieve through content, as well as what messages you need to communicate to reach those goals. This process will ensure you get the right likes, shares and retweets from social interactions.
Social is a vehicle
Social media is a vehicle for sharing compelling content with your audience, and it doesn’t work if you don’t know what issues, topics and trends your audience finds compelling. Part of developing a content strategy involves learning how those you are trying to reach want to be talked to. Where do they go for information? How much time do they spend online? What kind of content are they looking for from your industry?
By getting to know the interests and pain points of your audience (customers, employees, shareholders, etc.), you can develop tactics to reach your online audience more effectively, saving you time and enhancing your company’s social influence.
Relevant content is meaningful
Kings of social content don’t become that way by luck. They use strategic tactics to connect with their audience through the right channels at the right times. More importantly, they make these connections meaningful and memorable by posting and sharing strategic, relevant content that their audiences desire.
When you deliver social content that your audience members find valuable or interesting, they’ll reward you by sharing your content, engaging with your business and, ideally, helping to promote your reputation as a thought leader in your business or industry. A content strategy allows you to do that by providing a roadmap for what kinds of informative, helpful, educational or creative content you need to make meaningful interactions.
As a recent Huffington Post article put it, the golden rule of the web is clear: “To know us better is to sell us better.” Ultimately, being successful in the social media space means taking the time to map out what success looks like. In this sense, a solid content strategy is not only an important component of any social media strategy, it’s the key to driving the results your business wants.
Michael Marzec is chief strategy officer of Smart Business and SBN Interactive. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7078.