Why I got a HubSpot Certification-and Why Many of my Colleagues are Back-To-School

I recently got my HubSpot Inbound Certification! To earn it, I took 12.5 hours of online classes, took quizzes, and then passed a test of 60 questions in 70 minutes.

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Some of the lessons were very basic for an experienced marketer. Others gave me a different perspective at the buying process.

Some people asked why I was getting this certification.  The most important reason is that all of my clients—and my company—have websites and are attracting and engaging with their customers online.  I hope that the lessons I learned from other experts will give me a new perspective when creating  marketing plans, online content, and setting and measuring response rates.

I know several professionals in other industries who are also back at school, some getting on-line certificates, others working towards really time-consuming certificates, one an MBA.   Here are some reasons why they said they were getting extra education:

  • Update needed credentials
  • New technologies allow them to learn a new skill to help clients
  • To learn new skill sets
  • Tie together different parts of their education and experience
  • Build credibility & respect
  • Differentiate their knowledge level

Varied but valid reasons, I think. Stepping away from our daily routines helps us to look at our world from a different lens. It gives us new ways to challenge ourselves. And may introduce us to new people and opportunities.

Plan for it next year—take a class, earn a new certification or degree, attend an event, join an industry association. Maybe it will lead somewhere unexpected.

The journey continues.

C

How Not to Say Thank you

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I think it’s important to say thank you to your customers. When they buy something or respond an online offer (magazine, webinar, research, etc), it is an opportunity for you to reaffirm your commitment to them. Each email, direct mail piece, or box shipped with item that a customer has ordered is an opportunity to re-affirm your relationship and promote your brand.

Be sure when saying THANK YOU that you look at your effort from the customer’s point of view. Does it REALLY say thank you?

Here are 2 examples of “thank yous” gone awry. I received both within the last month:

  • We recently refinanced our house. We work with a major bank and have known our mortgage broker for years. The bank sent a thank you note, supposedly from the broker, with his business cards. Yet, the envelope and note were addressed only to my husband. How exclusionary and sexist! If your system has personalization limitations, then don’t do it at all. It looks thoughtless.
  • Unbeknownst to me, a client of mine bought a list of names a year ago from a vendor I had never heard of. It was a mess—multiple worksheets, incorrect column headers, duplicate names. Needless to say, the list was used 1x then tossed. Recently, my client and I were sent an email with a quick note of thanks and promoting a new service. Great idea for follow up, but it was a year after the purchase. Worse, instead of sending a new email, he attached his marketing message to one I sent a year ago with all the issues about the poor quality of the data files. If I had not remembered that poor experience, this email certainly brought it to the top of mind again.

(Aside that this is an example of why you should use an experienced person to vet and test list vendors before you buy a list from one of the many, many unscrupulous list sellers).

If you want to really say thank you, here is a post I wrote with some “thank you” examples that might give you real inspiration as you create YOUR thank you messages.

And as we head into this holiday weekend, I thank you Reader, for taking time to read my posts, share them, and send me email comments and questions about them.

The journey continues. C

Yes, I am a Consultant. And a Business Owner.

I have been a consultant for 18 years. Long enough to know some people roll their eyes, think I only work 2 hours a day, or can make my own schedule around my favorite TV shows. Wrong!

I am a business owner whose clients depend on me to achieve our set-upon goals.   If I didn’t work diligently, honestly, and flexibly, I would not have some clients for 10+ years. Yes, still take the time to search out new and exciting projects.

As an audience development/marketing/database management consultant (the role changes with the project) on a daily basis I have to:

  1. Get work done on schedule.
  2. Listen to my clients’ needs, sometimes helping them to articulate their goals.
  3. Regularly communicate project status and ideas to current clients. Also attend in-person and phone meetings.
  4. Be vigilant to make sure that my customers respond to emails and phone calls, so projects don’t stall.
  5. Know a variety of vendors my clients can work with—email providers, telemarketing, database management, email, auditing firms, copy writers, others I can partner with on certain projects.
  6. Stay involved in the marketing industry by reading, attending events, and doing.
  7. Have experience working with different social media platforms.
  8. Keep abreast of changing rules impacting outbound and inbound marketing emails ie. CAN-SPAM laws , telemarketing, BPA, USPS with regards to mailing periodicals.

Plus, there is ongoing work to do to keep my business running:

  1. Have trusted professionals who help me with design work, accounting, legal, and financial issues.
  2. Seek out new prospects, put together proposals as requested. Revise pricing for current clients as projects change.
  3. Keep my blog updated, to communicate my business knowledge and perspective to clients and prospects.
  4. Keep up with billing, processing payments.
  5. Handle marketing, create a new logo and website.

Every year I think I learn to run my business more effectively. This year, for the first time, I have followed the lead of successful business owners and set aside weekly time on my calendar to focus on growing and honing my business. It’s too easy to spend all day on project work, not focusing on the business. This set-aside time has made me more efficient, given me some new ideas to try this year.

The balance of client-related work vs. running the business is delicate, yet important to manage. So yes, I am a consultant. And a successful business owner.  And proud of both.

The journey continues.

C

Heath Ceramics Factory to My Table

My sister and I spent a recent Saturday morning visiting Heath Ceramics in Sausalito,CA. Made in the US since Heath Ceramics was founded in 1948, I was fascinated to learn the history of the lovely, timeless ceramics created here.

Heath Ceramics

During a factory tour, I was impressed with the obvious passion our tour guide had for the products. She carefully handled cups and vases mid-production as she explained the next manufacturing step. Some of the builders, creators,and glazers have worked there since the 1970’s, a sure sign of loyalty for Heath Ceramics.

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As a business owner, I appreciate how the vision of the founder Edith Heath lives on in the current business. Even with an ownership change in 2003, Heath Ceramics has products at the Smithsonian and other museums, classic styles. They recently took control of their product distribution, after being sold at a high- end retailers like Gump’s.

What lessons for success can a small consulting firm learn from factory tour of a ceramics firm? Many, it turns out–

  • Enduring aesthetics/ design while remaining contemporary
  • Product line transformation and expansion
  • Attention to detail
  • Loyal client base
  • Listening to the customer
  • Willingness to change
  • Staying true to your products/services
  • Changing distribution methods as needed
  • Ongoing quest for improve knowledge and practices

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I purchased a simple white serving bowl for myself (and a couple gifts for friends).  Timeless, useful, and a reminder to always strive for more in my business.

The journey continues.

C

Narrowing the Consultant Search

Consultants, consultants, it seems like it’s raining (snowing, here in Chicago) consultants!

When you need to hire a consultant, how do you choose one from all the internet listings, online profiles, phone calls, voices in your ears?

A previous post discussed WHY you hire a consultant, which you can read here. Once you have a plan for why you want to bring in a consultant—even a rough idea, since the consultant should be able to help you to get to the details your plan—the search begins.

There are several ways you can find a reputable consultant to partner with you.

  1. Recommendations from colleagues.
  2. Search your LinkedIn network. Are there any who are recommended by people you know or respect?
  3. Someone you are familiar with from industry events.
  4. Someone who has written in industry magazines ,blogs regularly, speaks at events.

Get a few ideas. Talk to several consultants, then ask them for proposals. Questions before answers.

When you are talking to individuals, what questions do they ask? Do they have a clear direction? Do they offer ideas? Do you sense a good fit? OR–Do they try and dominate the call/meeting? Do they seem like they are talking down to you? Are they able to communicate with you? Do they have follow through?

Trust your initial intuition, but take it a step further.   Ask for references and follow through on checking them. Is their LinkedIn profile current? Does it match with what they told you? And if they don’t have a social media footprint, but that is part of the work you want them to do, what is their experience?

If they have a website, is the flow easy to follow? If they blog, is it recent? Do you agree with their direction, their tone?

If you know this person, what is their reputation?

As consultants, we all have varied life and job experiences to bring to a new project. It should be our goal to help you solve your problem. Do your upfront research well, and we can help you reach YOUR goals.

The journey continues.

C

Marketing Effort Analysis

My last blog post was on the importance of laying out a marketing plan, after working with several firms who really have little history of previous marketing efforts and results. Shocking.

People who lay out their plans and track their efforts have their favorite formats and fields to monitor. Telemarketing and email firms usually give detailed analysis of their efforts. It’s really helpful to consolidate the basic information into one spreadsheet. I prefer to use Excel or Google docs, the latter if sharing the information with someone else on a regular basis or multiple people are updating the workbook. I can incorporate formulas to calculate results, saving time. I can also sort the plan by any number of fields: lowest cost per return, type of return, effort number, highest open rate, etc.

Below is a sample in Excel of a marketing plan. Obviously, this is not live data. Also, the columns would be laid straight across the top columns, but it would be too small to read to show that here!

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If you are creating your first plan, I hope you find this guide helpful.  If you already track your efforts, are there other fields you think I should include?

An upcoming post will discuss how we use this marketing analysis to react during the marketing efforts (did an effort bomb? did one rock?) and to plan for future campaign.

The journey continues.

C

Business Resolutions

Do you make annual business resolutions? Or an annual business plan that includes non-financial goals you want to achieve each year? This is a fantastic way for small business owners to look up from details, to envision changes they want to see within their businesses or themselves in the next year. For those who work for an organization, this will help you think about where YOU want to be in another year. Are there new skills you can learn this year to propel or change your career? People you can network with? Local organizations you can get involved with?

I have been a consultant for 15+ years. I was so focused on “getting the work done” that until 2013 I didn’t actually write down any business goals. Physically writing them down and then sharing them with others helped me to actually accomplish my 2014 goals.   I spaced them out throughout the year, so I would have time to achieve them.

The goals followed in a logical progression:

  1. Design a new logo to better reflect where I want to go, which you can see on this website. I worked with an independent designer, after laying out new business goals.  She then designed letterhead and new business cards, already in circulation.
  2. Create this company website and blog. Done.
  3. Increase social media presence.  While I have accomplished this here and on Twitter, I hope to do more to see a jump in followers in 2015.
  4. Do more outside speaking and training. I spoke at industry events, including the AAMP and MCA this fall. I was also hired to layout and present a 2-day training session for a vendor, which I did last spring.
  5. The most challenging: changing my business focus, from doing mainly hands on direct marketing work to helping with business strategies, improving clients customer relations and marketing results, building marketing databases (with outside fulfillment/IT management), and training.

The final bullet point above is still a work-in-progress. I underestimated the time it would take to change small business direction, since I feel like I am explaining to prospects WHY they need to look at their marketing in a new way. But, all my speaking and training was focused on this, and I passionately believe that we need to market smarter to improve the bottom line. I sometimes literally envision my business changing like a large ocean liner trying to change directions.  It takes time to do it without tipping.

I am now noodling around several goals for 2015, which I hope to share in the next couple weeks. Again, writing them will keep me focused and honest about them.

Have you already laid out business goals for 2015, or accomplished any in 2014 that you want to brag about ? Don’t be shy, feel free to list them below! It’s okay to be proud of the work we do, when we work hard!

The journey continues.

C