Avoiding Case Study Catastrophe (Part 2): Fixing a Flat Tire

In the previous issue of The Bite-sized Bulletin, I discussed the number one scourge of content marketers everywhere: the dreaded “case study catastrophe.”

What is this scary beast? It’s an all-too-common scenario: your company has a compelling customer success story just waiting to be told, featuring the perfect match between a well-defined business challenge and your solution, a seamless implementation, and juicy, quantifiable results. Your client is beyond ecstatic and willing to share their love with the world. They agree to participate in a customer case study and… you’re off to the races!

The problem? The case study project stalls midway through thanks to other people getting involved.

Legal. Compliance. Marketing and communications. The executive suite.

Last time, I shared a few tips on how to avoid this race-ending catastrophe. A quick recap:

  1. Create a case study pitch packet;
  2. Train your internal sales team;
  3. Gain the trust of your client;
  4. Explain the benefits; and most importantly:
  5. Get pre-approval from key stakeholders.

(The article contained a lot more detail, so if you haven’t read it I encourage you to check it out, here.)

These are tried-and-true, highly effective techniques. But the case study project is a long race, with many opportunities for error. Even if you follow these best practices consistently and diligently, there is still no guarantee that your project will reach the final turn without blowing a tire.

But fret not; even in the most dire circumstances, many case study projects can be salvaged. Here are a few approaches to try when despite all your best efforts, the case study project is headed for a race-ending collision:

  • Revisit the benefits: If your customer resists publication of the success story, remind them of the benefits. The client receives free promotion via your website, social media channels, email lists, press releases, and marketing campaigns. The client’s employees involved in the service implementation are recognized for their success, a powerful reward and motivational tool. Lastly, remind your client that your sales team will use the case study in prospect engagements, reducing the need for those annoying and time-consuming reference calls!
  • Negotiate “anonymous” approval: If your client still won’t budge, try to obtain their approval to publish the case study anonymously. Although not as powerful as a named case study, most organizations are fine with this approach. Assuming it presents a strong narrative and includes quantifiable results, the story can still serve your original goals and be highly effective.
  • Use it as a “campfire story:” Sometimes your client just won’t approve the project. All is not completely lost, however. Nothing prevents you from using the story for internal training purposes or as unnamed, anecdotal evidence in informal conversations with prospects.

Customer success stories are powerful vehicles and should be a fixture in every content marketer’s garage. It’s reassuring to know that even if the case study project blows out on the final lap, you have a spare tire available.

Write well and be well!

Avoiding Case Study Catastrophe

Picture this. You have just helped a new client achieve his business goals. He can’t stop gushing about how thrilled he is with your product or service, and perhaps even offers a testimonial.

So, you cautiously ask your client to participate in a case study about his experience with your company. He agrees, and you’re on your way!

That is, until just a month later, after you have spent hours conducting client interviews, gathering background information, and crafting it all into a compelling narrative, the case study project abruptly stalls.

Legal. Compliance. Marketing and communications. The executive suite.

Somewhere, somehow the case study project hits a brick wall. Unfortunately, once this happens the project is usually DOA.

I’ve been there. As a content writer who specializes in case studies (also known as client success stories), I’ve experienced this exact scenario, multiple times.

The good news is, the brick wall is entirely scalable. With a little bit of pre-planning and “greasing the wheels,” you can ensure that every case study project will be a smashing success. The key is getting buy-in from all stakeholders, before you begin.

Here are five steps to help you get it right, from the get-go:

  1. Create a case study pitch packet—Start by defining your goals for your client success story projects. How will you use these pieces of content in your marketing? What aspects of your product, service, or organization should they highlight? Once you’ve defined these goals, create a “pitch packet” to present to both your key internal client-facing team members and all new customers. The packet should include:
  • Samples of completed case studies
  • A one-page outline of the case study process
  • A description of how you will use the success stories
  • A list of standard interview questions
  • An FAQ sheet
  • A client release form
  1. Train your internal sales team—Once you’ve created your pitch packet, take the time to educate your sales reps on the benefits of client case studies and their role in the process. Use this opportunity to also gain their trust, as they are critical gatekeepers to the client relationship. Promise to keep the communication lines open and provide regular updates on the status of the project.
  2. Gain the trust of your client—The most critical step in the process is gaining your client’s trust. This starts right from the beginning of the relationship as you talk with the customer about their goals and objectives, and what they hope to achieve with the implementation of your product or service. If you can, set up a series of meetings or phone calls to get to know them better.
  3. Explain the benefits—When it comes time to pitch the case study to your client, share the benefits early and often. For the client these may include:
  • Free publicity
  • Co-marketing opportunities
  • Recognition for client team members who were responsible for the success of the implementation
  • Fewer reference calls!
  1. Get pre-approval from key stakeholders—Lastly, before you assign the case study to a writer or schedule the first interview, ensure that all key players at the client’s firm have given their tacit approval for the project. This may include the legal, compliance, marketing, or public relations departments. Depending on the size of your client’s company, it may also include a member of senior management, or even the CEO! Ask if they have any special requirements on how the case study will be used in your marketing and decide whether those restrictions will enable you to meet your goals. It’s always better to back out of the project before it begins, rather than investing weeks of time and effort before pulling the plug.

Of course, even if you follow all the above steps, there is no guarantee every case study project will go off without a hitch. Next month, I’ll share some tips on what to do if your project still hits that proverbial brick wall.

Meanwhile, If you’re interested in learning more about writing effective and compelling case studies, I highly recommend two fantastic resources:  Stories That Sell : Turn Satisfied Customers into Your Most Powerful Sales and Marketing Asset, a book by Casey Hibbard, and Ed Gandia’s Writing Case Studies: How to Make a Great Living by Helping Clients Tell Their Stories, an online course distributed by American Writers and Artists Institute (AWAI).

Until next time, write well and be well!

 

 

Training for the Marketing Marathon

For a recreational runner training for a big autumn distance race, the months of July and August are soul-crushing.

You’re getting into the heavy slog weeks of long, slow distance runs, mentally taxing mid-week speed work, and weekly mileage counts approaching 30, 40, 50 miles or even more. You wake up earlier each morning to combat higher temperatures and stifling humidity, factors that slow your natural pace down by a full minute for every 10 degrees of temperature rise.

I’m training for my second marathon. Like a lot of runners, I find it hard to stay focused. Digging deep for daily motivation is a challenge.

Yet the key to any successful distance race is to put in the work, week after week, day after day, mile after mile. As any coach will tell you, if you follow the plan, and put in the miles, you have a better-than-decent chance of hitting your goal, whether it’s to qualify for the Boston Marathon, notch a personal record, or just cross the finish line.

But you’ve got to put in the work. You can’t expect to successfully run 26.2 or 13.1 miles without training hard for three or four months. You can’t complete a distance event drawing on just one workout a week. Or by skipping your long runs when you feel tired.

Content marketing works the same way.

There is no magic marketing formula that works for every business. Some organizations publish regular blog posts on topics of interest to their target audience. Others create long-form thought leadership content like white papers or e-books. Still others seek out expert interview slots, guest posts and podcasts, and bylined articles in relevant industry journals to expand their universe of qualified leads.

All approaches are valid. But no method will work for your business unless it’s done regularly, consistently, and strategically. A white paper may present the most brilliant and unorthodox solution to a problem the world has ever seen. But if you don’t promote the content across multiple channels (like press releases, social media, and sales meetings), and repurpose it in other forms (articles, blog posts, webinars) it will have limited impact. Besides, one white paper alone won’t do much for you over the long term. The goal should be to develop a thought leadership platform, and build an audience that begins to think of your company as the go-to knowledge expert within your field.

The same goes for blogging. Too many businesses start a blog with the best of intentions, only to peter out after a few posts. It takes time to attract an audience, and once you have one, you must work to keep them engaged. A regular, active blog with relevant content improves search engine optimization (SEO), and drives traffic to your site. An inconsistent, stale blog with broken links and obsolete info has the opposite effect.

Be in it for the long haul. Develop a solid plan and stick with it, mile after mile.

That’s how you cross the finish line.

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Looking to kick your content marketing plan into race-day shape? Let’s talk! Contact me at ted@tedgoldwyn.com or www.tedgoldwyn.com.

United Breaks Faces: Never Underestimate the Power of an Irate Customer

It seems like some companies never learn. United Airlines is one particularly hard case. Even before this month’s public relations disaster involving video of a bloodied passenger being dragged kicking and screaming off one of the airline’s planes, United had long held disdain, or at best a deep misunderstanding of social media (remember “United Breaks Guitars”?)

In case you somehow missed the latest news, Flight 3411 was scheduled to fly from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky, when the airline decided to offer passengers cash in exchange for their seats. Apparently, four United employees needed to get to Louisville to work another flight.

When not enough passengers volunteered, officials randomly selected Dr. David Dao to be bumped to a flight the next day. The good doctor refused, and officials called upon three Chicago aviation security officers to forcefully remove the seated, booked passenger from the flight. Naturally, several other passengers onboard filmed the resultant, ugly scene.

The incident was certainly traumatic for the 69-year old physician and his family. For United, the current situation is bad, and only getting worse. As of this writing, video of the bleeding, wailing Dr. Dao has been viewed millions of times around the world, and United’s market capitalization lost $1 billion in a single day following the incident.

Even in the rapid-fire age of social media, there are some evergreen lessons to be learned from this debacle:

  1. Take ownership and accountability, quickly: United’s initial, knee-jerk response was to circle the wagons. In its official statements immediately following the viral dissemination of damaging video footage, the company stood by its employees and claimed Dr. Dao acted belligerently. It also claimed the flight was “overbooked”, which turned out to be false. United should have quickly taken responsibility for its employees’ poor decisions and for the aggressive actions of the Chicago aviation officers, promised an immediate investigation, and apologized sincerely to the victim and other passengers.
  2. Corporations don’t control the medium, or the message: Shockingly, many world-class, global corporations still pretend to live in a world without the Internet and social media. Gone are the days when a company can control what its customers and the public see or hear through a well-crafted, uni-directional marketing message. Today, organizations need to constantly monitor their social feeds and react in real time to what is being said, in a real and authentic way.
  3. Show your human side: Speaking of real and authentic, today’s connected consumers are looking for a touch of humanity from the people who represent the brands they choose to do business with. Corporate-speak and legalese are out; honest, empathetic engagement is in. If United’s CEO had simply come out on day one and professed both remorse and sympathy for his customer’s experience, the worst of this situation may have been contained quickly. Instead, it has dragged on for the better part of a week, morphing into a public relations disaster of epic proportions. Following his initial, tone-deaf response, United’s CEO has tried to make amends, claiming shame on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and vowing to change the company’s ingrained corporate culture for the better. United has offered refunds to all passengers on Flight 3411.

In the meantime, the 69 year-old doctor is reportedly recovering from numerous injuries sustained in the incident, including a broken nose, concussion, two lost front teeth, and damaged sinuses. But United has likely sustained worse long-term damage to its reputation and financial fortunes. According to Dr. Dao’s lawyers, he plans to sue the company very soon.

Lessons learned from my first year as a solopreneur (Part 3)

Hey gang! Here is the third and final post pertaining to lessons learned in my first year as a freelance B2B writer. I think there are a few good nuggets here:

Get really good at what you do. Malcolm Gladwell claims in his book Outliers that it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours to become an expert in anything. That’s right – whether your goal is to become a concert pianist, best-selling novelist, or Olympic Alpine skier, in addition to raw innate talent, you must spend at least 250 forty-hour weeks, or roughly five years of working full-time at your chosen craft, before achieving expert status.

This seems daunting. And this level of dedication to becoming truly great at what you do certainly is challenging. But my philosophy is: if you’re going to do anything, do it well. In a corporate job, where you’re collecting a paycheck every week, it is easy to become complacent.  Despite a lack of experience or lack of caring you may be able to fly under the radar for a while, as your flaws are covered by others in the organization.

This is impossible as a solopreneur. You are the business. Your talent, skill, responsiveness, and reputation mean everything. So, make a commitment to continuous improvement- to becoming the best that you possibly can. It was your decision to do what it is you do. Now just give it your all.

Eliminate Distractions. As a solopreneur, it is really easy to get distracted. Like, really easy. Right now, my Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts are all beckoning to me. Emails are pinging. Even the phone rings every once in a while. And since I’m working from my home office today, the kitchen is right around the corner, with coffee and pastries only steps away. By the way, this Alabama Shakes playlist on Amazon Prime is just awesome… I wonder what I should listen to next?… which leads me to…

Be productive. This is among the most challenging areas for new solopreneurs. The ability to focus, eliminate distractions, and be truly productive is very difficult, particularly considering that virtually all of the motivation needs to come from within. You don’t have a boss looking over your shoulder, or even peers in the next cubicle wondering what you’re doing all day. You are truly accountable to no one but yourself. It has been challenging at times for me as well, but I’ve discovered a few techniques that have helped me to become, and stay focused.

Use the 50/20/50 rule: I learned from my business coach, Ed Gandia (see more about Ed, below). Simply put, you break your client projects (or even your business-building projects) into two-hour productivity blocks. Within each two-hour block, break it down further into two 50-minute work sessions, with a 20-minute break in the middle. This works really well for me, and I’ve experienced a 20-30% increase in my daily work production just by following this rule.

For the 50/20/50 technique to work however, it is absolutely critical that you eliminate all distractions during the 50-minute blocks. That means: shutdown your email client (Outlook, Gmail, etc.), turn off your social media, turn off your phone, and shut the door to your office. Then plug into to some soothing, non-intrusive music (my preference for music while I work is the FocusAtWill app – it costs a few bucks a month but is well worth it! Thanks to my colleague Gary Wilkin for the tip) and start cranking away! The key is to really focus in during the 50-minute blocks, and then reward yourself with a (relatively) lengthy 20 minute break, during which you can stretch your legs, go for a walk, take a coffee break, or even get in a quick workout! I don’t recommend doing more that 2 or 3 of these two-hour sessions in a work day. You’ll find that you are mentally tired after a couple of these sessions, and you don’t want to burn yourself out!

Get Thee a Coach! This was one of the most critical decisions I made early on. I chose to join a small group coaching program led by a B2B writing professional/coach, Ed Gandia. I had been following Ed’s published output for a while – he produces a ton of really fantastic content, including his book, The Wealthy Freelancer (coauthored with Steve Slaunwhite and Pete Savage), his bi-weekly podcast, and free training webinars. It wasn’t cheap, but I decided to make the investment to participate in his 6-month B2B Launcher program, along with five other freelance copywriters in various stages of just getting their business up and running. Best investment I’ve made so far.

Don’t undersell yourself. Set your prices for what you are worth. It takes time to figure this out, and especially in the beginning, quoting your rates to a new prospect is one of the scariest aspects of being in business for yourself. You feel like a fake, and you believe that if you quote too high the prospect will hang up on you, laugh in your face, or perhaps worse, never respond to your emails again. Unless you are completely outside the ballpark, it usually doesn’t work out this way. Do your homework, ask around and figure out what the going rates are for your type of work, and quote a fair price based on your skill, experience, and investment of time. As you gain experience, confidence, and references, you’ll be able to increase your rates over time.

Outsource those tasks that are outside your core competency, what you don’t like to do, and what you don’t do best. For me, this includes things like doing my taxes and transcription services. For you it may be proofreading, building your website, or even personal tasks like mowing your lawn. The most successful solopreneurs have a real good sense of what their time is worth. If they are wasting time on tasks that they don’t enjoy, that someone else can do efficiently and well for much less than their internal hourly rate, they outsource it. Not only does this help you stay productive in your business, it gives you back quality time to spend on hobbies, vacation, and with your family and friends.

Well that’s it! I’m sure I haven’t exhausted every lesson learned over the past year-plus in the freelance writing world, but this is a good overview of some key takeaways. If you have any thoughts or other ideas of what makes for a successful solopreneur, please email me at ted@tedgoldwyn.com. I’d love to hear from you!

To your success…

Ted

Lessons learned from my first year as a solopreneur (Part Deux!)

In my first blog post, I shared a few lessons that I learned during my first full year in business for myself. I certainly made my share of mistakes along the way, but overall it was a wonderful experience. Here are some more lessons. Feel free to try these at home!

Thank people. Often. People will hire you the first time based on a match between your expertise and their need. But they will keep working with you based on a strong personal connection. One of the most effective ways to make that connection is by being genuine, and genuinely nice. This means appreciating people for who they are and what they do for you and for others. A little gratitude can go a long way. Plus it will make you feel really good!

Give a little, Get a Lot: If you put positive energy out into the universe, the good karma will come back to you in spades. In our world, this can be achieved in so many ways. Give a little extra to your clients. Introduce two people in your network. Send someone a thoughtful gift such as a book or a coffee mug. Refer business to your colleagues.

Read. A lot. As a freelance writer, avid reading is critical to my business and the development of my skills. But it is just as important for any type of freelancer or entrepreneur, whether you are a writer, graphic designer, business consultant, financial advisor, or digital innovator. The world is changing quickly, and it is imperative that you stay on top of your market – the competition, your clients’ expectations, and ways to improve your own productivity and effectiveness.

Beyond reading for personal and professional development, make sure to take some time to read for pleasure. It could be fiction – literary novels, the latest paperback, or even graphic novels if you’re so inclined. Or you may prefer biographies or history. Whatever your tastes, reading just for the heck of it is a great way to relax your mind, let it wander and explore new worlds.

Keep moving. Speaking of wandering… continuous education and self-improvement are necessities, not luxuries in today’s constantly changing business environment. Especially in the startup phase, you need to invest time and money in your business. As a solopreneur, the best investment you can make is in skills training and self-improvement. In 2015, I attended one web writing intensive workshop, joined a 6-month small group coaching program, and attended numerous one-day remote training courses to bone up on my writing and business development skills. This year, I have continued that trend, taking three online courses as well as a group training workshop.

Whew… I could go on and on! Just try and stop me. In Part III of the blog, I will cover the remaining handful of lessons learned from my first year in business. See you soon!

Lessons learned from my first year as a solopreneur

2015 was my first full year in business, after twenty-five years in the trenches of corporate America. It was a great and grand experiment, as I really had little idea of what I was getting into. But on balance, it turned out really well and I’m excited to see what 2016 will bring.

It is fun to look back at all the successes of my first year, such as signing up that first client, getting repeat business from happy clients, and hitting my income goals for the year. But not everything was pink unicorns and gluten-free lollipops, and I learned some valuable lessons along the way. I’m looking forward to sharing a few of these lessons learned with you over the course of my first few blog posts. Here are some big ones to get us started:

ABP: Always Be Prospecting. If you’ve seen the classic 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross, you surely remember the perennial advice of heartless sales manager Blake, as played by Alec Baldwin: “A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing. ALWAYS BE CLOSING.” Despite Blake’s obvious deficiencies in the area of servant leadership, with a little tweaking this is actually very sage advice for those of us who are running our own businesses.

With the help and encouragement of my business coach, Ed Gandia, I started off the first half of 2015 with a very solid and consistent prospecting plan. It resulted in some big wins right away. Then I got busy. I stopped prospecting, and the leads dried up. The machine grinded to a halt. So when my client work wrapped up, I didn’t have a golden pipeline of new work coming in.

When it comes to what prospecting methods you use, there is no right or wrong approach. For some people, cold calling works. For others, its warm email prospecting. Or direct mail. Or attending network events. Or building your platform to generate inbound leads, through methods such as a newsletter, blog, podcast, or YouTube videos. Regardless of what method you choose, ABP – Always Be Prospecting, even when you are neck-deep in client work.

Be Professional. This is so easy to do, yet so many freelancers mess this up. In the creative services arena, the bar is pretty low, as corporate types expect writers, graphic designers, artists, and the like to be a little… how shall we say?  Flaky. But you really don’t need any experience or talent to do the simple things like: respond to people in a timely manner, do what you say you’re going to do, deliver what is asked (and even a little bit more), and deliver it on (or before) the deadline!

Be easy to work with. So many freelancers miss the mark here. Don’t be a prima donna: share your expertise and don’t be afraid to suggest what you feel would be the best for your client. That is what they are paying you for. But if your client is dead set on doing something their way, that is absolutely his right. Pick your battles, and move on. Don’t get emotional. Don’t take things personally. Don’t harass your client with constant calls/emails/texts/social media posts. Listen and take notes during meetings, so you don’t have to ask them the same questions, over, and over again…

That’s enough for now. But no worries, gang. I’m just getting warmed up…

Stay tuned for next time, when I’ll share a few more lessons learned from my first year as a freelancer.