Q: How do I win the trust of investors, future partners and suppliers?
A: There are few things more important in business than trust. After all, if potential customers do not have faith in your product or service, then your business will never get off the ground.
And it’s not just customers you need to win over; almost everyone your company works with, from manufacturers to distributors, will need convincing.
This isn’t the easiest act to pull off, especially when you’re starting out and have little to back up your promises. Without a recognised brand or a history of successful trading, entrepreneurs and start-ups have to use other techniques to get a business going.
For one, it’s vital that you show people from the start that you’re different from the competition – you need to stand out. I learned this when we were signing acts to Virgin Records and we needed to gain the trust of the musicians we were chasing.
When the Rolling Stones were looking for a label, we needed to convince them that Virgin was the place for them. I knew that we were getting somewhere when Mick Jagger commented that I was more like him than the “suits” from the other labels who had been courting the band.
That was nice to hear and it was also, I thought, a fair reflection of my approach to business. I wasn’t making big promises or telling bands what I thought they wanted to hear; I was being honest about who we were and what we could do, and so artists trusted us.
That honesty allowed us all to treat the artists more like friends than clients. Our team did not present a buttoned-up, united front when we were working with them; instead, everyone pitched in, contributed their opinions and did their very best.
When we were looking to sign Janet Jackson and negotiations weren’t going as smoothly as I’d hoped, I was able to use humour to persuade her. I thought she was a fantastic artist and would be a real asset to the label, so one day I arranged for us to take a trip in one of the Virgin hot air balloons, where we continued our talks.
As we returned to the launch site, I decided to play a joke on her, and quite cheekily said that we wouldn’t land until she signed with Virgin! She laughed, and did.
As we entered other industries, some of our team from Virgin Records joined those new businesses, and honesty and humour became part of our company’s DNA. And this approach became our calling card as we started businesses in sectors that needed shaking up, where customers were receiving a bad service.
We were very blunt with customers and competitors about what we were doing and why – our good intentions were obvious to anyone who cared to look.
At this point, people who are thinking about investing in Virgin companies need only look at our track record: We run good businesses and make FAIR profits. To reach this point, a company first has to do the hard work of laying down the foundations that will enable a business to flourish in the long term.
Whatever your business is and no matter how you operate, you need to determine what will set your company apart and then execute perfectly according to those simple fundamentals.
You do have to keep sight of those basics – in our case, a straightforward business proposition, great customer service, and a touch of humour – because customers will quickly lose trust in your brand if you don’t.
At the same time, you must remain flexible, making room for new developments along the way. Look for ideas that will set you apart from the competition. Everyone likes to be pleasantly surprised, so keep your customers on their toes by occasionally doing the unexpected, and that can put you ahead.
When you’re trying to persuade partners and suppliers to work with you, throwing yourself wholeheartedly into finding solutions and compromises that will allow you to work together is a great way to demonstrate how serious you are – people will sit up and take notice.
In 1997 after the British radio host Chris Evans had just quit his job with Radio One, I decided that he would be perfect for Virgin Radio, so I phoned his agent to arrange a meeting.
His agent told me that Chris was about to depart for New York on a British Airways Concorde flight, and if I wanted to meet with him I’d have to get on the plane. At that time, the idea of getting onto a British Airways plane was almost anathema to me, after the way they had tried to put Virgin Atlantic out of business, using all sorts of underhanded tactics.
When I hotfooted it over to Heathrow and walked past astonished British Airways staff and onto the plane, Chris knew that I was serious about doing business with him. (Later, he bought Virgin Radio from my team.)
Building trust in your brand isn’t easy to achieve and it may take time, but it doesn’t have to come at a high cost. With honesty, ambition, hard work and attention to detail you can instill a level of trust that will enable you to move forward.
How Laughter Can Be Your Gateway To New Business
If you want to make sales, you need to connect with your clients. This is the secret sauce that great marketing gets right, and it has nothing to do with how big (or small) your budget is.
Like most kids, in my final year of high school I had to make a decision about my future; make a call about my career path. My head proclaimed: ‘Law!’ My guts rebelled: ‘Acting, yeah!’
My folks shrieked: ‘Acting? Do you intend on having a mortgage in your own name in your lifetime? You’ll never be able to afford a medical aid.’ Aside, but purposefully audible: ‘He’s never going to move out of home. Is he?’
So, I made a compromise. I studied a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in marketing communication and when I completed that formality, I chose ‘acting, yeah!’
Google: ‘Acting school Los Angeles’.
Result: TVI Actor’s Studio just outside Hollywood, paid my deposit, packed a large, hard-coated Delsey suitcase and moved to The Valley for six months, to ensure that Future Mike couldn’t resent the decisions made by Past Mike.
Those six months comprised: Drinking sake and barbecuing with Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz while he orchestrated acoustic magic on his guitar; eating home-made chocolate chip cookies baked by the sweet hands of Teri Hatcher when Desperate Housewives was the most popular TV series on the planet; smashing Grey Goose on the rocks during road trips to Vegas, ululating: ‘The Goose is looooooooose’, with my housemate Chris; ordering Animal Style Double Doubles from In-N-Out Burger but, most importantly, falling in love with the natural narcotic of stand-up comedy.
What. A. Rush. Pit of your stomach sickness, churning from line delivery, converting into convulsions of laughter, or the agony of the opposite side of the spectrum — the silent onstage assassination. Hopefully it’s the former.
Connecting with your clients
Stand-up and marketing are inextricably linked. This premise is how I live my career.
Every meeting is an opportunity to leverage humour in order to make an impact. Laughter is my gateway drug to new business. Also, the road to branded content creation is paved and then signposted in the fork of either ‘Emotion’ or ‘Humour’.
A decently written story — TV or YouTube commercial — with a quality DOP at the helm, accompanied by an orchestral score, can elevate a mediocre concept to Cannes Bronze status. The line between funny and farcical, however, is so fine.
Consider a comedian standing on stage at a club, squinting out into the blinding lights and judgemental faces of a multi-demographic audience, about to open his mouth and croak on stage for the very first time.
This also happens to be an analogy for the scenario facing the rookie social media community manager before he posts a hashtag-TBT, hashtag-blessed, hashtag-yawn piece of unoriginal content from a calendar, signed off by a marketing manager who doesn’t think their target market is on Twitter because they ‘definitely aren’t’.
Judy Carter, author of The Comedy Bible, simplifies the writing of comedic material into two components:
It sounds too simplistic. It isn’t. We like to complicate things in the world and business, in particular, to make us seem more impressive, smarter, to elevate ourselves. It’s about being a big dick, or as someone far more eloquent than I described it — Ego. **Hat tip to Freud.**
Comedy and communication
Back to comedy and communication. In both settings — whether you are looking to connect with an audience in a comedy club environment or engage with a target market in your next advertising campaign — it is imperative that you determine the key insight, truth or premise of your material.
When I started doing stand-up in US venues, I would open on the topic of accents, as my accent was my obvious USP or differentiator when communicating to an American audience.
‘Hi. My name is Mike and I’m from South Africa. That’s why I have an accent. And, what’s weird about accents is chicks LOVE accents’ — truth (premise). Regardless of the background of my audience — age, sex, location, creed, or affluence — they identify with the statement that I have an accent and consciously or subconsciously they agree with my words or copy (if we are referring to a campaign).
The second part pertains to the acting-out of the funny; the crafting of the humour. This requires a slick delivery and commitment to the idea in order to generate audience laughter.
So, we have the premise, then we transition — immediately — into the act-out to connect the dots between truth and funny within the audience members’ minds. Comedy is dependent on what you first tell, then show your audience, and eventually how your performance becomes a catalyst for their own imagination to carry the chuckle to its limits. When we package these elements together, the execution becomes:
- Premise: ‘Hi my name is Mike and I’m from South Africa. That’s why I have an accent. What’s weird about accents is chicks LOVE accents.’
- Premise part two: ‘You can be Shrek, but if you’re packing an accent, you’re getting some ass!’
Act-out. Left hand behind head. Pelvic thrusts while speaking seductively into the microphone with a Scottish accent á la Shrek, simulating a movement synonymous with making sexy time: ‘Oooooh, that’ll do, Donkey. That’ll do.’
Finding a connection
There are few things more powerful in this world than words that disrupt the audience thought process. Donkey-ass puns, turning Shrek’s line of affirmation for Donkey — from its intended feature film usage — on its head, by making it smartly sexual; generating mass hysteria from a group of previously disconnected individuals, now connected through the universal language of laughter.
The best advertising in the world does exactly this. It takes an insight (premise) that connects with you as an individual, forces you to nod your head in agreement, and then leverages a powerfully constructed set of copy lines or imagery to emotionally move you.
Laughter, goosebumps, or the development of a lump in your throat. Effective communication is something that facilitates catching feelings. Whether you are on stage delivering lines, or at your keyboard posting snaps, tweets or status updates, every character that comprises a word of each phrase needs to be a purposeful paragraph composition — not just a tick box on a to do list of monthly KPIs.
We will delve into real experiences throughout this collection of personal anecdotes, because nothing doth a bigger dick make than an ‘expert’ who has all of the theory and none of the practice.
This article is an excerpt from The Best Dick: A Candid Account of Building a $1 million business by Mike Sharman.
In this his debut business book, The Best Dick, Mike Sharman invites you to share in the hustle. From the enthusiastic, entrepreneurial beginnings of a bootstrapped start-up founder — a relatively inexperienced 26-year old — to a seasoned, professional storyteller, who has built a boutique social media advertising agency that has made more brands go viral, globally, than any other studio in Africa.
Find it at all good book stores for R250.
Get your copy today
Email Tracey McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org and quote ‘Entrepreneur’ to buy your copy for R200 plus free shipping.
How Content Marketing Adds Real Value To Your Customers’ Lives
If you’re marketing on a budget, content marketing is a great way to reach your audience, add real value and gain brand traction – without breaking the bank.
Content marketing is a relatively new type of marketing that most businesses are still trying to get their heads around. Unlike traditional media advertising, which interrupts customers to get noticed, content marketing provides content that customers want in exchange for permission to market a product or service.
There’s a saying, fish where the fish are. Marketing is the same. You need your message to appear where your audience’s attention lies. I don’t believe billboards or even TV adverts hold consumer attention anymore. People aren’t looking at billboards as they drive past; most aren’t even looking at the road, they’re so busy staring at their mobile device or listening to a podcast.
The traditional advertising model creates ad content that interrupts consumers. Billboards, TV commercials and radio advertisements momentarily disrupt what you actually want to be doing — watching your favourite TV show or listening to a song or chat show.
These ads don’t provide any real value to the customer and they don’t offer an immediate reason to even be viewed or engaged with. Instead, they rely on good placement, clever wording and brilliant creativity to capture your attention for a brief period of time.
The rise of content marketing
In response to these problems and restrictions, content marketing is on the rise. As a marketing alternative, it’s not only more cost effective, but it doesn’t aim to interrupt your customer. Instead, it aims to add real value to their lives and businesses by plugging directly into their interests, problems and challenges.
So how does content marketing work? Companies and marketers create content in the form of blog posts, podcast recordings, downloadable guides and infographics, video content and articles that don’t push products, but offer interesting advice, tips and opinions.
The value to consumers is provided in two ways: As educational content and as entertainment content. In both cases, access to this content is free, heightening its value.
Get the most out of content marketing
Here are three ways to get the most out of your content marketing efforts:
- Provide content that your customers want. Don’t make the mistake of writing your blog posts about your business. Lesson number one is that people don’t care about your business. Provide valuable content that customers want and need in exchange for their attention. This content can be educational or entertaining. It can be a ‘How to Guide’, an in-depth stats-driven article or an entertaining video. Just make sure it’s about them, and not you.
- Focus on content for the customer’s benefit and only occasionally promote or push your product. This is the rule most brands and companies struggle to understand. If you’re going to provide value to your customers, you need to mostly write content for the customer’s benefit and only occasionally promote your products within the content. People are interested in articles and posts that benefit them, not ad posts touting how awesome your products are. Give your customers content that they want, and nine times out of ten you’ll be rewarded with engaged and targeted audiences.
- Write cornerstone content. Cornerstone content is content that can be easily found by your ideal customers. It’s content that provides incredible value to customers over a long period of time. How-To Guides, resources, 101 content and instructional videos all fall into this category. It should be content that customers can refer back to, and which has a long lifespan. This also immediately increases the ROI of your content production, as you only need to create the content once, but it will continue to bring returns.
Bringing it all together
As you make your final marketing push for the year and gear up for next year, make sure content marketing forms a vital part of your strategy. Learn to write engaging blog posts, invest in a podcast setup and push video content. No one is expecting your content to be perfect — you are the expert in your area, and have great advice to share. That’s what will keep your audience engaged and coming back for more.
Just remember that this is a long play. Success won’t happen overnight. It takes time to build momentum — but over time, you will notice increased traffic, more leads and more sales.
- Do you know what your clients are interested in, concerned with or challenged by?
- Are you offering advice, tips or opinions that tap into these areas?
- Does your content mostly focus on your clients and not you?
4 Ways To Implement Strategic Marketing Without Breaking The Bank
Marketing your start-up is all about the right strategies, not how much money you spend. You need to build your reputation from the ground up. Here’s how you can get started.
Building a fledgling business is as much about increasing your client base as it is about building a positive reputation around the business and its expertise. Many experts and seasoned entrepreneurs argue that clients buy from people they trust and building that trust hinges on various parameters.
Take Steve Jobs, Wendy Luhabe, Richard Branson and many other leading business minds whose brands are built on years of credibility and trust. The truth is that equal attention needs to be given to great products and building trust within your client base.
Here are five skills that we’ve used to build our reputation at WordStart.
1Sharpen your writing skills for media and general communication
Create media coverage. Write on a company platform (like a blog) or for established media outlets. This will position you and your business in ways that get people to listen and share your knowledge.
Having your name next to an article on a respected platform can lead to useful connections with relevant contacts. A series of media features and industry commentary also help to position your business and team as experts in your field.
2Share industry trends
People will generally do research in and around an industry to find insights and trends, sometimes before they buy anything in that industry — and even afterwards. When I search for information on photography, Canon appears more than any other brand and they tend to set the scene on which device to buy.
Imagine your business is construction and that homeowners endorse your skills as a home improvement specialist. Packaging your knowledge into industry trends is also a great way to use your own lessons about the industry as you grow and it also helps you to connect with potential customers. Useful information with your name on it can increase your sales and client base.
3Edit. Edit. Edit
Something that cannot be stressed enough is that your writing in client documents can tarnish your brand. Many businesses tend to overlook the importance of grammar in their documents.
It can be difficult to reread and rewrite documents that you use in the business, but that is precisely what can lead to the loss of new and existing business.
Pay attention to how your business uses language and edit that work. When in doubt, read it again and be sure that nothing was missed.
4Practice public speaking and search for opportunities
After you have written for various publications, you increase the likelihood of being invited to speak at conferences and seminars, which means that people put a face and voice to the written expertise. In some instances, the speaking engagements can be paid for by conference organisers which can be an additional revenue stream.
Public speaking, especially industry-related speaking, will increase the likelihood of selling more products or services and this will separate you from the competition. By increasing the trust customers have in you, you can improve the likelihood of them buying from you.
Once a business is positioned as a team of experts with the ability to speak for their industry, opportunities open up for that business to create unique content. Industry leaders who are able to help the public to connect the dots through the information they share are regularly on guest lists.
Is there anything you can share that your industry peers and the public may find eye-opening? There may be a conference organiser looking for you.
5Educate the market and build a client base
One of the advantages of being part of an industry is that you have inside information that the general public does not have. This presents an opportunity for you and your business to become a self-nominated industry mouthpiece.
When an individual and business share news about an industry, they can create a new client base because the public associates them with that information.
One of the best cases in South Africa is Discovery’s Vitality rewards programme, where you earn points for being healthy. This does not mean that Momentum, Bonitas, Sanlam, Sizwe and other players do not have similar or even better offerings. Vitality is more visible and more vocal about the fact that leading a healthier life can get you rewards.
A great reputation may lead to positive word-of-mouth for your business and increased sales over a longer period than a single marketing message.
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