My American Dream: Growing a Business

I was up for PR blog of the year and came in second to Gini Dietrich. Best thing that ever happened to me. It introduced me to this inspirational business dynamo who has become a great friend. You’re going to enjoy this gutsy Community Week guest  post as Gini explores the strain of moving from entrepreneur to business leader.

Ah…the American dream. We all want to work for ourselves, in some fashion. If we work for The Man, it’s to have autonomy to do what we think best for the company. If we work for ourselves, it’s to have work/life balance and the flexibility to come and go as we please. But the ultimate American dream is to grow a business so we can make a gazillion dollars and have all of the joys of balance, doing what we think is best, and flexibility. Right? Wrong.

Growing a business is hard work. It’s the hardest work you’ll ever do. A lot of us start businesses because we’re really good at our trade and because we see value in doing things differently, but can’t affect change working for The Man. What we don’t realize is that, once you decide to grow a business, you no longer are good at your trade – you must become good at being a company grower. You don’t realize that you now work for many people – employees, clients, partners, and vendors. You don’t work for yourself. And figuring out how to grow a business is not an easy thing, unless you have some crack idea (Facebook) that catches on despite your lack of business acumen.

For the rest of us, however, designing business growth is just that – a carefully calculated plan. And, if you’re a typical entrepreneur, calculation, attention to detail, and planning are not in your vocabulary. You’re great at the big picture, innovative ideas, and leading people toward the vision, but you’re terrible at process, procedures, managing, and standards.

Which brings me to a growing pain I am experiencing right now at Arment Dietrich: Creating process and holding people accountable to the bigger picture. It’s very uncomfortable and completely out of my capability…which means it’s hard work. Really hard work.

Deep down I know that I’ve gotten the business to the size I can get it alone. I also know that to create sustainable growth that isn’t totally reliant on me, there have to be some standards of work that create consistency. And I know people just need to know what the expectations are so they can reach (or, ideally, exceed) them.

So why is this so darn hard?

Sure, it’s easier for me to fix a situation when a client is upset. Sure, it’s easier for me to write a strategy brief than to spend time coaching my team. Sure, it’s easier for me to find a new client to make up for the gap in our budget forecast. So, then, why do we have staff? Why am I growing a business that is sustainable and not reliant on me? Oh yeah…because easier doesn’t mean better.

So here I go. I’m holding people accountable. I’m following a carefully designed process for our staff meetings, for individual meetings, and for client meetings. I’m communicating over and over and over and over and over again our vision. I’m realizing this isn’t about Gini Dietrich, but is about the business. I’m empowering people to follow their ideas through to the end. I’m being totally transparent about our financials so everyone has a stake in the game. And, together, we’re going to grow this thing into a force to be reckoned with…no matter how hard or uncomfortable it makes me. The comfort will come as I continue on my journey of turning from a great communicator to a better company grower.

Gini Dietrich is the founder and chief executive officer of Arment Dietrich, Inc., a firm that uses non-traditional marketing in a digital world.  The author of the award-winning Spin Sucks (@SpinSucks), Gini has delivered numerous keynotes, panel discussions, coaching sessions, and workshops across North America on the subject of using online technology in communication and marketing.

Social media — now for engineers too!

This week I’m turning {grow} over to the community this week and today offer a social media tale from an unlikely participant, my friend George Cooper. George is the engineer’s engineer and approached the social web with healthy skepticism. But as he explains here, there seems to be a place for social media even in the industrial world …

Social media is about connections.  No connections, no communication, and ultimately … no business benefits.  All of us start out with someone being the first connection, then a few at a time connect with us, then gradually we build a larger population… but why?

If connections are the “how” we are present in social media, our stories are the “why” our connections listen to us. Making connections and telling stories is something I can relate to.

Most of my work is with highly-technical industrial clients of one sort or another.  When I arrive at a facility, I know I’ll be talking with the client’s subject matter experts as well as incumbents in the job we’re there to work with.  I’ll need to establish my technical credibility with these folks, the quicker the better (the longer you drag it out, the less chance of success).  I always start out with who I am and why I’m there.  Sometimes, that’s met with the stony-eyed stare, the one that says, “You’re walking in the door to be an expert on our jobs?  Uh-huh.  Prove it.”

So, I begin to tell a few stories about places I’ve been and things I’ve done, usually from the perspective of when I had an opportunity to learn from others.  If I’m doing it properly, my audience’s concentration shifts from me to my stories, and they begin to connect to me through my stories

Then I get them to tell stories — THEIR stories!

Everyone wants to tell stories about what they do.  Some are better at it than others, some speak more freely than others, but pretty much everyone wants to make a connection and tell stories about themselves and what they do.  It’s the nature of humans as social creatures and the fundamental basis for establishing a relationship, work and non-work-related.

Which brings me back to social media, from an industrial perspective.

Those of us engaged in the industrial world have stories to tell, too.  I do.  I’ll shamelessly plug that I’m working to bring about an industrial renaissance in America, and see that telling those stories through the social web might be just the way to get things started.   I’m an engineer, here in the social media world, learning to make connections, tell my stories, and make things happen.  Hopefully, there will be people (maybe even you?) who will gradually hear about my ideas, become interested, connect with me and start a journey together.

I’d offer that social media – connections and stories – is about all of us, from marketing gurus like Mark to industrial folks like me, and everyone in between, who have a story to tell and a connection to make. It’s the next logical step, it’s the evolution of how we communicate and connect, isn’t it?

So if you’re struggling with colleagues and customers who don’t see a place for social media in their business, tell them to look me up. If I can work with it in my industrial and technical environment, they can do it too!

George Cooper of Development Concepts posts about an industrial renaissance in the U.S., workforce development, and things that matter.

Is ANYBODY LISTENING out there?


Next up on {grow} “Community Week” is Kristen Daukus, a fellow marketing entrepreneur, social media lover and consultant:

“I am afraid to use social media because people will use it to complain about me and my business.”

I work primarily with small businesses and can’t tell you how many times I hear that sentence.

Here’s what I think about this:

  • If you really think that many of your customers are going to complain about your company and services, you’ve got a lot more to worry about than social media.
  • What about all the ones that want to talk about how great your service is? Don’t they matter?
  • And shouldn’t you be GLAD they are taking the complaint to you instead of their neighbors?

Consider complaints a gift!

And while we’re on the topic of gifts, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve sent out a love message to brands regarding service I received (naming staff, too I might add) or how amazing their new widget is only to be met with the sounds of crickets.

Nothing! No “Hey @KristenDaukas we’re so glad you enjoyed your new widget!” – nothing!  I just gave you a huge box of love and YOU’RE NOT LISTENING?

Do you think companies are so hyper-sensitive to monitoring the BAD news through the social media channels that they miss a huge opportunity in addressing the POSITIVE pieces of news?  Are brand de-sensitized to LOVE?

I realize there are a lot of community managers doing damage control out there and putting out fires is a vital piece of social media.  People by nature, are much quicker to complain than to compliment.  They have been subconsciously programmed into thinking that if they yell loud enough, they’ll get what they want.

How did this happen?  Not only have we developed this habit of rewarding bad behavior, we EXPECT it.

You don’t like your meal?  Don’t pay for it.  You don’t like the room?  Here’s a free night’s stay.  We don’t have your size?  Here’s a 50% discount.

So you give them what they want and what … they love you forever?  They go away?  Do you think they’ll make as much noise about how you resolved the issue?  Do you think they’ll become brand ambassadors for you?

Maybe. Maybe not. Even if they do, I doubt the “love” will last very long.

But …

What if we took a page from the Dr. Spock books and rewarded the GOOD behavior?

When is there a better time to make a brand lover even happier than when they’re already happy? If I’m tweeting how amazing your company, service or product is, imagine what I’m going to do when you acknowledge that love!  I am going to turn around and blow even more sunshine around the world about you. There won’t be a person within earshot that won’t know how amazing you are. Sliced bread will have nothing on you.

And that’s just from the FIRST exchange.

What about when we start to have a conversation and share witty banter?? Wow … we’re FRIENDS now!!  And I don’t EXPECT a thing. Nothing. If you choose to give me a little freebie love, that’s only going to make me happier and make me talk more.   And then what happens if someone says something bad about my friend??  What do friends do?  They protect you, of course!  That very passionate person all of a sudden becomes your biggest ally..

See where I’m going with this?  It’s all in your approach — glass half full versus  half empty.

Are there people that do nothing but complain? Yes. Are there more people that want to see you succeed? Yes. Do them a favor and let them help you.

Kristen Daukas is a founder of Linking Winston-Salem, Social Media Club Piedmont-Triad and her newest pet project, TweetBroads.

How do you measure a personal brand?

I am so proud and happy to shine a spotlight on Rebecca Denison in today’s Community Week post. She was one of the first true fans of {grow} and one of my first guest bloggers, while she was still a student at UNC. She’s an Edelman measurement fanatic and here’s her take on the topic as it relates to her personal brand …

There has been an incredible focus on social media measurement lately, as well there should be.  If you want to convince business professionals and marketers to dive into social media, you need to be able to prove that there is value in it. Ideally value equals sales or dollars for most campaigns or projects, but is that really applicable to social media?

Is the bottom line really the only measure of success businesses focus on? Not exactly. For example, if you want to measure employee morale or satisfaction (arguably an important factor for any company), would you focus on dollars? Probably not. You’re more likely to track turnover or hallway chatter.

So why not measure social media the same way? Why not focus on the true goals of your social media marketing campaign?

Once you’ve decided that social media really is right for your business (and it may not be), your next step should be deciding what your definition of success is and how it will be measured.

Instead of trying to make social media try to fit traditional or common metrics, figure out how you will measure success.

When I first decided to put myself out there by joining Twitter and starting a blog, I did a bit of poking around to see how others were measuring their own social media success. A lot of the most common metrics and stats didn’t seem to fit my goals:

  • Number of Twitter followers
  • Number of retweets and @replies
  • Number of blog subscribers
  • Blog comments
  • Total page views
  • Unique page views

All of these metrics would only seem to feed my ego. I could never deny that it’s certainly nice to see these numbers grow, but to truly understand my progress, I focus on more specific numbers.

To understand my measure of success, you should first know why I joined social media in the first place. I wasn’t always such a digital nerd, but I’ve certainly always been a measurement nerd.

After I graduated from college last year, I took an internship focused on PR and media analysis. As I settled into my position and got a sense of the industry, I was curious to find more people who shared my interests and could offer expertise. And on a personal level, I wanted to meet more people in a new city. Lastly, something that is important to me both personally and professionally is to become a resource for measurement for others in my industry.

Knowing these goals, I brainstormed metrics and measures that were the most appropriate.

Social Media Goals & Metrics:

Goal: Connect and build relationships with other PR professionals and those interested in measurement. Metrics:

  • Number of folks added to my “Measurement” list on Twitter
  • Number of LinkedIn connections made with others interested in measurements
  • Number of conversations per week about measurements

Goal: Find more ways to build friendships in Chicago. Metrics:

  • Number of friends added to my “Close Friends” list on Twitter.
  • Number of clubs and organizations discovered.
  • Number of people I know I can count on in a pinch.

Goal: Become a measurement resource for others. Metrics:

  • Number of recommendations received on Twitter.
  • Number of guest blog posts written about measurement.
  • Number of times per week I’m asked for advice about measurement.

While many of these metrics may not be appropriate for business, they all fit the goals in this case. Even though I may never be able to measure social media in the same way I can track the amount of money I spend on groceries month-over-month, I can easily track whether I’m reaching my own expectations.

What’s your biggest social media goal? How can you measure it?

Rebecca Denison is a social media analyst at Edelman Digital in Chicago who is passionate about all things measurement and all things UNC.

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