December 11, 2018No Comments

Schedule Margin & Solve Your Dwayne Johnson Problems

Under ideal circumstances you will know what to do next in your business. How often will you find yourself in ideal circumstances? Not often. Perhaps never. 

A regular practice of reflection and planning, particularly with old-fashioned pen and paper, can work wonders in less-than-ideal circumstances. 

Founders, owners, and CEOs can create space where you dredge up all of your uncertainty and air it out. Before long, the shape of specific problems and opportunities will emerge through the fog. As you cogitate and fill in more details, your clarity will expand. With clarity comes confidence, and with confidence comes decisive action.

Most leaders I know don’t have an indecision problem. They struggle with scheduling margin, which, in turn, brings clarity, confidence, and action. Margin spurs effective action.

You can’t be truly strategic while you’re fighting fires. It’s hard to think of the future at all. 

By scheduling margin, however, you create more open doors through which breakthroughs can come. You gain perspective on the fires, or problems, plaguing your business and know them by their size.

Three Sizes of Problems

Every business has baby problems, teenager problems, and Dwayne Johnson problems. Most problems aren’t Dwayne Johnson problems ready to tear your business limb from limb. Some problems even resolve on their own. You can ignore them until they go away.

How do you differentiate between a mewling baby who must learn to self-soothe and Dwayne Johnson with a chainsaw and a vendetta?

For example, how should my team at Balernum respond when a client doesn’t like the first round of logo concepts? Here’s one option:

“Oh no! Hair on fire! Let’s running screaming off a cliff!”

For a client to not like something Balernum creates is certainly inconvenient, discouraging even. Yet, we have an incredible track record of making our clients happy, and our clients’ loyalty has translated into a high lifetime value.

So the “work” of effective action then becomes 1) do not freak out, 2) do not mistake a baby for Dwayne Johnson, and 3) do give the baby problem appropriate attention at the appropriate time. 

If we were to fall prey to dark portents of how a client being unhappy might just be the beginning of the end, then we would waste creativity and energy.

Time spent working ourselves into a funk cannot also be spent giving the baby a bottle. (Is it me or are these analogies getting weird?)

Escape tactical hell by scheduling margin.

You’ve heard the phrase, “the tyranny of the urgent.” You might have even encountered some of Robert Greene’s writing on tactical hell and how you, as a leader, need to get out of it, to move from reactive to proactive.

The real opportunity I see for Balernum’s clients, and really for all founders, executives, and CEOs, is to schedule margin, to sort problems according their size, and to return to a growth mindset.

In the past my fixed or scarcity mindset has warped my vision. Baby problems became Dwayne Johnson. Running my business felt like battling an army of giants.

I’m a passionate person by nature, but by learning to be more dispassionate during moments of conflict and disappointment, I have avoided overreacting.

I have avoided turning babies into Dwayne Johnsons by speaking or acting too soon. I have spent less time stewing on perceived slights, threats, and unfairnesses and more time finishing truly important tasks, projects, and ideas. (We must sometimes let babies cry themselves to sleep.) I have also begun to notice more trends like these: 

  1. A fixed or scarcity mindset is the true saboteur, not any particular customer, problem, or circumstance.
  2. A growth mindset benefits our client, our competitors, our contractors, our families, and our communities. 
  3. Real Dwayne Johnson problems usually don’t spring into existence overnight. They hide in plain view for months. Torturous workout routines give them terrific biceps. To notice them before they blindside you, you must schedule margin.
  4. Many of our clients don’t schedule margin, but they will pay us to schedule it for them.

You can pay us to schedule your margin.

The way we do it is pretty simple. (Honestly, you could do it yourself on your front porch with a pen and journal and the right set of questions.) 

We use a process called Roadmapping to help our clients get clarity, set direction, and define next steps. You bring us your problems and opportunities. You pay us to push around your appointments until we’ve created 90 minutes of margin. We peel layers off the onion. We help you get your hands on the real problem or opportunity. Then, we work side-by-side to sort your problems and develop the right sequence of action steps.

We deliver the complete written Roadmap that you can implement with or without our help. Our Roadmapping clients’ problems and their desired outcomes have varied widely. 

Here are some examples of past Roadmapping Sessions:

  • A media production company needed help outlining the minimum marketable feature set for photo editing app. Without that project brief they had no way to get accurate quotes from dev shops.
  • A registered investment advisor was worried about overspending on a website redesign project. He needed help articulating his firm’s real needs and defining the project’s scope.
  • An IP attorney wanted more clients. He eventually realized that his branding and positioning missed the mark. We fixed that.
  • A serial entrepreneur developed his personal brand and story and started publishing more content to position himself as a thought leader and generate more high-value client leads.
  • A higher ed consultant wanted more speaking gigs, but she didn’t know where to start. 
  • A veteran technologist wanted to use LinkedIn to build awareness for his coding bootcamps.
  • An iOS development agency wanted better clients with bigger budgets. We developed the plan for a website redesign, blog, internal process documents, and lead magnet.

One Roadmapping client had this to say about his experience:

“I came to you thinking that I needed to send out an email every week and write some great blog posts. In reality I didn’t know what I needed, I just needed change. Over the last few months I have uncovered that problem and exposed it to not only myself but also to my business partner and some of the managers I work with. Meeting with you opened my eyes to fact that I don’t have a huge problem connecting to clients. I have a problem with the way we run our business. We are in the process of fixing this. I may get to the point one day that I can send out a post every week, just not today.”

I encourage you to schedule margin Adopt a habit of reflection and planning at least once a week.

Ask yourself open-ended questions like these: 

  • “What is working well?” 
  • “What isn’t working well?” 
  • “What is most important right now?” 
  • “What seems important but really isn’t?”
  • “Am I using my time effectively? Am I playing to my strengths?”

Margin spurs effective action. Once you have clarity, you can stare down the latest Dwayne Johnson, cock your head to once side, and decide, “Naw. You’re just a baby. Put yourself to sleep.”

My sincere hope is that you'll open your calendar right now, pick a specific time on a specific day, and schedule your margin.

My Shameless Pitch for Roadmapping

Will you do it? Will you schedule margin? If the honest angel on your left shoulder is whispering, “Probably not,” then pay Balernum to do it for you.

We’d love to send you away with clarity and a clear plan of attack.

Fill out the contact form below, and Austin or Chris will reach out within 24 hours (weekends excluded; we’ve got real babies who need us, ya’ll.)

December 4, 2018No Comments

Is no one reading your blog posts? Here are 16 steps to your best blog post ever…

Marketing legend Gary Halbert was fond of asking his students this question:

"If you and I both owned a hamburger stand and we were in a contest to see who could sell the most hamburgers, what advantages would you most like to have on your side to help you win?"

He’d let each group of students ponder the question and marinate in the supposed brilliance of their answers before he dropped his bombshell:

“The only advantage I want is... a starving crowd!"

Then, he would share an observation that thousands of aspiring founders, executives, and product creators should commit to memory:

“The most profitable habit you can cultivate is the habit of constantly being on the lookout for groups of people (markets) who have demonstrated that they are starving (or, at least hungry) for some particular product or service.”

Forget your nifty app idea and cute guide to making sourdough bread blindfolded underwater.

Look for painful problems. Look for hunger.

I once had a nifty app idea.

I stumbled bass ackwards into my first product that people bought. It was a stupid photo booth iPhone app called Mustache Bash.

It could… drumroll… put mustaches on photos.

In its first year the app made about $8,000 in the App Store, which sounds okay until you consider that I spent $4,200 to develop the first version. Once you account for the money I invested and the time spent on everything from research to marketing, the app probably lost me money.

The real breakthrough came a year later over sushi.

My friend Ryan told me about his dream the night before. In it, I had turned the Mustache Bash source code into a product and had begun licensing it to other iOS developers.

Mmmkay...

I actually took Ryan’s advice and paid my iOS programmer to create a step-by-step tutorial for reskinning the Mustache Bash code. Then, I reached out to another friend, Carter, who agreed to promote the Mustache Bash product to his email list of app developers.

He sent two or three promotions over a weekend and generated $20,000 in sales.

Holy. Crap.

An inbox full of PayPal transaction emails is habit-forming.

That experience demonstrated for me the power of Gary Halbert’s advice about hungry crowds. Find a hungry crowd—that is, a large number of potential customers with a painful problem and money in their pockets—and create a product for them.

I’d done that accidentally. Could I reproduce that experience? What if I didn’t have access to a list like Carter’s?

Enter Sales Safari.

After I stumbled across an early demo of Amy Hoy’s Sales Safari process, I was able to connect the dots between Halbert’s starving crowds and my own desire to create more products.

No more going with my gut! No more blind optimism: “I sure hope that my next product magically pops off like that Mustache Bash code template!”

(Shout out to Amy Hoy and Alex Hillman for sharing this repeatable process!)

Most people want to dive headfirst into product development without verifying that they’re in the right pool. I have learned this the hard way, which is spending many hours creating products people didn’t buy.

These days, I don’t work on a new product until I have 1) found a hungry crowd, and 2) pinpoint that crowd’s most painful problems.

A number of smaller problems typically choke the path to the bigger, hairier problem, so you make it your business to identify those smaller problems and give them the machete treatment. You teach to elevate. You solve to sell.

Once you have gained people’s trust by solving smaller problems, you can sell your remedy to their bigger problems. Not only are you building an audience—that is, increasing your leverage—along the way, but you are also removing friction from the buying process.

I’ve been growing my audience over the last several years by serving them. And how have I been serving them? By writing really long, comprehensive blog posts that address their problems.

You too can stack the deck in your favor by figuring out what topics are already hot and trending. You can poke around online, pick up clues, and write your version of an authoritative post on a given topic that is relevant to your target audience and product roadmap.

Let me show you exactly how I do that.

16 Steps To Writing Your Blog Posts That Help Your Audience

Step 1 – Create a new Google doc for your notes.

I will give my doc a title like “Freelance Writer Product Research” that I can start filling up with notes from my research. I usually keep track of all of my sources and organize and edit my notes as I go.

This doc is, after all, the vault where you will store your newfound wealth of market insights. Make your life a little more pleasant by adding section headers for topics and pain points as you identify them.

Step 2 – Find niche forums and Facebook groups.

One weekend, I spent hours combing through forums and Facebook groups devoted to my audience: freelance writers.

The easiest way to find such “water holes” is with Google searches. Duh.

You can find Facebook groups the same way. Double duh.

Step 3 – Compile a list of common problems.

Eventually, you will begin to see the same questions and problems appear over and over again.

Forums, Quora, Facebook groups, comments on Amazon book pages—it turns out that most people have the same problems and complaints.

You will DEFINITELY want to copy and paste the links to discussions and forum posts as you find them. You also want to capture comments and the content itself. Capture the other people’s responses too: the advice they give and links they share.

If you’re anything like me, you will add your own commentary and notes as you go, but be sure to preserve the pain point or complain in the person’s original wording. The best messaging for a premium paid product or even a free educational blog post comes straight from the horse’s mouth.

In my experience the language that people use to describe their own problems, while they’re still in the middle of them, is simpler and more visceral than the copy that we product creators write. Talk about striking gold!

When you stumble across the perfect turn of phrase or analogy, don’t translate it. Poach it.  

For example, aspiring freelance writers post questions about getting started in forums:

how to get started with freelance writing

However, different people frame that question in different ways:

  • “How to get started with…”
  • “How to break into…”
  • “Looking to get into…”
  • “Extremely new to…”
  • “Getting my freelancing career off the ground…”

Gold, people. This is gold.

You can use this stuff verbatim later in your sales copy, in your blog posts and their titles, in your emails and their subject lines, and in your Facebook posts and tweets.

You can also glean a couple of crucial insights from this process:

  • Despite the dozens, if not hundreds, of posts, most people in your audience share the same core issues or challenges. We’re talking 10-12 main problems, not 100.
  • Several groups comprise your target audience. For example, I have noticed a certain progression among freelancer writers who subscribe to my blog and buy my products:
    • Seekers – Dissatisfaction with a 9-to-5 job leads to a side hustle. Overlap by Sean McCabe caters to this group.
    • Hustlers – That side hustle (or another one) blossoms into full-time freelancing. Chris Guillebeau’s The $100 Startup has solid advice for people ready to go all-in.
    • Lifestylers – Once freelancing income eclipses 9-to-5 earnings, a new goal takes shape: using surplus funds to make lifestyle upgrades (or downgrades). The 4-Hour Workweek and my free Earn What You’re Worth course explore the concept of using your business to bankroll your desired lifestyle.
    • Diversifiers – A growing dissatisfaction with selling time for money sparks an interest in passive or residual streams of revenue, including products. Those folks invest in the 30x500 Academy, find a coach, or hire a launch agency like Balernum.

The point is, different subsets of your audience will want and need different knowledge, training, and tools from you. I could sell a “Make Your First $1000 As a Freelance Writer” course to one subset and “The Perfect Freelance Writer Contract” to another subset.

In fact, I’d be wise to create a complete value ladder, a la Russell Brunson.

Step 4 – Pick a topic to write about.

Obviously, you have to parlay all this research into original, high-quality content that you can use to gain trust and leverage.

You’ll know you’ve honored the research phase if your eyes are starting to cross and the thought of finding yet another forum and reading another 100 posts makes your stomach churn.

Good. You’re now ready to turn some of that research gold into social currency.

You have pasted people’s questions, posts, and comments along the way. You have also captured the responses of people trying to help. This raw content you can rewrite and reorganize. It will become the core of your blog post, and that blog post will become a cornerstone of your business and blog.

At this point, you may have noticed a pattern in my own research. I will pick a single overarching topic and then compile a collection of specific fixes.

My cornerstone posts aren’t cotton candy posts with no real substance. I go beyond recommendations and give homework—that is, detailed, step-by-step instructions for what freelance writers should think about and do.

By all means, do what works. Listicles work. Publish some listicles. How-to and tips posts work. Do some of them. But be sure to sprinkle in some main courses with those link-bait-y appetizers.

Write the cornerstone posts that deliver the smart, actionable advice and the real training that you desperately needed when you were less experienced.

Be Luke’s Yoda.

Step 5 – Create a new doc for your blog post.

This short video shows what my proto-blog posts look like once I have finished initial research and pasted in the raw content...

Step 6 – Use BuzzSumo to find several good title options.

The title is the hook required to get people to read your really helpful content. BuzzSumo will show you relevant headlines based on the keywords for which you search, as well as the total number of social shares for each one.

using BuzzSumo to find title ideas

You can use that data to make an educated guess: “Alright… here are some headlines that work. Let me see if I can write a more advanced blog post on that same topic.”

If listicle blog posts are doing well, then you can create a longer, more comprehensive one. Or if tutorials or really deep how-to guides get the most shares, then choose that format.

Either way, you’re striving for deeper, more detailed, more thorough, more advanced.

And for the love of all that is sparkly, have some fun. Give yourself permission to mix it up. Meanwhile, keep an eye on engagement. Trial-and-error will be your teacher. Do your screenshot- or video-heavy posts get more shares and comments?

Double down on what works. Ditch your duds. The beauty of the internet is that it is non-permanent. Your popular posts will eventually bury your failed experiments.

As for the titles, copy and paste the best options at the top of your new doc, along with the links to “competitor” blog posts. You can always update the title later to see if a new one gets more traction for the post.

Step 7 – Use Ubersuggest.io, AnswerthePublic.com, and Quora to fill in gaps.

You may have the core idea—e.g., “how to set up a freelance writer website”—but you may not have captured all the best angles and sub-topics

Ubersuggest, AnswerthePublic, and Quora will help you figure out other sections to include in your blog post.

Ubersuggest ideas for freelance writer website

For example, when I ran a search for “freelance writer website,” Ubersuggest.io returned 19 associated keywords.

Not all of them are relevant. My post definitely wouldn’t address implied topics like “freelance grant writer website” or “website content writer freelance india.”

BUT… a quick search does reveal some topics I might not have thought to include:

  • Examples of best freelance writer websites
  • What content should go on your freelance writer website?
  • What should you put in your portfolio?
  • Can you use a template or should your website be custom?
  • Is WordPress the best platform for freelance writer websites?

In other words, I use the three websites mentioned above to make my posts more comprehensive and complete and thus more helpful to my readers. Finding and scanning “competitor” blog posts can serve a similar function.

The goal here is to develop a Table of Contents for your blog post. If you touch on all of these areas and give solid advice, then you will have done a major service to your target audience.

Step 8 – Write your Introduction.

At this point you may have a sprawling mess of unedited content and ideas. You’ve got to get people into the topic somehow, and you’d be wise to do that quickly.

Your intro should grab attention, hook your readers, and make them hungry for definitive answers (finally!) to the questions that have plagued them.

I like to share a story, stir up emotion, and show my readers that I get them.

For example, after some humor and build-up, the intro to my blog post about freelance writer websites gets to the thesis: “I believe 100% that an attractive, effective website is a crucial component in a sustainable sales pipeline. Without one, you’ll miss out on good opportunities.”

Your thesis is your blog post’s organizing principle. You will revisit your thesis throughout, and the various sections will support and enrich it. Finding your thesis first will save editing time later.

But if you’re anything like me, you sometimes need to write to figure out what you think. Your thesis may not appear until you’ve written 300-400 words.

Regardless, the purpose of the intro is to pique your reader’s curiosity and tell them what they’re going to learn. You bring the problem to the forefront and give some assurance that you will help your readers solve it.

Step 9 – Write the rest of your blog post.

Now the real work begins. Start writing. Maybe some profanity will inspire you:

how to draw an owl

But in all seriousness, producing raw content can be hard work. Here are some tips for keeping your writing process on the rails:

  • Write in the morning.
  • Write at the same time each morning.
  • Write for only fifteen minutes at a time.
  • Write in the same place.
  • Listen to the same music.
  • Use the same writing app.
  • Strive for honesty, not originality.
  • Write from your heart, not to sound smart.
  • Have some friggin’ fun already.
  • If you can’t write, talk. Open a new voice memo, and use the process in this post I wrote about beating writer’s block.

If you get into the flow and write 2,000 words in one sitting, good for you. If not, well, you still walk away from that 15-minute writing session satisfied: “Good. I chipped away at an important blog post today.”

Step 10 – Link out to and disagree with other experts.

I found tons of blog posts on the subject of setting up a freelance writer website. Other bloggers have obviously done their homework too.

One freelance writer with a large following on Pinterest wrote about how you absolutely, positively must put your call-to-action above the fold.

This seems like good advice. I agree that using a single call-to-action on your Home page is smart. But I decided to do a bit more research about the best placement of that call-to-action. Sure enough, I learned that the importance of “above the fold” is greatly exaggerated.

What really matters is writing strong copy that makes people want to take action.

You too will find people giving bad advice or touting hard-and-fast rules or best practices that aren’t fundamentally sound. Perfect! They have create an expertise vacuum that you can fill with well-reasoned recommendations and solid research.

For me, writing an authoritative blog post about how to create a freelance writer website started to feel less like an exercise in audience-building and more like a professional obligation.

Step 11 – Write the conclusion.

Some people recommend writing the introduction and conclusion at the same time, but I prefer to wait. Often, while I’m producing the meat of the blog post, my thesis will evolve. I’ll need to go back to the introduction and adjust it.

By the time I write my conclusion, I have drawn a circle around the blog post’s main idea, and I can get it right the first time.

Whatever the case may be, a conclusion has two pretty simple jobs: 1) to tell people what you’ve just told them, and 2) to tell them what you want them to do next.

I almost always end with a call-to-action:

  • Subscribe to my blog.
  • Give me your email address and get this free content upgrade.
  • Read the next post in this series.
  • Wire $15,000 to my account in the Caymans. (Just kiddinnng.)

Step 12 – Add some images.

I use Creative Commons and Unsplash to source free, royalty-free, license free, commercial usage images. I made a quick tutorial video you can check out here.

Step 13 – Find 2-3 good keyword options.

I’m glad that I took the time to do some “light” keyword research and that I paid an SEO specialist to send me the best keyword options for my 10-12 cornerstone blog posts.

He pays for the best keyword research tools. He spends his days (probably nights too) staying up to date with Google’s latest changes to their algorithms and best practices. He frees me up to play to my strengths. I need to target good keywords in my blog posts, but I don’t need to be the one doing the research.

If you don’t already have a go-to SEO specialist, you can use this video to find one on Upwork.com with mostly 5 star reviews.

DISCLAIMER: SEO can be a huge distraction, not to mention an adventure in missing the point. Plenty of people are meticulous about this stuff yet only write a post every once in awhile. They never see results. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot with SEO. You must prioritize primary activities (e.g. publishing your way into people’s trust) over secondary activities (e.g., optimizing blog posts). If I had it to do all over again, I would ignore SEO until I had 10-12 cornerstone blog posts and a complete marketing funnel in place. SEO is the furniture polish.

Step 14 – Optimize your post for your keyword.

The Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress simplifies this process for me, and this start-to-finish guide from Moz.com will get you up to speed (if you use WordPress).

Otherwise, do a google search for “optimize blog post [name of your CMS here].”

If I were you, I’d take a little bit of time to create an SEO-related checklist similar to this one from Hubspot. That way, you don’t have to remember all the to-dos from post to post.

DISCLAIMER: Do not, I repeat do not, shoehorn keywords into your blog post. If the fit isn’t natural, ditch the keyword. Otherwise, your post will read like a how-to manual vomited by a robot. Confusing your readers with weird word choice and awkward sentence structure—to better accommodate keywords—won’t win their trust. Besides, Google actually penalizes keyword stuffing now. When in doubt, make your content easy to read and ignore keywords.

Step 15 – Publish your imperfect post.

I am a professional writer. What I mean by that is that I have a BA in English, an MA in Creative Writing, and a decade of experience writing for clients.

And I have never published a perfect post. Most of my posts have some noticeable blemish: a grammatical error, scrambled verb tenses, a typo, a rough transition, or even a fuzzy thesis.

But you know what?

I push them out into the world with regularity. For nearly two years now, I have averaged at least one blog post a week. I’ve got over 260 posts on Medium and many more in my queue. I wrote 120 blog posts in 2017 alone.

I have made writing my life, and yet I still embarrass myself daily by making obvious mistakes in the public forum. Legions of trolls can salivate over my ineptitude! Captains of smugness can send their emails and leave their comments.

I can thank them for their time and rest secure in the knowledge that Consistency. Trumps. All. Things. Trolls are confirmation of your courage. History will forget them.

So don’t let perfectionism rob of the real treasure: consistency. Perfectionism is paralysis.

Get your post to a “good enough” state. Then, publish it. Then, promote the [scatalogical reference] out of it!

That’s what matters. That’s what will really move the needle for you. Perfect performances never made a single career.

Here are three cornerstone blog posts that I have published as a result of my research:

I still find warts and imperfections in those. Even so, my efforts are paying off. My freelance writer website post still ranks #1 on Google from time to time.

Step 16 – Offer a content upgrade at the end of your post.

Checklists, questionnaires, cheatsheets, and templates convert the best for me.

Focus on something that you can create in 30 minutes or less; something that answers what Amy Porterfield calls the “Golden Question”:

“What does your ideal customer need to know, understand, be aware of, or believe?”

You’ve just created a ton of value for people with your deep cornerstone blog post. What else can you offer, in exchange for a reader’s email address, that will help them implement what they have just learned, only more quickly?

Share that advice too in the form of a content upgrade. Add the opt-in form at the end of your post. I use ConvertKit for this.

Here is the content upgrade call-to-action at the end of the freelance writer websites post:

Step 17 – Promote your blog post.

Your beautiful, helpful new blog post is a palace in the woods until you actually drive some traffic to it. Content marketing is a BIG TOPIC, and how to drive traffic to your website is an even bigger one. Read Neil Patel’s “The Uncensored Guide to Promoting a Blog Post,” take notes, and pick two traffic-generation strategies.

Experiment with them for three blog posts. If they work, continue. If they don’t work, pick new strategies and experiment with those. Keep experimenting until you find strategies that work for you.

Also, you’d be wise to take some advice from my friend Nathan Barry and spend at least 50% of your time promoting your content. That’s right: How long you spent on writing is at least how long you should spend promoting that post.

In Closing

What has surprised me about my strategic blogging is how basic many of the problems and questions are. Without doing research first, I would never have thought to write a really deep post about a freelance writer website because all of those questions haven't been on my radar FOR TEN YEARS.

It's easy to forget what it's like to not know what you know now.

That’s why a product and content marketing research is a must. Deep research reconnects you to the minds and hearts of your target audience. You can catch your would-be customers in moments of transparency and vulnerability. You can then earn their trust by solving painful problems.

What that has looked like for me is writing long, deep, authoritative blog posts for each one of the 10-12 topics around which MOST forum posts and Facebook comments orbit.

I am a writer, so teaching what I know through blogging is a natural fit for me. You can also put out YouTube videos or start a podcast. Regardless, I hope you will first cultivate Gary Halbert’s one advantage and gather definitive proof of a starving crowd.

Feed them, earn their trust, and then you can sell products and services.

Do you want a free checklist to use for your next blog post?

I distilled this 4,000-word post down to a free checklist that you can keep beside you when you’re working on your next post.

Put in your name and email address below, and we’ll email you the download link.

November 27, 2018No Comments

A Tale of Two Customer Journeys (plus our free workbook)

Let’s kick off this post about transforming your customer journey with a short rant. (Don’t worry… we’ll end with hugs and kittens.)

I’ll never forget the phone call I had with a customer service rep at my former bank. I had transferred money from my business account to my personal the night before, so I was surprised to receive a notification about an overdraft fee the next morning.

“Why do checks post before a transfer between two accounts?” I asked. “That makes no sense. The money is already in your system.”

“There have to be rules, sir,” she replied.

From there, our conversation devolved into the customer service equivalent of plucking nose hairs. The rep capped it off by saying, “It was a pleasure speaking with you today.”

“No, it wasn’t!” I exclaimed. “You didn’t enjoy this conversation any more than I did. The least you can do is set aside your script and talk to me like a human being.”

I’m not sure my response was best. However, I don’t think I’m alone in disliking the forced smile, sunshine-and-rainbows garbage that a lot of companies feed their customers.

As a customer, what do I really want? I want you to give me the benefit of the doubt. Please show empathy and compassion. Attempt to understand my perspective. I’m not being crazy or unreasonable.

Rant over.

Then, there’s Safelite AutoGlass.

Hopefully, you have also had a delightful customer experience similar to mine with Safelite AutoGlass:

  • Booking online was easy, and the UI was clean.
  • With a sequence of questions about the crack in my windshield and about my specific vehicle, the app pinpointed the specific windshield on my truck. That gave me more confidence in the outcome.
  • At around $200 for parts, labor, and tax, the price was better than expected.
  • When keeping my original appointment became too difficult with my travel schedule, I was able to reschedule my appointment on my phone for free in five minutes.
  • The technician showed up at the appointed time and repaired my windshield in our driveway.
  • He was polite to my wife and children.
  • He cleaned up after himself.
  • He finished quickly and left documentation, which outlined Safelite’s nationwide lifetime guarantee.

My experience with Safelite was satisfying, delightful even. I didn’t have to take time out of my work day to drop off my car or pay to Uber back to my office.

In the months since, I have recommended Safelite wholeheartedly. I see a cracked windshield, and I say, “You know Safelite can replace that for $200, right? They’ll even come to your house.”

I have become the brand ambassador. Why?

Safelite gave me more than I paid for. The overall value of the experience far exceeded the price. (Can your customers say that about your company?)

Your What vs. Their Why

“Value” is a slippery concept. How you think you deliver value may differ from how your customers understand, receive, or experience value.

“Balernum is a branding and marketing agency,” I might tell a CEO I just met. “We’ll help you rebrand your company and launch your new product.”

If he shows some interest and if I’m not careful, I’ll start describing our proven processes and talented team and unwavering commitment to excellence and neat haircuts.

While I’m blathering on about our competence and expertise, he’s thinking:

“We’ve got a trade show coming up and we’ve got no booth and our messaging just isn’t clicking with people and we really need to get traction and I’m freaking out and my Kindergartner has strep throat and how do you know what to focus on when everything seems important and it all needed to be done yesterday?”

Instead of talking, I could have been listening. I might have asked him about the outcome he’s after. Though what Balernum sells may not vary much, why clients buy certainly does. Our clients will tell us exactly how to sell to them.

Their Why should determine how we talk about our what.

Designing Customer Experience Around Transformation

If you can find out why your customers want to buy, then you can repackage what you sell in their language. You can deliver the medicine as a honey-flavored lozenge instead of an ointment.

To put it a different way, you can design a customer journey around their pain points and the transformation they’re after.

We have used this question from Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth Revisited to help us rethink Balernum’s customer journey:

“So what could your [Business Franchise] Prototype do that would not only provide consistent value to your customers, employees, suppliers, and leaders but would provide it beyond their wildest expectations?”

Take a moment to ponder… How can you deliver “consistent value to your customers” “beyond their wildest expectations”?

(Word to the wise: Your answer should not include saying to a long-time customer, “There have to be rules, sir.”)

Delightful customer experiences don’t happen by accident.

If you committed to loving your customers, how would your thoughts, words, and actions change? What vision do you have for seeing these people prosper?

I’m not trying to get woo woo on you but trying to prove a point.

We fail to learn from our customers because we tend to think of them as adversaries, not friends. We try to extract maximum value with minimum effort.

Yet, we have the opportunity to reframe our customer journeys with love and generosity.

  • Do you love your customers?
  • Are you truly serving them?
  • How can you show them more respect?
  • How can you make them feel special?
  • How can you add more meaning and richness to their lives?

At Balernum we ask questions like these all the time. We’re obsessed with improvement, yes, but we want more than anything to do work that matters.

We know we have significance simply because we’re human beings. Beyond that, while we’re here on this earth, we want to invest our time, creativity, and passion in helping other people exercise their bravery and transform their lives and businesses.

Get Balernum's Customer Journey Workbook.

Speaking of, our customer journey workbook will help you think critically about your own customer journey. You can use it to reveal areas where improvement will translate into happier customers and bigger profit margins.

Oh, and more hugs and kittens. Why not design a customer journey that where the value far exceeds the price your customers pay?

Put in your name and email address below, and we’ll email you the download link.

November 12, 2018No Comments

Why We Insist on Alignment Meetings (and Why Clients Should Too)

Imagine that you are a clown wearing giant floppy shoes and a wig like a cotton candy explosion. Then, imagine you show up to a kid’s birthday party while feeling very uncomfortable because you personally hate clowns.

The mom shows you to the backyard where you run through a routine of tricks. The kids yawn. Time creeps past, and the party limps across the finish line. The mom writes you a check... reluctantly. You can tells she’s disappointed, and you really can’t blame her.

You only said yes as a favor to a friend. If the mom had asked your advice on how to throw her kid an epic birthday soiree, then you would have steered her a different direction. Go karts. Old-fashioned arcade. Laser tag. Even build-a-bear would have been better than clowns.

You thank the mom, you awkwardly shake hands with the birthday boy, and you shuffle out to the car.

You did what you said you would do, down to the last jot and tittle, and yet Timmy looked so disappointed. The poor kid was on the verge of tears. Did no one ask him what he wanted to do for his party?

Clowns? Does anyone really like clowns? The debacle could have been avoided.

More discovery. Better questions. No clowns.

I’ve been that clown numerous times. Not a real clown, mind you, but the guy on the tail end of a unsatisfying gig who did everything he was hired to do and more and yet knew that the project had missed the mark.

It’s been very rare when Balernum simply couldn’t deliver what we had promised on time and on budget. The “failures” usually come from failing to do enough diagnostic and discovery work on the front end. Before we dove into HTML and pixels, messaging and mockups, we should have asked better questions.

Underneath a request is a desire. Underneath the desire hides the real need. Underneath the need glints a goal: the real thing, the tantalizing vision of a better future that the president, marketing director, or business owner treasures.

Even if most folks have some cognizance of the treasured goal, they usually don’t lead with that vision of a better future. Instead, they show up with a request in hand. Once they’re satisfied that we can meet the request for an acceptable price, they ask to get started yesterday.

The delicious delirium of new prospects, new projects, new money in the bank, causes us creatives to forget ourselves. We hop to and salute, “Sir, yessir!” We don our clown wigs, and we’re off to the races.

A flurry of emails, phone calls, and meetings leads to a scope, which leads to a price, which leads to agreements and deposit invoices, which leads to the work itself, which leads to dotting every i and crossing every t in the agreement and the client still feeling vaguely disappointed when the dope new website doesn’t magically generate 10x business growth without any traffic whatsoever.

Now, we know better. We have Alignment Meetings.

We slow down the conversation, which forces everyone to dismount from their steeds of urgency, and really think, THINK (yes, I’m shouting THINK at you now) about what a new identity, website, or marketing campaign is really supposed to accomplish.

Sometimes, the client already knows, which is okay. We still haven’t wasted our time. The Alignment Meeting gave our team and chance to catch the vision and understand the strategy.
More often, however, the Alignment Meeting unearths the real project:

New Client: “Do you all do websites? We need a new website.”

Balernum Team: “Yes, we build websites. Why do you want a new website?”

Them: “Well, our good friend, who is a graphic designer, told us that our website looked dated.”

Us: “So you’d like a new website that looks fresh and relevant. If you had that, what would happen?”

Them: “Well, we’ve never really gotten business through our website, and we’d like to get leads online.”

Us: “Are you proactively driving traffic to your website?”

Them: “No.”

Us: “What is Google Analytics telling you about the behavior of visitors you do get?”

Them: “We’d have to check. It’s been a while since we looked at Google Analytics.”

Us: “Okay. So what you’d really like to see happen is business growth?”

Them: “Well, yeah.” (This is typically said with a quizzical look that really means, “Duh. Shouldn’t that be obvious?”)

Us: “And you want your website to be the engine for that growth?”

Them: “That would be ideal, yes.”

Us: “Where has your growth come from historically? How did you get your last ten customers?”

The conversation progresses from there, and what we usually discover is that other, more reliable growth strategies and tactics may generate new leads faster and more cheaply than a big, beautiful new website.

We may learn, for example, that most of Acme Corporation’s growth comes through referrals, and though referrals certainly aren’t scalable the way PPC is scalable, Acme’s owners could roll out a referral program.

Right now, they don’t follow up often with old customers, ask for referrals, or really ever say thank you. But they could express gratitude more often, they could take their best referral partners out to dinner to express their gratitude, and they could straight up ask for referrals (with sophistication and with tact, of course) at regular intervals.

Wouldn’t doubling down on the most *reliable* way of growing the business be a higher priority than redesigning new website (which is also a good, but unproven, idea).

Get everyone focused on the wisest use of time and budget.

I don’t mean to imply that our clients never have a crystal-clear line of sight on their goals and immediate objectives. Sometimes they do, and they don’t need us to be the Oracle. They simply need us to be Hercules and help them push the boulder up and over the hill.

More often than not, however, during the Alignment Meeting, as we dig down through requests and desires, we turn up unarticulated needs.

Every such conversation comes with the uncomfortable realization that we were this close to throwing irreplaceable time and thousands of dollars at the wrong problem or opportunity!”

And Balernum was this close to letting the client down at the end of the project because we didn’t insist on asking seemingly stupid questions at the beginning of the project.

The symptom usually isn’t the root cause. The thing you think will help grow your business often conceals the most valuable opportunity.

  • Maybe you don’t need a new website. Maybe you need to ask for referrals.
  • Maybe you don’t need referrals. Maybe you need a new website.
  • Maybe you don’t need a new website. Maybe you need better messaging.
  • Maybe you don’t need better social posts. Maybe you need to formalize your brand.

The Alignment Meeting creates space to find alignment, yes, but it also gives us an opportunity to chip away at easy answers or obvious solutions, to exercise our discernment, and to get everyone focused on the wisest use of your budget and our time.

No one has to be the clown.

The goal of the Alignment Meeting is, therefore, to dig for the most significant branding, marketing, or business problem. It’s okay if we end up right back where we started and commit to pushing the original boulder. Everyone will have that much more confidence in the plan.

Yet, more often than not, we see a sparkle, and realize that you may already be sitting on top of a treasure trove of opportunities to double down.

Either way, no one has to be the clown. And Timmy—aka, your audience—has a very happy birthday indeed.

Steal our questions.

Even if you don’t hire us, we hope you’ll make a regular habit of Alignment Meetings. You can even steal our questions. Plug in your name and email address below, and we’ll send over the download link for the PDF.

May 31, 2018No Comments

Make Your Bed Before You Build Your Empire

Overgrown hedges and gutters clogged with shingle debris and maple seeds. One email address that refuses to forward properly to another. The Mother’s Day card you need to write. Your chronically tight shoulders and chronically sore back. Unfiled sales tax forms, now with a surprise bonus… penalties!

I could go on, but I’ll stop before I discourage you. I know discouragement’s psychic weight all too well. The massive bulk of undone tasks threatens to smother you. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day.

You slouch into “What’s the point?” resignation rather than proactively pay down what I call “life debt.”

“Perfect” isn’t a luxury they have.

I first learned the concept of “technical debt” in my iOS app days. Perhaps one or two perfect pieces of software have ever existed. For a brief moment in time their code, logic, and functionality found perfect harmony. But most software products—99.99% of them—have bugs.

Sometimes the bugs trace back to weak architecture or sloppy coding. A human being made a wrong or short-sighted choice. Or perhaps a third-party component like a library, framework, or API was to blame.

For example, Apple might deprecate an iOS function. Before, you could write the code and cause the app to behave a certain way, but once deprecated, that function no longer… functions. By no fault of the developer, the app now misbehaves.

Whatever the root cause, whether a lack of expertise, foresight, skill, or maintenance, the sum total of minor bugs and major structural issues becomes technical debt.

Software is always trying to slide backwards into obsolescence, and software developers are trying to haul it up a muddy, slippery slope to a place of relative stability.

Technical debt is something to be wrangled and managed, not something to be vanquished.

For any piece of software to work for any length of time is like a plane flying. It is something to be marveled at. Always technical debt sucks at its performance, usability, and longevity the way gravity sucks at a plane’s mass.

What if you could finally…?

The idea of technical debt has stuck with me because I see its corollary in life debt.

Entrepreneurs and small business owners tell themselves that they could accomplish so much more if they had only a little more time.

What if you could disappear to a cabin for a week or two, one with a gigabit connection?

You could really crush through your backlog of high-level and strategic tasks. Maybe you’d update your operating budget (or finally create one). Maybe you’d dream and journal and sip coffee and listen to the birds and have the epiphany and finally grab your business model by the tail.

Some muse would deliver the crescendo missing from your symphony so that you could return to your team with the clarity, direction, and plan needed to 10x your revenues.

You could finally build out the team and remove yourself from day-to-day operations. You could finally take a real vacation.

You could start working out five or six days a week. You could get your health back. You would keep running appointments with a chiropractor and massage therapist. You could buy a new mattress and better shoes.

You’d start mornings more slowly, with tranquility and intentionality. You’d hire an executive coach. You’d waste more time with your kids, and you’d call your parents each week.

You would have the fiscal wherewithal to be more generous to everyone.

We make promises to ourselves that stem from an ideal future. That ideal future exists on the other side of some obstacle, some “If I could only” scenario that, once resolved, would clear a path to true prospering.

We fantasize about having enough time to be gifted leaders, attentive spouses and skilled lovers, wise parents with a twinkle in our eyes, gardeners and artists, accomplished chefs and brilliant strategists, people of profound faith and clear principles—whole people.

I’ve found that the pregnant opportunities in my calendar stay open only if I schedule and protect them with the same resolve and ferocity that I’d have if a bear went after my children.

Yet, scheduling is the smaller problem. The bigger one is this: My mind is often too encumbered with life debt to soar into the strategic. I’m tethered to my inbox, my phone, and everyone else’s needs.

Dozens of tiny, mundane tasks accrete over time like stalagmites.

Or perhaps a better analogy is plaque. Plaque clogs your arteries. It creates bottlenecks and chokepoints. It adds friction and raises blood pressure.

Life debt always accretes. It hinders our thinking. Left unchecked, unmanaged, it blocks the leap forward.

What is the remedy for life debt?

My remedy isn’t sexy or growth hack-y or Instagram-worthy. Sorry.

Software developers squash one bug at a time. That’s really the only choice that they have.

Sometimes, they must take a step back and acknowledge that the whole ship is sinking. The more prudent or cost-effective decision is to jump ship, not make repairs; or perhaps bail water on the one ship while their colleagues build a better one.

You cannot eliminate the entirety of your life debt on a Saturday. More leaks happen overnight.

The point isn’t a perfect, bug-free life but managed life debt. If you give up on the ideal future, then you activate yourself in the present. Fix leaks and remove small points of friction as soon as you notice them.

- Pay your bills on time.

- Email a photographer friend and schedule a time to get a new headshot (because you hate the old one so much).

- Launch your ugly website before you’re ready.

- Publish your first crappy blog post.

- Pay someone else to do your sales tax filings.

- Get the AC in your truck fixed.

- Save $50 per month toward a vacation.

Too much life debt affects your peace of mind, clarity, and ability to focus. So pay down a tiny sum of life debt each day. This simple habit will help you feel like the ship isn’t sinking. “At least EVERYTHING isn’t wrong,” you’ll think. “I fixed the newel post.”

Pay down your life debt. Strive for order before increase. Make your bed before you build your empire.

Balernum

©2018 Balernum LLC All Rights Reserved

Made with Passion in...Knoxville, TN and Lancaster, PA

Balernum

©2018 Balernum LLC All Rights Reserved

All Reasonable Offers Considered 

Balernum

©2018 Balernum LLC All Rights Reserved

All Reasonable Offers Considered

Balernum

©2018 Balernum LLC All Rights Reserved

All Reasonable Offers Considered

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