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Marketing the Personal Way: A visit with author Barbara Techel

Posted on by MaryShafer

I’m lucky as a freelance marketing consultant to be able to choose the projects I really want to work on, and over the years, my interest in writing and book publishing has led me to work with a number of authors. One of the more interesting and active marketers I’ve come to know is Barbara Techel, who lives and writes in central Wisconsin.

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Author and indie publisher Barbara Techel

I’ve been privileged to know Barb since she and I were both relative newbies to independent book publishing (my publishing division is called Word Forge Books), back in 2008. I had just published my second title, Almost Perfect: Disabled Pets and the People Who Love Them. Barb was in the process of publishing her first children’s book, Frankie the Walk ‘n Roll Dogthrough her publishing house, Joyful Paw Prints Press. Also a self-published author, she saw Almost Perfect somewhere and reached out to ask me some questions about promoting books about disabled pets. As they say, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and in the ensuing years, Barb has become one of my favorite people on the planet.

Secrets to her success

She’s also one heck of a marketer, and I thought I’d share her story here as an account of someone who started from scratch but believes so strongly in her mission and her products that she just keeps plowing forward — and succeeding. Here are, in my mind, the secrets to Barb’s success thus far:

  • She is unequivocally devoted to her mission of helping others by sharing her own fears, struggles and successes in living and working with special needs animals.
  • She is devoted to self-improvement both personally and professionally, constantly taking classes, seminars and workshops and studying her markets diligently.
  • She is committed to doing the work it takes to bring high quality products to market, even if it takes a bit more time in development and a little more cash to do it right.
  • She works every day to stay actively in touch with her audience, trusts her instincts in interacting with them, and trusts that her potential customers know what they need and want and will find her and her products when the time is right.
  • She’s not afraid of new technology and actively seeks out and tries new marketing channels from social media to creative publicity campaigns to get her message out. The secret to this is that she tries it, figures out if it works, then either enhances it or lets it go, depending on results.

Started from scratch

Barb launched her first book from absolutely no publishing or promotional background, and has developed her business to the point where it has now become her full-time occupation (with a little help for her husband’s construction business on the side, which she has also helped grow through the marketing expertise she developed while building Joyful Paw Prints Press).

Since completing her Frankie series of children’s books, Barb has gone on to write and publish more nonfiction titles. The first was Class Act: Sell More Books Through School and Library Author Appearances, which I had the honor of editing. It’s the only book solely on this subject, and is absolutely stuffed with useful information for any author trying to promote their book. Barb details how she used Skype to be able to visit distance classrooms, and the exact steps she developed to successfully sell thousands of copies of her books to hosting classrooms. Bias aside, I can’t recommend it more highly for authors trying to sell into the large and often lucrative education market.

Barb’s latest nonfiction effort is Through Frankie’s Eyes: One woman’s journey to her authentic self, and the dog on wheels who led the way. It’s a courageous sharing of Barb’s personal story, about how her entire life was transformed by the love of a small red dog who lost the use of her back legs.

Not afraid to get personal

Barb was inspired by her miniature dachshund, Frankie, who ruptured a disk in her lower back when she was 6 years old and was given only a 30% chance of walking again. This led Barb to have Frankie custom-fit for a dog cart to help her walk again. Through Frankie’s Eyes is a moving read she sent me at a time when I was going through some personal struggles of my own, and I found it inspiring and uplifting, at a time when I really needed that.

I’m sharing with you here a recent visit with Barb about this marvelous book, in hopes that perhaps it can do the same for you, and that you can experience her singular brand of personal marketing.

Through Frankie's Eyes book cover

Q. What was your initial reaction when your dog was given only a 30% chance of walking again?

I was devastated. I couldn’t imagine what Frankie’s life would be like if she didn’t walk on her own again. And just as I talk about my book and being honest, I share that I questioned if I even wanted to take care of a handicapped pet. How would my own life change? How would I do this? I was scared.

But I loved Frankie so much and I wanted to give her a chance. It changed me in a way I never saw coming, and I’m so grateful.

Q. Was Frankie’s injury the impetus to help other dogs with disabilities?

Very much so. I never had even heard about dog wheelchairs (also called dog carts) before this happened to Frankie. When I had Frankie custom-fitted for her wheelchair, I was amazed at how she could do pretty much all the same things she did before her paralysis. Her wheelchair was just a tool to help her live a quality life.

When Frankie became paralyzed in 2006, I didn’t really hear of any other dogs such as her who were in wheelchairs. It was part of the reason I wrote a children’s book, Frankie the Walk ‘N Roll Dog about her, to help spread a positive message and educate not only small children, but parents and grandparents who would read the story to their kids/grandkids and they could learn that dogs with disabilities can lead a great life if given a chance.

Q.  Your story, Cassie & Frankie Inspire a Writer, won an honorable mention award in 2007, in a contest sponsored by Linda and Allen Anderson of Angel Animals Network. Who is Cassie, and were you  inspired to help just Frankie when you wrote the book or article, or did it move you to help other disabled dogs, as well?

Cassie was my chocolate Lab, who passed away in 2005 from terminal bone cancer. She inspired me to become a writer. I was in awe of how she continued to be happy even though a tumor in her body was growing and would eventually take her life. It awakened me to go after what it was that would bring me more joy, and to live my own life to the fullest. Though cliché, it hit me over the head how short life really is.

Little did I know that nine months after Cassie’s death, Frankie would then become paralyzed. Though it was painful and tough at the beginning of Frankie’s ordeal, I knew I was being presented with an opportunity to spread a positive message.

FrankieLegacyQ. Has being the owner of a disabled dog made you more sensitive to disabled people?

You know, I’ve always been sensitive to disabled people. But I’d say my empathy and compassion deepened. Even more than that, my respect for them grew, as I realized even more what they are up against in their day-to-day lives.

Q. You are an advocate of the human-animal bond. What can you tell us about animal communication?

I’m very fascinated by the human-animal bond. I honestly believe if not for my dogs, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. I’ve learned so much from them and feel I’m a better human being because of having them in my life.

One thing that concerns me is that I don’t know that we take the time to really see and tune into our pets. I know it’s not always easy in our very busy, day-to-day lives, and believe me — I’m not perfect at this, either. But I truly believe they are trying to help us mortal human beings to live more consciously, and to awaken to living more fully in the present moment.

Q. What can dogs teach us?

The list is endless! For me, I’ve learned to appreciate nature. I’ve learned to live more in the here and now. I’ve learned to worry less. I’ve learned to be still more often. I’ve learned not to take life too seriously. I’ve learned to be positive and look for blessings in challenges. I’ve learned that it’s okay to take a nap in the middle of the day.

NWRDDlogoQ. A marketing question: Why did you create National Walk ’n Roll Dog Day? How has creating a recurring annual event helped bring attention to your cause and your business?

I founded National Walk ‘N Roll Dog Day in 2012, which takes place every September 22nd, in memory of Frankie, to honor dogs in wheelchairs all around the world. Frankie touched the lives of thousands during her six years in a wheelchair, visiting schools in my state of Wisconsin. She even visited schools farther away than we could travel, via Skype! Frankie also gave joy and comfort to many as a therapy dog visiting hospitals, nursing homes and hospices.

I was so inspired by Frankie, and by all dogs in wheelchairs, that I hope through this observance day to continue shining a positive light on these dogs, who overcome adversity so beautifully. We can learn so much from their amazing spirits.

When Frankie got sick, I was really concerned that I wouldn’t know how to carry on the work we did together. I wanted to solidify all the work we did and to continue being a voice for wheelchair dogs and to bring attention to IVDD. Creating a national observance day seemed to fit that need.

Even though we’ve been celebrating the observance for four years now, we just got into Chase’s annual events last year. This probably helped get more media attention for my books and myself as an author and animal advocate. I think the special day has also helped provide a framework for people to start the conversation about wheelchair dogs.

Having an active social media presence really makes a difference, too. Being on Facebook really has helped to promote that. Blog posts have also been really important in promotion. It has turned into a journal that’s much more personal, and where I get to mention other things I’m doing, such as the Frankie Wheelchair Fund. This fund I created grants wheelchairs to paralyzed dogs who may otherwise not have been able to get one, such as when their families are in financial stress, or the dog is in an immediate rescue situation. To date, we have granted 40 wheelchairs to dogs in need.

Marketing for Artists – A fresh look for a new millennium

Posted on by MaryShafer

Doug McLennan, founder and editor of ArtsJournal, has a new blog post up this week that I think takes a much-needed look at prevailing attitudes about artists and how they think about and market their work. Too Many Artists or Not Enough Value actually speaks to more than just artists — many of the concepts are applicable to any small businesses — but it’s particularly incisive in its views of some “conventional wisdom” that he believes, as I do, are based on old ways of thinking — or just plain lazy thinking.

A number of my clients are professional artists who depend on sales of their work for some, if not all, of their livelihood. I have had some interesting — and sometimes frustrating — discussions with artists about the need to consider their work as a business and to get actively involved in using the new online marketing tools to get the word out about their work. Happily, most are finally catching on. I’ve been really happy to watch one particularly intransigent artist of enormous talent stop fighting the idea of marketing and actually jump in with both feet to social media, and to see her apparent success with it over a very short period of time.

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McLennan’s post from his Diacritical blog tackles the rather depressing ideas in Scott Timberg’s book Culture Crash, which postulates that the transformation of our current culture is killing artists’ ability to make a living making art. The book tackles the “everything wants to be free” mentality, and there is an issue there, but I maintain that it’s not a permanent mindset. It can’t be. The fact is, no one can work for free and eventually they’ll realize that you get what you pay for.

But McLennan takes the saner, longer view and actually addresses the larger question begged by the book’s entire argument: The implication that the world’s “good” art  and artists get devalued out of a marketplace glutted with “crap” art.

The Sky Is Falling

I think his post demonstrates exactly how tight, narrow, unimaginative minds perceive any challenge: as somehow presaging the end of the world. Not because they’re actually world-ending events, but because the fearful party cannot comprehend a new way for things to be; because they like the way things are, and don’t want them to change, for whatever reason. Or, more often, because their lack of imagination simply can’t see another option. So it’s easier for them to just turn into Chicken Little, and run around telling everyone the sky is falling.

chickenlittle

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of that going around these days, what with the immense and nearly constant changes to nearly every facet of life — and certainly of marketing — wrought by the Internet. And especially among those whose minds are hamstrung by generations in which art has been broadly devalued and original thinking and genuine critical analysis is highly suspect.

The fact is that the Internet is no more ending the world than it is the savior of it. It’s simply another tool to be used to reach potential buyers with our marketing messages. That is, and always has been, true for artists as well as every other entrepreneur in the world. We need to stop with the hysteria already and instead either commit ourselves to becoming conscious, intentional marketers or admit we can’t hack it and get out of the way of those who can. We need to, in effect, become rodeo riders; learning how to tame the power of this bucking, twisting, unpredictable beast under our saddles enough to provide the energy to power our promotional efforts.

Perceived Value Has Always Been The Bottom Line

If artists create art that is intrinsically of value, our only job is to get it out where people can discover it, because after that, the market will establish itself by people trying it out and experiencing it for themselves. That’s it, folks. No magic here.

The whole aged notion of top-down marketing and “establishing the market” is SO old school. It’s deeply entrenched in the patriarchal, power-over culture of the past, and depends on proven wrong notions such as market creation. Guess what? You can’t CREATE a market! You can only discover one, then try to fill its needs. The notion of creating a market is simply arrogance on steroids.

Free Clipart Illustrations at http://www.ClipartOf.com/

What artists do — and do well, I might add — is keep their thumbs on the emotional pulse of society and respond using their own imaginations to appeal to that zeitgeist. This is exactly what all good marketers do. Here’s a really good example:

With the advent of the Internet, we’ve seen bazillions of “content marketers” pop up, and I can’t tell you the absolute CRAP I’ve seen out there trying to leverage the numbers of potential followers into sales. Most fail miserably in a very short time, because they’re not creating value for their prospects.

It’s Actually Working

But then there’s Etsy.com, created by imaginative entrepreneurs who take artists seriously as businesspeople. It’s an imaginative little online bazaar where one can buy every imaginable kind of art, as well as art supplies and vintage items created before 1975. Those two latter categories evolved out of Etsy paying attention to what its culture was asking for, then delivering — classic sound marketing tactic! And that outlet is doing very, very well, both for its sellers and its buyers.

etsy

The business model offers a generous percentage for its sellers, while creating an easy, interesting, and — dare I say it? — enjoyable/fun shopping experience for its buyers. Its designers have paid close attention over the years to enhancing the ease of discovery for new products and many other facets of the shopping experience. And there’s no hard sell to be found!

The funniest part is I can’t recall HOW many times I read of the imminent demise of Etsy by the established marketing publications and pundits. “Real” business leaders have never taken Etsy seriously. And yet. Founded ten years ago, Etsy now supports 500 employees and services 43.9 million members with 1.2 million active shops that have listed 26 million items. Its gross sales in 2013 were $1.35 BILLION. Yeah, I’d say that’s success by anyone’s measure.

Free Your Mind, and the Rest Will Follow

I think what we’re discovering is that — like every other entrepreneur in the global marketplace — savvy artists who do their homework are coming to understand that modern technology has largely leveled the playing field, and what we need to do is learn how to leverage it for our individual artwork if we wish to sell it.

The broader message here is that while the tenets of good marketing strategy remain the same — make something people want, put it where they can find it and present it in the most attractive light — the old ways of achieving those efforts are dying out. It’s not an indictment of those old methods, any more than the automobile was an indictment of the horse-drawn carriage. It’s just a more effective, cost-efficient tool to get the job done.

And as with any class structure — don’t fool yourself, that’s exactly what’s going on in marketing as in social and economic culture, there are definite established strata — the ones on top will never yield their power and privilege easily or without a fight. So they first pooh-pooh the new methods, then fear them, then lash out in anger before finally either adopting them or succumbing.

We’re seeing all stages before us now. That’s always what must go on when anything is “democratized.” I sincerely believe we are seeing the death of an old regime that’s no longer useful or relevant. But it’s not something to be feared or cried over or fought against. It’s simply us needing to change in our minds and our actions according to the realities of our age. It’s called evolution, and history is full of it. The only ones who are really hurt by it are those who can’t accept it.

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Social Media Is Great, But Let’s Not Forget The Value of Face Time

Posted on by MaryShafer

communityfairAs anyone who knows me can testify, I’m a huge proponent of the marketing potential of thoughtfully planned, well-executed social media streams. This low-cost (usually pretty much just the time it takes to populate and manage a stream and some decent graphics) method, used appropriately, can be as effective (and often even more so) than a large, splashy, paid advertising campaign. It can actually allow a small, mom-and-pop, single-location store appear as professional as well-funded, established larger firms. As with many things, it’s not necessarily the quality of the tool but the skill of the user that determines quality of outcome.

But there’s always the danger, in our society that is all too fond of what I refer to as “the silver bullet mentality,” to imagine that social media will be that One Big Thing that will be the panacea for all our ills and challenges as marketers. Please allow that fatally flawed notion to drain rapidly from your brain. It isn’t true and it never was; not for social media, not for anything. There is NEVER a silver bullet. It’s an attractive notion, to think there will just be this One Thing we need to do to make everything better, faster, easier…whatever utopia we seek. The true solution, alas, is figuring out what smaller efforts we can make and how to make them in concert with each other to best effect. That’s really all we’ve ever had to work with and likely all there will ever be. And social is just one more tool in that kit.

So, now that I’ve disabused you of the social-media-as-end-game myth, where do we go? What, exactly, ARE those other tools we should be using in synergy with social?

Well, pretty much the same tools we’ve always had: print media, broadcast/cable/satellite, and face-to-face. No, really…that’s it. There’s no magic potion. Marketing is work. And lots of it. So let’s talk about one way we can work effectively. Let’s talk about in-person interaction with our existing and potential customers. Let’s talk about quality face time.

I’m not talking about the patented video messaging app on your iPhone or other Apple hardware. I’m talking about getting together, sharing real — not virtual — personal space, breathing the same air. Remember that?

I’m not urging you to have more client meetings, necessarily. Almost no one likes meetings, and they’re rarely the most effective way to get things done because attendees are usually too busy resenting having to be there and trying to make the time pass more quickly by distracting themselves from the conversation by doodling or texting. Sometimes you need those meetings, but what I’m talking about is something much more fun and engaging: exhibit opportunities.

Now, before you tell me how the convention industry is dying and environmentally unsustainable, etc., let me just say I agree with you. And since I specialize in helping small and micro-businesses, that’s not really even our bailiwick. What IS our sphere of operation and influence is local and regional service areas, and that’s what I’m talking about.

In our post-9/11 world where people don’t love to fly anymore, lots of folks are sticking close to home. And they still have to shop locally for groceries, personal care and home items. Yes, they may buy a lot of this over the Internet, but there are few people who solely shop online. For many folks, getting out to the local farmers market, flea market and community festivals and street fairs is not just a shopping excursion, but also an affordable form of entertainment. Add the appeal of the healthful effects of walking around and getting a little fresh air and exercise, as well as catching up on local gossip, and you’ve got the formula for a perfect afternoon out.

Now, wouldn’t you like to be in those people’s line of vision on those days when they’re happily engaged in these kinds of events? Sure you would! Happy people are open to new ideas and experiences. And you and your business might just be one of those new ideas. So consider the potential of becoming an exhibitor at one of these local venues to expose your business to neighbors and friends. Even if they’re vaguely aware of what you do or sell, you want to be driving that impression and clarifying your message, and there’s no more powerful way than to meet them in person. Talking, interacting, finding points of commonality on which to build a strong personal relationship — in the end, that’s what all of life is about, and business is no exception.

Of course, you need to do this in a strategic way. You need to make sure the venues you choose fit in with your overall marketing plan and will help you meet established objectives. You’ll need to budget and prepare a professional-looking display. We’ll talk next time about how to do that. In the meantime, do a little research to find out what in-person exhibit opportunities might be coming up in your area, and reserve a space for your business to represent. You may be surprised at the quality of leads you score from this small investment in your hometown and surrounding areas.

Social Media: It’s Not Just For The Big Boys

Posted on by MaryShafer

Outmoded communication kills businesses.

Small businesses have forever been on the light end of the stick when it comes to resources to compete with larger corporations with deep pockets and large marketing budgets. So often, they’ve been relegated to using inadequate tools to reach their target audiences, and the results have been lackluster. Yet now, I’ve found a disturbingly large percentage of small business owners who are contented to remain in this outmoded way of thinking, even when they no longer have to. They cling to familiar but ineffective and expensive old communication tools because they’re afraid of the stunningly effective and affordable new ones.

If I told you that there is a proven immediately effective new marketing tool that not only lets you reach directly into your target market pool, in any given location, with any message you want, at any time of the day or night, that your prospects actually WANT to receive, and that it will cost you no money…you’d jump at it, wouldn’t you?

If you were a smart business person, of course you would!

That’s why I’m truly flabbergasted when I learn how many small business owners believe that social media marketing is a waste of their time. I can’t tell you how many excuses I’ve heard from clients and would-be clie

nts when I suggest they’re missing the boat on the greatest playing field leveler that’s ever come along in the history of marketing by ignoring or avoiding social media.

“I don’t understand how it works.”

“I don’t see how it could benefit my company.”

“Our customers are older than the crowd for that.”

“That’s for big corporations.”

“It’ll take too much time.”

Um…really? THESE are your excuses for not doing what’s best for your business? Think about it: Did you understand how newspaper and magazine advertising worked before you used it? Probably not, but you found someone or something who could teach you, and you learned. And once you learn, you can’t help but see how it could benefit you, and you’ll figure out even more ways to use it profitably with some guidance from a marketing pro. You think your customers don’t use social media because they’re older than their twenties? I have one word for you: Facebook.

And, yes, it’s for big corporations, too, but the truth is, they’re actually not doing a real good job of exploiting this technology overall. And I guarantee that a small, mom-and-pop pizza or burger joint will see more immediate sales movement when they start leveraging the power of, say, Twitter or Four Square than those big guys will. It takes a lot more movement over a lot more time to show up on the big guys’ books than it does on a local business, and these channels are far more adaptable to local service territories than to global reach, at least on an immediate response basis.

And as for the argument that it’ll take too much time, that’s a non-starter. If you own a small business and you have a teenager, you could put them to work with a little guidance sending out specials to your best patrons. Or you could hire a low-ay or no-pay marketing intern to handle your social streams. But if you don’t have a social media business presence, one of two things is going on, neither of them good:

  1. People are talking about you, but you’re not driving the conversation — a publicity nightmare.
  2. No one’s talking about you at all.

I’m not a social media specialist, but I do know a great new thing when I see it, and I’m just astounded at how those who stand to benefit most from this new technology are staying away from it in droves. I understand trepidation, but by the time some of these small businesses finally come around to the idea that these tools absolutely ARE for them, it may be too late. Their younger, early adoptiing competitors will have long left them in the dust. And that would be a shame.

It’s a whole new marketing stream out there, and it moves really fast these days. Don’t let it pass you by! Jump in and learn how to swim, or you may just find yourself permanently underwater.

Social Media: It’s not just social.

Posted on by MaryShafer

It only seems appropriate for my initial post that I should mention the biggest phenomenon to come along in years in the marketing field: Social Media. You may know it by several different of its incarnations — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube — but these are all part and parcel of Social Media, or what’s also referred to as Web 2.0. It represents the Internet’s move away from site-centric content controlled strictly by the server-level operator toward user-centric content controlled by contributors outside the site itself, as well as the site provider.

Sounds simple enough, but lots of folks — especially business folks — are afraid of it. And I can understand that. A recent Computerworld article reported that 87% of people surveyed said they had no clear business reason for using Facebook. I’m sure that goes double for Twitter. And what about blogging, LinkedIn and YouTube? Aren’t these just time-wasters that have nothing to do with business?

These folks — and they may include you — aren’t sure 1) if social media has any part to play in business at all, 2) if it does, what that part is, and 3) even if it is a good business move, if it can’t also get their company into trouble?

The answers are 1) Yes, 2) It depends on your business and your goals, and 3) Yes, but you can avoid that by being smart about how you get into it. This blog will be covering these points and many more in coming posts. So if you’re considering getting on the Social Media bandwagon and you’re feeling trepidation about it, subscribe to our RSS feed or email notifications and join the conversation. I promise I won’t tell anyone.