The following article is written by our good friend Wendy Piersall.
Last year, my husband Dave left his 12 year career at Xerox to pursue his dream ofstarting a boat repair shop up by the Chain O’ Lakes. Since his background is corporate sales, his previous career was built on taking care of his customers’ every need, even if that meant helping a print shop meet it’s deadline on a Saturday afternoon. His customers were so loyal to him that some still call him for advice when they need to buy new machines.
It might have seemed a little insane for him to start a new business, in a new industry, with three kids and looming college tuition bills mere months away. I was… um… “skeptical”. Coming from the marketing & blogging world, I was thinking that once he got a name, a website, and started establishing his brand with some advertising, he could start fixing boats on the side for a few months to ramp things up before we let go of his income. I guess I was thinking small. Because before he had a name, website nor even a shop to rent, he was filling up our yard with boats to fix. I promptly lost the battle to hang onto his income. And he’s been growing consistently ever since, while established marinas all over the area have been closing down.
I had wanted to talk to you about how he pulled this off in this post. He only advertised on Craigslist and one single local online forum for boaters, and got listed on all the local directory sites such as Yelp, Yellow Pages and Yahoo & Google local. That’s it.
But I realized that there was a much more important story to tell – and it’s about how he as a sales person and I as a marketer approached starting a business so very differently. As if I don’t already sound a little foolish, I can unequivocally state that I underestimated him and the power of thinking like a salesperson. While I was designing pretty logos, contemplating my business mission, and choosing WordPress templates, he was literally out pounding the pavement introducing himself to local business owners and calling our boat-owning friends to ask for referrals.
Only now can I see I was allowing myself to get caught up in the formalities of starting a business, instead of focusing on what was most important of all: customers. In my world, sales come after I’ve been able to craft and hone my “marketing message”. In Dave’s world, marketing is something he does in his down time when he isn’t closing deals.
When I asked him his thoughts on what has made him successful, it was a list of things you would expect to hear: following up with leads, acting confident even when he didn’t feel it, asking for referrals, and finding an underserved niche in his field. But the starkest difference between he and I was how he approached communicating with his customers: Dave has no marketing message he relies on. He finds out what is important to his prospects before he ever pitches a thing.
In short, he listens before he speaks.
And before you say to yourself, “Well DUH,” let me remind you that I’ve built 4 successful businesses in my lifetime, and I’m starting again on my fifth. The reason I forgot something so easy and so basic is just that: I dismissed it as easy and basic. And you might hear things at SOBCon that sound easy and basic – but please don’t make the same mistake that I did. The presenters at this event are freaking brilliant. If they bring up something ‘basic’, it might just be the most important thing you hear all weekend.
This episode brings you one of my favorite people, and one of the most interesting SOBCon testimonials yet, Steve Sherlock. Steve isn’t your traditional businessperson attending this conference. He’s got a much more varied background – and will show you the diverse audience we have at SOBCon each year. Enjoy!
Phil Gerbyshak: Who are you – and what is your business focus?
Steve Sherlock: My name is Steve Sherlock. I am frequently seen with a tri-corner hat. I reside in Franklin, MA which is the first town to have been named for Ben Franklin. I first wore the tri-corner at the Welcome/Registration Desk for PodCamp Boston 2 and it has become part of my brand since then. I volunteer on many organizing committees for unconferences in New England; PodCampWesternMass, PodCamp Connecticut, NewBCamp, WhereCamp, and JobSearchJamSessions to name a few of them.
My focus is to use social media for social good. I started as a citizen journalist for Franklin Matters and have evolved to assume the title of “Community Information Director”. In that role, I do full and live reporting from as many Town Council and other Franklin meetings and events as I can to share the information about our budget and the business of Franklin to create an informed voter. I have helped some of the local non-profits set up their websites, blogs, etc. while training some of their folks to carry on their communications. I am currently leading the Board of Directors for the Franklin Food Pantry as we re-brand ourselves to be “a community resource for food and more.”
I am fully employed in an IT Security role and all that I do on the social media front is in the off hours to give back to my community.
PG: When did you attend your first SOBCon – why did you sign up – and what did you expect to get out of it?
SS: Phil, you and I have talked frequently about “taking the blog off the blog.” SOBCon is room full of great folks to meet and learn from. Having missed the first one in 2007, I came to the second SOBCon in 2008 and have been fortunate to make every event since then. To meet in real life, folks who had been participating in online conversations over the years bring everlasting value.
For example; you, Terry, and I had been active in the Joyful Jubilant Learning community, we got to meet Joanna Patterson, who had come all the way from the UK for SOBCon 2008.
PG: Did you get what you expected (or more or less or just different) from your first SOBCon?
SS: Yes, the learning opportunities within the mastermind table setup is worth it. I have made some lasting friendships and connections from actively participating around these tables.
PG: How many additional SOBCon events have you been to?
SS: As mentioned earlier, I have been fortunate to have only missed the first one. As long as I can, I do plan on returning. The business around social media is continuing to evolve. You can come and find enough information and knowledge to go your own way, or if you are fortunate enough to have this as part of your personal learning network (which is what I do), I return each year to learn the latest from the best.
PG: What keeps you coming back for more SOBCon?
SS: You can’t stand pat. You need to be learning all the time or you will fall behind. Life is continuing to evolve and each year when I come here, I have had a slightly different focus. My citizen journalism for Franklin Matters is still going strong. I still am finding non-profits in Franklin who want to learn and put social media to use to help themselves. The Franklin Food Pantry is really putting social media to social good as we go through our re-branding and strategic planning effort. Where else can you in a couple of days learn as much in a meaningful way as at SOBCon?
PG: What advice would you give someone thinking of attending SOBCon for the first time?
SS: Come with a problem statement in mind and use that to help focus your discussions during the mastermind sessions. Having such focus will enable the meaningful discussions and internalization of the ideas and concepts from the speakers into what you need to take away to accomplish what you need to do. You can adjust it slightly while here, or even after you leave. The knowledge may just provide enough insight to realize that you would be more successful doing what you need to in a different way.
PG: What advice would you give someone thinking of attending SOBCon for a second (or more) time?
SS: I’d use the same focus as for the first timers, but then look to connect with those you had at your mastermind sessions for at least one of the two days and then switch. There are so many good folks in the room, after you get a lay of the land day one, adjusting your tablemates for day 2 is okay and likely will be beneficial.
PG: Anything else you’d like to share about the event or anything else?
SS: On the one hand, don’t be bashful, yet on the other, don’t be overwhelmed by the star quality of the room. We all come to SOBCon to learn and share with each other. The serendipity of the connections is open for those who are ready to take advantage.
PG: Thanks Steve. You’re a star, and I can’t to see you again VERY soon!
With only 24 days to go (how come you haven’t signed up yet?) we’ve got a big announcement for SOBCon Chicago 2013. Liz and Terry have finalized the program, and it promises to be amazing. We knew that great things were in store when the speaker list was revealed earlier this year, but now Liz [...]Continue
Building Relationships: Turning First Contacts into Customers A couple of weeks ago, we told you about Sean Ogle. This week we’re excited to announce that Sean will be the first presenter Friday morning, May 3. Sean will draw on his own experiences to show you how to: Establish the relationship at the very first contact Identify a [...]Continue
Here’s more video from @starbucker on SOBCon’s “secret formula”, as we approach our Chicago event on May 3-5. Have you signed up yet? Get in the room!Continue
Note from Phil: In my never ending quest to find out why people keep coming back to SOBCon, today I’m honored to share Leslie McLellan’s interview with you. From the moment I met Leslie, I knew she would be a perfect fit in the family – and wow – she did NOT disappoint. Heck, she [...]Continue
Who should come to SOBCon? Co-Founder Terry “Starbucker” St. Marie explains. Don’t miss SOBCon Chicago, May 3-5, 2013. Sign up now!Continue
From the beginning, leadership has been a cornerstone of SOBCon. And one of the best when it comes to demonstrating and promoting how to be a leader is Steve Farber. (Click here if you can’t see the above video.) Last year when Steve joined us at SOBCon in Chicago, he demonstrated yet again why he’s one [...]Continue
For a few weeks we’ve been sharing all the reasons why you should be in Chicago in the room May 3-5. Fantastic speakers that keep you out of the hallways and in the room Opportunities to sit and talk one-on-one with industry leaders The potential to shake up your life (and your business) for the better [...]Continue