Dr. Stephen Marshall, Chair ETSU Mass Communications, MarketingMel advisory board member

Dr. Stephen Marshall, Chair ETSU Mass Communications, MarketingMel advisory board member

When it comes to flying solo as an entrepreneur, always surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are! One of the best ways I’ve found to do that is through the creation of an advisory board.

Now that MarketingMel is celebrating five years in business there is one thing I can point to that was a *really smart” move.- Forming an advisory board. Imagine my delight when I opened this month’s issue of Success Magazine, and found an article by Emma Johnson titled, “How to Form an Advisory Board.” Ms. Johnson asks several insightful questions and interviews three entrepreneurs about their advisory boards. Well, Ms. Johnson, since we didn’t get to speak, here’s the MarketingMel story!

I formed the MarketingMel advisory board in January 2013. It’s comprised of three men and three women, all very successful in their fields. When I’ve mentioned having a MarketingMel board at public speaking engagements people always are interested in how I went about forming the board, who I asked and what they do. Here are five tips:

1. Invite people who complement your skill set: One of my board members, Dr. Stephen Marshall, was recently promoted to the position of Chair of the newly created Mass Communications Department. Just yesterday we got together at Starbucks and brainstormed with one another. He says I help him keep in touch with the real world (he also consults with a large ad agency) and he helps me keep the pipeline open to fresh, young talented PR majors!

2. Seek board members who will tell you the truth (not your  friends!) Do I have broccoli in my teeth? As one of my other board members describes it, you need people who will tell you if you have broccoli in your teeth. Honesty and candor are important in this role. Since then I have affectionately referred to my board as “the broccoli board.”

3. Listen to these business leaders’ advice: When your board members make suggestions, heed their advice. The whole reason you invited them to your board is that they are smart. I actually have a “to do” list from by last board meeting that I’m working through.

4. Connect your board members with one another: In addition to helping you/your business, make it so that your board members can connect with one another. We’ve all learned so much sitting around the table together and sharing.

5. Vary your meetings: I find that a combination of phone calls, Starbucks one-on-one sessions and full board meetings work well. I like to keep in touch with my board members in some form on at least a quarterly basis.

Do you have an advisory board? What has worked well for you?

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In his book,”The Thank You Economy,” Social Media Champion and Wine Library entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk makes the case for engaging customers through authentic conversations in social media. I just finished it and it is a fairly quick read. Some of the book’s key points might be considered “no-brainers” to seasoned marketing/public relations and social media pro’s. However, some professional business people still fail to see the benefits of the two way conversation that the new economy provides.  Vaynerchuk calls Chapter Three “Why Smart People Dismiss Social Media, and Why They Shouldn’t.” He outlines 11 excuses company’s use for not taking part in social networking. Do you see anyone you know in any of these excuses?

1- There’s no ROI– Gary argues that because word of mouth is so strong all companies should be thrilled at this opportunity to gain advocates.

2. The metrics aren’t reliable– Actually the tools for tracking success are getting much better and sure beat the old ways of advertising (remember throwing against the wall and hoping it will stick?)

3. Social media is still too young– “The longer you hesitate the more you will struggle,” says Gary who compares diving into social networking with his 11th hour decision to gain friends in high school senior year. He says the students who started out making friends freshman year were more popular and had more invested.

4. Social media is just another trend that will pass– As Gary points out that’s what they said about radio, TV and oh, yes the internet too!

5. We need to control our message– As he points out companies rarely sink under the weight of one Facebook post. Ongoing customer service is the key.

6. I don’t have time to keep track of what every Joe or Jane says, and I can’t afford /don’t want to pay someone else to do it. Gary says do not dismiss any customer or what he/she says because the power now rests with them.

7. We’re doing fine without it. Really? How do you know?

8. We tried it; it doesn’t work. As Gary says, social media is a long-term commitment and requires patience, commitment and strategy.

9. The legal issues are too thorny– He says that a company “should reflect the DNA of its leader, not its lawyers.”

10. It takes too long to pay off– He calls social media “a marathon” and says you cannot reach the finish line “without patience and determination.”

11. Social media works only for start-up, lifestyle, or tech brands. Gary says regardless of the size of your business social media allows you to “take your business to its fullest potential.”

Do you know people who still dismiss social media without seeing it as a valued communications strategy? Or do the business people you know see it as an ideal way to communicate and thank  their customers for their business?

As a side note Gary Vaynerchuck is scheduled to speak in Greeneville, Tenn. in June. If I’m in town, I will definitely be there!

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Maria Peagler

Maria Peagler

Editor’s note: The following is a guest blog post from my friend entrepreneur Maria Peagler. Maria will be a guest speaker on social media at  Tory Johnson’s Spark and Hustle small business boot camp in Atlanta this summer.

Business blogs are filled with case studies of how social media helps businesses flourish and compete in an online marketing age. Today I’m offering a personal story of how and why I used social media, really as a last resort, to promote my business to an international stage.

September 2008: 3,000 copies of my indie-published book arrived in my warehouse after I had invested $25,000 on its production and printing. Color Mastery was a four-color softcover book, with over 200 illustrations and photographs, on museum-quality paper. It was my eighth title, but my first in the quilt market, so I was unknown and needed a big way to promote the book. I had plans for trade shows (another investment of thousands), advertising, and marketing materials. But something changed that forever.

The recession.

It hit my family with a devastating blow, as my husband is a luxury home builder, and his business halted overnight. It was as if someone had unplugged the phone from the wall, because it just stopped ringing. American consumers slapped their wallets shut, and I was in trouble, as my marketing budget was now necessary to keep my husband’s business afloat.

How was I going to sell those books?

I was forced to get creative with almost no money for marketing and promotion. I already had a blog, but I knew that wasn’t enough, on its own, to move 3,000 books. I had to do something big. I decided on a blog tour, which was almost unknown at the time. I liked it because it was an online version of a book tour, allowed me to reach an international audience, and I could conduct it over a concentrated period of time for sustained interest and demand. The result?

Color Mastery skyrocketed to #10 on Amazon’s top ten list for Quilting books, and it consistently made appearances in that top ten list over the next two years. My blog traffic increased 1,000%, sales tripled, my social network subscriptions all increased, and I received bookings for interviews, lectures, and book signings. I continued to keep up my social media efforts for those two years, selling 8,000 copies of Color Mastery, and was so successful I created a start-up helping other small businesses with their social media. SocialMediaOnlineClasses.com is an online course site where I coupled my 20 years of training experience with my social media success to teach others how to enjoy those same results.

My top three tips for any small business wanting to use social media to promote?

Be willing to make mistakes. I tried many different social media campaigns and promotions, and not all worked. You have to be willing to fail before you hit it big, so don’t quit on social media if your first experience isn’t successful. It’s often the offbeat promotions that will surprise you. Before I had the confidence to shoot YouTube videos, I made a primitive slideshow on Slideshare that continues to garner more hits than any slick video I’ve ever done. I’m almost embarrassed by its simplicity now, but it works.

Realize results take time. My blog tour was a two-week affair, but it took two months of solid preparation and planning to develop, and years of blogging to understand the medium before that. Even a short five-minute YouTube video takes time to do well and get results. Viral is an outlier, and not something you should count on. Ashton Kutcher may have millions of Twitter followers, but the rest of us build those networks everyday, one contact at a time.

Collaborate for maximum impact. The best results I’ve gotten in social media are when I collaborate with others for a true win-win. This blog post is a collaboration between Mary Ellen and me, as she has generously provided me with a guest spot. My blog tour was a collaboration of ten bloggers who promoted my book in exchange for exclusive content. My “Color-of-the-Month” shows were collaborations between quilt designers and me, and those shows continued to sell my book and keep it in Amazon’s top ten list.

Social media wasn’t in my original plans, but when I saw its results, it soon became my primary promotional tool. What’s your story of how social media has helped you and your business?

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Two years ago Tim Story and I sat at Panera Bread sipping coffee and planning our futures.  Both of us had recently been laid off from an interactive agency that was hit hard by the recession. I did not even own my own laptop yet and I think Tim was using a borrowed one. Tim knew I was an entrepreneur at heart who wanted to start my own public relations firm, so he volunteered to register my domain name. In betweeen sips, he looked up from his machine and asked for the name of my new company. I said without hesitating, “MarketingMel.” I had already established the name on twitter and when you googled “MarketingMel” it soared to the top of the page, far ahead of a well known actor whose name I share. Who could argue with that? A company was born.

Tim has gone onto success in his new career and he has helped me as a freelancer with SEO work for some of my clients. For two years I’ve had the privilege of working with fantastic business professionals, guiding them with their communications and awareness efforts including marketing, public relations and social media strategies. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some outstanding vendors as well, extremely talented web designers, photographers and videographers.

When I tell people I’ve been in business two years they generally congratulate me and comment that many entrepreneurs don’t make it past the first year.  Shortly after that groundbreaking cup of coffee I attended two workshops at the Tennessee Small Business Development Center at ETSU including one on writing a business plan.  For those of you who may be thinking of starting your own business, here are some pitfalls to avoid and tips on starting a small business. Chief among those, writing and then working your business plan. And as for your business’ name, well, I recommend something with staying power. See you here next year!

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Willie Sutton

Willie Sutton, famed bank robber

My father was an entrepreneur. He started his professional fundraising firm from the ground up and made an honest living at it. As a young girl I remember hearing him tell the story of famed bank robber Willie Sutton. Legend has it that Willie, when asked, “Why do you rob banks?” famously uttered, “Because that’s where the money is.” I suppose Dad was telling the story in reference to his top campaign contributors. In researching this blog post I see where that line may have been embellished along the way but the quote remains stuck to Willie like a good pair of New York state-issued orange overalls.

So what does this have to do with social networking you ask?  Well, everything actually.

I often speak publicly to business professionals and their organizations about the value of building one’s personal and professional brand online. As I show the growing statistics of small businesses using social networking in an age when creative marketing is a must, I re-tell the story of Willie Sutton. If a notorious thief robbed banks because that’s where the money was located isn’t it logical that business professionals would want to be online where their current clients and future prospects are spending their time?  If your customers are on Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, or some other social network wouldn’t you want to be there too? What are your thoughts? How effective has social networking been in growing your business?

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Tweeting with AundreaHad a great time at the Tri Cities Regional Women’s Business Summit held Thursday, June 11th at Northeast State and met many fascinating women entrepreneurs (and a few great men as well!) The summit was called Economic Self-Sufficiency: Unlocking the Door.

About 75 women entrepreneurs from throughout the Tri-Cities region came together to hear about everything from Personal Branding with WJHL’s Sara Diamond to how to use Virtual Networking with thinkjose, Jose Castillo. I was also able to hear Jennifer Rawls, Executive Director of the Tennessee Economic Council on Women and Melinda Pitts of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Stephanie Lord the Director of Operatons from Protokraft provided some good insights into negotiating. Only wish I could have heard Finley Green of the MountainSouth World Trade Center and Mary Pankiewicz author of Clutter-Free & Organized but I have not yet mastered the art of being two places at once!

Many thanks to Sara Diamond who later interviewed me live at 5:30 on WJHL-TV. You can see  our four part series called Social Media 101 at TriCities.com. We talk about online personal branding and who’s using what social networking strategies. 

It was great to meet KOSBE Executive Director Aundrea Wilcox who was the mastermind behind the conference. She and I sent (tweeted) live reports from the conference via twitter from our Blackberries. Thanks WanHee Yoon from Princess Diaries who snapped our photo with her cell phone at lunch outside.  Kudos Aundrea! Already looking forward to next year’s event.

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