Making Personal Connections With Your Market

I’m no longer surprised when someone who has come into me for a consultation casually asks how the baking is going, or if I am still feeding the birds.

Let me explain.

As part of my marketing efforts I make extensive use of social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, YouTube etc. From time to time I have been known to post pictures of a personal nature-for example the bread I bake at home on a Saturday morning-or I will make a YouTube video which features me refilling the little bird feeders I keep at home.

I never gave too much thought to it from a marketing or branding perspective but this personal connection clearly resonates with many people because I am regularly asked now about the birds or the bread.

Maybe it gives me a more human touch than other lawyers or professionals; maybe it connects in a far more effective way than telling people where I went to university or relating my professional or academic achievements.

Maybe a viewer with a jaundiced view of lawyers, when he sees me feeding the birds at home, thinks ‘he might be a solicitor but he can’t be all bad!’

Is this something that you can incorporate into your business marketing? Your self promotion? Brand building?

Maybe you are a budding singer/songwriter, spoken word artist, photographer, solo trader, hustler? Would the occasional unveiling of a small part of your private life help you connect with the people you seek to serve?

I firmly believe it would.

Digital Panhandling Is Not a Marketing Strategy

If you are running your own small business and it is heavily dependent on spamming your friends on the various social media platforms to buy your stuff you probably don’t have a real business.

You almost certainly need to reconsider your marketing strategy, assuming one was generous enough to consider such unwanted, uninvited interruptions online as a ‘marketing strategy’.

Because you will soon run out of friends.

Social media marketing has the capability of being of enormous benefit to the development and continued running of a successful business. But the way you use social media is vital and it is easy to take what appears to be an easy option to just tap up your friends.

This is no more than a form of digital pan-handling.

Adding your friends to groups on social media or messaging platforms with a view to hitting them up repeatedly to ‘buy my shit’ is lazy and unimaginative.

Seriously.

What you need to do instead is deliver value up front, in advance to build awareness of you, your brand, and your product or services.

This is a simple, effective strategy but needs thought and hard, consistent work.

The alternative is the destruction of whatever chance you have of building a business and the loss of friends.

Why I Rarely Answer the Phone

I rarely answer my phone.

The reason is because I find it inefficient and wasteful of the scarce and decreasing resource of my time.

It is interruptive, too, of course, and I can be caught off guard and I run the risk of responding or reacting to what the caller has to say without considering all the facts first. This is a risk I can easily avoid by not answering the phone.

The caller can, of course, leave a message either on my voicemail or with whoever answers the phone in my office. This gives me a greater degree of control. Control of my response, control of my time, control of my emotions.

And anything that gives me a greater degree of control over a controllable is a ‘good thing’ in my book. Because there are so many things that you cannot control and come out of left field.

Another problem with the phone is the social niceties and norms expected in a phone call: the small talk, chit-chat, the ‘beating around the bush’ that’s expected.

It does not require a complex calculation to discover that if I do this countless times each day and each day in a week I will be spending my time like a sailor on shore leave.

Not going to happen.

Synchronous communication

The other big problem with using the phone for conversations is that it is synchronous communication. This means both me and the other party must be present at the same time. This is rarely likely to be convenient for both of us.

For example, this week I departed from my usual practice and tried to speak with another solicitor on the phone to return his call. This involved both of us ringing each other at least 3 times each day for 5 days running to discover on each occasion that the other one was ‘in a meeting’ or otherwise engaged.

I can understand this-that is why I rarely use the phone for calls. I much prefer to use it, if at all, for asynchronous communications-for example message or email.

Asynchronous communications

Asynchronous communications involve communication which does not require both parties to be present at the same time. For example, email or written message.

This is the type of communication which I prefer and use all the time.

It is tremendously time efficient and allows both parties to get to the point immediately, communicate the message, and not require each other to be present at the same time.

The usual niceties that you might get dragged into when communicating by phone can be avoided, too.

Time efficiency

I’m a solicitor and I am immensely jealous of my time, how I use it and spend it.

Let’s face it, I sell my time (and expertise) in small chunks.

Please understand, therefore, if I don’t answer your call or if I am unavailable or I am engaged or in a meeting. It’s not personal, just business.

I am simply conserving the most precious commodity of all: time.

P.S. I answer all emails.

This Might Not Work

Travelling east towards Dublin in the old N4 at Moyvalley you will see a piece of waste ground just off the main road. It is in front of what used to be ‘McGovern’s’ pub and just before you see ‘Fureys’ pub on the left.

It is an area of approximately a half acre, I would guess, and a few weeks ago a guy pulled in and set up a mobile catering business. He had a mobile food van which opened up at the side and from which he dispensed coffee and food likely to be popular amongst road users, especially truck drivers and anyone happy to plug a gap in the appetite in the most convenient way possible.

I don’t suppose any of the legalities of planning permission or food regulations were at the forefront of the mind of the entrepreneur who started the service.

As I drove past every morning and evening on my way to the office in Enfield I was silently rooting for him, hoping it would work. I always root for the ‘man in the arena’, the small guy or girl, the start up, the brave ones who have a go and try to build a business that will at least sustain them.

As you would expect the first few days were quiet and I saw him waiting for commuters to give him a try. Gradually, he got busier and things were looking up, appeared to be improving.

It’s now two weeks later and the only sign of him is the discarded ‘fresh coffee’ signs in the ditches approaching where he set up and started his business.

Anyone who has started a business knows things can go well or badly but one thing is certain: you need a bit of fortitude and commitment to make a go of it. Two weeks doesn’t seem long enough, in my view.

But the bottom line is ‘this might not work’, and you had better keep this in mind when you are starting a business. That’s the bad news.

The good news is you can start again.

The Vital Importance of Signals in Your Business

Imagine you have had the proud pleasure of attending a child’s graduation from university.

And imagine you book a table for 10 at a local restaurant, and look forward to the food, drink, company, and  company of your family in a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere. 

Imagine, though, that the restaurant staff send out the wrong signals. 

Yes, they ask the right questions: “is everything alright?”, “do you need anything else?” but you know they are just going through the motions.

They give off a passive/aggressive signal and their communication is purely of the going through the motions variety. You soon realise it is a busy evening and they view you as just another booking. 

The right questions can be asked but if the signals are wrong it leaves a bad taste.

This can happen in any business. Are you satisfied it does not happen in yours?

Unfair Comments and Reviews-What You Can Learn From the Greats

Check out the reviews of books on Amazon. You will find it worthwhile and you will find some surprises.

For example, a book like “To Kill a Mockingbird”, with 3,664 reviews and an average of 4.7 stars out of a maximum 5. Yet 2% of its reviews are 1 star.

Of the 3,664 reviews 73 people gave it 1 measly star.

Bleak House” by Charles Dickens, a classic book by any definition, and one of the finest books ever written concerning the law, has 3,760 reviews with an average of 4.4 out of 5 stars.

Yet, 4% of the reviewers give it 1 star.

Pick your own favourite book and check the reviews; you will find that at least 2% of reviewers will give 1 star for the best book you have ever read.

Do a search for the greatest book of all time and a Guardian newspaper list gives the number 1 slot to “Don Quixote” by Cervantes. Head over to Amazon.co.uk and you will find that the reviews show that 8% of reviewers give it 1%.

What can you take from this?

When you get a bad review from a client or customer, or critical comments online, or unfair criticism, remember that even the very best, the towering greats in any sphere of activity, are getting 2% of customers to opine that they are crap.

Nobody can serve everybody; just remember this the next time you receive an unfair review or criticism or someone doesn’t like your blog post or YouTube video or service or product.

This is not an excuse for bad service, however, and if the criticism is valid you should be thankful for the person taking the time and giving you the opportunity to improve.

Feeding the Birds-a 5 Minute Story Out of the Ordinary

Using story is one of the most effective ways of communicating and persuading.

A story can be as short as 3 seconds, or as long as a lifetime.

The video below is a 5-minute story and you will probably recognise the 3 “acts” or “stages” in it. Making this video is the product of a challenge I set myself on a Saturday morning in April: make a story out of something ordinary around my home on an average Saturday.

If you need to influence or persuade, and let’s face it-who doesn’t, you will probably benefit greatly by thinking about how you can use story in your aid.

You can check out my YouTube channel here. It deals with all aspects of Irish law, particularly

  • Employment law
  • Small business
  • Property
  • Personal injuries
  • Probate
  • Litigation

20 Years’ Experience or 1 Year Repeated 20 Times?

When you are considering getting expert advice from a consultant or other professional, and you are concerned about their claims of relevant experience, ask yourself whether they have one year’s experience repeated multiple times.

Or whether they genuinely got 20 years of varied, wide-ranging experience in the sphere of activity that concerns you.

This is an easy mistake to make.

We all know people who appear to be wise, sagacious, and experienced but when you look more closely you may find someone who has repeatedly carried out a narrow range of tasks in a limited area of activity.

My Origin Story

I found the photographs this week, worried I had lost one in particular. Turns out I had put it away so safely I could not find it.

Anyway, here it is. On the back it says “Feb ‘87, started trading in December, ‘86, sold in February ‘89, bought Navan July ‘89

This is where my business story starts, at the age of 23, on 6th December, 1986.

It was a failed, locked up shop unit with a 2 bed apartment overhead. My brother Pat and I worked like mules to build it up from ground zero, from zero turnover to a healthy one within 12 months.

We traded from 7 am to 12 pm, not very common in 1986, built the turnover up well, and sold it on at a nice profit in early 1989.

Then I went to Navan in July 1989 and bought this property on Flower Hill.

Flower Hill, Navan, 1989

Did quite well there, too, but my dad wanted to retire from his petrol station business in Enfield, Co. Meath.

So I sold Navan and bought the filling station business in Enfield in 1996 and spent a lot of money developing it: new convenience store, new branding, new deal with the oil company, new tanks, equipment, pumps, car wash, etc.

Enfield, Co. Meath 1996

I had a young family and the hours of work and commitment in retail are savage. Retail, if you are running the show yourself and the buck stops with you, is relentless and genuinely 24/7.

I had also bought a small shop and building at Seapoint avenue, Blackrock, Co. Dublin and was trying to develop and run this at the same time.

So I eventually sold it in 2006 and went into property development. I bought a site in Edgeworthstown in Longford and built a block of 8 apartments.

Edgeworthstown, Longford, 2006

Down through the years I had been buying and selling property, flipping shops, houses, a little bit of renovation and improvement but this was the first time I was building from scratch.

So I managed the build myself, hired a teleporter and learned how to drive it, engaged the services of sub contractors and was involved in a race against the clock.

Just as I was coming to the end of the build and getting ready to launch the apartments the signs in the economy were bad, even though there was some hopelessly misguided talk of a ‘soft landing’.

We all know what happened next: the economy crashed and nowhere was the effect more pronounced than in the property game.

I lost everything. Wipeout.

When the tide goes out there is no fighting it. You are stranded. Just ask Sean Quinn or Tony O’Reilly or any of the other wealthy individuals who ended up being wiped out by the property crash.

When I say I lost everything I mean everything material or financial. I was healthy and had a great family and even though I hadn’t a cent to my name and massive debts I had two things going for me:

  1. A good attitude
  2. A willingness to work hard

So I went back to college to study law. I went to Griffith college and studied full time for about 4-6 months.

I spent the days in my garage at home and the nights in Griffith attending lectures.

The garage at home where I commenced my legal studies!

I sat the 8 FE1s-the entrance exams to the Law Society-and scraped a pass.

In all 8 subjects.

So then I became an apprentice solicitor and qualified after the usual period of apprenticeship and professional practice courses in the Law Society.

Now I have my own solicitor’s practice here in Enfield, Co. Meath.

Enfield (again) 2011

And the funny thing is my office is only about 200 yards from the filling station. I even buy my milk for the tea there, sometimes.

It’s funny walking across the forecourt on a morning to buy a litre of milk for the office and getting a flashback to 20 years previous-for example walking across the tanks I can remember vividly getting down on my knees at least twice a week to dip the tanks.

Or the little office in the shop in which I spent a lot of time dealing with the problems of a growing business. Or the flower beds around the place-they were my doing.

And the property I refer to above at Blackrock , Co. Dublin? I sold it to my younger brother who in turn sold it to my older brother and I am now acting in the conveyance of this property, some 20 years later.

Talking about going full circle.

What you have read is most of my origin story; I have actually left out parts. For legal reasons.

Building your brand

If you are starting or growing your business it is a good idea to use your origin story-your back story. Everyone has one.

And it helps grow and build your brand. Some brands appear to have something intangible that makes them more attractive to would be customers or clients.  

One of these hidden characteristics is an origin story.

Think Ray Kroc, the milkshake salesman, building McDonalds and his origin story as a seller of milk shake machines and what he noticed on his travels, particularly the success of the McDonald brothers restaurant.

Think about Phil Knight starting Nike. Or Richard Branson and his beginnings in business.

Or Howard Schultz who was instrumental in growing a small coffee shop in Seattle, Washington called Starbucks into a global corporation. Or the college students who started Google.

And ask yourself this: when did you last, or ever, see an ad for Starbucks or Google? Starbucks and Google are just two brands who have grown without huge or any advertising spend because of their origin story and the ability to attract true believers.

What’s your origin story?

P.S. Some of what I have learned is to be found on my YouTube channel and SmallBusinessLawIreland.com.

If you have an interest in employment law in Ireland EmploymentRightsIreland.com contains a good deal of free information which you may find useful, and my solicitor’s practice website is BusinessAndLegal.ie

Building Your Tribe (There’s One for Everyone)

I stumbled across a YouTube channel over the weekend and it proved, if any proof were needed, that there is a market or tribe for almost everyone.

The guy was a mature man, I would estimate in his 60s, and the channel started out as a guide to men’s grooming, hair, and so on as the guy, who shall remain unidentified for fear of giving him any more publicity, has a hairdressing/barber’s shop.

He was, as Charles Dickens might say, ‘much occupied by his own sagacity’.

The channel has evolved over time and now he does long ‘talking head’ videos in which he dispenses advice for men about women, relationships, finance, health, smoking cigars and pipes, sex, guff about stoicism, and so on.

Even though he has a pleasant speaking voice and speaks well, even though he is presentable, even though he positions himself as the grandfather or father you never had dispensing worldly wisdom he spouts the most tremendous amount of chauvinism, misogyny, and rank bad advice.

But that’s not the killer punch for me; no, the money shot for me is that the self absorbed fool has over 100,000 subscribers on YouTube. And these people love him and agree with the rubbish he peddles about ‘finding your manhood’ again and all the other travails men allegedly face from women, leftists, socialists, take your pick.

I suppose when you consider the grifter Trump getting elected to the White House it should not be a surprise that this charlatan can get 100,000 followers with similar antediluvian, misconceived views.

But when you stumble across it up close and personal on YouTube it still sets you back a little bit.

The bottom line, though, is if you are a business owner or start up you can build a tribe of fans for your product or service quite easily, especially on YouTube.