from pickett&associates … exploring PR, social media and entrepreneurship

Recipe for Success? Just Add Water … January 4, 2011

Filed under: Entrepreneurial Tales — pickettwrites @ 3:38 pm

Last night my significant other made one of those statements that made me sort of stare in open-mouthed disbelief. We were having a dinner with a friend, and I was relating my recent success in picking up a couple of additional clients in the last week. The “S.O.” then made the statement, “It’s really pretty amazing considering you’re not really trying to attract new business.”

What? “Well, how many sales calls have you made in a month?” he queried.

Well, I suppose it’s a good point. If I were him watching me go about my business, I’d be a little incredulous at the pipeline of clients as well.  The key to my “success” (which is defined by paying the mortgage and keeping all the financial plates up on sticks) is a fairly outgoing personality, connecting with people, and never, ever thinking that any one person is more “important” to me than another. I’m just as likely to chat up the receptionist, coat clerk and the waiter as I am a company president. In previous positions, whether working with PR clients or interviewing sources for an article as a reporter, I always tried to make a personal connection. Everyone, whether an internationally acclaimed designer or the guy who runs the hotdog cart, appreciates feeling as if you genuinely care about them and their business.

I have been shocked by people who will walk away from a conversation and smirk something along the lines of, “Loser, they don’t have any money to spend with me. I’m not going to waste my time on that.” I can safely say if I’d had that attitude, I might just be working as a greeter at the local Wal-Mart … if I was lucky. Mutual respect, karma, call it whatever you want. It makes a difference. But it doesn’t work alone. In other words, I can’t just sit in my home office thinking good thoughts and being nice to people.

So, I employ a number of networking vehicles to let folks know that I’m out there and available for work. I joined the Carmel Chamber of Commerce which I have always found to be a great source of professional relationships.  Shortly after launching “Pickett&Associates,” I ramped up my social media efforts, letting all those LinkedIn contacts and Facebook friends know my situation. I went through the old “Rolodex” of business cards and sent emails to people I thought might either need my services or know someone who did. I established professional alliances (like WhiteHot Marketing!) with those folks on whom I knew I could depend for expertise and a helping hand. I had several meetings over a cup of coffee just exchanging ideas and gathering information.

I began the effort to establish myself as an expert. I launched this blog, and push it out to my social network contacts; I tweet daily (sometimes more) about some industry trend or report. I comment on other expert’s posts, creating conversations with some of the profession’s most innovative thought leaders.

And I believe, “Success breeds success.” So, when I gain a new client or a client has a success — a media “hit,” a stellar sale, an event — I “talk about it” via Facebook and LinkedIn. That lets folks know that I’m working with other entrepreneurs and doing some good work.

So, I spend about an hour a day making “sales calls” … Through social media, through professional networking, through just the people I meet in my community. Like the really sweet business owner I met while purchasing the significant other’s Christmas present. I have a meeting with her later this week to see if I can help “get her business out there.” Stay tuned!


A Thankful Sound of the Sunshine October 5, 2010

Filed under: Entrepreneurial Tales — pickettwrites @ 6:16 pm

You may have noticed my absence … or not. Since my blog post last Wednesday I was swept up in a flurry of activity that continues, but I wanted to take just a moment out to say, “thank you.”

Because that flurry of activity is the result of a lot of friends who have asked me to do some work for them or recommended me to someone else. And for that, I am SO grateful.

It’s been just three months since I found myself “self employed” … which is a nice way of saying “unemployed.” I just went back and re-read some of those first blog entries that now, in retrospect, seem a little “shell-shocked.” No doubt, I was shaken by a situation that was not in my control, but I was determined to make the best of it. I really didn’t have much choice … and thus, Pickett&Associates came to be.

Last week I wrote my 50th blog entry, accumulated just shy of 2,000 views and signed my 10th client. And what I wrote in one of my earlier blog posts, “Renewing the Faith,” still stands: You just need a little crisis in your life to put things into perspective; that perspective allows one to see how those relationships built with mutual trust and respect work.

I’m beginning to see little successes for my clients. Attracting more web leads, generating more business, retaining and recruiting employees … a few media hits coming down the pike that are very exciting and will serve to generate even more business. Most exciting, I’m learning so much from my peers. For those in marketing, there is a wonderful “sharing” spirit that is very encouraging.

Earlier in summer, I identified a “theme song.” Well, every summer has to have one, and this one was no different. The words — “they can take away my job, but not my friends, you see” — seemed right on. So, enjoy a little last vestige of summer with Michael Franti and The Sound of Sunshine. And, like those Bartles and James guys, “Thanks for Your Support!”


Just Say NO to Costly Mistakes! September 15, 2010

Filed under: Entrepreneurial Tales — pickettwrites @ 8:37 am

I’m about to make a statement that you wouldn’t expect from someone providing communications services to organizations. Ready? Here we go: It’s never been more affordable to start your own business and still be extremely competitive.

I’ve sadly been reminded of this as I meet with local entrepreneurs who have sunk thousands of dollars and countless hours of time into websites, advertising, direct mail and branding that has done little for their business other than give their check writers something to do.

This was well illustrated in yesterday’s Daily Worth eNewsletter. It’s my daily reminder of financial prudence and a savvy savings … admittedly, wish I’d had this about 25 years ago, BUT better late than never. A post by Heather Allard titled, “Start Your Business for $500” that originally appeared on The Mogul Mom ran through a scenario that sounded familiar:

In 2004, I started 2 Virtues Inc. to bring my inventions, Swaddleaze and Blankeaze to market. I spent money like a rock star. Out of the gate, I spent:

  • $15,000 on a website with a custom shopping cart that didn’t work
  • $2,000 for a logo that looked more like a Kama Sutra position than a symbol of safe sleepwear for infants.
  • $1,300 on stationery and business cards
  • $2,000 on a merchant account setup and monthly fees
  • $1,000 on PR leads from ProfNet
  • $12,000 on a publicist
  • $17,000 on advertising in Pregnancy Magazine
  • $4,000 on Google AdWords

$54, 300 … and that didn’t even include product manufacturing.  Who did I think I was? Kimora Lee Simmons

And then she goes on to detail how the tide has turned for the entrepreneur with her “5 Things She Would Do Differently” list (click the link for the specifics – GREAT ideas and what we’re recommending here at Pickett & Associates!).

I can’t agree more. Does a “do it yourself” approach to entrepreneurism take money AWAY from Pickett and Associates? No, if anything, my clients know I’m going to steer them in this direction; and, if they’re not comfortable in the role of a “do it yourselfer,” I can do it for them (using the same cost efficient platforms and  charging a reasonable hourly rate) as well as connecting them with like-minded, competent, professional LOCAL vendors who can and will be accountable for their work.

Whirlwind Wednesday on tap … I’m heading to the (beautiful) coffee area of the Carmel Library to meet with a potential client this morning (by the way NOT the library discussed in last week’s blog!), then a Woman Business Enterprise (WBE) workshop this afternoon with collaborative partner, White-Hot Marketing. A sunny day, a happy tune, a positive attitude … who could ask for anything more?


It’s a Gift to be Simple August 5, 2010

Filed under: Entrepreneurial Tales — pickettwrites @ 8:28 am

In the steamy swelter of this summer, I have often thought about the days of my youth when we didn’t have air conditioning. It didn’t really seem like a horrible thing (and we couldn’t complain to our friends via Facebook anyway); even the hottest days were managed with big fans. My dad, the ever clever “MacGiver,” fashioned “air conditioning” by placing a big block of ice right in front of the fan, cooling the hot air that blew through  the little galley kitchen. We grilled out – not because we were inspired by the most recent Bobby Flay show in Food Network, but because my parents didn’t want to heat up the kitchen. We would stay outside on the back patio, visiting with neighbors (uninterrupted by Blackberries and having no “app” for any point of contention); talking by the light of the metal “tiki torches” until I drifted off to sleep, only to awake in my bed the next morning. And yes, my mother did put my leotards and tights IN THE FREEZER so my summer dance classes would at least BEGIN in a cool manner as the then-downtown Jordan College of Music dance studios didn’t have air conditioning either.

It was a special time. In my mind, it sort of runs like an episode of the Wonder Years.  But it makes me ponder, what would happen today if an entire community reverted back to a life without all the conveniences.

Well, our Amish friends to the north exemplify what can happen.

I came across an article I “bookmarked” in May called “Why Amish Businesses Don’t Fail.”  It recounts Erik Wesner’s new book, Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive. The article reveals some really surprising statistics including the fact that 95 percent of Amish businesses succeed – in contrast to the 50 percent success rate of small businesses in America. And, just a note: This success rate is for the most part without cell phones or websites.

Some lessons leaders of organizations and entrepreneurs might take to heart:

  1. Hard work and cooperation – These factors create REAL relationships and a sense of commitment and loyalty that are rarely broken.
  2. Stick to what you know – The Amish know the value of their “brand.”
  3. Credit business success to those around you – A sense of humility goes a long way.
  4. Recognize the balance between work life and your moral compass – While a majority of Americans don’t see technology in the same “taboo” light as the Amish, there’s a whole lot to be gained in terms of “quality family time” if you are not checking your smart phone every 15 minutes.

My dream of the “sustainable farm” with chickens and goats and a year-round garden is looking pretty good; until now, I never thought about creating a business model  around it … May be something to think about.

Have you taken steps to simplify your life? How did you do it?


Reflecting the One-Month Benchmark August 3, 2010

Filed under: Entrepreneurial Tales,Random Thoughts — pickettwrites @ 8:38 am

One month ago I was unceremoniously relieved of the duties of my full-time job. With 56 HOURS of Paid-Time-Off as a “severance,” I was sent out the door like Cindy-Lu Who after she’d helped the Grinch shove the tree up the chimney. It’s  hard to have a positive outlook in such a situation. But it seemed like the prudent thing to do was take charge of my destiny and not dwell on the angst. In the 30 days since:

  • I decided to set out on  my own and launch a communications firm;
  • Came up with a name that was neither too cute or too boring: Pickett&Associates;
  • Determined Pickett&Associates would focus on Strategic Public Relations including social and traditional media management as well as editorial services;
  • Created this blog site as well as Facebook business page (have you “liked” Pickett&Associates yet or shared posts with YOUR friends?);
  • Dove right into social media marketing, including ramping up my presence on twitter (are you following me? Retweeted?);
  • Oversaw development of my “logo” and brand style;
  • Published more than 20 blog entries and had nearly 800 views;
  • Retained my first client;
  • Received my first check for work done;
  • Taken about 15 one-on-one meetings to discuss potential work;
  • Created and submitted five formal proposals;
  • And today, taaadaaaah! I’m pleased to unveil the Pickett&Associates logo!

On a personal note, my youngest daughter (Kat Pickett Wedmore for those who follow the local “Indy-pendent “art scene)  provided the design.

That is a whole lot going on in one month … for the FIRST month, anyway. I’m fairly pleased with my progress, though admittedly I worry about getting the cashflow to a sustainable level quickly. But I don’t have much time to worry … It seems as if there is always something looming, whether it’s promoting Pickett&Associates, writing a proposal or actually performing client work.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t have done it without the moral support, great ideas and generosity of family and friends … and those “retweets” and “likes!” To you, especially, a round of sincere thank you’s.

I am anxiously anticipating the NEXT 30 days on this Tuesday as I head into downtown Indy for a lunch with an old friend and an important introduction. In the words of Winnie the Pooh, “Have an unbothersome day.”


Elevator (or Dumbwaiter) Pitch Can Define Success August 2, 2010

Filed under: Entrepreneurial Tales — pickettwrites @ 8:08 am

To mix some metaphors, into everyone’s life a little defining moment must fall.

After five decades, I have had my share … but I was reminded of one today as I read the “HP Small Nation” LinkedIn post from Rieva Lesonsky that detailed effective elevator pitches as an important sales and branding tool.  It’s something I (wrongly assumed) every entrepreneur knew; it seemed like “small business 101” kind of stuff.

So, the epiphany came when I was in a business development meeting a while back with a business owner who was directly asked by a prospective client, “What sets your business apart … makes it unique?” In my head, I heard, “Cue music, elevator pitch … go!”

Instead, what I heard was a lengthy pause, a bit of a stammer and a “well, it really depends,” followed by a string of ill-put-together words that really made no sense. The epiphany? Business development without a solid elevator speech is well illustrated with the phrase “cart before the horse.” At that moment I realized that this particular business was going to have immeasurable trouble signing and retaining new business. Entrepreneurs, particularly in the service business industry, must remember that they can’t possibly help someone else’s business if they don’t have a clear vision of their own.

Meanwhile, the Harvard Business Review blog suggests in this fast-paced communications environment, elevator pitch may well be passé; perhaps what is needed is the “dumbwaiter pitch.” HBR blogger Umair Haque suggests boiling it down to ONE word. The goal, he writes, is to strip an organization right down to its bones and see how compelling it really is. I particularly find this statement extremely profound: In simplicity lie the seeds of explosively powerful propositions; in complexity, only confusion, incoherence and uncompetitiveness.

Try it! Share with me and fellow Pickettwrites blog readers YOUR “dumbwaiter pitch!” We can’t wait to hear!

p.s. If you are actually looking for a REAL dumbwaiter (or if you really weren’t sure what a dumbwaiter WAS), check out panhandleelevators.com/dumbwaiters/.


Marketing Success Requires Meeting Customer Expectations July 29, 2010

Filed under: Entrepreneurial Tales — pickettwrites @ 8:29 am

I don’t profess to be a marketing expert. You may notice that I do not tout myself as a “PR and marketing” firm. That’s on purpose. I have chosen to focus on public relations, spending a good deal of this year entrenched in deepening the knowledge I have gained through my professional experiences; I recently passed the APR (Accredited in Public Relations) peer review panel and am approved to sit for the certification exam later next month. I am professionally and personally committed to the Code of Ethics as prescribed by the Public Relations Society of America.

That said, while not being a marketing expert, I am a consumer. And what I want to share with you today is my “Tale of Two Nail Salons.”

I had received a coupon earlier in the month for a nail salon a few miles to my north. I’m not a frequent subscriber to these services, and I confess to being a big believer in “do it yourself,” but doing my own pedicures has never been one of my strong suits. The coupon was from a salon that was not really in my neighborhood, but for a $29 manicure/pedicure, I could drive 15 minutes up the road.

I headed off the other day for a number of errands that would conclude at this particular salon. I had pictured it in a strip mall, but when I arrived at the approximate address I learned it was in an old house. I parked my car and walked across the street – the closer I got the more I made that “breathing air in between my teeth” sound of doubt. There were random toys scattered on the porch as well as a “mini-Weber” grill that looked like it had been doused with water the last time it was used. I scolded myself … what did I expect for $29? “Buck up and keep walking and don’t be so damned judgmental,” I told myself.

Opening the door, there was a strong odor of nail polish remover mixed with … I have no idea. It smelled like something was burning. I was instructed to choose my nail colors and have a seat. As I vied for the proper shades of pink – competing with a particularly annoying four-year-old boy – I noted a sign that read, “cash appreciated.” I asked if I should run across the street and get cash, but was told no, they took credit cards.

And then here’s the weird part. When I pulled the coupon out of my purse, the lady behind the desk said, “Oh, if you use coupon, you need cash.” What? I politely said, “No problem, I’ll just run across the street.”

Which I did. And I kept going. I got in my car, and I found another salon that had recently opened much closer to my house. They were offering a 15 percent grand opening discount which put me right back at the $30 price point. And they were really lovely people with a nice, clean salon … that did not smell.

Okay, so here’s the lessons learned.

If you are a business that is trying to bring in new customers, targeted coupons through the various neighborhood outlets (like ValPak, Reach, Great Deals, etc) are a good way to go. They provide businesses with a very trackable “return on investment.” A business owner knows how well it works simply by counting the number of coupon redemptions and ROI is easily calculated.

However, simply getting someone in the door doesn’t instantly ensure success. Consumers have expectations of cleanliness, customer service and acceptable quality of product that are essential to closing the sale. And, ideally, you want to retain that client – you want them to have an awesome FIRST experience so they come back again. That’s how to build a business.

So, before you invest marketing dollars in ANY type of advertising or even in a public relations program, make sure your product or service delivers on basic consumer expectations. As my experience proved, even when looking for a “discount,” there is a definite tipping point at which a consumer will bolt. And there’s another product or service provider right up the street who is happy to provide that consumer with the experience they desire.

As the clouds break this morning to cooler temperatures, a sad day is on tap. Funeral for a truly wonderful gentlemen who will be sorely missed by family and friends alike; know that many stories will be shared today about his acts of kindness and servitude. RIP Zig.