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Why 3 is the magic number

Today is a pretty special day for me. My little business is three years old today. I’ve shared each anniversary, but if I’m honest, I’ve never truly celebrated one. Today is different. Today I do celebrate.

I celebrate the fact that despite self-doubt, fear, moments of genuine anxiety and the occasional financial scare, that I am still here. Merely existing isn’t enough, but on my two previous anniversaries, that’s all it ever really felt like. There was a relief that I was still trading, but not much more than that.

The real cause for celebration today is that I now know exactly where I add the most value. In other words, I finally know that I’m building the right business. I know where I add value and I know that what I do matters. I’m finally a man with a plan, because not only do I have crystal clear clarity on what I’m working towards today, I also now have a plan for the future. I know how I’m going to grow this business.

I’ve always been brutally honest about my adventures in business, some have called that refreshing, while others have criticised me for sharing too much personal stuff. But, to look forward, sometimes you need to look back. This entire adventure started with me hitting rock bottom.

Being diagnosed with a mental health issue was a complete game changer for me. I went through the worst moments of my life and I felt completely worthless. But, as I’ve shared before the real cause of my illness was my inability to open up to anyone. That’s why there are no secrets with me. And, it’s why I am as open about my mental health as I am. It’s a way for me to ensure I never go back to that place.

August 2014 was unquestionably my low point. But today, February 16th, 2018, you meet a Kev who is experiencing a real high point. I know there will continue to be challenging times ahead, but I feel mentally strong enough to handle them. Anxiety will continue to be an almost constant companion. Sometimes he protects me and sometimes, yeah, he can be a bit of an ‘asshat’. Here’s the thing though, he doesn’t define me and he doesn’t limit me.

There’s a genuine joy in the work I’m doing and who I’m doing it for right now. The theory of working more deeply with fewer clients is now, for me at least, a fact. This realisation alone has changed the dynamic of the business and my life. There’s a lot less to be anxious about when you’re looking to work with four or five clients than when you face the prospect of finding hundreds.

I’m far from the finished article. I have lots of hard work ahead of me and yes, I still need more business. There’s no complacency on my part.

As I allow myself the time to celebrate I want to acknowledge the part that all of my clients have played. Every single time a client has said yes to a proposal and agreed to work with me, it’s fuelled me. Whether big or small, every single sale has acted as validation and has helped build my confidence. The faith and confidence that they’ve shown in me has got me to this stage.

I also want to say a massive thanks to the posse of Facebook friends and wonderful humans that have shown an interest in my adventure so far. Each and every comment, like or acknowledgement has helped me so much.

The last thank you goes to the most important people in my life, my family. Team Anderson / Lyall / Laing your support at every turn has been amazing. From financial support to hugs when I’ve needed them the most, it will never be forgotten.

And of course, the Anderson boys and their amazing mum, Gill. You’ve all put up with a lot over the last three years. I haven’t always been the little ray of sunshine that most people see. I’ve had bouts of grumpiness fuelled by an uncertain future that you’ve borne the brunt of. And, ironically, that has happened because of a fear of letting you all down.

It’s fitting that I’ve taken time off to celebrate my 3rd year anniversary with the family, because, as important as the business is, it all counts for nothing if I don’t have the time to enjoy with the people I love the most.

3 years down… a hell of a lot more to go.

PS – the Kev illustration is courtesy of the incredibly talented Cari. Check out her portfolio at https://www.cari-erica-watterton.com/

And we’re off – reflecting on January

The Waypoint Way in January

It’s been a great start to the year, in no small part because I now find myself doing more of the work I love. The first full month of my Waypoint contract has been completed and it’s been everything I hoped it would be and a lot more. First of all, the re-brand from Ocius Digital to Waypoint was completed over the festive break. I worked closely with Dan and the team on the project, but playing a lead role in their biggest marketing project to date is something I’m really proud of.

Over the course of January, I worked on long term projects as well as one off short activities. I’ve also had numerous calls to share advice, do some coaching and firm up plans for existing projects.

It’s stretched me and has really made me think more deeply about how I can have the biggest impact. And, of course, biggest impact means creating more opportunities to sell what they do. I’ve learned even more about how they work and I’ve also been involved in some really exciting projects which has seen me join the team on calls with their partners. All great opportunities to build on my knowledge so that I can recommend the best marketing and communications strategies for them.

I’ll continually refine the way I work to be as efficient as possible, but fundamentally, the work with Waypoint in January has proved that my outsourced marketing director model works. That feeling alone has made January extra special.

(Head over to wearewaypoint.com to learn more. And, if you work with any larger accountancy firm that specialises in the Xero accounting platform, please can you introduce them to me.)

Getting to Know ‘Know You More’ More

Know You More is a remarkable organisation that supports the development of young adults through a network of passionate and driven professional coaches. I’ve worked with Tim, Kate and Chirag over the last year. I’ve created case studies for them and had the great pleasure of being a guest on a Know You More webinar.

Recently I’ve been working in partnership with Caroline from Social Good HQ to help Tim identify and communicate the social impact that the organisation makes. Tim and Caroline, as well as being ‘business colleagues’ are also friends, so working on this project has been great fun and has tested that friendship to the core. I’m kidding. I’ve never agreed with the whole, ‘don’t mix business and pleasure’ thing. The strength of our personal relationship has been a big factor in the success of this project.

As a result of this project and our previous work together, Tim, Kate and Chirag have contracted me to be their outsourced marketing director for the next six months. As you can probably imagine, this is very good news and has made me an even happier chappy than normal. I’ll be working with Know You More on the same basis as Waypoint; 2 days of ‘doing work’ per month (strategy, planning, projects and communications) as well as unlimited advisory access to yours truly. What that means is that we can move projects forward proactively while at the same time being able to react to challenges and opportunities that come up. In others words it’s about managing the planned, as well as the unplanned.

Adaptability and Accountability

Early in January, I made the first significant change to how the Outsourced Marketing Director model works. Initially the plan was to have full days, or at the very least half days allocated for each of my clients. So, it the case of Waypoint and Know You More that would mean I work 2 full days or potentially 4 half days. But, the reality is that this is far too prescriptive and inflexible. Instead, I have made the decision to revert to ‘per minute billing’. So from now on my OMD clients will have a monthly time budget expressed in minutes.

This gives them far greater flexibility and is, to my mind at least, a much fairer way of working. For the month of February I’m trialling Harvest, a time tracking app as this will significantly reduce the time taken to manage the process of logging times and activity. (Thanks to Dan head honcho at Waypoint for the recommendation!)

Being completely transparent is really important to me. So, being able to share real time reports instantly will allow me to manage the time budget with my clients and together we can make sure we use the time wisely each month and work on the really important stuff first.

The Capacity Question

4 is the answer to the question. The question, erm, in question, is this… “How many outsourced marketing director clients can I take on?” It’s an obvious question and one that a few people have asked me. It’s ranged from as few as 4, right the way through to 10. What I’ve realised though is that to do this justice and for those OMD clients to get the most from their investment I can’t run the risk of spreading myself too thin. At this moment in time four feels like the most I can take on without compromising.

So, if my sums are correct, I’m 50% of my way to my Outsourced Marketing Director target. Not bad for something that I first shared with the World in late November 2017. I’d like to secure those remaining two within the next 6 months. But it has to be the RIGHT two, so there is no real rush.

Coaching & Projects

When I’m not working for or thinking on behalf of Waypoint and Know You More I’ll continue to work on one-off marketing projects. The first of those took place this week when I facilitated an away day for a Scottish Government department in Glasgow. It was a great opportunity to work on something a little bit different. Having said that, the core was

In terms of coaching, I worked with two clients in January. One in Cork, Ireland, with a focus on case studies and the other with a management consultant who wanted support in how he communicates, particularly in writing. I’ve not promoted the coaching side of things actively for over 6 months, but it is something I really enjoy doing.

I’ve decided to offer just two coaching programme for the next 6 months. The first is called ‘The Marketing Clarity Programme’. This builds on my ebook of the same name. The second is called ‘Communication Foundations’. As the name suggests this is all about getting the core of your communications nailed, and like all foundations, it’s just the starting point for my clients to build on.

At my coaching peak I was promoting around 10 different programmes. I’m quite relieved to have stripped this back to just the two! I’ll be sharing more details on those soon, but for now, if anyone wants to find out more please send me a message or book a quick call. And, without being that guy… you know, the one that’s always selling… first clients for each of these new programmes will get a 20% discount.

And finally… introducing Wendy…

I’m delighted to introduce you to Wendy. Wendy is joining me as an intern for this university semester. She’s a 2nd year student at the University of Dundee studying English. She’s going to be working with me to write a series of blog posts on communication foundations. She got off to a great start and her attitude is brilliant. I’ll be seeing a lot more of Wendy’s blogs appearing in the weeks ahead.

So, that’s it. A great start to 2018 and for the first time since launching the business I feel I’m doing the work that I was meant to do. Appreciate the support I’ve had from everyone and look forward to sharing another update in March.

Say hello to Wendy!

Hi there! My name is Wendy McCleary and I have been given this amazing opportunity of doing an internship here at The Story Edge. I originally left school at 16 as I wanted to pursue a career in acting; I applied to do Acting and Performance at Dundee College and managed to secure myself a place. After a year I realised it wasn’t what I wanted to do and so I worked full time for three years whilst I explored my options.

Although I was out of education for a while and didn’t get the grades I could have had I stayed on until sixth year it helped me realise what I really wanted to do with my life. I am now a Second year student studying English Literature at the University of Dundee and if all goes well I would love to, one day, gain a career in publishing. Reading and writing has always been a passion of mine and being able to study the subject I so thoroughly enjoy as well as possibly working in this field is a dream come true.

Although The Story Edge is fundamentally a marketing company I am excited to apply my range of expertise and skills to the company Kevin has successfully created. In addition to providing a helping hand I will also benefit massively from this experience. Internships are highly sought after and tend to be offered to students who are in their third or final year at university thus making this opportunity that bit more valuable to me.

Working closely with Kevin I hope to not only build my portfolio but also learn about Marketing and gain knowledge in this field. As I have stated previously I would love to get my foot into publishing however, having never experienced the role as such this Internship gives me the opportunity to try out a different line of work and gain knowledge in another department.

Working for Kevin will also give me a better understanding of what it will be like to work for a company as I will have to adhere to deadlines and project specifications. In addition to this I hope to gain a lot from Kevin himself and his experiences having learned that he has previously worked in DC Thomson – a local publisher in Dundee – this is obviously extremely relevant to the field in which I aim to obtain a job. Overall I hope to have fun with this experience and learn a lot in the process, anything I gain from it will be beneficial and I will hopefully be able to apply all these skills to the real world.

Kevin is a creative and hard working individual and I can’t wait to work with him as well as helping all the businesses that he works with.

I’m Ocius Digital’s Outsourced Marketing Director

Last Monday at 3.10pm I hit ‘publish’ on a blog post. It was the first time I’d shared with the World what the whole ‘outsourced marketing director’ thing was really all about. At 9.51am on Wednesday morning, I reached an agreement to become the marketing director for Ocius Digital on an outsourced basis for 2018.

I’ve worked with Ocius Digital on a number of different marketing projects since December 2016. They’re a technology consultancy based in Melbourne, Australia but they operate in 9 different countries, including here, in the UK. I’ve got to know the team really well over the last year, mostly through the wonders of video conferencing. They are, without doubt, my kind of people.

I have only met in real life (IRL as the kids would say!) three members of the 8 strong Ocius team. I’ve met Dan Fairbairn, the founder twice, Rhys once, when he accompanied Dan to Xerocon in London this year and I’ve met UK head of operations Jonathan Fox on at least six occasions that I can remember. I reckon that 99% of all our communications have been ‘virtual’. We’ve established a way of working that just works. The distance and the differing time zones means absolutely nothing.

That being said, there is something special about meeting people in person. In September 2018 I’ll get my opportunity to do just that. Yes, as part of our agreement, I’ll be travelling to the other side of the World. I’ll be attending Xero’s conference in Brisbane and will follow that up with a visit to Melbourne where I’ll meet the Ocius posse. I’ll also get the chance to meet some of their clients and partners, so this won’t be a holiday. I will be working. But, of course, I am a social creature, so it would be remiss of me not to make the most of the opportunity.

I’d like to say that I took this all in my stride. That I didn’t overreact. That I was almost nonchalant about the whole thing. But no, that would be a big fat lie.

Yes, I was very happy.

First and foremostly I’m happy because I get to work with Dan and his amazing team for at least another 13 months. Working more deeply with them will give me the opportunity to make an even bigger difference to them.

I’m also happy as their year long commitment is validation of the work I’ve done for them so far. It also gives me a big confidence boost that there absolutely is a market for my outsourced marketing director model.

The real lesson from this is for me is that putting yourself out there works. I’ll be honest, typically I would have sat on this for weeks or even months before everything was perfect. I’d have created some new graphics. A new webpage or six. And, more than likely I’d have created some videos. In other words I’d make excuses for not launching. But, I didn’t. I wrote a blog and put it out there. Dan read the blog, loved the model and we started a virtual conversation. It took all of 10-minutes to reach an agreement.

I’ve said before that I want to work on an outsourced marketing director basis with 4 or 5 clients. While that’s still the ultimate goal, I’ve revised that number down in the short term. It’s a new way of working and I now realise 5 would be too much. The new target is now 3.

There is something undeniably cool about my first annual contract coming from a client on the other side of the World. I’m grateful to Dan for the commitment and faith he’s shown in me. And, I owe Jonathan Fox a beverage of his choice for introducing me to Dan in the first place.

I’ll try to avoid this becoming an Oscar acceptance speech, but this is a big moment for my business and for me personally. By some distance, this is the largest single deal I’ve done. It’s a massive confidence boost for me.

But when I’ve reflected, what I’m really excited about is the opportunity to be part of a team again. I’ve missed that more than I realised. So, Dan, Mat, Jonathan, Neil, Rhys, Kiel, Emma and Luke – thanks for the welcome. Look forward to spending much more time with you all. Regrettably though… I’ll be unable to attend this year’s Christmas party.

What is an outsourced marketing director?

Six months ago, I made the conscious decision to shift the focus of the business. I was proud of the work I delivered but it didn’t go far enough. Most of what I’d been doing up until that point was tactical in nature. But what if their underlying marketing strategy was flawed, or worse, non-existent?

Without any fanfare or announcement, I started working on strategic marketing projects. Some of those projects were with existing clients, some were with new clients. Working on these projects was a game changer for me. But why was that?

It boils down to this, I do my best work when I get to work deeper with clients. So, for me, fewer clients is definitely more rewarding.

I shared a post a few weeks back that talked a bit about my plans for the future of the business. It’s had some really positive feedback from clients, colleagues and friends. It’s also sparked quite a few conversations. The phrase from that post that’s prompted most of those conversations has been ‘outsourced marketing director’. I’ve been asked exactly what that means.

What is an outsourced marketing director?

An outsourced marketing director is someone that fulfils the senior strategic marketing role of an organisation on an independent basis. In other words, they’re not on the payroll. The specifics of what they do will vary, based on the needs of the client. Typically though they will create and direct the marketing strategy and oversee marketing projects.

Why some businesses need an outsourced marketing director?

First of all, for many businesses, an outsourced marketing director is the wrong option. They might be better placed outsourcing their marketing tasks and activities to a pool of freelancers or a marketing agency. In those cases, a marketing manager or marketing executive might be the best next step if there was a desire to grow an internal marketing team.

Some businesses though can’t justify bringing in any dedicated marketers. Economically, it just doesn’t make sense. Or, in some cases, they just don’t have a defined need to keep someone gainfully employed on a full-time basis. Here’s the challenge though, they still need help developing and executing a marketing strategy.

Working with an outsourced marketing director gives the business owner access to the brain of an experienced senior marketer on their terms, and crucially within their budget. And the budget is important.

What would it cost to add a Marketing Director to your team?

Salaries for Marketing Directors vary enormously based, primarily on location, sector and the size of the hiring organisation. Realistically though a broad range would be from £50k up to well over £100k. Even at the low end, most ambitious, growing businesses can’t justify that expense. They can though, afford to bring in an experienced marketing consultant to help them deliver successful marketing projects.

Marketing Project Manager versus Outsourced Marketing Director

For some businesses, simply bringing a marketing consultant in on a project by project basis is enough. The work is scoped out. Expectations are managed and successful projects are delivered. It’s all they need. They can repeat the process as and when the need arises. All they will ever need is a marketing project manager.

Others though would prefer ongoing access to a marketing specialist. And that’s where an outsourced marketing director comes in.

Reactive and Proactive

The real difference is in access. A marketing project manager works to the scope of the project they’ve been assigned. In other words, they do what they’ve been paid to do. An outsourced marketing director is a part of the team. They’re reactive – they help you when you need them. But they’re also proactive because their knowledge of the business and industry means they’re continually doing your marketing thinking for you. They come up with new ideas and ways to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves.

My Model

I’ve spoken to my clients, partners and business friends to find out what they’d like to see from an outsourced marketing director. Based on their feedback, I’ve created my own model. But like everything I do, it can be adapted.

Each month my Outsourced Marketing Director Clients will get –

  • A 2-hour Marketing Strategy Session where we set the plans for the month ahead.
  • 1 to 5 days of Marketing Consultancy or Project work. (at clients premises or virtually.)
  • A 1-hour mid-month Marketing Review. This is basically an accountability call to make sure we’re doing what we said we would.
  • Unlimited Support via telephone, email or Slack (Instant messaging system.  If you’ve got a problem, crisis, question or idea you don’t have to wait.
  • Discounted day rate for any additional consultancy or project days.
  • Access to all my online courses for all of your team.
  • A monthly activity report including new ideas and opportunities.

Outsourced marketing director clients make a commitment to an initial 12-month contract. But, I’m also a realist. If it isn’t working out for either party, there’s a 3-month cancellation clause included. That clause will be activated by me or the client.

The monthly price for the outsourced marketing client service is fixed, based on the number of consultancy days and whether the work is being carried out remotely or at the client’s offices.

And yes, I will only work on this basis with a handful clients. This model wouldn’t work otherwise. In the short term, I’m looking to support 3 to 5 organisations as an outsourced marketing director.

So that’s where this idea has taken me so far. What do you think? Is there anything missing? Any detail I’ve left out? Anything you’d like or expect to see?

If you’d like to share your thoughts on my approach please add a comment to this post, or if you prefer, drop me an email – kevin@thestoryedge.co.uk. Or, if it’s easier to have a chat, book a slot to have a quick call.

Either way, your thoughts on this would really help me out.

Lucky Kev and the three amigos

I’m lucky. I mean REALLY lucky. Over the last three months, I’ve been working with three entirely different organisations. I’ve been helping them work through some of their marketing and communication challenges. The three of them have unwittingly conspired to give me the confidence that the work I’m now doing, is the work I was meant to do all along.

The three amigos are –

  • Rossie Young People’s Trust. (A charity, based near Montrose, that provides a place of safety for vulnerable young people.)
  • Vital Hike. (A brand strategy and design business based in Newport, Fife.)
  • Ocius Digital. (A business technology consultancy based in Melbourne, Australia, with offices in England and the USA.)

The requirements have all been different, but there has been some overlap between the projects. The work I’ve been doing with the three of them has been challenging and incredibly rewarding. And, as marketing projects go, they’ve been three of the most enjoyable since I launched the business.  

Reflecting on these projects and seeing the patterns between them has also helped me get some clarity on how I communicate what it is I do as a marketing consultant. Part of my challenge is that most people don’t understand exactly what I do. I know, for a marketer, the irony is not lost on me! 

I’ll be sharing the full story of what I’ve been doing with Rossie, Vital Hike and Ocius Digital over the next couple of months. For now, I wanted to share some example projects based on the type of work I’ve been doing with them.

And, you’ll notice, each outlined marketing project has its own unique theme. You’ll also notice each one starts with the same exercise. 

[thrive_headline_focus title=”Communication Foundations” orientation=”left”]

Purpose

To help business owners and leaders get real clarity on their marketing communications. The output is a report that will be a strategic blueprint for their marketing and business development.

This is made up of three elements

  • A workshop with the owners/leadership team.
  • Interviews with the team, clients, partners and other stakeholders.
  • A strategy with recommendations on how to communicate more effectively.

 

[thrive_headline_focus title=”Finding Your Voice” orientation=”left”]

Purpose 

Sometimes you know and feel what your business is all about, but, for whatever reason, you have a really tough time articulating it to the World. Creating your mission, values and value proposition can give businesses the confidence to present yourself to the World.

This is made up of five elements

  • A workshop with the owners/leadership team.
  • Interviews with the team, clients, partners and other stakeholders.
  • A mission statement.
  • A values statement.
  • A short and long value proposition statement.

 

[thrive_headline_focus title=”Customer Journey Mapping” orientation=”left”]

Purpose

To get a deeper understanding of who your ideal clients are, what their pain points are and how you can communicate with them.

This is made up of five elements

  • A workshop with the owners/leadership team.
  • Interviews with the team, clients, partners and other stakeholders.
  • A presentation and video of your customer journey map.
  • A ‘People Profile’ of your ideal client/s.
  • A ‘Content & Collateral’ checklist.

 

[thrive_headline_focus title=”Content & Collateral Plan” orientation=”left”]

Purpose

To make sure that your marketing communications are consistent and clear a review of what you’re using to communicate can be a smart move. The review will also identify gaps and opportunities that you’re not currently taking advantage of. In other words, as well as improving on what you’ve got, I’ll identify what else you need. 

This is made up of five elements

  • A workshop with the owners/leadership team.
  • Interviews with the team, clients, partners and other stakeholders.
  • A review of all the content and collateral that you can throw at me!
  • A spreadsheet review of content including a list of missing content.
  • A website review including homepage wireframe and sitemap.

The No Cookie Cutter Policy

With one or two exceptions, all the work I’ve been doing over the last three months can be found in these four project outlines. But the four themes are just examples, the reality is that all projects will be a mix of what I’ve shared here as well as some very specific requests that the client might have.

This isn’t an exhaustive list. What it is though is my sweet-spot. It’s the area where I can deliver the most value. And, yes, selfishly, it’s the work I enjoy the most.

Luck?

Someone recently pulled me up for uttering the words “I’ve been very lucky”. They told me that I’d “made my own luck”. And while that’s true to a certain extent, the fact that my first three pure consulting clients have all needed a variant of the same thing has been spooky. There’s something more than a little serendipitous about how things have played out. I’m not going to analyse this or think about it too much. I’m just happy for the opportunity to be doing the work I love. 

I’ll continue to work with these clients; some on an ongoing basis, some, as and when they need me. But they represent the type of work I want to do. More importantly, they represent the type of people that I want to work with.

So, to Dan, Jonathan, Mat and the team at Ocius Digital; to Martin and the team at Rossie Young People’s Trust and to Chris, Eddie and the Vital Hike posse – one and all, I thank you.  Working with you on these projects has been a game changer for me. 

 

Spoiler Alert – I’m a marketing consultant

Today is the last day of my October holiday. While my summer holiday was a dedicated time where I didn’t even think about the business, this past week I’ve purposefully thought a lot about it. But I’ve done more than think. Each morning before the kids and Gill have got up I’ve spent an hour or two working on my 2017-2018 business plan.

My new financial year starts on the 1st November (next Wednesday). That date will mark the start of my fourth year in business. As journeys go, it’s been an interesting one.

Yes, I just used ‘journey’’ in THAT context. The use of the word ‘journey’ has evolved. Traditionally it’s been about moving from one physical place to another. Now though, it’s all about the ‘emotional journey’. The word ‘journey’ is used at least 846 times per episode of the X Factor – you can usually tell when it’s coming by the start of some slow unaccompanied piano music.

My Journey

I registered my business on the 7th of October 2014. That was the day I knew I was going to start my own business. It was exciting, liberating and scary. I’ll be honest, I was terrified.

I started the business with no plan. And, in fact, I’ve started every year with absolutely no plan. I couldn’t plan because I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what I wanted to be. And, I suppose, I didn’t really understand myself well enough.

My personal journey and the history of my business has been defined by labels. It’s gone something like this.

  • I was a marketing consultant.
  • I was a copywriter.
  • I was a storytelling coach.
  • I was a case study specialist.
  • I AM a marketing consultant.

The truth is, I’ve been looking to other people to provide the answers. Those people have been business colleagues, partners and members of various business organisations I’ve been involved with. That was a weakness and without getting too deep, it was a byproduct of having no confidence in myself.

Niche to see you, to see you… niche

For those that are in business you’ll know what a niche is. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s the long held belief that in order to be truly successful, you need to carve out a place for yourself in the world. Put simply, it’s about specialising. That’s what I did when I moved to be a copywriter. I took it further by evolving into being a storytelling coach and I took it to the ultimate level when I labelled myself as a case study specialist.

Each shift I made felt good. It felt right. But those feelings quickly evaporated.

I now know why I felt like that. I felt like that because I wasn’t giving all of myself. I was holding back. Going narrower in focus diluted me. It limited what I could offer. It also felt self-indulgent. It was about me rather than the people I helped.

I AM a marketing consultant

On the 10th of May this year (2017) I delivered a marketing workshop for the Dundee & Angus Chamber of Commerce. It changed everything. The three hour session had been about thirty hours in the making. Creating that presentation and thinking about marketing more broadly highlighted the problem with my narrow focus.

Whether I was a copywriter, a storytelling coach or a case study specialist – what I was delivering was tactical in nature. And, I did this well, I’m proud of the work I did. But here’s the thing, delivering those one-off tactical things could be a wasted investment if the underlying strategy was wrong.

That’s the difference. That’s the real shift in focus. Tactics, be those ‘business’ or ‘marketing’, are only as good as the strategy that underpins them.

What I’m really good at

For the last 6 months, I’ve been operating as a ‘marketing consultant’ in stealth mode. I’ve not communicated the shift in my business because I wanted to focus on the work. I wanted to focus on being the strategic marketer and marketing project manager. I’ve done that and it’s been the most fulfilling and successful period in my businesses short history.

It’s also where I’ve been at my happiest.

So, here’s what I’m ultimately very good at. It took me awhile to get to this point, but here it is.

I’m good at asking people questions, listening to the answers, and challenging the answers I’m given. I take people deeper. Then I delve into my 23 years of marketing experience. I think. Then, I think some more. Then I plant my little feet into my client’s shoes. Everything goes through a filter of “If this was my business or organisation this is EXACTLY what I would do.”

I take it personally because I’m fully invested in the the strategies I recommend and implement.

To sum it up in a single sentence…

“I do my best work when I’m solving complex marketing problems.”

Becoming The Outsourced Marketing Director

My ultimate goal is to work with fewer clients. That might sound illogical to some. Surely the goal of any business is to work with more clients? In most cases, that’s right, but for me, I want to work much more deeply with a handful of clients that trust me to help them grow their organisation.

The long term goal is to become the trusted Outsourced Marketing Director for between 4 to 6 organisations. My business plan for 2017-2018 has a slightly wider range and will see me working with 6 to 12 clients over the next year. I don’t know how long it will take me to narrow that down, but to be honest, I’m not worried about that. All I’m focussed on is delivering for my clients.

I’m fortunate that at the moment, I’m working with three brilliant clients on ideal projects. All three are strategic in nature and all three, when fully implemented, will make a difference to those organisations. And that’s what I want more than anything – to make a difference. I want what I do to matter. I want it to count for something. That’s what brings me joy and happiness – the results I get for other people.

Put simply, it’s not about me, it’s about THEM, my clients.

What about the ‘other stuff’?

To consistently deliver the level of service and attention that my clients deserve means letting go of certain things.

Writing

I’ll no longer be taking on any new copywriting work. If you know me, you’ll know I love writing, but it’s not the work I’m meant to do. Writing will still be an important part in the vast majority of projects, but it doesn’t make sense for me to do all the writing. I have identified three very talented writers that I will work with on client projects.

Coaching

The Coaching Programmes and workshops I’ve developed are still relevant. Case studies and storytelling are such a massive part of marketing and communications. The main difference now is that they’ll be used as a small part of some of my marketing projects.

They’ll also be used for individuals who simply want to learn a specific new skill or marketing tactic. This won’t be an area of the business I’ll be actively promoting.

The Free Stuff

I’ll still be giving away a lot of my knowledge for free, because I want to help as many people as I can. If an ebook or video can help someone solve a problem for themselves, then I’ll be a happy chap. But, the reality is that I have given away far too much of my most valuable commodity – my time.

This means I will do something that comes really hard to me. Yes, it means I will have to say ‘no’ more often. It might sound arrogant, but if I am to do more of the work I’m meant to do, I need to protect my time.

I’ve put myself under more pressure than I need to by saying yes to almost every request for help. I’ve dropped everything to help people who have been desperate for my support. I just can’t do that anymore. It’s not good for me personally and it’s not fair on my clients.

I’ll still be supporting people for free, but that will be in a group setting. So, you’ll still see me doing some webinars and speaking at some events, you just want see it as often.

My 2017-2018 Goals

I’ve already shared one of my key goals which is to work more deeply with fewer clients. But, the plan I’ve been working on this week is a lot deeper than that. I have clear financial goals and I have strategies on how I’m going to get there. I know what I want to achieve. Without sharing the exact financial figures, the plan has me increasing my revenue by 45% over the next 12 months.

I also know, given my capacity, that, with just little old me, I can ultimately triple the revenue in the business. That would be life changing for me and, more importantly, my family.

The Future

Writing this has been self-indulgent. This post is essentially the summary of my business plan. It’s a distilled version of what’s been going through my head over the last 6 months. For the first time in my life, I know exactly what I am and where I’m at my best. Because here’s what I’ve realised – when I do the work I’m meant to do, I come alive. Something happens. I get in the zone. I love that feeling and, selfishly, I want more of that.

Everything comes down to one word – confidence. The journey I’ve been on for the last three years has been about letting go of the negativity and the self-doubt. I’ve finally arrived in a place of confidence. Confidence in who I am and what I do. The fear that paralysed me has been replaced by a clarity of purpose and excitement about what the future holds.

I’m thinking bigger about the future, but I’m not obsessed by it. I want to live the moments and enjoy the next stage of the journey. I want to be present, both in my business and in the life of my family and friends.

And the ultimate truth is that without my family, friends and clients I could have given up on myself. They have fuelled my confidence. They’ve given me belief. And, they’ve given me the time to figure things out.

They are the reason the song playing in my head right now isn’t a slow depressing piano piece, but instead is an upbeat, passionate and triumphant rendition of Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’. And for that, I’m more grateful than you can ever know.

Xeroncon London 2017

“Have fun at VillainCon.”

Those were the last words from my eight year old son as I dropped him off at school yesterday morning.

Of course, I’m not really attending VillianCon, everybody knows that only happens in Orlando. (If you are lost, watch Minions)

No, instead I’m travelling to London for my first ever Xerocon.

For the uninitiated, Xero is an online accounting platform that’s used by lots of ambitious business across the world. One of those ambitious businesses is my very own – The Story Edge. I’ve been using Xero for two years now and it’s safe to say I’d be lost without it. It’s also safe to say that I’m not getting the most of it because I’ve only really scratched the surface in terms of what it can do.

So, yes, I’m a bit of a Xero fan-boy. But that’s not why I’m heading south.

My only overseas client, Ocius Digital, are technology consultants that help Xero accountants and bookkeepers to help their clients. They basically help businesses get more from Xero.

Ocius Digital are based in Melbourne but have offices in the US and the UK. Dan, Ocius Digital’s founder and Rhys have made the long journey from Australia and they asked me if I’d make the significantly shorter journey south to see them to discuss our current marketing project. Of course, I would have come anyway, but add to the mix being reunited with Jonathan Fox, Ocius Digitals man in the UK and his amazing wife Emma, and it was a proposition I couldn’t pass up.

Over the next couple of days I’ll absorb as much as I can about Xero and their plans to develop the platform further. I’ll also meet up with some Ocius Digital partners, who are so important to the work they do.

And, the added bonus is that I’m not the only one making my way south. There will be lots of familiar faces who are attending Xerocon because Xero is just a big part of their businesses.

It’ll be good to see them, the Ocius Digital Team and the folks from Xero.

It might not measure up to VillainCon, but I’m sure that Xerocon is going to be an experience all of its own.

The ironic truth about what kills most case studies

If I was to ask you what’s the point of a case study, what would you say? Go on, play along. I’ll wait. OK, this doesn’t quite work on a blog post, so let me help you out. I’ve asked a few people this question recently.

Their responses varied, but here are the common themes that were shared.

  • To help you sell
  • To build social proof (yes I have a lot of marketing friends)
  • To be relatable
  • To establish trust

In a classic case of ‘there is no wrong answer’, all of these are correct. For me, whether you call them case studies or customer success stories, the single word that jumps into my head is ‘trust’. I want to trust that you’ve done this before. I want to trust that I’m not the first. I want to trust that you can solve my problem. I want to trust that you’ve helped people that are just like me.

Everyone engages with case studies differently. For some, it’s the first thing they turn to. They want to check you out BEFORE they spend time with you. For others, the case study comes later in the buying the process. You maybe like the sound of the product or service, it’s got your attention, now you want to have that decision reinforced by other people who are just like you.

But, what happens if that case study DOESN’T build trust? What if the case study achieves exactly the opposite? What if your case studies are stopping people buying from you?

We’re living in a cynical age. As a result, we have the uncanny ability to smell BS a mile away. What happens if people read your case study and simply don’t believe it? What if they don’t believe the story you’re telling?

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So many case studies I read don’t tell the REAL story. They tell a sanitised and safe version of the story. One that shows them as infallible. A story that ‘paints a picture of project perfection’. This was the PROBLEM, this is the SOLUTION and this is the RESULT. But this feels soulless and, if you have any level of life experience, you’ll be left with that feeling that the story you’re being told simply isn’t true. Why? Because there is no such thing as a ‘perfect project’. Much like Unicorn Wranglers, they simply don’t exist.

Every project, even the most successful, have had their moments of drama. The ebbs and flows, highs and lows are what makes any story, especially a case study, real. If your case study tells me your project ran perfectly, I won’t believe you. I’ll think your story is a work of fiction, rather than fact. I’ll think you’ve got something to hide. I might still buy from you, but, it might be enough to get me going back to Google and spending some quality time with one of your competitors.

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Trust works both ways. You need to TRUST your prospective clients and the consumers of your case studies that they can handle the truth. In short, you need to give them a bit of credit. They are intelligent. They can read about the challenges that you faced. They can learn about how the project almost failed. They can see that you’re human and that you made a mistake during the project. The truth is part of the narrative. It’s the heart of the story.

Telling the authentic version of the case study will work for you on four important levels.

  • You’ll be more relatable. (i.e. we’re not perfect either!)
  • You’ll illustrate that you’re a problem-solving ninja. 
  • Your case studies will have an element of surprise and drama.
  • You’ll stand out from the crowd.

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If you’ve already got case studies published that you hand-on-heart don’t feel represents the true story, just ask yourself these questions. The answers will give you the core of the story. Simply edit the case study so that it includes the missing elements. And, of course, if you are just starting your case study writing journey, this is the perfect place to start.

  • What different approaches did you try for this project?
  • What were the three most challenging aspects of the project?
  • What were you most worried about throughout the project?
  • Which of the milestones of the project were most critical?
  • Which creative solution or approach are you most proud of for this project?

Answer these questions truthfully, incorporate them into your case studies and you’ll have better success stories than most people.

Trust that your audience can handle the truth. 

 


And, if you’ve got a burning case study question that I can answer in a future blog post, either ask in the comments or ask away here.

Dad Dancing and Freewriting | Breaking Through Your Writing Barriers

I wasn’t dressed for dancing, but that didn’t stop me. I threw myself into it like an Uncle at a wedding. The music was Northern Soul and the venue was a corridor of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (DJCAD). I was there to speak to a group of design students at the launch of the ‘21st Century Designer’ module.

The truth is, I could have rocked up half an hour before my speaking slot at 4 pm. But I decided it would be much better to join the 75 students for the whole of the afternoon session. It would help me understand more about the module, the students and DJCAD. Oh yes, and of course, I’d get the opportunity to try my hand at Northern Soul dancing, which was being used to kick-off the afternoon and demonstrate what an icebreaker was.

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My dancing was mostly horrendous. But, it was fun. I listened to the incredibly talented and enthusiastic Linsay Duncan as she taught us some basic Northern Soul steps. I came into my own though when I was free to combine the moves into my own interpretation at the end. I spun, jived and high kicked myself towards an early grave. Beads of sweat raced down my back before losing themselves in the abyss that is my arse. Good times.

But, the message Linsay delivered, was a message I’d be sharing later as well. It’s OK to do it your way, it’s OK to be free to express yourself and, something I definitely believe – don’t hold back, let go and have fun.

Writing with Confidence

The aim of my short talk was to help the students with a component of the module. What I wanted to do was inspire them to write and give them more confidence to write with freedom. They need to maintain a blog or journal that documents their progress through the course. I was advised that some of them would find that challenging.

But, to be honest, I think everyone that is asked to write with intent, with a clear purpose, finds it challenging. I know I did. I started with the story of how I used to really struggle with the fear of the blank page. It’s funny, some people assume that I can just write about anything at any time. I can’t. I’ve developed my own writing habit and process to help me be a more efficient writer.

The key for me is starting with an outline. It’s what’s helped me tackle any writing project with confidence. Sometimes, though, even coming up with an outline can be a challenge. I’ve experienced that a couple of times recently and, I know it’s an area where some of my clients have struggled. I did what I always do when I come up with a writing challenge, I find another way. My other way was free writing.

It’s not a new concept to me. I’d been aware of it for a number of years after my good friend Alan shared a workbook from his Creative Writing course. That was years ago, and while I was aware of it, I’d never put free writing into practice.

What is Freewriting?

Freewriting is a technique often used as a cure for writer’s block. In creative writing circles, it’s also used as a warm-up exercise so that your writing muscles are ready to go when you’re about to tackle a writing project. I used it for the first time last week. I used it firstly to write a first-draft of a personal story I’ve wanted to share for a while. And, while on a train to Edinburgh, I used freewriting to capture my thoughts on a new coaching programme I’m about to launch. In both cases, it worked.

It’s quite a simple process really. You start with a title or a subject at the top of the page and then just write continuously for ten minutes. You aren’t allowed to stop. Even if you end up writing gibberish or a shopping list – it doesn’t matter. The number one rule of the freewriting game is to just keep on writing. Freewriting is often referred to as stream of consciousness writing for that reason. You just write what comes into your head.

Once the ten minutes is up, stop. I usually finish the sentence I’m writing, so it might end up being 10 minutes and 10 seconds, but I’m OK with that. I’d hate to lose one good idea. Once you’ve finished your freewriting, it’s time to grab a highlighter pen and find any interesting words, phrases, sentences or paragraphs. You’re looking for nuggets of gold that you can use to get you started.

In my personal story example, what I produced in ten-minutes turned out to be a decent first draft. In fact, it’s the quickest first draft I’ve ever created. It felt good to read it back. It was a different story for the coaching programme freewriting session. What I produced in the ten-minutes wasn’t so rounded, but it did contain some key phrases that will make it into the final document. It also gave me the outline that I needed. The experiences were entirely different, but they both worked.

At the last minute, I added the concept of freewriting to my DJCAD talk. I’ll now include it in more of my talks and it will become a key element of my storytelling and content marketing coaching. I’m convinced that what stops us telling more stories or sharing more content is our inability to start. We’re paralysed by the fear of the blank page and the fear of not knowing where we’re going.

Next time you’re starting a writing project, why not give freewriting a go? Or, if you’re stuck with a communications challenge, why not kick start with a ten-minute freewriting exercise. It might not work for you, but it’s definitely now part of my writing tool belt. It’s another technique to help me get over the fear of the blank page and to give me more confidence.

Confidence

Here are the steps I take.

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  • Grab a pen and my A4 spiral bound notebook.
  • Write a title at the top of the page.
  • Set my iPhone timer to 10 minutes.
  • Hit start on the timer and start writing.
  • KEEP writing.
  • When the alarm sounds, I complete the sentence I’m writing and stop.
  • Shake my very sore hand in the air and swear.
  • Grab a highlighter pen and isolate the gold!
  • Copy the gold into a Google Docs document.

That’s the process that works for me. You might prefer to type your freewriting session rather than writing, that’s OK – but I would recommend that you at least try it with a notebook once to see what works best for you.

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If you’re a content marketer, entrepreneur or business owner use freewriting to create quick ugly first drafts of your content. Stop trying to be perfect. Stop waiting for inspiration to strike you. Just write that first draft. Or, if you want to create an outline, use freewriting as your opportunity to capture the important themes and building blocks for your next piece of epic content.

And, if you’re a student, especially from DJCAD or Abertay, where I’ve also worked recently, use freewriting to give yourself permission to get started. Use it as a way to dismiss the ‘I work better under pressure’ myth. Use it as a way to express what you feel and what you think. And, finally – use it as a way to be free.

And, if you just want to write for yourself and tell your own stories or share your own thoughts why not use some of the writing prompts below to get you started.

And, if you’re in a sharing mood, feel free to post your results in the comments. Be really interested to see if freewriting works for you.

Now, if you don’t mind, I need to go and work on my dance moves. Video evidence has emerged revealing that I’m not quite the Fred Astaire I thought I was. On closer inspection, I resemble an obese Hippopotamus midway through a rather extreme convulsion. Still, we’ve all got to start somewhere, don’t we?