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Ilise Benun

Ilise Benun

Why is it we don't do for ourselves what we do for our clients? We know the key to success in new business is sharing the great work we do. But when we get busy we forget to tell everyone we're here. It's crucial to remember that marketing ourselves isn't a one-time effort, it's an ongoing process of outreach across multiple channels. Frustratingly, we often quit using our most successful techniques because we don't like them. Even though they worked amazingly well. Today, Ilise Benun joins us on the Bureau Briefing to talk about marketing and managing clients. We also talk about the importance of self-respect in building the companies we want. Because ultimately, marketing is about relationships with ideal clients.

And be sure to say hello to Ilise at Owner Summit 2018 in Charleston! You'll learn more great insights and connect with digital agency owners from around the world.


Carl Smith:
Hey everybody, and welcome back to the Bureau Briefing, it's Carl, and with me today I have the founder of Marketing Mentor, that's www.marketing-mentor.com, if you wanna check it out. And also, the program partner for HOW Design Live and an amazing business coach, it's Ilise Benun. How's it going today Ilise?

Ilise Benun:
Thank you, I'm really well today, thank you.

Carl Smith:
Well, I'm excited to have you on the show because, as a lot of the listeners know, I was not a very good owner of my shop. Somehow we succeed in spite of me, and one of the issues I always had was just getting our name out there. Now we were kind of irreverent and we had like an organized chaos kind of vibe, but I'm curious, when you meet with most digital agencies, what are they struggling with?

Ilise Benun:
Well the first issue is the fact that what they are doing for their clients, which is helping with marketing, they're not doing for themselves so they're not practicing what they preach and that's a red blot, or a black blot on them in my opinion.

Carl Smith:
And so do they, I mean when you meet with them, when you're consulting, do you make them look in that mirror and just ask them why?

Ilise Benun:
Yes but I've heard all the excuses so it's really just for them to articulate to themselves why they're not doing it and then, usually the problem has to do with not knowing exactly what they should be doing because, you know let's face it, there are so many different marketing tools that we could be using, and it can be very overwhelming for most people, and so paralysis sets in and you do nothing. So that's the first hump we try to get over.

Carl Smith:
Now, one of the things that I think was beneficial for my shop, for nGen, was that I didn't really have any skills when it came to building or designing anything. I was an okay writer I was pretty good at promotions, but I never got sucked into the work. And a lot of the ... that I meet with, I find out that the principal, the founder is also a designer or developer or something like that. So when the work comes in they stop looking for work. Do you see that a lot?

Ilise Benun:
Yeah.

Carl Smith:
Is it 'cause there's just not a dedicated person to keep the marketing efforts going?

Ilise Benun:
That is part of it yes. And the other part is that most of us don't get into this type of business because we wanna market it, we get into it because we wanna do it, and if someone else is not doing it then it's the thing that essentially falls to the bottom of the pile, unless you're absolutely desperate, in which case by then it's actually too late.

Carl Smith:
That's an excellent point. And you can hear it, when I was just trying to speak, "Uh, uh, uh," THat's an excellent point. Even this week, with the Bureau, like we have a lot of marketing efforts, we're sharing what people in the community are doing and, you know, we're trying to get our own voice out there and doing things, and then I had this opportunity to fix a problem and I disappeared for three days. Just like putting together this new solution for something, and when I looked up all of our channels were dry. I was like "We're not saying anything, we're not doing anything, nobody knows we're here." So, what do you tell those shops? What do you recommend to them when they're in that place?

Ilise Benun:
Well there have to be, I mean there are ups and downs in every business, and sometimes, obviously there's gonna be more time available to focus on marketing, and other times there's gonna be no time at all, and so you need to have a system in place, what I like to call a Marketing Machine, that is already in place and has all the pieces ready so that when things get really busy you know exactly what you have to do and it doesn't take long at all, and you can keep the machine running, and part of doing that is making sure that during the slower times you are filling the machine and creating content for example or researching prospects so that when you do get busy you can still keep it running.

Carl Smith:
Which, again, makes great sense. I have people ask me how you can do a weekly podcast and I said "It's easy, you just schedule two episodes a week, but publish one." Because that's the only way that you're gonna be okay when somebody cancels, and you've gotta have eight or ten in the can just sitting there waiting. Because you're gonna have something come up in your life, and when it does you gotta keep moving. 

So, what other things right now that you see other agencies doing that are really successful when it comes to marketing?

Ilise Benun:
Well, to me, the most important foundational marketing tools, there are three of them, and this presumes you know who you're marketing to, if you don't know how you're marketing to then none of these tools work.

Carl Smith:
I like you. I like you a lot.

Ilise Benun:
Right, so who are you marketing to? That is actually one of the biggest challenges people have, for lots of different reason, which I'm sure you already know, which is "I don't wanna limit myself, I can't decide, I've got lots of different things, I like variety, blah, blah, blah."

Carl Smith:
So what are the three things that you tell them to do?

Ilise Benun:
Okay, so networking, in person, in real time, whenever possible; email marketing, to stay in touch with the people that you meet through that networking; and direct outreach, which is kind of like cold calling but not really because it's warm, number one, and it's a combination of email, snail mail, phone call, social media, to get the attention of the people who are you're ideal clients, who you really wanna work with who you've carefully identified and selected for certain reasons, because you've homework, and then you're gonna explain in a very personalized way why you're reaching out to them, and then you're not gonna give up, even when there's silence and they don't respond because you're going to emphasize the fact that you're serious and you're not going away.

Carl Smith:
Now when you talk about outreach, direct outreach, that's something I've tried. And when I was at eGen we would try it, and sometimes it would work. What we found was we had, and people get cranky, I am totally against any type of spec work. But I will say that if you're building something to show someone your capabilities and they didn't as you to do it, I don't consider that spec work. THat's you doing something with the intention of getting something, not being told to do something. So anyway that's [crosstalk 00:07:46].

Ilise Benun:
I agree with you about that.

Carl Smith:
Good, finally I found the one person on the planet. Like I've seen some shops that have built amazing things and have used that to get in the door. I mean hell, 37 Signals redesigned FedEx-

Ilise Benun: Exactly.

Carl Smith:
... And FedEx didn't know anything about 'em yet, people suddenly thought they were a client, and we did that as well. We use to interview other companies and talk about how great they were just so we could put their logo on our homepage. It's so bad, but it totally worked.

So, I think my question when we talk about this outreach, I struggled with it because like with the Bureau I'm trying to find new shops. And sometimes I'll see a shop that's doing something great and I wanna reach out and I wanna say "Hey, you're doing something great." If I do it on Twitter sometimes you'll hear back but you don't even know if that's the company. Right, you don't even know if you're talking to somebody who's actually there. And if you use, like their tools, like Hunter, where you can get email addresses from people on LinkedIn and things like that, it just, I guess it feels kind of intrusive. So, how do you recommend that people do that initial outreach so it is warm? It's not cold.

Ilise Benun:
I think the first mistake is thinking that the initial outreach is just one effort. It's not, it's a combination. It's anything and everything it takes to get the right person's attention. And you may not know that you've gotten their attention right away. So it is a combination of social media, including Twitter perhaps, LinkedIn, whatever they're on basically; and email; and snail mail; and maybe phone. That's the initial outreach.

Carl Smith:
So what would you do snail mail wise?

Ilise Benun:
Oh you can, Actually I have on my desk, a very simple card, a note card, that was sent to me by a client actually, so he personalized, it's a thank you card, but he said that he uses it also as his warm snail mail intro to people he wants to work with, so he just send it to them with a nice personalized note and his card, his business card, which is very cool and three-dimensional, and that is the first effort, and then he follows up with an email that says, "Did you get the card?" And then he maybe will link with them on LinkedIn, and then maybe he'll phone cal, but all sending the same message. "Did you get the card? I'm interested in working with you."

Carl Smith:
When we started nGen we didn't have a whole bunch of money, and what we did was, we actually went to Dun and Bradstreet, we looked anywhere that Southwest would fly, 'cause we knew they were cheap. We got a database of companies that had grown, either number of employees or revenue, an unbelievable amount within a three year period. We just had this theory that they would be outgrowing their systems, they wouldn't know what was going on. And then we would shoot out on Fridays we would open some beer and we would send out like 500 letters. Just plain letters. And we actually landed Bare Pharmaceutical off of one of those stamps. So like 32 cent stamp turned into $140,000 project.

Ilise Benun:
Yeah, that doesn't surprise me.

Carl Smith:
It's amazing, [inaudible 00:11:10] actually across the street from my office there's this lil pizzeria. And I was talkin' with the owner of it, Patrick, it's Patty's. And I was talkin' "Patty," I said, "Hey you know what, I think I'm gonna go back to," He said "Putting flyers on people's windshields." And I was like "Patty people hate that." He's like "Yeah but we did it when we started and you know what? We had so much business." And I said "Why'd you stop doing it?" And he goes "'Cause we had so much business." And I realize, a lot of those early efforts we do we stop doing because maybe be we were uncomfortable or we weren't sure about 'em but they were really successful.

Ilise Benun:
They work.

Carl Smith:
Yeah. Why do you think a lot of shops that have that early success move away from what gave them that success?

Ilise Benun:
Two reasons come to mind. One is, they don't wanna be doing it in the first place, they don't like it and they can't wait to stop. So when it starts to work then you say to yourself "Ah, I don't have to do this anymore." As if there's an end to marketing. Which there isn't.

That you think you don't have to do it anymore. There is no end to marketing. I mean even ... I have people who say "What about that successful person or that successful agency? They're not marketing themselves." Are you kidding? How do you think you know about them? That's how they're marketing themselves.

Carl Smith:
Exactly right and that's the thing ... I know this is an old saying, that great work gets great work or however it was originally worded, but that's one of the things that I don't see near enough of, is people promoting the work that they do. There's so many great shops that if they were to just take more time, and not even case studies. 'Cause case studies are tough 'cause clients won't always tell you. So you're kind of fudging around that you think it did well. But just that opportunity to put it out there and share the process.

You know for a while there were a lot of people who were live blogging the work that they were doing. And those things were crazy popular.

Ilise Benun:
So, lemme say something about case studies, because I think case studies are the perfect marketing tool, the best marketing tool, and I'm actually developing a product around it because of that. And it's not whether or not the client will give you the metrics or the information and the results, if they will, or if you can get them, and you usually have to set that up from the beginning, then that's even better. But it's process that people don't understand, the client doesn't understand the process you go through. And the case study, the reason that it's a perfect marketing tool is because it elucidates your process basically, so people understand and can therefore, hopefully, justify, the prices you're charging. And so it makes sense to me that the live blogging also would be very effective because it is another way to show process.

Carl Smith:
Yeah and show who you are and the relationship and the culture around the work. Now you said something interesting which is, you know, a lot of times people don't really get that permission, right? They haven't really gotten permission to get the information, to find out what was affective and what wasn't. And for us, I know sometimes we would just dive into the work. And a lot of times without an agreement. Which is not smart.

Ilise Benun:
At all.

Carl Smith:
In those agreements, when we did have them, and we got smarter about it later on, we would always have a clause that if we weren't allowed to market or share the work that our rate was gonna go up 25%. And that the reason was this was the only value we would ever get out of the project. And a lot times clients would just be like, "Okay." Like, we had clients like Chase and Epic Games and AT&T, and some of them were just like, "Yeah, we're not gonna play your game."

But, do you find that there are a lot of shops that get in trouble 'cause they just dive in without any kind of agreement?

Ilise Benun:
Yes, I see that a lot, in fact for some reason this week I heard from several clients who had a variation on that problem, and so we've been brainstorming a lot about that this week. And I think that one of the problems is that you don't wanna piss anyone off at the beginning of a relationship as if saying, "Here are the terms we've agreed to, do you agree to this?" Why would that piss someone off? I don't get that.

Carl Smith:
No it's valid, you know, I'll tell you on the second date I had with my now wife, I told her on the second date that I really, really, really, liked her and I never wanted to get married, and I just thought she should know that now. And, you know I mean, we've been married 17 years? But it was one of those things that I felt like, if there's something that's gonna happen I'd rather get it out upfront.

When we did proposals, the very first thing you'd see on the proposal was the price. We never buried it. We always had it right up front. We said "If you wanna understand how we got here you can keep reading." But it's really, really interesting to me, and the other things is, it levels the playing field that you're a real business. Right? A lot of times digital agencies just start doing the work and they establish that tone that the client can just get stuff.

Ilise Benun:
Yes, and I think people are interested in making the client happy. I don't think happy clients are the goal, the goal is doing good work. And I agree with you that if you try to set that tone from the beginning, what you're sacrificing is respect actually. Because I do think that the client expects to negotiate with a professional. And if you don't negotiate, if for example they say "Here we'll give you x thousand dollars for it," and you just say "Okay." No matter, even if that's big number to you, you have to negotiate because that's how you earn respect.

Carl Smith:
Yeah, absolutely and that was another one of the things that we found as we continued to evolve as an agency, was that when we found the same problems happening again and again, we eventually realized the client had not done the work as many times as we had. And we would establish that in an opening meeting and we would say ... we would actually sit at the table, and we would introduce ourselves. And I would say "Hi, my name's Carl, I'll be in charge of the high level of the project, keeping an eye on it. And I have overseen 74 web projects." And then we would go around the table until the client was at the end. And they would not say normally how many web projects they had overseen, but we had established at the table that they had not done near as much as we had. Right? And that was an amazing way to kind of level that playing field. And eventually those things even worked their way into agreements. Right? By being able to establish who had the say over what type of situation or issue in the project.

Ilise Benun:
So now I think what you're talking about is self respect. And this is the other side of the coin that if you don't come to the table with self respect then there's no way that you're gonna negotiate the best deal for yourself and your agency, and there's no way that the client is not gonna walk all over you basically. Even the nice ones are under so much pressure to get more for less that they don't, sometimes even know that they're asking for more than you've agreed to do. You can't assume that.

Carl Smith:
No, and sometimes they've got something going on and they might not understand the way that the work has to happen for the project to evolve, to work. And they may have something else coming on. 

We had a client that was an oil company. Northville Oil. And I was sitting at the table, and I had low balled the project. 'Cause we needed it, we needed the cash flow. And, the client looked at me and he goes "I'm not gonna sign this." And I was like "Why?" He goes, "Carl, you've gotta make a decision." And I'm like "What?" He goes, "do you wanna put your kids through school, or do you wanna put my kids through school? 'Cause I gotta tell you right now, I own an oil company, my kids are okay. You need to figure out what this is gonna cost 'cause I don't want you gettin' upset half way through it." That was the biggest education I had ever gotten in making that I was estimating properly, or at least making sure that I was doing something they felt like we were gonna get through it. 'Cause you know it's always crazy. But, when he explained that to me, when he said that, and I came back with nearly twice as much in the estimate and he was totally fine, but the reality is a lot of times when we grab that project early, or we just start working, and then we start blaming the clients six weeks in, when the reality is they just did what we expected 'em to, what we wanted 'em to.

Ilise Benun:
So you got very, very lucky, obviously, with a very high quality client who valued your services, and I think that is rare, but worth looking for, worth looking for, as the same way as looking for high quality friends is worth the time and effort and not wasting your time on losers, basically. And, I also think though that when you're not in the situation and you know that you have under priced something, you can still help yourself. And I was thinking, as you were talking, about a situation I put myself in, not too long ago, where I low balled it, not because I was trying to get the job but because I didn't realize that this client could pay more. And so when I gave my price, I could tell by their response that it was too low, and I went back the next day and I said, "You know what? I've been thinking about this and I realized I didn't charge enough, and I'd like to redo the proposal and make it higher, would that be okay with you?" And they said yes.

Carl Smith:
Wow.

Ilise Benun:
Yeah.

Carl Smith:
It is one of those situations where when you realize that you haven't done it correctly. You know, and you acknowledge it and you're honest, I mean that's a whole nother level of establishing a relationship with a prospect right before they even become client.

Ilise Benun: And actually, that makes me think of something else I was discussing with a client today who had come to me, one of these situations where it was a rushed job, she did not go through her proven process of getting the information she needed from the client, she made all sorts of assumptions about what the need was and she was wrong, and it turned into a big problem with the client who needed it fast and then got the wrong thing. But I advised her, I kind of coached her through the process and it was a positive outcome, and we talked about today how that is actually a very positive experience to go through with that client that she wants to work with again, and now they have a much more solid relationship than if she had done the right thing in the first place.

Carl Smith:
Yeah. Well, good for her. I'm glad that that worked out.

Ilise Benun:
But I love that idea that you don't have to hate yourself for the mistakes that you make because they can have even stronger effects on the relationships, because I guess the point I would make, from the beginning, from one of your first questions, is most agency owners do not understand that marketing is about relationships. That's all it is. And so all of your marketing tools and efforts should be designed to cultivate relationships with ideal clients. That's what you're doing.

Carl Smith:
Well, Ilise, I gotta tell yeah we're just gonna leave it there. I think that was an amazing statement to wrap up the episode. And thank you so much for being with us today on the Bureau Bulletin.

Ilise Benun:
Thank you for inviting me Carl, it's been a pleasure.

Carl Smith:
Everybody listening, we'll be back next week, and we'll talk to you then.

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