3 Big Things I’ve Learned About Marketing from Michael Port

michael port mentoring program

At the live event! (Can you find me?) // Photo credit: Ana Melikian

When it comes to marketing, do you sometimes feel like you’re shouting into the wind? You know you have a great product or service but you’re having a tough time being heard?

I did, too.

Then six months ago, I joined a group mentoring program led by Michael Port of Book Yourself Solid fame.

If you haven’t read the book, I can’t recommend it enough. We all know the pet industry is highly competitive and the thoughts, ideas and system he suggests can help give you the edge, whether you’re a solo entrepreneur or a large corporation.

I first picked up the book a couple of years ago. Then in January of this year, I took a four-week intensive on the Book Yourself Solid system. A couple of months after that, I decided the next best step was to join his mentoring program.

It was absolutely, 100 percent, no-doubt-about-it the best thing I’ve done for my business up to this point. I find myself living my dream of working with smart, successful, amazing clients with good hearts who respect my abilities and what I have to bring to the table. It’s both exhilarating and a little surreal.

One key aspect of the mentoring program is the opportunity to attend three live events a year. I just returned from my third one where, for three glorious days, I had the opportunity to work with Michael, his coaches and the other entrepreneurs who are part of the program.

You might notice that there were a lot of threes in that above paragraph. So continuing with that theme, here are my three biggest takeaways on how to create a life/job/business you love.

1. Have a plan

The entire first day of every live event is spent working on a 90-day plan. The focus is on four main areas: financial, marketing, systems and projects.

Like many people, I’ve always had goals. Mainly vague ones like “get clients” or “make money.” Good goals, yes. But getting specific about what your goals are and then having a plan in place to reach them? Well, that’s where the magic happens.

The shorter time frame of 90 days (versus, say, a year) makes the goals seem achievable and doable. It also identifies the areas in which I might try to do too much. That 90-day window (which is really more like 60 when you take out weekends) forces me to get very clear on the most important things I need to do to move my business forward. All the other things get cut or go on the back burner for now.

Think about your own goals with your business or career. Are they specific and actionable? Do you have a plan with projects and processes that will help you achieve them? If so, great! If not, make the time to put something down on paper in the four areas I mentioned above.

And then remember that just because you have a plan doesn’t mean you should stop planning. As Josh Patrick, one of the expert presenters, put it, “The process of planning is what is important. Are you going in the right direction? Are you testing various scenarios?” While Josh’s area of expertise is in financial planning, the statement holds true for marketing and business plans as well. Planning is active. A plan is passive. The key to making the plan work is to work the plan.

2. Be open and ask for help.

You know the best thing about Michael Port? He surrounds himself with great people. He doesn’t pretend to be an expert at everything. That’s why much of the live event is led by his elite level coaches and other experts. They were all incredibly knowledgeable and helpful, and the information they provided was invaluable.

Even more valuable to me, however, is the support from the other mentorees. The group ranges from those just starting out with only an idea to wildly successful business owners with years of experience. Their professions range from deejays to wealth managers to life coaches. And every single one of them was eager to help, to offer advice, to lend an ear, to give a pep talk.

In both our personal lives and our careers, it can be tempting to try to figure it out all by ourselves. But — breaking news! — we don’t have to! Apparently, there’s an insane number of people out there who want to help you and support you, and who will celebrate your successes with you. All you really have to do is ask. And of course, don’t forget to return the favor whenever possible.

3. Serve who you’re meant to serve.

One of the reasons I was so attracted to Book Yourself Solid is that the system isn’t “salesy.” Michael’s emphasis is on creating connection and serving who you’re meant to serve. When you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, when you’re being helpful to others, when you’re serving who you’re meant to serve, everything else falls into place.

When I started my business, I knew in my heart that I was meant to serve people in the pet industry. But going through this program has shown me why it’s important to serve who you’re meant to serve. It’s the why that gets me up every day. It’s the why that makes me work incredibly hard for my clients. It’s the why that makes every bump and challenge along the road worth it.

So what’s my why? Why the pet industry? Because almost to a person, folks in the pet industry have remarkably good hearts and they truly want to make a difference for pets and their people. They get into this industry because they understand the important role animals play in our health and happiness. And above all, they’re determined to make their little corner of the world better.

I honestly believe I work with the best people in the best industry in the world, and I feel so blessed and privileged to be part of it.

Your turn: Why do you do what you do? Who are the people you’re meant to serve? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How Crazy Pet Ladies Are Changing the World, One Donut at a Time

WIPIN BannerI just returned from three days at the Women in the Pet Industry conference in Portland, Oregon, where I communed with other crazy pet ladies.

Now, please understand that I use the word “crazy” in the most affectionate and loving sense. Crazy in this context means crazy passionate, crazy energetic, crazy inspiring. They are a force of nature, these women. Entrepreneurs. Executives. Writers.  Speakers. All driven by the common goal of improving the lives of animals around the world.

I’m still absorbing everything I learned and experienced over the last few days. But here are a few of the most valuable things I took away with me:

1. Bitchy Resting Face Syndrome (BRFS)

Popularized by this fake PSA, BRFS makes certain people look hostile or unhappy when their face is at rest, giving the impression that they’re uninterested in or ticked off at you. One attendee had the great fortune of explaining BRFS via microphone to a room full of conference attendees, some of whom had never heard of the concept.

It immediately became a running joke over the next few days, but it occurred to me that there’s actually a valuable lesson here. We never really know what’s going on with someone else beneath the surface and we shouldn’t be quick to make assumptions. And we should definitely not assume that their mood (or the appearance thereof) has anything to do with us personally. Maybe their cat just peed on their bed. Maybe they have gas. Or maybe they just have bitchy resting face.

2. Women Are Better Than Their Stereotypes

We’ve all heard about (and may have personally experienced) women who undercut other women. Shows like Real Housewives of Podunk Holler (or something) and The Bachelor gleefully reinforce this stereotype. As women, we almost come to expect that sometime, somewhere, another female will stab us in the back.

But what I saw at the WIPIN conference was the best of who we are as women: supportive, giving, encouraging, nurturing. Ideas flowed freely, collaborations were formed, connections were made. As Michelle Maskaly noted in her Pet Age article about the conference, “I have never been to a conference where so many people, whether it be men or women, were willing to share their business and life experiences — and not in a bragging way, but instead to help others. It was truly impressive, surprising and, quite frankly, refreshing.” 

3. The Best Connections Are Made Over Donuts

For lunch Friday afternoon, the WIPIN conference organizers brought in the Voodoo Donuts food truck. (No, they didn’t just feed us donuts but I’m pretty sure that’s all any of us remembers.) Apparently, Voodoo Donuts are kind of a big deal, but not living in the Pacific Northwest, I had no idea how big of a deal until the truck arrived. One of the ladies at our table volunteered to go out and bring us back a selection. When she returned, I was somewhat speechless at the sight and half wondered if they came with a side of insulin.

Voodoo Donuts

We cut the donuts into smaller pieces so we could all sample the different flavors. Between “yums” and exclamations over the sheer ridiculousness of these sugar bombs, we told our stories, bragged on our pets, exchanged ideas and marveled at one another’s accomplishments. As an introvert who works from home, I tend to freak out a little (okay, a lot) at the thought of “networking.” But chatting with these women over a Cap’n Crunchberry-topped pastry, it hit me that networking is just a bloated word for connecting, and being present and open in the moment is really all it takes.

4. Giving IS Better Than Getting

When Shawn Schuh, WIPIN’s President and Queen of Fabulosity (just gave her that title, by the way), called to invite me to speak at the conference, I was thrilled. Thrilled and somewhat terrified. Although I have a theater background and am typically comfortable performing in front of crowds, it’s shockingly different when speaking your own words. Not only that, but I felt an enormous responsibility to present my topic (copywriting, obviously) in a way that A) didn’t result in attendees falling asleep and B) gave them useful information they could act on.

As it turned out, that presentation was one of the most fun and rewarding things I’ve ever done. Since I started this freelance journey o’ mine, I have been helped time and time again by others who have unselfishly shared their knowledge, wisdom and advice. It was such a privilege to have the chance to finally give a little back.

5. Gratitude Is Everything

Over and over and over again throughout the conference, I heard the words, “Thank you.” I deeply believe that being genuinely, sincerely thankful to those who lift you up is the best thing you can do for both yourself and others, and I was reminded of that yet again last week. And so I say to everyone who was involved in this conference — organizers, attendees, speakers — thank you. You make me proud to be a crazy pet lady.

With author and inspiration, Teresa Rhyne

With author, inspiration and fellow crazy pet lady, Teresa Rhyne

Your turn: What is the best conference you’ve ever attended? Tell me in the comments!

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Embracing Your Inner Hot Mess

perfectionist-catYou should know right up front that this post has nothing to do with the act of copywriting. 

So if you were waiting for the next gripping installment of “Grammar Nazis Are Your Friends,” you’re probably going to be disappointed.

But if you’re the least bit interested in finding out what I recently learned about my copywriting business (and myself), read on.

At the beginning of this year, I joined a mentorship program led by Michael Port, author of Book Yourself Solid (not an affiliate link…you should just check it out if you haven’t already).

As part of the program, he hosts three live events/workshops throughout the year. During these sessions, participants get clear on their goals for the next 90 days, make a plan for achieving those goals, and brainstorm with others about new ideas or ways of looking at business.

I just returned from one of these events. I took away a lot of stuff from my time there. I mean, a LOT. But there was one thing in particular that was potentially life-changing for me.

I was discussing a particular program with one of his elite-level coaches when she told me to (gasp!) not be afraid of letting things be messy.

WHAT? Me? Afraid of things being messy? Um, yeah.

I do not enjoy messiness. Well, at least when it comes to my work. Not so much when it comes to my house. I doubt you’ll see me on an episode of Hoarders any time soon, but I do tend to view cat hair as a condiment and hand out lint rollers to guests as soon as they walk in the door. 

No, it’s not that kind of messiness that bothers me. It’s the idea of sending something out into the world that’s not perfect.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve put off starting a blog post because I was afraid my idea wasn’t good enough or fleshed out enough.

Or the times I had a great idea but researched it to death without ever putting it into action.

Or the times I hesitated reaching out to a potential prospect because I was worried I wasn’t quite prepared enough.

But it’s okay, I told myself, because some day I will be prepared. Just a little more work, a little more research, a little more rehearsal and then I’ll be ready.

The truth is, though, I have to learn to let things be messy sometimes. Because if I wait for perfect, “then” will never come.

Does that mean I’m not going to do my absolute best whenever possible? Of course not. I know me. I will always strive for perfection, especially when it comes to client work.

But it means learning to be okay with the messiness of creating. It means throwing a little figurative paint on the wall and seeing what happens. It means letting ideas flow freely into the world instead of holding them tightly because they’re not flawless.

It means, as the old saying goes, not letting perfect become the enemy of good.

So what about you? Are you R&D’ing that new product concept to death? Do you keep putting off that new website you know you need? Are you hesitant to get that next blog post up because “I’m not a writer”? Does the thought of putting something out there that’s not quite fully formed scare the bejeebus out of you?

If so, I challenge you – even if just for a day or a week – to embrace the messiness. Allow yourself to create, to experiment, to be something less than perfect. Go all Jackson Pollock and splatter some paint without worrying what anyone else thinks. 

You might find you’ve created a masterpiece. Or maybe just a mess. But who cares? The point is you’ll have created something that is completely, uniquely, wonderfully you. And you are exactly what the world needs…hot mess and all.

Your turn: Are you afraid of getting messy? Why or why not? Tell me in the comments.

The #1 Secret to Effective Copywriting

comma hound says ideal customerToday I’d like to introduce you to someone. Her name is Emily. Emily’s awesome. In fact, she’s my ideal client.

She’s 48 years old (don’t tell her I told you) and is the marketing manager for a mid-sized company that manufactures pet toys.  She’s been in her position for about five years and says it’s her dream job.

Recently, the company has experienced terrific growth and Emily’s busier than ever. She’s not complaining (much), though. Of course, it doesn’t take much to get Emily to crack a smile anyway. She’s a hoot. I mean, the woman is seriously funny. She’s also creative, incredibly smart and great at keeping her cool even in the most stressful situations.

The biggest downside about her job is that as the company grows, she’s spending more time at work and less time at home. As a single mom to two teenagers – Matt and Kim – it’s important to her that she spends as much time with them as possible before they go off to college.

Plus, she has two mixed-breed dogs, JD and Turk, and a tuxie cat named Elliott (did I mention she’s a HUGE fan of the TV show Scrubs?) that she misses cuddling with. She knows she needs to do something soon to take some of the work off her plate and free up more of her time.

Well, I could go on and on about Emily. There’s SO much more I could tell you about her and I know she wouldn’t mind.

Because, you see, Emily isn’t real. She only exists in my head.

Wait! Before you start backing away slowly, there’s a perfectly good explanation for why I created her: to write better copy.

This is the single biggest mistake companies make in their communications. If you only have a vague idea about who your ideal customer is and what their needs are, you’ll never be able to talk effectively about how your product or service solves their problem.

Sure, you may know that your target market consists of women ages 30-45 with 2.5 kids and 1.5 pets. But your customers aren’t demographics. They’re individuals. Talk to them like individuals and you’ll see the results.

So here’s your assignment: this week, put aside some time to get absolutely crystal clear about who your ideal customer is. Create a fictional character – like I did with Emily –  based on actual demographics that you’ve gathered from research, surveys and conversations. Then paint a picture with information like:

  • Name, gender, age and marital status
  • Education, profession, title and income
  • Number of children and/or pets
  • What are their personal qualities and what do they value?
  • What do they do in their spare time?
  • What is their greatest pain or need that your product/service can solve?

The more specific, the better. You might even come up with a physical description or find a stock photo on the web that fits the image you have in your head.

Above all, allow yourself to have fun with this exercise. Really get to know this person and the next time you sit down to write, write as if you’re talking directly to them. You’ll be surprised how much easier, more conversational and more effective the results will be.

Your turn: In the comments, tell me in two or three sentences who your ideal customer is.

Don’t Make These Mistakes with Pet Influencers

dog-on-computerFull disclosure: I started out my life in the pet industry as a dog blogger. Four years ago, to keep track of the progress of my fearful dog Mayzie, I created a blog written from her point of view. At the time, I thought I was one of only a handful of humans who were this crazy. But as it turns out, there are thousands of us writing either about or as our pets.

Like the rest of the pet industry, the pet blogger community is growing. And as their numbers grow, so does their influence. There are now entire conferences dedicated to this segment of the industry. BlogPaws, the largest of these, boasted an attendance of over 600 bloggers last year and they expect even more this year.

Smart companies are recognizing the power of these influencers and are reaching out to partner with them in various ways. From product reviews to brand ambassadorship, pet bloggers can drive traffic, increase sales, build brand awareness and create goodwill amongst other pet parents.

However, there are definite dos and don’ts for companies interested in working with this (or any) group of influencers. I conducted an informal poll of fellow pet bloggers and came up with a shortlist of things to avoid when approaching a potential blogging partner:

DON’T send out a mass email.  It’s obvious (and a little insulting) when a company uses a generic email meant to cast a wide net. Starting the email with “Dear Blogger” is a sure sign that a company hasn’t done its research. It’s well worth taking a little time to look at their site and find the contact name, if available (rather than the dog’s or cat’s name). In your email, mention something specific you like about their blog and why you’d like to work with them. Remember, the bloggers behind the pets are human and want to do business with companies and people who value what they do.

DON’T focus on numbers only. Although it seems logical to target large blogs with huge followings, companies would be wise not to overlook the smaller blogs. These blogs often have loyal readers and engaged communities. In addition, they tend to be easy to work with and are willing to give companies more time and space on their sites. Numbers are important but it’s not the only thing that matters when vetting bloggers. Do they encourage lively discussions? Are there people who comment day in and day out? Do they have an active Facebook page or Twitter account? Do they attract a specific niche that would find your company interesting? Looking at the whole picture will help you determine the blogs that will offer you the most beneficial partnerships.

DON’T neglect to offer something in return. Most bloggers I know spend several hours on each review, setting up shots, taking pictures and writing. If there’s a giveaway involved, it’s even more time intensive. While it’s great for a blogger to receive a free product for their own use, it’s unlikely that the product (unless it’s worth a good deal of money) comes close to compensating the blogger for their time. While most bloggers provide product reviews at no cost to companies, it’s appropriate and always appreciated for a company to offer a link (or several) back to the review via their website, Twitter, Facebook and/or other social media.

DON’T forget to say thank you. When a blogger agrees to feature your product or service, they are essentially donating valuable advertising space for free. Yet rarely do companies follow up once the review has gone live and the giveaway has been completed. Not only is a follow-up email just a nice thing to do, it helps build a foundation for other campaigns. If a blogger has been exceptionally easy to work with, or has gone above and beyond, let them know they’re appreciated and make every effort to include them in future marketing plans. These people will often turn into your best advocates and talk you up to others (both online and off) even when they’re not doing a review.

Cultivating relationships with pet influencers can be hugely beneficial and profitable for your company. Approaching them in a professional, thoughtful way creates a win-win-win situation for you, the blogger and potential customers.

Have a question about working with pet influencers? Let me know in the comments.