Category Archives: Interviews

The Audacious Ink Interview: One Editor’s Thoughts on Writing, Low-Ball Bids, and the Importance of Sweets.

If you write for a living, you’ve been edited. If you are lucky enough to stumble across an editor with real skill and passion, you may have learned something about yourself as a writer. I had the good fortune of working, albeit loosely, with Geri Jeter. Geri, an editor for La Voce News Magazine, loves editing, and is equally as passionate about quality writing. Geri is an old school type of editor, yet she is generous enough to understand that sometimes marketers just have to start a sentence with “And” or “But” because they want to emphasis a point (she and I had had this conversation, obviously). While she is generous enough to understand, she might not necessarily be proud of you. And that’s why she’s a great editor. But she’s much more.  (I couldn’t resist.)

 Like most great editors, for the last fifteen years, Geri has had to do double-duty as a writer, as well. She has been responsible for producing written material for publications ranging from a luxury trade quarterly to technical theater magazines, to detailed course material prepared for trade certification. She also is an experienced advertising copywriter and provider of content for Web sites.

 Currently editor and production manager for a La Voce News Magazine, a Nevada regional Italian-American magazine, Geri is also the dance and classical performing arts reviewer for the Las Vegas Weekly. In between deadlines, Geri agreed to an interview with AI to discuss her loves and pet peeves, and to impart some words of wisdom for writers struggling to get by in the recession.

 Many writers need to be their own proofreader. What advice do you have for them?

 Rule No. 1 in publishing is to never proof your own work. That said, sometimes it is impossible to avoid. In my case, there is no one at the magazine who can function as a proofreader. Although I am a good editor and proofreader, I still find errors in my own work after it is printed.

 If there is time (a big if in some cases), put the work aside for a day or two. Then proofread it again. You will be surprised at how much you see when you look at the work again. However, tight deadlines often make this difficult.

 The trick is to know your own skill level — are you really detailed and focused enough to attempt it? If not, do you have other options? I would prefer to have another set of eyes on the work, but it is out of the question for us to hire such a person. So I just have to be extra careful.

 This is related to the above question, but is there a consistent mistake you see writers make over and over? Their vs. There, it’s vs. its, or is it something else?

 Fortunately, I am blessed with good writers for my magazine. Occasionally, though, I try out a new writer or receive an unsolicited submission. Some are good, but not all.

 The biggest mistake I see is in continuity and flow. Writers often jumble the material. What I mean is that paragraphs are flipped about so the work doesn’t flow in an organized or cohesive manner.

 Another problem is word usage. To sound more intelligent, writers often use words inappropriately. Not that they use words totally opposite to the meaning they are trying to convey — they will use  word that is very close in meaning, but just far enough off to be wrong. Could be an overuse of a thesaurus or just a misunderstanding, but I see a lot of that.

 In addition, I prefer concise and tight writing for magazine work. Often I get flowery and overwritten material full of redundancies.

  It’s a tight job market out there made tighter by the fact that a lot of writers are sitting out the recession by freelancing. What do you think give writers the edge over the competition in bidding for a job?

 Serious and professional writers are used to rejection. This gives them an edge over the wannabes.

 For marketing people, one of the main problems writers face is that a lot of “civilians” are under the false impression that they can actually write. Sometimes this makes it hard to convince them to pay for that part of a marketing presentation or Web site package. If this is the case, I would approach the job bid from an editing standpoint. (This can actually be more lucrative.)

 The most obvious one is quality work for a reasonable charge. By this, I don’t mean you should give away your work, but do be prepared to negotiate.

 How do you educate your non-publisher “civilian” boss regarding the business of publishing?

 Never get artsy and emotional. Show how your suggestions could improve the bottom line.

 For example, I have found that most nonpublishing folk are completely unaware of ad-to-editorial ratios. It is common for them to think that because they have more available material in a certain month, all they need to do to accommodate the material is to add pages — a sure-fire road to imploding the publication. Because this is basically a numbers game, the ad-to-editorial ratio concept can be an easy sell. Once they see an monthly issue containing the correct ratios break even or make a profit, you win that round.

 A more difficult problem: I find is that nonpublishers do not understand the necessity for good design and the time it takes to achieve this. Because they don’t understand the process, they often tend to dismiss the value of the work. I’m still working on how to show that it is worthwhile to find a good designer and pay him or her decently for the totality of the time spent on the magazine.

 I have to wear both hats as a marketer and as a writer. When I am on a writing assignment, I take criticism pretty well, though granted, I haven’t gotten the type that would shatter my ego and make me give up words. On the other hand, when I’m wearing the marketing hat, I have to give graphic designers and other creative types feedback. I try to be gentle, but they often seem offended or hurt. I hear this often from other marketers in similar situation, too. How do you handle the more difficult conversations with the artists or other member of the creative team?

 First, it is helpful to remember that designers are not mere technicians; they are artists — therefore, passionate about their work. Without sacrificing quality, you should respect their vision and be open to their interpretation. Sometimes the designer doesn’t give you what you imagined, but gives you something even better. You should be able to recognize this when it happens. Also, even if the design doesn’t totally work for you, find elements that you do like. Complement these before you go into any other feedback.

 In addition, keep in mind that this is a collaborative process. This means that if the designer didn’t produce what you expected, perhaps you did not clearly express what you wanted in your instructions. Find out if this is the case before you start criticizing. Maybe try something like, “I really like [this element] of the design. I feel, though, that we’re missing [this other element]. How can we get there?”

  Homemade cakes, muffins, and brownies work, too.

  The above also applies to the guys in the print shop who execute the designs.

 This is my bugaboo: companies want to pay less these days for experienced writers. I hear it from my friends, and I see it advertised everywhere from Mediabistro on down to the notorious Craigslist (which from the looks of it invented the low-ball bid). What is your advice to writers who want to stick to their fees, but not lose the bid?

 In Hollywood terms, you need “F*** you money.” In other words, keep your day job so you can avoid this trap.

 I blame eLance instead of Craigslist. Americans are hard-pressed to compete with foreign nationals who bid $5 for a 500-word article. Don’t even try. If the job requires an online bidding process, I just bag it because the job will go to the lowest bidder. Besides, most of these jobs don’t give great exposure or even decent clips. And they usually want to trap the writer into agreeing to do 25 articles a week, or some other unreasonable workload.

 For clips, a writer is better served by writing for a print publication, even if the pay is somewhat low or even nonexistent. You get more usable clips that way, and you can just accept the gigs you want. However, if you would like online exposure, start a blog rather than work for nothing. That way, you can control overall content and distribution. I know some writers who used their blogs to get paid work, both online and print.

 As to Craigslist, I actually got a decent online gig that paid about $50 per 400-word article and had good Web distribution. The only reason I don’t do more for this group is that I took a full-time editing/writing gig, and my time is limited. So the work is out there. You just can’t depend on finding it regularly.

 I wish this were different, but until enough people get burned by the offshore, non-native-English-speaking crowd, it won’t turn around. Recently, I have seen posts that say, “Native English speaker essential” or “No offshore candidates, please.” But that is still a small representation. Hopefully, it will get better.

Mobile Marketing: On the Move

My pal Barbara has a real hot button issues: text messages from advertisers. To say that she hates getting “Did you know . . .?” messages from Apple on her iPhone is an understatement. On the other hand, Barbara also hates puppies, chocolate, and, for reasons she can’t explain, Canada. While I don’t agree on puppies, chocolate or Canada, I can understand where she is coming from on text messages. A number of times, my phone alerted me to a text. I got all excited, thinking my guy was sending me Lexts (love + text) only to discover that Apple has a new product release.

That very text would thrill David, Barbara’s husband. A self-confessed Apple addict, he would rush to the website and buy said product without hesitation. Later, that night, as he lay in bed, David would silently thank whatever technological god he worships for mobile marketing.

Then you have Linda Daichendt, a marketer who has refined mobile marketing, studied it and in general, been successful at attracting the Davids of the world.

As the founder, CEO/Managing Consultant for Strategic Growth Concepts, Linda has over 20 years Corporate and Entrepreneurial experience in Marketing, Operations, Strategic Planning and Staffing. I asked her to share some of her experience and knowledge on mobile marketing with Audacious Ink.

On your site, Strategic Marketing Concepts [link], you talk about how today’s marketer has a lot of tools to draw from, be it a text messaging campaign to a blog, or something more traditional. What do you think the most unrecognized or overlooked of these tools are, and in what capacity do you suggest using them?

I believe blogs are under-utilized and highly effective. While those that are very familiar with online marketing might think that “everyone” knows about and uses blogs, the average marketer is really just now becoming aware of the possibilities of what can be done online – especially those that have been utilizing traditional marketing strategies for many years.

Blogs have the capability of allowing “the advertiser” to say whatever they want to say, as often as they want, and to take up as much space as they want. And the perception of blog content in most cases is that it is written by “experts” so it provides a high perceived credibility. That kind of advertising is golden! Add to that the fact that it can often be done for FREE and you have the makings of the best possible form of promoting your company!

Do you think mobile marketing is an effective tool best used for specific target audiences, for example, the hispanic market?

Research has shown that the Hispanic market is highly reactive to mobile advertising; the U.S. Hispanic population is younger than the population at large; they are extremely “family and friend-oriented”, they like to stay in close touch; and they keep pace with non-hispanics in their purchase and use of electronic devices. For these reasons, they have been known to be very responsive to mobile advertising.

Do you think the days of text messaging campaigns are running their course? People I’ve talked to seem to view them as more of a nuisance than a benefit. If so, what do you see as the replacement or, if you think it still has some kick to it, how do you see it evolving?

I do not think that text messaging has “run its course.” I think it will continue to evolve and become very frequently used. The wireless industry is evolving; very soon text messaging will likely be included in the standard cost of your service instead of as an added charge as it currently is for most people who have it. Because mobile advertising has proven to-date to be highly effective for those few advertisers who have effectively utilized it, more resources will continue to be dedicated to it and the advertising campaigns will become more sophisticated.

Right now the technology exists that an advertiser like Subway for example, can track a customer by the GPS in your phone and send you a text coupon if you happen to be standing within “x” distance of one of their stores – even further, it can be done during specific hours. What this means is, if they want to build up traffic during non-heavy traffic periods, they can send you a mobile coupon so enticing (some even have capability of sending pictures) that it makes you hungry enough to enter the store – a sort of “subliminal” message – when you’re right there to take advantage of it.

I read on your site that 59% of businesses are not using online marketing. I was stunned. Does the high percentage surprise you and with the economy being as it is, do you see a rapid conversion of those companies embracing the web?

It doesn’t surprise me at all. While there certainly is a large percentage of marketer’s who have embraced online technology and are finding every possible way to use it effectively, there is still a very large segment of marketer’s who have not yet been exposed to it in any meaningful way – and therefore have no idea of the benefits it can provide.

I’ll use myself as an example, in the not so distant past I had an employer who knew nothing about social media and online advertising but had “heard about it” and decided it was critical for us to do immediately. Because this employer couldn’t validate their reasons for me, but rather “had a feeling,” I discounted his opinion and convinced him there was no validity to the benefits of online media and since we were on a tight budget we couldn’t afford to experiment. After leaving that employer, I found myself in a situation where I became exposed to online marketing, social networking, etc. and the more I learned, the more I embraced it. Now, I am a strong proponent and preach the benefit anywhere I can! But I have to be truthful and admit – I went to it “kicking and screaming.”

I believe there are a large percentage of highly-experienced traditional marketer’s who are just like I was. That being the case, we’re going to have to find ways to help them become exposed to it and learn about it in a meaningful way. Once we find the right way of making that happen, those percentages will change very quickly.

I’m with you on that. I am one of those marketers. Years ago, I was with a company and my PR person wanted to do something with MySpace. I was appalled and let her know in no uncertain terms that we were not going down that road. Ever. Live and learn!

Which brings me to my final question: any guess as to what the next big trend is in marketing? I’ve been thinking about this myself, and of course, my answer is, who knows? We probably can’t begin to guess. I still like to ask, though. What’s beyond Twitter?
I believe that our cell phones are going to become our main form of communication and contact; I believe that the mobile industry that is currently controlled by the carriers will become much more manufacturer dominated and that the focus will become handsets (phones) and content (the applications/software) that you use on the phone. I believe it will for many people even take the place of their computer. I believe that people will start buying memory cards for phones that contain various programs (just like we currently buy software CDs for our computers) and that those memory cards will also contain some advertising as well. I also believe that phone advertising will become standard, and that if you agree to receiving “x” amount of ads per month that you will be able to receive reduced rates on your monthly phone bills because those bills will be supplemented by the advertisers.

I think you are dead-on about the computer being replaced by the phone. My iPhone is often my main source of all things computer these days. Thank you, Linda, for answering all my questions! You’ve been provocative and insightful!

Please check out Linda’s blog.

Twitter Marketing, and Other Social Media Insights

When I told Renee Lemley, of Gray Matter Marketing and Gray Pictures LLC, that she was a social media expert, she waved the label off and said, “no one is a social media expert.” Don’t tell Renee I said this, but I still think she is. Okay, at least she is an early user and got really good at using it pretty quick. Contrast her to me. I’m shy about updating my status on Facebook because I think I’m going to sound like a dork (and I usually do), and I frequently forget my Twitter password, and have only two Twitter contacts. Then again, sometimes I call my computer a “word processor.” Yeah. I know. That’s lame. On the upside, I do use LinkedIn daily and enjoy the network groups as a way to stay connected.

Renee Lemley has over fifteen years experience in marketing and advertising and has done it all, from consultant, to writer, producer, and yes, blogger, and she “uses Gray Matter Marketing to communicate.” I asked her a few questions on social media so I could learn more myself. Here’s how it went down with the woman I now consider my social media mentor:

AI: You are an advocate and user of social media, especially Linkedin and Twitter. Why do you think these tools are so important?

RL: I think with LinkedIn, you’re almost expected to be there. It’s easy enough to setup and I think it really works great as a digital rolodex, accessible from anywhere you have an Internet connection, and as an “always-up-to-date” online resume. Twitter serves an altogether different purpose for me. It has been an incredibly useful source of business information. Add to that the people you “meet” on twitter and the speed with which the information flows and it feels more important than any other social media site I use. (NOTE: The quality of the information you pull from Twitter is determined by the people you choose to follow. So if you don’t take the time to seek out people who post valuable info—and post valuable info yourself—then I think twitter moves from “tool” to “toy” pretty quickly.)

AI: How did you start using them and what was your a-ha moment in doing so?
RL: I started using social media when I decided we needed an easy-to-administrate site where GrayPictures, our multi-media and creative services business, could post photos of recent work in a more casual atmosphere than on our “corporate” site at GrayPictures. It was the self-administration that really gave me the a-ha moment. Up to that point, I had been dependent upon outside resources for design and technical support for anything interactive that I wanted to do. Having the power put into my own hands was…well, sort of intoxicating. (Yes, my inner geek has been set free.) I immediately knew what I wanted to blog about. In the end, I again turned to my trusty outside technical resources, but that had more to do with my objectives than it did with any general self-administration limitations.

AI: Big companies versus small companies, versus the solo consultant: who benefits most from Twitter, Facebook, Myspace and Linkedin?
RL: Hmm. I don’t think it’s a question of who benefits most because it all depends on how you use each of those communication platforms. The benefits are determined by your personal and/or business objectives and how well you execute on them. Your objectives may (and should) vary from social site to social site. No matter who you are, you should think about your objectives (and possible outcomes) before you start posting anything anywhere. That said, how much time you put into it is directly proportionate to the value you get out of it.

AI: When I think of Social Media, I think of the four sites I mentioned above. Is there a site out there that is often overlooked that you think we should all be signing up for?
RL: I have to say I’ve not been a big fan of MySpace. But that’s just me. I named my “Social Media Trifecta” in one of my blog posts: Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. I think it goes back to your own personal objectives. But to your bigger point, I’ve actually come to think of social media as “anything” we do online. I even see my email as “social media” in many ways. Once you hit “send,” “post,” “submit,” “share,” or “join,” it doesn’t belong to you anymore. It’s “out there” and—for better or worse—out of your control. Plus, there are so many aspects of being “social” to consider: social media, social networking, social business, social sharing, social bookmarking, etc. I wonder if the term has truly found a solid home yet because it means so many things to so many different people. It changes and evolves so quickly, so I provide links to the resources and tools I find helpful in navigating the socialsphere as I come across them.

AI: You really are an expert on social media. In figuring out how to use these tools, what were some mistakes or missed opportunities you made along the way?
RL: I actually don’t think there are any “experts” in social media. Best practices are being created and recreated by the nanosecond. It’s a moving target, really. (Get ready for the buzzwords…) We all have different reasons for “engaging” and we all “join the conversation” at different levels, but what we all have in common is a shared passion for this very cool “new” thing and that’s what makes us a real, but virtual, “community.” I spend a lot of my time in the space…learning. Social media is fully integrated with my thinking when it comes to strategic marketing. It may not be appropriate for every business situation, but when it is, I advise people and businesses based on my personal experiences, as well as my mistakes, which I post about on my blog as I go along. I also don’t hesitate to turn to those with more experience when I need to—social media has re-educated me in the practice of “humility.”

AI: What do you see as the future of social media, as it relates to conducting and growing business/revenues?
RL: This is, indeed, the burning question. I can only return to my own experience: simply put, social media has changed the way I think about my business and the value I place on my business network. At the end of the day, I like to say that I’m less concerned about what social media has brought to my “bottom line” than I am about all it has added to the “top of my head.”

The Rat Wrangling Marketing Genius

Cathe B. Jones is a comedian, published author and rat wrangler–what? More on that later. Today she tells Audacious Ink how she markets herself so successfully and in a variety of fields.

AI: Cathe, you are one funny gal. And I’m not talking about your comedy. Haha. Anyway, as a comedian, what do you do to market yourself? What steps do you take above and beyond to get your name out there?

CJ: Pshaw, thanks! Marketing is about half of a comic’s job, 40 percent is writing material and the rest is on stage. I started back in 1981- so the marketing consisted of handing out fliers on people’s cars, posting notes on college bulletin boards, and other tree unfriendly methods. Now with podcasting, (great method..check out Jackie Kashian and Grant Braccocio), satellite radio, (really great method… check out the numerous comedy networks), and the social networking sites- you can build an audience in different cities just by putting time into letting the world know who you are. I also recommend comedy-fan sites, like iJoke.tv. There’s also sites like Going.com and Event based sites like Demand, which lets fans pick their favorites to visit cities where they live. I also think meeting people before and after shows is one of the best ways to get an audience- you let people know you’re human, reachable, and available, and they’ll myspace you, facebook you, and even twitter you. (Which tickles.)

AI: How have you used MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and that ilk. Does it work?

CJ: Yes, and on facebook, I have a fan page under Cathe B, where I post my upcoming shows, MySpace.com/comicCatheB, where I do the same, plus blog to other comedians in training, or other comics about the comedy scene in Vegas, and Twitter- it’s more of a “did you hear this?” site..you just can be far more random there. Social media is a mandatory- you HAVE to be part of the online world to get people to the live shows. If you are virtual- you are real to so many. If you don’t exist in cyberspace, you just don’t exist- especially on an audience that has been on computers since kindergarten. With a blackberry addicted President, I believe even MORE people will pounce on social media. Peter Shankman is a pro at putting out the importance of it… you can find him on Twitter, where he posts a column called Help A Reporter Out, (HARO). I also have standard web sites, CatheB.com, and CatheJones.com, where fans who aren’t up on mass-marketed-media can browse on their own time.

AI: What challenges do you have in promoting yourself today that you did not have a year ago or five years ago, or when you first started out in the business?

CJ: Well, it’s interesting, and a great question. Five years ago, I had taken a break from comedy. I got back into it because a family member was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer, and I wanted to help SOMEHOW. The only way I could was to put a benefit together, as I had done dozens of times for OTHER people’s loved ones. But I was rusty- when you are off stage..it’s not like bicycle riding. You have to get used to the audiences, their likes, their quirks. The biggest change is that the Latino, Hispanic, Chicano, etc.. audiences are HUGE, and very happy to be going to comedy shows. There’s also the MySpace Dane Cook phenomenom that happened- here’s a guy who used “friending” to build an audience when he really wasn’t a name at all. Then, he toured to THAT audience. College kids, High School kids. The demographic changed, so he was transformed into the college kids funny best friend. It worked. But, it also changed a lot of what people expected of comedians. They want immediate recognition- as audience members. ANYone can be famous on Youtube, or Myspace, or the like. And, comics are abandoning stages, to do Youtube…. Brandon Muller’s spoof of Cris Angel’s show comes to mind- check out Mime Freak. Here Brandon builds an audience of people who are gettign a bit more sophisticated in their comedy-expectations. They are now able to pick up subtleties. And subtitles.

So the shorter answer- the attention span is far shorter than ever. You have to show people you are either their best friend or will be- and that was very different from what I was used to . Now that the economy is toileting, I believe that this will continue to be the case. People want to be heard- and comedians listen.

AI: Let’s talk about your writing. As a published author of numerous books, what do you think the key to your success has been in getting your name in front of an agent or publisher?

CJ: Ah. Well, like many new writers, and experienced writers the agent I thought would be MY PERFECT FIT passed on the project I KNEW would make her happy. But we met at a conference, got along as friends, and it wasn’t a year later when her associate, Janet Rosen, (from Sheree Bykofsky and Associates), took on my project. It was a better fit, and I had no idea about Janet before meeting Sheree. The key has been being open to ideas, talking to agents like human beings, and not fearing them at conventions and conferences.

YAI: You are also a “Rat Wrangler,” which begs the question, what the hell is a rat wrangler, and do they have to do marketing?

CJ: We are not lawyers’ keepers, we train actual rodents… and they’re cool! Little dogs with kangaroo tails! (At least that’s what we told our landlord). They had their own website for a long time and that helped me get work in the field. I showed videos of them doing tricks. Now I have RatRoomTV on YouTube and there are some casting directors who need critters for films or TV. They find me listed in the Film Board books, or better yet via the listing with the Department of Agriculture. Because the animals are used in films I register with both. They’re great at being their own marketers. I bring them anywhere, and they gather crowds.

AI: As you look back over your career as a rat wrangler, comedian and author, did you make any business mistakes along the way that you wish you could get a do over on?

CJ: Everyone messes up. Isadora Duncan never danced a ballet before she crawled on her knees as an infant. Michael Phelps never swam in a pool until he learned how to float or doggy paddle. And, The Red Sox had years of not being perfect! A lot of my mess ups were in believing that all people were who they said they were. I’ve since learned to be very cautious- as some hide behind some pretty elaborate masks. I think I would have had a bigger career in film had I not been so naive about people’s intentions. (in animation, not on screen!) I also kept putting other people’s ideas of what I should be doing with my life ahead of what I wanted to do- and that probably prevented me from being a lot further along in my career. Honestly, I believe a lot of women do this. We think we’re supposed to take care of those around us. We are supposed to be loved, and put our relationships before career. There are several turns life has taken because I followed someone else’s heart and not my own. When I stopped doing that- when I shook off the idea that I’m supposed to conform to another person’s ideal- I really found my own voice, my own foothold, and certainly, my own world view. Some days are still battles for Me-before-Thee, but you know, balance is a way of life now.

AI: For someone who is everything but a marketer, you are one of the best marketing people I know. Thank you, Cathy!

Humanear. A Funny Name for a No-Nonsense Strategy

Phil Ellis, President of Humanear, a website design and programming company in the Midwest, decided about ten years ago that he didn’t want a real job anymore. That may sound like the claim of a lazy person, but Ellis is anything but that. With his feet fully planted in cyberspace (not an easy task, but this guy manages), Ellis is a web developer and designer with a satisfied—and growing—client base.

As the head of his own start-up, he has had to go from tech guy to tech guy who wears not only an artist’s hat, but a marketeer’s, too.

Every time I talk to Ellis, which has been quite a lot over the last six or so years, it seems he has yet another new project and yet another client. He’s a guy constantly moving his business forward.

So I sat down with him (via the comfort of email) and fired some questions at him. Here’s what this audacious entrepreneur had to say:

AI: Why Humanear? Do the squeamish ever complain about the name?

PE: Humanear was a name I thought about using long before I decided what to do when I grew up.  The term was actually gleaned from a movie where the protagonist stumbled upon a severed ear while walking through a field not far from his house.  He took the ear to a detective in a plain brown bag, at which point the detective says, “Yep, that’s a human ear all right” in a manner similar to if he were looking at a PB&J sandwich instead of a body part in the brown paper bag.  

Finding this to be probably more hysterical than it actually was, I mentioned to a fellow “Blue Velvet” fan and friend of mine that if I ever started a business, I was going to call it Humanear.  Years later, I was dumb enough to actually follow through.  As much as I’d like to take credit for a clever reason behind the cute name, I must stick to the honest, stupid version which would be meaningless to anyone who hasn’t seen the movie.

 I’ve never had a complaint about the name, but I’ve had many people ask the same question you did.  Some have seen the movie and understand, and some just nod their head and smile.

AI: I’m going to nod my head and smile, then ask the next question: what was your strategy, and how did you come up with it?

PE: Honestly, I was laid off from Gateway and my only goal was to find a job.  Thanks to a healthy severance, I had the luxury of a few months to come up with something.  When nothing happened, I decided (with a lot of discouraging comments from most people around me) to start the operation of getting a few  clients and scraping up some cash.  So my official business plan was not much of a plan at all.  I hit the ground running.  Admittedly, I was not prepared and made many mistakes.  Over time, my general plan was to find ways to get residual income and to increase my client base.  That basic plan is still how I operate today, but I’m much better at it.  Looking back, I see that I thought I knew more than I actually did, but I’m glad I stuck with it.  

AI: What trends in website design are you loving right now? What do you hate?

PE: Trends in design seem to come and go pretty quickly.  One trend I’ve been partial to for quite a while now is incorporating negative space whenever possible and keeping the design elements simple, but professional.  Simplicity has great merit.  Another rather basic trend is towards more text and graphics, pertinent text and graphics and less fluff such as gratuitous Flash elements.  Twirly things for the  sake of having twirly things on the page.  Which is one of my hates. My personal preferences have changed radically, and evolve as my skills and experience evolve.  I’m not a big fan of overcomplicating the uncomplicated.  Another trend that bothers me is pages that expand and contract according to the size of the browser window.

AI: You sit down with a new client and you listen to their ideas. You can tell this is a client who is dead set in her or his ways. You’ve done your homework, and you have an idea as to what you think would be a better strategy for their site. What are some ways you’ve reconciled the differences between your ideas and their vision? How do you manage to keep their ultimate needs in tact?

PE: The most important thing to remember, of course, is that the customer is always right.  The challenge is to steer the customers’ thoughts and ideas in such a manner that he or she is making the decisions that will positively impact their business.  In a situation where the thoughts of the client and the thoughts of the developer seem to be heading in two completely different directions, the right thing to do is to figure out how I can change my strategy and thinking in a manner which will eventually be appealing to my client.  As a designer, it’s so hard to lose the ego, but in order to get things done, it’s gotta be done.  What do I do?  Suck it up and design something that the client will love and that I can build and be satisfied with.  There’s always middle ground, and that’s what you shoot for.  At the end of the day, if the client loves it, that’s what’s most important.

AI: So you started this business without much of a plan to start, but found your way and it paid off. In your own words, you made some mistakes along the way. What is the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn in this business?

PE: Over the last eight years, I’ve experienced many lessons.  A little over two years ago I learned the biggest lesson of all:  In order to succeed, you MUST spend money on the tools to help you succeed.  No matter what business you’re in, you have to spend money to make money.  I had a near-catastrophic failure, which jeopardized my entire client base.  I was fortunate enough to catch a few breaks and smart enough to move quickly to save things before it was too late. I’ll never make the mistake again.  Since then my overhead has increased significantly, but my client base and my client satisfaction has increased at an even quicker pace.  Every dollar you invest to improve  your business is a dollar you invest in your client and your success.

AI: Bill Gates once said that if he could spend his budget on only one thing, it would be PR. Do you agree?

PE: In my particular business, word of mouth and my clients are my advertising.  I believe that I would spend advertising and marketing dollars on PR.  Web development companies are a dime a dozen. Traditional advertising does not work for me.  Getting exposure through PR gets my name in range of the decision makers in larger companies. It’s the largest bang for the buck. 

AI: Who am I to argue with Bill Gates, or you? Thanks, Phil, for your thoughts, from the common sense to the audacious. You are definitely worth the cyber ink.