Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category
Today’s explosion of media channels has made it simultaneously more challenging yet more vital for companies to present unified messaging and branding to their markets. Businesses need to break down the silos both within their marketing and public relations (PR) teams but also more broadly between other departments, including product development and customer support.
Becoming a social business means change, which is never easy. But in Marketing in the Round: How to Develop an Integrated Marketing Campaign in the Digital Era (Que Biz-Tech), authors Gini Dietrich and Geoff Livingston provide a roadmap to developing strategy, planning tactics, determining and executing the best approach, and finally measuring and refining a unified marketing effort.
Much more than just another tactical marketing field guide, Marketing in the Round aims to provide comprehensive strategy guidance. As noted in the introduction,
“Every contemporary marketing book is dedicated to the topic of social media, whether it be Facebook, return on investment, content, or customer relations. This proliferation of literature acknowledges the changes social media brings to marketing. These books fail to realize the full scope of the marketer’s challenge, not with social media, but in becoming a modern organization that works across media and tactics to achieve its goals.”
That description (as much else in the book) sounds a lot like web presence optimization (WPO), the framework for which has been covered here previously. But whether one speaks about WPO or marketing in the round, the fundamental ideas are the same: online, everything is connected. Marketing, PR and communication efforts within the enterprise need to be connected as well.
Throughout, the authors use the term “marketing round” as useful shorthand to describe the group of professionals from marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), PR, social media, content development, design and online advertising whose efforts need to coordinated in order to optimize online results.
The book, valuable to anyone who’s in (or aspires to be in) a marketing or PR leadership role, is divided into three main sections:
- Understand the Marketing Round and Develop Your Strategy
- Four Marketing Round Approaches
- Measurement, Refinement, and Improvement
The authors share a series of essential insights throughout section one, including:
- • “Rarely is one media moment, positive or negative, strong enough to form a full impression. Before the Web…a person needed to see a message seven times before a purchase decision is made. Today a person needs to see a message upwards to 20 times. Some of those messages can, and should, be delivered by trusted sources, including friends and family, and online friends.”
- Of course, for many b2b purchases, or infrequent and high-value consumer purchases, friends and family may not be much help. That’s where other types of trusted sources, from journalists and analysts to peers, can be crucial online information sources. Regardless, a web presence strategy is vital to achieving those 20 message exposures necessary for a purchase decision.
- • “Imagine your organizational structure as a wheel instead of a typical hierarchy. Think of marketing as the hub. The spokes are made up of public relations, advertising, Web, email, social media, corporate communication, search engine optimization, search engine marketing, content, and direct mail. They circle simultaneously.”
- This reflects the observation, noted elsewhere and in other contexts (such as in service and product innovation), that old-school command-and-control management structures don’t work any longer. Information no longer flows from the top down, but rather in all directions between multiple team members and stakeholders. The job of management is no longer to run things as much as to coordinate efforts and remove roadblocks to collaboration.
- • “Integration is not the same message on every platform, but you’re using all communications disciplines appropriately, with the correct massages for each.” True, though given the importance of search, it’s usually advisable to use common keywords.
- • “Communicate every week on how it’s going and what’s working, what’s not working, what changes you’d like to make. Keep the vision top-of-mind, and make sure it’s being communicated at every meeting, even if it’s in a small way.” This is where having a unified metrics dashboard can help coordinate efforts across marketing, PR, social media, search and online advertising specialists.
- • “(Metrics should also) include brand awareness, Web site traffic, and thought leadership, but be sure that all of those goals are combined with real, hard numbers, such as leads, conversions, sales, and profit—not just soft feel-good measurements, such as impressions, clicks, sentiment, likes, follows, fan, or plusses. In the end, your marketing round’s success will be determined by its ability to successfully impact business, not garnet attention.”
- Well…yes, but don’t ignore those other measures. While its true that maximizing online visibility isn’t the ultimate business goal (which is to earn a profit) in and of itself, that visibility is the vital first step. Without pursuing those “impressions, clicks, sentiment” and other soft measures, it’s unlikely that the “hard” goals of the business will be fully realized.
- • “In order to break down the silos, develop trust, and gain immediate buy-in, the marketing round should work on this task together. It’s not for you to develop in your silo and then impose upon the first meeting. It may take more than a few meetings to get it right, but it will be worth the time and energy spent later. Soon, you’ll be on your way to marketing in the round.”
- This is why a common, unified set of metrics that tracks all inbound online channels (press, social, industry, paid, and organic search) and content types (owned, earned and paid) is vital; it’s what gets everyone on the same page and keeps them moving forward in a coordinated manner.
There’s no question the authors know their stuff. Pages 25-39 of the book provide an outstanding examination of the pros and cons of nearly all possible media tactics, from TV, radio and print though direct mail, outdoor advertising, event sponsorships, and all manner of online channels. This reference is almost worth the cost of the book itself.
The second section of the book is built upon marketing application of the military strategies detailed in the classic text The Book of Five Rings by 17th-century Japanese samurai Miyamoto Musashi. It outlines the elements, tactics, potential benefits and risks of each of four market approaches: top-down, groundswell, direct and flanking. It also provides guidance on when to use each approach, based on the nature of the market and competition.
Among the most insightful passages in the middle section of the book is this on content marketing:
“As a team, take an hour or two and think about what content you can create that will be valuable to your stakeholders and also will be searchable. To generate topics, consider questions people ask during sales meetings, challenges your products or services have, pricing, and the ‘versus’ questions.
“The questions people ask during sales meetings are…the easiest to answer. Ask everyone to write down five questions they’re asked all the time. Even if they don’t go to sales meetings, everyone talks to customers…
“Creating content around challenges or issues is uncomfortable, but it’s that kind of content that people search for when they’re online. Do you want to confront the challenges head-on? Or would you rather your competitors handle that for you?”
The book’s final section addresses measurement and continual improvement. Chapter 10 in this section includes excellent examples of using calendars to sequence different tactics, for example the different types of PR and social media marketing activities utilized leading up to and then following up on a major trade show or industry event.
Although the book is excellent overall, one could raise a few minor quibbles with it:
The explanation of strength-weakness-opportunity-threat (SWOT) analysis in section one is presented a bit lightly; this is a critical exercise to get right, and getting it right requires a fairly significant research effort. The research can be outsourced, but not skipped.
In “Risks of the Direct Approach” in section two, the authors write of social media:
“The time investments—both manpower and long-term cultivation—are unattractive to businesses that need fast results. To succeed in social media, relationships need to be built within online communities. Often they have to spend months of community investment online to build enough relationship equity to start generating sales. And when the sales do come in, the value is negligible in comparison to the costs of the staff time and associated design costs.”
While technically accurate (perhaps, though with regard to that last sentence, mileage will certainly vary), the paragraph ignores the “asset value” of social media. Creating and sharing content, and building relationships, produces a long-term asset, the value of which compounds over time. Contrast that with an online advertisement, which has value only as long as it is active; as soon as the ad comes down, its value evaporates. Social media marketing is an asset; advertising is an expense.
“Search engine marketing (SEM) isn’t used very often, but it’s extremely effective.” Actually, SEM is used pretty often; in 2012, 64% of b2b companies and 73% of b2c brands used pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to drive leads.
From chapter 11: “You can’t skip to the end and start measuring before you know what you need to measure, and that’s why this topic is so far into this book. You need to build your marketing round, understand where the strengths of your team lie, really break down the silos (which is going to take some time), get your executives onboard, and discover which approaches and tactics you’re going to use before you can implement a measurement program.”
Uh…while specific metrics may be added, dropped or changed over time, it’s essential to begin efforts with a set of baseline measures to provide both a starting point and measure of progress as your strategy and tactics roll out. At a minimum, these should include presence metrics (e.g., number of backlinks to your website, keyword rank); competitive metrics (e.g., number of industry press mentions last month for your company and its top competitors); and performance metrics (e.g., web conversions by originating traffic source).
Still, these are at worst minor flaws. Overall, Marketing in the Round is a vital guide to coordinating not just marketing and PR but social efforts across the enterprise, to optimize business results in today’s Web-centric environment. It ranks among perhaps a handful of this year’s must-read business books.
The old days when SEO meant writing key-stuffed copy and then begging for or buying as many links as possible, from any willing website, are long gone. That’s clearly good for searchers, as search engine results have become more relevant and useful. But it’s also good for marketers, as it forces a focus on understanding buyers and providing them with value rather than manipulative gaming of search algorithms.
In Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media, and Content Marketing, Lee Odden provides the definitive guide to SEO and its extension into social and content marketing for the new, more sophisticated world of search and web presence optimization.
Divided into three sections—Planning (tactics, audience research, content), Implementation (persona development, keyword research, content optimization, measurement) and Scale—the book provides a comprehensive roadmap for using integrated digital marketing tactics to drive business results.
Among the specific pieces of wisdom Lee shares in the book are:
- • Search is a moving target. “Search results have evolved from 10 blue links to situationally dependent mixed-media results that vary according to your geographic location, web history, social influence and social ratings…at any given time, there are from 50 to 200 different versions of Google’s core algorithm in the wild, so the notion of optimizing for a consistently predictable direct cause and effect is long gone.”
- • You need to know where you are before you can know where you’re going. “Audits are a key part of search engine optimization, allowing marketers to access the current state of the website in ways that identify any conflicts or inefficiencies for search engines.” Audits also help establish baselines—the starting points from which progress can be measured.
- • Five different types of SEO audits are vital for establishing baselines: keyword research, content audit (“a website must be the best resource for a topic, and content optimization takes inventory of all content and digital assets that could be a potential entry point vis search and recommends SEO copywriting tactics to showcase those pages as most relevant”), technical SEO audit (making sure the site is easy for search engines to crawl), link footprint and social SEO audit.
- • PR is now a vital component of SEO. “The public relations function within a company often produces nearly as much content as marketing in the form of a corporate newsroom with media coverage, press releases, images, video, case studies, white papers, and other resources…Each of those assets is an opportunity for journalists to discover the brand story through search engines or social referrals…Companies that optimize and socialize their press releases give new life and extended reach to their news by making it easy for bloggers and end consumers to find and share press release content.”
- • Content isn’t just the job of marketing and PR. It’s also crucial to optimize content produced by customer service (FAQ’s, common how-to guides), HR, and subject matter experts in field consulting, engineering and sales for search. Marketing may have to scrub and polish some of this content for public consumption, but it’s vital to tap expertise across the organization.
- • Your online competitors aren’t always your real-life competitors. “In the search and social media marketing world, the competition isn’t always who you think. Companies need to understand that online competition isn’t just made up of companies competing for market share in the business world, but also information and content published from a variety of sources that compete for search engine and social media users’ attention.” It’s not unusual for university websites, government agency sites, and reference sites like Wikipedia to “compete” with a company in search.
- • Monitor search results to spot new opportunities. “A trending story may cause news or blog results to appear high on the page, which might prompt you to comment on a high-ranking story or reach out to a journalist or blogger to offer your point of view…When you notice that the search engine tends to favor certain media, such as video, for one of your target keyword phrases, it may prompt you to focus on video content and optimization for a particular target keyword phrase.”
- • It’s vital for a business to “be seen” in different places. “48% of consumers are led to make a purchase through a combination of search and social media influences.”
- • Search visibility isn’t important only for prospective customers. “95% of journalists use search engines…89% of journalists use blogs and 65% use social networks for story research.”
- • Develop content for your prospects, not for search engines. “Write down some of the high-level characteristics of your best customers. What motivates them? What do they care about?” I would add “what keeps them awake at night?” and “what will compel them to take action” to this list. The answers to those questions will be crucial in developing your content strategy.
- • Make fact-based, data-driven decisions. “Keyword research tools are designed to override the false assumptions often provided by the two most flawed tools that you can access—your gut and your brain.” It isn’t that you aren’t smart, but rather the words used inside of your company and those that your prospective customers use to describe the same product or service are often very different.
- • Think about blog post topics from a variety of angles to keep it interesting. “Typical categories for an editorial calendar can include breaking headlines, industry news, ongoing series, feature stories, in-depth product or service reports, polls, special promotions, events, tips, lists…the important thing is to be relevant: to your customers, your brand, and to search engines and social communities.”
- • You don’t have to do it all yourself; content curation is as important as creation. “Pure creation is demanding. Pure automation doesn’t engage. Curating content can provide the best of both.”
And there’s much more, including several useful lists such as analytics tools, “20 different content types” and “sources of news to curate.”
Even in books I really find valuable, I usually find at least a few points of contention, or things the author just plain got wrong. But even though I wore out a red pen highlighting passages in this book, I didn’t find a single point where I think Lee missed the mark.
The only thing I would add is an over-arching framework to fit all of this into. “SEO, social media and content marketing” is descriptive, but a mouthful. Add PR and online advertising to the mix, and it gets really awkward without that model. Optimize fundamentally provides an excellent how-to primer for utilizing the web presence optimization framework. As Lee notes:
“If a company doesn’t see the bigger-picture synergy of how to break social media, content, and SEO efforts out of departmental silos and approach Internet marketing and public relations holistically, how can they grow and remain competitive?…Integrating social media marketing and engagement with search, content marketing, email, and other types of online marketing tactics can results in substantial benefits.” But “For many companies, it can be very difficult and complex to implement a holistic content marketing and search optimization program.”
With The B2B Social Media Book: Become a Marketing Superstar by Generating Leads with Blogging, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Email, and More, authors Kipp Bodnar of HubSpot and Jeffrey L. Cohen of Salesforce Radian6 have literally written the book on social media best practices for B2B marketers.
Unlike the multitude of other social media marketing books, this one isn’t about how celebrities build a huge Twitter following or how big consumer brands use coupons and contests to attract massive “likes” on Facebook; it’s focused on the content-centric, information-hungry world of B2B marketing.
The book is divided into three main sections: The Fundamentals of Social Media Lead Generation, Social Media Lead Generation in Action, and Taking Social Media Lead Generation to the next level. As those headings suggest, this isn’t a book about “engagement,” conversations, shares, likes, followers or any other soft measures of social media success, but rather is focused on using social media to generate a high volume of qualified leads, the top priority of B2B marketers.
The opening chapter, “Why B2B is Better at Social Media than B2C,” helpfully lays the groundwork for the book with two key sections. First, five reasons B2B companies are a better fit for social media marketing than their B2 counterparts:
- • Clear understanding of customers (“B2B marketers go far past demographic data”)
- • Depth of subject matter expertise
- • Need for generating higher revenue with lower marketing budgets
- • Relationship-based sales
- • Already have practice doing it (“long before the social web, [B2B marketers] were publishing newsletters, quarterly magazines and [using] other marketing tactics that map to many key social media marketing methods”)
All of which should sound familiar to B2B marketers. Still, that said, the authors point out that there are situations where social media isn’t right for B2B firms:
- • Very small, concentrated market
- • Purchasing decision makers are behind strong firewalls (e.g., the military, power utilities)
- • No internal advocate for social media (i.e., lack of executive support)
- • Need to generate a high volume of short-term sales
- • Lack of resources to be successful (“you will always need more time and money than you expect for executing your social media tactics”)
The book also points out that social media marketing takes time to produce results, as it more of a long-term investment than an immediate expense with a quick payback. “With the hurdles into publishing and information sharing now so low, it is harder than ever before for a company to stand out. A great CMO needs to take risks an try new things, while also ensuring that the entire marketing team understands that risk and polarization are accepted and encouraged for the success of the business.” Fortunately, CMOs have a bit more luxury of time today than in the recent past, as the average tenure for a CMO has increased from just 23 months in 2006 to 43 months now.
After laying the foundation, the book steps through best practices for developing eBooks and webinars; business blogging; marketing through LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook; making email social; B2B social mobile marketing; and integrating tradeshows with social efforts. Along the way, the authors share numerous bits of marketing wisdom and findings such as:
Content really is exploding. “According to Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, more information is created on the Internet in 48 hours today than was created by all humankind from the beginning of time until 2003.”
You have to ask for leads. “The lack of conversion opportunities is the single biggest mistake that we see when speaking with B2B marketers working to leverage social media.”
“Emulate the best, not your competitors.” “The people who sign your multimillion dollar purchase orders read the New York Times, buy digital goods from iTunes, and order shoes from Zappos.” Yes, you need to do a better job with search and social than your direct competitors, but for inspiration, set your sites higher.
Social media marketing isn’t a campaign, it’s a reorientation. “The only way to get more time back for new marketing strategies, such as social media, is to stop strategies and tactics that don’t work. Stop now. This simple idea of stopping tactics that don’t work will instantly make you a better marketer.”
Search and social are inseparable. Given that the number of Google+ and Facebook shares that a piece of content gets impacts its search ranking, “SEO is the number one reason a B2B company should be using social media marketing” according to the authors. “Social media isn’t the first thing a business should focus on to improve search traffic, but it is certainly part of long-term SEO success.”
Content is core to social media marketing success… “Getting found on the web is a lot like winning the lottery. A person who has 100 tickets has a much better chance of winning the lottery than a person with only one ticket. In the world of social media, content is the equivalent of lottery tickets.”
…but it has to be high-quality content. “The biggest secret in B2B social media marketing is that those companies that create great content consistently over time are the ones that succeed.”
eBooks and white papers are complementary. Too often, these terms are used as synonyms, but there are important differences between the two formats which the book explains simply and concisely. “Traditionally, white papers have been more academic in tone and style. Although an eBook may strive to educate on the same topic, it would do so in a more entertaining tone, accompanied by images to help illustrate its points…Go for the eBook instead of the white paper when talking to nontechnical audiences.” The authors also include an excellent “10-Step Blueprint to eBook Awesomeness.”
Improve your webinar presentations with a live audience. Among the helpful tips in “Five Steps for an Engaging Webinar” is the suggestion to use a live audience: “Even if it is only one person, have someone else in the room with you while presenting a webinar. As speakers, we all use feedback from the audience to adjust our presentation. Since you can’t see the people listening to you on a webinar, having a co-worker sit in as an audience to provide feedback is invaluable.”
Keep videos short. “Perfection in B2B video is not when there is nothing left to add in, but instead when there is nothing left to remove…three minutes is an eternity on the Web.”
And there’s much more, including how often you should aim to publish new posts on a business blog, the best time to send b2b emails, and how to promote your company on Twitter without overdoing it.
The book has its minor flaws. Rank is not “dead” as the authors claim; true, with Google experimenting more with image results, additional ad placements, personalized search, and even displaying email results on SERPs, rank doesn’t have quite the unique value that it once did. But it still matters; ranking at #1 or #2 will virtually always result in more clicks than ranking at #8, or #18, or #28.
The analogy used on page 65 is of questionable appropriateness for a business book, but it does get the point across. (No, I won’t tell you what it is, you’ll need to buy the book to find out.)
And the most significant criticism I’ve heard of the book is that it covers too much old ground. But in defense of the authors, given the wide range of social media knowledge in the marketplace (from newbie to expert), it’s challenging to appropriately balance the risks of stating the obvious versus leaving out crucial detail. In truth, those who are relatively new to B2B social media will find the book an essential primer, while even seasoned experts are likely to discover useful tidbits.
Quibbles aside, Jeff Cohen and Kipp Bodnar have done an outstanding job of producing a B2B social media book with enough practical substance mixed with higher level theory to meet the needs of virtually anyone involved in this area, from entry-level practitioners as well as senior B2B marketing executives. The B2B Social Media Book deserves to be read, highlighted, dog-eared, Post-It noted and referred back to often by pretty much anyone whose role is impacted by B2B social media.
Many books fail to live up to what’s promised on their covers: exciting title, raving blurbs, boring content. But The Power of Strategic Commitment by Josh Leibner, Gershon Mader and Alan Weiss is just the opposite—it’s a vital and engaging guide to effective leadership, despite the yawn-inducing title.
Basically, most organizations operate at a sub-optimal level because employees are more concerned about protecting their status quo than with making bold changes that will propel the organization to higher levels of success. This isn’t because they are bad employees, but because they don’t have effective leadership. (As the writers note, “Only when leaders are willing to ‘own’ the current state of affairs, and admit to themselves that they have caused the current levels of apathy, resistance, or resignation, can they begin to address and improve the situation.”) The authors then outline explicitly why this is the case, and most importantly, what to about it.
Often, it isn’t so much what an organization does that determines success, but how it does it. As a case in point, the authors cite Apple’s retail stores: “Online purchasing has created a new legion of buyers who aren’t willing to wait for bored salespeople to attend to them inn retail outlets. Yet Apple, Inc. was able to create very successful retail outlets by assigning a salesperson to customers from their moment of entry, through all purchases, right up to departures. (As one woman shopper was heard to remark, ‘Life should be like this, with a man assigned to you for as long as you want him.’).” Ouch!
The authors contend that many books about execution, motivation, and leadership fail to provide the information needed to really move the needle because they deal with only single factors of organizational excellence. What’s needed is true employee engagement with the corporate mission; commitment, as distinct from compliance.
Noting, from their observations in years of business consulting, that “when strategy fails it is almost always due to poor implementation, not poor formulation,” the authors argue that consensus is not the same as commitment. “Consensus is not commitment. People agree to ‘live with’ something, but that doesn’t mean they would ‘die for’ it.” They point out that in highly effective organizations, there are often passionate disputes—but these organizations are not disrupted by internal politics.
Along the way, the authors enthusiastically skewer “flavor of the month” management fads:
“In the early 1990’s, process reengineering…was the most popular organizational business response to improve effectiveness…By the late 1990s, it had become apparent that you could improve processes until the cows came home, but if people and functions were not genuinely on board ad buying in, then productivity gains would be ephemeral at best…In a leading manufacturing organization, the CEO’s engineering background and belief in the ‘science’ of Six Sigma drove him to ensure his managers and employees were rigorously complying with the process rather than truly owning the need to improve quality and the customer experience. As a result, Six Sigma was pervasive but customer satisfaction levels continued to decline. No customer ever proclaimed ‘Wow, I love what they’re doing with Six Sigma,” or ‘Quality teams have really improved by loyalty!’”
The lesson they draw is: “Organizational commitment to a CEO’s strategy is…perhaps the key factor in the success of the strategy and its organizational objectives.” In a nutshell, they recommend dictatorship in setting objectives (the “what”) but democracy in determining the means to achieve them (the “how”), and conclude “Including and engaging employees so that they can fully commit to the strategy is the ultimate factor in whether strategy succeeds or not.”
Leibner, Mader and Weiss identify two key issues at the heart of strategic commitment: content and context. Content is “the plan.” To be effective, it must be valid (the correct path for the organization based on research and independent thought) and it must be clearly communicated so that everyone in the organization can “get on the same page.”
Context has four key drivers:
- • Credibility (are leaders and managers being straightforward and honest?)
- • Courage (do leaders have the resolve to see the strategy through? Do employees believe that management will be “open to hearing the real, often negative feedback, and will they have the guts to deal with the real issues?”)
- • Competence (are the organization’s leaders capable of executing the strategy; do they know what they’re doing?)
- • Caring (do the leaders understand the impact that the plan will have on employees? Will they give employees the freedom to contribute, and recognition for those contributions? As the authors sum this up, “the more that people believe that management values them as resources and not as expenses, the more committed they tend to become.”)
Leiber and Mader are the founders of Quantum Performance, Inc., a strategic management consulting firm that has worked with numerous Global 1000 clients. Weiss is a consultant, speaker, author of 32 books, and head of Summit Consulting Group. The three bring years of experience to this book, and illustrate many of their points with true-life stories from name-brand clients. But the principals and guidance presented here apply to organizations of all sizes, and non-profit and government agencies as well as businesses.
The book closes with appendix containing several helpful tools, checklists and tips to help put the authors’ ideas into practice.
The Power of Strategic Commitment, despite the dry title, is an engagingly written and vital guide to developing leadership practices that enable higher levels of organizational success.
Pamela Slim’s Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur is the bible for the self-employed—and those burned out on the corporate world who’d like to become independent. Despite the ongoing recession, the book retains its timeliness. Though there may now be fewer people wishing to escape the corporate world and more wishing they could once again be part of it, the book remains important for those stuck in dead-end corporate positions as well as the unemployed looking for a way to thrive in the downsized economy. If you work independently, would like to work on your own, or see no other option than to build your own business, this book is indispensable.
Slim divides her book into four sections, but more broadly speaking there are just two: what I’d call the Excitement section and the Reality section. The first is more entertaining, but the second more essential.
In her opening chapter, “I Have a Fancy Title, Steady Paycheck, and Good Benefits. Why Am I So Miserable?,” Slim assures readers that they aren’t crazy for wanting something more or different. The myriad problems of the corporate world largely come down to a single element: poor leadership. Too many companies expect their people to give extraordinary effort and self-sacrifice in exchange for a dysfunctional work environment, endless stress and little if any long-term job security. Her “Open Letter to CXOs Across the Corporate World,” originally written as blog post (which caught the attention of Guy Kawasaki, who helped it go viral) on the inadequacies of corporate leadership, is worth the cost of the book on its own. A brief excerpt:
“Don’t spend millions of dollars to try and change your culture. Corporate culture is a natural thing that can’t be manufactured. No amount of posters, incentive programs, PowerPoint presentations or slogans on websites will affect the hearts and minds of your employees. If you want to see things change immediately, stop acting like an asshole. If you see one of your senior managers acting like an asshole, ask him to stop. If he doesn’t stop, fire him. You will be amazed at how fast the culture shifts.”
The remainder of section 1 is by turns frustrating, funny and exhilarating as Slim skewers corporate groupthink, addresses fears real and imagined, and helps the reader imagine a better world. But she notes that self-employment isn’t a magical path to happiness and isn’t right for everyone. I’d add that for some people unhappy in their current corporate roles, working to improve the situation internally, transferring to a different department or location, or getting a different job may be better alternatives than striking out on their own. How do you know?
On key test Slim provides is a quote from author Jim Collins:
“He referred to the ultimate work situation as your ‘sweet spot.’ This is the intersection of three interlocking circles:
- • The first circle is ‘what people will pay you to do’—marketable skills and abilities that you have developed over your working life.
- • The second is ‘that which you have great passion for’—areas of interest, hobbies, ideas, or causes that make your heart race.
- • The third, and most elusive, is ‘that which you are genetically encoded to do’—the things that you were brought on this earth to accomplish that no one else on the planet can do as well as you.”
For some people, that “sweet spot” will necessarily be found only as part of a larger organization (even if not with their current employer or employment situation). For others, however, independence is the answer. And it for those souls that the second section of the book is crucial.
The tone as well as the content in the second part of the book shifts. Actually making the move to self employment is far different from sitting in a gray cubicle and imagining it. And Slim has high goals for this book; it’s about creating a new life, not just a new career. “Your life plan lays out the specific ways that your life would be structured to provide for maximum enjoyment and productivity. When done well, it is not a pie-in-the-sky vision; it is a blueprint for designing a great business.”
The second section covers all of the key considerations those contemplating (or jumping into) self-employment need to address: choosing the right business idea, recruiting help (mentors and connections), writing a business plan, making financial adjustments, shopping for benefits and more. Among the highlights:
- • Great advice on how to determine whether you really have a great business idea (e.g., “you have a unique approach, skill, or capability that will allow you to serve this need better than anyone else…your target market not only is interested in what you have to offer, but has the money to pay for what you are selling”) or just an expensive hobby (“when you discuss the idea with people who would be the target market for your product or service, they are either overcome by an embarrassing silence or are direct like Michael Bolton from [the movie] Office Space and say ‘That is the worst business idea I have ever heard.’”).
- • How to recruit a team of advisors, connections and mentors who will help you make your business successful through investment, guidance, introductions and more. She calls this your “High Council of Jedi Knights.”
- • How to develop “natural networking” ability (another section that is worth the price of the book in itself). She expands on key approaches including being interested, noticing what’s important to the person you are networking with, asking for an introduction, and being nice to everyone. Much of may sound obvious, but it’s amazing how uncommon these skills really are.
- • How to write a business plan. Slim helpfully lays a series of “blocks” critical to any business plan that help organize thoughts, create a natural flow, and include all of the essential elements needed to raise funds and simply make sure no important details are overlooked.
- • Ignore competitors. Okay, not completely of course, but don’t obsess about them. This is great advice not only for solopreneurs but for established businesses as well. Steve Jobs never worried about what his competitors were doing; he focused on creating things were new, cool and that customers would love. As Slim puts this, “When you shift your focus from understanding who your competitors are to spending half your time thinking about them, you have ceded your own power. In essence, you are choosing the role of follower and not leader. Focus on what is exciting, special, unique, and revolutionary about your own business.”
- • Avoid corporatespeak. The second section of the book, though more direct and down to earth than the first, isn’t without its own gems. Slim recommends getting a “gang member coach” (okay, perhaps not literally) to help you “keep it real.” Discussing a meeting where a corporate CXO was droning on in meaningless corporate buzzwords, she imagines having a gang member in the room:
“Joe, VP of Alliance Partnerships: ‘And as you can see from my deck, by creating a strategic partnership that focuses on key enablers of the new paradigm, we can leverage out-of-the-box thinking and deliver an integrated solution to our end-users.’
Juan, the Gang Member Coach: ‘Joe, what the f**k are you talking about?’
In five minutes or less, Joe, the stammering vice president, would have to explain in clear, plain terms what he was trying to say.”
Leaving the corporate world to pursue independence is not a move to be taken lightly, and Slim gives this decision the gravity it deserves, along with practical, comprehensive and thoughtful guidance on how to first determine if such a move is right for you, and then how to execute if the answer is “yes.” The grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence, but it definitely tastes different. You’ll be giving up a steady paycheck, benefits and paid vacations for income diversification (having multiple clients means your entire income isn’t based on the fortunes of any single enterprise), scheduling flexibility, and no more rush hour commutes.
If you love the corporate world and the thought of striking out on your own scares the pants off you, this book isn’t for you. But if you are considering blazing your own trail or are new to working independently, Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur is a must-read vital resource.