[Podcast] How a postage stamp turned into a $140K project

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In my recent podcast interview with Carl Smith, of Bureau of Digital and host of the Bureau Briefing podcast (he interviewed me), we got into the nitty gritty of direct outreach and how to do it so it works. (Listen here.)

I will also be presenting in February 2018 at Carl's "Owner Summit" -- a popular event for digital agency owners. I hear it sells out so get a ticket soon if you are interested. 

So here's an excerpt from our chat, which begins with Carl asking me:

What do you see agencies doing that are really successful when it comes to marketing?

Ilise Benun: Well, to me, there are 3 most important foundational marketing tools, and this presumes you know who you're marketing to, because if you don't know how you're marketing to then none of these tools work.

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

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

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

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

Carl Smith: Now when you talk about outreach, direct outreach, that's something I've tried, and sometimes it would work. I am totally against any type of spec work. But I will say that if you're building something to show someone your capabilities and they didn't ask you to do it, I don't consider that spec work. That's you doing something with the intention of getting something, not being told to do something. 

Ilise Benun: I agree with you about that.

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

Ilise Benun: Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So a 32 cent stamp turned into $140,000 project.

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

That's not the end of our chat. 


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