Nathan Meeks is the Co-Founder and CEO of Gigzolo, “a new way for event professionals to book hand-picked DJ’s, musicians and other artists for their events.” But his real goal is to create “a global marketplace for the creative arts, where anybody has the power to find and hire any amazing creative person anywhere in the world.”
I sat down and chatted with Nathan during this summer’s techsytalk LIVE to find out just how he intends to do this…
NATHAN – One of the things we found really needed some extra work in this industry, especially when it comes to booking professionals online, something that is risky and high value … was TRUST…Especially between parties that don’t know each other, especially when the amounts of money being transacted are in the thousands, not in the hundreds or the tens. So Gigzolo is meant to actually solve that for event professionals. We’re not just a platform, we’re a curated platform. So out of every 1000 people that we review, less than 10% of them are actually accepted into the platform. We have a very low yield, and the reason why is because it’s not just about being professional, it’s also about being able to perform well, to have great references, to be easy to work with, etc.
And so the way the platform works is actually quite simple. You as an event planner can go online, put in whatever you’re looking for, let’s say a Top 40 DJ, as well as location and occasion and we’ll automatically generate pre-screened or curated artists relevant to your search. You can directly see these artists pertaining to whatever your criteria may be, but not just the artists. First of all, you know that they’re curated, they’re not just anybody, but second of all, you can see things you’ve never seen before, like pricing. You’ll soon be able to see availability. You can actually chat directly with them instantly, or their manager, and then you can actually book and pay and do agreements all online.
Deborah – So you’re not acting as management then.
N – No, we’re not. As a company, we’re technologists. Our job is to be scientists of the transaction – understand how trust or the lack thereof inhibits people connecting with each other and doing business with each other, and to solve everything that is along that chain. What we’ve found is that there are different kinds of nodes to the decision to be able to do business with somebody online. Among them is some kind of general trust, some type of exhibition of work, a portfolio or something of that nature. For that reason, we actually make sure that everyone has a high quality HD video that has true audio, no lip synching or overdubbing in any of those portfolios. The second thing is transparency. The fact that the information you want is readily available, you don’t have to call and feel awkward about asking about pricing, or negotiating, it’s all there. The third thing is that connection, that communication, the part that technology will never be able to replace. The fact that you need to speak to somebody, you want to know who they are.
D – A real live person.
N – Exactly. And after that, they can share agreements, and payments flow smoothly and are brokered appropriately and fairly between each of the parties. That’s the entire anatomy of the transaction… Technology in its ideal form should enhance the way people work with each other… It should not commoditize relationships, it should actually enrich them. And so you try to figure out as you’re building things that are trying to help people, what are their needs, what are their wants, how do they not trust? Can we get certain things? Can we make them systematized? Absolutely. But how do we make sure that things that we can’t are still held sacred and are in their proper place in the process?
D – That kind of goes to my question about your philosophy about technology.
N – Well that’s a big part of it. We’ve grown slower because we did not want to throw up iPhone videos of bands. We did not want to put people up on the site that we didn’t believe in or that we hadn’t seen… because in the end, we know that even though it’s slower at the beginning, it’s very very difficult to replicate.
D – The quality is going to be the thing that’s most important… How long have you been in business?
N – So, it’s kind of a two-sided question. So we’ve been coding, my team has been building for two and a half years. We’ve been live for about five months, so we’re very, very new.
D – Wow, you’re really new, congratulations!
N – We’re not new to the industry, we’re very new to this scene, being live. And since then we’ve been very blessed to do some really cool things. We’re already doing things with people like the Air BnB Brooklyn Half Marathon, where we were able to curate ten artists that were of the entire difference of tiers – people who had never been signed before to people that had made agreements with major record labels. It was great to see all of them be on the same stage… [We’ve done events from] a 1500 person award show to a small event for a designer showcase for Target last week. We’ve now been able to be exposed to that entire gamut of – is it a private event, is it a wedding? Is it a bar mitzvah? Is it a corporate event? Is it marketing? Is it not? We get a chance to kind of dip our toes into all those things.
D – Nice. How big is your team?
N – So at any given time it’s between 7 and 8 people, including everyone that comes in and out. We’re a startup – we have full times and part times and interns, and all of them make up the team… everybody has real work at Gigzolo.
D – Do you have any thoughts about directions you might want to see things go in the future to expand what you’re doing now?
N – Yes, absolutely. There’s three different ways that Gigzolo expands. One is by location. Right now we’re mostly in NYC in terms of where most of the artists are based. We’ve already done gigs in Vermont and Boston, and further away, but the location of the artists are mostly in NYC.
D – What are the range of artists? Is it certain genres?
N – That’s a great question, so across genres, genre-agnostic. Principally right now, musicians and DJ’s. Which leads to the second part of your question which is, the second way you expand is not just by location, which will probably go NY and tri-state, then LA, Chicago, Nashville, Austin, that’s probably the general plan… the second one is medium. So besides musicians and DJ’s, what’s next? Well, other performers. We’re already booking things like magicians, and performers like dancers and models. Photographers and videographers next.
D – Let me know if you’re looking for burlesque performers – I have connections…
N – Something that’s important for us as we build this… As an event planner, I know that… if your client will allow you, you’ll want to stretch yourself creatively. You just know that you want to do things that are new. So our job is to take the basic inquiries and be able to expand them to other things. Oh, so you want a jazz trio? OK, great we have jazz trios, standard jazz trio no problem, here’s five. But have you thought about a Latin jazz trio? Have you thought about a jazz hip hop duo? There’s other things around that could actually create another dynamic for your event, and that’s where we consider the surprise and delight factor.
The last part of expansion is really about what each artist can do. What that means is that right now we think about performance, but what else can they do? Can a musician just perform? Can they teach? Can they write songs? What are the other services that a particular artist can perform? And in the end, we are creating a global marketplace for the creative arts, where anybody has the power to find and hire any amazing creative person anywhere in the world. And we’ve started with people like DJ’s and musicians in New York City. That is just the beginning.
D – As an artist this makes me very happy. Is there some other part of your life that informs your vision on this? Some other influence that brings another dimension to this?
N – Sure. Three parts to that. Finance, music and faith.
D – The big three.
N – My background is in finance. My job was to understand [structured derivatives], understand how to value them and institutionalize that procedure when you’re transacting complicated financial transactions. So you take something very complex, you break it down, understand it, build it back up and then you have a methodology for how to value it. That was very important when I came to the creative industries and the events industry. As I said before, pricing in the creative industry is more or less a dark art… And that causes, one, angst and frustration on the demander side, but what the suppliers don’t realize when they don’t provide any sense of pricing transparently, that actually inhibits the demand.
D – You think you’re being flexible and accommodating, but you’re just making them doubtful and confused.
N – With anything, price connotes access. If you go to a restaurant, and you are sitting down and there’s a picture on the wall, and you’re oh, that’s a nice picture, that’s pretty much all you think about, and the reason is very simple. You don’t believe that picture could be yours, because it’s on a restaurant’s wall. But if you went to that same restaurant, and beside that picture was a sign, even with an egregious price, even a price of $100,000 or $1,000,000, your perception of your access to that painting has changed, in an order of magnitude, because it goes from someone else owning it and it not being obtainable, to a conditional attainability. Even with a price that is crazy, your view of access – price connotes access. Transparency begets transaction. And so we understand that the more you can actually be transparent, without necessarily saying everything about how you price, etc., the more people feel like they can actually access you, the more they will come to you.
So finance taught me a lot of that. So what we did is we built dynamic pricing algorithms to allow you to instantly receive customized quotes as soon as you’re putting in the parameters or the details of your event, from every artist on an apples to apples basis.
D – So in other words, when somebody puts in budget, you offer them artists within the parameters that make sense for them.
N – Sure. Even though you don’t technically put in a budget, you can change what your maximum spend is, but you’re never a price maker on Gigzolo, you’re always a price taker, a price filter if you would say.
Another joy – you kind of want to stretch people in the way they think, even though they sometimes box themselves in. For instance, a lot of times people are biased towards vendors that are very close to them. Oh, I’m in New York, I want a NY based guy. Why? Because they’re close, and your position is, probably cheaper, because they’re close. I can already tell you, I’ve already seen, you can go to Boston, and you can go to Vermont, and you can go all over the place and bring someone to New York, sometimes for 20-30% less… Photographers can cost thousands of dollars – $5, 6, 7,000 dollars, depending on the event and depending on how special that is for you. Take it across the United States, it costs $300, $400. So why are you eliminating 99% of your possible applicants, because of one detail that is 10% or less of your costs?
D – It’s arbitrary.
N – Why? What Gigzolo allows you to do and will continue to allow you to do is now see the entire nation on an apples to apples basis. Because the prices that we provide aren’t just the artist’s fee. It also includes travel, equipment, set-up, sound check, breakdown, taxes and fees. All of those.
D – So it’s a comprehensive number.
N – Yes. So that’s where finance comes in… When it comes to music, I’ve been a vocalist in gospel and worship music my entire life, and I don’t think you can make a technology that empathizes with artists or with event planners without having some sense of both those, without having a direct relationship with each. I think even though I was never a professional, even though I was always amateur, having a creative empathy, and making sure I continue to hire and surround myself with people that have creative empathy, helps me build a platform that really treats both parties as though they are equally important. I make contracts that way, I make payment terms that way, I make everything else that way… In the end our job is to enhance transactions and have transparency. Sometimes artists have to give a little bit by being a little more transparent and sometimes clients have to give a little bit. Our job is to establish that. But it’s carefully guarded.
The third is faith. I think my faith in God has really geared [me] as well as my partner … to redeem the creative arts, and part of that is redeeming inefficiencies in the events industry. The reason why is because we believe that artists are one of the most institutionally disadvantaged [professions] we’ve ever seen. And according to our faith, we should be taking care of what we consider the widow and the orphan and the disadvantaged… It’s the only profession I know that you study for most of your life, and you spend 20 years perfecting your skills only to come out of the best art schools in the world, New School, Julliard, etc. like lambs to the slaughter. And we believe that really opening up the events industry and other private aspects of demand to these people – pretty much getting better access to the system, does redeem those inefficiencies. At the same time, it’s better for those industries, right? Because you get more diverse, better talent if you can trust it and you can see it and access it – you get to dream, and that’s what we want to do.
D – OK, last question. Is there a particular lesson you’ve learned from a particular mistake that you feel has been significant, and is worth sharing?
N – Sure, and I think this is across the board, whether you’re in technology or whether you’re in finance, or whether you’re in event planning – make people stakeholders in what you do. That could be financially, or that could be emotionally.
D – Sure, get people invested.
N – I think the key in making people stakeholders in what you do emotionally is by really giving them ownership, making them feel and be responsible for your success, giving them a part of it. Financially it’s also very important… I think we found our results significantly better when we have people who have ownership, and now I’m talking about literal ownership in the company. Bringing on people who have a stake in what we do, and it includes financial ownership, but it also includes emotional ownership. We hire people that are missionally aligned. For people that speak to event planners, we hire people that want to be event planners or that have been event planners, because we know that that empathy is instrumental in being able to make sure that all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed, that Gigzolo client support is like your own intern. It’s like your own guard, it’s literally your last defense, because our job is not to be in front of your clients. Our job is to be behind you so that you’re better in front of your clients. Stakeholding, giving people ownership, is the key to making them feel like they can do their best for you.
D – Nate, I’m impressed with the breadth of your vision, because of the dedication to the arts – a faith inspired support in the arts. It’s nice to be inspired. Not everybody is…
Justin Rezvani is the founder and CEO of TheAmplify, a technology driven influencer marketing company that is revolutionizing the way brands are building online followings. I learned more about the kickass work he’s doing when we spoke at this year’s techsytalk LIVE conference back in August. As an added bonus, we were joined by Lindsay Fultz, formerly (and at the time of this conversation still) with Chideo, now back at TheAmplify as Director of Brand Strategy and Integrated Marketing.
Justin – At our core really, our business has been built to facilitate the scalable delivery of influencer campaigns, from inception of ideas and actual creative to influencer selection to content creation to deployment and delivery and then measurement, so the full stack of the process with technology facilitating every level of the experience. And basically making it easier for the influencer and also making it easier for the advertiser, because we’re still working on a double system. It’s not just for the clients, it’s also for the brands and the influencers, so making it easy on both sides of the court.
Shared Rank [TheAmplify’s proprietary software, designed by Justin] is the original inception of what we built. Basically, it’s an audience algorithm, so it understands the audiences that follow influencers to better effectively select influencers when you’re trying to work with them.
Deborah – So you really get into a very detailed analysis of demographics and everything. What levels of granularity are you looking at?
Justin – We’re looking at four core levels – it’s demographics, it’s interests, behaviors and connections… The next iteration is really going to allow us to mimic Facebook… literally we’re taking exactly the Facebook style dashboard and building out a version for our clients.
Deborah – Do you do any charity?
Justin – We do some things, but they’re still paid, so there’s still charity components but people pay us to be part of it. The pro bono work is something we’ve always thought of… we’re so stacked just to deliver for our clients, it’s… more of just building enterprise value at this point.
Deborah – What is the most exciting thing about this for you?
Justin – Seeing it become an actual thing is to me the thing that makes me wake up every morning… Being an entrepreneur is one of the hardest things to do, but at the end of the day… it’s consistently providing a good experience for my team, but also for our clients. When a client can say this is the most incredible thing we’ve done, that’s rewarding, that’s very rewarding as a business owner.
Deborah – Is each campaign a new learning curve for you?
Justin – Totally. It’s a new experience, it’s a new innovation, it’s new for the team, but it’s always an accomplishment along the way, and you know to date I think we just finished 85 campaigns over the last 18 months.
Deborah – Wow, that’s a lot!
Justin – Yeah, we’re becoming a pretty big company.
Deborah – How many people do you have?
Justin – Right now we’re at 26, which we should be at, I mean the engineering team is half of that, but we might be at 50 by the end of the year.
Lindsay – Save a spot for me.
Justin – Always a spot for her… We’ve changed offices twice already.
Deborah – What kind of directions are you going into as far as new territory? Is there a place you have your eye on that’s different from where you are now?
Justin – I think we’re laser focused on being experts at just this. I think that there’s a lot of companies that are trying to do a lot of things; they don’t do a lot of things really well. So we’re really focusing on just being a leader in just this. Paid platforms and paid media will be the next iteration of it, but focusing on technology, great reporting tools, making our clients’ lives easier and the influencers’ lives easier and effectively building better solutions.
Deborah – Talk me through a typical campaign that is emblematic of what you do.
Justin – So, I think one cool thing we could talk about, and I can send you the link to the case study, is something we did for the movie Insurgent. It was a movie coming out for Lion’s Gate, and they basically built this virtual reality app, which kind of the guy was alluding to. So what we did is, we brought the influencers to our studio, they got to demo the virtual reality app, and actually what they’re seeing through their goggles got displayed on the green screen behind them, and they got to actually post that content to their followers, and we created this story on Instagram that let people follow the journey of many influencers living in the VR world of that movie. So that was an amazing campaign, because it launched in only 45 minutes. 10 videos were delivered in 45 minutes across 10 different influencers, and it got like 3 million views in 24 hours, like 7 million impressions, it was pretty massive, like 500,000 likes across the country. So it was a pretty cool scaled campaign, got some press for it, Lion’s Gate officially announced our partnership when we did that, now we work on all their films. And up fronts.
Deborah – Was this like a pitch that you did to them and said hey let’s try this and then they saw how great it was and were like ok, you’re in?
Justin – It took a year of just running campaigns with Lion’s Gate for them to actually trust us to be their AOR, so we’re now their influencer AOR. What that means is basically any influencer campaign they’re running is running through us directly, we don’t go through their agency anymore…
Deborah – Nice.
Justin – It’s a good place to be with certain clients, but it takes a lot of trust to build that.
Deborah – Sure.
Justin – And we were one of the first companies doing it, that’s just the reality of where we were… now there’s literally hundreds of influencer marketing companies.
Lindsay – They’re popping up every day.
Justin – Every day I have the Google search, and they’re just hundreds.
Deborah – What you were telling me Lindsay, is that this is just such an open market. So you’re definitely in at the beginning of the game.
Lindsay – And I mean I may be biased but I see the ads going out from these other companies, and they do look like ads, and they straight up look like an ad buy… vs. what I love at TheAmplify, is I can scroll through the Instagram feed, and it doesn’t stick out as like they were paid, it just looks like an engaging piece of content. It looks like this is their favorite brand, or if it’s a cosmetic company, you know a YouTuber has all her makeup laid out on the table and maybe some are turned over strategically so you can see the brand, but it’s a beautiful piece of content.
Deborah – So you have a whole team that’s filming content, writing content…
Justin – Not really. So what we’ve really done is facilitated a mobile app to create content. So we have a mobile app that all the influencers have on their phones, and that’s how we actually create the content.
Deborah – Interesting, so you’re really gathering their content and mobilizing on the stuff that they create.
Justin – Yeah. It’s an interesting thing, it’s like we’re a really large media company that doesn’t actually own any media properties.
Deborah – Right.
Justin – We’re a content company that actually doesn’t create content. It’s an interesting place to be as a business, because it doesn’t come with all the hassles of having creatives and actually building content.
Deborah – All the overhead…
Justin – But delivering those experiences.
Deborah – What would you say is the main influence that drives you – your perspective that pushes you forward in terms of your esthetic or your ethic, because from what Lindsay’s saying, your stuff doesn’t look like ads, right, so what’s your inspiration, how do you arrive at that way of doing business?
Justin – I think it’s… what we fundamentally believe as a business, you know, we want to make advertising human. That’s like our mantra to our clients every day. It’s the beginning of our pitch, you know, we’re trying to facilitate human experiences for advertisers, so that’s what drives us every single day in every piece of content we create, and that’s kind of what I’ve instilled in the team a little bit, in terms of what has to be… I think the other aspect is – you know I’m very competitive, I want to win so bad I want to crush everyone that’s in this industry, and I know I’m just gonna work harder than everyone else that’s playing in this field, so that’s the other thing that drives me. I wanna win, and I wanna crush everyone.
Deborah – Is having fun during the campaigns important to you?
Justin – Right now my role is changing. I’m not involved in the day to day; I don’t know what every campaign is running. I used to approve every piece of content being delivered. I can’t anymore. It’s just too much for my schedule, my travels, so it’s just instilling in my team kind of basic, kind of fundamental beliefs, and they have to just deliver against what we’ve built.
Deborah – And you’ve hired the right people to carry it out.
Justin – Absolutely, we’ve got a great team.
Deborah – So what are you working on?
Justin – So, mine is more large scale strategic partnerships. Right now it’s growing the business as the founder and CEO, and not the day to day. Larger strategic partnerships, meetings with the largest holding companies, and how do we bring this product to life for their entire portfolio. How can you bring this as a thought leadership thing coming to these kinds of things? Speaking at conferences is part of my day to day, building enterprise value in different ways, but really the larger strategic partnerships are my focus.
Deborah – Is there any particular industry that you’re looking at?
Justin – For us it’s across the board, but anyone that’s trying to target a millennial, we want to work with [them].
Deborah – It’s real millennial focused.
Justin – Very much so.
Lindsay – Do you find that because you’re young, like you founded the company when you were 25, do you find that when you meet with the decision makers at the biggest brands, movie studios, that that’s a barrier?
Justin – It used to be scary… I just had a thing with Pam Kaufman last week, the President and Chief Marketing Officer of Nickolodeon. She’s pretty high up there, controls a lot of money, and my meeting with her is over, and she sent me an email after, she was like, “This is amazing!” All this stuff, so… it used to be tough, but now… we’ve proven the value of our product and it’s easy to go in there and be like, look, this is what we’re doing, this is all the stuff we did, I can’t lie about this, this is what we did for other clients, you wanna be on board, you’re more than welcome, so…
Deborah – It’s a confidence builder when you’ve got a big track record coming in with you.
Justin – Yeah, I mean that’s the reality… we deliver, and I think that’s the differentiation in the industry. A lot of people talk… and we don’t have a lot of press. You Google us…
Lindsay – But the campaigns get press, which is awesome.
Deborah – You’re the man behind the man.
Justin – We don’t have a PR team, we try to be very quiet. We just wanna do great work.
Deborah – Have you made any big mistakes?
Justin – Every day.
Deborah – OK, what’s the biggest mistake that you’ve learned a really important lesson from that you wanna share?
Justin – I think the one thing that I’m seeing now is kind of sometimes growing too fast can be a really scary thing. You know, we’ve gone from being a really small core team of five people, to 25 in less than six months. So, that rapid growth, I think in some ways, I wasn’t ready to strategically do that, and I think that’s been a quote unquote failure… but I’m learning alot from it, and we’ve got 27 now… This is my third job, just to put it in perspective, so I’m learning every day… but we have a really great group of advisors, and a great group of a team around us, we’ve partnered with some of the largest strategic advisory firms in the world as our partners now to build it.
Deborah – In terms of your own business development…
Justin – I mean it’s really strategically advising on a larger scale. Like partnerships.
Deborah – I see, so your own success through process.
Justin – Absolutely. How do you scale?
Deborah – What’s the best piece of advice anyone’s given you?
Justin – Oh man. There’s a lot of great advice. The one thing, I don’t know if you’ve seen this on my wrist, this is a new thing. It’s a little thing, they’ll hammer you a saying into it, it says, “Be relentless.” I think that’s like a thing I tweet a lot, it’s a hashtag I use a lot… My dad was very focused on just be relentless on what you’re doing because that’s the only way that you’ll win this game… it’s about that long tail, so I think being relentless is probably one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received.
Deborah – And how long has your company been around?
Justin – 18 months. No a little bit longer. 19 months. We started in January 2014.
Deborah – That’s it? Holy s**t…. I’m surprised you’re not, what do you get the bends when you climb up too fast?
Justin – It’s a blessing.
Deborah – Hold on for the ride, right?
Justin – I’m just holding on for dear life.
Cammi Pham is the founder and partner along with Jessica Redmond at ThinkRenegade, a Toronto-based e-commerce and digital marketing agency. I met her at this year’s techsytalk LIVE when she sat on a panel about influencer marketing with TheAmplify’s Justin Rezvani and Lindsay Fultz, formerly with Chideo, now also at TheAmplify. When we spoke, I was struck by her enthusiasm for making smart and genuine connections with people backed by intense research and technical capability. Here’s our conversation:
Cammi – So we started out as an e-commerce marketing agency, and then as we grew, our clients kept asking us to get more into the business side, because we work on all the campaigns… we get to deal a lot more with the inventory, the shipping.. You need to pick the perfect shipping partner, because in the unboxing experience, when someone opens your package, that’s the first impression, and you need to get it right. Because people will take pictures, people will share online. So through time, we moved on from marketing and we [got] more into business and marketing, so now we can work for our clients, and we focus on e-commerce. That’s the only thing we do.
Deborah – Who are some of your clients?
Cammi – My clients are a lot of social e-commerce. So most of my clients donate anywhere from 5-50% of their profits to charity. Actually, it’s a niche we want. It feels good. It feels like you’re working for a non-profit.
Deborah – Is social enterprise the term in Canada like it is in the States?
Cammi – Yes. It’s great because every day when you work with people, you feel like you’re spreading the love. Because everything you do, someone will benefit from it.
Deborah – Right… How big is your company?
Cammi – It’s actually very small. We have four people.
Deborah – That’s small.
Cammi – It’s tiny!
Deborah – How long have you guys been around?
Cammi – We’ve been around for a little over a year.
Deborah – Aaah, so you’re new, like TheAmplify!
Cammi – It’s funny because I have never actually run an agency before, I’ve never worked in an agency before, I’ve always been on the client side. Suddenly I’m figuring everything out. How do I run a business? I have no idea! And I think one of the biggest things for us was, we picked the wrong partner from the start, and eventually, you know, it’s not the right fit. He’s an amazing person, however, it wasn’t the right fit.
Deborah – So you had to change…
Cammi – So we have to change. OK, we need to make sure that we hire really slow. We want to make sure that the person who’s coming in is the right fit, because it takes time to train people, it takes time to get the thing right, and that was our biggest mistake…
Deborah – Jill Drury talked about the mistake of keeping people on too long, even when you know they’re not a good fit. And she said that in the end, it doesn’t serve you and it doesn’t serve them, because it makes them less employable the next place they’re gonna go.
Cammi – And you’re wasting their time, because they could be somewhere else that they’re happy, and they’re going to add value to another company, which is better for the portfolio. We usually say hire slow, fire fast, if it’s a wrong fit… Actually I believe that even if it doesn’t work out for you, you should always try to go out and help that person to get the next job.
Deborah – Smart.
Cammi – You know why, because they will go out and will be your best ambassador; they will tell everyone. Because if it’s not the right fit for you doesn’t mean the person is not good. Just in the wrong company. Every company is different. It’s the same thing with my former business partner. He’s good, he’s running other businesses, doing really well there. It wasn’t the right fit. It’s very important.
Deborah – It sounds like you have a very coherent philosophy that guides your whole business – that speaks to me, that kind of generosity of spirit, but it’s sort of a pay it forward kind of mentality that breeds goodwill.
Cammi – It’s kind of how we started, because we work from the client side… and I realized that most of the agencies we work with right now, they don’t really care about the client. The way we structure our business right now… we want that people who work for us will have a life. They don’t work too late, and we want to make sure that our clients get something out of it too. At the end of the day, we want everyone to be happy. They actually have to enjoy what they do, because if they don’t, the content is gonna suck. It’s not gonna work.
One of our clients is Luv. The ones that donate 50%. Basically they are an online gift shop. They have a lot of jewelry, they have home decor, accessories, one of a kind gifts. We worked with them very closely from the start, and everything they do is for a good cause. 50% of their profit goes to charity. The first campaign they picked five different charities [for] children – UNICEF, War Child, Feed the Children, Save the Children, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada. And the next collection they’re going to support something different. And the other 50%, they are going to hire young people with disabilities who couldn’t get jobs. Also they give those jobs to entry level. So we actually work very close with them, actually training the employees to learn, to gain new skills. Even [though] we are an agency, it feels more like we are in-house, because we really try to grow the business with them.
Deborah – What kind of tools do you use for marketing?
Cammi – For marketing, I know a little coding, so we do a lot of reverse marketing. So for example, we run an ad campaign, I will collect data and analyze it and I compare all the past campaigns… So we learn, save you a lot of money… and time later on, so you don’t want to get it wrong…
Deborah – So the products you guys are marketing, are they clothing, furnishings?
Cammi – We do a lot of jewelry. It’s word of mouth a lot, with jewelry brands. From costume jewelry to fine jewelry come to us, because so far we’re doing well, and we know the market really well.
Deborah – Are you working internationally?
Cammi – Yeah, we work internationally… usually we try to stay in the US and Canada, because there’s a language barrier… Of course everything in international is e-commerce. Like we have clients contacting us, can you run an ad campaign for us in Berlin. I say I can’t run your company, I can’t run that campaign for you, it’s not the best for you. I tell my clients, you know we shouldn’t accept [just] any person who comes to us, because if you take the wrong client, you won’t have time for the right client.
Deborah – That’s right. I think that’s the lesson for every business person from the smallest entrepreneur to the largest business. I mean, I grapple with the same thing in my business. You know if someone comes, it’s like alright I need the work I’m taking it. You know, I’ve stuck myself with wrong clients and then I suffer through it.
Cammi – I hate doing that.
Deborah – I hate it. It just turns out to be a disaster.
Cammi – Another thing I think is that people usually undersell themselves, too.
Deborah – Especially women, I think. I find this a lot in the freelance writing community, anyway, because I have a big circle of freelance women writers, and there’s a huge amount of discussion about that. It’s kind of hard. Once you get past a certain threshold I think it’s equal, it’s just jumping over that threshold is hard for a lot of women. We have to kind of do a thing to our brains.
Cammi – I think we deal a lot with that oh, this takes this much amount of time for me to do this, so I can’t charge that much, which should be, if I do X, Y, Z, I’m going to increase revenue by this number, so how much should I charge for that? And a lot of time when you sit down with clients, it’s not about… so how much do you want to increase your revenue? When you talk in that way, they don’t feel you are expensive, because that’s what they want. OK, I have to pay X amount of money, if I’m going to get ten times more money.
Deborah – Exactly, it’s worth it. It’s totally worth it… Um, do you have a specific philosophy with regard to technology, since this is a tech conference? Is there a way that you sort of approach technology in how you incorporate it into your business?
Cammi – I feel that it’s a lot like the old fashioned way. Everything is exactly the same the way it is, it’s just that we have new tools. We have a lot of cool toys, and I think a lot of times people forget, oh yeah, we have this device, and it’s going to replace X, Y, Z. It may make your life easier, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have to do XYZ anymore… For social media, a lot of times people think that they don’t have to make relationships anymore, or that they don’t have to network. No, it just makes it easier for you to connect with people.
Deborah – Right. It doesn’t take the place of the foundational operation.
Cammi – Another thing I think is that… people sometimes think, I don’t want to automate things, and you actually have to automate if you want to move faster, quicker than everyone else. And you do have to take risk.
Deborah – Is there any big mistake that you’ve made that you learned something from, that you can talk about?
Cammi – I think the biggest one is to manage my energy. Figure out who’s the right client and which project to work on. [Not every campaign] is the right campaign to work on. And a lot of times a client is not the right fit.
Deborah – Do you find that clients are coming to you now or do you have to go seek out business?
Cammi – Actually so far, all clients are coming to us. We don’t actually do anything really. We are just dealing with all the referrals coming to us at the moment. And the way this is structured… We actually don’t want to grow too fast too quick, because we want to have a life, too… We want to build something small and alive. Everyone can do whatever they want – they can spend time with their families, they can travel, they can do what they want to, and that’s the way we want our company to grow.
Deborah – That’s great.
Cammi – We actually said, where do we want to go? Do we want to be a five people company or do we want to be 20 or 100 people? We don’t want to be too big. We want to focus on the people who mean the most to us and do a good job.
Deborah – Nice… So last question. Are there any lessons you’ve learned along the way from people? Advice that you’ve been given or advice that you feel you would like to share? Something you’ve learned?
Cammi – It’s important that people start learning, people start trying to improve themselves. It’s really important for you, because you have to learn everything. You have to learn how to sell. It doesn’t matter who you are. You always have to be your best person, you have to sell that to your future employees, you have to sell that to your clients, you have to sell it to everyone you’re working with. You need to learn to write or you cannot tell your story. You can hire a writer, but you still need to know how to tell your story… You always need to learn, especially if it’s technical. It’s changing every single day. A lot of times we wake up in the morning, OMG, something changed, and we have a 10am meeting with a client. OK, we have half an hour, we have to figure this out… because the client knows that, they get notification, and they’re gonna ask, and you’re going to have to tell them, so you always have to learn… I think one of the things a lot of people don’t do is they don’t read. Everyone’s saying I’m busy, I’m busy. Everyone. Right. If you work 16 hours a day. But think this way, if someone spends their entire life to write a book, to put all the lessons they learned down on paper, and it costs maybe $20, to learn all that…
Deborah – Why not get that?
Cammi – So a lot of times people want to say fail fast and fail a lot. I don’t agree with that. I say, try to get it right the first time you do it. Because you don’t have to fail to learn the lesson. You can steal the lesson from someone else. They already failed, they already [did] that… So I feel that people need to get into reading more, need to actually talk to people who have done it before, and try to avoid failing, because why do you need to fail? The point is to learn the lesson, but if you can learn the lesson without failing…
Deborah – You’re the first who’s said that. That’s awesome. I kind of like your way better, actually, it’s so much less painful.
Cammi – No, it’s true, a lot of them, we would call people.
Deborah – Why didn’t I think of that? No, we have to fail and punish ourselves first and self-flagellate, and that’s how we learn, it’s painful.
Cammi – You don’t need to fail. Also, if you do things the wrong way, it takes forever to fix it.
Deborah – Oh, it takes so long.
Cammi – So, do it slow and get it right the first time.
Deborah – Yeah. Be careful. I like that. That’s a great note to end on. I love it. Thank you.
Sarah Vaynerman is the Founder and CEO of Work From Om, “a NYC-based workplace wellness company that brings yoga, meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques to the office and corporate events.” At this year’s techsytalk LIVE conference, Sarah led a short, guided meditation for the attendees, to give us a taste of what she does with her clients. Afterwards, she and I sat down for a chat about the benefits of meditation in our high-tech world:
Sarah – Especially with tech startups, anyone who’s working in any sort of always-on environment, which is almost everybody these days, it helps so much. Even if it’s just to take 1,2,3 minutes, when you’re really feeling like you have a hundred million thoughts flying around your head, and you’re reaching for one and before you know it you feel like you’ve gotta grab this one, and you’re all over the place… if you just close your eyes and kind of forget about all of this, center yourself, all of a sudden you’re able to prioritize – now that’s what I gotta do, that’s what I gotta do.
Deborah – Yeah, I love meditation for that, it’s just great… Tell me a little about your company.
S – So Work from Om is a little over a year old, formally – the LLC was formed in the end of May, 2014… It started as a Pinterest page, believe it or not. So what happened was, I finished my yoga teacher training, I was doing marketing consulting at the time, I still do because I don’t make enough money doing this yet…
D – Haha – nobody does. I mean yoga and meditation is a hard field to make a living at…
S – What I found is that after I did my yoga teacher training, I wasn’t as stressed even at work. It just kind of translated to the way I was dealing with clients, and my output, my performance, my creativity. I just felt lighter, and I felt like things were easier.
I think in this day and age, people think you’ve got to be going 110% all the time, you’ve got to be up till midnight, you’ve got to wake up at 6, and you’ve got to hammer through everything. I found that as soon as I kind of switched perspectives, I actually started to do better work. And, when I noticed that, I started to Google online, I became really passionately curious about [finding] any research that shows… that this is what’s happening. And sure enough, there was so much of it, but it was all kind of just starting to come into light. I think now you hear more about it. But a year and a half ago, last February, when I Iiterally started this Pinterest page, it was just starting to become really a popular concept.
Before I knew it, I was reading articles in the Wall Street Journal and in Psychology Today and in the NY Times and the Washington Post and the Economist and Financial Times, and very shortly after, the Dalai Lama was speaking at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC, and he started talking about the role of mindfulness and compassion in business. I think it was Jamie Dimon was there with him, and I’m like, I gotta learn more about this.
So I called my Pinterest page Work from Om, and I thought it was cute, and people were like, that’s so clever. I’m 30 years old, I live in New York, and all my friends work 14-hour days. So I started to work with just referrals, people I knew, and before I knew it, I started to realize that this was bigger than teaching a private yoga session in a corner office. And that’s kind of where I said OK, I’m going to make this into a real business. I started to package some offerings, and market myself…
D – So are you still doing your marketing work?
S – Yeah definitely, in a minimized capacity. I think I’ll probably have to give it up entirely soon.
D – Good. It’s a good sign, I think.
S – It’s a good sign because I’m getting a lot of leads and I’m getting a lot of visibility. I’ve never been a sales person ever, and I’m not good with numbers, so that’s been my biggest challenge, figuring out OK, I have this many contacts, I need to email them this many times a month, I need to do an offering, I need to do an event, and I have to keep doing it. Because I can’t just say OK, I’m going to have one event, and I’m going to do one thing… you’ve gotta keep people’s attention, you’ve gotta stay out there…
D – Do you have a team or is it just you operating by yourself right now?
S – So, I’m the sole owner of the company. I work with a few contractors – yoga teachers, meditation guides, life coaches…
D – Do you have an administrative team or are you just handling it all by yourself?
S – I’m handling it all by myself.
D – Yeah, you’re like me – solo entrepreneur.
S – Yeah, for now.
D – It’s challenging, isn’t it?
S – It’s really, really challenging, actually. I just saw somebody in the ladies room who had asked me how has the first year been going, and… not that I never really thought about it, but no stranger has ever asked me that, so I’m like, you know it’s been a huge learning experience.
D – Yeah, huge learning curve, I know.
S – More than anything, it’s been a huge learning experience. The thing that I’ve learned the most, and thank goodness that I’m a yogi, is that as long as I want the business to be successful, it’s never going to end. There’s always going to be a problem, every single day. Every single day I’m gonna have a problem. Maybe not a big problem, but that’s just what happens.
D – That’s the nature of business. And what a wonderful opportunity to be yogic in your approach to business, to apply those principles.
S – And that’s been really helpful for me, because I don’t get as stressed out about it as I think a lot of other people do. I can laugh things off.
D – I think a lot of people get very bogged down by the annoyances and the problems, and they personalize them and they grind their guts about them. You know what, if you have a bigger picture, and you’re really looking forward, you just… you have to pick and choose your battles and keep a perspective.
S – And like today, I’m having a great day! I’m so happy to be here, I’m so happy that I was able to do the meditation, so today is a good day. Another day is not gonna be a good day.
D – Today’s a good day – great exposure, great industry, I mean the event industry is a great industry, not only for you as a practitioner to work with people directly, but also through their events, to do meditation demonstrations or meditation sessions as part of events, and let’s say retreats, corporate retreats… there’s so much possibility. This is a great crowd. I’ve known Liz for a number of years, and I’ve been attending this conference since it started, and I can tell you that the spirit of the LKE team just attracts great people.
S – Yeah, they are so amazing… I met Liz, Ed and Kelly a year and a half ago, before I started the business, because I work with Offsite, which is a meeting space.
D – Is that who you do marketing for?
S – Yeah.
D – I love it.
S – And they said to me, you know, this is an industry you might want to look at, for your yoga stuff, and I thought yeah, you’re probably right, but I want to meet with Liz and Ed and Kelly first. I had drinks with them, and I said so here’s what I’m into lately, what do you think?
D – And they were like…
S – They really, really, truly gave me that push, in all seriousness.
D – They’re great, I love that story. That’s sort of a testament to the power of networking. And relationship building, and really understanding just how much this industry is relationship driven, and really understanding when to move on the opportunities that we get presented… What is your philosophy about your work with relation to technology?
S – So, that’s a really good question. I love technology. Before I ever took a yoga class, that is what I was about – social media, technology, content blogging. I was consulting, mostly in digital marketing, and I built my own website. I do my own marketing, I do my own social media to this day. So, I think it is really important. But I can also attest to how information overload and technology overload can be really detrimental to your mental, even physical health. I think it’s so important to shut down an hour before you go to bed. And I know everyone knows that in theory, but nobody does it. I don’t even always do it. But when I do? OMG, the difference it makes the next day. Even if I’m not in bed until midnight, but at 11:00 I turn off my TV and I put my phone on airplane mode. If I do that, and I get the same amount of sleep as if I was lying in bed there on Instagram, until I went cross-eyed and fell asleep – world of difference.
D – Huge.
S – And there’s a lot of stats out there that talk about this. You know we’re always multi-tasking, because it’s like oh, I got an email, oh, I got a notification, oh, I got a call, and you’re expected to be always on. Fifteen years ago, somebody would leave you a voicemail, you’d call them back, maybe the next day. Now you can text people, you can see if they read your message…
D – It’s insane.
S – It’s crazy, your brain is being pulled in a million different directions, and the truth is, we don’t have any more time today than we had 20 years ago, but we have so much more demand for our attention. People say, oh, I’m a good multitasker. No you’re not.
D – Nobody is.
S – Nobody is a good multitasker, and actually, multitasking is a collective delusion. We task switch, and you can lose up to 40% of your productivity that way than if you just stick to one thing and follow through. What I like to recommend is, alright you have a project that you think will take two hours to do, you really don’t think you can do all of it in two hours, ok give it a half hour. Turn off your email. Give it a half hour – focus, focus, focus, then take three minutes, do a little breathing meditation, and then take a 20 minute break, catch up on your emails, do another very quick meditation, and go back to your project.
D – That makes sense.
S – Because our brains can’t handle all of this ding, ding, ding, ding… You know, every time you get a notification, it’s actually a chemical reaction that happens in our brain. Our dopamine receptors are being triggered. Because what happens is, oh, I got a Like, oh, I got an email, and then what we do is we sit there waiting for it, like on edge, because it quite literally messes with our serotonin levels and our dopamine levels, because we’re waiting for that response.
D – That satisfaction.
S – Yeah, and it’s a totally false sense of fulfillment, you know, and it’s really bad.
D – This is really important, the stuff you’re talking about. Nobody else here is talking about this, because this is your wheelhouse, but I think it’s a very important thing for people to understand. I was thinking about that this week for myself, that it’s gotten worse, and I feel almost like I need to go to AA for social media or something.
S – Yeah!
D – That’s what it feels like, at times. I blog and post in different places, and I’m involved in different platforms, not only for my own work but for clients, and it’s just like, jumping around, and at a certain point I just feel like a crazy person.
S – And I started feeling that way too, and I think that’s part of the reason… you know I started yoga not as an accident. I started yoga because I was extremely stressed out. And I didn’t know why I was stressed out. I didn’t. I mean I wasn’t blaming work or home or anything. I was just, OMG I’m going nuts, and only after I realized that yoga was helping me with stress did I realize why. It was because when I go into a yoga class, I put my phone away. People go to the gym and they’re on their iPads. You go into a yoga class, nobody’s on their phone.
D – It’s a phone free zone. It makes a difference.
S – I mean it really, really, truly does.
D – I know, I always feel altered after I take a yoga class. It’s like oh, this is how I want to be. And I’m sure you can relate to this. There’s been so many times when I’ve just gotten on that mat, and I’ve practically cried with relief.
S – Because you feel like you’re in a box, and nobody can see you, nobody can bother you, you’re in a safe place, and that’s it.
D – And you can just be with yourself and hear your own thoughts and feelings and feel your heartbeat and just be with yourself. It’s a nice thing to have. What’s next for you at this point? Have there been any mistakes you’ve learned from and what about new directions you want to go in?
S – So the thing we were just talking about with the idea of a digital detox, I am so passionate about.
D – I love that idea.
S – And it’s not that that’s where I see myself going, but I see that as being a cornerstone of what we offer to businesses, because I think it’s starting to really come into light that employees are just too stressed out, and that being always on is actually not good for us.
D – That’s a real need. That service would be filling a real need, I think.
S – And I think to teach people how to do that, and that it’s OK… I mean people are afraid to be without their phone for five minutes.
D – Tell me about it.
S – Now there is so much research coming out that shows just how problematic our lifestyles are, and how beneficial even taking small steps to counteract that constant influx of information [can be]. How do you organize that in your head, and how do you deal with it, and how do you prioritize it? There’s so much research now saying that honestly, meditate. Meditate. It’ll lower your blood pressure. It’ll increase your relaxation response. It’ll help you think more clearly.
You know I mentioned it in our session, but there was this study where they went for eight weeks, I think it was 10 minutes a day, that may even be more than what the study showed, but they had a non-meditating group and a meditating group, and the meditating group, the parts of their brain that are responsible for focus, attention, decision making… became much, much thicker.
D – That makes total sense to me.
S – It’s like a nap for your brain. You’re strengthening your focus muscle, because if you’re sitting there and you’re breathing, and you’re saying ok, I’m really thinking about how this air feels coming into my nose, and I’m really feeling the energy of my skin here, and you’re able to focus without anything else, you’re essentially strengthening your focus muscle. Just like anything else, it’s like going to the gym for your brain. And I think that’s really important for people, because I think communication is obviously so important, I mean it’s not going anywhere, but there has to be an antidote to it. And for me – I have my eye on that.
D – Good. I’m glad to hear that. Any big mistakes or big lessons you’ve learned?
S – Yes, a lot of lessons and definitely a lot of mistakes.
D – Give me one in particular that stands out as teaching you something really important.
S – Well, I think that… it’s funny, because as I say all this stuff, I think that for me, I need to become a stronger businessperson. I give so much away for free, and it’s fine, and my contracts aren’t airtight, and I’m not easy to push around, and I’m a pretty assertive person, but it’s funny because ever since I got really into yoga and meditation, I don’t want anyone stressing me out, so I’m like ok, whatever, whatever, whatever. And so that’s a lesson I learned that even with the om, there still has to be a time where you put your business hat on and you say no, I insist this way.
You know somebody called me the other day from a really, really trendy startup, and so excited, and she wants to work with us, da da da, and how does it work? Do I get a complimentary session to start with? And I’ve given a lot of complimentary sessions to start with – I’ve never been asked for a complimentary session. It’s always been something I offer when I feel like somebody is maybe on the fence. And I said no, I can give you an introductory rate, and after I hung up, I thought, OMG, I’m never going to get that business, and I still might not, but I felt like good, that’s what I should have done. And it’s what I’m going to do every time somebody asks me, so how does it work, do you give everybody a free session?
D – No, this isn’t about freebies… People who ask for freebies aren’t interested in paying. They demonstrate right from the beginning that they just are looking for something for free. They want a free taste. That’s like when you walk into the frozen yogurt place and you want a free taste. You really mostly want a free taste, you’re not necessarily buying.
S – Right.
D – Let’s just be honest about it.
S – And I think the lesson there is to know, to feel confident in what my service is and what it’s worth.
D – Absolutely.
S – I know it’s worth something.
And so, in the true spirit of yoga and meditation, Sarah demonstrated the need to maintain the balance between a spirit of generosity and giving, and the exigencies of running a smart business. The kind of self-care and nourishing that we require to maintain our own internal balance is essential, if we are to keep up with our fast-paced professional lives. Thank goodness we have people like Sarah with services like Work From Om to help keep us on track.
My first temp position out of college was working as a bookkeeper for a photographer’s agent in NYC. Although I had never been a bookkeeper before, I was good at math and thought, how hard could it be? The first day I showed up at the office, my boss handed me a shoebox full of receipts and a column pad and said, do something with this. So I did. And I was right, it wasn’t that hard.
Before long, I was mapping out her income and expenses with ease, so reconciling the monthly bank statement also became part of my job. I began to notice some discrepancies with one of the expenses – the weekly paychecks for my co-worker, the office manager. I discovered she had been writing extra paychecks for herself. When I reported it to my employer, she was fired and brought up on charges. And that’s how I got my first promotion.
In my next office job managing an alternative health care practice, which lasted well over a decade, I started out doing handwritten expenses and payroll for our three person team. By the time I left that position, I was overseeing electronic payroll for a staff of eight, patient and staff scheduling, medical billing, inventory as well as employee benefits, hiring & firing, plus all marketing and outreach including newsletters, health fairs and other promotional campaigns.
If you stay in a position long enough, presuming there is a need and you are willing to do what it takes, you can learn nearly any skill you need to learn. This is one good reason (besides financial stability) why people stay in jobs for long periods of time. If a position offers the opportunity to learn new skills, it keeps it challenging and interesting. But there are some things to remember when learning new skills on the job:
Ask Lots of Questions
It’s one thing to be confident. It’s another to act like you know what you’re doing when you don’t. There’s no shame in “not knowing.” In fact, how can you actually learn anything if you already “know” everything? I was lucky to work side by side with a great accountant who taught me a lot about small business management, budgeting and financial planning, as I prepared the books for him year after year. It felt good to be a perpetual student under his tutelage. The knowledge I gained in that position has benefitted me to this day.
Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes
Making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn. It teaches you to think on your feet, to solve problems and to try new ideas. The most important thing about making mistakes is to LEARN from them. If you are growing your knowledge base and taking on new responsibilities, most employers will extend a certain amount of latitude as you exercise your learning curve. Where they may run out of patience, though, is if they see you making the same mistake over and over. Learn your lessons, and make adjustments. Making mistakes becomes a waste of time if you don’t grow from the experience.
The Extra Challenge for Freelancers
If you’re self-employed, learning new skills on the job is even more challenging. Without a direct supervisor or a manager, it’s really all on you to implement new knowledge and techniques into your regular routine. This is where a good circle of colleagues is essential. I find that having a strong community of industry professionals is the best way to stay on top of the latest productivity tools and other practical information. Educational and networking events like techsytalk LIVE are a great way to stay on top of the latest developments and share information with your peers. You may find that you have as much to teach as you do to learn. Staying in the flow of this kind of exchange will keep your business fresh and enlivened by strong relationships.
Before you go accusing me of living in a dream world (which is a different discussion altogether), let’s talk about this in a practical, level headed way. If you’re an entrepreneur, you have already made the decision to live outside a more conventional 9-5, report to a manager, work your way up the food chain kind of existence. You are pursuing your own vision, or dare I say, a dream. So how much of a stretch is it to suggest that you craft your job to only include things you love to do?
You know that the lifestyle you’ve chosen is going to be challenging. You will have to distinguish yourself in the marketplace, cultivate a following of supporters, clients, customers, fans and other enthusiasts. You are working to attract investors or sponsors. You will need collaborators and other team members. If you want to be in a position to manage all these relationships, then you better get clear about your role in all of this. That means focusing on doing your best work so you can shine.
HOW CAN YOU SHINE IF YOU’RE MISERABLE?
You can’t. Don’t even try. OK, I know what you’re thinking. If you’re starting out by yourself or maybe with a partner or small team, chances are you are going to have to manage some unpleasant tasks right now, while you gather momentum. You need to get your income earning operations sorted out, and then you can think about delegating. So yes, you may have to endure some of your less favorite activities for a while during the start-up phase. But in the meantime, you can be tracking a path to creating the job description that works best for you.
UNDERSTAND YOUR STRENGTHS
If you get a charge out of developing new products and strategies for growth, then congratulations, you chose well in becoming an entrepreneur. Now you need to maximize your potential for happiness and success by understanding what you do best. What things come easy to you? What part of your work makes you most excited?
Now let’s dig a little deeper. Are you more of a creative or an administrator? Do you get more excited by the financial strategy or the language you develop for your website? Are you more comfortable at networking parties or in late night sessions with a tech team? Once you understand where you best fit in the process, you’re ready to develop your team.
BUILD A STRONG, COLLABORATIVE SUPPORT TEAM
Once you understand your ideal role, you can be thoughtful about choosing the right people to work with you to realize your goals. You may already have a partner or a small team, or perhaps you are getting ready to choose them. You’ll eventually need support staff as well as outside collaborators.
In developing all of these relationships, remember that you must always protect the integrity of your positive experience. All of your choices should support your happiness, so that you can remain passionate and motivated to continue the hard work of building your business. Happiness is not optional – it’s required!!
Every year, BizBash presents BizBash Live: The Expo in four cities around the country. It is certainly one of the pre-eminent industry events here in NYC. This year’s event on October 27th at the Jacob Javits Center was no exception. From its educational forums to the wide selection of vendors featured in the tradeshow, there is always something exciting happening there.
From the moment I arrived, I knew I was in for a total, immersive experience. Approaching the North Hall from the center’s main lobby, I was drawn in by the pulse of an upright bass and a gently crooning, velvety female voice. Tenderly arranged jazz standards (by the duo, Acute Inflections) beckoned me to enter past a sea of signs, all tagged #PLANNERPROBLEMS, with phrases like, “So sick of trends,” “Kale… that’s so three years ago,” and “We love big ballrooms.” I was entertained before I even picked up my badge.
I spent my time wandering around the tradeshow floor, sampling everything from crab ceviche, courtesy of Sweet Hospitality Group (yummy!) to Tipsy Scoop’s dark chocolate whiskey salted caramel ice cream (and yes it has real whiskey in it). But when I wasn’t eating, I was taking note of some fantastic new things that have come to our industry. Here are my top three faves:
Winner of this year’s BizBash Event Style Award for Best New Event Product, Catchbox is a throwable microphone, housed in a lightweight foam box. Capable of connecting to your wireless transmitter or available with its own complete system, the Catchbox offers users a fun way to engage with one another by giving them something they can easily toss around during an audience Q & A session. The foam covers are easy to remove and can be custom branded. The product of two years of research and development by a group of students from Finland, Catchbox is an ingenious solution to a long standing problem. It was easily my favorite discovery of the day.
A new offering from the BizBash team that is set to roll out in 2016, Live Gathering tools will be an online, virtual tradeshow showcasing the best in event technology and innovation. It will also feature live, talk-show type events to demo new products hosted by none other than BizBash founder David Adler, along with a variety of guest hosts. For vendors, this will be an amazing opportunity to present on a global scale at a yearly rate comparable to the cost of many actual trade shows. Given the deep traction of the BizBash brand, this one could easily be an industry game changer.
In NYC’s lower east side, master pizza maker Mark Bello has established a store-front pizza making school that offers individual and group pizza-making classes. Given top marks for taste by everyone from Food & Wine Magazine to the Village Voice, Pizza a Casa Pizza School makes me wonder why anyone would want to do anything else for their small parties, meetings, team-building events and departmental holiday parties. I mean, people, it’s pizza. What else is there to say?
Cort Furniture Rental
Although it doesn’t necessarily qualify as a discovery, I absolutely loved the lounge furniture wired with charging stations. Nothing like a couch that comes complete with its own selection of cables to fit any device. Honestly, when it comes to big events, it’s the little things that often make the most difference.
It’s time for a little review. Remember those people who hire you to plan events for them? That’s right, the customers, also known as your clients. They are the reason you are in business. So let’s make sure we are treating them properly, shall we?
You set the tone from day one by sharing clear and accurate information. When you create your proposal, make sure it’s specific and detailed. Be precise about what you are committing to provide, and make sure to follow through. Don’t overpromise on something you can’t deliver.
Take the time to review your proposal thoroughly with your client before he or she signs off on it. Answer all questions and clarify anything that may seem confusing. The more thorough you are up front, the more you will avoid misunderstandings down the road.
KNOW YOUR CLIENT’S TEAM
Obviously, there’s a wide range of possibilities here as far as the type of client you are dealing with, and how to manage the chain of communication. The important thing is to make sure you know who all the players are on your client’s team. This includes the final decision maker, the troubleshooting point person – usually a resident techie, and the support staff who facilitate all operations. Understanding the difference between the people with whom you will be collaborating, the ones who can offer assistance on a multitude of tasks and the ones to whom you are ultimately reporting is critical.
We all know that planning an event is a fluid process. Some have used the phrase, “controlled chaos.” Regardless of how you choose to describe our lovely industry, things often change over the course of planning and producing an event. How you manage these changes and communicate about them with your client can make or break your working relationship.
Perhaps one of your vendors is no longer available, or your supplier has run out of stock on key items you need. It’s time for a contingency plan. Any time something changes in your production plan, you’ll need to assess how much of this to share with your client.
For example, if the box truss you ordered is not available from your usual supplier, as long as you can obtain it in time for load-in from another source, you don’t need to bother your client with the details. You may even be able to get away with substituting a different type of truss, depending on its intended usage and the overall set-up of your venue. However, if you simply can’t obtain the supplies you need, and this entails a fundamental change in the technical set-up of your event, then you and your client may have to work together to brainstorm a solution.
THE WINDS OF FORTUNE
Sometimes they blow in your favor, and sometimes they don’t. When things go wrong at your event, you have a marvelous opportunity to bond with your client as you navigate the adversity together. Perhaps inclement weather rolls in at the last minute. Your keynote speaker’s flight has been delayed and attendance is down. Your contingency plan should always include a way to work around obstacles with good humor, and refocus on the positive aspects of your situation. Maybe less people attend, but that leaves more opportunity to facilitate some personal introductions between key attendees.
There is always a bright side to any situation. Your job, in addition to managing the million and one details that go into creating every event, is to solve problems as quickly as possible (and with a minimum amount of bloodshed), and make sure you direct your client’s focus to what is working properly and going well. It doesn’t hurt to be quick on your feet and maintain your sense of humor, especially if you are forced to put out unexpected fires. Remember, don’t panic. You’ve got this.
For freelancers, one of the biggest challenges is distinguishing ourselves in the marketplace. With so many of us choosing to become entrepreneurs, opting out of more traditional corporate or otherwise structured office positions, the pressure is on us to make the prospect of working with us seem desirable. One essential way we can do this is by incorporating as much creativity as possible.
When we invoke our imagination and our original ideas and incorporate them into our work, we create a unique identity that can’t be easily replicated. It’s important to remember that we each have the capability to do this, and no two people will apply their creativity in just the same way.
Here are a couple of ideas for bringing creativity to the table. Perhaps they will stimulate your imagination to come up with some ideas of your own:
CREATIVITY IN DESIGN
One of the more obvious ways you can incorporate creativity into your work is through your over-all visual design. Regardless of whether or not you hire a graphic designer or other artists to lend their talents to the development of your visual brand, you have the opportunity to make your personal presence felt in every aspect of your public presence. Colors, font choices, images, graphics – all of these can and should reflect some aspect of you. The more original, the better.
CREATIVITY IN WORK STYLE
Every time you execute a project, develop a product or interact with a client, you are expressing your creativity in the way that you work. It’s important to understand this so you can embrace every opportunity to show your creativity in the way that you do things. Sure, there are industry standards and practices that you follow, but even within whatever guidelines you operate, there is room to include your own stamp of individuality.
Here’s a great example. As any of you who have attended techsytalk LIVE know, the Liz King Events team has a certain way of doing things that is very recognizable. They are all pretty easygoing and fun-loving people, prone to wearing bright colors and crazy glasses, and will generally encourage silliness wherever possible.
This leads to some interesting choices, such as at the conference a few years ago, when they featured an auction where prizes could be won by bidding with Monopoly money, which could only be earned by exchanging personal details about the lives of other attendees that they had learned from one another. Really juicy gossip earned a higher premium! As an ice-breaking exercise it was wildly fun and memorable – a creative way to encourage people to get to know one another. (Disclosure – yes, it was me and my colleague Patricia who ran that game, and we shared more laughs with more people that day than I can remember.)
CREATIVITY IN COMMUNICATION
You have the opportunity to express yourself creatively in every phone call, email, social media post, or old-fashioned letter that you send. Perhaps you have a particular kind of signature you like to use. Maybe you include some of your favorite quotes. Maybe you change them on a regular basis. Perhaps you prefer to send handwritten thank you notes. Maybe you like to post certain kinds of recipes or share information about your favorite bands. I have learned a lot about industry colleagues from the personal things they include in blog posts or the things they share on Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes, these things have inspired me to want to engage with them further.
The bottom line is, as you are working to develop your professional relationships, there are many ways to incorporate your own creativity as a way to shine more brightly as the unique individual you are. The more you are willing to do this, the more you will attract the right clients and colleagues to you – the ones who resonate to the things you are sharing and feel an affinity towards you as an individual. This is one of the great foundations for building authentic relationships – one of the building blocks of modern commerce.