If you had your pick of any clients, assuming they all paid well and on time, you’d probably want to work with the ones who were the most fun. As any business person knows, having clients with whom you enjoy a smooth working relationship can make a world of difference to your quality of life. Here are a few ideas on how to pick the clients that will not only up your happiness quotient, but will contribute to you building a strong and distinct brand for your business.
Don’t Be Afraid to Specialize
I used to work in the field of holistic health, managing an acupuncture office. Over the years, I became acquainted with many complementary healthcare practitioners. We had a list of people we would refer patients to for specific complaints – sports injuries, fertility, digestive problems, addiction. Every acupuncturist I know has a certain group of conditions that he or she feels drawn to treating. They develop a resonance and a rhythm with treating those conditions. Their patients recommend their friends and colleagues who suffer with similar symptoms, and they also receive good treatment. And that’s how practitioners develop a specialty.
The same is true for event planners and other service related entrepreneurs. On paper, ten planners may be equally suited on a technical level to manage a big event. The reality is, each one of those planners has a different temperament and a distinct set of skills that suit them to working with specific types of people and situations. Learn what you are specifically good at doing. Perhaps you enjoy creating really beautiful, intimate events in people’s homes. Maybe you are better suited to large scale business conferences. Follow your successes, and you will begin to understand who your people are, and how to deliver what they want.
Go for the Ideal Situation
We often hear talk of pursuing our passion, as a kind of mantra for creating our ideal business. This is not just hyperbole – it’s a practical method to developing a successful enterprise. Years ago, I learned this fundamental rule of documentary filmmaking: If you don’t absolutely HAVE to make this film (like, it’s burning in your soul), don’t do it. Because your project is going to be an uphill battle with one challenge after another, and if you aren’t truly committed to making it happen, you’re going to give it up once the pressure hits.
Running your own business is kind of like that. Every time you think you know what you’re doing, you will be faced with a new challenge, a new learning curve, a new test of your will to succeed. Why stack the deck against yourself with clients who are either unpleasant to be around or have a project that does not excite you? Unless you are being paid a boatload of money, have nerves of steel, and a really great way to blow off steam at the end of the day that doesn’t land you in jail, detox or family court (in which case, more power to you), then I suggest that you set your sights on working with clients who you really enjoy and whose projects you find stimulating in some way.
Pay Attention to the Dynamics of Your Relationship
Some clients are looking for a collaborator. Some clients are looking for hired help. Make sure you understand the difference, and that you and your client are on the same page. This one is really important. As long as you understand the role you are being hired to play, and you are cool with what is being asked of you, then things will go well. However, if you go into a working situation thinking you have a collaborative partner, but your client is more interested in just having you complete their checklist, then you are going to be in for plenty of conflict.
* * * * * * *
There’s nothing worse than having unhappiness embedded in the fabric of your work. Remember, as much as you are trying to get clients to hire you, you are also looking to choose the best clients for you. Setting goals about the kind of people you want to deal with and the types of projects you wish to undertake is an essential part of taking control of your business.
In the event planning world, as in most other entrepreneurial industries, the field is crowded with people trying to make a name for themselves. With so many people doing the same type of work that you do, how can you distinguish yourself from the pack and become known for the unique things you have to offer?
Focus on Doing Your Best
One of my favorite recent quotes on this very subject comes from the conversation I had with magician and mentalist, Max Major, at this year’s techsytalk LIVE. When I asked him what made him unique, he had this to say: “Well, I could tell you the differences between me and other people, but the bottom line is that actually it doesn’t matter…You’re not competing against someone else. Someone isn’t hiring you or them, they’re choosing to work with you because they have a personal relationship with you and believe in the work you do, so you do good work, and you have your own client base. It has nothing to do with other people.”
The most basic way to shine in your industry is to do fantastic work. Plain and simple. We can talk about your website, your social media platforms, your beautiful graphics and your messaging until we’re blue in the face. But if your work stinks, who really cares? The rest is just window dressing. Do your best. Let your good work speak for itself.
Build Authentic Relationships
When people choose to work with you, they understand that you are going to be logging some hours together. This means they’d better like spending time with you, or at the very least, be able to get along well enough to negotiate terms, discuss job parameters, and depending on the nature of your work, collaborate and/or problem solve as needed.
Successfully navigating these kinds of experiences with a client is the foundation of building a strong professional relationship. Keeping a positive mood, managing changes and unexpected circumstances with patience and a cool head and in general, keeping the stress level to a minimum are all skills that will help you in this regard. If you find yourself getting into arguments with clients or experiencing frequent or uncomfortable moments of disagreement, then you may have to brush up on some of your interpersonal skills.
It may seem like overstating the obvious to say this, but if people don’t like you, they probably won’t want to work with you. Unless you are the most brilliant and sought after person in your field, in which case, you don’t really need to be reading this article, do you…
Accentuate Your Quirks
Be yourself, in all of your strangeness. To really shine in this world, you’ll need to embrace who you are and be proud to share it with others. No one expects you to be perfect. There’s no such thing, anyway. We’re all a little weird, and hopefully we’re all growing and learning, all the time. The important thing is that you engage others with confidence so that they can truly evaluate what you bring to the table. Once you decide to move forward as the real you, all of that other stuff – the graphics, the messaging, the online identity – it will all flow naturally. Give it a try and see what happens. You might be surprised at the results!
By now you’ve all gotten the memo that having lots of key words in your online content is no longer the golden ticket to achieving robust SEO. Sure, it’s part of the picture, but certainly not the whole thing. At least as important as the long and short tails is the level of engagement you produce with your blog posts, status updates and tweets.
MAKING STRONG CONNECTIONS WITH YOUR VISITORS
If you want people to be able to find you online, then you better be generating some conversations in social media. This together with the relevant search terms embedded in your copy is the combination that will get you top placement when people look for you on Google or other search engines. This means that the content you create on your business website is so good that people are commenting on it, sharing the link with their friends and colleagues and then talking about it some more on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube.
Gone are the days when your website could feature a company statement, staff bios, client list, a couple of pictures and call it a day. These days, people expect something a little more thought provoking or interactive, and rightfully so! There are more options now for engaging your site’s visitors than ever before.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT CONTENT
You have the power to set the tone on your website, through the type of content you choose to feature there. For example, the content can be authoritative and informative, such as a white paper. If you want to be known for your industry expertise, then consider authoring a white paper that lets people in on a specific aspect of your industry. Choose a topic that excites you and has the potential to attract the type of people you’d welcome as clients. Demonstrating expertise is important for high level consulting positions and speaking engagements.
Understand that the content you share is a conversation starter. If your business depends on a more personal level of interaction, you may want to develop blog posts that are anecdotal in nature. Sharing your own experiences is a great way to find people with common interests who are likely to interact easily with you. This kind of relateability is helpful to cultivate if your service is individualized, such as graphic or interior design, healing or medical care, or private event planning. The people who hire you will want to feel connected with you in some way that fosters trust and understanding, two key elements in building a relationship with your client.
If you are in any kind of creative field, then your website is your opportunity to show the world your best stuff. Think of your site as your online gallery. Offer your visitors an immersive experience that they won’t soon forget! Images, video, music, audio links – honestly, there’s no limit to the type of content you can share.
Don’t be afraid to take risks! You want to generate a buzz that will get people talking in all the places they hang out online. Use humor! Be surprising! The rules of online engagement are changing all the time. You never know what is going to catch people’s attention, so you might as well have some fun experimenting, especially if you are offering innovative products or services. If you want to distinguish yourself online, take the time to make your website shine with material that speaks to the heart of you and your company. It may be an electronic medium, but you still have to get someone interested enough in you and your services that they want to have a real life conversation with you.
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.
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!!
We put out the call for complete and utter UGLY and you guys really BROUGHT IT for the NYC event Hustlers! We were super honored to ring in the holiday season with such a poorly dressed bunch!
A gracious shout out to our sponsors: MEET for hosting us; ANTICO NOÈ & DŌ for feeding us; LIQS for watering us; MAGENCY DIGITAL for entertaining us, WHOSEVENT Booth for capturing our silly and ALLSEATED for providing the Grand Prize for our Ugly Sweater contest. You guys ROCKED IT!
Let the holiday mayhem begin!
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.
If it’s true that the greatest companies are founded on their ability to fill an important need, then InitLive has indeed carved out a great place for itself in the event industry. Founder Debbie Pinard has designed a mobile device app and cloud service for managing staff and volunteers at events. Its interface is practical, sleek and user-friendly, and it is poised to be further developed in a number of useful directions.
InitLive was one of the exhibitors at this year’s techsytalk LIVE event in August. Debbie and I spoke about the development of InitLive out of her long career of PBX phone system development, including over 50 patented inventions.
Deborah Oster Pannell – What types of things have you patented?
Debbie Pinard – When I was working at MITEL, which is a PBX company, it all had to do with call control and features and things for the PBX, but for InitLive I filed four – one of them is on the architecture and the way that we get to the group of people to communicate with… So basically when you’re in the middle of an event on event day, and something happens, you want to be able to contact the right set of people. So we have this broadcast feature which lets you select based on, say, everybody who’s scheduled now, who’s checked in in the security role. And it narrows it down to those people. Because they change from hour to hour, possibly, right? So that’s one of the patents. Or you can actually pick the place that they are. So we do multi-venue, multi-location – let’s say it’s a run, like a marathon or something. So you can say something like, “Station three, anybody at station three, I don’t care what role you’re in, I need to tell you blah…”
The goal of InitLive is to replace walkie talkies, and then go one step further than apps like Voxer. With its unique, patented filters, it offers options such as being able to reach out to people at specific locations, in specific positions, at specific times. It offers distinct interfaces for both administrators and personnel. It also assists in maintaining minimum staffing levels in any one position, based on real time employee and volunteer check-ins.
DP – So it will tell you automatically on the phone, which shift roles are in trouble and recommend the best people to replace them with and let you press a couple of buttons and automatically boom, you’ve fixed the problem.
One of the patents is, “Where Are You, I’m Here.” If you want to find out specifically where somebody is, you can say, “Where are you?” and they just press a button saying, “I’m here,” and the phone sends back and shows you exactly where they are. We don’t want to have a big map of where everybody is, because that’s not useful, and it’s hard to do on a phone, but if there’s a certain person you need to get a hold of, we also have the full roster of people with all their contact info and their individual schedules, right on your phone.
DOP – That’s awesome. I already love this app… So what makes you most passionate about this, what drives you? I mean, you’re clearly tech minded and you love inventing things. Is it purely that or is there something deeper that’s made you focus your tech acumen in this direction?
DP – I had the idea for an architecture for a communications system. I started with events, looked at the participant side and that was really, really crowded. Then we talked to a bunch of event planners and we kept hearing volunteer management, volunteer management, so they’re using Excel and email, basically, and walkie talkies. Now, we’ve done a couple of events where we’ve found a lost kid. So that makes me happy, because you don’t want to announce that over a walkie talkie, that you’ve got a kid lost, right? Or, we’ve been at shows, and then a customer comes up and looks at it, and goes “OMG, where have you been all my life?” or, “I think I love you.”
DOP – Yeah, I’m already in love.
DP – And wait till you see our user interface, you’ll fall in love even more… We’ve gotten a lot of feedback about how easy it is to use, so that’s another thing that makes me happy. And the other thing is, I’ve been around for a while, let’s say, but most of my team are in their 20’s, so they’re very young and energetic, so that pumps me up, makes me want to come to work, because they’re so enthusiastic.
DOP – I know, I’m old. I need some young people around to help… Is there another direction you’d want to see this project go in, in terms of future growth and development?
DP – We’ve had interesting talks with disaster relief people, so where you have the event pre-set-up, and then if something happens, you can set up instant communications with a group of people. We’ve been looking at implications in the security business where you’ve got people who are temporarily doing something, either in security or crews of people temporarily together [like day crews who come in beforehand to do stage set-up], and depending on the day it could be a different group of people… We initially started off with volunteer management but quickly realized it was really staff and volunteer management, because the app doesn’t care if the person using it was paid or not.
DOP – Right, it’s just about filling the role and making sure the jobs are being done and everything’s covered.
DP – Yep, and being able to communicate with everybody when things happen.
DOP – Is there any overarching philosophy you have with regard to the use of technology that you think plays into the way you are developing your product and talking about it to people?
DP – Yeah, it has to help. Number one, it’s got to solve a problem… When I started doing programming, it was punch cards, right? And now, I can demo my product to anybody on my phone, anywhere, anytime, which I just think is amazing. I mean even when I was back developing PBX’s, everything was in house, like the operating system and the file system and the database… because we had to develop all of it, all the hardware, all the software. Now, Amazon has done all that, and we just have to plunk our software on it, and we’re connected from anywhere.
DOP – So you use Amazon…
DP – …as the back end that hosts everything, yeah. And it’s fast. We were at a show in Barcelona, and the service is currently running in Virginia, and we were demoing the product in real time, no problem. It’s just so amazing. And mobile. We were mobile first, we say. Because we started from the device and said, “OK, what do people need on the day of the event, on their device?” and then we created the backend to support that.
DOP – We all make mistakes along the way as we’re pushing into new territory. Have there been any mistakes you’ve made that you feel have led to significant lessons you can share with us?
DP – I have in the past, and even with this company, hired the wrong person, and it has devastating consequences to the team. In a start-up, because there’s not that many people, and you’re working really, really hard, long hours, trying to get stuff done, if you’ve made a bad hire, or somebody that doesn’t believe in the vision or just doesn’t get along with the rest of the team, or just can’t cut the pace that we’re at, it’s much bigger than the 1% or the 10% that they make up of the team. It influences the whole team, and can bring the whole team down. And it’s amazing, actually, because you’re scrambling to pick up the slack for them, and everybody’s worried about it and they’re not concentrating on what they should be doing. So it’s hire fast and fire fast, unfortunately, but you’ve gotta do that sometimes, especially with a small group that’s under a lot of pressure.
DOP – And you’re not the only one who’s said that, or something to that effect. I think that’s a lesson that a lot of us are still learning about really cultivating the right team. It’s so essential. You don’t realize it until it’s wrong, and when it’s wrong it’s just so bad.
DP – And right now, I am so blessed. The team I’ve got right now is so good.
DOP – The only other thing I would ask you is if you’ve ever gotten any great advice along the way or something you’ve learned that you want to pass on?
DP – Probably.
DOP – Haha – that answers my question, doesn’t it?
DP – The biggest thing is, get to know your customer. You get techies, and they think things are cooler than sliced bread, but it really doesn’t solve the problem. Or, it’s cool to them but nobody would really use it. We talked to a lot of event planners before we started, to find out how they did things and what they did and what their problems were, and then asked, well if we did this, would you buy it. Because if you don’t do that, then you’re just creating a product for no reason and spending money for no reason.
DOP – Thanks – I’m psyched about your product!
DP – Another thing we’re working on right now is multi-language, so it will be global. And we’re lucky again, we have a very diverse team, so I’ve got five languages covered just on the team.
DOP – That is great.
I urge you to check out InitLive for your next event. I really think this one is a game changer…
Making mistakes on the job can be embarrassing, even humiliating. It’s humbling to screw up in a way that exposes our lack of knowledge or faulty thinking. We think we should know better. But making a mistake is also one of the truly genuine opportunities we get to learn and grow.
When I was interviewing young entrepreneurs at under30ceo.com, one of the most common pieces of advice I heard was to make mistakes, and lots of them. When we screw up, we get a visceral experience of boundaries, of consequences, of really understanding what’s at stake in our day to day decisions, and how we can continue to grow and improve.
If You Do Screw Up, You’ll Survive
It’s true. Making mistakes, while they sometimes make you feel like you want to die, most of the time won’t actually kill you. If you do make a mistake, it’s best to own up and take responsibility for the error. Hiding it or avoiding the consequences usually compounds the damage done, and makes clean up ever more complicated. Most people, while they might be annoyed at the error, will respect you for acknowledging the part you played in the mishap. Do what you can to fix things, and then move on. Don’t waste time feeling guilty or re-apologizing. Just take a note and keep it moving.
Learn How to Learn
The most important thing about making a mistake is learning from it. If you get into making the same mistakes over and over, you’re definitely going to risk not only your position, but your integrity. People are generally forgiving of an honest mistake. But repeating that same error endlessly is going to get you a quick ticket back to the minor leagues…
Enjoy the Process
A number of years back, I was working in an event coordination position without proper guidance. One time, after our team completed a technical installation at a magazine launch event, I was encouraged to hang around at the event reception and hand out business cards to some of the guests who would be considered promising leads.
In hindsight, I find my behavior rather cringeworthy, but at the time, there was a lot of anxiety about increasing company revenues, and I lost my perspective. Needless to say, when the venue owner caught site of me and my colleague working the crowd at the reception, she made it clear in no uncertain terms that this was unacceptable. I felt so ashamed, like a schoolkid being chastised by the teacher.
Years later, I had the opportunity to produce an event of my own in this very same venue. When I ran into the owner again, I took a moment to thank her for reading me the riot act all those years ago. We shared a good laugh, me at the ridiculous choices I had made that day, and she at how harsh she probably was with me. I told her it was one of the best things anyone had done for me during that entire part of my career. She replied that their team actually has regular wrap up sessions after every event during which they talk about all the mistakes that each one of them made, and how they could learn from them.
Here’s another piece I wrote a few years back about what not to do when producing an event. All things I learned from mistakes, for sure. Honestly, being able to laugh at our mistakes is probably one of the best things we can do. Until the next time we screw up…