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Quid Pro Quo — The Art of Pitching In for Future Profit.

Posted by Marjorie Signer on May 19, 2009

I had an interesting experience the other day. It was something that I’d been looking forward to for almost a week and I was really excited to get started. And then my bubble burst. The air rushed out of my puffed up chest and I walked out of the meeting feeling disappointed and unappreciated.

You see, a friend had told me that he knew an organization who could really use some help getting the word out about a fantastic event. The organization was running on a small staff, a tight timeline and the idea they were implementing was huge! I knew I was in a great position to help and was more than happy to do so — for free.

In my mind, it made perfect sense, if I could lend my talents to a high profile organization and help make their event even more of a success, it would be a WIN-WIN. I was willing to use my resources and experience to take some of the workload off them, giving them the opportunity to off-load a portion of the grunt work they didn’t have expertise in and freeing them up to work on the parts where they were much more comfortable and likely to be considerably more effective.

Yet, as we sat there talking and I extended an offer to partner with them to design a strategy they liked and help them implement it to success, what they heard was “she can give us lots of good ideas, tell us how to make them happen, give us the contact information for all the people she knows who we can to work with to make the ideas a success and she’ll stand back and let us run with it.”

Now does what they thought they heard sound like a partnership to you?  Where is the WIN-WIN in that scenario?

When my friend mentioned to me that the organization (with whom he already works) was in need of some help from someone with my experience, I thought “This will be fantastic! I’ve never had an opportunity to work with this group, but I’d sure like to, and what better way then to partner with them now, let them experience the talent and enthusiasm I bring to the table and then maybe, in the future when they need someone with my skill set for a project that can afford paid experts, I’ll be on the top of their mind.”  Of course, any word that got around about my contribution to this project certainly wouldn’t hurt either.

But unfortunately, they weren’t looking for a Win-Win, they were looking for free consulting with no interest in how they might return the favor. 

In business, it’s important to help one another as much as possible because no one is successful on his or her own. We are successful because a lot of people allow us to be. But help is always a two way street. How do you set up boundaries that allow you to share your talents but not be taken advantage of?

Cincinnati consulting expert Judi Cogen of J Grace Consulting

Cincinnati consulting expert Judi Cogen of J Grace Consulting

I asked Judi Cogen of J Grace Consulting (http://jgraceconsulting.net/) for her advice about how consultants who want to offer their time and talent to an organization that they believe in can structure the relationship so that it’s a Win-Win for both parties and here’s the excellent advice she gave:

1. Before you offer your time and talent, decide if you’re offering to be a volunteer or if you’re offering your work as a consultant pro bono. The attitude, expectations and responsibilities you take on will differ depending on how you and the organization view your role.

2. Be clear in your own mind about what you expect out of the relationship and what you can deliver to the organization. Then present both in a way that makes sense and is of interest to the organization you want to help. Treat the discussion exactly as you would if you were talking to a paying client and be sure that you’re a fit for the organization and that they are a good fit for you.

3. Make sure that you are realistic about what you can deliver and that you are entering into a winable situation. If you’re offering your services as a consultant pro bono in return for being able to showcase your success, you have to be 110% positive that you will be successful. Imagine what would happen to your reputation if word got around that you worked on a project that bombed, even if it wasn’t your fault!

4. Make sure that the organization is willing to give you the support you need to do your best work. If you don’t have the people, time or resources to create a success, the end result won’t be good for you or the organization.

Helping an organization that you believe in can be amazingly rewarding on a personal level, but it can also boost your profile as a leader in your field. The key is to find the organization that is a truly a match for your personality and your skill set and has the most interest in helping you help them increase their impact.


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5 Ways Businesses Build Customer Confidence Through Social Media

Posted by Marjorie Signer on May 14, 2009

My quick and dirty (although by no means complete) reason for why social media is important to businesses comes down to its ability to help company’s build consumer confidence. As promised, here are the top 5 ways social media contributes to small business and corporate America’s ability to create loyalty among their customers and create tipping points for prospects.

Reason #1 Heard You Today, Saw You Yesterday, I Expect To Find You Tomorrow

Customers see you everyday. As Woody Allen says, “80% of success is showing up.” Psychologically, we equate staying power with success and we tend to trust those we perceive as successful.

Reason #2 Honey, I Just Need You To Listen To Me…


Customers like to share their opinions. But they love to be listened to. In Bill Cates book Get More Referrals Now, he says that 95% of customers who have a complaint about a business or product will buy again simply because their concern was listened to and responded to quickly.

Reason #3 She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not 

Social media tools allow for near-instant feedback. As a business owner, wouldn’t it be fabulous to know what your customers think of you and be able to respond to their needs immediately? That’s what I call service.

Reason #4 Ready, Aim, Fire…Try Again

Social media is a great platform for showing customers that you care and that you make changes to your business based on their opinions, needs and wants. Everybody’s human, businesses included, and nobody expects you to be perfect. Customers DO however, expect you to admit your mistakes and learn from them.

Reason #5 Oh You Mean People Actually Run This Company? 

Finally, engaging the world through social media helps to build trust by giving businesses (and here I’m talking to the humans behind the curtain) the opportunity to step through the veil and connect to customers and prospects as people rather than through the almighty corporate brand identity. I mean really, wouldn’t it be great if he next time you bought Tide to think to yourself, “Wow, I sure do love that mountain fresh scent Pete picked out for this new detergent line, I hope my daughter likes it as much as his” as opposed to “ahh, another hard earned dollar given to the faceless corporate machine.”

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Explaining Social Media to Businesses in 2 Words.

Posted by Marjorie Signer on May 12, 2009

As I was enjoying my visit to the New Media Cincy Unconference(#newmediacincy)trend setter and uber-successful marketing queen of all things important to women Debba Haupert (@girlfriendology) asked “How do you explain social media to your clients when you say the word Twitter and they look at you like you’ve just begun speaking Martian?”

 Giggling, Sara Carbaugh (@rightclickos) and I looked at one another and in unison said “You Don’t!”

Now that’s a pretty flippant answer and wholly unsocial for two gals standing in the middle of 60 people who use a dozen or more platforms to socialize 24/7. But the fact that we both said it so quickly tells an awful lot about the growing divide between businesses who “get it” and those that don’t.

 So what’s the more gentle and persuasive way to shepherd our 20th Century colleagues into the light?  Here’s a quick and dirty summary of what social media can mean to business and the single most compelling reason your friendly neighborhood business owners should care:

Many thanks to Brian Solis for these wonderfully clear definitions:

Social Media (noun): social media describes the onlinetools that people use to share content, profiles, opinions, insights, experiences, perspectives and media itself, thus facilitating conversations and interaction online between groups of people. These tools include blogs, message boards, podcasts, micro blogs, lifestreams, bookmarks, networks, communities, wikis, and vlogs.

 Social Media (verb): is the democratization of content and the understanding of the role people play in the process of not only reading and disseminating information, but also how they share and create content for others to participate. It is the shift from a broadcast mechanism to a many-to-many model, rooted in a conversational format between authors and people.

In a nutshell, social media breaks down the walls of authority, hierarchy and secrecy and gives all people, regardless of race, creed, culture, economic status, or education the opportunity to share their opinion. More importantly, social media affords us all an opportunity to participate in robust discussions that will hopefully bring many truths to light and dispel many myths.  

The impact social media has on business can be summed up in 2 words. Customer Confidence.

We heard an awful lot about this term a few months ago when the economy took its long walk off a short pier. At the end of the day, customers don’t buy products they don’t believe in and clients don’t do business with companies they don’t trust.

Engaging in conversation with the world using social media tools builds trust. Plain and simple. How you ask? We’ll cross that bridge tomorrow. Stay tuned.

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What to do when you find yourself in a room full of people just like you.

Posted by Marjorie Signer on May 11, 2009

This Saturday, I had the good fortune of being invited to participate in the New Media Cincinnati unconference. This is a great group of 60+ technology mavens who are actively engaged in blogging, podcasting, internet streaming and building online networks of people who they can learn from and who can learn from them. Meetings are every second Saturday of the month and are free to attend. (Check out http://newmediacincinnati.com/ for more info) 

#newmediacincy discussion group

#newmediacincy discussion group

The advantage of spending time with these folks is that they are all familiar with the new media tools that are out there and everyday they find new ways to make the tools easier to use and more effective. And most importantly, they don’t hold their tips and tricks too close to their vest. If you know the right questions to ask, they will happily explain what they are doing, how they are doing it and what benefits they receive from their time.

For 99.9% of business owners today, the fact that this group is willing to share what they’ve learned is more than enough reason to clear a few hours in the ole’ schedule and attend the meetings. But as I walked between the different discussions, I noticed something very interesting. 

80% of those in attendance were Marketing professionals of some make or model. Another 10% were artists and graphic designers and the final 10% were computer programming gurus. Now granted these aren’t exact numbers and we certainly had some guests that were outside these three categories, but the point remains the same. Very few business owners are both aware of the group and understand the value it could bring to their business.

I find it interesting that even though the news is filled with reports of how social media and new media technologies are evolving and expanding and I don’t think anyone is out there arguing that they will prove to be a “flash in the pan,” traditional business owners are still reluctant to spend time really learning about the intricacies and nuances of these mediums and engage face-to face with people who are in deeply imbedded in the movement. I’m not sure if it’s a lack of time or a lack of awareness of the groups who have converged to discuss these topics that keeps traditional business owners away, but I believe the onus on us, the technologically savvy, to reach out and make a point of inviting non-geeks to join us.

Marketing has often been looked upon by CEOs as a necessary evil. A black art that rarely produces measurable results and often costs more than they want to spend, but social and new media has the power to change that perception. We now live in a brave new world that gives us the opportunity to use multiple levels of analytics and metrics to prove impact, but first we must show our friendly local businesses that the key to unlocking a flood of opportunity lies with their participation.

Join me in the movement to invite and include more good ole’ fashioned CEO’s in the technology movement. Together we can improve business opportunities across our economy, throughout our community and in our own shops.

Tweet about NewMediaCincy, make mention of it on LinkedIn and Facebook, but most importantly, reach out and have phone conversations, or better yet, stop by and see a business owner you know in person and personally invite them to join newmediacincinnati or another group like it and be involved with the revolution. Without all of us participating together, none of us will truly succeed.

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Over Looking the Easy Stuff. 3 things I bet you don’t do.

Posted by Marjorie Signer on April 14, 2009

Too often, I see businesses spending oodles of money on marketing but overlooking the the low cost options that produce great results.

Low Cost High Result Idea 1:

Use video in your website.

Producing a great video spot for your website can cost next to nothing but it can make a big difference for the profitability of your business. First of all, videos are engaging and are the best medium for telling your company’s story and showing your enthusiasm for your product or service. Secondly, videos can jump your website’s Google ranking, which makes your website even easier to find. Lastly, if you put a little fun and creativity into your video, you may find that people pass it around and share it with their friends, family and networks, giving you instant recognition, exposure and credibility.

Low Cost High Result Idea 2:

Use Plants(and no I don’t mean geraniums).

When a politician gives a speech, they often have people placed in the audience who are there to ask a specific question in a specific way that allows the speaker to make a particular point in such a way that sheds the best light on their position. In your business, you can plant testimonials and expose who your current customers are to help entice your prospects to have a favorable opinion of you.  

Low Cost High Results Idea 3

Show the Good, the Bad and the Changes.

Make your company’s customer feedback process transparent and highlight changes that you adopt based on the feedback your customers share with you. Customers love to do business with company’s that respect them and who take their feedback seriously. Give your customer’s a voice and show that your company is listening and you’ll leave our competition in the dust.

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Networking’s Not for the Derelict of Character

Posted by Marjorie Signer on April 3, 2009

I go to a lot of networking events. In fact, I try to go to as many as I can each week, because I’d much rather talk to a complete stranger face to face than cold call them on the telephone (of course because I know that, in the beginning, networking is not likely to produce immediate business, I still spend plenty of time cold calling.) But to successfully network, you have to have a plan, because no many how many groups or functions you go to, there is a limited number of people you can meet at any given time.

Through out the years, I’ve read a lot of books about how to be a successful networker and there are a couple of tips that have stuck with me.

Rule #1 Give

ALWAYS ask how you can help them before you ask how they can help you. I know it’s been said a million times (In fact, BNI built their entire philosophy around “Givers Gain”) but I like to think its been said so much because it’s absolutely true. The scientific proof behind why giving first makes you exponentially more likely to receive was beautifully explained in Robert Cialdini’s book Influence, which I HIGHLY recommend everyone read. The highlight of the explanation is that the need to reciprocate a gesture is a fundamental part of human evolution — and you can’t argue with millions of years of development can you. 

Rule #2 Befriend Your Competition

Don’t shrink away from your competitors. There is more than enough business for all of us and your competitors can become your best teachers and your best referral sources. Make friends with the people in your industry and be willing to share best practices with them. In business you never want want to run from anyone, stand strong, be confident and above all else, be friendly. The world changes everyday and you want as many allies as you can get.

Rule #3 Be Authentic

People can smell a fake a mile away and when they’re sniffing the air, you don’t want them to wrinkle up their noses at your approach. No matter what the business books and coaches say, at the end of the day, people do business with people they like. Period. When you’re genuine and show people who you are, you attract people who are like you and who have a desire to work with people like you. Attracting the right kind of client is more important for long term success and happiness than attracting just any clients. You can’t please everyone and not everyone is going to like you, so stop trying to put on what you think is the perfect facade and spend more time being exactly who you are and living the life of the person you want to become.

Rule #4 Commit to Building Community

No matter where you network, commit to becoming a true part of that community and invest your time, talents and energy into making it even better. Spend extra time sitting down one on one with members of the group and really get to know them. Ask questions in the group and allow others to help you. Reach out to members and offer to help them. Think of your networking group as a neighborhood. What kinds of relationships make your neighborhood feel like home? What benefits have you reaped in your neighborhood because of the friendships you’ve built?

 If all you do in your networking group is give your 30 second commercial, listen to others give theirs and then chat briefly with a few people before you dash out the door, do you really think people will remember you, refer you or want to do business with you themselves?

Rule #5 Take It Slow

Networking isn’t prospecting for immediate business. It’s not like hunting, where you go out, kill an animal and eat that night. Networking is an opportunity to build friendships and develop business relationships that are mutually helpful. Think of it as farming people.  You have to first plant the seeds by introducing yourself. Then you have to nurture the people you meet so that they begin to know you and like you. As an understanding of who you are and what you do begins to grow and the people you network with begin to like you and experience the value you offer, opportunity blossoms. The nice thing about networking is that, while it takes time and a great amount of effort, once good things start to come from it, the harvest  bounty never slows or decreases its yield.

Networking isn’t for the feint of heart or the derelict of character. It’s also not likely to feed you tonight. But like anything else  of value in this world, your get out what you put in and if you network with intention, honesty and energy, it will eventually feed your business and your soul for the rest of your life.

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Making Money from Small Talk – the Grocer Part 2

Posted by Marjorie Signer on March 30, 2009

Our friend the grocer discovered why his customer’s buying habits were changing and was able to change how he communicated with them to specifically address the things they felt most strongly about. In doing so, he not only reconnected with his current customers and helped them feel fabulous about the money they spent in his store, he was able to project the lesson out to his prospects and actually draw in new customers who he didn’t connect with when he was focusing his message on the health benefits of his products.


But how did the grocer make this discovery and what steps did he take to leverage the new information?


When our grocer’s sales started to dip he could have wrung his hands and hoped real hard that his sales started to rise again, but instead, he used some of the extra time he now had to reach out and TALK to his past and current customers.


When customers came into his shop he made a point of asking about how their job, their family and their friends were doing. He asked them directly about their feelings on recent news items and how they felt it might affect the entire community. Now if you’re thinking that conversations like that happen everyday as we make small talk, you’re exactly RIGHT! And that’s the point, when you talk to people with purpose and genuine interest, no matter where you’re having the conversation or what your relationship is with the person, it feels comfortable. The best part is, when you really listen you can find all kinds of clues about what their values and why they make certain buying decisions. 


Our grocer also talked to his past customers who hadn’t visited his store recently. Using email, snail mail and the phone, he contacted people and let them know that they were important to him; that he noticed that they hadn’t visited lately and that he was interested in how they were doing.  He also shared some of the stories that his customers had told him, explained that he was trying to find ways he could help support the community and asked for their ideas and suggestions.   


The key to the grocer’s success in reaching out to people wasn’t just that he asked for their input, it was that he made it easy and comfortable for them to share their thoughts and gave them a psychological boost by first telling them what other people had shared with him.


See there are two things going on here that contributed to the grocer’s success. First of all, most people want to help, especially if it is easy to do so. Helping other people makes us feel good about ourselves and our brains are actually wired to do things that produce that feeling. (Don’t believe me? How many times have you eaten a piece of chocolate that intellectually you know you shouldn’t have just because it makes you feel good?)


Secondly, the grocer shared the information he had already received from past conversations. Using the words of others who his current contact could relate to leads to a phenomenon called “social proof.” It’s scientifically proven that people are much more likely to engage in a particular behavior if they know that other people, like them, have already done so.  


Getting his present and past customers to talk to him (eventually talking to him and one another through an Internet forum) strengthened their feeling of commitment to shopping at the store because: a) the grocer reached out to them made them feel important; b) the grocer cared about the same things they did and was taking action which satisfied their fundamental desire to support people who shared and supported their values and c) they were involved and participating in the grocer’s business and that gave them a feeling of ownership and responsibility to the store and the other people with whom they communicated.  


  • What are some of the clues your customers and contacts are giving you?
  •  If you asked different questions could the answers have a positive impact on your business?
  • Are you connecting with your customer’s value systems and taking the time to give back and support the things you hold dear?
  • Are your customers a part of your business or just a dollar sign? How can you get your customers more involved and make them feel good about your business?

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How Can you Fail When You Have Two Million Potential Customers?

Posted by Marjorie Signer on March 30, 2009

Cincinnati is a great place to live. We have the Cincinnati Art Museum, Union Terminal, a fantastic Natural History Museum, the global headquarters of P&G, Chiquita, Sunny Delight, and dozens of other large employers, beautiful architecture and good schools. But most importantly, the Greater Cincinnati area has more than 2 million people, most of whom are down-to-Earth, hardworking, honest consumers.

Two million people. That’s a lot of buying power and I bet most of them would be thrilled to be able to give their dollars to a company that is based in their community, cares about the same kinds of things they thing are important and is giving back to make Cincinnati an even better place to live, work and play. In fact, I’d venture to say that now, in these difficult financial times, our neighbors are even more interested in finding ways to protect their community with every spend of their dollar.

Smart marketing is even more important today than it was yesterday, precisely because of global economic conditions and the changing mindset of consumers. In times when we’re closely watching the amount of money we spend we start evaluating value and asking ourselves, if I make this purchase, how will it benefit me

Understanding what your prospects value and communicating that doing business with your company satisfies those values is your key to success right now. 

For example, a neighbor has a small grocery store that sells many locally produced, organic foods. His prices are generally higher than the “big box” stores and as his customers started to feel the pinch of the recession, sales started to dip. In more flush economic times, his marketing focused mainly on the health related reasons to buy organic food. But, even when money is tighter, people still have to eat 3 square meals a day and if the choice is between being able to feed your family top-notch organic foods and just being able to feed them, every family is going to try and buy the most nutritious food they can within their budget. A non-organic red pepper is still better than no red peppers at all.    

The changing habits of customers got our grocer thinking and suddenly it dawned on him. Yes, his customers liked being able to buy healthy, organic foods, but now they were thinking more about the affects the economic downturn was going to have on their family and community. Nearly everyone knew someone who had lost their job or had taken a pay-cut and even if it hadn’t happened to them yet, they were still tightening their belt and preparing for the worst.

This realization that his customers buying habits had changed not because of a change in their preferences, but because of the effects they had seen the economy have on people they cared showed him how to reconnect and re-engage his customers. Our grocer changed his marketing to focus on how shopping at his store directly and positively affected the people in the community!

How well do you know your customers? If you can’t describe your customer’s values and help them satisfy what’s important to them, this could indeed be a very tough time for your company. Take this opportunity to really think about your customers and answer the following questions:

  • Have your customers buying habits changed?
  • Have the things your customers talk about changed?
  • How does doing business with your company help your customers feel good about themselves?

Knowing your customer is the Holy Grail of business, but unlike the fountain of youth, you can find the fountain of success.

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Back in the Fray

Posted by Marjorie Signer on March 30, 2009

As many of you know, the Austin, Berry, Sidders Company took an 18 month hiatus while I was helping a local bank reorganize and jump-start their marketing department. Now that they are functioning smoothly, connecting with their marketplace and being rewarded by their customers, I am pleased to announce that Austin, Berry, Sidders is open once again and better than ever!

We have done a little bit of reevaluating and reorganizing, teamed up with a bevy of experts and have found at least a dozen new ways we can help our clients succeed.

Our website, www.austinberrysidders.com is in the process of being completely refashioned and we fully expect it to launch within the next 14 days. In the meantime (and for years to come) we hope you’ll find tips, tricks and nuggets a-plenty here that you can integrate into your business right away.

As we journey together, your comments are greatly anticipated and your questions even more appreciated. My number one priority is sharing what I’ve learned and honoring the time you spend reading by adding value to your business. Your participation is the only way we can ensure we’re giving you what you want!  

Talk to you soon,


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