Monthly Archives: May 2009

The Startup Kid

Running a startup isn’t easy on anyone.

The glorious trails of successful entrepreneurs are littered with the scars of broken relationships and bitter resentment of cold dinners and missed birthday parties.

It takes a special kind of relationship to weather the storms of startup life.

At Darling Harbour, Sydney.

At Darling Harbour, Sydney.

It takes a special kind of kid too. A kid who will understand that daddy or mummy can’t make it to every school function. That we can’t afford summer camp.

It takes a special kid who will say okay through his tears as he’s torn from his Australian home, his dogs, his school friends, because he knows that what we’re working on isn’t a normal sort of job like his friends’ parents have.

This week we have begun graduation celebrations for Harry as he completes year 5. I got to make a dedication to him the other day at school, as did all the other parents in his class to their kids.In typical startup style, I did this one alone because Jed’s in Silicon Valley at the moment. The Kleenex was really getting passed around that circle.

Why so much Kleenex? It was his teacher’s fault really. She got us to close our eyes and think of when we were having our child, their infancy, and years in elementary school. And then open our eyes and take our turns to speak from the heart to our child in front of everyone (you could pass if you wanted to, but nobody did – this is Boulder, after all ;)).

Now, I cry at the drop of a hat. I can’t walk into that darned school without automatically tearing up it seems (sigh). But for this dedication, while others were a bit of a mess, I hardly cried at all.

And while it surprised me at the time, I know why.

Harry is an incredible kid. He was made for the startup life. I won’t be a bit surprised if he ends up living it himself. (Good grief, I hope he scores a partner as well as his dad did ;)). Harry’s adaptability is remarkable. Many kids would have resented the move to the US, and that would have been understandable. Not Harry, even though he misses Australia very much.

Harry's idea of cleaning up his room

Harry's idea of cleaning up his room

He’s no angel though. He has a cheeky side and he’s a daredevil. I was told of his decision to ride a waterfall while hiking, stopping just short of a massive drop – nearly giving everyone watching a heart attack. And we will never forget him barrelling down Eldora mountain on a snowboard without a single turn and nearly hitting a bus in the car park – grinning afterwards.

Everyone who knows us as a family will agree that Harry is the one who most wears his heart on his sleeve. He hugs everyone. Repeatedly.

He is honest and open. But he can’t sleep if he’s feeling bad about something – he has to get up and talk it through. And he has a strength of character and self-belief which overcomes every obstacle. He’s never said “I’ve had enough.”  He just keeps going. It’s that tenacity that is so inspiring and awesome.

And I can’t cry about that. I can’t cry about changes at all – for Harry the world is his oyster, and he’s loving the adventure. He doesn’t care that much about stuff he hasn’t accomplished yet – he’s just going to keep trying. And he’s not concerned about being the best at everything. He just wants to give it a go.

Last week his performance on drums at the big 5th grade concert that combined musicians from 3 schools was incredible. He was on time with every beat. He enjoyed it. And he’s such an individual, he wore his lucky hat too 😉

I can’t wait to see what he tries his hand at, and surprises us with, in Middle School. They’re gonna be lucky to have him. As are we.

Congratulations, Harry. We’re so proud of you, and grateful for all you give back to us every single day.

Advertisements

Talking with your teens about sexting

What to do about (drum roll) sexting? Approaching the topic of sexting in a way that best meets a receptive outcome from your teenager is paramount. And grabbing their mobile phone to go through every message is not generally going to get a positive response. Unless…

Did you originally say to your teen “Hey, I’m gonna go through your phone occasionally to check up on you?” If you did, then it’s reasonable that you would act on the promise. But if you provided the phone to the teen without any indication you’d be doing it, then I believe your teen will think you’re being unreasonable. And how about if the teen bought the phone with their own money?

Awkward.

We all want to raise a kid who is responsible, independent, and who cares for their own, and others’ well being. While they’re little you can best do that by telling them how to act, showing them how it’s done (by demonstrating it yourself) and monitoring them as you encourage them to do the same.

When they’re teens, it’s time to let them start doing that on their own. In my opinion, in order for teens to demonstrate their own responsibility and integrity, they need to have the opportunity to do it. That’s hard to do when the media’s telling you scary stories about sexting. You need to put something in place, but still work from the standpoint that you trust your teen (if you do and want to continue to).

That’s hard to do, I get that. And every parenting situation is different, I get that too. But it’s apparent this is something many people are struggling with. So here are a few idea-starters to get you thinking about a more positive way of approaching the topic with your teenager.

1. Have a contract.

With every piece of technology there is an inherent basis of responsible use. Whether that’s with the equipment itself (such as don’t throw the phone around) or with the manner in which it’s used (such as don’t send 500 messages a day, and watch your language). A great way of demonstrating you mean what you say is through having a contract dealing with both of these areas. You could create one yourself, or ask the family to contribute to what they think should be in it. And then everyone who uses the equipment gets a copy to sign. Let me be clear – this contract is something everyone adheres to. It’s not just for the kids. You don’t get to throw your phone around and expect them not to. You have to follow through.  Not only that, but the contracts, when signed, should be displayed in the person’s regular space at home as a subtle reminder.

You might think this is a little ‘out there’ – but when you think it through, you’ll see that it’s a transparent way of linking to all that stuff you taught your kids when they were younger. It just gives them some control and treats them as a more independent, free-thinking person. And hey, you need to make it clear they don’t have to sign the contract. It’s optional. And so is the phone.

Then if someone breaks the contract with any kind of irresponsible use, it’s easier to demonstrate why there’s a problem. It gives you a foundation to work from that everyone understands.

2. Demonstrate how things live forever online

Having a great relationship with your teen doesn’t mean you unequivocally know they’re going to do the right thing all the time (you can’t). It does mean that you’re prepared to let go a little and trust that they want to be responsible, and will be pretty likely to be, even without you standing behind them with a rolling pin (tempting though it might be). Also, let’s assume that your teens can make a logical progression of thought and have interest in their own well being. With all that in place, this becomes a no-brainer. (As much as a no-brainer and teens can be, anyway. ;))

Have a chat and say you’ve read stuff about sexting (read up a bit first – nothing loses respect more than not knowing what you’re talking about). Say you get it. This stuff can be fun, and it’s shared only between people you trust. There’s never any idea that something bad will happen or that someone’s going to be mean.

But people get angry. People fight. Have you ever slammed a door or said something nasty to someone you cared about? No matter how much you want to take it back, and apologise, it still got said. But words tend to ease with time. Images and text, however, don’t.

Stuff lives forever online.

Let’s say someone gets angry and posts a compromising picture somewhere online. They can regret it and take it down, but it’s still up there in search engines.

Try two projects:

a. Put a picture of something that is personal, but that you’re comfortable with online somewhere. Leave it there for a few days, then take it down.

Then search for it. Use everything you like. Treat it like it’s a treasure hunt. Treat it like you’re a journalist and you’re writing a story about that picture. What kind of lengths will you go through to find it? How hard is it? Then once you’ve found it, how easy is it to then forward it to every person you know?

b. Think of all the people you know who have a web-based email account. (A lot, right?) Then think of how many contacts they’d have in that account. (Again, a lot. Hundreds each, possibly.) In fact, you’ve probably got a web-based email account yourself. Go to http://www.spokeo.com (or a similar site). Using your mail account you can sign up and find out what everyone in your address book has posted across lots of different social media sites.

Think of when you try and apply for a job. This is better than Facebook for a human resources person. And it lives forever. Look yourself up. What would a human resources rep think of you right now?

By working with your teenager you’re showing them you trust them to act as responsibly as they can. You’re also giving them the opportunity to initiate conversations, to take control and showing them why it’s important.

I’ll finish by reiterating that this situation is different for every family, and I totally understand that. That said, I believe this is just one, positive way of approaching a very delicate subject, and it could bring you closer together rather than threaten your relationship. Sailing the tumultuous ocean of teenage parenting is challenging. I’d like to ride this wave with our teens instead of against them.

Building a Strategic Promotional Plan

A goal is a dream until you make a plan. And the plan needs to be strategic otherwise it won’t work.

A strategy is a direction – a way of heading. This is not something that already has the tactics in place. Think of a chess strategy, or war strategy – these don’t have any step-by-step procedures in place that if a single thing goes wrong the whole strategy falls apart. That same thing is true of any strategy, including your promotional one. The strategy isn’t a tresure map. It simply outlines the direction. A strategy will rarely change, but the tactics you use to implement the strategy might – and probably will – depending upon what happens along the way.

No matter what kind of business you’re in, you need to operate strategically, and that includes the promotional activity you undertake. Too many times a ‘promotional plan’ is hit and miss. It’s buying an ad somewhere or running a competition. If there’s no strategy behind the tactics, then it’s like throwing fistfuls of money into the air. Here’s an outline of the basic steps for creating a strategic promotional plan. It will ensure your promotional activity is targeted, reflects the overarching goals of your marketing plan, delivers awesome ROI, and gives you the best opportunity for success. It works for every kind of business, whether you’re a CEO of a startup, a Fortune 500 company or a mommyblogger wanting to take the next step.

Step 1: Situation Analysis:

If you’re an operating business, you’ll probably have done a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) as part of your business or marketing plan already. That’s where you’ll have looked at the overall place of your product and its distribution in the marketplace. If you’re smaller in scope, you might not have thought too much about it before. That’s not a problem – this is where you start to think of yourself as a company! In your strategic promotional plan you’ll want to do a specific SWOT analysis on how your promotions are working, should work and how you want them to work. Look purely at the SWOT of your product’s promotions and its relationship to competitors promotions. Remember that promotion is a communication, nothing else. It’s about messages and activity directly tied to those messages. Outline what is great about your communications, what isn’t, what opportunities there are and how these could be threatened.

The second part of the situation analysis is identifying, in the most specific way possible, who you are as a company and product, what budget you’re able to work with, who your audiences are and where you’re at in the market and as a business. The more information you have at this point, hard as it might seem to face at times, the easier the other steps become and the more likely you are to reach your objectives. You’ll probably need to do quite a bit of research.

Step Two: Identify Your Objectives

Once you’ve identified where you’re starting from, then you need to identify where you’d like to go. In the strategic promotion plan, you need to have an promotional objective in mind (click on that link to define what types of things could be considered promotional objectives). You might have one or more objectives.

Because promotion is a communication activity, in developing your promotional objective don’t make the mistake of aligning it with anything other than a communication goal – something you can see as being directly tied to communication. If you fail to do that, and you’re employed as a communicator then you’re creating an environment in which it’s hard to prove ROI (return on investment). And to put it bluntly, you’ll need to prove ROI to keep your job, let alone get a bigger budget or more business from the client.

For example, don’t say a promotional objective is to increase sales. There are far more factors in play in your marketing plan than just communication that impact sales (such as what the product is like, the price point, your competitors, the economic environment, and so on). In your promotion plan, we’re only looking at things you can directly achieve with communication.

Ensure your objective is SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-focused. Something like “Achieve 1,000 people to log onto the website and sign up for the alpha invite before 10 August, 2009” is a good promotional objective. Ensure your promotional objectives are directly achieved with communication, and that they support the overall marketing goals. Never think you’ll be able to prove your promotions were directly responsible for an increase in sales – unless you can prove nothing else changed in the environment, business or marketplace. However, your promotional activity should be one aspect which contributes towards an increase in sales. And that activity should have SMART attributes which allow you to prove they were successful promotions (even if other stuff goes haywire).

Remember that Achievable and Realistic are two different things. Sure, sending out 500 samples a week to people in the mail might be achieveable if you never spend time with your family, but is it realistic? Begin with brainstorming some objectives that you’d like to achieve and then start adjusting and tying them down with the SMART criteria.

Step Three: Choose your Tactics:

Think of tactics as tools in your kit that will allow you to implement your strategy, and get to your objectives. There are four general categories of tactics, these are: PR, Advertising, Sales Promotion, Personal Selling (which includes Word of Mouth and online communities – take some time to review each of the links). Some of these have cross over points and grey areas, and when done well, you should use some in combination or at different points in order to achieve your objectives. For example, very rarely do you use a single way of transport to get from one place to another (you might walk, then take a bus, then walk again for example), and the same is true of choosing promotional tactics. You need to select promotions that are directly aligned with your strategy. Think of what each of them will do for you, and then put them together so they become a plan.

Begin with the four big categories and the links I’ve attached to them. Then make a list of what reasonable types of activity you could consider to use, given your budget and situation, that will help you implement your strategy and get to your objectives. PR could include conferences, speeches, media activity, etc. Sales Promotions you might consider are sampling, competitions, etc. Personal Selling includes training your internal staff, internal recognition programs, and these days, word of mouth and user community. Spend some time brainstorming different things. Let me repeat, these four different areas of tactics are very broad and do not have defined constraints. They are, however, foundational points for sparking your thoughts about different activities you can do to communicate messages to different target audiences, and receive information back.

When you have chosen some tactics, put them in order of when you’d like to undertake them. There has to be real consideration given to when is the most effective time to use a particular message and a particular tactic with your market. Remember that promotions are defined as short-term activities. Ads get old fast. So do competitions. Happy Meal toys get rotated every month. Effective promotions don’t run for an extended period. Make them short, targeted and focused for great results.

That’s how you create a plan that is strategic. If you needed to go from your house to your kids’ school, you wouldn’t take an aeroplane, even though it would probably work. It’s not a well considered tool for the job. In fact it could backfire – how would your kids’ friends feel? Your neighbours? Choose the correct tools for the job, to move you along the strategic path toward your goal.

It is really very useful to use a timeline for this. Put a beginning date and the end date (which will align with achieving your objective). Then mark in what activities you’re planning to use, and when you’ll use them. Again, the more specific you are with activities, how they’re going to work with each other and especially, what each of them has been chosen to achieve as part of your strategy, the more likely you are to be successful. Don’t do something just because it’s easy, or the latest trend.

Step Four: Monitoring and Evaluation

This is the trick step. I should probably have started with it! From the very beginning of your planning to after the objective has been achieved you’ll be monitoring how your plan is going. That way you’ll know if you’re sliding off the path at all. It’s far easier to identify where things are going wrong if you do it regularly than looking back over the experience at the end and wonder what happened. You’ll also be able to make alterations to your tactic selection to get back in line with your strategic path if that’s necessary.

When you choose your tactics, it’s based on the information you have on hand right now. Also, it’s done with some expectations about how effective other tactics you choose are going to be. Just say you decided to run a competition as one tactic to get yourself an additional 100 people to try something or visit your blog – and it ended up falling flat. Well, when you’re actively monitoring and evaluating your plan on a regular basis, you could decide to change your next tactic to pick up the pace and get you back on track. You’ll also probably review future competitions and see what you need to change about them or whether to ditch them altogether. You’ll be listening to your audience, but keeping your eye on what your objective is. Your strategy won’t change, but your tactics might – and probably will – as you move along.

Planning your promotional strategy plan will take you some time, energy and thought. Far more so than simply placing an ad somewhere, or running a random competition. But the outcomes will be infinitely better. So what are you waiting for? Get strategic!