Case study: Fixing $5 haircuts

There’s a humorous business story about two competing barber shops that were next door to each other. One barber shop cut their prices so ridiculously low that they were sure the other shop wouldn’t stay in business much longer: They put up a sign that said “$5 hair cuts”. Not to be outdone, but not interested in competing on price, the other barber shop put up a sign that said, “We fix $5 hair cuts. $20.00”.

When businesses choose the cheapest alternative, there is a price you pay. Sure, sometimes the cheapest choice works out but many times (I would even venture to say “often”) the cheapest choice is the cheapest for a reason.

On several occasions, new clients have got in touch with me because the cheapest option didn’t work out. The most prominent examples were from back in the day when search engine optimization was based on keyword content (it’s much smarter now) and they had hired $2.00/article English-as-a-second-language writers to jam keywords into articles.

Maybe that worked in some industries, I don’t know, but I work in the financial and real estate industries and you don’t position yourself authoritatively when search engine results return nonsensical keyword-stuffed garbage.

Two clients in particular stand out as case study examples of how I helped fix their $5 content-related haircuts:

One client was a tax attorney and the first thing we did was determine that his website was in desperate need of some authoritative content. He was using low quality search engine copy to send low quality leads to a low quality website. Although we would go on to improve his offsite marketing, we started with his onsite content by creating a high quality resource site of useful, interesting, entertaining copy.

Another client was a debt collection company and the low cost content creator they had initially hired not only created low quality keyword stuffed copy, but it was completely nonsensical. It simply didn’t make a lick of sense. So we started creating offsite copy for them. We built up a bank of good copy and, combined with time (plus some active attempts to remove or replace their bad copy), we turned the tide and took control of their search results.

Case study: Communicating through a sensitive topic

In business, it’s easy to communicate the fun stuff. “Great news! We’ve increased the your bandwidth!” or “Great news, that airplane seat actually costs less!”

But there are times when you need to deliver bad news to a client… and that’s when clients call me.

In the recent past, I’ve had 3 separate clients ask me to help them communicate bad news to their clients.

  • One software client was changing how their warranty period was charged and measured, which ultimately resulted in higher costs for customers.
  • An insurance client was asking its vendors to adopt a new and highly complex piece of software.
  • A client that sold online services was increasing their rate structure, even though they had already increased their rate structure earlier that year.

I always start by trying to understand both sides of the relationship. The party delivering the bad news has their reasons for having the bad news in the first place. (In my experience, businesses rarely try to screw with their customers and vendors without having a good reason!). And on the other side of the table, the party receiving the bad news brings their own set of biases and goals.

This is where most businesses fall short. They might want to do what’s right for all parties but their own goals are so embedded in their thinking that it’s hard to consider the other side. Perhaps that’s why they bring me — an outsider — in to help.

After thinking about what both parties want, I try to find something good. Something. Sometimes it’s hard but it’s never impossible.

  • In the case of the software company, there were aspects of the warranty that customers could customize.
  • In the case of the insurance company’s vendors, the software allowed for faster communication between the vendor and the company.
  • Even in the online services client, there was something good — although we had to create it: Rather than simply increasing the company’s rates across the board, we changed the conversation by creating new service tiers. The prices increased but so did the service and the perceived value.

The result? I was able to communicate through the sensitive issue for my clients and they came out the other side with customers and vendors intact and happy.

Case study: Writing to create a brand

When you have a product to sell, you sell it once and the client takes ownership of that product. But with software as a service, you are creating a product that you “sell” over and over again. Every time the payment is due, you need to re-sell why you provide the service that you do. And when there are other competing products in the marketplace, you’d better step up with something different of your own.

I had an opportunity to write for a client who was selling financial software as a service. They were a brand new product competing in a space already dominated by several other names.

With a total blank slate, I set out to create the brand. I knew that we’d never be able to compete on an equal plain with the other established service providers in the category. They had already locked up the ideas/concepts/terms that they stood for. So we found our own idea and I wrote all the content around that one idea. I recommended a mascot to be created and presented frequently on all the pages to give the brand its identity. All content — on every single page, as well as the blog — was designed to support the one idea or key theme we chose as the idea for our brand. We even changed the pricing model to reflect the brand that was built.

I couldn’t have been more pleased with the result: The site looked sharp, attracted subscribers, and became a solid player in the industry with a healthy base of subscribers. I wrapped up my agreement with them when they were acquired by another company.

This project was the project that ultimately “sold” me on the value of the subscription payment model. I’d seen other companies do it, of course, but was never on the inside before, and this company put together an offer that worked really well.

And, this project was thrilling to participate in because it truly was a “from-the-ground-up” project in which I started with an entirely clean slate and could build it almost in any way that I thought best.

Case study: Ghostwriting a best-selling book

A book is more than just a couple hundred pages that you might sell for twenty bucks on Amazon. Writing a book SHOULD BE on your list of things to do to grow your business. It’s a document that helps to position you as an expert in your field. It has the potential to provide ongoing income for you — just sweat through the hard work of writing it once and then you’ll earn ongoing income from it for as long as you sell it. A book is also a marketing tool; it constantly promotes you even when you’re sleeping. Books open doors — to new business opportunities, new marketing opportunities, speaking engagements, clients, and more.

As a former ghostwriter (I really don’t do ghostwriting at all anymore) I had the privilege of working with a few clients on their books. They’d tell me what they wanted to write about, I’d put together a table of contents and a project plan (to keep the project moving forward because it’s SO easy to let your book falter) and then I’d write the content for them. Unlike some ghostwriters who write almost all the content exclusively, I tried to adopt a more collaborative approach with my clients because I felt that it better captured their brand and “voice”, and it ensured that I didn’t too long on a rabbit-trail digression that wasn’t helping the client.

Some books I wrote for some clients turned out okay. We were both happy with the end result but the books didn’t deliver all that was hoped. But for one client, with whom I wrote nearly half a dozen books, they all became Amazon best-sellers, achieving #1 seller status in different Amazon categories.

So what was the difference between some of my clients whose books were okay and my one client whose books all became best-sellers?

Here are a few things that helped my best-selling-book client do so well:

  • We wrote good-sized print books (250+ pages) of high quality, high value information
  • We created a website to help promote the book
  • We cross-sold the book on my client’s other channels (his site plus in the backs of other books)
  • We wrote sales letters and autoresponders to help generate sales

These all helped; they all played a part… and I would love to point entirely to myself as the most significant reason that these books did so well. However, what really made a huge difference was that my client had a HUGE audience with whom he had nurtured a very deep and trusting relationship.

Whenever we wrote something, he put it on Amazon and his readers would rush out and buy it. (That might sound bad but don’t worry, I made sure we wrote GREAT content!).

Although I played a part, it was really my client’s relationship with his list that made all the difference, turning a great product into an in-demand product.

So what should you do if you’re a business owner who aspires to write a book and use it as a tool for your business? I think your first priority should be to build an audience and nurture a relationship with them.

Case study: Increasing profitability with passive income

Businesses survive (and thrive!) by continually generating income. But as a business owner, it’s easy to get caught up in a vicious cycle of performing a service, getting paid for it, performing another service, getting paid for it, etc.

That turns into a treadmill because you become dependent on that income and if you are not able to do the work, the income dries up. Additionally, you can’t grow beyond the time you have available to perform the service.

Therefore, if you are a business owner who wants to grow your business, you need to do it with passive income. Passive income is sometimes misunderstood. Some people think of it as “do-nothing-and-make-money”, which is basically impossible.

Rather, you should think of passive income as “work-once-and-get-paid-on-an-ongoing-basis”. That’s a big difference and successful passive income generation does require some initial investment of time, money, and effort.

Building passive-income-generating assets for your business is a great way to transition your business from a active (service-dependent) income to passive income. (If you’re looking for some ideas about passive income, check out this blog posts 5 levels of content monetization).

One of my clients came to me with that very problem. She is a well-known expert on the topic of finances but she was on a “treadmill” of services — consulting and speaking — that prevented her from growing her business a lot more. She had published one book, which helped her gain that expert status, but it was time to do more.

I brainstormed a few different options to help her generate some passive income and the one we decided to build first was an e-course that people pay to take.

First, we built a free e-course that provided great content. Second, we created a paid e-course that provided an advanced version of the free e-course. With so many people attracted to the free e-course, we were able to promote the paid e-course to a targeted, highly-interested audience, and people started paying my client for the course.

Just that one course wasn’t enough to completely replace and exceed the income my client was generating as a consultant and speaker, but that wasn’t her goal. Rather, she wanted to create a steady stream of income that continually trickled in, which is what is happening right now as people subscribe to her e-course.

And the best part is: Now that this e-course has been built once, it runs automatically and requires very little effort on her part to ensure that it continues. So the investment she made once will pay for itself and continue to pay her over and over again for years to come.