Today I had the honor of interviewing small business marketing guru, Michael Stelzner. Michael’s newest book, Launch: How To Quickly Propel Your Business Beyond the Competition, was just released to the public last week. When I went to pick up my copy, there was only one left at my local bookstore! There’s a good reason these are flying off the shelves. Ya see, Michael Stelzer is one of the biggest thought leaders in the social media world–and specifically in how social media relates to small business owners. He’s the ‘go-to’ guy. The man with the answers. The person every small business owner wants and needs to know. This is no shmoozy introduction. I share this with you from my heart, in the interest of introducing you to a man that can help you change your business in dramatic ways. Knowing that, allow me the pleasure of sharing some of his small business marketing insights with you. If you prefer auditory learning, you can download a recording of the interview. Otherwise, read on:
Stephanie: Why did you write the book Launch?
Michael: It’s an excellent question. I honestly wrote the book Launch to help small business people that are wondering what in the world they need to do in this crazy, changing world that seems to be different every single day. I really just wanted it to be an encouraging word to businesses that need to use a different way and don’t want to spend a lot of money to do it, so it’s really my gift back to business people all over the world of all sizes. I’m really hoping it resonates with people.
Stephanie: That’s great. In the first few pages of the book you define something you call the “elevation principle.” Can you explain that a little bit?
Michael: Sure. If you think about your business as a rocket ship, your goal is to navigate this big machine to new frontiers. The way you do that is by focusing on people–that’s the premise behind the elevation principle. The simple formula behind it is this: great content + other people – marketing messages = growth. You know what great content is. It’s the stuff you read all the time that you love tweeting and sharing on Facebook. It’s typically how-to articles, success stories, or maybe interviews with experts that you really respect. Most people that are working on creating content in the form of a blog for example, the thing they often overlook is the “other people” component. What you’re doing right now with me, Stephanie, is the “other people” component…bringing insights from the brains of other people to your audience that are experts. This is a great way that you can develop relationships with people but it’s also an outstanding way to get some really interesting insight to your audience and it’s another form of content. The last thing is “minus marketing messages.” Too many times, businesses put up a website and surround it with advertising. Have you ever been to a wedding that was sponsored by Nike? Probably not. Have you ever received a gift and had to sit through a commercial to get to the present? Or was the present wrapped in advertising? Of course we, as social creatures, know this is ridiculous. We would never do that. But why is it that we do that with our content? The “minus marketing messages” means that you need to cage the advertisements that you usually put inside of your content and instead it will be perceived as a gift. And when people receive your great content as a gift, they will become happy. They’ll be excited. They’ll share it with their friends. They’ll bring more traffic to you. It will get them coming back to you time and time again to your feeding troth. That’s the premise behind the elevation principle.
Stephanie: Great. Are you suggesting that when you have a website that you don’t have a lot of activity on the site itself that could cost your readers money?
Michael: I would suggest not doing that. For example, if you go to a website and see ads all over it, a lot of times it’s so hard to get past the ads that you don’t even want to read the content. It’s almost like driving down Las Vegas Boulevard. People are inundated by marketing messages so much that they will see your content as nothing more than a lure to get them to do something, like click on an ad. I’m suggesting you go commercial-free. Everyone hates commercials. Everyone loves commercial-free stuff in traditional media. Why not do commercial-free stuff in online media because it doesn’t have the cost? Radio and television and print have enormous costs that are augmented by advertising. But online doesn’t really have any cost at all, other than your time; so you really don’t need to augment it with advertising. What you do instead Stephanie, is, you have a mechanism for people to sign up to get more from your content feed, so to speak. You might have a form where you encourage people to get an email next time you have an update. Or you might suggest they become a friend on Facebook. These are techniques that you can use to get them to come back time and time again and to develop a loyal following. E-mail is the most powerful. And it’s through that secondary channel, what I call the ‘back channel,’ — that’s the place that you can do advertising. The first impression on your site should be something completely commercial-free. As they become loyal followers, they’re going to want to get your updates regularly. It’s through that channel that you can choose to do your marketing.
Stephanie: Okay. Well, today’s marketing techniques are vastly different from what they were just 5 years ago. What do you think caused people to stop responding to more traditional forms of marketing?
Michael: I think it was basically the fact that they could get better quality stuff online, for free. For example, if you have an iPad, you can subscribe to USA Today and get it immediately, instead of waiting for it to show up on your doorstep the next day. And it’s free! So why would you pay for the subscription when you can get it for free? You’ve also got the same thing going on online with t.v. shows and with email. So what’s happening is that the middleman–the distributors of the content–have been eliminated as a result of online mediums. And the need for advertising has also been eliminated. The moral of the story is that people are so sick of advertisements, and their time is so precious, that nobody pays attention anymore. And that’s why there needs to be a new way. And I believe the new way is to just can the advertising completely and instead, just produce super high value content that will get people coming back time and time again.
Stephanie: Well, you’ve certainly proven that works!
Michael: Ya! (laughs)
Stephanie: Many of the small business owners I work with are constantly being hit up by advertising sales reps. For example, I work with a number of people that own retail stores and restaurants. These ad reps come in and promise them the world in exchange for their little, tiny marketing budget. Do you believe there’s a time and place for paid advertising at all?
Michael: I do not. I do not in the case of a small business. I happen to have a rather large website. SocialMediaExaminer.com is one of the top 1,200 websites in all of America according to Alexa. We have more than 700,000 page views a month, which I know is more than most small business websites. We’ve experimented with advertising–and we were lucky to receive $100 a month. One thing you have to realize is, if you own a restaurant, would you put an ad in the front lobby for another restaurant? If you work out of your house, would you put a sign on your front lawn advertising someone else saying, “hey, don’t come to my house, go down the street?” Of course you wouldn’t! I think too many people have been lured into this idea that they can make a lot of money by sending people away from their website; and that’s what they’re doing. They’re sending people away! As a restaurant, or any other business, you don’t want to send people away. You want them to come back time and time again. I believe that’s a reason not to do advertising. Now, don’t get me wrong. There is a time and a place for it. I’m not opposed to advertising on search engines, for example. Because, ya know, people must be actively searching. But on your website? I really don’t think there’s any money. You do have to ask yourself, “what’s the risk?” The risk is I might not ever get a customer coming in the door because they went to some other place because I had an ad in their way.
Stephanie: Good point.
Michael: So, I would say no.
Stephanie: So how do you suggest small business owners “un-learn” traditional marketing methods and embrace the new, and for some people really uncomfortable tactics that are being taught today?
Michael: I think first and foremost you have to talk to other people and ask them if this stuff still works. Just know that nothing that used to work seems to work anymore. There’s a reason magazines and newspapers are getting so thin. There’s a reason why people are using the equivalent of TiVo’s to skip commercials on television. People just aren’t paying attention anymore. And you know you’re not paying attention. And I know I’m not paying attention. So there’s no reason to believe our customers are paying attention. You just have to ask yourself, if you intuitively know deep down that this stuff doesn’t work for me as an individual, than you can assume it’s not going to work for your customers. So then, the next question is, what does work? You want to take a look at businesses that have been successful. The most important thing you can have are ears and eyes. And foot traffic, if you have a restaurant, for example. The best way to do that is to give people what they want! Deep down, everybody wants great information, and they want access to great people, and they want recognition. If you can figure out how to do that in a commercial-free environment, you’ll be very successful. I would study SocialMediaExaminer.com. We were very successful in our first year, $1.7 million in revenue, with almost no advertising at all. It all came down to producing excellent content. I would suggest people just experiment, look at what others are doing, study them and then put together a plan of their own.
Stephanie: That’s awesome. In addition to SocialMediaExaminer.com, are there other up-and-coming small business owners that are doing a great job packing their marketing messages away?
Michael: Yes. Junta 42 has something very similar to SocialMediaExaminer.com where they’ve got multiple authors contributing content, and what they call the “Content Marketing Institute.” Then there’s also HubSpot; all they do is create great content and give it away constantly. They’ve grown enormously. As a matter of fact they just got more than $30 million in venture capital funding from Google and a couple of other companies. Their entire business model is about giving away free content. This is a new thing so you’re not going to find tons of businesses that are out there doing this right now. But those that are doing it, are growing so fast! And there’s a reason they’re growing so fast. Nobody likes the old way. It feels slimy. People don’t like it. They don’t trust businesses. If you can establish trust by giving away great stuff for free, then is what happens next, Stephanie… people say, “how much more if I buy whatever they have to offer? How much more if I get some consulting services from this person? Or hire this person as a coach?” That is the magical situation you want to have happen. You want to have so many people loving your stuff that they’re singing your praises from the hilltop, telling their friends…that’s the kind of situation we experience at Social Media Examiner.
Stephanie: In your book you share a story about how you started Social Media Examiner just about nine months after you began using social media. You go on to mention that you leveraged your relationships with fire starters like Mari Smith so that you could go really big, fast. For the small business owners that may not have connections of the caliber of people like Mari Smith, how would you suggest that we move forward?
Michael: I’m going to share a little story. I didn’t know Mari Smith when I started. As a matter of fact, what I would suggest you do is look at the people in your network of friends and colleagues and ask yourself if any of them have access to the audience that I want access to? In my case it was Denise Wakeman of the The Blog Squad. I knew of Denise back when I was into writing white papers and I saw that she was getting active in the world that I wanted to get into–social media. She encouraged me to come to this event and meet Mari. So I did! I went to that event strictly to meet Mari. I introduced myself to her and asked her if she wanted to be part of this little movement that I was creating. There’s absolutely no reason anyone couldn’t do the same thing if you’ve figured out how to leverage the contacts you already have in your network. The key to getting to experts is there absolutely has to be something in it for them. For example, if you’re in a niche like cooking, and there are some really cool new books out on cooking, I can guarantee you that those authors of those books are looking for exposure. Why not reach out to those authors? Interview them. Share some of the cooking techniques they have with your audience. That could begin developing a relationship that could lead to something more. But if it doesn’t, it’s okay! Your method should be to constantly be identifying these people, which are also often at trade shows. At the very least, if you can simply do something great for them by interviewing them, giving them some exposure, even if you have a small platform, your audience will love it because they’re getting great insight and knowledge, which is what they want. Some of those people will float up like cream to the top and might develop into some nice relationships that could help you grow.
Stephanie: That’s wonderful. Do you think it’s realistic for a very small business owner to reach out to someone that, for lack of better words, may seem out of their league?
Michael: Well Stephanie, why don’t you share how you got me on this interview?
Stephanie: Oh great! (laughs)
Michael: I’m turning the tables because I think you’re a good example! (laughs)
Stephanie: Okay! So I got to interview you because I asked! And you said yes! And that was wonderful!
Michael: So the moral of the story is, absolutely it’s possible! (laughs) I mean, you probably thought, “what have I got to lose?” Right? “This is my opportunity.” You asked and I said yes. Really the best thing is to find people when they’re ripe and interested. Certain people are very difficult to get to at certain times. But, people open themselves up a lot when they’re going to a trade show for example, to speak. And that means they’ve already accepted the fact that they’re going to be up on a stage and they’re going to be talking about something and people are going to be asking them questions. If you scope out trade shows in your industry, there’s a great opportunity to go meet those people and possibly interview them. As I mentioned earlier, if someone has a book coming out, you can scan the new releases section on Amazon for the category you’re interested in and can find all of these hot new authors. And you can just decide to go after them all! You might get rejected, but some will say yes. And once you get a couple under your belt? Like, Stephanie, you can say, “I interviewed Mike Stelzner from Social Media Examiner. Would you be willing to let me interview you?”
Stephanie: Okay. That’s so cool! (laughs)
Michael: You can start leveraging those names! Do you follow where I’m going with that? And before you know it, everybody and their mother wants to be part of it! That’s how it works. It’s that simple. (laughs)
Stephanie: So in other words, I have your permission to name drop now, right?
Michael: Absolutely! You never have to ask! Once you interview someone, it’s totally fair game to drop their name when you’re trying to get to someone else.
Stephanie: Did you learn any really fantastic lessons that you can pass on to us in regards to approaching people? The tip of looking at the up-and-coming new releases on Amazon is wonderful. What other lessons can you share?
Michael: You can’t just email someone and say “Hi. My name is Stephanie. Will you let me interview you?” Although I know that’s what you did with me (laughs), it’s not going to work all the time. What you need to do is study that person and you need to ask yourself, “what does that person want?” Because that expert is a human being, just like the people that read your website. And they probably want great insight, access to great people and also recognition. You have to ask yourself, “is there any reason why they might be willing to say yes? Maybe I can share with them that my audience is the same audience they’re trying to get the word out to with regards to whatever it is they’re working on.” I’m interested in reaching small business people with my book, so it was a natural fit for me to say yes to you. The other thing you have to ask yourself is, “am I pitching myself?” If you are, that may not be a good thing because a lot of really high profile experts are inundated every single day from multiple people that want something from them. If you switch the tables and ask for nothing in return, just simply something as simple as, “how can I help you?” That will completely flip the whole thing, because it’s all about you being here to help. I’ll give you an example, Seth Godin, who you may know, super high profile guy in the world of marketing–as a matter of fact one of the highest profile marketers that exist today, I just simply emailed him and asked, “how can I help you?” That was it. He emailed back and said “so and so will be in touch with you.” A little bit later someone reached out to me and said, he’s got a new book coming out called Linchpin. I said I’d love to interview him and badda boom, I was on the phone talking to Seth Godin! Interviewing him! It was the coolest thing ever! When it was all done I never said “by the way Seth, would you please put this up on your blog? Would you please share this?” I said nothing other than, “Thank you so much.” I asked him some really insightful questions, he loved it, and I was able to interview him again–a second time. That’s how it starts. You stand out by not doing anything except giving. Giving as much as you can. Even if you can’t reach the person, you can write a book review and simply say “hey, I wrote a new review on your book. Here you go.” If you give to enough people, not giving to get, I’m not advocating that at all. I’m just advocating truly giving. It’s a win-win because you’re creating great content that your audience is interested in and some of those people will reciprocate and come back to you and say that was really cool. And something good can come out of that.
Stephanie: Michael, some of the small business owners I know are absolutely dynamite in person. On their feet they’re compelling and amazing and captivating. And yet, they get behind a computer to write something and they completely freeze. Do you have any tips for people like that?
Michael: Yes. Why don’t you just record a video on YouTube and email it to the person? (laughs) Seriously! I saw the coolest thing ever that said “Hi Mike Stelzer.” It was this guy from Malaysia, that did a video interview, stuck it up on YouTube and never even told me about it. But knew that being a savvy marketer, I was tracking my name and getting Google alerts. What do you know? I got a Google alert and I watched the video the guy created of me. He never had to speak to me at all. And then his book showed up in the mail a few days later. I thought it was very creative. The other idea is you could act like you’re talking to someone (when it’s not really that person) and then you could record it and you could type it out, if you’re much better verbally. Those are just some simple little tips that literally just came to me when you asked that question.
Stephanie: In the book you explain how to create captivating content and then what to do to leverage it. Last time I looked, which was about 20 minutes ago, you had more than 46,000 people, closer to 47,000 people that “like” Social Media Examiner on Facebook. How do you get so many fans to go from reading your blog to “liking” your Facebook page?
Michael: The first tip is to have a Facebook “like” box on your blog. We have this little box on the right side of SocialMediaExaminer.com. When people come to the page and they read the content, they just click that little button. They don’t even have to leave my site. They just become a fan. That’s the number one way we get new fans. Facebook has this cool thing called Facebook Insights, which will tell you exactly where people are coming from. So I would put a Facebook like box up on your site and I would just see whether or not people come. It’s really that simple. What’s cool about the like box is that when people come to your site, if they’re logged into Facebook at all, it will show pictures of their buddies that are already fans. And they’ll be like, “Oh, I know Stephanie. I know John. If they like it, maybe I should like it!” Boom! They become a fan. Simple! Simple! Simple! (laughs)
Stephanie: We tend to complicate things a lot! That’s a good reminder.
Michael: I’ve got this great quote from Leonardo DaVinci that says, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” And here’s another one by Albert Einstein, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” That is key. And by the way, that’s key to communicating with experts as well. It needs to be said so simply that they can’t say no.
Stephanie: If you were talking to small business owners that were really fired up with passion for their line of work or their product or service and in the very beginning stages of launching their business, and you could only share one tip from your book, what would it be?
Michael: Do not be afraid. Do not let the fact that others are out there doing the very same thing you’re doing stop you. My last business before this one was writing white papers. I googled “white paper writer” and I saw that two other people had already starting doing it. I was like, “Oh man! Someone’s out there doing it already. I can’t do it.” I have a phrase for that in my book: the internet is the great paralyzer. Do not let it paralyze you–the fact that others are doing it. Instead, let it serve as market justification. It means that there is somebody out there that is interested! When I started Social Media Examiner in October of 2009, if I had let the fact that there were thousands of other blogs focused on social media stop me, I would have never been where I am today. The biggest tip I would give to you is, just go for it! You have nothing to lose except for your time. It doesn’t cost a lot of money. Just try.
Stephanie: I’m so fired up! I’m ready to conquer the world now! (both laugh) Mike, I know a lot of people are going to want to purchase your book. Where can they find it?
Michael: You can get a free chapter immediately by visiting ElevationPrinciple.com. There’s no registration required. You can click the button, read the first chapter and if you think it’s right for you, you can get it from Barnes and Noble, Kindle, all of those different options.
Stephanie: And if we want to connect with you and continue learning from you elsewhere, where can we find you?
Michael: SocialMediaExaminer.com. And the best way to connect with me is Facebook.com/elevationprinciple. This is a special site that I’ve set up for people to ask questions about launching a small business.
Stephanie: Thank you so much for your time. We appreciate your insight, and all of giving that you’ve been doing. We’re excited to be growing with you and celebrating your success. So thank you for your time.
Michael: Thank you, Stephanie. It’s been a real pleasure.
A note to the readers of this interview: Now that you’ve gotten a sample of Mike’s awesomeness, I know you want to read his book! Guess what? You now have the opportunity to get it (the whole thing!) absolutely free. And it’s not just any copy…it’s the autographed version! If you want the chance to win it, simply do one thing. Post a comment below on this interview. Share your thoughts, questions, insights and anything else that floats your boat. I’ll send the autographed book to the author of my favorite comment! Hurry! Click the red “add comments” button below and write your little heart out! Oh and remember to share this interview with your peeps too. Friends don’t let friends miss out on great stuff like this! Tweet it! Share it! Heck, do it all!
Michael Stelzner is the founder of SocialMediaExaminer.com, author of the books Launch: How to Quickly Propel Your Business Beyond the Competition and Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged, the popular Social Media Marketing Industry Report, and the man behind large summits, such as Social Media Success Summit.