59. Derek Sivers on Charitable Trusts, Pre-Internet Guerilla Marketing & Becoming a Semi-Expert

Author of Anything You Want, and founder of Go To Launch, Derek Sivers has 10+ years experience running businesses and helping entrepreneurs succeed. 

What’s an important lesson you learned while building your business plan for woodegg? Start small.  See if people are really interested enough to open their wallets and buy something, before you invest too much time or money into it.

In your experience, what are some misconceptions brands commonly have about launching a business? The biggest misconception is expecting your launch to be an event.  Nobody cares about your launch.  In fact, don’t even launch, just begin.  Begin the persistent ongoing work of being public, and showing people how you can help them.  Announce it every day or week, instead of all at once at the start. Your start is not their start.  Consumers need many reminders before they’ll actually take the time to check you out.

In 2008 you sold an online company for $22M and donated it to a charitable trust. If it is such a good investment into the future, makes the world a better place, is good for the brand’s image, AND 5% of that value is paid out to you each year, why don’t more entrepreneurs do this? From the feedback I’ve received from people in the past 5 years since I announced that I did this, it seems most people want the big money. They want $22M. They want the ability to buy a $20M home and a $2M jet or perhaps buy another business for $20M. Many would rather leave that entire amount to their kids. 

Most business people have told me I’m crazy for doing this.  So I think the whole “give it away and live on the interest” is just not a popular idea with people.

I’m a startup and interested in following your charitable lead. Would it still be worth taking this route today or have laws made this less appealing? Nothing has changed that I know of.  I think it’s very worth doing.  In fact, the sooner you do it, the better.  Transfer the ownership of your company into a trust early on, as soon as it’s worth anything, so that the value of it can grow inside the trust, tax-free.

I have a small marketing budget, any advice? That really depends on your business. For starters look into some old classic books from the 90s such as  

  1. Guerrilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson
  2. Guerrilla P.R. by Michael Levine 

They’re both pre-internet publications, but have timeless advice on a great mindset for being crafty, creative, and considerate with your marketing approach, instead of relying on spending.

https://embed-ssl.ted.com/talks/derek_sivers_how_to_start_a_movement.html

I want to do your job, any advice?

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a question I ask everyone I interview. However since Derek so freely posts his advice and lessons learned on his blog, rather than asking him questions he has already answered a hundred times before, I read over every page of website and here are a few of my favorite:]

You already have something that people want. It might be something you own, something you’ve learned how to do, or access to valuable resources, space, or people.

Find a way to share it with everyone who needs it. Share because it’s what you do for friends, because it’s the right thing to do, because it makes the world a better place, and because it’ll make you deeply happy. Share as your contribution in return for all the things and ideas that people have shared with you.

If it takes some effort for you to share it, you can charge a little something for your effort, to ensure that this giving can continue.
From The Co-op Business Model: Share Whatever You’ve Got

There’s a big difference between being self-employed and being a business owner.

Being self-employed feels like freedom until you realize that if you take time off, your business crumbles.

To be a true business owner, make sure you could leave for a year, and when you came back, your business would be doing better than when you left.
From Delegate or Die: The Self-Employment Trap

For you website designers: your design choices are like a light switch. Your users have already come to your site, now they’re forced to use your interface.

The best design should do what people expect, and should not make them think. So the best design strategy is to do what others do.
From Quit Quirks When Working With Others

As time goes on, we get smarter. We learn more about our customers and what they really want. Therefore, we’re at our dumbest at the beginning, and at our smartest at the end. So when should you make business decisions? When you have the most information, when you’re at your smartest: as late as possible.
From Let Pedestrians Define The Walkways

Summarize thousands of hours of experience into a quick overview people can read in a few hours.

Someone can become a semi-expert for under $100 and a few days’ time, then offer their semi-expertise at $20 per hour to all those people (like me) who just want someone to tell us what to do. They could be anywhere in the world, working from home in their spare time.

At that rate, anyone who travels would be silly not to spend $10 for them to tell you the benefits that apply to you, or another $10 to have them take care of it. This applies to all industries. There’s so much info out there, so cheaply, that anyone looking for a self-employed career could become a semi-expert at anything.
From Semi-Expert: Profit by Saving Us Time

Start-up companies who have too much money often blow it. That there’s an advantage to being under-funded to keep you from making mistakes.

Marketing doesn’t cost money. ‘Marketing’ is another way of saying ‘being considerate’. It’s all in how you talk with people.
From Nothing To Waste: The Advantage of being Underfunded

Specialize at one thing, and become that go-to company that nobody can beat in your niche.” 
From That’s Version Infinite. First Launch Version 1.0

You have to make your own success first, before you ask the industry for help. You have to show that you’re going to be successful with-or-without their help. Show that you have momentum, and if they want to accelerate it or amplify it they can, but it will cost them to ride your coat-tails.

If you don’t do this, then even in the best-case scenario, where someone at the company really believes in you, you’ll have no negotiating leverage, and will get the worst deal possible. If you’re just starting out, don’t ask the industry for help yet.

Make something happen by yourself first, so you have a success story to tell and momentum to show.
From Show Success Before Asking For Help

When designing your business, service, or product, even if you’re offering it for free, don’t forget that there are lots of people like me that like to pay! Appeal to this side of people, giving them a feel-good reason to pay.
From Some People Like to Pay, Let Them

You’ll know when you’re on to something special, because people will love it so much they’ll tell everyone. If people aren’t telling their friends about it yet, don’t waste time marketing it. Instead, keep improving until they are.
//player.vimeo.com/video/25494440?byline=0&portrait=0

From Are Fans Telling Friends? If Not, Improve, Don’t Promote

Because I wasn’t eager for new work or even new connections, not having a business card helped keep the less-interested people away.

I was easy enough to find. If someone wanted to contact me, they only had to go to my company website, and click “CONTACT”.
From My New Business Card: Guitar Picks

When you hear someone complaining, here’s what it means:

1. They know what’s wrong, but don’t realize they can change it. (They think they’re powerless.)

2. They know what’s wrong, but are too lazy to change it. (They’d rather sit and complain.)

On the personal side, being a friend, I hate this. Because it’s a lot of work to make complainers realize they can change things. They always push back with all the reasons they can’t, which just reinforces the two points above.

On the business side, being an entrepreneur, I love this. Because I know I’m powerful and can change anything. Because every complaint is an opportunity. It’s fun to invent solutions to problems, turn ideas to reality, and watch my creations make the world a little better.
From Complainers

When we first consider buying a product or service, the first price we see is the anchor to which we always refer. Cheaper than that seems cheap, and more expensive than that seems expensive. So how did Starbucks successfully start charging $4 per cup? How did they get people to switch their price-anchor to consider $4 a normal (not expensive) price for a cup of coffee?

They made sure it was such a different experience, that you could not directly compare it to your previous coffee-buying experience. They did everything they could to make the experience feel so different that you would not use the regular “cuppa joe at the diner” as an anchor, but instead would be open to a brand new anchor. Can you say that your product or service is cheaper-than, more-expensive-than, or about-the-same-as the average price for your product or service from competitors?

If so, can you instead imagine doing something so different that your answer to that question is, “What competitors? There’s nobody doing anything like this!
From Uncomparable: Anchor A New Mama

An entire business model flipped upside down just by starting with an opposite assumption. What assumptions are you running on? Are there things you assume you have to pay for, that might instead be willing to pay you? What current business models might as well be flipped around, or get their income from a different source?

https://embed-ssl.ted.com/talks/derek_sivers_weird_or_just_different.html
From Reversible Business Models

If you make a living only providing an in-person (hands-on) service, you are limiting your income. If you were in a “while you sleep” business, there is no limit to how much you can make. paid-area access to your web-archive with all your music, even works-in-progress or make it easy for fans to donate.

From Never Have A Limit On Your Income

Sometimes the difference between success and failure is just a matter of keeping in touch! People forget you very fast.
From Keep In Touch

Click here for more presentations by Derek Sivers.

55. Peter Spear on Brand Listening vs. Consumer Research & How To Develop A Brand Strategy

imageBrand Listener and Strategist, Peter Spear has over 18 years experience researching consumer insight to help brands see and plan more clearly and strategically.

How does your job fit into the marketing process? All of my work is qualitative consumer research – face to face. It’s either conversation, which can happen anywhere – one on one interviews, group discussions – or it’s observation, which happens out in the world where decisions get made and products get used – in people’s homes, stores, etc.

My clients are usually the brands themselves, sometimes with their creative agencies, but mostly not. My work happens either in the beginning or at the end of a strategic or creative development process.

Sometimes I think of it in two ways – you listen when you need inspiration or if you need to refine.

At the early stages of any development, the goal is to explore the category through the eyes of the consumer in order to inspire ways of thinking about the opportunity. The goal is to inform development through deeper understanding of the consumer experience.

At the end of development the goal is to share what’s been created  – be it a new product, communications, logo, packaging, etc. – to learn and refine. It’s about “taking out” what has been created to determine in what ways it works towards the strategy or brief.

I talk about it as brand listening because it was important for me to distance myself from standard qualitative. I wanted to describe a way of doing research that was sensitive to context, psychology and strategy. Too much qualitative is extremely unreliable and unuseful because it is insensitive to these limitations (and borders on the inhumane).

There are, quite frankly, serious limitations about how much you can learn through qualitative research – but what you can learn can be immensely powerful.

For a planner’s perspective on the appropriate use of research, do check out Martin Weigel’s “The Use and Abuse of Research”:

In it he states: “Most creative development is strategy development done too late.” This means, to me, that there are great efficiencies in keeping research very close to development throughout the process, and keeping it strategic.

A lot of well-known online entrepreneurs suggest ‘validation’ by browsing message boards and consumer reviews about what people are complaining about and then creating a product that meets their needs, and then procure X # of sales ASAP to ensure you have an idea that people are willing to pay. I think there are a couple of things that make me nervous about this. Remember, I have spent my entire career in that space between ideas and real people, so this makes me really sensitive to noble ambitions and the harsh reality of everyday life. The failure rate is astonishing.

I think it’s important to remember that this kind of advice coincides with the single biggest increase in the availability of product-making tools in recent history. So it’s extremely fashionable to align oneself with making things – as opposed to, god forbid, thinking about them or doing some basic exploration of the opportunity.

So I would be careful about who’s advice you take – even mine. But if you haven’t thought about strategy (where are we going?) or about identity (who are we?) then, as far as I’m concerned, you don’t have a full proposition. Consumers know this. You may not need a guy like me to answer these questions, but the questions remain.

Ultimately the question is, “How well do I understand the opportunity I see from the perspective of my prospect?” If you can get that from browsing the internet, that’s great.

The main goal is a satisfied customer. Successful brands hold people in a way that is reassuring – we all feel this in the brands we choose to allow into our lives. This is a combination of brand and product working together. The more you know about who you are, where you’re headed and how you fit into the world BEFORE, the greater your ability to deliver satisfying experiences. 

[EDITOR’S NOTE: As of this interview publication, Kickstarter has 67,633 successfully-funded projects and Indiegogo has an unknown number of successfully-funded projects. (As a private company, Indiegogo doesn’t disclose this specific information)  Of these projects, how many appear to have actually listened to consumers about what they actually want before launching their project? Of the projects that have failed, how many of them might have been successful if they had first invested some money ensuring that that were crowdfunding a product for which there was actually a need and that they were communicating in the correct way?] 

Most of the time, what consumers say they want and what they actually want are completely different things (and they are often not aware of this). How do you account for this problem as you listen to consumers? One of the first things I was taught was that we do not have answers. We have experiences, and these experiences are embodied. Yet most research approaches people as if they were a source of reliable answers to our questions, and we keep them in our heads. This is a disastrous misunderstanding.

So I design projects from the body out. That means I do men and women’s groups separately, partly because all categories are gendered, and partly because men and women communicate differently when they’re in the company of the other.

I recruit and re-recruit to make sure that I am talking to people with real category or brand experiences. I do not have anyone introduce themselves at the beginning of groups, to avoid the creation of a social hierarchy that arrives as soon as you know what neighborhood someone lives in, or job they have.

The mind thinks in images first, so I do a lot of free association and projective questions to get at the imagery and emotions and work backwards. All the exercises are written down, to give people the opportunity to free associate within themselves and to protect against social influence.

I recently backed out of a project because my client, an innovation agency, said the CEO was going to be there, so there needed to be more talking, less writing. Never mind that the talking would be unreliable nonsense. I refused. I have only recently found the courage to hold onto these principles for myself.

Ideally, though, brand listening needs both conversation and observation. In conversation, all listening is oriented towards the embodied experience through indirect questioning, deep metaphor exploration, and projective exercises to get at motivations, mindsets, values and imagery. And observation is about shared experiences out in the category to understand the context.

None of this is revolutionary or perfect, of course. I learned all this 18 years ago, but for clients, agencies, and marketers, these tools often seem to feel like indulgences, when in fact, I believe they’re requirements.

What’s the best way to develop my brand strategy? When I work with startups, I help them develop what is essentially a minimum viable brand, which becomes a kind of template for telling your brand and product story. This process is essentially a collaborative process of coming to clarity around six components which can then be turned into a strategic creative brief.

Who are you serving and who is your ideal prospect? How do you define the activities people are already doing that make them most likely to see the benefits you are offering? Actual experience in a category of behavior is better predictor of future behavior than any demographic information.  Check out Michael Schrage’s “Who do you want your customers to become?”

What are you building? What category are you in? Being clear about the category you are in helps you know who you’re serving, focuses your learning on real needs, and helps shape how you describe what it actually is. Language matters.

My model is a Venn diagram and where who and what intersect is what I call drivers. Design calls them “Jobs to be Done.” Marketing calls them “benefits.” Psychology calls them “motivations.” This is where all listening happens – with individuals active in a behavior, in order to understand how we can be uniquely helpful.

Why do you exist? I call this a passionate provocative purpose.  If design is the rendering of intent, then the Why is the intent of your organization that needs to be present in every interaction. A successful Why statement articulates the transformational intent of an organization – how are you going to transform the category, the consumer?

With these in place, teams can begin to think about brand identity (where Why & Who intersect) and brand behavior (where Why & What intersect) – which are the activities most commonly associated with branding. Jeremy Bullmore describes it as the “body language” of the proposition. But these come after getting the other pieces in place.

How would you recommend an entrepreneur do their own research to gain reliable insights? The first thing I would say is to be clear that it is not the job of your customer or prospect to answer our marketing questions. Hence the need for creative listening. Ask them about them, not you or your product. This is the most common mistake made.

  1. Who you talk to matters. Don’t talk to friends and family. Recruit your interviews according to the behaviors of the category that matters for your business.
  2. I would probably recommend staying away from doing groups. Do one on one interviews. If you do not know how to manage a group, you will be overwhelmed.
  3. Listen widely. Give them space and time to describe their own experiences and stories they have had in the space.
  4. Be patient. Don’t interrupt. This will be harder than you think.
  5. Give full attention. Eye contact, body language matter immensely.
  6. Either give them a full experience or don’t. You can’t take back a bad or incomplete experience. Have either a functioning prototype or a minimum viable story.
  7. Stay away from the future. Asking people what they might do in the future is unreliable.
  8. Stay away from money. Paying money hurts. Avoid causing pain.
  9. Ask open-ended and indirect questions. Practice starting every question with What or How. What’s interesting? How does this feel different? What is this like? What does this remind you of? How would you describe that?
  10. Avoid asking Why questions. This puts people on the defensive and assumes there’s a rational explanation.
  11. Do not introduce your own language. What you call something and what they call something could be totally different. It is this difference that creates insights.
  12. Ask follow up questions. The first response is never a complete response.
  13. Ask about their language. Listen for emotional or descriptive words. Follow up by simply saying that word back to them.
  14. If you find someone explaining something vs. describing something, it’s probably not the whole truth. Focus on getting descriptions.

There’s a great book by Steve Portigal called Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights  that outlines guidelines for preparing for an interview and what it’s like to be a consumer research interviewer.

Also, check out:

  1. “Peak Listening” on Farnam Street
  2. John Winsor on Learning to Listen Again
  3. Tim Brown of IDEO on creative listening

What’s an important lesson you’ve learned from experience? The only relationship that matters is the relationship between brands and their customers and prospects.  By extension that means my relationship with the people I interview is paramount. 

If I am honoring the experiences of the individuals who share their time and their energy with me, and I focus on attempting to orient brands towards being more helpful to them, I can sleep at night. 

Advice for someone who wants to do your job? I guess I would say get in front of people as often as possible: asking questions and following up as often as possible. Get really comfortable at being in the presence of other people and ask them to describe their experiences. 

Listening is extremely hard. Until you understand your category through the perspective of your consumer, you have very little understanding about your brand or product. 

The challenge is to give them space to communicate and to believe what they’re saying – not what they’re telling you, but what they mean. There’s a great quote from Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson: “The person you are listening to is right. Always. Your wife, your husband, your employee, your customers. They’re right.”

Any last comments? If you’re interested in knowing more about brand listening, I would recommend these two videos: 

This music video never fails to make me smile:

In the US people over 50 control over 70% of the wealth.

They are responsible for almost 50% of consumer spending, they buy 55% of all consumer package goods and 62% of all new cars.

If Americans over 50 were a country by themselves, they would be the third largest economy in the world after the US and China.

And yet they are the target of only 5% of all US advertising.

43. Matt Marrocco, Author and Lead Designer

Lead Industrial Designer for Streng and author of two successfully launched Kickstarter projects, Matt Marrocco has +6 years experience assisting in the creation of meaningful products, systems, and experiences that have a lasting impact with the end-user both domestically and globally.

How does your job fit into the advertising process? At Streng, I’m responsible for development of new concepts, prototyping and ultimately, final surfacing for mass production. I also lead teams from concept to production through developing sketches, renderings and mock-ups for final client presentations.

As an author and business-owner, my wife and I have a hand in every facet of running the business. It is hard to envision a situation where my job wouldn’t be to simultaneously manage all aspects of the business – design, brand, promotion, social, etc.

What are a few tricks you’ve learned about design? Be as transparent with people as you can about who you are, what you’re doing and how you plan to improve their lives in some incremental way in exchange for their money. Consistent, friendly and purposeful communication across multiple channels is crucial.

What are a few projects you’ve worked on? I developed the Garmin Ant, an iPhone adapter for athletes.

image

I’ve also co-created two sketchbooks and reference guides.

image

Tell me about your kickstarter crowdfunding experience. I’ve launched 2 successful kickstarter projects for 2 books, I Draw Cars and I Draw Comics

Running a crowdfunding campaign isn’t just sitting back and watching money come in – it’s a full time job in itself. You have so much to handle because you have to simultaneously manage all aspects of the project – design, brand, promotion, social networking, press, etc. 

Listening and being engaged with what people are saying about your product, brand, service, etc. is crucial, especially when trying to raise funds. Staying active in the comments section and inbox was definitely instrumental in getting funded and continues to be a great way to stay in touch with pledgers.

It’s great being funded because you get to bring your dream to life, but it is also a huge responsibility. Coordinating manufacturing, fulfillment, and customer satisfaction through delays and the inevitable mishaps that can occur in the product development process. 

I Draw Cars (Matt’s first project) was the most riddled with mistakes, but it was a blast and a learning experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. This project really taught me a lot going into I Draw Comics (Matt’s second project).

I Draw Comics is among Kickstarter’s most funded projects. How did you pull that off? I think for a couple of reasons:

  • Lessons learned from my first project
  • A more professionally prepared video
  • A more focused communications strategy
  • An enormous demand for drawing comics
  • The snowball effect from the success of I Draw Cars

The second time around, we (Matt Morrocco and Ryan Stegman) had the funding to have a professional video made. Additionally, this Kickstarter process was more streamlined. We were aware of all of these advantages coming into the second project, so it was easier to predict and avoid many problems.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Mike Del Ponte, an entrepreneur who kickstarted Soma – a compostable water filter, explains in detail on Tim Ferriss’s blog how he organized his communications campaign to raise $100,000 in only 10 days.]

What percentage would you say your friends contributed to the success of your campaigns? Outside your network? I think it was mostly contributors outside of my social network. We were able to reach a lot of folks all over the world through interviews and blog features.

What’s your favorite advertising campaign? Here are two:

image

Where do you go for inspiration?

I have a small advertising budget, any advice? I’ve never spent money on advertising. I’d say instead, invest in making and designing high-quality products that generate their own buzz. I agree with Eric Holden that “if your product/service is unbelievable, people will talk about it.”

Secondly, marketing done is important, but marketing done by real clients is the best form of marketing. Invest your time and money in getting a video of influential people using and endorsing your product.

Spend your time pitching to influencial bloggers and journalists to get articles written about you or your products.

Lastly, under-promise and over-deliver. That’s the best advice I can give.

29. Heather Huhman of Come Recommended

Founder and President of Come Recommended, and author of Lies, Damned Lies, and InternshipsHeather Huhman has +10 years experience providing content marketing and digital PR consulting for organizations with products that target job seekers and/or employers using content development, social media marketing, media & blogger relations, and SEO.

How does your job fit into the advertising process? I would argue that press relations doesn’t fit into the advertising process. Your marketing and PR should be done in coordination with any advertising campaign that you run, but advertising and public relations often work side-by-side as part of a greater overall communications strategy.

Here’s a pretty classic graphic that describes the differences:

image

What’s a PR campaign you’ve worked on? Most recently, Come Recommended was contracted to run a 9 month content marketing and digital PR campaign for the launch of Resunate‘s product launch.

image

We provided Resunate with a full content marketing and digital PR campaign, including pitching stories to the media at least once per month, blogging and guest blogging several times per week, focusing on specific SEO keywords, creating infographics and video content, creating and implementing a Twitter chat, and submitting Resunate’s product to startup and app review websites, among other tactics.

As a result, Resunate was named:

  • The no. 1 resume tool by DailyTekk
  • The no. 1 tool for finding the perfect job by Mashable
  • One of the top eight great apps for your job search by FINS, and 
  • A “smart resume builder” by Lifehacker

We also achieved for Resunate its goal of getting its top 11 keywords in the first page of Google search results. Resunate is now used by more than 20,000 job seekers in 150 countries with significantly positive job outcomes. This company was actually successfully acquired in July of this year.

What are Come Recommended‘s one-time PR ‘bump’ offers? It’s important to remember that PR, like advertising, shouldn’t be a one and done campaign, something that you turn on and off, and then hope it worked.

That being said, we recognize that many brands are operating on limited budgets, or maybe aren’t yet fully aware of how much of an impact a PR campaign could mean for them. That’s why we created our “bump” options. Our one-time “bump” packages are a great introduction into the world of PR and perfect for startups that have a limited budget and reasonable goals.

A goal of 1,000,000 new visiters isn’t going to be accomplished with a single PR release. But if your goal as an up-and-coming blog or newly started business is to get your name out there, then landing a guest blog post on a highly-ranked and highly-trafficked website definitely accomplishes introducing you to potential readers and clients as well as jump-starts your brand’s reputation.

That being said, one time press release options will produce a lot of one-time short-term traffic, but then maximizing your conversion rate ulitmately depends on:

  • How interesting your website is, 
  • How interesting you are,
  • How good your content or product/service is,
  • How relevant your content is to the visiter, and 
  • How accessible your social media and subscribe buttons are.

I wouldn’t recommend investing money into a PR or advertising campaign until the visiter’s experience on your website is attractive, relevent, and designed to ‘convert’.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: A great PR campaign like “A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster. It will get more people to know it’s bad.” -Bill Bernbach]

What is a misconception people have? 2 big misconceptions I’ve encountered are that:

  • PR people are traditionally seen as spin doctors. Everything I put out there I absolutely believe in. Yes, there are people out there who are in it for the money and will write whatever you want them to write whether it’s true or not, but building your brand reputation based on lies isn’t a good long-term strategy.
  • PR is really expensive and you should always hire a PR expert to be on your internal team. Depending on your brand’s objective and budget, it may be more worthwhile employing an external full-time or part-time PR agent. At the end of the day, you need a PR support that functions.

I think the worst thing you can do as a brand that sells a product or service is to not think about PR at all. You’ve spent so much time making your product or service and website good, why wouldn’t you think about how you’re going to promote it?

This all boils down to “If a tree falls in the woods, and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Well, in PR, if no one’s there to hear it, then there’s no sound.

How can you tell a good PR agent when you see one? Good PR agencies will have good references, good contacts within their industry, and good samples of their work available upon request. Anyone can write a press release, but can they turn that press release into interviews and articles?

If you ask around about the PR agency and no one has heard of them, that’s not a good sign. The PR agency should be familiar to people. This is why you see me just about everywhere, publishing articles in Mashable and in US News, to name a few. 

What’s the difference between “on” and “off the record”? Online publications are very, very demanding and require writers to put out fresh content constantly. So people in that industry are much more likely to ‘run with it’. Therefore I tell my clients that there is no such thing as ‘off the record’. If you say something, it’s out there. 

How do you track your PR campaign’s visiters? Google Analytics is useful in tracking where visiters are coming from. For example if our client has never been on Mashable, and we get them on Mashable, obviously any traffic is a result of our activities. It’s pretty easy to measure that.

What is a lesson you’ve learned from experience? When running your own business expect to periodically make dumb mistakes up until the very end. It just happens. So to minimize that, really be careful before committing to anything. If there’s any way to test the waters before you spend a huge chunk of money, do it. Because PR is a lot like advertising in that it’s not guaranteed, there’s always the risk you might not get your return-on-investment.

Where do you go to for inspiration? In no particular order:

What advice do you have for someone who wants your job? Before you start your own company, work for a few start-ups to learn from their mistakes and to understand the business side of PR and running a business. 

What’s one of your favorite ad campaigns? Here are two:

I have a small advertising budget, any advice? I think that if you’re a blogger or a small business looking to get more traffic to your website, then advertising isn’t the way to go. The online landscape is changing – people don’t click on ads, and they don’t like being advertised to, so you have to learn to do it in a lot more subtle ways. Fortunately there are many free ways to get your name out there that just require time and a little bit of knowledge.

As I’ve mentioned before, guest blogging is an excellent form of public relations and helps improve your Google page rank. Pagerank is important because it allows your website to be found organically, therefore you want to be on sites that rank highly on search engines. 

So when looking for guest blogging opportunities, pitch to websites relevant to the topics on your own blog and that have a Google page rank of at least 5/10.

But be aware that a lot of websites that host guest bloggers have rules limiting promotion down to only a two-line biography included with the post. This means you’re writing about things that are relevent and not overtly promotional.

You should also be advised that websites can have high traffic and low pagerank as well as low traffic and a high pagerank. You need to weigh them both to make sure that people are reading your material immediately in addition to the value that you get from your guest post.

A second method is leaving meaningful comments on blogs that have a high traffic and pagerank. The immediate benefit is your comment is posted immediately (or somewhat immediately if it requires moderation) and people can potentially click on your URL, resulting in traffic to your site. However just because you post a comment doesn’t mean traffic is guaranteed! 

Another benefit is that posting a comment is similar to a guest post in that you now have a URL linking back from the high page ranking website. It’s a quick way to increase your visibility, but it’s not as powerful as a full guest blog post.

So while you’re pitching blog post ideas to the websites, I would recommend as part of your PR campaign to find and leave meaningful comments on at least five different high Google page ranking websites in the same niche as yours per day. I say “different websites” because while 15 meaningful comments on Mashable helps you develop a reputation on Mashable, those 15 comments only count as 1 quality backlink to your website. Therefore you should also focus on finding other reputable websites to leave comments on to increase the number of backlinks to your website.

Lastly, I agree with Joshua Waldman‘s statement that “If you have an advertising budget and no product, then write free content, and invest your advertising budget into creating a product to sell”, and I would suggest focusing on a content-based product such as an ebook or a training course rather than a physical product because content-based products are very easy to update depend on your particular skills that you’re knowledgable about. 

There are countless blog commenting plugins such Intense Debate and Livefyre for WordPress as well as others such as the Facebook plugin and Disqus. How should I choose my blog commenting plugin? From a PR perspective, I would recommend using a blog comments plugin that gives your readers as many login options as possible. The Facebook comments plugin may be good for advertising on Facebook, but you’re forcing your users to choose one platform that they might not even be part of (Yes, there are still people on this planet not on Facebook!)

For every 100,000 pitches to high page ranked websites, maybe 1 gets accepted, and you have written 6 articles for them. What advice can you offer to get your foot in the door? In addition to my articles, Come Recommended has helped dozens of our clients get published in highly-trafficked websites. 

Mashable was my 2011 goal. Having presence with them was important not only for me but for my clients. To be accepted as a guest blogger, reading the site and knowing what type of articles they look for is important. So I read Mashable everyday for six months before I even considered being ready to approach them. Once I was prepared, understood their guidelines, knew their target audience, and knew exactly what they were looking for, I approached them and was accepted. The first pitch is often a hurdle, but once you’re in and they know you by reputation, it opens the door to future guest posting opportunities.