Are Your Bored With Your Brand?

how to rebrandI’ve been there and it sucks. You look at this…thing…you created and it’s supposed to make you happy. I mean, it makes you money.

But it’s not making you happy.

You’re bored. The damn thing is just sitting there and about as exciting as watching a manatee swim.

So maybe it’s time to turn that brand of yours on its ass and make it exciting again. Somewhere, you lost your way — and there’s no shame in it. Happens to everybody to some degree and at some time.

In my latest column in Entrepreneur Magazine, I talk about what to do if you hate your brand. It’s the exact process I went through for rebranding myself from RedheadWriting to Erika Napoletano (before and after thoughts right here).

Have a click and check out What To Do If You Hate Your Brand — and thank the good folks at Entrepreneur for letting me turn your upside-down self back right-side-up once again.

The Importance of Customer Feedback to Your Business

customer feedbackThis community was built on audience feedback. What you see today is what you’ve asked for. Frankly, I’d be an idiot if it were anything but. Customer feedback isn’t just a tool for business owners to have in their toolbox — it’s possibly the single most important guiding force in the future of your business.

Will you just survive, fail miserably (or silently), or move forward in a way that makes people go, “Damn — how did he do THAT?”

Customer feedback. Yup. It’s the ticket.

In my latest column in Entrepreneur Magazine, I sat down with Butch Milbrandt — co-founder and co-owner of Milbrandt Vineyards in the Washington Valley — and explored what customer feedback meant to his business.

They’re family-owned. 100% private. And they’re the reason you get to drink a fair number of wines you pick up at the store.

How did this family go from a legacy of farming to being a leading bottling facility for wineries up and down the West Coast?

You got it — customer feedback. Listening.

So grab a glass and fill it up with feedback. Check out what Butch has to say.

How to Really Listen to Your Customers

PS: I met Butch and his wife on a flight from Denver to somewhere or other last year. He saw me reading the latest issue of Entrepreneur and when I was done, he asked if he could borrow it. We got to talking about his family business and I eventually interviewed him for this column. So, if you’re looking to pitch me for a story, I highly recommend sitting next to me on an airplane. 🙂

Bringing Up (an entrepreneurial) Baby

Erika Napoletano February 2012 Entrepreneur MagazineLittle-known-fact about Erika: Whenever I’m having a colossally shitty day, I go to the park to hang out with kids. I’ve even written about my trips a time or two — I’m a huge fan of swingsets. But even beyond the swingsets, there’s something about taking myself out of the world filled with all of the Manufactured Adult Problems for a little bit and remembering what it’s like to see the world through eyes that aren’t jaded colored by years and years of you can’t/shouldn’t/didn’t do that.

Some folks find it surprising — the soft spot that I have for kids. My business donates its services each year to a pediatric cancer foundation. I still change my vernacular when there are kids around. And I want them — and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I find the man they’ll call Dad. And a trip to Atlanta last year got me thinking about our current educational system and just what my role will be as a parent.

How do parents bring up a kid who doesn’t fit in today’s traditional educational system? You know — a kid like me with a photographic memory who gets bored with traditional readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic.

While I’m not sure that the current model in public schools really fits any kid anymore, I know I’d been lost if it hadn’t been for certain teachers and mentor figures. Mr. Crowley, Mrs. Collier, and Mr. Stanford understood how to feed a kid who was hungry for what only existed beyond the covers of a textbook and outside the classroom door. And I’m pretty damned lucky, as I grew up with parents who rewarded achievement in books and sat by for endless hours as I concocted some other History Fair project on Agent Orange or clipped countless magazine articles for a file for the next Extemporaneous Speaking competition (and drove me — to every one).

Today? I’m an adult who spent 17 years of my life living someone else’s set of Shouldas before I took the leap to pursue my I Must. And that’s the subject of my column this month in Entrepreneur Magazine:

How do we foster Generation Next? What can we as (future) parents, educators, and mentors do to ensure that the entrepreneurs of tomorrow get what they need today so they can avoid decades filled with the Shouldas before they reach their I Musts?

Click here to read this month’s column.

Stop by, give it a read, and share a comment. I’d love to hear what’s going on in your world for entrepreneurial kids — and while I still don’t think they have any business reading my Twitter stream, I think there’s an entire world of opportunity for people like us to lend a hand.

And I’m delighted (and honored) to announce that you’ll be seeing my column in another 12 months of Entrepreneur Magazine — they just renewed my contract. (Insert Snoopy Dance *here*) Thank YOU for reading — as you’re the reason I get to continue doing what I love. That’s as close as you’re going to get to a Happy Valentine’s Day wish from me. Aside from this, of course.

The Part Where My Friend Pees in the Backseat

prefontaine erika napoletanoLast week ripped me out of my protective outer Colorado coating and back into the world of SoCal. Having spent an entire month there last year (while running/hiding from recent life events), I was excited to get back. I had been invited to speak at the Entrepreneur Magazine Growth Conference on Wednesday so let’s get on with the business of a week-long recap and some key takeaways.

When businesses get it right

2011 was a year filled with businesses that got it wrong. AirBNB. Netflix. (Insert your own epic cluster here.) From turning on the evening news to the front page headlines of any major newspaper, we’re a culture (and a sad one) that focuses more on the foibles than those who are doing something right. This year marked the 4th year that The UPS Store sponsored Entrepreneur Magazine’s Growth Conference. Having been a customer on and off  – more out of convenience than brand loyalty – I was interested to see what the sponsorship looked like up close.

And it looked stellar. So let’s talk about how, first, the partnership makes sense, and secondly, how the UPS Store gained a new customer out of the experience.

The Partnership: Franchising is a significant part of the entrepreneurial culture. While some might scoff at what they perceive as the inherent laziness of taking someone else’s business concept and running with it, most franchisees will differ with you all the way to the bank. It takes just as much oomph to launch, build, and sustain a successful franchise as it does to launch, build, and sustain a one-off business. And that’s the main reason that having The UPS Store as the event’s title sponsor makes sense. I wish more businesses would look at this partnership and use it as a model for how to get involved with your customers – and peers – without coming across as a our-name-is-in-big-print-so-buy-our-stuff bunch of jackasses (which are the majority of convention sponsorships I see).

  • Peer-to-Peer: The event tapped into the knowledge and experience of numerous SoCal area franchisees. They shared their successes and motivations with an audience of over 850 people who were hungry for that type of information. A perfect fit.
  • Class: Everything about the conference was class. The main stage, the signage, the digital displays that announced each room’s session. Pure class. For an event that’s 100% free to attendees (including a catered lunch – no sammiches here), the UPS Store and Entrepreneur Magazine did one helluva job demonstrating that neither are fly-by-night operations or business-in-a-box solutions. Whatever you thought about franchise business models, The UPS Store blew conceptions out of the water.
  • No Hard Sell: Everyone pretty much knows what The UPS Store does. We get it. Shipping. They began as Mailboxes Etc. back in the day, the place we all went to ship a box, buy a box to ship something in, and when it was relevant, make a few photocopies. Instead of beating everyone at the conference over the head with who they are and what they do, they reinforced the why. They did this brilliantly through their sponsorship of not only the conference, but Entrepreneur’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” awards, celebrating three incredible businesspeople carving their own way in their respective industries.

So how did they score a new customer through the event? I’m a single woman who owns a business, which means that I have a PO box and work out of my home 70% of the time. It also means that a simple records search can tell people where I live. Which is creeptastic. Weird things show up in my mail, any yahoo could land on my doorstep. And you can’t list a PO box as a valid business address with the Colorado Secretary of State – so what’s an entrepreneur to do? Well, that’s coming to an end this week, as I’m headed to The UPS Store to get a business address – and one that’s not my home. I only heard the service alluded to once, but it was enough for me to go: yeah, I need to get that shit taken care of. So I am. And unlike my PO box, I can CALL and see if there’s mail in my box before I go. Which would – and will – save me a crapload of blank trips every year.

It was a Wednesday well-spent, and a shout out to my Wednesday evening compadres who will invariably agree with me that sangria mixes with absolutely nothing.

Sidebar: I was asked – and kindly – by the Entrepreneur Magazine staff to clean-up my presentation for this conference. I don’t have a problem doing that, and I’d been great all day about avoiding the-fbomb. Well, in my second session of the day, I let one fly. And immediately, the fire alarm in the convention center sounded. I guess that will teach me.

Back to business…

Attending, much less speaking at, conferences is rough business. It’s physically and emotionally draining and it’s a huge rally to get yourself going when one (even a day-long conference) has come to a close. The rest of my week involved business as usual as well as taking care of some housekeeping and thank yous for book #2, all the while dealing with the impending launch of book #1 and SXSW Interactive looming in the not-so-distant-distance. I headed up to Studio City to stay with my friend an co-author on book #2 and even got to catch up with one of my graphic designers, Lindsay Goldner, over a meal featuring pasta made from little baby zebras in a cream sauce. Which leads me to the business of business.

There’s a question I ask in every session I’m invited to present: Why are you in business? The answers vary and sometimes there’s someone who gets it right. The answer isn’t to live, because it’s what we love or to make money. (“To make money” is the most common answer, by the way.) The answer is because our customers let us be in business. Never forget that your customers are the reason you get to do what you love – and that’s why speaking engagements and travel are my favorite part of this gig I’ve got going on. I get to meet the people who let me do what I love everyday, from those who work for me and with me to those who just stop by this site and consider my posts to be time well-spent.

Never forget to thank your customers. And never forget that not all customers spend money. Many simply spend their time – and asset we’d all do better at appreciating as even more valuable than the almighty dollar. Which brings me to the part where my co-author on book #2 and I drive all over Los Angeles and Newport Beach to hand-deliver thank yous to the people who contributed to that book.

The part where my friend pees in the backseat on the 405 freeway

For any of you who have lived in the Los Angeles area (as I did from 2002-2005), you understand how the region redefines the epic fucktardery of traffic in general. We were blazing along the 405 — I might have been exceeding the speed limit — when my friend Wendie expresses that she has to pee. Given that we’re on the 405, exiting at 4pm on a Friday is simply nonsense. We’re 1 hour from her house – I ask if she can hold it. Fast forward to a situation where she climbs over the seat into the back and finds a Nalgene bottle holding my then-hot-now-cold tea from the morning. The car gets silent. I’m terrified of potholes (I’m sure she is as well). Within minutes, she’s back in the front seat and we’re serenaded with the gentle sloshing coming from a bottle on the floor board of the backseat all the way back to Studio City.

The lesson here? There’s a lot of shit that happens along the way from where we are to where we need to go. No one started the day planning to pee in a Nalgene bottle in the backseat of a Lexus. Shit – and in this case, pee – happens. Deal with it as best you can and get on with your business. Move forward. Because moving on is bullshit. Moving on implies that we have to forget in order to progress, when in fact, we’re probably better served by bringing our experiences with us to help shape the next ones.

And finally, coming home

Saturday evening, I landed at DIA just in time for the Broncos to blow the playoffs. Truth be told, I missed my puppycats (which is what I call my collective of 2 dogs and 2 cats). I’ve lived in Alabama, Missouri, Illinois, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, Japan, California, Nevada, and now Colorado. No matter how long I’m gone or where I travel, I get excited about coming home to my little nondescript house in East Denver. So I was excited. I spent the evening on the sofa. I made some puree for a homemade tomato curry bisque (which turned out FUCKING AWESOME – sorry to shout). And after a whirlwind week, I slept for 10 hours.

In my bed.

In my house.

In Colorado.

And on Sunday, I woke up excited. Because I’d built a life that gives me the gift of doing it all again very soon. See image at top of post. Remember. Apply love liberally, in all that you do. We only have one chance to own this motherfucker of a ride called life, and well, yeah. Own it.

Revisiting the C-Word

c-words businessI spoke a bit about the c-word awhile back. In this month’s column for Entrepreneur Magazine, I got to revisit it.

Well, not IT. But c-words in general.

If you haven’t picked up this month’s issue, you’re totally copacetic. You can check it out – and for FREE – online!

When you have a moment, you can bop over to C-Words to Build a Business On and weigh in with your own favorite c-words (some great additions in the comments already) as well as share it on LinkedIn, Google+ or Twitter. Not only that, you’re going to learn about NeighborGoods, a kickass startup out of California that I met back at SXSW Accelerator in March. The founder is a roller derby doll, inked to the hilt, and HAWT – in both the physical sense AND business-savvy department. (she’s @mickipedia on Twitter)

So click, read, comment and share your c-words. Such a shame they’re seen as taboo! And get ready to tune in tomorrow – it’s the first installment of Fuck Yeah, Friday – where we tuck the Bitch Slapping hand away and give kudos to folks who are out there and doing it RIGHT. We’ll also have submission guidelines for anyone who wants to be considered for future installments of FYF.

Seeya then – oh and one more thing.

If you have $1 to spare to help some kids in a New York classroom, a Redhead Writing reader (teacher) needs a hand. An instructor in a high-poverty area, he has a project up on DonorsChoose, a highly reputable and well-vetted site that helps educators get their goals met. Have a look, add a buck. It’s for the kids 🙂 [thank you]

Click here to review Jon Kniss’ project on Donors Choose.

So, a Vet and a Food Truck Walk Into a Bar…

local business social media entrepreneur magazineI’m big on buying local. If I can, I’ll hit up my weekend farmers markets for my produce and buy at locally-owner businesses before hitting a big box retailer. Why? Because these are entrepreneurs – just like me. They get up every morning and open the doors to a place that lets them do what they love.

I’m really fortunate that the folks at Entrepreneur Magazine give me a lot of leeway with what I cover in my column each month and how. So, in the October issue, I decided to go and have a look at hyperlocal businesses that have achieved success through social marketing. Sure, you have to have a kickass product to back up the online hype, but I found two businesses on opposite sides of the country – a vet practice in Southern Florida and a food truck in Seattle – that each took VERY different approaches to social marketing and each found tremendous success.

Stop by the column: How Two Small Companies Are Driving Revenue Using Social Media (in your print editions as Virtual People, Real Dollars).

I know a fair share of my readers operate and consult with hyperlocal and local businesses. I’d love to hear your thoughts about these two companies and other ideas that are bouncing around in your head. Local businesses are the backbone of any community and it just tickles me like Elmo to have had the opportunity to meet these folks and hear how they’re hitting it out of the park with a combination of keystrokes and kickass product and service.

PS: I know full well that a food truck and a vet practice can’t actually walk into a bar. But it would be fun to watch!