Our founder Heather Steele recently gave a podcast interview to Nick Augustine of Lone Star Content Marketing. Lone Star Content Marketing, located in Denton, Texas, interviews lots of Denton small businesses. It was lots of fun, and they covered some marketing topics in the process that are valuable for your business, so we thought we would share the podcast with you! Here’s what they talked about:
- The evolution of the steel bluing process and its business adaptation
- Holistic small and medium sized business development and planning
- Online and offline marketing
- Operations efficiency concepts
- Collaborative work with a larger family of creative people and agencies
Listen to the podcast here, or check out the full transcript of the show below.
Nick: Hello! This is Nick Augustine and I’m your host on this episode of Small Business Stars produced by Lone Star Content Marketing in Denton, Texas. Our 30-minute show features sophisticated small business owners sharing their success stories and offering experience and wisdom for entrepreneurs, start-ups, and well established small business positioned for growth. Topics covered in this show include: new products and services for small business, expert advice on business management and growth, as well as influencers and idea generators who are blazing new trails and sharing their innovations. Support from Small Business Stars come from our sponsor advertisers to cover our production fees and we do encourage our friends and colleagues to advertise with us and sponsor the production of our Small Business Star shows. You may send me an email directly for more information on sponsor plans and benefits at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our sponsor for today’s episode includes Members Choice Federal Credit Union on Unicorn Lake Blvd in Denton, Texas. You may be eligible to join Members Choice if you live, work, worship, or attend school in Denton or Argyle, Texas.
Today’s program is titled Blue Steele Solutions: Boosting Rock Solid Business in North Texas. So, what is Blue Steele Solutions? Well you may have heard of bluing steel, and that is a process improve how steel is made and make it beautiful and resistant to corrosion. Blue Steele does that for your marketing. They build a stable, rock-solid marketing strategy and solution plan that helps grow the businesses both on and offline. The team at Blue Steele Solutions is dedicated to their customer’s success so much so that they only take a limited number of projects at a time. The waiting list is always changing and fills up quickly so do contact them after our program today or whenever you hear about them to schedule a review of your project.
Our guest is Heather Steele and she is the Chief Marketing Officer for Blue Steele Solutions in Denton, Texas. She’s a marketing professional specializing in interactive web marketing. She practices innovative operations and practices development with a knack for making the most out of small marketing and sales budgets and personnel. By the way, a short disclaimer this is a general information and entertainment program and all rights to this broadcast are reserved. Some of the topics we’re going to talk about today are first the evolution of the bluing steel process and its business adaptation into the name and then also holistic small and medium sized business development and planning. Then we’ll talk a little bit about online and offline marketing operations and efficiency concepts and collaborative work with a larger family of creative people and agencies and here in the Denton and North Texas areas. So, without further a due, I’d like to welcome our guest, Heather Steele.
Heather: Hi, Nick.
Nick: Hi, Heather, thank you again so much for offering your time to be with us today. If you could just tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into your current practice of serving the business community?
Heather: Certainly. Well I actually started my career as a technical writer and very quickly realized that that was not the most exciting path for me to take, but I did love the concepts of communicating to a specific audience in the way that suits them best, which is really what the core of what I learned in tech writing. So I quickly changed my career path early on to marketing and got the opportunity to do some amazing contract work with some of the biggest corporations here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I always knew that I wanted to have my own business of some sort and so everything that I did through my early education and my career was focused on gathering the skills that I needed to start a business. Fortunately through the marketing and the technical communications background I really got the chance to see how do businesses work, how do the big Fortune 500’s operate, how do they keep moving forward, how do they keep the sales funnel full, and so I’ve taken that experience and applied it to what we can do with the small businesses.
Nick: Now when you first went into work in those contract positions for the major companies, what if anything was the one of the most shocking things or not necessarily shocking, what was interesting? What did you not expect to learn that you learned?
Heather: The inefficiencies were pretty surprising. So the larger the organization, it seemed like, the more inefficient they actually were and a lot of what they were doing. Which is a great benefit for a small business where they don’t have the option of not being inefficient. We can eliminate those things in their processes very easily and make them actually perform better sometimes. One of the other surprising things— Sorry.
Nick: Go ahead.
Heather: Oh I was just going to say
one of the other very surprising things from early on in my career was just to see how many organizations don’t have a good backbone to their organization. They don’t have the structure and the tools in place that they need to really run the business in the most efficient way possible.
Nick: A question I have just because I know people in my family who work in the Fortune 500s, I have not personally, but it seems that the goal is more focused on keeping the position and leveraging that position for growth in the corporate ladder. As opposed to a smaller company where the goal might be more output of product, more delivery of services, and the actual deliverable instead of budgets and constraints and so forth. Did you find that as well?
Heather: I would definitely say that. The larger the organization the further individuals are from the end goal. So they’re really focusing more on their departmental or their own personal developmental goals versus the small business where everyone is really focused on that bottom line. Everyone is focused on the quality of the product or service. Everyone’s future with that organization depends on the overall success, not just how well they do their job but how well the organization serves its customers, how great the product is, and how well they can keep that sales funnel full and keep people flowing through it.
Nick: Mmhm. And one of the parallels that I draw, you know I came from law, and I worked with a lot of small law firms and what I was surprised by is how the smaller firms and smaller companies can really run circles around the bigger entities sometimes. What I experienced, which is I’m seeing a parallel here the larger law firms, they moved slower because there were too many people involved and the wait time for decisions sometimes really it was like a big [elephant] it was just hard for them to move. And so the smaller firms would, could kind of run circles around them and what I’ve seen as well and I’m wondering if you also believe this, is that sometimes smaller entities and smaller companies believe they’re somewhat limited in what they can do and how much they can produce for a client because they say, “Well we’re just a little small firm, we couldn’t possibly do what the big expensive firms do.” And sometimes I think that’s because the bigger firms have a bigger budget and often times most people who are hiring those bigger firms are relying on the bigger brand and the bigger name of that big firm. So, I guess my question is more directly, is what would you tell someone who’s a smaller company who’s looking to hire some marketing [firm] to help them with this and if they’re concerned with well, should I work with a small firm like this or should I go with a big firm and a bigger city.
Heather: That’s a great question.
The first thing that I would do is really teach that small business the value of their agility. So the fact that they are small: they can make quick decisions, they can turn a business around and focus in a new direction very quickly versus a more sluggish, large organization where policy changes can take a very long time to go through.
A change in direction in products and services is going to take years versus the small business that can spin on a dime. So the first thing is really teaching them this is the value of your agility. This is what you can do because you’re a small business and then also relating that back to services that we offer. We ourselves are a small business so we bring those values to the table just like they do.
You know, one of the other things we look at is,
I think a lot of times people are stopped in their path because they feel like the technology, the tools, the back bone they need to really run their business the way they want to is going to be out of their reach from a budget standpoint. So what we help them do is prioritize their needs first of all.
You know, what do we need to do to really make these businesses efficient and as organized as possible and put those in a priority order and then go out and find solutions that will fit in their budget. Sometimes it might be a hold over temporary solutions until we can get the budget to move into a better tool, or move into a different process. But we create that priority list and then start meeting those needs as we can and typically we see their budgets grow throughout this process because they’re actually creating new revenue that they can put back into the business.
Nick: Mhmm and you know I agree with that and further it seems that once people get involved and engaged in the process and they start seeing results. I mean even if it’s just going from: I had no website, or, I had an old website and now I have a better website; I didn’t have a blog and now I have a blog, someone who’s to write the blog. You know, it seems that sometimes it can be somewhat daunting at first but then moving forward, once people get engaged in the process they can find it very useful. So, I definitely agree with you on all those points. I wanted to ask you a little bit specifically about the name and the branding because again branding is something that can set us apart from the others. Often times the people we work with, their comments and their reactions are really the ones that determine our brands and I really like the Blue Steele Solutions concept of the bluing steel. Can you tell us a little bit more about the incorporation of that concept and where that all came from because it just seems really creative.
Heather: Certainly, well I actually have to give my husband credit for that even though I’m the marketing, creative guru of the family, he actually came up with the name Blue Steele Solutions. So it’s obviously a play on my last name of Steele, but more importantly it’s about taking what you have, starting with where you’re at, and making it strong and resistant to change. So we would take, for instance, you mentioned websites earlier that’s’ something we do quite a bit of. So most of our clients that come in, that can’t afford the $10,000 website, they can’t afford to start at the top of the [heap] but what they can do is, they can afford to go ahead and get on to a platform that’s going to grow with them. So we’re going to start them off with fits in their budget, we’re going to start them on a platform that will grow with them and so that they’re not consistently changing over time as they grow, they have something that’s going to grow with them. And we would do the same thing with the rest of their marketing and business development strategy. We would say, okay, if this is what we can do now with your budget, let’s think to the future when you’re going to need more functionality, when you’re going to need different things in your business, and what can we start with now that will grow with you so that you don’t have to make another change down the road.
So then the other piece of that is a of course, a lot of what we do is for [endings] so we want to make things beautiful, we want to make them long-lasting, we want to do work that has a modern feel but at the same time is timeless. So that again, you’re not having to come back every few years and say, okay we have to start over from scratch because what we did only worked for us in 2014, it doesn’t work now. We want to make sure that everything we provide for our clients is something we can continue to build on top of rather than start over fresh.
Nick: I agree, I agree, and I think that a lot of this is really a confidence gain and I will suggest that when we engage smart professionals to appreciate our growing businesses and our willing to work with us without gouging on pricing, you know there’s an investment in a relationship that is a long term. It seems that your company works well with the smaller firms where there’s a on-going relationship and it may be, you know, we’re talking about smaller companies that don’t have an internal marketing, branding, and development part of their team so it really is a teambuilding approach.
My question for you is, we’re in Denton, Texas, and the population is expected to double by the year 2020, I can’t confirm that but that’s what I’ve heard, and everybody wants to be known and have their brand. All the companies that have been here for many, many years are somewhat concerned that newer companies are going to come in and out of state individuals; our governor is going to different states frequently trying to pull companies and businesses here to North Texas. I just wonder what you tell people as far as the branding and advertising and the time that it takes, you know the background. My father worked in the advertising industry and we talked about ad campaigns on radio and how much time it takes for people to hear or develop a brand and to please be patient because you know as they say, Rhome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a brand or knowledge but it’s a slow and steady race. Do you have companies who talk to you that are concerned about getting left in the dust, and what do you tell them?
Heather: I would say the first thing that I would talk to them about would be to get rid of the fear of competition.
If you’re worried about people coming in and taking business away from you, you’re probably spreading yourself too thin. You really need to hyper focus who you work with and what it is that you offer so that you are the best fit for people in that niche that need your service. You’ll find that instead of having competition, everyone that used to be your competition is now your referral sources.
First of all, let’s hyper focus, figure out exactly what you serve best and what you can do best for them so that you can become known as the solution for that need in the niche. The second thing that I would say, it is the slow and steady wins the race approach; you’re not going to create a company and a brand suddenly be a household name overnight. It is something that takes time, but by treating your clients well, by providing the best services and products you can amplify your efforts by having them go out and be the voices for your brand. Again, if you’re focusing on that niche you’re really getting a specific fit for what it is that you offer to your clients and customers and then you offer them something that’s better than anyone else has been able to do in the past. That word of mouth is going to generate more business for you than radio ads, and doing online advertising, or direct mail, or any of those other tactics could be. The first key to really marketing well, not having to worry about your competition, not having to worry about other companies moving in to town, is to serve who you serve the best, no one else can do it better than you, and make those customers happy so that they go out and tell their friends.
Nick: I agree 100% and I have one person who always told me don’t be afraid of competition because there is always a match for the individual businesses, not everyone is a match but some people are the right match, and there is always a market for quality services, good craftsmanship, and true professionalism. We’re going to have to pause for a quick break and come back and ask Heather a little bit more about online and offline approaches.
For those of you first tuning in to the Small Business Stars podcast, this is a show and a program that we produce here at Lone Star Content Marking, in Denton for the benefit of our small business community. We work well with many locally owned and operated businesses and we feel very fortunate to be operating here in Denton where the small business community is so well received and so many people do participate.
Here at Lone Star Content Marketing, we offer affordable content marketing publicity plans to law firms and small business clients. We offer monthly plans focusing on writing and managing social media, blogs, newsletters, and podcasts. In addition, we offer traditional copy writing and public relations services. We typically work with the other creative agencies in town and approach this with a family concept where, as Heather said, everyone is hyper focused on what they do and we all share and those who [play well together who share and referral sources] and we are all here to help people and learn from each other and it’s really a sense of community.
So moving forward, asking Heather a little bit on online and offline, the community—backing up, those people listening out there who know me and know me well know that I’m trying really hard to get the balance in life between technology and human capital and the physiology behind relationships and creating that ‘know, like, and trust’ factors that we really know is what drives referrals, and why people do business together People do business with people they know, like, and trust. So I also believe that there’s a [?] process of all of the things we do in our marketing plan are definitely beneficial from the social media, to the blogs, to the—written in the content so the human concept and being out there in the community, and giving speeches, and presentations. It seems that for a while everyone stepped back and only wants to be behind a desk and computer doing everything digitally with webinars and there seems to be a loss of human interaction and contact that gets in the way of really getting to know, like, and trust people. So Heather, I know I originally met you at a Chamber event networking. What types of things do you tell the clients that work with Blue Steele as far as where they should be in the community, what things they should go to, what kind of talks, speaking engagements, really having that holistic approach between online and offline marketing?
Heather: That’s a very good question and of course it really depends on the client and what kind of business they’re in. I have a philosophy on networking that you will be most successful with networking if you approach is with how can I help someone else today.
Don’t go into a networking event, don’t go into a speaking engagement, don’t go into a business mixer thinking: how many business cards can I put into my pocket, how many leads can I walk away with, how can I improve my bottom line as a result of this. If you really flip that around and think: how can I be a connector, how can I help people connect the dots either between things they didn’t know before in a business, make that are going to be valuable to other people. That’s when you’re really going to get the most out of those events.
I like to steer clients away from trying to find a situation where they’re going to walk in and have a room full of potential customers and clients. It will put them in a position to present themselves in a way that probably is not going to be the most attractive to those potential prospects. It’s also going to put them in a situation where the only thing they can walk out of that room with is maybe a few business cards that could lead to some sales. They look at it from a connection standpoint and a standpoint of how can they help other people in the community. That’s where they’re reinforcing their brand, they’re reinforcing the values of who they are, they’re making connections that could potentially lead to dozens of referrals in the future instead of just one sale.
As far as the actual events, specifically, it’s going to vary greatly depending on the business. Definitely we have a great active Chamber here, there’s lots of small business groups that are formed outside of the chamber, as well.
Nick: Now, let’s say, here’s a hypothetical I’ll toss at you, let’s say you go to—let’s say that I’m a client and I say, Heather, I went to one of these groups or something that you suggested and I walked out of there with this order for services, for whatever the company is, and it’s huge. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, I don’t have the staff to do it. I don’t want say no, but I’m afraid that if I grow too quickly I’m not going to be able to manage the work. That explosive growth, that seems like one of these problems everyone wishes they would have, but if you’re a small company and all of a sudden you get a large order for a product or a service, it can be rather daunting. The question is do you bring in, or what do you do. I guess my question is how people can work with other groups and collaborative people in the area to take on large projects without losing their mind in the process.
Heather: [Laughs] So that really goes back to looking at the businesses around you who happen to do similar work to you and know longer seeing them as your competition. I think this is something that when you and I met,
we could’ve easily looked at each other and said, oh, well, he’s in marketing, I’m in marketing, we’re not going to be friends because we do the same thing and so we automatically just don’t like each other. You’re the competition, go away. Instead we looked at what do you do specifically, this is what I do specifically, how can we work together and help each other.
So those client who do happen to get a large order, to get a sudden influx of business where they need help looking to those people who you used to think were your competition can be the first, smartest place, to find the help that you need. Break that project or break that deliverable down into its finite pieces and determine who actually produces that part best. Who do I have a relationship who can help take this off my plate and maybe even do a better job at delivering for the customer than I could have. If that turns into a good working relationship, you can make the decision of — hire my own people to come in and take the place of this outside agency or this outside business or do I just continue to work collaboratively with them and let them pick up the pieces of the project or pieces of the deliverable that they do best.
I think that again it goes back to narrowing what you do and stop worrying about competition, see them as people who can actually help you grow your business.
Definitely there’s time when, we run across this you know, it’s hard to find the right fit for someone to fill those pieces of the pie. That situation, I would honestly suggest that my client not take the job. If you are not going to be able to find the resources to deliver a good product and service far beyond the expectations of your client in a timely manner, so if you have already said “I’ll do X, Y, and Z for you and I’ll do it in this many weeks,” and then you realize you can’t as early on as possible you need to be transparent with that end customer you need to let them know the situation. You can either help them find someone who can fill that for them or just let them know that you’re not going to be able to help them with that project. There’s worse things you can do in that situation.
Nick: And thank you so much for pointing out finding someone else who can do it. And I’ve been, and again I kind of transfer things from law, us sole practitioners will have these cases and they’ll transfer these cases to a bigger firm that has the staff that can handle it. But you’re still the point of contact and if you have provided them and sent them to someone you’ve trusted you are still the super hero. You’ve still provided value for that person and you’re a person who knows other people to make those referrals and people will respect the honest, straight shooters. That is something I agree with whole-heartedly, it’s absolutely so, so important.
My next question is, now this is coming down to budget, and budgeting is such a difficult thing, and I just wonder what, is there a general—for the website people at home thinking about things they can – if they’re considering the DIY approach on certain projects, they want to do it themselves, which again I think there could be a big risk there with amateur-ish end results, which we want to avoid, versus the fear of these large budgets. So when you talk to people about budgeting do you have any sort of rule of thumb on percentage of their gross revenue or what people should be spending. Because I think some people are just afraid to pick up the phone and make that initial contact because they just assume that they cannot afford what actually they might find rather affordable.
Heather: Right, there’s never that perfect percentage of this is what you should be putting back into your business for marketing. A good rule of thumb would be after expenses is to be able to put 20% back in. That’s not always realistic. The more that you can do the better, but most small businesses are going to have a hard time consistently putting that much back into their business for business developments and marketing. The most important thing is really coming back to making a priority list and working with someone outside of your business is helpful in making that list. Because what you think is the key ingredient to moving your business to the next level is going to be a very skewed perception of what you really need. So sitting down and at least picking out the budget for an hour, two hour consult to go through and discuss your business with someone who is outside of it and who works with several businesses that can really understand what other people are doing to be successful would be invaluable.
Beyond that, you can really just prioritize, what is it going to take to get to the next level.
Know what your goals are because there’s really no way to make a list of these objectives without knowing what we’re working towards.
The final most important thing is when it comes down to when we’ve figured out what we need, we know what it’s going to cost, be honest about that budget, be open about it. Most people, especially in my shoes, business developing and marketing standpoint, they’re not going to negotiate with you anyway. So if some product or services you need would be quoted at a certain amount, that amount isn’t going to go up just because your budget is a little bit higher. Most of us will not try to change our pricing to fill up your entire budget. I see that fear a lot from people especially real estate agents and financial advisors, people who are a little bit more in the negotiating ring. I’m sure you’ve seen this before with attorneys as well, where they feel that everything is a negotiation. It’s really much more important to be honest and open about what you have to spend that you can contribute back into your business than trying to play your cards close. Because we can’t help you, we can’t make the most out of what you have available if we really don’t know what that is.
Nick: And if you don’t have the budget to get the work done, I mean, I had a friend of mine who used to—people would try to negotiate, she was a trademark attorney, and I remember her saying to people, “I’m not here to be the K-Mart blue special of services,” I can direct you to some one who is but if you want quality experience you have to pay for it. People who have the experience and how to get things done. You know Heather, your work in the Fortune 500’s gives you insight and just like the blue steel, rock solid, resisting to corrosion, you know, concept of how to get things done, that is worth money to people and there is significant value to it. And again, some people might not be ready for it to work with different firms right now but may be [right] in the future. Again, it’s good for people to face the reality, face the good business plan and work it and start building and take the dive in there.
We’re just about out of time Heather, but I’d like you to tell the folks at home how they can get a hold of you to find out more information and continue the dialog.
Heather: Certainly, so anyone who’s interested in talking more, learning more about what we do or setting up a consultation for their business can find us online at www.bluesteelesolutions.com. That’s blue s-t-e-e-l-e solutions dot com.
Nick: Alright, thank you again for your time today, Heather.
Heather: Thank you, Nick, this was great.
Nick: I’d also like to thank our sponsors and guests. I’d like to thank Members Choice Federal Credit Union here in Denton, Texas, and I’d also like to thank all of our loyal fans and listeners who share our content and our programs in their social media. People find our program in their friends LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter feeds. Really, I do appreciate everyone’s collective effort in sharing good information as we all move forward in this strong community and making Denton, Texas, the best place to do business.
Thank you all for listening today and we will be back next week with a new episode of Small Business Stars. Goodbye, everyone.