5 tips when building your team for 2011

•December 15, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Last week, an old friend of mine asked me for some advice hiring a new employee.  I get these requests every so often since I was a head hunter for fifteen years – mainly in the printing industry.

I’m not active anymore so I just gave him a couple of tips.  Hopefully once the new year rolls around you’ll be looking at 2011 in proactive manner … and who know maybe even expand.  So maybe these will come in handy for you too.

  • It is not a privilege to work for your firm. I don’t care if we’re in recession or not in a recession – don’t think your firm is the only one out there hiring.  In fact, competition for the top-tier talent is even tougher these days because the companies hiring are the strong ones.  A top candidate doesn’t have to sift through the fodder.  They may only go on three interviews, but those will probably be good opportunities.  If you come off acting like you’re doing them favor – they’ll remember it … and you’ll remember it when they’re working for your competition down the street.  Treat them just like you would a top client you’re trying to land.
  • Fish in the right pools. If want a trout, you don’t fish in the ocean.  If you’re hiring a new media person … don’t put an ad in the paper.  They don’t read papers.  Find online sources.  Better yet, ask another trout.  Ask your best people for referrals.  They’ll only refer you to someone who they can stake their reputation on.  And on that note …
  • Make your entire company a recruiting firm. I did an informal survey once of ten of my top clients.  I asked them if they offered their employees finders fees if they referred a new hire to the firm.  Two did, that’s all.  And the bonuses were only $500 to $1000.  That’s interesting since they paid me about $8000 for finding the same person.  I didn’t get an answer why … lucky for me, I guess.  Start a referral bonus program for your employees – a good one.  Chances are, they’re only going to refer the best to you.  Trust them, otherwise why would you hire them.
  • Work with a recruiter. I’m not saying you have to hire someone from one.  Even though I’m not against it.  If for no other reason, a recruiter dedicated to your industry, is going to know what’s going on out there.  In fact a good one is as good as it get for information.  They can tell who’s doing what, what’s working and what’s not.  Over the years, I was probably instrumental in selling over five million dollars in prepress equipment through my recommendations and insight.
  • Check references. If there is only one thing you do when you hire someone – do this.  I don’t even care if you meet the person.  Just find out ‘if they are who they say they are and can do the things they say they can do.’  And don’t tell me references are illegal and nobody will give you one.  I hear that all the time.  In fifteen years, out of thousands of reference calls, only once … yes once, was my request turned down.  And please don’t rely on a reference from human resources.  Their job first and foremost  is gatekeeping.  Name rank and serial number is about all you’re going get … if you’re lucky.   Plus they didn’t work next to your candidate anyway.  How are they going to know what exactly they did and how well they did it.  In the future I’m going to write a piece entirely on reference checks and the type of questions to ask.  Look out for it.

Just a few things to keep in mind when you’re building your team for 2011.  Good luck.

Check out the bleedingEDGE site and follow us on Twitter.


Why after only one chance … we quit?

•December 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

It seems we live in a world of black or white.  Either we’re all in or not at all.  Most of us treat our marketing and sales like this too.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but this last year I’ve seen a awful lot of customer and loyalty marketing.  For every credit card transaction, I have a loyalty card.  “You’re our customer and we love you.”  Now don’t get me wrong – I’m all into loyalty programs.  Even if most of them are poorly designed and poorly executed.  They’re still an attempt.  Better than nothing.

We also still have the same old ‘throwing up whatever and hope that something sticks’ marketing.  It doesn’t matter if our targets don’t have any idea who we are or have any intention of buying what we have to offer – we’re sure going to get in front of them.  Hey, one in hundred better than, well – I actually don’t know if it’s better than anything.

It has to be one or the other.  Wrong.

A couple of months ago, I went stopped into a printer in Billings, Montana, here where I live, to get a letterhead and business card quote.  They will remain nameless.  Now they have a good reputation, very nice facilities and were pleasant.  I met them in person – not over the phone or online.  I even showed enough interest to ask and receive a plant tour.

A day later I received my quote via email.  I decided not to pursue the job, but they didn’t know that because I never heard from.  No call.  No further emails.  Nothing.  I can’t believe that business is so good that anyone who doesn’t buy upon first impression is not worthy of doing business with.  But it seems like that.

They say it costs between five ten times more to get business from a new customer than from an existing one.  Does this also apply to a prospect who has made effort to find who you are and ask for quote?  I rather doubt it.

How many companies out there have drawers full of quotes that never turned into live jobs.  What’s being done with them?  Maybe a follow-up call … maybe?  Or if a call is made, is it just a message?

Here’s my holiday project for all you:

Take a few minutes away from your driving around town delivering presents and cheer to those valued clients of yours.

Go through that quote drawer, that pile of business cards, that outdated contact list on your iPhone or BlackBerry and find those that made that made the effort to give you a chance, a chance to do business with them.

Give them a little cheer.  Who knows, once 2011 rolls around and everyone pulls their head out of the eggnog bowl … maybe they’ll give you another chance.

What we should all learn about business from Pink at the AMAs

•November 22, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Even if you don’t like what’s going on with contemporary music these days … read this anyway!

Sunday night, I watched the American Music Awards on television.  I’ve been waiting for this for several day now, if for no reason than see Pink perform may current favorite song .  Little did I know it would be the topic of this article.  I figured the performance would be good, but it was something that transcended music for me … it clarified how I want to do business.  Here’s what I learned – or as Pink says, “the dealio.

Start with a great product. Pink’s song ‘Raise Your Glass,’ is a great song.  In a year of memorable music, it may be the toast of the group.  It’s catchy and it has uplifting fun lyrics.  And it gets you up and moving.  While your business may not have your clients “dancing in the streets,” what you offer them sure should make them happy, and remember you for what you provided.

Adapt but stay true to yourself. For those of you not familiar with Pink, let me summarize.  She’s an edgy, scowling, rock and roll diva known for her unpredictable, ‘over the top stage antics.’  Heck, in the last Grammys she entered flying over the crowd, singing upside down on a trapeze. Sunday night, due to her present physical condition, there was no trapeze.  Pink is pregnant.  But that didn’t stop her from being Pink.  On the most elaborate stage set of the night, Pink was all over the stage dancing and rocking out, ebit in flats rather than the normal stiletto heels.  But she was still Pink.

The printing industry is in a major state of upheaval.  Its members are all over the place searching for ways to stay relevant in the changing communications environment.  Whether its web to print, social media, variable data printing or QR codes, printing companies are desperately looking for any way to engage and retain its customer base.  While change is definitely needed, too many of us have lost our way and forgotten that first and foremost we are communication delivery providers.  If we concern ourselves with making sure our clients get out the right message, at the right time, using the right medium to THEIR clients  … we’ll be all right.

Share the spotlight and trust your team. Pink’s performance was more like a circus than anything and she was the ringmaster.  The stage was full of activity – all the time.  There were dancers everywhere, seeming to all be creating their own routines on the fly.  There were flips, trampolines and jumps.  There was even skate boarders on ramps flying in back of, in front of, and all around her.  A good portion of time the time the cameras weren’t even on Pink as she sang. While the whole extravaganza seemed a random hodgepodge of frenzied activity, it was all carefully choreographed .  As she moved throughout  the song, she joined in with whoever she was around, supporting them.  She was the backbone … but her team was the rest.  Pink was the one that connected all the dots.

Running a company in this environment is a not unlike this.  We need to orchestrate the whole process and keep everybody together on the central task … but at the same time, let them do their thing, using their expertise.  After all, aren’t our companies are really nothing other than the people we have in them.

Leave a lasting impression. Overall the awards were relatively boring.  Aside from Pink, I really won’t remember much it after a few days.  I’m sure that most people in the audience at the Nokia Center probably feels the same.  But it wasn’t enough just for Pink to put on the best performance of the night.  Her song ended with streamers, balloons and glitter falling from the ceiling … glitter a lot of the celebrities will be pulling out of their hair well after they’ve left.

While I don’t endorse treating your clients like they’re at a birthday party for six-year olds, you still  have to leave them when an impression they will remember.  That last few minutes of a sales call, a job delivery or even a phone call is what will stick with them.  Make it count.

And finally, have fun. At one point in ‘Raise Your Glass,’ Pink sings “don’t be serious.”  And she does it with a smile and a giggle.  And as she struts off the stage, she rubbed her pregnant belly.  She wasn’t trying to mask her emotions to maintain her edgy reputation.   She was having fun, and you knew.  And the fun was contagious.

It’s easy to get all caught in the gloom and doom of what we hear and see in our industry everyday.  We read about firms closing every week.  None of us are immune from this news.  But how we react to it is up to us.  You don’t have to show you be on the bandwagon to bankruptcy.  Be a leader.  Be the than one that your clients want be around, the one that they want to associate with … the one they want to do business with.

“Raise Your Glass!”

You have to check out Pink’s performance on the AMAs.  You can see it here on YouTube. Also check out my bleedingEDGE website and follow me on Twitter at @variable_edge.

Lady Gaga and the Heroes of Normandy Beach

•November 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

What do Lady Gaga and the soldiers that stormed Normandy Beach have in common?  It’s something that will change the way you look at your workforce.

Twelve years ago, the book  ‘The Fourth Turning,’ by William Strauss and Neil Howe hit the streets.  Written by two generational analysts – ‘The Fourth Turning’ will change the way you look at the future.

The vast majority of people view time as kind of marching on with no rhyme or reason, just at the whims of random events.  This may not be the case.

The premise of the Fourth Turning is that time moves in a circular fashion … in other words, “it repeats itself.”

Strauss and Howe, after studying history back to the 1500’s, developed an algorithm featuring four generational archetypes each lasting between twenty and twenty-five years.  These archetypes also repeat in order each time and have different characteristics.  The archetypes in order are as follows with birth date range and cycle nickname:

Hero (1901-1924) – soldiers of World War 2 (G.I)

Artist (1925-1942) – country re-constructionists (Silent)

Profit (1943-1960) – protesters of Vietnam War (Boomers)

Nomad (1961-1981) – the outcasts (Generation X)

Hero (1982-2004) – the internet generation (Millennials)

I repeated the Hero generation for a reason.  The boys of Normandy Beach were born around 1922 making them Heroes.  Their generational archetypes is all about cooperation and teamwork.  Being a rogue, like their predecessors, the Nomads, is not their mindset.  That’s why we won the war.  The Vietnam War featured the Boomers (the Profit Generation).  Their generational archetype is known for their … well you know.  Can you say high divorce rate, the self-reflection movement, excessive consumption, etc.  This doesn’t work well in a battlefield.

Now to Lady Gaga, her birthdate is 1986 … thus making her a HERO.

Now to my point.  I cut my teeth in business promoting music, in the ’70s and ’80s.  The industry is wildly different today then back then.  Did you ever see Led Zeppelin collaborate with the Who?  Or the Stones and the Kinks record together?  No, they didn’t.  Examples of professional collaboration in the music industry were few and far in between.

Now let’s look at the music industry today.  The Number One viewed music video ever, “Telephone,” was a collaboration between Lady Gaga and Beyoncé.  We’re talking the top two divas in the entertainment world.  Working together … and loving it.  Jay Z, Beyoncé’s husband topped the charts with Alicia Keyes, and the rumour mill is riddled with who will be collaborating with who.  And look at the rappers – everybody is in bed with everybody else (figuratively speaking).  Approximately, 50% of the top songs on Billboard’s Top 50 are collaborations.

Thirty years ago Rush and Journey –  I don’t think so.


The Millenials, the Heroes, are about collaboration.  I even seen a rash co-working sites pop up.  Now what can we do  to take advantage of this predisposition of working together?

As employers what can we take from this.

Traditional thinking … at least from our immediate perspective is that everybody is competitive – and that competition motivates us.  That might be right for us fifty year-olds.  But remember, we are from the Profit generation (Baby Boomers).

But for our employee base, the foundation, the future of our future, the twenty some year olds … don’t think like us.  Don’t get me wrong, competition will always exist – but for that generation, the Heroes, it’s not the prime motivating factor – teamwork is.  To structure a work environment that focuses around pitting one against another may in fact be counter productive.

And on top of it Generation Y (the Heroes) is more interested than any other generation in development and feedback in the work place.  We saw that in the compliance amongst the troops in World War 2.  It’s a characteristic you as employers can use in your business … one you probably couldn’t have used ten years ago.

The Heroes want to excel, but excel together.  It worked at Normandy.  And it’ll probably work now. 

You just have look past the iPods, texting and tattoos.

To learn how to create The Ultimate Customer Experience check out the bleedingEDGE web site.  And for more of my musings I’m on Twitter @clayforsberg.

Are you treating your employees like garbage? You may without even knowing it.

•November 10, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I heard yesterday about Google giving all it’s employees a ten percent pay raise.  More money may be good, but it’s not the only thing that matters to your workforce.  It got me thinking about an experience I had back a few years ago.

In the late eighties, I was part of a team that published commercial art and printing directories.  In 1986 our Twin Cities Creative Sourcebook’s tab pages were awarded PIA’s (Printing Industry of America’s) “best of” category for broadside printing.  Simply put, it was was the best print job in the United States in 1986.

I had the opportunity to press check the job at one of our printers in Minneapolis.

About three months after the the trophies were delivered, I went and checked in with the owner at the printing company.  As I sat across from him in his office – I noticed a trophy proudly displayed.  I knew exactly what it was since we had the same one in our offices.

After we finished, I went back to the press room to talk the press operator who actually printed the job to congratulate him.

He had  no idea that he had personally printed the best job in the country.  THEY WERE GOING TO DENY HIM THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF A LIFETIME.

At first he was surprised, then hurt and finally mad.  I don’t blame him.  I would have felt the same way.

I stopped back there three weeks later and he was gone … he had moved on.


If you like what you read … please Tweet and follow me on Twitter @variable_edge.

Are your clients acting like election candidates?

•October 29, 2010 • Leave a Comment

About a week ago, a politician came to our door campaigning for a Montana house seat.  He was giving a talk at the local church across the street so he was making his rounds.  He seemed like a decent guy.  He stood for a lot of the things I did, alternative energy, school reform, better use of the coal tax money to small business, etc.  But he also brought up Social Security and Medicare.  He should have left that at the church across the street.  He paid no attention to the fact I was twenty years younger than his church audience.  Same pitch, regardless who he was talking to.

This guy was a Democrat.  Traditionally Democrats appeal to younger voters.  I asked for his card so I could check out his website and email him my blog link.  He had no website, no Facebook page, no Twitter address.  He didn’t even have his email printed on his card.  I immediately gave him back the yard sign he gave me.  How could I support someone who didn’t even have his email address printed on his card?

Yesterday I read an article in Fast Company about the lack of social media use in this year’s election.  Even though Facebook boasts more than 130 million active users in the U.S. and Twitter sitting at about half that, many campaigns are spending less than 5% of their budgets online.  Now it’s safe to say that good portion of these users are younger, ages 18 to 40.  Not only does this group use social media and online sources for their information … it’s far and away their primary source.

Are these candidates, in both parties, oblivious to this fact or do they just not care about what these people think?  How do they expect any support from them.  Heck, Obama rode the younger generation and text messages to the White House.  Didn’t this crew learn anything.  Generations X and Y will come out and vote for candidates that talk to them – in the language they speak.  If they don’t … they’ll stay home and wait for someone who does.

As printers and us in the industry, are we helping our clients act like politicians?  Are their customers staying at home and waiting for someone to speak  to them in their own language.

Language is just a metaphor.  I mean saying something that’s relevant to the person you’re talking to and saying it in a medium that’s going to get their attention.  A twenty year guy is not a good market for diapers and you’re sure not going to get his attention with a newspaper circular … for any product.

I can’t count the number of articles I’ve read prophesying the “future of print.”  If our clients continue to bombard their customers with ineffective generic marketing pushing the same products the same way to everyone … they’ll disenfranchise them the same way politicians do the younger generations.  How will this bode for print?  Well, you can only guess.

We have to take the lead here.  We can’t sit back and wait for our clients to tell us what they want … they don’t know!  It’s hard enough for us to keep up.  How do you expect some small business owner buried in his survival routine to know how he can effectively target his market.

Now I’m not saying mothball your presses.  On the contrary, not only is print here to stay – it can be extremely effective.  I’ve even seen recent studies on how print produces better response than email when marketing to younger people.   But you have to do it the right way.  Circulars may be fine if your target market grew up with them.  But for the pre AARP generations that grew up in the last two decades, “times have a changed.”  They’ve learned how to navigate the multitudes of information thrown at them by paying attention only to what matters to them, and only matters to them now.

The future of the industry is in – printing less … yes – printing less.  But it’s also in charging more by targeting and getting better results for our clients.  Shouldn’t that be our goal?  Anybody can crank up a press and hit print.  But can you drive customers to your client’s door and money in their pocket?  It’s not about the equipment we have or latest gimmicks we sell.  It’s about our client’s customers and what we can do to help better their experience with our client.

When you’re waiting at the polls, ask yourself if you’re acting like a campaign manager for your clients,  having them say the same thing to everyone … no matter who they are.

The Alliance

•October 18, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Changes in environment often require changes in thinking.  Nothing can be truer than the current situation in the printing industry.  Our industry is having to reinventing itself daily with the pressures of the challenging economic climate and the push to become cross-media providers.

In 1876 two mortal enemies found that the differences they had between them paled in comparison to the a threat both of them encountered.  After the Civil War, the U.S. government turned its attention to the Wild West and the fight against the Indians – or as they called them, “savages”.

Two warring tribes, the Lakota Sioux and the Cheyenne were being relentlessly pursued by the U.S. Army, and specifically, General Armstrong Custer.  After numerous skirmishes with minor military leaders, they learned of Custer’s intention of attacking them in Southern Montana.

Neither the Sioux nor the Cheyenne would have had the upper hand separately, but together, the result could very well be different.  The Lakota chiefs Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull met secretly with Cheyenne chief Gall and devised a plan for their survival.

The Sioux set up their encampment of 20,000 plus on the banks of the Little Big Horn river.  Sitting Bull moved the women and children down river while Crazy Horse amassed the Sioux warriors in the cover of brush.  As the Army moved in to attack, they were surprised from the rear by Gall and his Cheyenne.  Outnumbered by the Cheyenne alone, Custer retreated towards the banks of the Little Big Horn only to come face to face with the Sioux.

The infamous battle of Custer’s Last Stand lasted only twenty minutes with Custer’s army being annihilated.

While the current economic climate may not equate to the dire situation the Sioux and Cheyenne faced … lessons can learned.  Our enemies of a year ago – the competition down street, may well be our life line to survival now.

New thinking is not just a luxury anymore.  It’s mandatory.  Business as usual has become no business at all.  Look at everybody as an opportunity – your competition, your suppliers, everyone.  How can you combine assets and clients to become not just sustainable, but uniquely positioned for inevitable economic upturn down the road?

For example, take a look at the content creators … the social media experts, the web designers, the programmers and all of the rest doing the neat stuff that most us know little about.  I’m willing to bet that a lot of them would be more than willing to join forces and collaborate with an established printing firm.

If you ever see the site of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, you will see scores of small white crosses running down the hill towards the river.  They represent where the Army soldiers fell and died.  While the recession may not deliver your little white cross … it’ll deliver somebody’s.

Take advantage of these times to think new and bury old conceptions and archaic business practices.  Evolve or die.

Who do you want to be – Crazy Horse or Custer?

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