Tag : commission

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210: Why Facebook Blocked HiBid

Last week, some of you saw my post in the Auction Technology and Marketing group on Facebook. For those who didn’t, I showed the screenshot you see below. To save you some squinting, it was a notification from Facebook that my pixel was turned off on all HiBid sites on which it was installed.

Facebook Blocked Data HiBid

This notification came after I had rebated hundreds of dollars to clients when their ads didn’t perform. I hadn’t noticed, because there were no Facebook notifications to warn me. There were no notifications—because the ads weren’t rejected. My ads weren’t turned off. Just my pixel was. So, any ads based on web traffic were running—just to nobody.

The pixel was deactivated because of inappropriate content on the platform. That could be alcohol, tobacco, pornography, marijuana, or any of the short list of items Facebook doesn’t want to be legally responsible for promoting. My guess, though, is that it was firearms; but I don’t know that for sure.

What I do know is that I’ve been warning for several years now that this day was coming. The Facebook advertiser platform analyzes not only the content of the ads but also the content of the pages to which they’re linked. In this 2017 post, I showed in writing from a Facebook employee that this policy would include entire sites. I advised to get guns off auction websites onto their own, dedicated sites or at least out of the same catalogs. Not wanting to take drastic measures, most did the latter. Others stopped using me for Facebook services for any assets.

Now, some can’t use Facebook’s full suite of tools because of that partial remedy.

What's Next sticky note

This isn’t an I-told-you-so post, though. This is a call to fully adapt sooner rather than later. We’ve all got more time on our hands right now—more than usual for this time of year. This is a great time to buy some URLs like [company]gunauction.com or [company]firearms.com or [company]secondamendment.com. This is a convenient few weeks to watch a couple YouTube videos and then build a Squarespace or Word Press website for your gun sales or to hire that work to be done. We all have time now to go back through our archives and remove all gun auctions or firearm lots from our current site. Your web developer can do a quick and cheap find-and-replace for all mentions of those banned items.

Today, it’s HiBid. Tomorrow it could be Proxibid or Auction Services, MarkNet or United Country. It could even be your proprietary site. Despite the negative impact of this cultural shutdown, we have an unprecedented opportunity to head off a future problem at this pass. You can say some words about Facebook that can’t be aired on broadcast television, or you can gain a competitive advantage on other auctioneers. 

We can have bigger conversations down the road about creating a firearm-centric platform for all auctioneers, maybe even one with a shared email system. Time and money spent on lobbying lawmakers probably won’t change this. We’ll only break our tiny selves on the rocks of protest. We’ll save future commissions best by investing in adaptation.

Please know this isn’t a political platform for me. I design advertising for legal weapons—just not on the Facebook platform. Just two weeks ago, an East Coast client emailed this about my campaign for her gun auction:

“The email lists and blast for the firearms was a huge success! We had 130+ bidders from all over the US; 72 buyers! Sale brought 10K more than the sellers precaution estimate.”

So, I want to help you make the most of firearms in your estates and consignment sales. More so, I want to help you make bank on real estate and equipment auctions. We all make way more money on the latter than on weapons. For me, it’s an easy math problem. Either we (1) pass on the deals with guns, (2) partner with gun shops to take on deals we need, or (3) adapt our marketing to avoid changing what we sell. Gun auctions account for a small fraction of one percent of my income. The same holds true for many of my clients

Online Payment

If that’s not true for you, I implore you to consider what your gun auctions might cost you. More importantly, if you use a shared bidding platform, I’d ask you to consider what commission you might be risking for your professional peers. Like with this Coronavirus reality in which we’re living, the person you’ll save with your precautions is probably someone else. For all of my auctioneer friends who’ve been posting about getting the economy going again to save businesses, I’d look at your potential to help the auction industry do just that in the long term.

This isn’t a matter of if but when. We’ll have to make these changes now or later. If you “shelter in place” your gun content now, we’ll all get back to a new normal sooner.

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176: Is the Difference Between Marketing and Advertising Costing You Money?

Our culture uses the words advertising and marketing interchangeably. So does the auction industry in which I work, even though they should know the difference more than most industries.

Most people see the Venn diagram of these two words as this:

Assumption Venn

In actuality, the Venn diagram looks something like this:

Venn Reality

Let me explain.

Marketing is the strategic pursuit of qualified prospects.
Advertising is the media through which marketing decisions are communicated.

In other words, advertising is just a part of marketing. It’s the louder, more flamboyant part; but it’s only a part.

3 real-world examples of this differentiation:

Marketing is my alma mater importing palm trees, lining walkways and roadways with them, and paying us grounds crew guys to insulate the non-native trunks so that they’d make it through the winter. Marketing is putting a palm tree in the college’s logo. Advertising is all the media that includes said logo and is sent to Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan—the states from which a large percentage of our student body came.

Advertising includes all the direct mail, newsprint, and signs my former employer dispersed before one of our multimillion dollar land auctions. Marketing is the multi-parcel system they used to get maximum value out of a property. Marketing is the software they wrote for that system when the personal computer was first invented. Marketing also includes all the lender luncheons they held in the new geographic markets they pursued.

Advertising got the registered bidders to an on-site auction, where one of my clients was selling his own farm. Marketing showed up when, after chatting up the attendees, he phoned a friend to get a sight-unseen starting bid by the acre.

Auctioneers make a marketing decision when they choose between live, simulcast, timed online, or sealed bid platforms. Same goes for when they choose whether to offer a buyer broker commission and, if so, at what percent.

Marketing determines who the prospects are, what they want to know about the asset or service at hand, and where to go to connect with these prospects. Advertising just executes that plan, and advertising decisions are easier once the marketing strategy has already been made.

Why do I make this distinction?

Because often, auctioneers ask me to recommend and/or execute advertising campaigns without that marketing foundation. I regularly seem to surprise auctioneers, when I ask them, “Who is your buyer for this asset?” or “Why would someone want this asset, or how would they use it?” The same goes for similar questions, when chasing auction sellers. (For the record, I also have stellar marketers as clients who start our correspondence with this information or answer these questions with dexterity.)

A marketing plan and an advertising budget are two different things. We can spend money on a standard media program that crosses a lot of t’s and dots a to of i’s. Or we can target prospects through the filters of cultural trends, asset appeal, market demand.

I gladly generate media all day. That’s how I make my money. But it behooves auctioneers to think bigger than just the box of advertising. Because marketing is how you make your money.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

96: Winning The Close Ones

Having helped auctioneers with proposals for over a decade, I’ve found that many auction proposals follow similar outlines and use similar selling points.  So, how do you separate your plan from the competition’s one?

The way you present it.

Our culture is becoming more and more visually stimulated and educated; and your marketing materials need to reflect that—especially your proposals.

Display media choices & other marketing tools.
LoopNet SampleDon’t just list the media you plan to use; show it.  Grab screen captures of the websites on which you plan to list.  Splay covers of brochures or postcards of similar properties you’ve sold.  Maybe even include a digital tear sheet showing what their ad will look like in the newspaper.  You can find similar ways to illustrate press release work, too.  This tactic will save you from burning through past auction brochure samples and allow you to include these samples in PDF presentation via email.  In the past, I’ve even inserted a chart showing the subcategories and quantities of planned direct mail lists.

Sample MediaAnd it wouldn’t hurt to show online bidding screens or a picture of someone bidding online to illustrate that process, especially for an online-only auction.  On at least one occasion, an auctioneer has hired me to build a sample ad or even a full direct mail piece of the property to demonstrate to the seller what they can expect.

Demonstrate numbers with charts & graphs.
Sir Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is power.”  But knowledge that isn’t easily understood or retained loses its power.  Charts and graphs not only make your information more indelible, they allow you to impress people by the fact that you’re even curating the statistics they illustrate.  If you have some of the following information—and it it puts your work in a favorable light—leverage it for your case!
• Percentage of bidders and/or buyers (on-site vs. online)
• Average quantity of registered bidders per asset type or per geographic location
• Sale prices vs. assessed values
Comparison to Assessed Value
• Price per acre per crop type or land location
Sale Prices Per Acre (Fictitious)
• Breakdown of areas of specialty by quantity of auctions in each category
Areas of Specialty
• Quantities of online only, simulcast, and offline auctions
Bidding Platform
• Media (specific or categorical) choices by number of past bidders or buyers
Pie ChartIllustrate your experience with maps.
My chiropractor has a map in his waiting area showing all the countries from which his clients have come.  Anecdotally, I’ve found that biplane‘s coverage map has given my career experience more credence than the number of auctions I’ve advertised or even the years I’ve been in the business.  To many folks, those units of measure are ambiguous.  Numbers might be relative, but geography is typically a concrete value—especially when selling real estate.  So, show your prospect the nearby locations where you’ve held similar auctions: ““We’ve sold X properties near yours.”  Or show them the geographic expanse of your work, whether that’s by county or by state: “We’ve sold your type of asset from coast to coast.”

The free website, BatchGeo.com, can help you quickly create maps of multiple locations from your database.  Or maybe create a state or county map showing the number of properties that you’ve sold in those boundaries or number of acres successfully auctioned in them.  I’ve been impressed by auctioneers who have mapped in what states and countries they had online bidders and from which they had online buyers.

Your offer—all the things you are promising to do and for what price—will be the deciding factor in whether or not you get the job.  For situations when the proposals on the table will all have similar offers, make sure your proposal gives the impression that you’ll execute the auction with unmatched dexterity.  One way to do that is to use fewer words and more images.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever read an entire real estate sales contract, even though we’re preparing to buy our third home in less than a decade.  I’ve never finished reading the iTunes service agreement or all the entry rules in contests to win a trip to the Super Bowl or a new F-150.

And I’ve never read the Bible from cover to cover.

There.  I said it.

I’ve memorized literally chapters of the 66 books—including every verse of Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the canon.  I’ve studied entire books going verse by verse.  But genealogies or major prophets usually kill the hitting streak.

I’m grateful that God supplemented all those inspired words with his inspired nature.  Even in its “groaning,” decaying state, Creation teems with colorful illustrations of his creativity, evidence of his perfect engineering, and analogies for his transcribed principles.  It’s no wonder that Romans says nature alone is enough to show us our need of redemption—a rescue from the entropy of our soul.  And it’s critical that we, who have been restored, worship his revealed glory—so that the rocks don’t have to cry out in our place.

[footer]Stock image of graphs purchased from iStockPhoto.com.[/footer]

84: Will Self-service Websites Impact Your Business?

Self-checkout LaneThe other day, I had a rousing conversation with one of my buddies in the auction business, talking about whether real estate auctioneers will be replaced by self-serve auction websites like AuctionPoint.com (commercial) and ebay.com (residential).  He pointed to the cattle and auto auction professions and how bid callers are getting downsized left and right, being replaced by online bidding portals.

It’s happening all over America: technology replacing the labor force, particularly the least adaptable portions of it.  And it’s undeniably happening in the live auction industry.  Candidly, as someone who wins his bread from advertising live auctions, I wonder where I’ll be a decade from now.

Thankfully, many of my clients are ahead of the curve, running to beat this technology to the pass.  And I don’t think full-service auction marketing will grow extinct in my lifetime.  For hundreds of years, people have needed fair, transparent, accelerated marketing.  That need will be here after my obituary is written.  How that need will be fulfilled, though, will require adaptation by the entire industry.

A decade ago, during the dot com bubble, billions of dollars were spent on the idea that self-service Internet would replace full-service brick and mortars.  In many cases, that happened—if not for whole industries at least for specific segments of it.  Most sports card and comic book stores either moved their inventory into online stores or closed their doors.  Most travel agents either moved to niche markets (and many have successfully) or moved onto new careers.  You get the idea.

Industrial adaptation isn’t exclusive to our online generation.  Pontiac Spring and Wagon Works prolonged its death for roughly a century by switching to automobiles and eventually selling to General Motors.  The Pullman Company, at the decline of the passenger rail era in America, diversified to trolleys and buses, and then transitioned to automotive parts manufacturing and specialty contracting.  Nokia, a small manufacturer of galoshes and rubber products, acquired Finnish Cable Works and subsequently became a dominant world player in industrial and consumer electronics.

These companies stayed alive or even grew exponentially by asking, “What growing needs can we effectively meet?” instead of “How can we keep making wooden wagons, railroad cars, or rubber boots?”

The question for the auction industry is not, “How do we convince people of the value of a bid caller?”—any more than it’s, “How do we prove the value of horse-drawn wagons?” No, the question will be, “How do we market property in a way that someone can’t do on their own—or at least in a way that someone is willing to pay someone else to do for them?”

I’m inextricably biased, but I see the core value of the professional auction marketing process to be the ability to gather motivated bidders through a multi-faceted advertising campaign.  If the right buyer doesn’t know about the auction, he won’t be there in person or online to bid.  If the right bidders or referring agents aren’t reached through compelling media, they won’t drive the sales price.  Throwing an auction on a website or network of affiliated websites may find a buyer for someone in the self checkout lane; but it’s less likely to find it’s highest price.  I’ve always been told that a successful auction—especially an absolute one—requires only two bidders; but sale price is often relatively-proportional to the quantity of bidders.

“Well, the difference in price I could achieve with a full-service auctioneer isn’t any more than the double-digit commission that leading auctioneers charge to make that difference,” a self-service seller might retort.  And this is what my industry friend asserted.

But I know an auctioneer who once proposed 100% commission and got the auction under those terms (because the sellers just wanted the subject property off their hands).  I remember helping one auctioneer with a proposal, when he knew the proposal against which he was competing would be requesting half the commission percentage.  My conversation with him was indelible.  He told me, “We just have to prove we’re worth twice the cost.”

Proving where we add value and enough value to equal our fees will be one of the main challenges facing auction marketers in the future, as self-service websites attract more and more MLS agents and FSBO (For Sale By Owner) properties.  Different auctioneers will have different valid answers to the question of value.  It might be their unparalleled experience and connections within a geographic or asset market.  Their worth might come in their reporting and CRM (customer relationship management) infrastructure or in their affiliate network’s cumulative reach.  Maybe it will be the incorporation of multiple, simultaneous bidding platforms.  It might just be the bandwidth of staff and auction events to handle the headaches others want to unload or the size of portfolios being liquidated.

On the flip side—in the absence of sufficient provable added value—the answer might even be lower commissions and/or fewer marketing fees.  (I still shake my head when I see “sale day labor,” “A/V rental,” “photocopies,” and similar charges in advertising budgets.  Shouldn’t that be covered by the double-digit commission?)

The solution won’t be a one-size-fits-all number or universal defense.  It will be a case-by-case adaptation.  And it won’t be easy or static—just necessary.  Are you ready to answer those questions?  Can you prove you’re worth your hire in an increasingly self-served, connected economy?  If not, what color is your parachute?

On a regular basis—including this week—I lose jobs because I’m more expensive than other vendors in the marketplace.  During most of the year, when I can’t stay late at morning basketball and Saturdays are regularly workdays, I chalk it up to supply and demand.  During the slow winter months and occasional summer doldrums, I’m tempted to worry, to second guess myself, to question whether I’m just wrapping arrogance with supply-side economics and a decade’s worth of track record.  Even during my busy seasons, I typically don’t have more than three to five days’ worth of work on my desk; some days, like this week, it falls less than that.

My wife and I have paid down well over half of the twenty-some thousand dollars we had on plastic 18 months ago.  The end of our forty-to-fifty-some thousand in car payments could happen in another 18 months, if biplane averages what it has since we started the debt-free chase.  As I feel the pull of debt, taxes, and life on one side and the fluctuating income on the other, I’m pushed to healthy, needful questions:

Do I trust God’s sovereignty?
Am I willing to admit my frail mortality during the feasts, not just the famines?
Am I praying for others and thinking about their problems—or just my own?
Am I being a wise steward of Someone Else’s money?
How can I simplify my life and demands?
Do I feel entitled to a certain lifestyle?
Am I doing all I can do?

How ‘bout you?  When stress and uncertainty arise, how do you face that reality—in your time management, your prayer life, your late night thoughts?

Photo credit.

62: Calling in Air Support

Strategic PartnershipThis week, both Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson have criticized Lebron James for passing on an extended attempt to turn today’s Cleveland Cavaliers into the 90’s Chicago Bulls—to will his way to championships. Said Jordan (who actually had a Miami Heat-like trifecta with Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman), “There’s no way, with hindsight, I would’ve ever called up Larry, called up Magic and said, ‘Hey, look, let’s get together and play on one team.'”

Jordan, like many entrepreneurs, wanted to forge a singular legacy—a custom, one-off version of the American dream. I’ve often heard successful business owners dubbed “self-made millionaires.” With personal fame leading to personal fortunes (or just personal spot lights) in the era of reality TV, the goal of C-listers seems to be getting their name shortened to handles like Tyra and the Donald, Snooki and Rush—Tiger. The basic idea of this path to success more or less comes down to “Get yours, while the gettin’s good.”

When we do hear about team work, it’s usually from some author or consultant, selling the potential synergy in the talent pools of our respective companies. Collaboration tends to be framed in terms of employee/employee or employee/management relationships. This packaging wraps around win-win situations with the premise of, “Get yours by everybody getting ahead.”

But last week, at the National Auctioneer Association‘s annual International Conference & Show, I was reminded of a truth that I regularly need to remind myself: “Help your prospect get theirs. Yours will be in the mail.”

As I walked the trade show floor I was struck by the pervasiveness of the franchise/affiliate/alliance models that are available and growing within the auction marketing industry. My past and present client lists include members of some of these groups, and I’ve seen enough of each to like and dislike aspects of each network. So, I’m not advocating joining any particular network or even recommending joining any of them. But I like to see auction marketers calling in air support.

I’ve been a part of projects where firms tried to sell something outside of their geographic or asset markets—and didn’t get those assets sold. We’ve collectively leveraged our experience base without much fruit. Rather than refer the work to a specialist in that segment, I’ve seen auctioneers bite off food they’ve never chewed. I don’t know if they believe that the auction podium is the great equalizer or that they are good with learning curves. Maybe extenuating circumstances got in the way. I don’t know.

Don’t get me wrong: I understand the appeal. There’s a commission check and conquered challenge on the other end of the speculative work. Those results are part and parcel the lure of the capitalism I love so much.

In my first few years in business I built a series of flameouts that proceeded trying to be all things to all clients. Now, I’m more inclined to “take my talents to South Beach,” as Lebron would say. Now that it’s not about me proving I can do it by myself, I regularly refer work to my competition, to related vendors, and even to the cloud. I don’t always get those prospects on my accounts receivable list down the road; but I retain enough clients, who now know I have their best interests in mind—even when those interests might come at the expense of mine.

How? By finding them a good fit, even when it’s not biplane productions.

Warning: you might have to share your commission, if you get a commission at all. But taking on an unfamiliar project without partnership with a seasoned expert is gambling with your income, anyway. So, if you’re selling a golf course—and you’ve never marketed to that buyer base—contact a firm that specializes in golf course marketing. If you’ve got a group of expensive colonial books mixed in with a local estate, research firms who deal almost-exclusively in antique books. If you sell factory equipment, and you get a lead on a liquidation of yellow iron and rolling stock, call for reinforcements.

Whether or not you work with UniTranz MarKingWilliams (or smaller/private group), you can help a rising tide lift all boats. Hopefully, you’re networking at national and/or state association environments and attending continuing education. Hopefully, you’re analyzing your strengths and weaknesses often and thoroughly enough to know what kind of work belongs inside your circle or out of it. Hopefully, you have the courage to pass on the shaky deal in the hand for the efficient jobs in the bush.

Sellers will discover whether or not you’re uniquely competent to help them—optimally, long before auction day. An honest referral or strategic partnership may spare you some egg on the face, some unpaid/underpaid work, and some time wasted that could have been spent on what basketball analysts call “a high percentage shot.”

How many times have you heard other Americans declare faith “a private matter”? If you’re like me, part of your spiritual journey came with a lot of internal determination and a desire to right your own ship after (many) tacks off course, praying prayers like “I’m going to try harder next time, God.” In our bootstraps culture, we think 15 more minutes of daily Bible reading might just do the trick. This thinking finds reinforcement from teachers and preachers emphasizing the act of getting alone and experiencing God by yourself.

And while a part of that solitude has biblical basis, the truth is that we were built for community—authentic, candid community. Most of the verbs in the epistles are plural in the original language. Even the idea of going to our closets to pray is married to the fact that the word closet for centuries was the term for the sequestered room for royal advisers—a circle of true friends.

God exists in unified, transparent community (even Jesus told his Father he wished there were another way to save the world). And heaven intends for its kingdom to operate in like fashion.

It’s not easy to be real about our junk, to let people into our struggles. When we admit we don’t have it all together on the inside, there will be those who judge us from the outside. But if you want to accelerate your spiritual journey, walk or run with someone else—preferably a group of someone elses. You will find healing faster, and you will see greenhouse-forced growth.

[footer]Image(s) purchased from iStockPhoto.com © 2010[/footer]

What’s Your Time *Really* Worth?

Time is MoneyWhat do you make an hour?

I’m not asking for you to tell me—just wonder if you know.

“What does it matter?” you might ask. “I don’t get paid by the hour.”

Actually, you do. Everybody does. Whether you’re a high schooler making minimum wage, a manager on a salary, or a business owner netting six or seven figures, people pay you for your time.

“No, they pay me a commission,” you might say—or, “No, I get the same check every week, regardless of time worked.”

95% of biplane productions‘ 2010 work has been invoiced via flat fees, not hourly billing (94% in 2009). But I can tell you what I make an hour per quarter, per client, per auction type, per individual auction, even per task within each auction—for every auction biplane productions has ever helped advertise. I can tell you how many minutes it typically takes me to upload your files to the print shop, how many minutes I spend on the phone with or typing emails to you, and how many minutes I spent manipulating budgets of your media expenditures. Diagnose me with a disorder, but it has given me great insight into what I do and how it’s done.

See, the more efficiently I work, the more I make an hour. Same goes for you. Efficiency can either earn you the same pay but with extra hours with family, friends, or unconsciousness—or earn you more dollars for the same amount of hours at the grindstone. Either way, you can make the hours you work worth more to you and to your clients.

But ambiguously trying to streamline your work flow without tracking your time is like trying to get out of debt without establishing a budget. And simply blocking time in your Day-Timer or iCal only tells you when work will be done. You have to record receipts of your time and store them in a format that can compare them, add them, average them. Lots of industries do this—lawyers, accountants, engineers, ad agencies, auto mechanics—they just use it for billing purposes.

Whether you record the time with a time stamp machine, a pen and paper, or with electronics doesn’t matter. It could be 3×5 cards you keep in your pocket or a slick iPhone app. Mine is a sheet of lined paper on the front of each project folder (assisted sometimes by sticky notes) and a formula-filled Excel spreadsheet.

The key is that you can see patterns and anomalies.

It’s not as complicated as you think. The insight you gain from this collection will be more than worth the five to 15 minutes per auction (or other project) you’ll spend recording your time. You will be surprised at some point. I have. Some jobs that seem to have taken forever or been a schedule pain have proved surprisingly profitable for me, and some jobs I’ve thought were a breeze actually netted me a disappointingly-lower wage for my time than I would have guessed.

I’ve added some columns over the years that give me even more telling information such as: type of auction property, number of auctions per campaign, number of properties per auction, number of days from invoice to payment, number of days a folder sits on my desk, and number of days before the auction that I get all materials from my client. By adding dates, I have almost eight years’ worth of trends to tell me the best time to take a vacation, when to anticipate hearing from my less consistent clients, etc. Combined with QuickBooks graphs, I have reliable accuracy in estimating my daily schedule and general cash flow.

If none of this appeals to you, what if I told you it might help you book a sale? Let’s say you’re presenting a proposal to someone who thinks all an auctioneer does is spend an hour talking to newspapers and a sign company, another couple hours at an open house, and then shows up to the auction. Now imagine you can show them number of calls fielded on average, the time spent managing advertising, or the average amount of cumulative man hours for that kind of asset. You can prove your worth and assure a seller their money is well spent.

It might even change how you do auctions. Maybe you find that online-only auctions net you more dollars per hour. Maybe you find that you can charge less for residential auctions than commercial. It might give you a competitive advantage in proposed commission structure. Instead of closing your multi-par auction after the whole-property bids, you realize you can substantially increase a month’s worth of dollars per hour with an auction that’s 30 or 60 minutes longer—by reopening the bidding up to single tract and combination bids.

For me, it’s changed who I take on as clients—and to whom I market my services. It’s shown me where to subcontract certain services and where to keep tasks in-house. I’ve seen bumps in efficiency after buying a larger monitor, after going to FTP technology. I’ve been able to keep my annual price adjustments inflational while giving myself a raise each year—just by getting more efficient.

How about you? Do you have a metric for profitability? Since “time is money,” you can determine true profitability only when you can see your value in terms of rates instead of income.

Capitalism allows supply and demand to set our prices. But efficiency allows us to set our wages.

Today, I again played with this ESPN salary calculator, which calculates how much a person’s annual income would buy in terms of a famous athlete’s performance. For instance, a Yankees pitcher makes my annual income for fewer than two strike outs (which might take me a year to do). An L.A. Laker makes my yearly wages for less than five rebounds. My 400 auctions in 2009 were worth less than 40 yards thrown by a recently-fired NFL quarterback.

Now, I could get discouraged by that; or I could realize that we are professionally worth what people will pay for us to do that. While we can’t control what culture pays for various professions, we can work to be on the top end of our respective industries. The harder realization for me is that my growing hourly worth in biplane’s hangar doesn’t make me worth any more as a person. My vote counts as much as Warren Buffet’s. I’ve been given the same amount of hours in a day as Steve Jobs has. Jesus died for panhandlers and Gulf Stream owners, me and you.

So, while some lives may have more public value than others, we all have the challenge to make the most of the lives we’ve been given. We can’t arbitrarily add days to our lives, but we can add life to our days.

The apostle Paul told us to number our days, to “redeem the time, because the days are evil.” The Bible regularly suggests that we leverage our relatively-short lives for eternity. So, how much Life inhabits your days? And how contagious is that Life in the lives around you?

[footer]Image(s) used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2010[/footer]

Tampons & Sports Cars

Tampon & Race CarDuring this economic downturn, Audi has grown market share and remained profitable as traditional global automotive leaders wallow in bailouts, recalls, and falling sales.  While many companies cut advertising expenditures, Audi America has reported an increase in its marketing budget by 20% and developed waiting lists in several metro markets for its models.

How?  Well, if you agree with Audi America’s chief marketing officer in this revealing video clip, it’s because they abandoned Detroit mainstays and appealed to more than consumerism.  Rather than relying on drives down winding roads accompanied by headlines of new features and price points, they use traditional and nontraditional channels to separate themselves from ubiquity.  With their clean diesel and green police campaigns, they give consumers something to ponder.  Their vehicles—what they sell—occupy only brief seconds in their spots.  In fact, in some of their commercials, long, shiny lines of their competition’s vehicles fill most of the space.  They take some risks, including racing an airplane at takeoff for viral video and asking ESPN video journalists to film a racing documentary on their race team.

If you’re not into European cars, consider Kotex, which is fighting ubiquity and segment stigmas with its new “U” campaign.  Using candor and self-deprecation, they are bucking the clichés and euphemism their industry has implemented for decades.  Their product packaging now comes in rainbow colors within black boxes.  Rather than talk about product features, they mock menstrual product advertising.  They’ve built social media into their web site that generates donations for a female-empowerment non-profit.

“We’re really out there and we’re trying to touch women and say we care about this conversation,” said Mr. Meurer, of Kotex. “We’re changing our brand equity to stand for truth and transparency and progressive vaginal care.” †

How ’bout your company ads, promotional materials, and “About Us” web page?  Are you just stacking resumé bullet points against your competition’s stack?  Are you making superlative claims then making sure they see your logo?  Are you trying to do what you’ve seen your competition do but just a bit shinier or with better stock images?

Or are you evoking something that makes prospects stop, think, and maybe change their preconceived expectations of your industry?

To be fair, I ask those questions about my company, too.

As a result, my company brochure isn’t full color.  I abandoned print ads years ago.  biplane productions isn’t even in Lynchburg phone directories.  There are no galleries of my award-winning work on my web site—instead: a link to a clearinghouse of free marketing advice and a map of auctions to which I’ve contributed.  I don’t rent trade show booths; I engage with my prospect base through seminar podiums, industry lobbying, and trade publication contributions.  Unlike the ad agency industry standard, I don’t mark up my printing or take a commission from newsprint ads.  biplane productions‘ clients see exactly what I pay for media and subcontractors in line item detail.  I open my personal life to clients and prospects through a robust Christmas letter and proactive online social networking.  My company car is wrapped like a race car.

These are each intentional choices, sifted through a specific brand identity.  It’s more than advertising, bigger than graphic design.  It’s letting branding infiltrate my business.

Why?  Because a lot of work-from-home designers are hungry and willing to charge less than biplane productions does.  Because my work isn’t a price point commodity that you can find at the other end of an online shopping cart.  Because I’m not a freelancer; yet biplane productions isn’t a traditional ad agency, either.  I am the only one who does exactly what I do for whom I do it.  So, why use other companies’ marketing techniques to illustrate my services?

As an auction marketer, you’re in the same boat right now.  Your competition is cutting commissions to get the auctions you’re chasing.  Bid callers are muddying the water in which auction marketers like you swim.  They’re offering online bidding and the same web sites you do; they’ve got lettering and a logo on their SUV, too.

So then, how are you leveraging your individuality to gain sales and hopefully market share?  How are you illustrating your competitive advantage beyond the designations behind your name, the plaques on your office wall, and the charts & graphs in your proposals?  None of these are bad things, but they can’t carry the weight of your brand alone.

God gave us unique combinations of pasts, talents, interests, relationships, and burdens. He’s the master of creativity; and we could chock this all up to the same expression of infinity as DNA and snow flakes.

But he handed those “random” cocktails to us for a reason: for us to leverage them for kingdom gain. He needs people to fly missionaries into remote fields and folks to love parking cars in church parking lots, hearts to sit with the elderly and arms to rock the infants, professionals to reach secular strongholds and private-school instructors to tutor the Christian leaders of tomorrow.

Take a look at your life. Maybe scribble notes on a piece of paper. Whom might you be able to reach that the church as a unit might not? The pains from your past—how could Jesus comfort and rescue others through those experiences and ensuing growth? How can you use your hobbies and proficiencies to leave a legacy larger than your own?

[footer]* “Rebelling Against the Commonly Evasive Feminine Care Ad,” NYTimes.com, Andrew Adam Newman, March 15, 2010.

Image(s) used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2010[/footer]