Tag : community

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167: Beat Your Conference Education Hangover

Last week, the National Auctioneers Association (NAA) hosted a conference with more than 50 seminars along with more than 100 hours of designation education. Even after attending only a few hours’ worth of these offerings, it would be easy to come home overwhelmed. One of my clients told me he had typed five pages of notes—from just three of the seven days’ worth of content. Multiple attendees told me they felt “information overload.”

So, what do you do with this sense of confronted ignorance? How do you incorporate all this new knowledge into your daily life—especially when work is ramped up waiting for your return to the office?

Pick one takeaway from the new content.

You can’t implement everything you learned, especially not all at once. The complete list will rarely, if ever, stop being intimidating. When we’re overwhelmed, we procrastinate. So, sift through your notes (mental, physical, or digital); and determine what’s the most needed concept you need to incorporate. You might need to consult with a friend, family, or professional mentor to help you process what should have priority.

Break that one idea into manageable steps.

It’s easier to start and finish smaller steps than it is to try to eat the whole elephant in one sitting. Also, our body rewards even small successes with dopamine release. So, the more tasks we cross off the list, the more biochemical reward we build into the habit-forming process. Another benefit of deconstructing the process is finding places where you can outsource, customize, or automate.

Give yourself a manageable series of deadlines.

Wishes without deadlines are dreams—not goals. So, determine what you can do by specific benchmark dates. Set calendar notifications for your phone or computer. Use services like WhenSend to write and schedule emails to the future you—emails infused with the passion you feel during this goal-setting time.

Find an accountability mechanism.

This might be a friend or family member. It might be a paid life coach, counselor, or consultant. Or it might be a crowdsourced solution, using technology. Social scientists are finding that will power is a muscle that can be developed but that it also tires with use like a muscle. We all have finite determination and perseverance. So, it’s okay to ask for help and constructive criticism—just like a weight lifter would ask for a spotter in the gym.

Raise the stakes.

One of my fellow NAA instructors, Robert Mayo, also suggests adding a painful disincentive to your plans and deadlines. I’ve not tried this method yet, but it has worked for him and many others. Some people work better with a looming stick rather than a dangled carrot. Regardless, it’s important to raise the stakes proportional to the importance of your desired outcome.

You can read, watch, or listen to the less-pressing content again later. There’s value in refreshing your memory with quality content. You never know when that might fit a future conversation or decision matrix. In the meantime, focus only on what you have attention span, time, and energy to accomplish; and chase it with everything you have. By the time you attend your next conference, you’ll be an expert in that new strategy or habit.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

82: Long Distance Marketing

Signs to Multiple StatesOn a regular basis, I talk to auctioneers who are proposing and contracting auctions across state lines—in some cases across multiple time zones.  Whether these auctioneers are selling for distant estates with local heirs or for banks with holdings in multiple states, they are faced with the same dilemma: how do we find buyers in geographic areas outside of our expertise?

I hear that question a lot on the other end of the phone and read it in emails on a regular basis.  While specific geographic areas and specific assets often require a custom plan, here are the five general tips I give for these long distance situations.

Join the local chamber of commerce.
Competing now with online social networking, chambers of commerce are often struggling to gain new members and retain the financial inflows that help them serve current members.  I’ve found the organizers of these groups to be very welcoming to out-of-state firms.  Almost all will allow you access to their membership list for direct mail—some even for free with membership dues.  Some even offer email blasts, publication inserts, and event promotion.  Reaching these member roles is an efficient way to introduce your brand and your auction to an area’s leading business people (many of whom are also community investors) and to get community buzz generated for an auction.

Saturate brokers, dealers, and/or consultants with direct mail.
If you want to get the word out to buyers, you’ll benefit from reaching out to their agents and consultants.  It’s fairly easy and relatively inexpensive to grab direct mail lists of brokers, dealers, and consultants within a radius of your auction.  A side benefit to reaching this audience is that they might have sellers down the road; making a good first impression here will help you compete for business against their local options—for auctions that you would not have been otherwise considered.  Some auctioneers I know also include a radius of lenders for real estate auctions, as they regularly have prequalified clients looking for properties.

Partner with a local auctioneer, broker, dealer, or consultant.
Not all pies are big enough for sharing.  When they are, their expertise can enhance yours and help you reach movers and shakers within their social sphere.  This doesn’t have to be an auctioneer.  It could be a consultant, dealer, or broker.  And it may not be someone local to the auction; it could be a national entity with a narrow specialty and a national database for a specific kind of asset.  With the rising number of affiliate and referral groups in the auction industry, finding a reputable partner is growing easier and easier.  And don’t forget that auctions like these prove part of the value for attending National Auctioneer Association education events—to establish relationships with people who might someday enable you to have a successful sale far from home.

Look for asset-based and trade publications.
When researching new geographic markets, it’s easy to just grab the local daily and weekly editorial publications in an area, overlooking real estate inserts, tabloids, and total market coverage (TMC) publications.  Google search the type of asset and the state or city.  The ensuing search results can lead you to websites and/or print publications that reach a more targeted audience than the shotgun targets of metro papers.  Don’t forget business journals and trade publications—for the same reason you’d reach out to chamber of commerce members.  While the deadlines and publishing dates of some trade publications often make it difficult for auction marketing to be a good fit, these organizations often offer email blasts and/or direct mail lists for more immediate access to their membership.

Look for community events.
Almost all cities and counties list online their community events.  It’s good to know these, so that you don’t schedule inspections or auctions during perennial staples.  These gatherings also make for great times to promote your auction as an insider by attending them and/or advertising your auction at the event or in its materials.  One auctioneer I know obtained permission to post giant posters of their brochure cover (of a waterfront lots auction) at the checkout line of a famous, annual Tennessee fish fry and gave water taxi tours from the dock over to their property, where they had signs facing the boat traffic.  The auction was a huge success in an area that had recently seen similar auctions fail.

Sometimes, extending your brand into a new geographic area is a gamble, but you can make it less of a risk by establishing rapport with the local movers and shakers.  Ask yourself, “What would give me confidence in an out-of-state vendor conducting business in my town?”  Then make sure your marketing plan includes tactics based on the answer to that question.

As Christians, we are called to take our hope to the world.  Literally.  But no one person, church, mission board, or denomination can canvas the entire planet for Christ.  Does that mean we shouldn’t try?  That our mandate is an impossible one?

No, it’s an indirect call to unity—unity of purpose, of message, of spirit.  I’ve heard multiple pastors from different churches express this in a rhetorical question, when feeling called toward new global burdens: “Why would I start something new, when I can come alongside an organization already doing that work?”

Whether it’s evangelism, rescue of sex slaves, or disaster relief, the work of restoration is bigger than any of us—bigger than all of us.  It will have to be a God thing, not a God-helping-us thing.  After natural disasters and terrorist attacks, it’s common to see political opponents unified in spirit and actions for recovery.  That should always be true of the church, the body of one Christ.

My takeaway: as I see efforts to rebuild Haiti and Japan, as well as U.S. areas damaged by floods and tornadoes, doing my part means helping those already there.  And if I get the chance to physically be of assistance, I’ll be looking to connect with those who’ve been sacrificing far more than their post-disaster weeks and months.

[footer]Stock image used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com.[/footer]

68: Is The Business Card Obsolete?

I walked out to my car one afternoon and found several business cards on my fronts seats. They had been dropped through my MINI‘s open sun roof by a buddy of mine. Now, I already had Aaron’s contact information in my phone [and my Nano] and on my Facebook friends list—even in an Excel® spreadsheet that gets passed around our church‘s parking team group emails. He and I have hiked and prayed together, even shared a (spacious) tent during a lightning storm on a two-day canoe trip.

But his cards have been sitting on my desk for weeks—despite the fact that I will probably never need the services of a civil engineer, even one from a well-branded firm.

Wiley Wilson Sample

In contrast, I took three $25 restaurant gift cards to the 2010 National Auctioneers Association‘s annual conference & show to use in drawings during my two seminars. They worked in that I returned to my office with over 80 different business cards from auction marketers—biplane productions‘ target market. After keying the data from the cards into my email contact database, I stacked them in my stationery cabinet then later threw the vast majority of them in the trash.


Well, I didn’t need them; and nothing made me want them.

I’m not alone. In a culture where our mobile devices carry all of our contacts plus the Internet in our pocket, just about all of the people we need to reach are no further than our pocket or purse. How many times have you asked someone, “Hey, what’s your number? I’ll put you in my phone”? The vast majority of business cards just add to the clutter in our wallets, desks, and cars; and they’re far less portable than the address icon on our iPhones, Droids, Blackberries, etc.

Old School

Our increasingly-electronic world, though, doesn’t make business cards obsolete. They still transfer contact information and marketing messages to their recipients. Business cards can be an indelible medium for introducing and reinforcing your brand to prospects and peers—even if trashed after being loaded into an electronic address book. They can influence that all-important first impression.

So, what makes a good business card?

Not all information is created equal. As a rule (that has some creative exceptions), your information should read from top toward bottom and left toward right—in the order of importance. What’s important will be different for different people; so, contemplate what your prospects should see first. Also, the use of color and bolding should be leveraged in a way that lets a reader immediately see the most important information first. If nothing is emphasized, you’re making the recipient work for what they need. If everything is emphasized, nothing is.

Order demonstrates organizational prowess; margin illustrates self-control; and white space communicates luxury. Rambling lines and text abutted near the edge of a business card connote, “No, wait. I . . . I want to tell you one more thing.” Big shots don’t have to prove they’re big shots; they’ve found that less actually is more. So, transcribe only the absolute necessary, and leave the rest for your Web site, LinkedIn profile, and company Facebook page.

We can all tell when you ordered your cards from an online printer or your local Staples® copy center—or worse yet, when you printed them at home. We know when your “logo” came from a clip art disc or stationery catalog. Conversely, we can tell when you work for a Fortune 500 company. The margins and paper (or other medium) choice, print and trim quality, effects and font choices all tell people how professional your brand is. People hire experts. Do your business cards give the impression that you’re an expert?

You may not need to be as outside the box as some of these business cards, but non-standard concepts will make your brand memorable. Ubiquity will only get your information into a “contacts” app. That said, avoid creativity for creativity’s sake; illustrate an obvious purpose for coloring outside the lines.

I’ve heard from multiple agents of larger firms, who are trying to find a way out from the umbrella company’s shadow. That can be tough. But if your parent entity has a template for all employees, stick to that; or lobby them for a systemic change. You benefit from the branding work in which they’ve invested over the years. For the entrepreneur, make sure that your business cards connect by more than logo with your other media. Fonts, colors, proportions, and feel should strictly match across all your collateral.

The business card as a medium isn’t dead, but yours has to come alive to survive the digital age. If you overlook the value of your business card, so will your prospects.

Business cards aren’t the only tangible, human interaction being replaced by electronic media. This summer I read a great book, “The Church of Facebook.” It discusses the way our definition of community is changing with the influence of online social environments, and it gives multiple tips for adapting to and confronting the tendency toward more instant but more superficial connections with our digitized relationships.

That’s a challenge for friendships, churches, and movements, because humans were designed and built for intimacy. Spiritually, relationally, physically—we are most whole and empowered when we are vulnerable to and then authentically encouraged by others. (Personally, I think those three realms are connected to each other.)

When I find myself getting shallow in my platonic friendships, I often find myself struggling more with anger and apathy. When Crystal and I aren’t connecting physically, stress and insecurity bubble larger within my chest. When my frequency and quality of interactions with God drop, I notice my gratitude and stewardship wane.

We all have “dummy lights” on the dash that are trying to tell us to fill up on true community in our Twitterific world. Do you know what yours are? What do you do when they flash?

[footer]Stock photo used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2010.
Business card used by permission of Wiley Wilson.[/footer]

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]

Search & Rescue (Your Online Listings)

Search MarketingOne of the things I love about working in the auction industry is the seemingly endless supply of unique items to sell—from 1800’s cane guns to “green” condos, Putzmeisters to personal amphibious vehicles, colonial farms to nonprofit camps.

Invariably, these auction campaigns come with a common question: “Where do you recommend we advertise this sale?” And, invariably, I just google the key words my client just spoke.

That gives me a list of specialty web sites and/or print publications I can research for viability. It also shows me if anyone is buying those google AdWords® found in that right-hand margin.

Why do I start my search this way? Because that’s what the buying public does, when it’s searching for something. Collectors and power users are probably already on those specialty sites and/or subscribing to those publications. In fact, your seller might already be on those subscription lists or visiting one or more of those sites.

But other potential buyers are going to hub sites like AuctionZip and GlobalAuctionGuide, LoopNet and ebay—and many, many more. So, how do you capture bidders from those environments?

Avoid adjectives in subjects and titles.
You can often create effective headlines in direct mail or print advertising by selling the sizzle with adjectives and vivid descriptions. But in search marketing, you have to sift your headlines down to concrete attributes and proper names. For instance the “scenic retreat” on your postcard should be a “3 bedroom, 2 bath mountain log cabin home” on a listings web site.

Choose headlines based on search criteria.
Your headline should include the most important aspects of what you’re selling. How many bedrooms and bathrooms does it hold? How many square feet? What model year or famous seller? Is location the biggest asset? Rental income? Size of collection? Determine your core buyer groups and then the elements or attributes that would attract them. There are your key lines.

After the headline, describe thoroughly.
Transcribe everything you can list about a property or item. Auction Technology Specialist, Aaron Traffas, says, “Web crawlers eat text.” These crawlers, in turn, feed search engines like google, Yahoo!, and MSN. So, give them a lot to eat. The more applicable words you can include, the more likely your item(s) will be found.

Be careful not to fill the space with meaningless sales pitches, like “Don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!” or “Investors, take notice!” Just pretend you’d be in the market for this item. What are all the things you’d want to know? Answer those questions. Make them easy to read by formatting them as bulleted lists or at least lots of small paragraphs. Differentiate your item from other offering by addressing its unique qualities.

Look at your form fields in advance.
Many sites have non-standard form fields, some of which are required for posting. Commercial and specialty real estate sites often ask me questions I can’t answer with my clients’ base text. I highly recommend printing such site forms and answering them during your initial text writing. You’d rather be asking your seller(s) these more in-depth questions at the beginning of the marketing period than scrambling to answer them on auction day or at open house inspections.

Understand the caste system on most sites.
Many listing sites offer varying levels of visibility or priority by paying for more than the standard/basic listing. Before you promise a web site to a seller, determine whether “featured” upgrades are worth their cost—as well as your explanation for why you choose the access level for which you pay.

Know that some sites require a listing price to post your item(s).
Determine in advance how you’re going to meet this obstacle. Many sites (such as the MLS and ebay listing ads) use this price field to determine where your property will be listed in its search results. Whether you’re putting “$1” or your reserve price or your seller’s de facto “buy it now” price, decide your strategy in advance—so that your auction marketing isn’t delayed or neutered during the critical days between contract signing and auction day.

List under categories, not events.
A very small fraction of the bidding community are shopping for auctions. The vast majority are searching for items. So on community classified sites such as CraigsList, list your auction by the item, not as an event.

It’s impossible to know all of the words your buyers are going to type into their search bars, but you can capture more page views by making your listings as left-brained as possible. Sell the sizzle in your print advertising and on your own web site. At other stops on the Information Superhighway, though, play by the searcher’s rules. Sell the facts, and find as many facts as possible about what you’re selling.

What makes you unique? What makes you who you are? What sets you apart in your family or community?

How are you leveraging that for God? He can use your physical handicap and your hobbies, your favorite sport and your circle of influence, your professional expertise and your vacation pictures. I’ve experienced enriched relationships (vertical and horizontal) through my love of the outdoors and adrenaline rushes, as car rides create authentic conversations, and hikes reinforce personal journeys. I’ve seen God take my (seemingly) Rain Man-like memory for people and their cars and blossom it in ministry within a parking team fraternity.

God allowed your story and empowered your passions to reach people for him. You could be the introduction to life that others wouldn’t expect in a church or work environment. Finding a common bond in you could help someone find a saving bond in Christ. So, keep your eyes peeled. And don’t hide your identity. What makes you special makes you that much more useful to your Creator.

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

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