On most Sunday nights I like to have people over; I cook for them and invite them to watch a movie that I love. I always try to pick something that they have likely not seen before. Sometimes they’re smaller films like Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story other times it will be Windy City Heat or Fletch. Whatever the film it is something a little different.
Case in point: a few weeks ago, I screened Michael Clayton for my guests. You’ve probably heard of it, maybe even seen it but for those who haven’t it’s a shame because it’s a great movie. On its surface, it’s a twisty legal thriller, but at the core is the story of a man looking back at the compromises he has made, why he made them at the exact moment where things have to change.
This is a concept thats stuck with me as I see so many businesses grappling with change.
Many of you know I’ve be doing some projects with FreshBooks. I love FreshBooks because they care about their customers, their product is amazing and their CEO Mike McDerment gets me. So when I pitched him an idea inspired by my Michael Clayton viewing I was pretty jazzed that he said “maybe”.
This is the pitch that (eventually) sold him:
Every company that caters to small businesses claims that they care about their customers and wish them success. They also say that their product (whatever it is) will help them grow their business. I believe them and believe that they believe that they’re truly there to help their small business customers but the reality is that most of the help these companies provide ends with their product or service feature list. Knowing this I asked myself, what if a company went further and assisted their customers in a small way with essential advice and connections needed to grow a business just because they can?
To test the theory, I reached out to two hundred random FreshBooks customers in the NYC area offering one hour of my time, brain and network to the first 30 customers who replied. The offer was simple: tell me your business problem and if I can’t help, I will try to find someone who can. In fact, this the exact email that I sent:
I am going to be in NYC December 6th to 8th for a bunch of secret FreshBooks meetings and whatever time I have free I am offering up to FreshBooks customers and letting them pick my brain about whatever is keeping you/them up at night.
In truth, I can’t help with everything but I am really very good at PR, Experiential Marketing, Communications and Messaging. I also know a lot of smart people so if what keeps you up at night isn’t in one of my areas of expertise I might be able to introduce you to someone who could be equally helpful.
This is a free service and the only catch is that I am asking people to come to me so I can see as many people as possible, I will be holding court in the lobby of the Paramount Hotel (and yes I know hotel lobbies are an odd place to do this but there are good working areas and they won’t kick us out) in the very exclusive part of NY called Time Square. If this sounds helpful and would like to some help with things or just to talk some ideas over please grab 45-60 mins in my calendar by clicking here. https://www.vyte.in/saulcolt
Hope you jump at this.
Your Friend Inside FreshBooks.com
Responses came right away and much to my surprise they were filled with skepticism. Some of the immediate comments were:
“What’s the catch?”
“What are you going to sell me if I come?”
“I don’t understand”
“Why would you do this?”
After assuring customers that this was real with no strings attached the slots filled up right away, and by right away I mean all 30 spots were filled in under 90 mins from my initial email.
Over three days I met with 30 companies (28, if we are being truthful, as two were no-shows) ranging from graphic designers, event planners to product based crowdfunding darlings. While the verticals were different it was interesting to see that their needs and challenges were pretty much the same.
A couple wanted help with branding, one person needed product logistics help but most just needed more people to know about them.
As promised I handled 85% of everything people needed; but just like on the TV show Pawn Stars it’s always good to bring other experts in for the last 15% because bad advice can be expensive.
My experts this time around were Dixie Laite, Dara Sayet and Bob Knorpp. Dixie is a branding expert, Dara knows more about working with product manufacturers then anyone I know and Bob, well Bob is a brilliant digital advertising guy. Oh, and they just happen to all be part of the FreshBooks Community so you know they are smart.
Here are some stats from the three days:
- Met with 28 companies
- Wrote 21 high level marketing plans “2 pagers”
- Wrote 17 press releases
- Created 13 quick PR pitches and made introductions to media people who could write about the companies
- Had 5 conversations that were closer to therapy then action items. This is important to highlight because sometimes being told you are not alone and talking about things is as or more helpful then being handed a plan.
- Got 4 hugs
- 2 High Fives
- 1 Belly Bump
- Found (with the help of Dara Sayet) a company a new product prototype designer
- Designed (with the help of Bob Knorpp) a new digital strategy for a catering company
- Sketched out an interesting brand strategy with Dixie Laite. I know branding backwards and forwards so I could have done this solo but I love working with Dixie so bringing her in might have been more for me then the company we helped but two brains is always better than one.
When I approached Mike McDerment with this idea I expected him to say no; 99 out of 100 CEO’s would have. I like to think the reason Mike said maybe, and then yes is because customers are the lifeblood of FreshBooks and when you build your company around that belief you make most decisions with your customers in mind.
Looking back, like Michael Clayton, it is important to remember that companies are run by people and it is good to know that there are companies (FreshBooks and its Customers) looking forward and not just backwards.
Let me know what you think of this idea and if you are a FreshBooks customer would you jump on an offer like this?
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