“To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
-- R. Buckminster Fuller
Bucky Fuller. Genius or madman? Both, probably, along with being a master of reinvention.
He tried his hand at reinventing shelter, transportation, geometry, even himself. Look up “iconoclast” in the dictionary. Is there a picture of him breaking something? Ol’ Buckminster seems relevant right now. Reinvention is going around these days. It’s contagious. We’re all reinventing life in COVID normal. People are reinventing the telling of history, which may or may not be a good thing. (It depends on how many facts are being ignored and how many fictions are being invented as fact.) And even here, round the CoupleCondo, reinvention is afoot. Does reinventing a business sound familiar? You may find something useful here. Maybe even profitable.
This tale starts with a business afflicted by neglect.
As you may know, my mother’s health had been going downhill for a couple of years. She passed in early April. During her decline, I’d stepped back from our business, Slow Burn Marketing. It was my choice. Mr. Parker supported me. But the business suffered. When I was ready to get back to the business, the business I’d left was not in the same condition as I’d left it. And while that was by design, it wasn’t comforting. The irony? One of the things our business does is help people reinvent their business.
The solution? Just build it up like before!
We built Slow Burn from nothing to begin with. One! More! Time!
Oops, it’s COVID time.
People’s heads are in a different place. Rules have changed. Business as usual has given way to Business Unusual. Now what? Searching. Head scratching. Weighing solutions. Looking at new models. We did this for a couple of weeks. But when you’re in the middle of Business Unusual, weeks can seem like years.
However, Business Unusual also looks familiar.
It’s a down market. People are losing jobs. It’s a time when a lot of people start new businesses. That’s what happened in 2008 when we started our business. And when we did that, it was as if the world said, “Perfect! We’re in! Sign us up!”
Business Unusual is a time when people get pushed out of jobs and decide to take control.
Sitting on a new idea? Carpe diem! Fed up? Shake it up! Tired of working for The Man? Become The Man! [Insert preferred gender identification here.]
We know these times. We also know that we have an expertise that people need.
We have a keen understanding of how to brand a business. After years in branding small businesses, writing several books, and speaking on stages worldwide, some like to call us experts. (We prefer “specialists.” Once you claim expert status, someone wants to knock you off your expertise.) So, we have a tool that the budding entrepreneur can use. Now what?
When we hit on it, we felt like idiots. Why did it take a pandemic for us to think of this?
We decided to create a new model for what we sell. We are a boutique agency. By definition, that means we can serve only a select few. But now, let’s offer a new way for the new business owner to brand a business effectively without the heavy cost of coming to us—or any other agency, for that matter. Let’s build our system into a DIY course for the self-starting entrepreneur! Genius! Done! Mic drop!
Wait. You mean there’s more? Now we have to build it so they can come? Damn. OK.
We put our heads down, dig in, work around the clock, write a book, question ourselves, turn to VAs who don’t help as much as we’d hoped, learn new digital platforms, build PowerPoints, create graphics, shoot dozens of videos for sales and lessons, order transcripts, create worksheets, do our own troubleshooting, bang our heads on the desk, write web copy, rewrite web copy, re-rewrite web copy, think we’re done, find we’re not…
There’s more, but you get the gist.
And the entire time, we keep checking in with each other.
Are we being clear enough? As helpful as possible? As USEFUL as we can be for the entrepreneur looking to make her businesses stand out and attract a loyal audience? Is it working? Is it good? Are we second-guessing good guesses? Are we building a new model that makes the existing model obsolete? WWBF? What would Bucky Fuller do?
So many questions. But the one question that never surfaced?
Our commitment to the worth of a) this project or b) each other. And after two decades of cockeyed optimism and knucklepreneurship (that’s where you come out swinging), we know how to work hard if not always smart. But suddenly, it happened. Lightning Branding is live! Two courses. One’s a total DIY. The other includes a lot of support from us. Holy wow. That was crazy. And the feedback has been more positive than we could have hoped. People are entertained, they’re having fun, and they find it USEFUL. Praise the deity.
We know we’re not done. Far from it.
There’s still a ton of work ahead. We have plans for that as well, but this does feel like a milestone. And today we’re celebrating by knocking off at a sensible hour and taking an afternoon at the lake. And then…back at it tomorrow. Possibly even tonight. (Rust never sleeps and neither do we.)
Deep breath in. Deep breath out.
Would you like the FREE taste of reinvention?
Get your free copy of our new book, Lightning Branding: How To Generate Revenue Faster With An Electrified New Brand. It's yours FREE by clicking here.
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Hope that helps.
For so many entrepreneurs, their nemesis is The Other F-Word. Focus.
Why is that? Years ago, Oprah was interviewing Michael. He started singing off-the-cuff, then beat boxing, then tapping out a rhythm. It was insane how effortless it all was. Mr. Parker agreed. Then said something I’ll always remember: “Michael Jackson is a man who has spent his life doing exactly one thing. Just that one thing. Of course he’s great at it.”
There it was. Focus. Michael’s one thing. Yet, as an entrepreneur (and a creative entrepreneur at that) I’m always seeing ALL the things I could be doing—both inside our business and in addition to it. And, as someone who works with others on their businesses, it’s clear and obvious: entrepreneurs have trouble focusing.
I just had one client, in one sentence, talk about four different business efforts. Why? I’d asked one simple and focused question. It was about a single action item I’d given. A focused question. One simple subject. Four different answers. All four unrelated. None of them answering the original question.
The other night, I attended a video conference about how to be effective on LinkedIn. The presenter was great. Tons of actionable advice. He had it completely dialed in. For a moment I thought, Damn, I’m dropping the ball on LinkedIn. Then I thought back to Mr. Parker and Michael Jackson. This guy from the video chat is doing only one thing: kicking the living sh*t out of LinkedIn. That’s it. He better be great at it.
I run a marketing company that specializes in branding for small business. I’m allowed to not be amazing at LinkedIn. I’m allowed to pick one tip from the LinkedIn presenter and execute just that. I’m allowed to get a virtual assistant to handle a few of the other tasks that lead to a better LinkedIn network. And then, I’m allowed to focus back on the job of doing my job.
Recently, Mr. Parker and I began building a new product for Slow Burn Marketing. We feel it’s smart, timely and necessary. Our biggest challenge? Pushing aside all else while we’re getting this one thing up and running. The Fates are constantly flying out of their box, waving shiny keys at us. It’s so easy to look in their direction. But no! Must! Not! Look!
The solution to split focus? Stop. Feel the doubt and just stop. Switch off the phonograph. Let “The Sabre Dance” grind to a halt. Step away from all the plates you’re spinning. They will not smash to the ground. Look at them all. Which one plate is the next and only plate that your business should take on? Pick one task. One project. That’s it. Work on that one until it’s done and done well. Send all those other projects and great ideas to the sidelines. They’ll be waiting when you’re finished with your one thing. And, anything else that you can hand off and simply supervise? Just do it.
Remember, be like Michael Jackson.
Hope that helps. Cheers,
Aren’t we all tired of phrases like, “In these uncertain times”? Yes, we all know things are funky. But as small-business owners, we also know that there’s no such thing as “certain times.” When have you ever been guaranteed anything?
That said, things have shifted. For many business owners, it’s not for the better. We all have the same two options: 1) sit and wring our hands, or 2) engage in proactive change. Ah, yes, the C word. “Change.”
Change is not in most people’s comfort zone. But you and I are entrepreneurs. When we get uncomfortable, we thrive. We go in for another C word: “Chance”. So, take a chance and change.
During this COVID craziness, some of our favorite CoupleCos are making impressive changes to stay relevant and useful to their customers. The winery Phifer Pavitt is hosting virtual wine tastings. Alpine Distilling is making hand sanitizer. Freedom Chiropractic is offering virtual office visits through a HIPAA-compliant web portal. WatchTower Coffee & Comics is selling products via delivery, including their new, handcrafted Tongan Caramel sauce (which is also selling out, just by the way—it’s outstanding).
As you may know, our primary business is Slow Burn Marketing. We specialize in big-brand thinking for small-business marketing. And Slow Burn is making a pivot. Even before COVID hit, things here were slowing down. This was due in large part to me stepping back from the business to be there for my mother, whose health was declining. Mr. Parker was incredibly supportive. (Thank you, babe.)
But, with only half the manpower and half the skillset, our business felt the impact. My mother has now passed (thank you for your kind words and support), and we are faced with a new question: What next?
And there’s that catchphrase that keeps coming up: “These uncertain times.” We thought, hey, we started Slow Burn Marketing during The Great Financial Crisis of 2007-2008.” Uncertain times, indeed.
But, history shows that many new businesses (especially ad agencies) launch with great success in “uncertain times.” So, we’ve just decided that “these uncertain times” is code for “excellent opportunity.”
We’re in the process of creating a DIY branding book and online courses for the business owner launching or redefining operations in “these uncertain times.” These are the times when nervy entrepreneurs (nervypreneurs?) go out and do stuff.
But not all entrepreneurs, especially newbie-preneurs, understand branding. Many can’t afford the price tag that comes with being a Slow Burn client. But that shouldn’t stop us from trying to be useful or them from having access to credible brand thinking.
And frankly, now that we’re doing it, we’re asking ourselves why we didn’t do this sooner. But making a shift often requires taking a shove. We’ve been shoved, and we’re doing something good with it. (As I type this post, the book is just back from the proofreader. It’s very exciting.)
A big thanks to all of you who’ve inspired us by being proactive, making necessary shifts, pushing forward, even thriving in (yes) uncertain times. We wish you continued success.
Hope that helps
As Mr. Parker likes to say, words matter. I spent my career in Big Advertising creative departments. When talking about work done for a client, I’m trained to always say, “we” and not “I” or “you.” Yes, I may have developed an idea. But without the other team members, there’s no way I would’ve gotten to the finish line. One idea leads to another, which leads to another, until it all snowballs into the win. So, “we” win. But “I” never do.
A while back, Mr. Parker and I were collaborating with Ben, our 13-year-old nephew, on an entrepreneurial effort he developed. He mentioned an idea we’d been working together. He said, “I came up with that.” We explained the use of “we” versus “I.” He understood immediately. Sometime later, his father told me he was referring to something he was doing on the project, and used the pronoun “I.” Seems his son told him, “Dad, we don’t say ‘I.’ We always say, ‘we.’” (Color us proud.)
Recently, a PBS show on couples and romance cited a study. It said that in a relationship, using the word “we” is more romantic than bringing home flowers. Now, I’ve received more than a few bouquets. So I stopped and thought about which I appreciated more. Is it the flowers, or is it the “we?” And while I loved the flowers, the “we” has lasted far longer.
Whether the relationship is personal, professional, or both, “I” and “you” can become weaponized pronouns. They cause all kinds of destruction. Am I claiming responsibility for something good happening? That means my partner is on the sidelines, forced to applaud me. But there’s a high likelihood that he played some part in that good thing. As for “you,” it often comes with the sting of blame and accusation. “We’ll, you said to do it that way. Now look at it.”
Most of our CoupleCos are well acquainted with power of “we.” It’s always evident in our interviews. Yet, it’s also worth a reminder because together, WE are stronger. Welcome to the power of first-person plural.
Hope that helps
Entrepreneurship is a challenge. A challenge that the outside world often calls, “Living the dream.” This is not a cake walk. How do you handle changes and downturns? This has been on my mind as our business of 12 years is going through a transition. We’ve said goodbye to a big, long-term client. But instead of just replacing them with another big client, we’re changing our business model to attract more, smaller clients. Will it work? Years of experience at this makes us think so. And it’s guaranteed, right? Hmm, no! Guarantees do not exist in the grown-up world of living life by the seat of your entrepreneurial pants. You’re always working without a net. We knew that when we signed up for this. But so far, sweat equity coupled with mad skills make it seem like we at Slow Burn/CoupleCo lead a charmed existence.
We were just talking with another entrepreneur couple. They were discussing things like the crazy hours associated with opening a new location while keeping the staff happy at the current locations. We were all laughing about how people will say, “But when you travel to that location, it’s a write off!” Like that helps. Yes, it’s a write off—IF the IRS agrees. And either way, it’s not like it’s a free trip. Maybe if you’ve never worked for yourself, you don’t consider that someone still has to pay the bill. And that someone is, yes, you.
Recently, I was reading a social post by one of our favorite CoupleCo interviewees, Chopped Champion Christian Hayes of Dandelion Catering in Yarmouth, Maine. We’d interviewed him and his wife, Christine, for episodes #36 & #37. Just recently, they’ve added to their food-service empire by opening a restaurant called The Garrison. For perspective, Christian’s a rocker. He spent about a decade with a band described as an “eight-legged bombastic juggernaut of rock.” In this social post, he’s talking about entrepreneurism, and he hits it right between the eyes.
Christian writes: “The truth is, entrepreneurship is a lonely, isolating reality. People want to believe you’ve got the world by the balls and that you go home with a sense of accomplishment. The reality is sobering. There are so many people connected to me on social media that feel it every day as well. You think you know—until you’re in it—then you realize you had no idea. It’s been 11 years with Dandelion and now we’re doubling up with The Garrison. Don’t get me wrong. I’m living my fucking dream. But also, let’s not forget the gut wrenching, paralyzing churn of wondering if this is the week that breaks you. Financially, spiritually, mentally, physically. The demands are astronomical and ubiquitous from every direction. Yet, on hour 75, as I get out of my car in the parking lot and walk towards the kitchen, I’m always fucking happy. There’s a content feeling that washes over you. The apron goes on—and it’s time to work. I’m right where I belong. Cheers to all my people doing it every day.”
Reading that, I found myself nodding in understanding the challenges that no one sees. There are all kinds of messes you get to clean up while being a “trailblazer.” By the end of the missive, Christian had me charged up to put on my big-girl pants and dig back in. We chose this life for a reason. And for anyone who’s a CoupleCo, the loneliness of the entrepreneurial struggle is a bit less lonely. In our business, we are always Team Parker. If you chose this kind of life, you are part of a special breed. Yeah, we’re gamblers. But at least we’re gambling on ourselves. And no matter the odds, how do you not like taking that bet?
Hope that helps.
OMG, what a day! From the moment I opened my eyes, work descended from the heavens in biblical proportion.
No, not descended. Attacked. It rushed in like an epic swarm of monster locust.
But hey, it was Friday, a “work day.” So what’s the problem? For me, the problem was that I’d worked overtime all week. All week. Every day. Overtime. I’d planned to make Friday a day off. Understand, we live in a ski town. Mid-week ski days are built into the DNA here. And it was exactly the kind of day I wait for: fresh snow, blue skies, the ski slopes empty of the weekend crowds.
I stumbled into the kitchen for coffee. That’s when Mr. Parker hit me between the eyes. We had a situation. Things were blowing up in the UK. A promotional campaign had to be overhauled immediately. My heart sank.
It took a while to mourn the loss of my planned respite. Time to focus on the urgent task at hand.
The day was a Megillah. (That’s a technical word from ancient Hebrew scrolls.) Besides the death of my holiday, Mr. Parker had to table all of his other projects. We I spent the entire day volleying back and forth, round and round. How to revise the strategy. How to implement tactics. What executions. Writing it. Art directing it. Revising it. Fixing it. These things matter to us. They are worthy of debate. It’s why our marketing clients hire us: To. Get. It. Right.
The clock ticked. The hours passed. The adrenaline surged. At times we were at loggerheads. Our only purpose? Serving the client’s best interest.
Every day in ski season, I’m able to look out the window by my desk to see skiers riding the lift. Today, that view did not help. But, we had bigger fish to fry. This stuff had to go out the door. We had an obligation.
The day waned. The lift stopped running. The skiers went home. Hours after that, we delivered the project.
Afterwards, in the living room, we sat staring at each other. Whipped. We’d been into mental and emotional battle and survived….together. It was no longer important that the day’s plans for fun were dashed upon the rocks of professional responsibility. What was important was looking across the room and seeing My Person. This is the person for whom things matter—things like doing good work; fulfilling an obligation; and Crushing It on behalf of another guy’s bottom line. These things matter to My Person as much as they matter to me. It was once again a reminder: I am on the right team.
Hope that helps,
With 2020 upon us, the big question is: What to do differently in the coming year? It’s natural. Yet, for couples in business together, that thinking doubles up: “What do we want to get better at as a couple?”, and “How can we be smarter in business?”
No pressure there, right?
For Mr. Parker and I, two years of interviewing couples shines a light on some things we can make better in our own relationship. We’ve met couples who communicate better, who better define their down time, and who show appreciation more clearly.
But for me, the most vivid insight came from one couple speaking about how people show affection differently. I realized that I’m a words person. But Mr. Parker is a deeds person. So every time I come home from a trip and he has cleaned out one of the many closets, he’s telling me he loves me. This seemingly small revelation has helped me get better at appreciating my partner. I plan on continuing to improve on that in 2020.
As for being smarter in business, that’s the more challenging part of the equation. Consider this project called CoupleCo. It has proven mighty. We’re looking for ways to make it grow mightier. But how? Videos? Summits? Books? And if books, do we start with a business book or a storybook? This is challenging. Both Blaine and I come from creative careers. People like us have a hard time not thinking of more things we can do. And that can lead to decision paralysis. So, our big business improvement for 2020 is (drum roll)…
We need to pick the one project that we’re adding to the mix and move it forward. Is that the right thing? It has to be. We will make it thing the right thing. And after that, we’ll pick another and make that one the right thing.
And here now, The Bonus. No matter the outcome of our business resolution (and I’m working toward the best outcome), the fact that we’re going into it together with love and respect makes it all a win.
So, my wish for you is that as you face your goals for the coming year and beyond, you enjoy love and respect. And while it may come from your partner, your friends, your colleagues and your associates, please know that it also comes from us.
Cheers to a brilliant New Year,
As you probably know, Mr. Parker and I travel the country in The Couple Coach, our C-class, Sprinter-chassis RV. But there are times when flying makes more sense. And being based in Park City, UT, we have a dozen years as devoted Delta fliers. And part of our American Express credit card plan is access to Delta’s SkyClub network. It’s a calm, comfortable respite from the mayhem on the other side of the door, especially during holiday travel.
We like the easy access to coffee, tea, soup, salad, snacks and adult beverages. But it feels like we never quite fit with the club crowd. We’re surrounded mainly by business travelers, and sometimes by couples on vacation. And we sound like neither group.
The vacationers are excited. They’re a) telling everyone around them about where they’re going, or b) stressed because they haven’t covered all the bases. Here now, an actual conversation:
“I thought you reserved the car.”
“You asked, ‘Did you reserve a car?’ I said, ‘No.’”
“But I thought you’d do it.”
“I thought you’d do it.”
We are not them. And as for exciting travel, even if we’re going somewhere new and different, we’re always fitting work into it. No conversation about shopping excursions for us. It’s more logistics of how we might grab a shower before an interview, or whether we’ll have time for a bite after. If we do have time, what would be an interesting local find? (Local food finds figure heavily in our travel discussions.)
The business travelers, on the other hand, are speaking in jargon that is often canned and robotic. Usually, it involves a cell phone with earbuds: “I’m feeling strong about our third-quarter numbers in the Western market, but I think we can incentivize Jim to roll out phase two a week sooner, and springboard off Davis’s momentum.” That’s not us either. We aren’t Jim or Davis. We don’t have a Jim or Davis. In our business, if we aren’t intrinsically incentivized to move things forward, nothing happens. We say things like:
“Babe, did you get that email out to the winery couple?”
“Did it this morning”
“I love you more.”
Bottom line, we never quite find our tribe in the SkyClub. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. We like Team Parker, party of two. We like our mix of work and togetherness. And if our tribe isn’t in the SkyClub, that’s fine. It’s right here. And you’re part of it.
Cheers to the CoupleCo. It’s hard for civilians to understand. They don’t know what they’re missing.
Best to you all,
Most of the working couples we interview have hard and fast rules about downtime. Those are times when work is not allowed to creep in. We all need that time away. But, have you considered a working date?
This is something that Mr. Parker and I do regularly. It’s not that we need a break from work. There are just times when we need to free ourselves from the confines of our office walls (or, when on the road, our RV walls). It lets us open up our minds. For us, it means taking a hike. Getting out in nature. Nothing so strenuous that we can’t talk. And, depending on how much time we have, we go for anywhere from three to seven miles.
We usually pick one topic upon which to focus. We may try and hammer out something that has had us stumped. Or we may try to come at a project from a different perspective. Sometimes, we’re trying to come up with a tagline for a client. Whatever the challenge, nature is an amazing thing. It brings a freedom to our thinking. Fresh thoughts come to the surface. Yes, we may throw out 80% of what we come up with. But the other 20% can provide answers and insights that we couldn’t see from our desk chairs.
The added bonus is the positive benefits of exercise on body and mind. The added, added bonus is the bonding we enjoy as a result of our time connecting over solving problems. It strengthens us as a team.
Perhaps our tagline should be, “When in doubt, walk it out.”
Hope that's helpful.
How does your partnership handle one of you dealing with non-business challenges?
Life’s big emotional bumps in the road challenge anyone’s business life. You can’t plan for everything that life throws your way. Lately, for us, it’s been my mother’s failing health. A slow decline over the last year and a half is becoming ever more consuming. From flying to my parents every month or so to help out, to the ever-present emotional strain of watching people you love in pain, it’s rough.
Of course, as resilient American superpeople, we’re programed to suck it up, put on a brave face, and move forward. It’s never easy. But when you’re a couple in business together, there are extra challenges—including the fact that 50% of the management team is not performing anywhere near peak ability. How does the other pick up the slack? How do you compartmentalize enough to accomplish the minimum? How do you support your partner and not get sucked into their grief?
Back when we were recording the interview that became episodes #33 & 34, we were sitting down with Murray and Felicity Gardner of the Gardner Group in Park City. Murray informed us that his mother’s health was in decline, and he could be getting a call at any moment to jump on a plane to Australia. At this point, my own mother had started going downhill. Yet, listening to the interview, you can’t tell that anyone was anything but fine. Humans are strong creatures. Entrepreneurs are stronger still.
The key for Team Parker in handling this challenging time has been communication and agreement. Communication about what’s happening, and agreement to who is now handling what. This lets us manage our expectations of each other, which is crucial, especially since it’s often just the two of us. We’ve discussed what we are and aren’t capable of taking on. Honestly confronting limitations, even temporary ones, is beyond important.
A national business training group recently asked us to deliver a series of marketing webinars. The folks in charge asked what, beyond our fee, we wanted to get from this. New clients for branding and marketing? Our answer was that our business presently lacks the bandwidth for new clients, but we’re happy to offer consulting. Why? Well, we didn’t tell them that. Let them think we’re too busy. But we’d agreed ahead of time that we can’t handle new clients right now. And that’s okay with both of us. It has to be.
At the end of the day, we know what’s most important: Us. That said, we never want to let a client down. That’s why we’re taking on only the projects we know we can deliver at a level that we feel good about and which keeps our clients thrilled. (For Slow Burn’s oldest and most demanding client, we just delivered a holiday ad that made them laugh and sign off with no changes. That’s a victory on any day, but especially now.) Even in the most challenging times, we continue to take satisfaction in ringing the bell. It’s a welcome break from the obstacles life has thrown in our way. And it reminds us who we are and why we do it.
BTW, my parents were a CoupleCo. We interviewed them in better days, and you can hear them in episode #38, "Sitcom Jewish Parents In Business."
Hope that helps.
Are Blaine & Honey Parker Relationship Experts?
Hardly. And does the world really need more of those? Instead, we are a couple who have worked together for over 20 years. We've learned a few things along the way. And now, we're traveling the nation interviewing other couples in business together. Join us for the ups, downs, ins, outs, laughs, tears (even though Honey believes Blaine has no tear ducts), and the inevitable, practical insights into being a better couple--in life, business and everything.