Episode 59: I’ve Had a Love-Hate Relationship With PR

Episode 59: I’ve Had a Love-Hate Relationship With PR

Guests:

Paul Downs is founder of Paul Downs Cabinetmakers.

William Vanderbloemen is founder and CEO of Vanderbloemen Search Group.

Jay Goltz is founder and CEO of Artists Frame Service and Jayson Home.

Producer:

Jess Thoubboron is founder of Blank Word Productions.

Episode Highlights:

Jay Goltz: “You hire an accountant, you’re going to get some accounting. You hire a lawyer, they’ll do some legal work. PR’s one of the few things you can pay money for and get absolutely nothing.”

Jay Goltz: “The problem is, if you’re a smaller company, the sharpest minds in PR are not working for the small companies. So it’s tricky, very difficult.”

Paul Downs: “The guys just weren’t selling anything. And there may have been a million reasons for that, but I lost my temper and basically said, ‘You’re on commission. Now.’”

William Vanderbloemen: “The times things have not gone well with the client, we’ve drawn a line back to the sales process and said, ‘What did we tell them we could do that wasn’t realistic?’”

Full Episode Transcript:

Loren Feldman:
Welcome Paul, Jay, and William. I hope you’re all doing well. I want to start today with a topic we really haven’t dealt with that much, which is sales. And specifically, I’m curious if anything has changed in your sales approach as a result of COVID. Jay, how about you?

Jay Goltz:
I’ve got different kinds of sales. I’ve got inside sales people who take customers that walk in. And I will tell you, I’ve just had a profound change between the minimum wage going up $1 an hour every year for the last three or four years. Now all of a sudden, it’s $15. It was… whatever, $11-$12. Between that and the mentality of the people who I hire has changed a little bit.

It used to be, in my framing showroom, they would grab the next customer to get a little [commission]. I never paid a lot, but I’ve always paid a little commission just to compensate them for people who were quicker and put more sales through there. They’re not doing that anymore. They’re not that driven by it, so I’ve just realized, I’m way better off raising—

Loren Feldman:
Wait, they’re not doing what any more?

Jay Goltz:
I had people who, when the customer walked in, they would grab the customer. They wanted to get the sale. And now…

Loren Feldman:
Like walking into an auto dealer.

Jay Goltz:
Yeah, right. Who’s up? So between that and the fact that the minimum wage is now $15 an hour, I realized I’m better off paying more per hour and cutting back on the commission, because the commission thing isn’t going to make a difference to anybody, whether it’s less or more, they don’t know what that means when they interview for the job. But they do know the difference between $16 or $18, or $18 and $20. I figured it out. I did the math. It’s going to cost me the same exact thing, but it’ll also smooth out their sales, because during slower months, sometimes they didn’t get any commission because I have a floor they have to hit. I’ve just redone on my whole sales commission thing based on—

Loren Feldman:
Are you changing this just for new people you hire?

Jay Goltz:
No, everybody. Everyone’s doing the same thing.

Loren Feldman:
And how did your existing employees take it?

Jay Goltz:
I just came up with this yesterday. I’m also going to put a guarantee to everybody. We’ll look at it at the end of the year. If anyone lost any money, I’ll make it up to them. But I don’t think that’s going to be the case. But that’s a profound change partially driven by the fact the minimum wage is $15.

I’m not complaining about it. It’s just, I want to be an appealing offer. And like I said, paying $20 an hour and a smaller commission sounds better than $17. So that’s on that side. On outside sales, I’ve got three people who go out and call on corporations that do art programs and such…

Loren Feldman:
Employees?

Jay Goltz:
Yeah, they’re full-time employees. I’ve got to look at that. I mean, the world’s changed with getting your foot in the door and going to design firms and the internet. Personally, I’m getting so few calls now, it’s unbelievable. I used to get—I don’t know—in the olden days, I’d get two phone calls a day from people trying to sell me insurance, trying to sell me stock brokerage, real estate. And these days, I can go a week without getting one phone call. Is cold-calling dead? I don’t think so, but it’s certainly not what it used to be.

Loren Feldman:
What have those three salespeople been doing—especially during COVID?

Jay Goltz:
It’s not easy. A lot of projects have been put on hold, and the offices aren’t open. It’s causing me to have to look at that whole thing.

Loren Feldman:
Paul, how about you? Are you doing anything differently?

Paul Downs:
No. Our operation was well-suited to a COVID world, because we had always done our selling mostly through screen shares and phone calls. And the only thing that really changed was the number of people who were in the market. Our process didn’t need any modification at all. We sell through two main channels. One is internet-driven—people just contact us directly. The other channel was when we worked through an intermediary, like a furniture dealer or a rep, and those kinds of organizations really had a collapse last year, because they service people who are in offices and moving offices, and office life has kind of come to a halt.

We’ve seen the sales levels have been reasonably good, but almost all of it is coming through the internet channel. Having that diversification was good luck for us. What I’m considering that will be different is more marketing, whether to make a push at the furniture dealers—and my gut says, “Don’t bother,”—or whether to put more resources into that direct-to-buyer sale, and we’re looking at ways to do that.

Jay Goltz:
Do you get emails every single day from companies and people, saying, “Oh, I went to your website, and we can figure out how to get you…”

Paul Downs:
Sure, that’s just spam. What you’re talking about is, when the tools facilitate communication, there’s more communication. So, the other thing—your remark about, “I don’t get cold calls anymore,”—I don’t get cold calls if I can help it. Part of it is that I think people put up better defenses against cold calling, and so it’s just not as effective as it used to be.

Jay Goltz:
Well, coincidentally, yesterday, I got a call from an office dealer, an office furniture dealer wondering if we’re expanding. And I thought it was weird, out of the clear blue. I don’t know where they got my name, but…

Paul Downs:
They get your name from anywhere. There are so many services that identify key players and companies and give you their contact information. All you’ve got to do is pay money, and you get those lists, and you hire somebody to plow through the list. I don’t think it’s particularly effective, but that information is out there, and marketers use it.

Loren Feldman:
Do you use it?

Paul Downs:
I’ve thought about it. We have done well by waiting for interested people to contact us, and by being in a good position on Google so that when someone begins their search for a new boardroom table, they just find us. We’ve never done any branding and we’ve never really done any outreach because we can identify the demographics of people who buy our stuff, but the number of them who are in the market for it at any given moment is such a tiny proportion that it’s not really worth trying to blanket the whole world in the hopes that somebody wants a boardroom table. We just wait for them.

Now, I’m considering the wisdom of that and thinking that this is actually not a terrible moment to try to reach out and do some branding and position ourselves as experts in sort of a responsive approach to, “What are you going to do when you get back in the office?” Because all the old rule books are clearly no good anymore, and we have an incredibly wide experience with every possible way of setting up a boardroom you can imagine. It might be the moment to play some offense and try to get to top of mind.

The biggest problem is figuring out where to place the ads. We already know everything about Google advertising and what that does for us and what it doesn’t. The question is: Are there any other places where people who might be interested in my product naturally gather? Is there a podcast or magazine or a website? It’s actually really hard to track down people who express any enthusiasm whatsoever for office furniture, because it’s just not that interesting. It’s not like Harley Davidsons or jet skis or skydiving or whatever. There are things that people are enthusiastic about, and it’s not my product. So we sort of have our work cut out for us.

Jay Goltz:
I would like to challenge that. There are lots of people who are very excited about it that are in that business. One thing that you didn’t mention: You talked about ads, you didn’t talk about PR. I’m confident there are trade publications out there that are in the business of educating people who are in the business furniture market—which is a huge market—that would be interested to hear your perspective on how to create custom tables. I would consider looking into getting into those. There’s still a few of them around—the magazines that go to facility managers and corporate office people. I think you have an interesting story. Your website looks very good. I think it fills a niche for people who have unique situations that need a special table.

Paul Downs:
Well, thank you. I think that’s absolutely valid analysis, and I should probably be doing PR, and I’ll consider it.

Loren Feldman:
Paul, you said that this might be a rare opportunity for you to reach out because people are looking to do things differently, and that you have experience offering all kinds of alternatives. What do you mean by that?

Paul Downs:
Well, the things that we are seeing people respond to—the ideas—would be, one: being able to reconfigure the table to handle different types of meetings. And in particular, there are some meetings where everybody’s looking at a screen, and maybe there’s a camera and there’s another group of people on the screen, or maybe it’s just data. And then there’s another meeting where people are looking at each other. And then there’s another meeting where a bunch of people are looking at one person, a classroom. We have products that respond to all those situations.

That’s sort of what we’re seeing people be interested in. The other thing is one that never goes away, which is branding: making the table be the center of the meeting and having the logo of the company in the middle of it. That can be your clients are coming into the room, and they’re seeing, this is a kick ass table and here’s our brand in the middle of it. Or it can be you’re in a meeting where a camera’s looking at the group of people around the table, and after 16 meetings in a day, everybody looks the same, so let’s put our logo right in the middle of the table. We just did one for the University of Georgia, for their football team, like that: a big video conferencing table that has a giant Bulldog in the middle of it. So those things, and then the other thing is just making sure that the table’s the right size and shape for the room, because rooms come in much more variety than tables do.

Jay Goltz:
I’m sure you’ve got lots of tricks up your sleeve, which is why I think that would be a fascinating article to read in a magazine, to talk about some of the new things you’re doing to reflect Zoom meetings and video meetings and some people working from home and some people working in the office. I think there are all kinds of interesting things that you can say in an article that would get a big company to think, “Yeah, we need to get a customized table for our place.”

Loren Feldman:
We may come back to PR because I think that’s something a lot of people struggle with.

Paul Downs:
Well, let me just throw in one comment, which is that, years ago, I got a fair amount of PR. This is back in print days, like in the ‘90s. And I also ran ads. When I started advertising back in the 90s, the value was to always be running the ad, and the article would appear, five people would read it, and then it just gets thrown away. I’m thinking that I may just be wrong about that, given that now, anything that’s on the internet is there for a good long while and searchable.

Jay Goltz:
You’re not wrong about that now, you’re wrong about it back then. I mean, to suggest that having a good PR article five people are reading, A), is preposterous. There’s not five people. There are tens of thousands reading it. And it’s credible, because they’re writing about you. You’re comparing apples to oranges. An ad costs a lot of money to have in a magazine every single month. Whereas PR, they’re two different animals. But I wouldn’t say one is better than the other. It depends on what the situation is. And I just think you have an interesting story.

Paul Downs:
Let me throw in another data point.

Loren Feldman:
And then let me get William into this conversation.

Paul Downs:
Okay, I will just remark that I was able to put my name in the New York Times as an expert on boardroom tables 179 times over four and a half years. And you know how many jobs I got out of that?

Loren Feldman:
I bet you don’t know that.

Paul Downs:
The answer is: one.

Loren Feldman:
You don’t know that for sure.

Jay Goltz:
Wait, what does that cost then for that one? It’s a good return on investment, it seems to me.

Paul Downs:
Well, that’s a discussion about how much time I put into it.

Jay Goltz:
Going after trade publications, you don’t necessarily have to have a PR firm. They’re very targeted. There’s only a few of them out there probably, at this point. I think you could do it yourself without going and spending $10,000 a month for a PR firm.

Loren Feldman:
I’ve completely lost control of his podcast. William, are you still there?

William Vanderbloemen:
I am.

Loren Feldman:
Excellent. You may recall we were talking about sales previously, and I’m curious if anything has changed for you in the way you approach sales.

William Vanderbloemen:
Well, a couple thoughts top of mind. That is where we were. I’ll go back to PR for a minute. [Laughter] I think what I’m learning about PR—because it does drive our sales—is you have to ask yourself, “Why do I want to be in the news?” I mean, for some products, PR is not a good thing. I remember reading an article about the guy who started 5-Hour Energy—the richest Indian-born American citizen—and you can’t find him in the news… like, anywhere. He doesn’t want to be known. He has an office with a card table, and on the card table are little bottles of other energy drinks he ran out of business by suing them. That’s it.

For us, we’re trying like crazy to always be seen not as a vendor—5-Hour Energy—but more as a thought leader. So that’s why we have put so much emphasis in our PR work and in our content-based marketing toward positioning ourselves not as a, “Hey, I’ve got some new guys you need to meet” transaction, like smoky alley meet the search guy. That’s totally not what we want to put out. We want to put out, “Hey, we wrote the book on succession. Hey, I write for Forbes.” Thank you, Loren. That makes a huge difference for us, because the goal for us is to be a thought leader. And when we’re seen in the media, we don’t have a single competitor who ever shows up in the news. There’s never a question of, “Which group should I hire if I want the thought leader, if I want the trusted adviser?” If we lose, it’s because somebody just wants a transaction, wants some resumes, and wants it fast and cheap.

I do spend money on PR and I spend next to nothing on advertisements. I think it does get back to your root question, Loren: What has changed for us in sales? Two things: one, what we have been doing accelerated. Our need to position ourselves in such a way that people are consuming our content and moving down our inbound funnel through all the blog [posts] we’ve written—I think there are 3,000 resources on our website now, totally for free—that has accelerated. It’s kind of like people used to reach out and know a little bit, and we’d have to walk them through a whole lot on the phone. By the time they reach out now, they know a whole lot. They have really studied online, and I think the pandemic has accelerated people’s learning about how to use the internet when they can’t go anywhere.

So for us, it has probably reduced the amount of time that we’re on sales calls, while the number of sales that we’re making is actually increasing. Those are kind of tied together for me. Why is that? Well, because we’re putting good content out. How do people find our content? Because we have a top of the funnel that’s not on our websites. It’s Forbes, it’s Inc., it’s church-based publications. Those are all sort of tied together.

The other piece that we just fell into—I wish I could say it was bold, thoughtful strategy on my part, but it was just a selfish curiosity, frankly—was back when… we’ve talked about the PPP loans that went out and how we kind of got on the front end of that, mainly because I wanted to know whether we qualified or not. Well, that turned into webinars about PPP. That turned into Facebook Lives. All these different ways of serving people that had absolutely nothing to do with what we do on a day-to-day basis. That has created for us a new term, and we’ll have to figure out a different way to leverage this thing every year, but we’re calling it “the very top of the funnel,: where we’re just serving people and winning people over as fans, long before they ever even ask staffing questions.

Loren Feldman:
How does a sale happen with those people, William? Do they just come to you? Or do you reach out to them?

William Vanderbloemen:
No, we don’t reach out to anybody, ever.

Loren Feldman:
Ever.

William Vanderbloemen:
Yeah, it would be very rare. If I have a friend who I’ve known for years who goes to a new church or school, I might call them and say, “Hey, give me a call if we can help you.” But most of the time, people reach out to us. The overwhelming majority of the time, people reach out to us.

Loren Feldman:
So you changed the way that you spread the word, and you’ve done great things, in terms of getting your name out there. Have you changed anything in the way you handle the calls that result from that?

William Vanderbloemen:
Well, I don’t handle the calls that result—

Loren Feldman:
I mean the way your business does.

William Vanderbloemen:
I think we have tried to qualify our buyers more, so we’re not getting into a contract where the person is going to be unhappy. And so we’ve figured out the times things have not gone well with the client, we’ve drawn a line back to the sales process and said, “What did we tell them we could do that wasn’t realistic? And how do we protect against that in the future?” I think for us, customer satisfaction issues are almost always a sales issue. It’s creating expectations that can’t be met.

People are coming to us more informed now because they’ve done their homework, and we’re probably spending more time qualifying them. But we’re also—this sort of very top of the funnel—we are also pouring time into content that really has nothing to do with what we do, but wins favor. I have lost count of the number of searches that we’ve had since COVID where the client has said, “I never knew about you until PPP, but you helped us get a loan, and we wouldn’t be here without that. And we want to do a search.”

Loren Feldman:
Do the people who field those calls that come in as a result of that get compensated based on commission, salary, or both?

William Vanderbloemen:
Mostly base salary. Much like Jay, we probably pay more in base salary than we do in commission. There is commission. Most of it is weighted toward a team-based commission. I don’t want people fighting over who gets this lead or who gets that lead. We sell big widgets, and we don’t sell tens of thousands of them a year, so it’s not a high volume enough to face some of the problems that larger sales forces do.

Loren Feldman:
Paul, how about you? What do you do in terms of compensation?

Paul Downs:
There’s salary and commission. I’m just looking up the relative percentages. It ends up being about… 60 percent salary and 40 percent commission.

Loren Feldman:
Is that pretty much what it’s always been or has that evolved.

Paul Downs:
That evolved. When I first elevated two shop floor guys into sales positions, the commission percentage was much lower and the salary was higher, because they were very dubious about sales in general. They didn’t see themselves as salespeople, and they were afraid that their income would go down. They went through a bad patch where the guys just weren’t selling anything, and there may have been a million reasons for that—not because they’re bad salespeople—but I lost my temper and basically said, “You’re on commission. Now.”

Jay Goltz:
That’s always a great motivation to make decisions.

Loren Feldman:
How’d that work out?

Paul Downs:
Well, I would say it worked out well, but it wasn’t done right, and I should have handled it completely differently. But the upshot was that now, much more of their compensation is commission, as opposed to salary, than it had been. We went back to some salary, and they sort of got used to it, and they make a lot more money now.

Jay Goltz:
Here’s the problem, because I’ve lived through this. This is the problem: It might be fine now, but when you go to hire new salespeople, that’s where the problem comes in. Because in the interview, they know they need X amount of dollars to pay their rent or whatever, and that’s where you’re going to have to reevaluate that, because the percentage thing, they don’t know about the number. All they know is: What’s the base? Because they’ve got to pay their rent. And I’m not so sure that when you start to hire new people, you’re not going to go back to more of a 70-30, 80-20 split. Because it’s a competitive market out there for finding good salespeople, and they’re looking for some security.

Paul Downs:
I don’t think there’s any reason why you can’t start someone off at some higher salary-lower commission to allow them to grow into the job and then change it so that there’s a path for them to make more overall money as they get competent.

Jay Goltz:
Yes.

Paul Downs:
And as they become confident that the company is a good one to work for and the product can be sold. I could certainly show any new salesperson what the record has been for the existing guys to say, “You could make this much. I can prove it. You can make that much.” But I hear you. You’re right. People want security more than anything. But the deal you offer on day one is not necessarily the deal you’re gonna offer on year six.

Jay Goltz:
I agree with you totally. I just learned that getting these people that will work on almost all commission, they’re not people I want to work with. And they’re not people that everyone else wants to work with, generally speaking.

Paul Downs:
It goes to the whole question of hiring these days. How do you attract a good candidate from some other job to join your company? The offer that’s floated to the new employee always has to be attractive, and it usually involves overpaying them. And then you’ve got to hope that you can build their productivity to the point where your compensation scheme is reasonable.

Loren Feldman:
Okay, so you guys obviously are interested in talking about public relations. And I do happen to think that’s a really interesting topic—if for no other reason than because I’ve always been on the other side of the equation, as a journalist. So let’s dig into that a little bit. William, you talked about having some success with that. Much of what you’ve described to us has been along the lines of content marketing, where you’re just creating stuff and publishing it on your own platform or elsewhere. But have you actually hired public relations people and asked them to spread the word and build your brand?

William Vanderbloemen:
Yes, we have. [In our] single biggest year of growth, we hired a firm, and ironically, they’d worked with a lot of people who have made it to the top. That’s kind of an odd way to talk about the church sector, but people in the legal industry who represented religious clients and such, they sort of helped them up the PR ladder. They had a good understanding of the market, so to speak, but none of them go to church at all. It’s kind of ironic. Well, they were wonderful guys, and they did a really effective job. It was our biggest year of growth ever. I just kind of wondered whether the expense was worth it. So we backed off, continue to grow. And then—

Loren Feldman:
What do they do for you?

William Vanderbloemen:
They got me on BBC. They got me to speak at the Oxford Center, which led to me meeting you, which got me into Forbes. They got me a regular gig on Fortune. They got a big article placed in the Chicago Tribune about the rise of the Christian search firm. They did a lot of work. They got a lot of things done. They were super frustrating, and I always felt like I was overpaying them. But in hindsight, you do a Google search for us, and a lot of the placements, you can draw a line back to them.

Loren Feldman:
How did you pay them?

William Vanderbloemen:
Monthly retainer.

Jay Goltz:
Twelve thousand dollars a month?

William Vanderbloemen:
Wasn’t that high.

Jay Goltz:
All right.

William Vanderbloemen:
Wasn’t that high, but the growth we saw was pretty big. We just ended up needing to pour money into more staff and more systems, and frankly, grew a little too fast that year. It was good to pare that back for a while, but about a year and a half ago, I met a guy who was really tied into our world and the media, and we hired him. Didn’t pay him as much, and I’ve been pretty pleased with his results. We’ve gotten a fair amount of traction and placements—enough that people call and say, “Well, I read about you in…,” or “I saw you were in…” I’ve had a love-hate relationship with PR, but I think overall, it’s been a good thing.

Loren Feldman:
I’ve heard the love. I didn’t hear the hate.

William Vanderbloemen:
Writing the checks, writing the checks, and probably writing the checks.

Jay Goltz:
Yeah, I’ve been through… I don’t know. I’ve probably used four or five people over the years. PR is one of the few things in life, in business, that you can spend money for—you hire an accountant, you’re going to get some accounting. You hire a lawyer, they’ll do some legal work. PR’s one of the few things you can pay money for and get absolutely nothing.

William Vanderbloemen:
That’s right.

Jay Goltz:
And I’ve had that. The problem I’ve seen is they do great sales pitches, and then as soon as you give them the money, they stick some 23-year-old on your account who makes $16 an hour, and that’s who’s doing it. I’ve had good experiences, I’ve had worthless experiences, and I would never make a blanket statement: “It’s great, it’s horrible.” It depends on your business. It depends on who you find. The problem is, if you’re a smaller company, the sharpest minds in PR are not working for the small companies. So it’s tricky, very difficult.

Loren Feldman:
Paul, you said you’re thinking about taking the leap into this area. What are you thinking about doing?

Paul Downs:
Well, honestly, I think I could be credibly presented as a thought leader in certain aspects of office design.

Loren Feldman:
Of course.

Paul Downs:
I suffer from this problem, which is that when there’s content to be developed, I always want to write it myself, because I think I’m a better writer than anybody else on Earth… with evidence. And so I tend to shy away from something like PR, where I feel that the actual content is way out of my hands. That risk of spending and not getting anything is also scary for me. But a lot of times, when I have a gut reaction against something, I’m just being stupid. So I’m gonna look more carefully at it and think about how could that actually happen, and reach out to people I know who do PR and have done PR, and see if they can recommend somebody.

William Vanderbloemen:
Paul, I should throw a caveat into the success that I feel we’ve had. In our work, people don’t really do as much reference checking before they hire us as they do Google checking. And my last name is so messed up that it Googles really, really well. Yours does not. Soccer players come up, lots of different things. So if you get quoted, it’s going to be, I think, harder for someone with a more common name to gain PR traction in the world where everybody just wants to Google to see if you’ve been written about.

Paul Downs:
Well, that’s a good point. I think there’s a couple of Paul Downs who are fairly Google-rich. There’s an actor and there’s a playwright, and I think I’m about number three in the Google universe.

Jay Goltz:
There’s an opportunity now, because these trade publications are holding on for dear life—many of them. They’ve cut back on staff, and you are an excellent writer, as evidenced by your New York Times blog. You could write a really interesting article about how Zoom meetings have changed the conference table and all these things, and I believe you could send it to these trade publications, and they would be thrilled to run it because it’s interesting, it’s relevant, and you’re a good writer. I don’t think you need to hire a PR firm.

Paul Downs:
Yeah, I’m not familiar with sort of the mechanism by which—like what do you do, send it to [email protected]?

Jay Goltz:
Let’s talk to Loren Feldman, because he actually has some experience in that. Loren, how does one do that?

Loren Feldman:
I get asked that kind of question a lot. And the basic advice I usually give is a couple of things. One, it’s really a relationship business. You want to find people in the media who are interested in what you do, and it’s not that hard. I mean, you look for people who write about topics that are close to what you’re doing. And then you try to help them. You try to reach out to them, and you don’t necessarily make it a transactional call at the beginning. You don’t say, “Hey, please come write about me.” You say, “Hey, I’m in this space. I saw what you wrote, and you did a really good job. It was terrific. I just want you to know I’m here. If I can ever be of help with anything, let me know.” And you try to build a relationship that way.

To my mind, that generally works a lot better than going out and hiring a public relations firm, because I can tell you from my experience, there are very, very good PR people. And if you find one, they’re probably worth whatever you’re paying them. But there aren’t that many of them. My inbox, for the last 30 years, has been filled with ridiculous pitches from PR people who never took 10 seconds to figure out what I do, or what I’m interested in, and every journalist I talk to will tell you the same thing. PR people just don’t take the time to figure out where a pitch is likely to succeed. They spray their pitches everywhere.

Now, that’s the vast majority. There are some who are much smarter than that, do it much better than that. And those are the ones who you want to find if you’re going to do that. But it’s better if you build the relationship yourself.

Paul Downs:
So, Loren, think back to… whatever, December 2009. I sent you an email out of the blue. Why did it catch your eye?

Loren Feldman:
That’s easy. Because there was something…

Paul Downs:
What was the headline? Do you remember?

Loren Feldman:
No, I don’t remember the headline. But I remember the substance, and the substance was: “You’re editing a blog for small business owners, and it’s pretty good. But you’re missing one thing, and that’s what it’s like to be running a business that’s in the process of failing. And I’m willing to write about that for you.” I can assure you, that’s the only email like that that I’ve ever gotten, and that doesn’t mean that you have to be in a failing business—and happily, by the way, for our listeners, you did turn the business around, which made it all the better—you don’t have to be in a failing business to get attention. But you do have to offer something that isn’t everywhere, and you were offering something different. And that’s what caught my eye.

Jay Goltz:
I think, in this case, it’s shooting fish in the barrel, because there’s not that many trade publications for office furniture. And I think, given the fact that people are working from home, and all the changes, I could almost write the article myself and I don’t know anything about it—just about people coming to a conference room with electronics and where they are plugging in. And I haven’t read anything on it. I think it’s just the perfect time to go out there with that. So go for it, Paul.

Paul Downs:
That’s a great suggestion. I think that’s a much better outcome to this podcast [episode] than I expected going in. That is a valuable suggestion.

Jay Goltz:
That’s two two one against you, Loren. You’ve got to catch up.

Paul Downs:
No, it’s a good suggestion, and I’m going to give it a go. I totally dropped the ball on trying to find my Google person a couple months ago, but you can ask me about this in a couple weeks.

Loren Feldman:
People may not remember what you’re talking about, but I do. You were told by—who was it?— maybe Laura and Karen—

Paul Downs:
Laura, I think it was, yeah.

Loren Feldman:
—that if you were spending serious money on pay-per-click marketing with Google, you could get the attention of an account person who would make sure you’re doing it right and help you in ways that you couldn’t even imagine. At least that’s what Laura said her experience was. And you promised to test that theory and see if you could connect with somebody at Google. But you didn’t do that, did you?

Paul Downs:
No, I didn’t, because I talked myself into what I thought before hearing those remarks, which is that it would be a waste of time. And so I haven’t given it the real test. But I’m still convinced it would be a waste of time for us based on my many, many experiences, years of interacting with Google.

Loren Feldman:
You did tell us that you had been paying for pay-per-click for quite some time, and that at a certain point, you decided to see what would happen if you just cut it off, and that your phone kept ringing at the same rate, and you just rode it on organic search results. Is that still the case?

Paul Downs:
Yeah, yeah, pretty much. I mean, I send them a little money. Twenty-five hundred bucks a month is my budget, which I think of as just giving them money for no particular reason.

Jay Goltz:
Because they need money from you at Google.

Paul Downs:
Just because some algorithm somewhere may have a comma that says, “Okay, if you’re below $2,800, then we truly don’t care about you.” But like, who knows?

Jay Goltz:
Let me let me cut to the chase. They don’t care about you.

Paul Downs:
No, they don’t.

Loren Feldman:
William, I want to go back to you on the PR thing for one moment. When you were paying the expensive firm that was getting you a lot of placements and—you believed—leading to a lot of growth, did you think that they were doing things for you that you couldn’t have done yourself?

William Vanderbloemen:
Well, my very limited experience is that getting in front of people like you does require a relationship, and I don’t have those relationships. So if I can find people who do, then that’s helpful. In this case, the PR firm—I don’t know if they’d done some work for Cliff, or what…

Loren Feldman:
Cliff Oxford of the Oxford Center.

William Vanderbloemen:
Cliff Oxford of the Oxford center. And that turned into, “We’ve got you a speaking gig.” And I went and spoke, and I think you may have been there, and that led to Cliff introducing me to you. We had lunch, I believe, at the old office he used to have.

Loren Feldman:
If I remember correctly—I was kind of stunned to learn this—I think you flew from Houston to Jersey City just to have lunch with me.

William Vanderbloemen:
That’s right. I did.

Loren Feldman:
No one had ever done that before.

William Vanderbloemen:
None of that would have started had I not had some entré to relationship, and a PR firm did that. They did that as well with business publications. Now, it did require some things that not everybody wants to do. I had to, at a moment’s notice, be ready to crank out an article. Like if something real-time news happened, I needed to be able to—”Fast Company wants an article on the pope using Twitter. Can you get us something in the next two hours?” “Sure.” You know, so not everybody’s got the freedom to do that or enjoys writing. It’s just not for everybody. But for me, it’s worked because they’ve opened doors to relationships. Now, once I became a regular contributor for Forbes, once we started to get on people’s radar, I think the return diminished quite a bit.

Loren Feldman:
We only have a few minutes left. I want to try to catch up on a couple of things. Paul, any news on your cybercrime?

Paul Downs:
Yeah, she sent me some of the money.

Loren Feldman:
Wow.

Paul Downs:
We’re still not speaking to each other. But she has now sent me about $90,000 of the $140,000.

Loren Feldman:
For those who don’t know, this is your client, who apparently tried to pay you. The payments were diverted to someone in Texas.

Paul Downs:
Nigeria.

Loren Feldman:
No, Texas, as I recall.

Paul Downs:
That was a brief stopping point on the way to Nigeria.

Loren Feldman:
But this seems to indicate that she’s accepting responsibility, which she initially did not do.

Paul Downs:
That’s right.

Loren Feldman:
Which seems to indicate that you probably will get the full payment.

Paul Downs:
I hope so. We have a couple of other projects that are in the pipeline—that would go through her company—of significant size. And I think the real acid test will be whether those appear or not. She wouldn’t say, “Don’t do business,” because we’re already working with their client. But it would be a big step towards a return to normal if we could just continue to book jobs as we had before.

Loren Feldman:
That’s great. And Jay, any news in your efforts to start another business?

Jay Goltz:
Which business would we be referring to?

Loren Feldman:
Well, we were talking for a while about the online art gallery.

Jay Goltz:
All right, I put that on the back burner, because I’m back to the—here’s my new phrase: People always say, “have balance.” My word is “alignment,” and I need to stay aligned. I have to work on this in that I don’t need more employees. I have lovely employees. I just don’t—

Loren Feldman:
Yeah, but when you told us you were going to do it, you said the reason you were going to do it is because it was so perfectly aligned with what you do.

Jay Goltz:
It is aligned, but it would still require a lot of energy, and I’m putting it on the back burner for the moment because I have other projects that I got to work on—one of which is right in front of me. I’ve got a beautiful courtyard between my home store and the framing business, and it’s got plants in it. We need to do some kind of cafe thing in there to keep customers happy, and so I’m working on that at the moment.

Loren Feldman:
Is that going to happen?

Jay Goltz:
I think so. There’s some permitting. I’ve got to work on permitting issues, which are difficult. But I keep telling you, I’m a recovering entrepreneuraholic, and I need to control myself. I just need to control it because I want to keep my life simple, and it’s been really under control. I’m thrilled that I got through this whole pandemic thing, and I’ve got no complaints. Life is good. I just need to control my desire to start new businesses. So I’m not saying I’ll never do an internet thing, but it’s definitely on the back burner, because as you also mentioned last time, it’s never as simple as I think it’s gonna be. The 100 grand I think it’s gonna cost is probably going to turn into 200 or 300. I don’t need to do that at the moment. Now, that’s what I’m telling you today. I’m pretty solid for the rest of the day, but I am going to try to stay to that philosophy.

Loren Feldman:
My thanks to Paul Downs, Jay Goltz, and William Vanderbloemen. As always, guys, thanks for sharing.

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