Lessons Learned From Small Business Saturday

Image result for small business saturdayLike every year, I went out on the Saturday after Thanksgiving to do a little shopping.  I love Small Business Saturday. It gives me a sense of purpose to my holiday shopping. I feel better helping my community and look forward to seeing what little shops around town have in store for me, literally.  But I can’t help but put on my marketing hat everywhere I go – sometimes to the horror of the shop owner – and give advice on small things business can do to make a big impact.

Here are a few of the most common mistakes I saw in 2018.  With any luck you will stow these away for next year.

Common Mistake #1 – No Community Strategy

Image result for shop local district
Source: castleberryhill.org

Dear Mr or Mrs shop/yoga studio/restaurant owner, Why are you trying to do it alone?!  Mark your calendars now. In September/October 2019 call a meeting with the owners of your surrounding small businesses and work together on a plan.  Design signage, promotions and incentives together that are focused on your community. When you work together, you all win! But how does a pet toy boutique, a coffee shop and a restaurant work together?  

A few ways:

  1. If you don’t already, create an identity for your shop community.  Something like Nelson Street Row or Historic Horton Park Shopping District.  Once you have a name, create a Twitter and Facebook page. Each small business should become a member link to/from the page on their own websites.  Then promote the page in each store with signs or handouts encouraging people to like it. You can also advertise the page on each store’s own social presence.  Once November hits, start promoting upcoming events and deals on the community page.
  2. Develop a Small Business Saturday festival of sorts.  Create a Facebook event and promote it with signage around stores and streets for all of November.  The event might offer free gift wrapping to the first 50 customers at each location or offer piggy-back incentives, like spend $25 or more at Tony’s Pizza and get $25 off to Lulu’s Emporium.  It may even have attractions, like Santa or a photo booth.
  3. Take lots of photos!  You now have content to share on social for the next few weeks and next Small Business Saturday.  I recommend hiring a professional digital photographer from thumbtack.com for a few hundred bucks to cover the whole day.  You’ll be happy you did.

Common Mistake #2 – Nothing Special Planned

Want people to bust down your door this Small Business Saturday?  Give them an excuse. I went to one pet store this year and they had no sales, no incentives and no special draw.  I was in and out in a few minutes and purchased nothing, despite going there for the explicit reason to shop. One thing they could have done is offered a gift bag with the purchase of any of their doggy ornaments.  This might have made me think of my friends Amber and Roy who have a boxer. Wouldn’t they love a little boxer ornament? But I didn’t think about it and the store didn’t make me think about it. Missed opportunity.

Image result for tattered cover small business saturday
The Tattered Cover Book Store Source: David Hoyt’s Blog

The best execution I’ve ever seen of a Small Business Saturday is by The Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver, Colorado.  (PS their community is the Mile High Business Alliance) They turn SBS into a true event – and are packed! For example one year they offered:

  • Free book signing for multiple local authors (with book purchase of course).  How great is it to give a signed book for Christmas? Plus the authors and the store sell more books – win, win, win!
  • Free cookies & cider – inexpensive and a very nice treat.
  • Proceeds from gift wrapping went to support a local charity – reiterating the #shoplocal message

Common Mistake #3 – No Online Strategy

Not everyone wants to drive around town to support local boutiques, so make it easy for them.  Send a series of emails with an online Call To Action, in addition to coming into the store. This is especially valuable for yoga studios, hair salons and other local service companies.  Turn Small Business Saturday into your very own online shopping holiday with 1-day only specials and promotions. Your website is your online store front. Are you using it to its full potential?

Creating a Marketing Career Path When You’re Just Getting Started

I was speaking at the University of Colorado recently to a room full of marketing majors.  One of the questions someone asked stuck with me.  A women in the room raised her hand and said she was trying to figure out where to work after graduation.  She struggled with the different options and was looking for advise on what size company she should target.

For marketers, like many professions, there are several roads to go down.  Specialists vs generalists.  Creative vs technical.  Client-side vs agency.  Choosing the right path can be daunting.  So here is the advise I have for a marketer just starting out trying to define a path for their own career.

Specialists versus Generalists


This is a question I get a lot from young marketers.  Should I pursue a career as a specialist or generalist?  First here’s the main difference between the two, as I see it.

A specialist can make more money due to lack of competition, but there are less jobs that hire specialists because they’re a bit of a luxury.  Generalists get paid less, but jobs are more plentiful since they can wear multiple hats, which companies tend to appreciate in an employee.

If you’re starting out, less than 5 years of experience, pursue a generalist role.  The more hats you can wear, the more valuable you will be over time.  A generalist can always become a specialist, but the other direction is quite difficult.  By learning as many areas of marketing as you possibly can now, you can discover which areas interest you or discover an unknown talent.  Then later, after you’ve got some experience under your belt, you can drive towards a career that is best suited towards you.

Creative versus Technical

When most people think about marketing, they think advertising – which is a very small piece of the overall puzzle.  I believe marketing is the meeting of 3 skillsets:

  1. Mathematical Analysis
  2. Behavioral Science
  3. Art

Because no one of these areas outweighs the others, the question is not should I be a creative or a technical marketer, but what amount of each.  To be a strong marketer, you must learn all three areas.  A whitepaper is a technical document that requires creativity (art) and is driving towards a certain behavior (behavioral science), which usually leverages some sort of mathematical analysis in its argument.

You will naturally gravitate to one skill set over the others, but learn all three.  You’ll need them.  Like I said, generalize now and specialize later.

Client-side versus Agency


You have two main options when looking at a marketing career.  You can work for a brand directly as part of their in-house marketing department.  Or you can work for an agency supporting many brands with a specialized offering.  Which one should you pick?

I say, do both.  Spend 2-3 years at one, then switch.  The experience you gain at an agency is critical.  Balancing projects, managing clients, understanding different types of brands and their needs – you need to do it all.  Then when you go client-side you get to know a brand intimately, which will teach you voice, budgets and vendor management.  After 5 years, you’ll know which life you prefer.  Jack of all trades or mastering a signature dish – you don’t need to know the answer yet.

Small versus Large Business

This is the question I get most often.  Should I go with the small company or the established brand.  There’s a few things to consider with this one.

  1. Will the brand recognition (or lack there of) affect you in the future?  How so?
  2. Will you be allowed to change anything about the brand?
  3. How many people stand between you and the head of marketing?
  4. Do you operate better in a structured or unstructured environment?
  5. How important is salary to you?  Can you take a financial risk?

Here’s the thing.  You’re going to make more money at a larger company starting out.  The logo will look nice on your resume and people will be impressed.  But you won’t be allowed to touch anything and you’ll likely not be allowed to draw outside of very well defined lines.  You’ll be forced to specialize sooner than I think you should as there are many hands to do work.

At a smaller company you can immediately deliver value because you’ll wear many hats.  Events, social, content, digital, advertising, sales training, RFPs – you will touch everything.  On the flip side you will probably make less money.  Student loans and rent are real concerns and you can’t not pay them.

I recommend targeting small or medium-sized companies when you’re starting out.  You might work at PepsiCo, but no one is impressed if you were the Jr Content Researcher and there are 18 levels between you and the CMO.  Instead, take the risk now and learn everything you can physically stick in your brain.  The pain will be temporary, but the work will be much more fulfilling.  Then, after a few years, if you haven’t already been promoted you can go to the big brands at a higher level and make a larger impact.  How do you know if the company is too large?  Are they on Fortune 500?  Then they’re too large.  Go smaller.


Building a Brand through Employee Enablement


I recently spoke at the Colorado Marketing Summit (#COMKTG) on a panel entitled “The Colorado Brand”.  During the session I mentioned an employee engagement program I introduced as a grassroots marketing strategy.  After the session I received 10 emails and LinkedIn messages from marketers wanting to know more about the program and how they could replicate it at their companies.  Since so many people were interested, I thought I would share it here.

Back when I was head of marketing for zColo, a Zayo Group sub-brand specializing in the data center industry, we were noticing more competitors coming into the Colorado market.  Considering this is our home turf, we were all understandably annoyed by the influx.  I remember being in a meeting where we discussed the lack of local brand recognition and saying, “This is not acceptable in our house!”  And so the program #OurHouse was built.

#OurHouse was a grassroots campaign designed to leverage our large staff in Colorado in order to get the name “zColo” out in the market.  It was comprised of a few pieces.

  1. Train employees on the elevator pitch
  2. Get our brand name out and about
  3. Introduce ourselves to other Colorado brands
  4. Communicate internally using a simple message

Training employees on the elevator pitch

You would be shocked at how interested your employees are in building the brand.  My quarterly marketing plan presentation always had great attendance from, strangely, the engineering side of the business.  Data center technicians, electrical engineers and software developers would show up in mass (85% attendance) to hear what marketing had to say, while sales averaged only a 15% attendance record.

When you have engagement like that from curious employees, leverage it.  These are the people talking about the company, interacting with end customers and representing your brand on a daily basis – so turn them from employees into advocates.

The easiest way to do that is to teach them the elevator pitch.  I’ve written instructions for writing a simple and memorable elevator pitch in the aptly named blog post, “How to Write an Elevator Pitch“.  By giving your employees, all your employees, the tools to quickly and eloquently describe your brand, you’re inadvertently creating a field marketing team.  They will feel more confident speaking on the brand and you can be assured they’re doing it correctly.

Ask yourself, how big your field marketing team could be if every employee was a trained brand advocate?

Get your brand name out and about

After you have taught them how to talk about the brand, give them something cool to wear that also has the brand.  We made jackets that read zColorado and gave one to every data center tech and employee in Colorado.  The jackets were a HUGE hit!  I would walk around town and see employees wearing them proudly on the weekends.

The key is to create something people will want to wear.  We got nice jackets that were actually warm and fashionable.  Since state pride is a really big deal in Colorado (think on par with Texas), incorporating the state brand also made local employees want it all the more.

Plus it was a unique piece of swag that was made only for them.  I even had a director pull me aside once to tell me how much the field employees appreciated the jackets and how they felt they were more involved in the company culture as a result.  It made me feel amazing.

Sporting our zColorado jackets

Introduce Ourselves to Other Colorado Brands

After all our Colorado employees got a jacket, we made a list of all the Colorado companies we would love to work with but didn’t have a relationship yet.  Then we packed up the jackets and mailed them, along with a signed letter, to the CIOs at each of those companies.  The letter introduced zColo and asked for a meeting with our Vice President.  We received several thank you notes and a few meetings out of the campaign.  Since brands rarely send you a $30 jacket just to say hi, you can understand why they were understandably appreciative.

Communicate Internally Using a Simple Message

As the program grew legs of it’s own after a while, it was important to have a simple way to communicate internally about how we were reaching the Colorado market.  Zayo uses Salesforce for everything, including internal communication.  We would use the hashtag #OurHouse on any internal communication about the program, which was easy to remember and understand.  Since it was also the name of the program, it made a lot of sense.

Your Turn

Now it’s your turn.  Ask yourself the following questions as you’re developing an employee brand engagement program of your own.

  • What will success look like?
  • How do I want employees to talk about the brand?  How can we train them to do it correctly?
  • What are ways we can get employees excited about the program and feel they are owners in its success?
  • What are other ways we could utilize the program to build the funnel?
  • How long do we want the program to last?

After you’ve designed your program or are in the planning stages, leave me a comment below and tell me how your company is turning employees into brand advocates.

How to Write an Elevator Pitch

What is an elevator pitch anyway?

Image result for elevator pitch funnyAn “elevator pitch” describes your company and what you do in about the time you have to talk to someone on an elevator – 30 seconds to 2 minutes max.  Elevator pitches are critical for conveying very simply who you are as a company to someone who has never heard about you and doesn’t have time to research.

No one, and I mean no one, wants to sit and listen to you drone on about details that don’t affect them and take too long to describe.  Nor do you want to under represent your company by being so succinct that you are leaving out too much critical brand information.  The balance has to be just right.

Aren’t elevator pitches just for sales reps?

You would be shocked at how many marketers I meet who do not know how to write an elevator pitch and have never thought to give one.  I sit beside myself as year after year professional B2B marketers stumble over explaining what value they’re company produces in less than 3 paragraphs.  What the hell are they paying you for?!

So for my own sanity, I thought I would break down how to write a proper elevator pitch.  These steps can be used and reused for any market, industry or company you need to support.

How to write an elevator pitch

An elevator pitch has 3 sections:

  1. What
  2. How
  3. Who

That’s it.  Each section lasts 1-2 sentences max.


What is going on in the world that is being meaningfully impacted by your technology, product or service?  This should have several flavors, depending on the markets you serve.  You should have a standard “what” and a custom “what”, which is dictated by the industry or audience your speaking to.

A “standard what” might be, “Managing projects is becoming easier and more collaborative every day from around the world.”

A “custom what” might be, “Marketers are managing projects more easily and with more collaboration every day from around the world.”

As you can see one is fairly generic.  One is specific to the market they’re reaching, in this case marketers who do project management.  Note, this is not the part where you name your company.


How explains how the above statement is able to happen.  This is also not the part where you mention the name of your company.

A how statement might sound like, “It’s cloud-based project management software that allows spread out organizations to collaborate so easily, eliminating the need for so many meetings and status updates.”

If you’re thinking this looks a lot like a value prop statement, it is.  The how allows you to back into your value prop without introducing your brand too soon.


Now tell them who you are.

“Smartsheet is one of the largest cloud-based project management platforms in the world, supporting over XXX marketing departments and agencies.”

Put it together.

“Marketers are managing projects more easily and with more collaboration every day from around the world.  It’s cloud-based project management software that allows spread out organizations to collaborate so easily, eliminating the need for so many meetings and status updates.  Smartsheet is one of the largest cloud-based project management platforms in the world, supporting over XXX marketing departments and agencies.”

Please note, Smartsheet has not contacted me in anyway to use them as an example.  I’m just a fan.

How I Use It

At a recent healthcare conference we wanted a refreshed elevator pitch to teach to everyone working the booth.  Everyone was required to learn it, which meant it had to be easy to remember.  Here’s what we came up with:

  1. What: “Healthcare is revolutionizing patient care with everything from accessing online medical records to meeting patients virtually.”
  2. How: “But its bandwidth that’s enabling all this technology”
  3. Who: “Zayo is one of the world’s largest bandwidth providers, supporting hundreds of hospital systems and healthcare organizations.”


Now you try.

Tooting My Horn: HIMSS Mention

clip_image024Okay, I have to toot my horn real quick.  I have posted in the past about how to properly run a booth to produce top return.  Well, someone noticed!

I was working the Zayo booth at HIMSS 2018, the largest healthcare IT conference which is held in Las Vegas each year.  Someone walked by and wrote a blog mentioning me!

“Lots of positive vendor engagement today, with Hanna from Zayo Group catching our attention during my annual BFF booth crawl with the incomparable Evan Frankel. Effective strategies: catching someone’s eye, asking them what they do, asking what they are interested in at HIMSS, and figuring out how to tie it to your company. I’m going to track them down next time I’m in Boulder, Colorado.”


Here’s another one…

“The best booth person I’ve seen was Hanna from Zayo. I care very little about bandwidth provider and to be honest I’ve never heard of the company, but Hanna’s sparkling repartee got my interest. She’s a pistol down there in Hall G.”


So what if they mispelled my name.  I got a shout out – so cool!  Thanks HIStalk!

Here’s our recap video if you would like to see our booth from HIMSS 2018.

3 ways to work successfully with multiple marketing organizations

My company has a (not so) unique challenge.  As is the case with most companies our size or larger, we have multiple marketing departments with multiple teams.  The corporate marketing team is grouped into 4 organizations, which has several sub-organizations in each one.  In addition corporate communications sits in investor relations and each product has the option to develop their own dedicated marketing SMEs.

To be successful you need a carefully crafted balancing act.  Who does what, when and why?

I’ve been in this role for nearly a year.  In that year I have learned a ton about managing expectations, collaborating with other departments and keeping my cool when people tell me things can’t be done.  Here are a few lessons learned I’ve developed that you may be able to leverage too.

1) No one likes a know-it-all

Image result for know it allI am the first one to admit I struggle with this one.  I’m the first one to raise my hand and explain how my point-of-view is the right one.  Over the last year I’ve tempered this part of my personality.  The fastest way to get people on your bad side is to embarrass them in a meeting – especially with their boss or stakeholders.  Intentional or not, correcting people is never the way to go.

So how do you let someone know that what they’re doing is wrong or dumb?

I have gotten really good (if I do say so myself) at saying two things:

  1. Playing devils advocate, what if…
  2. I like that.  We could also…

No one is going to fault you for saving their ass, but the more you correct someone in public the more they will circumvent you in private.  Many books call this, “giving them an out.”  Don’t leave them with egg on their face.  Give them an opportunity to still look professional in front of their stakeholders while course correcting from the rocks.

2) Include them in the process

Image result for include others memeRegardless of which marketing department you’re in, don’t go it alone.  I struggled with this a lot in my product marketing days.  One day corporate marketing came to me and said, “We love all your ideas, but if you don’t include us we can’t help you.  Let us know what you’re doing so we can be there to support you.”

They had a point.  I wanted to keep all the glory, but I was also taking on all the work – and failing at both.  When I started leaning on them for support, not only was I able to move projects along faster, but had more success in other ways.  They had visibility into dynamics, politics and sometimes budget I didn’t.  And by involving them in the planning process, they had a vested interest in supporting my programs, which made everyone more excited.

Now that I’m in corporate, I have to do the same thing the other way.  By involving vertical marketers, product marketers and business development leads in the planning phase I get more resources and more buy-in earlier.  It raises my professional brand and sets me up for success longer term.

3) Share Success

Image result for thank you memeJust like no one likes a know-it-all, know one likes someone who hogs the spotlight.  If someone helps you reach success with a project, or in your career, acknowledge it.  No one gets where they’re going alone.

In my previous role, I introduced SEO to the company by piloting it on my own product.  I paid for it.  I hired the company.  I reported the outcomes.  But corporate helped too.  They helped me implement my vision and did a lot of extra work to make my experiment a reality.

As a thank you, I would never dream of not giving credit where credit is due.  In every read out I would use the phrase, “We partnered with the website team to…”

Even if they don’t own the vision, outcomes or barely lifted a pencil, share the love.  If they see you do it, they will reciprocate one day.

(Plus, everyone knows what you did.  No need to wallow in it.)

Say Hi at The Colorado Marketing Summit

I am so excited to be speaking at the upcoming Colorado Marketing Summit on “The Colorado Brand”.  Colorado is home to some of the most powerful brands in the world. How do Chief Marketing Officers project their brands globally and what local challenges do they have growing industry and community instate?

The Colorado Marketing Summit
June 19, 2018
Ritz-Carlton, Denver, CO

The Colorado Marketing Summit hosts marketing leaders from major brands, corporate & cultural institutions, public agencies and nonprofits.  Approximately 450 attendees will be there – 70% brands, 30% agencies & vendors.