In the early 1980s, four co-partners founded Windsor Communications Co., a design firm specializing in creative work for the entertainment industry. Within a couple of years Windsor became a full service ad agency. One of the partners, Stephen Brockelman, with a strong background in the entertainment industry, became obsessed with information distribution and with finding new ways of promoting his services.
Brockelman predicted that the computer and creative work would merge. He also believed that the computer would change the way all small businesses would respond to the needs of the marketplace. The seeds of Brockelman & Friends, developed in the brick-and-mortar world, began sprouting in cyberspace.
Q. Describe your initial online experience
A. In 1990 I started two bbs systems where people with advertising or marketing questions could log on and post their questions and get answers (and we could generate business leads from the log files). I didn't know it at the time, but I was networking online. With modems running at 2400 bps, I wouldn't say I hit the ground running. I was, though, on the right track.
In 1993 one of the partners passed away, another left to work for Harvard, and the third started a sky diving school. I kept the Windsor name to continue work with established clients, and in 1995 started Brockelman & Friends under the Windsor banner to explore and develop e-commerce solutions. In 1996 Brockelman & Friends became the link to http://www.brockelman.com/.
Q. What were your primary goals?
A. In the early 90s, my goals were fairly self-serving. I convinced myself that e-commerce was a viable and workable form of cost cutting and rapid response communication technology. By 1995, when I had my first commercial pages online, I was actually getting some copywriting work by way of the Internet. The early revenue was small in quantity - number of clients, but way above the average in dollars per hour billed.
In 1996 my goals and approach changed completely. I had the opportunity to take some serious time off and think about where I wanted to go with all of this. I first asked myself what it was that I truly loved to do. Could I make a living as a solo with support from "Friends" (freelancers with whom I'd partnered and clients with whom I truly wanted to work)?
I also defined what I disliked most about business. The two major areas: (1) direct sales - pressure sales, and (2) taking on clients whose work I didn't fully believe in but the billing was good. The old corporate mentality was also right at the top my list. I still had a client that required me to wear a suit when directing TV commercial shoots. This was in Las Vegas where a summer shoot could mean being in the sun for eight-plus hours in 110-degree heat. Though there are many more, my goals come down to these:
Q. Where are you in terms of reaching those goals?
A. If I'm half way there in early 2000, I suspect (as time and personal growth change all things) that I'll be about half way there in six months from now, or in 2005. I'm still reaching. And it feels good.
Q. Do you consider your business a niche business? If so, in what way?
A. Niche often seems to read as "cottage industry" within the context of the Internet. And I'm most certainly a micro business. My client base, though, is quite broad and national in scope.
I'm a generalist as are all good marketers and wordsmiths. I learned early on that advertising is a great arena in which to work. If you want to get an education in a business or specific area, you go out and find a client in that business. Continuing education is the best perk in what I do on a daily basis.
Q. How do you choose your clients?
A. Very carefully. I ask that they choose me carefully. I offer full disclosure, never taking on competing clients. And I make certain that we have some fun while we're working together. I give almost everyone the same initial consideration and the same benefit of the doubt. Many projects that seem, at first glance, to be a definite "No Play" turn out to be viable, interesting and workable.
A first consultation is free. I respond to an email request or first phone call immediately. We set up a time when we can speak on the phone for a half-hour or so. My job at this point is just to listen to their needs and ideas. I ask questions, of course, but it's listening that gives me the insight into their immediate and long-term needs. Listening also tells me who the person really is. Are they looking for an honest business relationship or are they trying to pitch me into a scheme?
Q. What do you say to people thinking of starting a new business, regarding attitude?
A. All business people, Internet or brick-and-mortar, need to have an "I can get it done" mind set. If people are looking for someone to do it all for them, they need to go to a quiet place and stay there until they can put the idea of self-employment out of their minds. Self-employment is damn hard work.
Q. How does Internet marketing differ from brick-and-mortar marketing?
A. The basic rules of marketing are still the same as they were a hundred years ago. A good marketing plan for a brick-and-mortar will include the Internet, though the reverse is not necessarily true.
I do have a thought on the various marketing Ps that we learned in school (Price, Product, Placement, Promotion, Positioning, etc.) that may be of value. I'd add two to the Internet marketing mix: Privacy and Predictability. Privacy statements, however delivered, must be clear, short, concise and honest.
Q. Tell us more about Predictability
A. Predictability is a key concept that has been overlooked by many commerce powerhouses online. Predictable interactive outcome is a killer topic. Coming from an entertainment background, let me explain it this way:
Sitcoms work as television comedy, just as they did in the old radio days. Why? Because you always know the outcome. When sitting around the family radio and you heard Molly say, "Don't open that door, McGee!"... you always knew the sound effect to follow: a pile of junk falling onto the floor. (Fibber McGee and Molly, NBC Radio Network, 1935 -1959).
Predictability is still the reason sitcoms draw big audiences and big advertising dollars. On NBC's Frasier, when Niles give Daphne "the look" we know what to expect. And we always get what we expect. The formula continues to work.
In commerce, Internet commerce, our interaction with the screen needs to provide a predictable outcome. Too many web site administrators don't understand that buyers or visitors expect a predictable outcome when they click on a button.
If I visit a site and hit the "About our Company" button, I don't want to be taken to an animated screen of the last company picnic. If you have a site map button or link, make certain it connects with a true site map. If you have a product button or link, make certain it connects directly to your product group and not to testimonials or what others have to say about your product. Make certain that your visitor gets a predictable outcome from each click. Make certain that it works every single time.
I don't remember having seen Predictability addressed before: do what you say you're going to do, and if you don't I'm not going to be pleased. Time is a valuable asset. In the Internet world it's an asset right at the top of anyone's list. Web sites cannot waste my time and sell me. Web sites can, however, waste my time and create bad word of mouth.
Q. What are the best methods for marketing your business?
A. Online networking. Word of mouth. Delivering the best product possible. Giving more than contracted for. Media releases, both online and postal. And buying and using the finest paper available.
Why? We are in a less and less tactile world. A letter, a thank you note, even an invoice (yes, an invoice or statement) on super premium paper is worth its weight in gold. It's expensive. I send every postal communication on Crane's 32# kid finish sheets and envelopes. It comes out to just over a dollar per single page letter before postage. The invoice doesn't necessarily get paid faster, though sometimes it does. The bottom line is that I hope whatever I send will be remembered.
Q. Let's talk more about yours as a niche business, or at least as a unique business.
A. I don't see myself in a niche business. But my Friends and clients do see me in that way. And that makes all the difference. Let me try to explain.
There are more copywriters, marketing experts, promotion directors, creative directors - others doing what I seem to be doing on the Internet - than I can count. And I'm certain that hundreds, surely thousands of them are just as proficient as I am in the basics of marketing and marketing-related skills.
Here's the difference: when I take on a client, that client becomes a Friend, hopefully for the long-term. Yes, I do project work. Though I don't offer turn-key, one-time solutions as a general rule. There are always exceptions. I take on overflow work, but that's not my guiding light.
I take a great deal of pride in the comprehensive, over-all research I do for each client. Whether they ask me to or not - and they generally don't - I research their competition from top to bottom. I cull quotes from officers of their competition. I look at similar products and services and prices. I look at the financials that are available. I learn their business and I learn it fast.
By the time that we have our first "get down to business" meeting, my presentation often has more to do with a client's competition that it does with the primary company involved. About twenty-minutes into every presentation, if a new client hasn't interrupted me and said, "Damn, I didn't know that! How did you find that out?" then I feel like I haven't fully prepared. Prep work is key.
Q. What methods of communication do you use to meet your clients' needs?
A. I try to determine the comfort level of the client and use whatever that form is. Some people communicate poorly via email, while others write great messages but are afraid of the phone. I use email most of all, then phone, fax, FedEx and even video Net Meeting if they have the bandwidth on their end to support it and make it worthwhile.
I do a fair amount of discussion work on AOL's Instant Messenger. It's good for rehearsing a chat guest, for example. A nice feature is being able to save the entire session (sometimes an hour or so) to a file and have a printable copy of the transcript to review at a later time.
Q. What software makes your life easier?
A. I've been a Microsoft guy from day one. Cohesion of product is important to me. I believe in compound software, what used to be called software suites. I use Office 2000 Premium. I find it stable and the work that I do in one program can be used in another without having to think about it. It's a great time saver, and Office 2000 is quick. The major advantage is that most anything I'm working on can be translated to HTML with the click of a button.
Outlook 2000 is always open on my desktop, and as for Web browsers, I use Internet Explorer and Netscape equally. I generally have both open. I use various image editing products, such as Photoshop, PhotoImpact, Paint Shop Pro, and MS PhotoDraw 2000. I tend to default to the smallest program that will get the job done in the fastest amount of time using the least amount of computer resources.
Two programs that I couldn't live without: eFax Plus (www.efax.com). It works like a charm and I have enough equipment around here without adding another power bar for a stand-alone fax. FedEx Send (www.fedex.com). I use it daily. Two or three clicks and I have a client's media kit out the door. Actually, I have to walk the package to the door, but the courier arrives and it's a done deal. Totally simplifies billing and tracking in real time.
Q. What personal philosophies do you weave into your business?
A. We're so busy with deadlines, immediate needs, and answering e-mail that many of us forget that if we aren't enjoying ourselves, we do a disservice to ourselves and those for whom we work. The Internet is a godsend to millions of us. But there is a down side. It's important that we don't lose perspective. The real world is not reflected in that monitor we stare at so many hours a day.
I often ask clients if they've taken a walk today. Have they seen a movie recently? What functions are they attending? Have they had friends over for drinks, a dinner? Am I getting too personal with them? No, I just want to remind my Friends that there is a tactile world out there. Let's not get too caught up in the zeros and ones of the binary world that we forget to hold someone's hand, give a friend a hug, make a donation, or acknowledge someone less fortunate.
Niche? I guess it's best defined as Brockelman & Friends. My client-Friends see me as a niche provider because I choose them carefully. I care . . . I care about profits and the bottom-line. I care about humanity. Perhaps that's my niche