You’ll win. They’ll win. Happy happy.

Is it self-serving to keep the people you work with happy because you get more and better work out of a happy team?

Whatever way you feel about the answer to that question, it doesn’t change the fact that happy people do work better.

Which is why, I believe, the greatest of care must be taken when handling feedback of a person’s idea. Especially when you think someone’s idea is “stupid.” Doubly so when you’re in a hurry. And thricely so if you’re the one who asked for their opinion.

Why?

Ideas carry tiny pieces of identity.

Which is why you cannot wholly detach someone’s idea from the person themselves.

How you respond to their idea has a direct correlation to how you make them feel. And how do you want to make them feel?

Happy. Remember?

Because when everyone is happy, you’ll get a free flow of ideas. And it is quantity of ideas that’ll give you the best solution the fastest.

So, always tread with grace when responding to ideas. Even if it’s a dumb idea, you can still respond in such a way as to dignify the progenitor.

You’ll win. They’ll win. And everyone will be happy happy.

– Zac Smith, VC

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If Then…Include a Picture

If when writing a description of something and there’s even a slight chance your audience might not be familiar with the thing, then include a picture.

If your writing ability falls short in the description area, then include a picture.

If you’re a great writer and descriptions ooze out of your pores, then you can still include a picture.

For example, if I told you that a Bedlington Terrier looks more like a sheep than a dog, you’d have a general idea of what I mean. But how much better if I also showed you a picture of one?

There seems to be a long-held belief that good writing – serious writing – and pictures are somehow mutually exclusive.

I don’t know who started that rumor. It’s not true. Use pictures.

They’ll adorn good wordsmithing and salvage poor writing.

– Zac Smith, VC

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Your Logo Isn’t Sexy

The faster you can communicate an idea, the more impactful it will be.
 
Shorter hits harder.
 
But not at the cost of clarity.
 
Clarity supersedes brevity.
 
Which means if no one knows what you’re talking about, then it doesn’t matter how fast you can say it.
 
Logos are perfect examples of this at work.
 
For example, what company is this logo for?

It’s a simple logo. Gets straight to the point. Shorter hits harder. But to the point of what?

Based on only the logo, can you tell me who this company is or what they do?

Nope and no. (It’s Uber’s logo from 2016, if you were curious.) In this case, shorter did not hit harder.

How about this one?

Or this one?

Or this one?

And this one?

You know all these logos. You know who they are and what they do. In these instances, shorter does hit harder.

But here’s an interesting tidbit. Look at this progression of Starbucks Logos.

They didn’t start out “shorter,” did they? And for good reason. If they had used their current logo in 1971 no one would have known who they were or what they did.

There would have been no clarity.

What’s this mean for you?

Don’t fall into the trap of going after “sexy” minimalist logos unless you’ve been around for decades, all the while spending hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising.

It probably won’t work. You’re not that famous. You don’t get a sexy logo.

On the national scale, you’re an unknown brand. Take a play from Starbucks’ earlier logos. For 40 years they told us who they are and what they do. The logo had their name and the word “coffee,” which is all we needed to know.

It wasn’t “sexy” but it did work.

If you’re in the process of designing or redesigning your logo, ask yourself; can someone tell who you are and what you do from a quick glance at your logo?

If they can, then you’ve got a hard-working logo that’ll serve you well.

And as a small business nothing could be sexier than that.

– Zac Smith, VC

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Captain’s Log: Not all Waters Well

Last week we talked about how to use common interests to connect with your customers.

Some wonder, though, what kind of interests should you share?

The great Simon Sinek said, “The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.”

So, what do you believe?

Follow up question: which of your interests best represent what you believe?

Start sharing there.

Does that thought scare you? The idea of being a little vulnerable? Sharing your personal interests with the world?

It should scare you, but in a healthy kind of way. The kind of way that recognizes what you’re getting into.

Here’s the deal, if you’re a business owner you are the captain of the ship.

Your ship is not welcome in all waters. Not every port will peddle your wares.

But that’s a captain’s job, isn’t it? To know where you’re accepted and where you’re not. To brave the scorn of those who aren’t your people.

Oh yes, people will scorn you. But remember, the goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.

And believe me, there are plenty enough of those people to make you successful beyond your wildest dreams.

– Zac Smith, VC

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A Friendly Anchor

“Relationships are relationships.”

That’s from a fascinating NPR news article, Life Kit: How to keep long-distance friendships strong, by Kavitha George.

According to relationship expert Marissa G. Franco, who was interviewed for the article, she’s learned from studying friendship, that there’s not really hard lines.

I agree with her.

Whether you’re talking about friendships, romantic relationships, or even the relationship you have with your customers, there’s something universal about two humans interacting.

So then, what nugget on customer relations can we glean from advice on long-distance friendships?

Use common interests to stay connected…This shared interest is called an anchor, and it doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as it helps you initiate a connection.” – Marissa G. Franco

You remember the kind of questions you used to ask as a kid to make new friends?

  • What’s your favorite color?
  • What music do you like?
  • What games do you play?
  • Do you have siblings?
  • What’s your favorite subject?
  • Do you like to play sports?
  • What’s your favorite food?

You would roll through your list of questions until finally you found a topic you both agreed on.

Bam! New best friend.

A slight overstatement, but not by much. Common interest is a powerful connector.

And yet, once we grow up and have to create messaging to connect with our customers, we tend to keep the focus of topic narrow. Usually, just to where the customer’s life overlaps with our business category.

But here’s the thing, “Relationships are relationships.”

Be ye bold enough to venture outside your comfort zone and share a personal interest? Even if it has nothing to do with your business?

You might just be surprised at how much connection you’ll find.

Which raises the question, what kind of shared interests are the most profitable?

We’ll explore that next week.

– Zac Smith, VC

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Who Knew There’s Nothing New

Bill Gates wrote an essay titled; Content is King.

In part he said:

“Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.

The television revolution…spawned a number of industries, including the manufacturing of TV sets, but the long-term winners were those who used the medium to deliver information and entertainment.”

The above observation probably sounds like a no brainer to you.

You read that little excerpt and it seems so obvious, right? Of course, content is king. Look at YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. Multi-billion-dollar industries that pretty much keep us glued to the internet. Not to mention all the streaming services as well.

Here’s an interesting question: do you know when old Billy boy wrote that essay?

January of 1996.

Long before any of the mentioned content platforms were in existence.

Can Bill Gates look into the future?

No. He looked into the past.

We know so because he said, “…just as it was in broadcasting.”

There’s nothing new under the sun. Just new hair-dos on the same old situations. Again, and again, and again.

So, the next time a new opportunity or tech comes your way and you’re wondering what to do with it, just put on your look-back glasses and see what the shape of the situation reminds you of.

Then afterward everyone will hail you as a visionary genius.

Hindsight is wonderful, isn’t it?

– Zac Smith, VC

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Reciprocity for Growth

Scottish distilleries have a long tradition of reciprocity.

It’s a system by which they trade barrels of whisky back and forth between themselves to use in their blends. A cashless exchange of what each business needs based on cooperation.

It’s founded on the idea that what’s good for everybody is good for me too. They’ve leveraged it to much success, creating wonderful whiskies that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.

The distilleries win. The consumers win. Happy happy.

I noticed a similar thing in Las Vegas amongst the various hotels and resorts.

You can walk up to any bellhop in any hotel and check your bags, then go and enjoy the amenities. It doesn’t matter if you’re a guest of the hotel or not. They’re happy to serve. And when you’re done, they’ll hail a cab for you as well. All with a smile.

Why would they do that? After all, they’re paying the bellhops and doormen by the hour. Shouldn’t they limit those services to only those guests who are paying to stay in the hotel?

To that I say, what’s good for all the hotels is good for each hotel.

They’re long sighted enough to understand that if everyone chips in to make visitors to their town happy, even if they’re not making the sale today, they’ll win in the long run.

You know where else I’ve seen this?

In the world of successful small business owners.

The good ones, the ones who grow, are the ones who don’t take a zero-sum game approach. The ones who aren’t short-sighted, tight-fisted, small-minded squabblers. They do the right thing on behalf of the customer, even if they’re not making the sale today because they have faith that it’ll come back in the long run.

Successful owners realize that what’s good for everyone is good for them.

Track their arc and you’ll find a long tradition of…let’s call it…reciprocity.

– Zac Smith, VC

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Not All Hurdles are Meant to be Jumped

Why call our school Wizard Academy?

Besides some good old-fashioned origin lore, one of the real reasons we’ve kept the name is to filter who gets through our doors.

Anyone who takes themselves too seriously to go to a business school called Wizard Academy is not ready to learn the things we have to teach. Because we believe that great learning, sudden understanding, and play all share a Venn diagram overlap in our brains.

If someone is too stuffy to play then they won’t do well here. And if they don’t do well then they’ll probably be a downer for the rest of the class.

So, we’ve added this little naming hurdle. Some will jump over it, and others will self-select out.

Have we inadvertently turned away people who would’ve done well here?

Perhaps.

However, it’s a risk we’re willing to take to protect our culture.

Not all hurdles are meant to be jumped.

– Zac Smith, VC

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Better Than Filling a Need

I might be alone on this, but I’m betting not.

I love watching ads for things I already own.

I like getting excited again about the features and benefits.

I’ll also go back, sometimes, and re-read the product description, landing page, and 5-star reviews. If I happen to read a 1-star review of something I’ve purchased, I usually dismiss it as an anomaly. (As long as my experience has been good thus far.)

Why?

It makes me feel good. It scratches an innate human need. The need to confirm that I have indeed made a good decision.

Look, I’m not praising or encouraging this trait. If fact, it’s probably not desirable at all. But it exists, and it is what it is. Confirmation bias is part of being human.

So, now that we’re starting it in the face, what are you supposed to do with it?

Here’s one practical application:
You can, for example, craft a healthy follow up sequence for after someone does business with you.

This could be emails, videos, phone calls, or hand written notes, to name a few options.

The delivery method doesn’t matter near as much as the content of the follow up.

The goal is to make your follow up content reinforce your customer’s decision and further their excitement of having done business with you. Some ways of doing this are:

  • Reiterating the benefits they’re receiving.
  • Helpful how-tos.
  • New and novel ways of using your product.

None of those above options are particularly imaginative. I kept it broad because I don’t know what kind of business you’re in. If you put a little thought into it, you could come up with some really cool options.

Now, a word of warning: You can be too heavy-handed and on the nose with your follow up messaging. It’s best done in a casual, natural manner. Think real, from the heart; not platitudes.

How do you do that?

Well, unfortunately, if you don’t already know how to be authentic and subtle, I can’t teach it to you in a newsletter post. The point here is to be aware of the pitfall.

So, what’s the benefit of crafting a follow up sequence?

You’ll help nurture your average customers into advocates. And, of course, when your customers become advocates, not only will they buy more from you, they’ll also introduce you to new customers.

Your business fills a need.

Filling a need is good.

But filling a need while making people feel good about it?

Much better.

– Zac Smith, VC

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It’s Holding My World Together

Our world is held together with bolts and nuts.

We usually think of a car as a single unit. But really, it’s a few thousand individual components held together by thousands of bolts.

Bolts keep the engine, transmission, and suspension attached the frame. There are lug nuts on your tires, and bolts holding your seat down.

Around the house, bolts hold your fridge doors on, and there’s more holding the compressor in the back that keeps your food cold.

Speaking of compressors, there’s one bolted on to your home ac unit. And a bolt that secures the spinning fan on the drive shaft.

Bolts keep your lawnmower blade from flying off. And bolts keep your toilet seat attached.

We also have bolts in our brains that keep our constructs together. Oh yes, we often think of memories and the core truths that our personal world is built on as stand-alone, self-contained items.

But in reality, our minds have carefully assembled them from bits and bobs. A foundational experience here, a fleeting feeling there, a scrap of bias from off the floor; all firmly bolted together to make our inner world.

Here’s the thing, though, about bolts. We take for granted that they’ll stay bolted.

Which is a real leap of faith when you consider that the very nature of vibration and daily use loosens bolts.

Want to talk about shattering that faith? I was once driving down the highway when the front end of my car started shaking. Before I could pull over off pops my front drivers side tire. Snapped tire studs? Nope. The lug nuts had vibrated loose and rolled right off.

Guess who neurotically checks torque on their tires now? 

Which is why most things have a prescribed maintenance schedule. It’s to keep the bolts tight that hold our world together.

But what about a mental maintenance schedule? When was the last time you got to “check torque” on world views? Is it actually healthy to question everything?

To be sure, it’s not the kind of thing you can do while doom scrolling the infinite distraction. It’s the kind of thing that takes time and the long stretches of silence and solitude that have almost gone extinct. Introspection on what’s actually important to you versus what’s “supposed” to be important.

Is it worth taking the time?

Maybe. I don’t know. But I have a hunch.

As traumatic as it is to have a tire fall off while on the highway, it’s probably worse when the wheels come off a core belief.

– Zac Smith, VC

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I’m an Imposter

Imposter syndrome.

An insidious syndrome that, should you suffer from it, grows proportionate to your success.

It lurks just outside your periphery. You know, that place just past where you can see? Where you can only sense a presence?

It’s from there imposter syndrome likes to whisper behind your ear, “You don’t actually know what you’re doing. It wasn’t that special. Anyone could have done it.”

And the more success you have the more sinister the whispers. “Just wait until everyone finds out you’re a fraud.”

And if you’re reading this, silently hoping I’m about to reveal a secret weapon that banishes the vile voices, then I’m so, so sorry.

I haven’t found it yet. Thus far, all I’ve uncovered is a quieting balm to tame its tone.

Here it is:
Remember that everyone is a free moral agent and that everything you’ve built is only opt in.

You haven’t coerced anyone to give you money or attention. They have chosen to do so. Which means it doesn’t matter how talented or qualified you think you are.

What matters is that someone saw your work and decided they wanted it. Full stop.

Some will say, “Yeah, I know they like it, but it’s not as good as I want it to be.”

To that I say, “Poppycock. Fiddle-faddle.”

You’re allowed to accept that someone liked your work while simultaneously acknowledging (to yourself silently) that you can improve. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.

Don’t let imposter syndrome rain on your parade.

You worked for it. Enjoy it. Body and mind.

– Zac Smith, VC

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The Perils of Building a Tribe

Tribe building is a funny thing.

Can it be wildly effective for your business?

Absolutely yes.

Will you have to intellectually grapple with some weird concepts in order to make it work?

Absolutely yes again.

Tribe building is just like fictional world building. You have to set imaginary parameters like hierarchy (who’s in charge), mission (what are we doing), and language (how we identify outsiders from insiders).

Where the mental gymnastics start is when you remember that the participants are real world flesh and blood humans. Because building a tribe is just like fictional world building, until it isn’t.

For those of us not born natural overlords, this is when the seeds of doubt are most fertile. We’ll usually either question the morality of it, (Should I be doing this?) or we’ll question the validity of it (This won’t actually work, will it?). Or we’ll get down the road of having successfully implemented tribal marketing and suddenly be frightened at the level of fanaticism the tribe members have.

If you start going down one of those paths then pause. You should make peace with it and yourself before moving on.

Will your, or is your, tribe harming anyone or thing? You have to ask this because, often, a key point of tribal marketing is what you stand against. As long as what you’re standing against isn’t causing harm, then proceed with a clear conscience.

But what about imposter syndrome? What if I’m grappling with my own success?

Ah, an excellent question.

And one we can talk about next week.

– Zac Smith, VC

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