Advertising Doesn’t Work

Fill a room with small business owners and ask if they’ve ever tried advertising.
Most will give you some version of, “I tried it once. It doesn’t work.”
They’re right. In fact, there are lots of ways advertising doesn’t work.
Run a short-term test and advertising doesn’t work.
Run ads sporadically and advertising doesn’t work.
Buy reach without repetition and advertising doesn’t work.
Don’t have a dedicated budget and advertising doesn’t work.
If your message isn’t relevant advertising doesn’t work.
If no one wants what you’re selling advertising doesn’t work.
Say the same thing as your competitors and advertising doesn’t work.
Don’t do what you promised and advertising doesn’t work.
Have sucky sales and service and advertising doesn’t work.
Have a broken business model and advertising doesn’t work.
So, yeah, It’s true.
Advertising doesn’t work.
– Zac Smith, VC

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Half the Dose, None of the Benefits

Marketing strategies that work for large corporations don’t work for small businesses.
In fact, attempted implementation can even put a small business out of business.
Want an example?
Media Mix.
So we’re all on the same page, media mix is defined as running your advertising on multiple types of media. To name the most common, it includes things like:
– Newspaper
– Radio
– Television
– Billboards
– Digital
– Email
– Direct mail
– Social media
Each type of media has a minimum effective dose. Any amount of spend or exposure less than the minimum and you might as well have flushed your money down the toilet. (I hear that in Australia if you do less than the minimum your money goes down in the opposite direction.)
For example, it is regarded that the minimum effective dose of ibuprofen is 200mg.  But what if I only have a little headache? Can’t I just take 100mg?
No. That’s not how it works. It’s called the “minimum effective dose” for a reason. Any less and you’ve still paid to take the drug but with none of the benefits.
Now, what does minimum effective dose and media mix have to do with small business?
As a small business, you probably can’t afford to maintain the minimum effective dose on multiple media channels.
This is not any kind of failure of the small business owner. It’s just the facts.
So, what’s to be done?
As a small business, choose one media and do it well. Then, as your business grows and you can afford to add a media channel, add it. But do so without dropping the first media.
Eventually, you won’t be a small business anymore, and you’ll have the “media mix” you always heard so much about.
– Zac Smith, VC

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For Why the Workforce Scarcity

Hard to get good help?
People just don’t want to work anymore, you know? Rather stay home and suckle the government’s teat, am I right?
No, that’s not right. And if you were shaking your head yes to the above, then you’re probably not going to like what’s next.
Hiring staff is going to keep getting harder for…well…only the rest of your working life.
And no, it’s not because people are lazy and just want to stay home.
2020 was a landmark year in workforce numbers.
Yeah, the pandemic happened, but that’s not actually what I’m referring to. What happened in 2020?
I was listening to the Empire Builders podcast, hosted by my friends Stephen Semple and David Young, when I learned this. In 2020 the number of people leaving the workforce was about equal to the number of people entering the workforce. (Workforce equilibrium)
That’s the first time in 70 years that’s happened. Historically, every year, there are more new workers entering than the number leaving.
Did the pandemic cause this phenomenon? No, it didn’t. I’ll give you this, though, the pandemic might have caused that tipping point to happen a little bit sooner. But it was going to happen anyway.
Tipping point?
Oh yeah, did I not mention?
The 2020 workforce numbers were not a one-off pandemic fluke. It was a tipping point. Because of birth rates, for the next 30-40 years the gap of workforce entering vs. leaving will widen. That is, in the direction of, more will leave than will enter. (This is a Western problem. The East has its own set of issues.)
Which means the “shortage” of employees isn’t going away. Instead, it’s going to get worse.
What does this mean for the small business owner?
Two new business superpowers will emerge. I would start getting good at both.
1.     The ability to attract and retain employees.
2.     Automation.
Hiring and keeping employees has always been important, but selection favored the employer. With more workers than available jobs, the last 70 years has kept power in the business owner’s hand. (Employees should be grateful to even have a job. So no complaining about workplace conditions.)
That’s getting turned on its head. Employers will need to be exceedingly grateful to have employees. Any kind of employee, not just the good ones.
If you’re a business owner, does the above paragraph irritate you?
If it does, don’t worry. Everything is cyclical. At some point, the power will shift back to employers. Until then, though, there’s no point whining about it. Be for what is and figure out how to attract and keep employees.
Automation will also play a key role in your future ability to scale. Even if you’re good at keeping employees, you’ll likely still need to utilize robotics and AI.
The good news?
We’re just now starting to feel the pinch. Which means not being good at the above two skills is not a deal breaker…yet.
This is the early warning.
Use the time left to plan, implement, and overtake your sleepy competitors.
– Zac Smith, VC

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Befriending The Wolf

Can you turn your creativity on and off like a switch?

If you can, then you are blessed beyond belief.

For the rest of us, creativity feels like a wild thing. 

It’s not a dog to be called when we need it. It’s rather more like befriending a wolf. Elusive in nature. Fickle in affections. 

If your work is creativity based, then this can be all the more maddening.

What do you do when your creativity dries up?

Shake your fists? Pull out your hair? Bargain with the heathen gods?

Stop, my friend. Put your clothes back on, drop the knife, and release the goat. Instead, allow me to tell you about the nature of wolves.

All wolves love a den. 

Four cozy walls. A safe place to lay down. Contrary to what you’d expect, it’s the constraint that calls the wolf home. 

What does this have to do with creativity?

I’ll speak plainly. 

Creativity thrives under constraint. It is the unusual circumstances that breed the most creative solutions.

But what if you don’t have constraints? Nothing standing in your way. Just a blank sheet of paper and the directive, “Be creative.” What then?

In those situations, it’s best to adopt artificial constraints. Creative handcuffs. Arbitrary rules by which to play.

These can come in many forms. Here are just a few examples:

  • Style limits – color, shape, texture
  • Time limits – due dates, stopwatches, maximum time on a step 
  • Dollar limits – spend less, hit an exact budget, spend more 
  • Personnel limits – less people, more people, exact number of people
  • Location limits – do it local, do it global, do it in two locations concurrent

Another thing I know of wolves. They love to play keep away. The harder you chase the more gleeful their evasion. 

Don’t chase your creativity. 

Call it home with a cozy den of constraints.

– Zac Smith, VC 

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Nobody Will Buy Your Job

Here’s a quick and dirty tip for this week.
There’s been some buzz and money around the merger and acquisition (M&A) of small and medium-sized businesses.
If you’re a small business owner and you’re thinking about cashing out, keep this in mind.
If your business cannot run without you, then you don’t have a business, you have a job. And investors don’t want to buy your job. They want to buy a business capable of standing on its own.
Yes, you may have business assets that someone might want to buy. (Like equipment, real estate, or client lists.) But that would be an asset-only deal and you won’t get the payday you’re hoping for with one of those.
As it happens, the criteria for a sellable business are the same as for a business you can retire with.
If your business cannot run without you and someday you might want to retire or sell, then take this as your nudge.
Start building processes and systems, and make some key hires.
– Zac Smith, VC

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My Brain is So Smart It’s Stupid, Part 2

In the last article, I talked about how my brain has a panache for disposing of useful or important information. (click here to read it)

Then, and this is where perfectionism comes in, when I need it, I can’t remember the info in its exact correctness. 

The result is I either put off doing something because I know it’ll take too long to go find the exact information I need. Or, I go searching for the details and the delay derails momentum.

I’ve come up with my own 2 step system for dealing with this. And, as promised, I’m going to share it with you now. 

Step 1: Generalize the info.

This hurts in the perfectionism department and is the compromise. You’re giving up accuracy in exchange for being rememberable. 

When it comes to figures, round to the closest memorable number.

Step 2: Tie the generalized info to a binary action.

What does binary action mean? You’re either going to do something or not. It’s yes or no. On or off. One or zero.

These steps are best demonstrated with an example. Let’s use the landing page conversion statistics from last week.

Here are the specific statistics for e-commerce conversions. The most recent data tells us that:

  • The average landing page converts at around 2.35%. 
  • The sites in the top 25% convert at 5.31% and above.
  • And landing pages in the top 10% convert at 11.45% and up.

Now, let’s apply step 1 to these statistics and generalize. 

Let’s say I’m using these numbers to analyze my or someone else’s conversion rates. First, I’m going to simplify it to only the top two numbers and forget about the “average” statistic. (Because, after all, if you’re only pulling average then something needs improved.) 

  • Landing pages in the top 25% convert at 5.31% and above.
  • Landing pages in the top 10% convert at 11.45% and above.

Now, I’m going to round to the closest memorable number. Which means 5.31% becomes 5%, and 11.45% becomes 10%.

All I have to remember is 5% and 10%. 

But what do those numbers mean?

I don’t know, or won’t be able to remember, until I do step 2. Tie the generalized info to a binary action.

Let’s work from the top down with a focus on growth.

  • If the landing page is converting at 10% or better, stop optimizing. It’s only going to improve marginally and my time is probably best spent elsewhere.
  • Conversion between 5%-10% is good. Optimize until it’s over 10%.
  • Conversion of 5% or less, get help. There’s large room for improvement, so either study up or bring in an expert. 

Is it a perfect system? Not at all. It definitely has some inherent flaws. But in exchange for those flaws, I get two things. 

1.     It helps me remember things in a usable format.

2.     It helps me move quickly through decision making.

This brain “hack” won’t work for everyone. But if it does work for you, let me know. 

Or better yet, share what “hacks” and systems you use.

– Zac Smith, VC 

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My Brain is So Smart It’s Stupid

Ok, I’m about to talk about a very specific cross section of brain functions. If this doesn’t resonate with you, no worries.

The cross section is right where overzealous signal suppression and perfectionism meet. I’ll explain.

The brain only processes and saves information that will be useful at a later date. And it allows the rest to pass by unnoticed. How?

As of 2019, MIT neuroscientists identified the brain circuit that helps us do that. The prefrontal cortex controls this circuit. It filters out unwanted background noise and distracting stimuli.

This is the signal suppression. Every healthy brain does this. It’s part of what makes our brains so smart. Until they’re not.

My brain seems to have an over eager efficiency. A panache for disposing of useful or important information. Then, and this is where perfectionism comes in, when I need it, I can’t remember the info in its exact correctness. And that bothers me. Because the details matter.

The result is I either put off doing something because I know it’ll take too long to go find the exact information I need. Or, I go searching for the details and the delay derails momentum.

I’ll give you an example.

Here’s some specific, useful information if you’re analyzing e-commerce conversions. The most recent data tells us that:

  • The average landing page converts at around 2.35%. 
  • The sites in the top 25% convert at 5.31% and above.
  • And landing pages in the top 10% convert at 11.45% and up.

That’s some very helpful, highly specific, information. 

Now, let a couple of months pass. Then, in the moment that info would be useful, it’ll be on the tip of my tongue. (quite frustrating) Just vague enough to stop me from utilizing it.

What can you do? Is there a brain hack for this?

I’ve come up with my own 2 step system for dealing with this. It’s not perfect, it requires a compromise, but it does work.

I’m going to share it with you, except not in this article. (It’s getting too long.)

Click HERE for Part 2, where I’ll share the system with you.

– Zac Smith, VC 

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Bit Parts Are Profitable Rolls

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”
– William Shakespeare, 1599 in “As You Like It,” act 2, scene 7

Old Billy boy wrote that over four hundred years ago. And do you know what?
If we change just one word in the quote, it’s some of the greatest marketing advice ever given.
Know which word?
It’s “a.”
Swap “a” for “my.”
Do it, and you get, “All the world’s my stage, and all the men and women merely players.”
That is the perspective every person alive holds in their mind. Each of us is the star of our own movie. Everyone else? They’re merely players.
Once you accept that premise, it makes marketing that much easier.
Yes, you and I each get our own movie. But we’re also acting our part in everyone else’s movie.
Concerning your potential customers, you should be asking yourself this question:
What percentage of their movie do I act in?
There are three important categories.
Category One: The Vast Majority of Humankind
For this swath of people, the percentage of their movie that includes you is 0%.
You don’t get a part. You never show up in their script. So, don’t worry about them or what they think.
Category Two: The People You Interact with or Have Had an Effect On
The number of people in this category changes. (Depending on who you are and how far your influence reaches.) However, even if you’ve had an effect on a lot of people, the percentage of their movie that includes you is still very small.
Yes, you show up in the script. But the part you play is, at most, a bit part.
This category of people is where most of your customers come from.
That being the case, if you only have a bit part in their movie, how will you interact with them? Who will be the “star” in your advertising?
If you want success, it won’t be about you. Instead, you’ll make it about them; the star of their movie.
Category Three: Close Friends and Family
We could call this the main cast. You have more than a small role in their movie.
But guess what? You’re still not the star of their show. You’re a supporting actor.
When it comes to your success in business, this category of people is important. They’re your main support and cheerleaders. So, treat them like the stars they are.
As an entrepreneur or small business owner, your company plays a large role in your movie. In fact, it’s a principal piece of the plot. But for your customers? Bit part.
Never forget that.
Make them the star of the show and they’ll make you a lot of money.
– Zac Smith, VC

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11 Nuggets from People Smarter Than Me

I get to hang around a lot of smart business people.
Whenever I hear one of these people say something insightful, I write it down.
I’ve amassed a collection of these wise crumbs and leavings.
As a 2022 look back, here are eleven things from my storeroom. I present them to you in no particular order.
·      To write recruitment ads, have an eye-catching title. Then make it about how you’re going to feel about working for the company, and not about the company itself.
·      You can’t implement a plan without having a plan.
·      Relevance and Repetition are the two ingredients for involuntary automatic recall. The formula is Relevance X Repetition = Recall.
·      In radio, reach without repetition is worthless. Always buy repetition first and add reach as you can afford it.
·      Once you’ve got momentum, don’t give up the momentum. If you’re going to add a radio station, add it. Don’t drop one to add another one. So, once you have a station that you’re advertising on, if you ever believed in it, keep believing in it.
·      When presenting new ideas to Sensing Types, present your idea Historically and Incrementally.
·      Are you still and/or have you yet? This question style warrants a response. Getting them to respond to your email increases your email deliverability.
·      Market size has a dramatic effect on the strategy your business uses in the present and near future. Think of market size as a roadmap that you can reference to get to your destination.
·      Every inexperienced marketing consultant wants to point out what the business is doing wrong. It’s glaringly obvious. A wise consultant enters looking for what they’re doing right and then praises them for what they actually do well; and builds an ad campaign on that.
·      When dealing with consumer goods, 80% of your customers are female. Even if the end user is male, it’s the females who find you and point your product to the end user.
·      Three questions that every website needs to answer: Who’s on the site? What do you want them to do? And what do they need to know in order to do that thing that you want them to do?
Thanks for making this year better than it would have been without you.
– Zac Smith, VC

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A Pane in the Glass

“Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are.”

“Birds of a feather flock together.”

Ever hear these sayings? How about this one?

“Tell me what you celebrate and I’ll tell you what’s important to you.”

Put all these words of wisdom together and what do you get?

A window into your soul.

What you celebrate and who you celebrate with announces to the world who you are and what’s important to you.

Now, what if I told you that the window is not an ordinary window, but a magic one? 

Well, it is. Each pane of glass has a different power.

The past pane shows you what you used to celebrate and who you used to celebrate with. 

You can gather important insights here. However, a word of caution. This view comes with a disclaimer: past performance does not guarantee future results. Or in other words, for better or worse, there are aspects of our past that can never be recreated.

The present pane is more like a mirror and it’ll show your current state. (Who you are and what’s important to you.)

But what if you’re unhappy with what you see? Then you must change your view, which you can do with the future pane.

The future pane is foggy but editable. Which means you can change who you’re with and what you celebrate until you’re happy with the view. And changes made in the future pane have the power to reach back to the present pane and change who you are. 

Yet, most people never make these changes, even if they’re unhappy with their current view.


Because the future pane is scary.

Past pane is done and over with, even if there are still residual effects. And the present pane is livable. Even if we’re not happy with it, we at least know what we’re looking at and how to deal with it. 

But the future pane? The pane of change is unknown. The view cloudy. And that uncertainty scares us. 

So, what’s the remedy?

Talk to those who were bold enough to make changes to their future window pane. And do you know what they’ll say?

Growing pains are temporary and never as bad as we imagine. And wow. The view from here is fantastic. 

– Zac Smith, VC

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Gag Me Now

I react viscerally to certain advertising tropes.
So, preemptively, I’m going to say sorry now in case I rant too hard. (You’ve been warned and apologized to. No whining if you keep reading.)
One of the worst advertising offenses – and a special focus of my ire – is any version of, “We are locally owned and operated.”
Sweet Jesus, what is wrong with you people? (Not you. I like you. I mean the people who advertise that they’re local.)
Anytime I see it I think, “You used your budget to say that? I mean, of all the things you could have said, that was what you spent your money on? Huh. How’s that working out for you?”
Here’s what’s wrong with it and why I push back so hard.
First, never say what the customer can easily figure out for themselves.
We can all tell you’re locally owned. Don’t worry, we were never going to confuse you with a national chain.
But wait, what if it’s a locally owned franchise of a national chain?
Then shame on you for even trying to claim local. It might be true but you don’t get to say that. You made your bed with corporate; sleep in it. Snuggling in the sheets of “locally owned” is not an option for you.
Second, no one cares.
Why would I spend money to talk about something my audience doesn’t even care about?
Now, there are lots of things said in advertising that the customer doesn’t actually care about. So, why push back on this one?
Because, there’s a sizable group who believe in their hearts that people care about shopping local. But I’m here to tell you it’s not true. At least, not in a way that matters.
The general populace does not care enough about supporting small businesses to shop locally if it in any way is inconvenient.
But what about the people who actually do care about shopping local?
There’s just not enough of them to make a difference.
But people do shop local! You’re telling me that’s not happening?
I’m not saying that. It is happening. They just don’t care that you’re local. If they’re shopping with you, it’s because you’re better, cheaper, more convenient, or all three.
It’s not because you’re local. So, don’t talk about it in your messaging. Instead, talk about the things that actually matter to your customer.
Rant. Over.
– Zac Smith, VC

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I’m Not Having Fun Anymore

Do you know how to spot the tell-tale sign of a relationship destined to fail?

I have a theory.

You can spot it long before resentment sets in. Long before communication breaks down. Long before apathy.

It happens right before the obvious signs of frustration and complaining. It’s subtle.

It’s when someone’s not having fun anymore.  

You’ll see it in their eyes. Aspects of the relationship become boxes needing checked off a to-do list. 

Whereas it used to be steps forward on a grand adventure, now it’s perfunctory. 

You could apply this to personal relationships. But that’s not actually what I had in mind. 

Rather, I was thinking about your relationship with your job.

Are you having fun at work?

If so, awesome! 

And so we’re clear, just because you’re having fun doesn’t mean it’s not challenging work. In fact, those two things often go hand in hand. 

But what if you’re not having fun? Is this the beginning of the end?

It doesn’t have to be unless you want it to be.

If at one point you had a zest for your work you can find it again. 


That’s for you to soul search and figure out.

I was simply checking in.

– Zac Smith, VC 

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