Brian Wallace, the Founder of NowSourcing, talks about finding your niche, the importance of using storytelling in your marketing, and how to network like a pro to win more business.
If you’re ready for no-nonsense advice, this week’s guest does not disappoint. Brian Wallace is the Founder and President of NowSourcing, an industry-leading infographic design agency whose clients range from startups to Fortune 500 companies.
In this episode, Brian shares insights we can all learn from through the lens the infographics niche. He also touches on the importance of storytelling, company culture, and the right questions to ask when interviewing potential employees. We discuss:
- Why the tendency to say “yes” to every client is undermining your profitability
- Why finding and focusing on your niche can be the best thing for your business
- The key thing most companies don’t understand about workplace culture—and how to hire people who’ll move your company forward
- How to hone your networking skills by leveraging your personal brand
Listen to the podcast here:
Download the audio file here.
How to Harness the Art of Storytelling to Grow Your Business with Brian Wallace [Transcript]
I’m very excited about our guest speaking about no-nonsense advice. Who is better suited than Brian Wallace? Brian is the Founder and President of NowSourcing, an industry-leading infographic design agency based in Lewisville, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio who works with companies that range from startups to Fortune 500 companies. He also has his own podcast, Next Action. It’s all about how we can be more intentional and go from mediocre to great. If you are on LinkedIn, you probably got to know Brian a little bit about his posts and about the events he does all over the country.
In our interview, Brian shares his story about how he got started and how he’s focusing on infographics, how infographics play a role in today’s age of marketing and content creation, how you need to focus on your business and focus on winning the war because the people that win the war are the people that write history. We spoke about the importance of company culture and Brian shared his secrets about the interviewing process and the first few questions he ask. We also spoke about employees if you want to grow in your career within a company, how to make sure you’re aligned with your company’s vision and how you are able to provide value. We also spoke about the importance of networking in general and then how to prepare for trade show for your company. Without further ado, here is my interview with Brian.
Brian Wallace, thank you so much for joining me on the show.
Meny, it is a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me on. I appreciate the opportunity.
We have been communicating and seeing each other’s content in the virtual world and LinkedIn. It’s a pleasure to speak to you live and bring a lot of your knowledge and wisdom to our audience. Your story is fascinating. I would love to get started by telling the audience a little bit more about your business and how you got started in that business.
The modern-day version of my business is called NowSourcing, which we started many years ago. It did not start that way. It is now infographics and infographic campaigns. They get people lots of press. Before that, very early on we were a social media agency. Imagine trying to explain why do you use media for business to businesses in 2006. It was the Wild West back then. It was absolutely crazy. My background prior to getting a lot of the art and science and left and right brain of marketing was rooted in technology. I worked for the better part of the last decade before starting my own business as a technologist. I felt like I was trapped in technology. I felt like the world did not yet value creative technologists and people who knew how to speak and people who knew how to elaborate a lot of tech. Sometimes people are furiously coding at the computer and they’re too scared to go talk to people and that’s not me. I feel like in many years of my professional journey, I found the space that I truly enjoy and it’s my highest utility to serve others.
Let’s dive in a little bit more on understanding the psychology behind infographics in general.
A lot of marketers point at a bunch of numbers that if you think about it, don’t make a lot of sense. Some marketers will tell you, “You have about 2.7 seconds before somebody bounces off your page and they might bounce away forever.” Other people tell you that humans have a less attention span than a goldfish, which is eight seconds or so. Here’s the problem with this. We’re so weak brained in the modern age in 2019 that we can’t think beyond 2.7 seconds. We can’t think beyond eight seconds. How is it that a whole bunch of people in the world will sit there on Netflix and go watch Stranger Things 3 and binge-watch an entire season for hours on end? It’s not that we don’t have the attention spans. It’s that we have a BS filter in our minds saying, “There’s so much junk on the internet.”
There are so many things competing for our time for our eyeballs. Even if you’re going to the gas station, there’s a screen. If you go up on elevator, there’s a screen. If you go on Spotify, there’s a bunch of commercials. Everywhere we go, there are sponsored things. There’s regular content that’s not sponsored. There’s so much stuff everywhere and everything can’t be quality. The power of what we do with infographics, which is tapping the left and right brain, pleasure centers, lizard brain, all those kinds of things. It’s going to stand out from the noise to get into the longer form attention span that people have when they reward the things that are good, that speaks to them.People don't like to follow a brand without transparency, heart, and education. Click To Tweet
Is it because of the nature of infographs or once you start paying attention? Maybe it’s something that it’s not the obvious and all of a sudden you’re hooked and then you’re reading until the end.
I’m not going to say that infographics are the only thing that gets people’s attention. For us, an infographic is a very visual way to represent too much information. The brain can’t process all the information that’s out there. Every year that goes by, we create more stuff on the internet than all of human history combined or something crazy like that. I always see those kinds of stats out there. An infographic is one of many kinds of things that could work to serve as a delivery vehicle to organize information that the brain can understand it better. The brain appreciates a good story, especially when it’s visual. People know the famous phrase that a picture is worth a thousand words. Imagine what we can do with an infographic. It’s not just a picture. It’s an entire beginning, middle and end story. It’s a funnel. It’s got charts, graphs and all sorts of nice fonts to it. There’s a lot of information going on there that if you don’t just skim through it but read it cover to cover almost like a book, you could be talking about five minutes of information there or more.
In Ptex, we do a lot of branding and marketing initiatives. When I look at infographics, I look at it as when you do an ad campaign or whatever you do, you weren’t trying to grab attention. You’re trying to get people’s attention towards a message. When you put out an infograph about your business, about the current state of business, about a particular industry, whatever it is, all you’re doing is educating and subconsciously you’re putting yourself out there that you’re the educator. That’s how I see it. Is that correct?
That’s part of it. We can go a little bit further and deeper to the subconscious mind to the point where you could rewire the person’s thought process about an entire industry, opinions, a product or service and almost make it like it’s their idea to share. If you look at either end of a timeline or either end of a diagram or line graph, on one side you would have pure marketing, which is much more subtle on psychology and social thing. The other side would be much more on paid advertising. Over time I feel like people are more and more resisting paid advertising unless it’s well done. People like to share things with brands that try to reach them where they are. People don’t like to follow a brand without transparency, without heart, without education.
To build on the point that you’re saying before, think of it like this. The people who win the wars get to write the history books. If you are the one who is educating about an industry, you are buying into a lot of trust. That’s not an evil laugh that I’m saying. I’m saying that this is an opportunity that people don’t try to think about their content well enough. “Let’s make a bunch of content and throw the ads on it and let’s make content and more content.” Sometimes I tell people, “Calm down, make better content and make less of it as opposed to chopping up the little pieces of garbage.”
What’s the proper use case for a small business owner of a mid-size company if they want to tap into this type of marketing?
Let’s tell a little story. Years ago, there was a painting company that came to us. Imagine a company that paints your house, paints your office, that kind of thing. You know the phrase like watching paint dry? Paint is not exciting. This is a super not sexy industry as opposed to alcohol, spirits, apparel, sports, music, all those kinds of things that are much more exciting. We had our work cut out for us and they said, “We hear that you’re great at this whole infographic thing. Go make it explode for my business.” We said, “Owners of this painting company, tell us about what you do.” Then they proceeded to be boring and say, “We have our guys and they use great paints, they know the right brush strokes and they’re insured.” People always like to skip to the solution. If you are selling a product or service, you don’t just go sit there and read all the ingredients on the label. That’s boring. Rather than going into all the details, education is so important. Rather than going into all the details, we said, “Stop. We have a better idea.
Let’s educate people about color psychology.” We did a whole piece about the psychology of color that’s been seen millions and millions of times. It was featured in National Geographic, anybody who has anything to do with color consulting, real estate people, mom blogs, you name it. It’s constantly shared by the millions all over Pinterest and all over social. It got this company ridiculous amounts of fame. What’s interesting to dive deeper is people have come to this company and they said, “Not only am I going to buy from you and recommend you, but you taught me that if I paint an office blue, it’s going to ensure more productivity from the people at it.” Where do you get marketing like that? You’re not going to get that thing from an ad until you teach people and then you trust them. Everybody oversells and it’s so unnecessary in today’s world. That’s not what people are looking for. It’s quite the opposite.
I interviewed Bob Burg, which is the author of The Go-Giver. We spoke about the concept of giving and creating value for the person and then ultimately the money will follow, which is exactly this. The more content you put out there and you educate them like the story you shared with the painter, ultimately, a person gets connected to a brand way before he buys the service.
The buyer’s journey lasts a long time before they talk to you. They’re talking about you. They’re seeing who’s talking about you. Jeff Bezos is famous for saying that your brand and your reputation is what people are saying about you when you’re not in the room. Everybody who knows what they’re doing is very much like what Bob and the go-giver mentality speaks about. That’s an ethos that you should adopt. I would go so far to say if that’s not your default, you probably shouldn’t be in business because it will come out that you are self-centered, self-serving, egotistical and you’re not in it to help others. That’s not a proper way of life.
Where will the company use it? Is it the website? Is it social? Is it a one-time thing? Are you getting in the habit of doing it? Walk us through like a typical client of yours. Where do they use it?
I don’t have a typical client. I have typical clients. I have a lot of different clusters because we serve everyone around the world. A lot of people say, “How do you make money? You just do one thing. That’s stupid.” The world rewards people who are great at a narrow band of things. We serve everybody from the solopreneur to multi-hundred billion-dollar companies and everybody in between. A lot of people will use this either on their website as let’s say a blog post or a landing page and then we get all the media attention on it to point back to them. Let’s say you have a large company and you’re trying to communicate something internal that’s not appropriate for outside. They might want it on their intranet.
Other people will use it as slide decks. Maybe you have a startup that’s looking for more funding so they could drop it up and do it like that. Some people chop up isolated images and put it in social. Other people put it out in email newsletters. Let’s say if they have trade show booths or speaking engagements or physical presence, a lot of them will take a life-size version of the infographic and make it a pop-up retractable banner. Those things are cool. There’s something special about the physical that the web doesn’t exactly address. We’ve done in-store displays and product packaging at different events. We have done huge canvas banners. My clients always surprise me. There’s always some crazy requests, PDF reports, you name it.
What I like about the stuff like this is when you have a small company and they’re starting to hire another salesperson, another people in the office and so on and so forth, it’s sometimes so hard to give your own people talking points about the industry, about the company. When you have something like this to read, think about a trade show, you can point a finger on some statistics and then make that the opener of a good conversation. I bet you that conversation is going further than saying, “We do this X, Y and Z.”
I don’t have to tell anybody “We do this X, Y and Z.” Everybody tells me what I do. That’s the power of it. We’re all inbound. We’re not outbound. We don’t do cold calling. I’ll present, get on podcasts, go to some trade shows and stuff, but everything is word of mouth, by referral. It’s a web back to us as NowSourcing and what I like to call the “Cult of Brian” because I do a lot of personal branding and things like that on LinkedIn. People enjoy following along with me and it’s interesting what you said about trade shows. I’ve seen a few clients where they will take the trade show banner as I said. I’ve watched potential customers sit there and stare at this infographic that’s the size of a person. They’ll take pictures of it. I’ve watched their trade show representative. People say, “Do you need some help?” The person will say, “Stop bothering me. I’m trying to read the infographic.” It’s powerful.
I want to ask you a very important question that our audience will appreciate including myself. I got to know you a little bit and to see your style and see your journey. You probably have throughout the years so much different opportunities where you could expand your services and you kept it narrow. This is something a lot of business owners are struggling with on a daily basis when an opportunity knocks on your door every single day. What is your take on it? Is it always narrow? Is it sometimes expansion? I would love to get your insight of how you approach this.
This is one of my most favorite questions. Thank you for bringing this up. I go against the grain from other stupid advice you’ve probably heard before. I’m not picking on people, but there is a tendency, especially in the first six months to a year or two of your business, to say yes to everything. How can we refuse money? What I’ve found over the years is you will shake apart trying to be everything to everyone. When everybody says, “I’m full-service,” I cringe because I know that it’s probably a lie. If I’m the top-rated infographic company in the United States, how could you be the best at infographics if I’m already doing that? On top of that, everybody’s going to do SEO, pay-per-click, landing pages, sword-juggling and whatever else.Company structure, benefits, salary, and perks may be irrelevant if you do not understand how to get people to your door properly. Click To Tweet
“I’ll cook you breakfast and I’ll make toaster ovens.” Let’s be realistic. There’s only so much we can be good at, especially if we’re starting out. Maybe it’s just us in the basement. Maybe it’s us plus a contractor. Maybe you’re a small team of 2 to 100. Unless you have tens of thousands of people working for you, if you’re Google or something like that, go for it. Be everything to everybody, but be realistic. If you’re not over-delivering value in an economy which we may be in for a major correction soon, why will people hire you if you’re not even good? Is that honest to try to defraud people of their money? You’re going to say, “Sure, we can do that,” and you quickly say, “Team, let’s learn it.” That’s not fair. You’re doing a disservice to the clients that won’t come back and you’re doing a disservice for your team, which you’re going to have to fire.
You’re doing a disservice for yourself. Have an honest conversation with yourself in the mirror and say, “What do I want to be the best at today?” In the early days, I thought about continuing on with technology, but I wanted to pivot more into marketing. As we got more into social, I saw more and more companies trying to do many different things. People would come to us with every crazy thing, “Can you build a website? Can you do a landing page? Can you do reputation management? Can you do this? Can you do that?” Nobody wants to walk away from money, but eventually around 2008 I said, “Team, we can’t do this anymore. We’re going to do infographics. I see this is the wave of the future.” It focuses on our key strengths, which at the time we’re good at storytelling. We’re good at design and we’re good at making waves in press and virality. It was a perfect fit. We were very early and there was a handful of people in the world doing it. We stepped right in and helped to make it an industry.
Let me ask a followup question. Is there an exception to this rule? Is there a place where a person would say, “I need to offer more services” or “I’m getting too narrow. I’m getting overshadowed by a competitor that offer multiple services?”
It makes sense if the services are complementary. If you’re going to do website building, maybe you also want to have copywriters write the content. Rather than saying, “I’m only going to do copywriting,” because sometimes you might go into a blue ocean, which is a new market opportunity, but the problem that a lot of people don’t realize is sometimes they might go so narrow, there’s no market. You have to test the waters to gauge appropriately, “Is this something that is viable as an actual business or is this a hobby that’s never going to make any money?”
This is a very valuable point. I remember I interviewed Brian Scudamore of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? I asked him a very similar question which was, “You have 1-800-GOT-JUNK? You have the moving company and the painting company, different franchise.” He said, “People forget that I worked solo on 1-800-GOT-JUNK? for over twenty years before I was able to move to the next venture.”
Everybody is an overnight success, but the problem is that takes ten years. Malcolm Gladwell has popularized the 10,000-hour rule, which if you do the math usually is ten years or if you work day and night for twenty hours a day, it might be a little shorter.
Thank you for sharing your opinion about this because sometimes we didn’t even scratch the surface of the industry we are in, and then we’re already paying attention to some new opportunity that’s maybe knocking on our door that maybe a customer asked us to do.
The customer is going to ask. They don’t know your level of expertise. We’re all posturing pretending we’re all experts yet we don’t know anything. It’s the blind leading the blind and that can backfire in a way. Your reputation in business is everything because everyone is a media company, everybody has reviews, everybody has feedback, people are talking about you and that’s it. If you are not going to be ethical, honest and deliver things that are great, what are you doing?
Let’s speak about a favorite topic and I know some of our people at PTtex have gone to events where you exhibited with your company. It sounds like you have a great culture. I’ve seen a lot of the stuff that you put out online where you showcase how important business company culture is to you. What is your take in company culture? Most people feel that company culture means more expenses for the company. How do you address that? Second of all, how do you see a direct result by having a great culture?
Let’s go with the first one. Culture doesn’t mean that you give people popcorn and drinks and snacks and you have the pizza outing and all of that as opposed to benefits or whatever. Regardless of where the office is, what it looks like, what the benefits are, what the salary is, what the perks are, how you have your teams structured, if you use contractors, if you use interns, if you used full-time people, whatever it is. All of that is irrelevant because people don’t understand how to get people in the door properly. I’m going to cheat a little bit here and tell you a little bit about my interview process. When people come in the door, whatever position there coming in for, it doesn’t matter.
I usually have the same starter questions. I say, “What do you know about us? Why us? There are a million places you can apply. Tell me something you know about what we do in business. Tell me a project we did recently. Tell me a client we have.” Within the first three minutes, if they suck at those questions, I’m done with that interview. I might be polite and finish it for a little bit. That person has no interest in what we do and I know that they might be okay technically or even great technically, but probably the second they walk in the door, they’re going to be on Indeed.com looking for the next job as three-quarters of the workforce is anyway. If you can’t build enough culture that vibrates externally that people can go find all your breadcrumb paths, you’re going to have a crappy force. They’re going to conflict with the people in there. They’re going to poison your culture and have better ideas and not get along with people. It’s a mess.
I love the question. I love how you approach it. We have a similar process even online. One of the questions is, “Why Ptex?” I sometimes want to see how much homework they did on the company before they submit a resume. From your perspective, when you say that within a few minutes you’ll see where they are, what is it? What signals are this giving you? Is it giving you signals that they are interviewing in many places or there’s not a passion towards what your company does?
It’s not even one or the other. It shows inattentiveness and lack of detail. It means they’re going to be a bad fit for my job. We’re a very creative and nimble agency. If they want to follow a bunch of bullet points and checkboxes, go work for corporate America. “Get out of here. We’re not going to tell you everything to do. You’re going to learn by doing. We’re going to throw you right in to some of the most challenging projects in the world where people expect very demanding things from us.” That’s what it comes down to.
How would you define a healthy culture in general? What is a healthy culture in your mind?
There’s a wonderful book by Jim Collins called Good To Great. Not to ruin the book for everybody, but this is a well-defined point about culture. He talks about how most companies, to endure and be great and ensure greatness through the generations, they get everybody on the bus, meaning all the workers that are in the company, and then they go and drive. The problem with that is you drive yourself off a cliff. Not that we’re wishing that on people, but you understand. It’s going to be a wreck. It’s going to be horrible because there’s going to be all of these interpersonal conflict problems and all the stuff that people don’t want to deal with and egos. All these things happen. People leave angrily, morale, horrible. All these things don’t make any sense.
Here’s what he says to do. First, you get the wrong people off the bus. There are people that can poison your company. It could even be one person that doesn’t get along with people. It causes all sorts of problems. It’s not that a person is wrong if they speak up or have a difference of opinion. You’ll see it. If somebody is poison to your organization, you’ll know it real quick. Sometimes the wrong people need to get off the bus. Then we get the right people on the bus. The right hiring like Meny and I do. We pick the right kinds of questions that we can gauge a person’s ability to answer accurately and see how interested they are. Interest is more important than all of the skills that we think, where they went to school and what their GPA is and their history of where they worked. Who cares? If you work ten years somewhere, I don’t care. Maybe you just sat there on your butt for ten years treading water. It doesn’t mean you’re good. It doesn’t mean you’re innovative. It might mean the opposite. It’s not young or old or this or that. It’s let’s see what the person did in their career evolution. Get the wrong people off the bus, get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats and then together we figure out where the bus is going. I feel like if you don’t have that, you don’t have a culture.
What you mentioned from Jim Collins’ book, the right seat on the bus is also equally important. Sometimes you could hire a great person, which is a great team player and could give a lot of value. Maybe the job they came into is not fulfilling enough for them or their capabilities is stronger than that, which comes at one point. If you pay attention to the strengths and weaknesses, you could then move them around to different seats. People think sometimes whatever job they’re hired, that’s where they sit and if they don’t want it any more, then they’re out of the company.
A lot of times people don’t adapt quickly enough to fit the right people in the right seats and eventually they get burned out in the wrong role and they leave, but they shouldn’t have left. They should have been somebody who stayed with you longer and you missed that. Since we like books, Meny, let me recommend another one. This is a new one that you might not have heard. A friend of mine, Leigh Durst, wrote a wonderful book on what she calls operational style theory, which is something that she learned by doing it over the last 25 years. It’s called Walk, Climb, or Fly. It talks about the three main styles of how people interact with each other in business. Rather than other kinds of tests about your abilities and stuff, this talks about who you are, what your strengths and pitfalls are and more importantly how you work with other people, whether your style type are the same or different. It’s pretty fascinating.
Let’s flip the coin. Both of us are employers, but there are a lot of employees reading the blog as well. Mainly what I find is there’s so much good talent that are sometimes not put to the right to use within companies, and then there are people that want to grow within the infrastructure. They want to grow within a culture. What are a couple of things you could share with our audience about what you do or what you have seen working? How do you maximize the growth potential of an employee so they are getting the most out of their career?
It seems like I may answer every question with a book, but that is a good way to give people a sense. Many of you have probably heard of Seth Godin, a very famous marketer, keynote speaker, a multiple successful writer. He has a book called Linchpin. Not to ruin the book for everybody, a linchpin is like a Swiss Army knife of a person to be remarkable and to understand that there is no map. If I have a role and I have some clear definitions of goals and points of what you should do, and this could be my management style. Different people would disagree, but I believe in creativity and flexibility. I do not believe in micro-management from the top or from the departments.
We are going to give you enough flexibility where we’ll show you how we do something for any element of the project or any element of what department you’re in. We’re expecting you to learn by doing, to ask questions and to be creative because for all we know, you’ll come up with a better way to do X than we would. It’s important for the employee to understand that. If you have the attitude of, “Tell me what to do,” you are not fulfilling and unlocking your greatness. We’re expecting you to show up in the office with half a brain that’s fully engaged. If you want to just punch a clock, with the agency that I have and I certainly believe the agency that you have, Meny, it doesn’t work like that.
We’re expecting our people to fuel the growth. That’s a key component that you see in any company. Even a giant like Walmart. If you walk into a Walmart, you have a Walmart greeter. From what I understand about the company, that came from somebody who was a regular worker as opposed to the founder or the senior management suite. They didn’t figure that out. A lot of great ideas come from the wild and come from employees. At any stage and age of the structure, you should definitely have some openness across boundaries regardless of title.
What I’m hearing you saying is it’s a two-fold process. First, as an employee, understand your capabilities and your style, and then understand where you’re going for an interview, which company you want to work for, what their style is and match it up. If it’s not aligned, ultimately there’s no growth potential there.
A big thing that I tell people looking for jobs, whether they are unemployed or they’re dissatisfied with where they are, rather than spending your eight hours a day applying to as many things as possible, pick ten companies, five companies, three companies, two companies, one company and scour everything that they talk about. Make sure that it’s a cultural fit, that you’re not just walking in and you’re saying, “Now I have to do my tour of duty and do a year like I’m in jail or something.” Pick the company that you want and they’ll appreciate you and you don’t have to go running from company to company.
Let me ask one more question as far as company culture and employment. We live in an economy which is way more flexible than it was, less stable or let’s call it more opportunities. If you look at their life span, speaking about infographics, if you look at statistics, ten years ago the average employee would be for X amount of years. The last few years you’d see it shorten and it keeps on getting shortened because there are many other different opportunities. You can work remotely and so on and so forth. When you have this Grade A employee working for you and they’ll come in and say, “Brian, what’s my growth potential?”
This is a very typical question. Sometimes I tell people in an interview and a candidate will ask you, “What’s my growth potential?” People say, “Wait a minute. I’m just hiring you for this job now. Don’t ask me about potential.” Sometimes this shows a certain style of an employee that you want to have in your company because the same way they’re looking at their own personal growth, most of the time if you take care of them, they’ll also look at the company growth. Back to the question to you is what do you say to such an employee? What type of autonomy could you give them and what type of insurance could you give them that, “Your opportunity might be in the company. Let’s figure it out and let’s grow together.”
What I would say is much like what you’re saying with “Let’s grow together.” If I were an employee and I asked an employer that, then you come back and you say, “Don’t talk to me about that,” I probably don’t want to work there because that’s a rude answer. You’re directly shutting them down, “I’m just hiring you for this.” I don’t believe in the word just. Just is a horrible word in the English language. “I’m just doing my job.” Do you have permission to do a bad job? No, you don’t. “I’m just an intern.” No, you’re not. Tomorrow you could be the vice president. The way that we minimize ourselves, your stupid priming and negative self-talk, let other people be your critic.
Silence your inner critic. You have enough to worry about. You don’t need yourself to put yourself down. It’s ridiculous. Something that people should be mindful of is money isn’t everything. A lot of people, especially younger generations, are more interested in meaningful work, transparency, flexibility and all of that. We’re semi-virtual, but we do have offices also. That’s a big part of it. There’s flexibility in it, not having like the punch clock, draconian things of prior times. People love that stuff.
As we discussed before, there are many things we share in common that we could go on for hours. To respect your time, I want to move into a totally different topic, which is very important to both of us and ultimately it’s an important topic to be discussed, which is networking. I know whenever somebody looks at your LinkedIn profile or status updates, you’ll see that there’s some LinkedIn event happening that you’re attending or hosting and speaking at different events. It came a long way and you look at a few years ago before social media wasn’t as popular, people were very scared of going to events in general, sharing content, sharing who is my client, where am I? It’s came a long way, but you have a different take. You’re very exposed to what you do and you go to a lot of events, you share a lot. What is it that brought you here?
Let’s start off with the word networking. Like the word just, networking is not my favorite word because it’s misused horribly. I’m sure you hear this all day too where people say, “I’m not any good at networking.” Networking does not mean the snake oil salesman, used–car salesman guy who’s trying to cheat you out of a bunch of money. No offense to car salesmen. You’re great. You’re selling cars, but you know what I’m saying? There’s this type of person that you think is so pushy and so annoying and I can’t be like that. People have networking all wrong. Networking does not mean that I reach into Meny’s pocket, steal his wallet, take all the $100s and throw his wallet in the garbage. Networking means that life is long and we are relationship-driven to have mutual benefits and opportunities wherever we work. We could go to new jobs. We could start new companies. I could probably go to any city, at least in the United States, and say that I’m going to come there. I could probably do a LinkedIn event. I could have meetings all day. People would want to come see me for lunch because people love me and my brand and I’m not networking evil garbage.
Much like Bob Burg with The Go-Giver, my default is giving. The second you need me, you have an attraction because I’m nice. It’s not an act. It’s not a thinly veiled sales presentation. I want to make relationships with people that could provide value reciprocally. People don’t understand that. They’re like, “I don’t want to go to a networking meeting.” With the advent of social media, especially within the last few years, people have come out of their shell a little bit better. The key for all of this is whenever you can have a good strong personal brand, business brand online and cross-pollinate it with the offline, especially the things like LinkedIn local and the LinkedIn global thing we’re going to do. When you can cross over those audiences, when you can take it from the internet to in-person, you can skip years of your business with some of the introductions that you’re going to have. I’ll tell you from my LinkedIn, we win Fortune 500 business. It’s crazy. When you get good at this, there’s no stopping you. It’s amazing what you can do.
What would be a piece of advice you would give a person that may have gone to the first event? Like every good opportunity, some people take advantage and do it right and ultimately win the results and some people are just making noise and not yielding the proper results. What would be a piece of advice of somebody going to a networking event or going out there on LinkedIn trying to make connections? What would be that starting point?
This may sound a little basic, but first let’s make sure that they have a LinkedIn account. Then let’s make sure that they have LinkedIn on their phone and it’s logged in and they have the latest version of it. I think that there’s going to be a lot of people that rather than throwing business cards at each other, turning “Find nearby” on and connect like that is useful. Don’t just straight talk about business. If you get to the part of the conversation where people say, “What do you do? Cool. What do you do? That’s great.” Try to build that relationship first. Life is long. Hopefully, business can take a long time, so try and get to know the people.
Many people respond much better to being relationship-driven first because people buy and recommend and refer people that they know, like and trust. You don’t want to be that person that’s throwing business cards at each other. That’s critical. If we get a little more advanced to have a great LinkedIn profile, make it clear about what you do and hopefully if you’ve reached that point, put out relevant content that’s interesting. It’s not salesy and pushy but interesting content and that’s going to vary based on your voice and what you’re comfortable with.
On the other side of networking, there are conferences. I know that your company exhibits a lot. I know you had one of the nicest booths at South by Southwest based on my creative people. That’s a high score. Companies go to conferences a lot. What do you focus on when you’re exhibiting?
Most companies do not know how to go to conferences. They spend way too much money on their trade show presence, on swag, on all sorts of things because a lot of people think that money solves problems. Money amplifies problems. If you do something bad, now you make it more bad. If you have a good idea, it will be better. Taking back a step here, what I would recommend before you spend a lot of money and fly your whole team in and have all sorts of hotels and presence and costs because you can easily spend not just four figures, but five and six figures at an event without skipping a beat. What I would recommend is to walk a show first. The first year you go, unless there are some special circumstances, just go to it. Just be an attendee. Get the flavor of it, see what the people are like, see what the networking opportunities are, see the quality of the speakers, the quality of the trade show, all that stuff. Only then if you think that it’s a good fit for your brand, then drop a bunch of money, team, focus and effort because to do an event right takes a lot of time.
You spoke about South by Southwest. To give the audience a concept for those that aren’t familiar with the event, it’s been around for a few decades. It started as a music festival, but now it’s everything that’s creative in technology. All of social, Twitter came out of that. Live streaming came out of that. Foursquare and geotechnology came out of that. Much stuff has a lot of the amplification from there. Now it’s the who’s who world fair all in. You’ve got probably 300,000 people coming to it. The interactive alone, which is our scene, has 80,000 people. It brings close to $500 million to the local Austin economy. It builds the skyline there. Austin has doubled in population in the last ten years and this will be my 11th year going for 2020.
For the majority of the years that I’ve been going, we’ve had a trade show booth, which is very custom built and creative. We’ve built it bigger and better every year and we always do some new tricks every year. Imagine spending over a decade of knowledge of thinking about something. We spend months planning it out. People overspend and under plan and don’t do all of the due diligence first. I’ll tell you also that in our history, we’ve gone to many events and we’ve displayed many trade show booths and things like that. I don’t do a lot of them anymore because if we’re only going to break even or barely be net revenue positive, why are we doing it? I can get on podcasts, I can get on LinkedIn, I can do more in my pajamas than a lot of people do at a trade show. Sometimes it’s not essential to go everywhere. How about time zones? How about travel? I live in the Midwest. Going from Cincinnati to Austin, Texas, it’s one time zone over, but it’s not that bad. It’s a short flight, but if I have to go halfway around the world and all these things, it might not be worth it. It takes a lot to get me to get out of my own ZIP code although I have been traveling quite a bit lately.
It’s not only the show. A lot of people will spend the money, have their whole team fly in for a conference without a clear understanding first of all of what they’re selling, how they’re selling it, and how they’re following it up afterwards. There’s a famous story. It was the first trade show we attended. There were still business cards. Now all the leads come in digital and then we packed everything up. It was a huge show. We came to our offices and then I asked who has the bag with the business cards and it was lost. It was the first show and it became the staple joke in our company like in every event, “Who has the bag of the business cards?” Now, it’s not a bag anymore because we tried to put it in digital, but it’s a joke of the company. Sometimes companies have that joke. Why? Because you’re so focused on the logistics, being creative and giving out different things like swag as you mentioned. There’s not that single person focusing exactly on what are we planning to get out of it and how are we getting it and how are we following it up afterwards.
Since we are in the digital age, anything that you can do within apps, within LinkedIn, make sure that that stuff is well documented and back it up. What if it’s on somebody’s phone and then their phone breaks or it’s stolen or something? Always try to plan on some redundancy. That whole amount of leads, get that into your CRM system as fast as possible. Follow up with people or the leads die. There are many things we can talk about there for sure.
This has been a pleasure and we could go on and on because there’s so much to share, but in order to respect your time in the audience’s time, let’s close with the four rapid fire questions. Are you ready?
Let’s do it. That’s my life.
Number one, what’s a book that changed your life?
We just talked about a bunch of them. I love talking about The Go-Giver. That one’s a big one, but let me throw a different one out there since we already mentioned all those. Let’s go with Be Like Amazon by the Eisenberg brothers. I think people will enjoy that one. It talks about Amazon’s principles and how you can apply it to your business.
Number two, what’s a piece of advice you got that you’ll never forget?
Persistence is everything. A lot of people give up and they try and then they fail before they start. A lot of businesses go out of business without that level of persistence. Don’t listen to your friends when you ask your friend, “Should I start a business?” They all work a 9 to 5 job. You’re punishing your friends for a question they should never have been asked.
Number three, is there anything you wish you could go back and do differently?
Yeah, I’m 42 right now. I started my business when I was 29 and I was so annoyed at myself. Granted, I probably needed that amount of time to mature and do the right thing, but I always felt a little frustrated because early in my career I was always the youngest guy in the room for almost everything I did. I was so frustrated in all my roles before, not working for others. I encourage people to start, but at the same time don’t start and then leave your job and starve to death. Make sure that your dream has enough room and opportunity to mature.
That’s a very important point. The number four, our last question. What’s still in your bucket list to achieve?
I have ideas about ways to transform the business that I have not revealed to the world yet, but let’s say that in my opinion the best is yet to come.
Make sure to share it with us when it happens. For our audience, we’ll give you some ways to get in touch with Brian on PtexGroup.com/podcast. We’ll also link-up the phenomenal book suggestions we spoke about and the different things we spoke about. Brian, thank you so much for joining us. I know your time is valuable and that is why in the name of our audience, we will forever be grateful for sharing some time with us.
Thank you so much, Meny. This has been a pleasure and a real opportunity.
- Next Action
- Brian Wallace
- The Go-Giver
- Good To Great
- Walk, Climb, or Fly
- South by Southwest
- Be Like Amazon
About Brian Wallace
Brian Wallace is the Founder and President of NowSourcing, an industry-leading infographic design agency based in Louisville, KY and Cincinnati, OH which works with companies that range from startups to Fortune 500s. Brian also runs #LinkedInLocal events nationwide, hosts the Next Action Podcast, and has been named a Google Small Business Advisor for 2016-present.