Bill Flagg Chats with Jesse and Hamish About Building Businesses and Acquiring New Customers
In this Stickers on the Mic episode, Jesse and Hamish sit down with Bill Flagg, an entrepreneur and investor helping other businesses grow and acquiring new customers.
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Jesse: Welcome everyone to The Stickers on the Mic podcast. This is Episode Three coming to you live here at the StickerGiant command center in beautiful Longmont, Colorado. My name is Jesse. I'm filling in for Andrew. Today super excited to be on the show here with Hamish. Hamish, how are you doing today?
[00:00:25] Hamish: I'm doing great, Jesse. It's really cool to be here. I can't believe we're on episode three. We've been doing this for three months now. This episode is going to be focused on acquiring customers. We've got a special guest Bill Flagg here today. He's a Boulder-based entrepreneur and business owner, focusing specifically on customer-funded businesses. He's going to be the best person to talk to us about acquiring customers. We're going to have more on that when we welcome Bill on in a couple minutes. Let's jump right into our opening segment.
[00:00:56] Jesse: Let's do it.
[00:00:57] Hamish: For anybody who's new to the show or a first-time listener or viewer. It's called Top of Mind and we just do a quick intro. Something that's popped up this week that we want to talk about. Jesse, what's on the top of your mind?
[00:01:08] Jesse: Top of my mind is back to school. The yellow buses are out. The kids have their backpacks on. They're hitting the books again. For us here at StickerGiant it's exciting. We see it coming because we print up stickers. We do all sorts of stickers for schools. Like this one for Scion grade school. Awesome sticker sheet. Just have some fun with different icons.
We have a bumper sticker here that someone did as a parody. “My kid will beat up your honor student”. You see those all over our local university just up the street. UNC, University of Northern Colorado also have some cool bumper stickers, I mastered it. You see California Santa Barbara. Pretty cool stuff that we see come through this shop. School's in session. We're seeing that happen. I'm sure a lot of you out there have kids going back to school this week. What about you Hamish?
[00:01:58] Hamish: For me, I'm a big Game Of Thrones fan. Jesse is as well. I got to touch on this. Episode four was pretty awesome. It's funny because we've been talking in the office. Jesse's been doing a bottle of wine for every episode this season, talking about how he picks the different bottles out based on the label sign.
[00:02:18] Jesse: I totally do. I go to the liquor store and I just go to the wine section. I look for the coolest, most outlandish label possible and then I just try that wine to pair with the show. It's fun for us because we work with stickers and labels and seeing all the label work come through the shop is always exciting.
[00:02:34] Hamish: Yes. I think that's definitely in the beverage market. It's really important to have a really cool label. Because to be honest, that's going to be the main way that you bring in customers. Labels acquire new customers that way.
[00:02:45] Jesse: Me right here, I drink and I know things...about stickers.
[00:02:49] Hamish: Awesome. Let's welcome Bill. He's here to join us. I'm going to let him introduce himself because he'll do a much better job of explaining what he does and the businesses he works with. Bill, welcome.
[00:03:00] Jesse: Hi, Bill. How are you doing?
[00:03:04] Bill: Good to see you.
[00:03:04] Hamish: How are you doing? Welcome to the show.
[00:03:06] Jesse: Welcome.
[00:03:08] Hamish: How's your morning going?
[00:03:09] Bill: Pretty awesome. Made some crepes for my daughters and came on over here.
[00:03:16] Hamish: Nice.
[00:03:16] Jesse: Tell everyone out there who's watching on Facebook or listening to our podcast, who are you? What do you do?
[00:03:23] Bill: Good question.
[00:03:26] Bill: I've been a-- I guess you'd say I've been an entrepreneur my whole life. From selling candy out of my locker in middle school, to painting houses, to being in a big advertising business. Then transitioned later on into the software companies and e-commerce, tech-enabled companies like StickerGiant. My whole life, it's started with not realizing that you could actually raise money to start a company and to grow a company.
I always built my companies to be really profitable. I thought that was the point of it, was to earn income, with the income that you could grow the company and serve more customers and do more things and not just out of necessity. That's how I've grown my companies. Over time, I found great partners, people who've started companies like John from StickerGiant who I could partner up with him and help grow the companies that I’m involved with.
Currently, right now, I'm involved with five different companies, StickerGiant, PosterBrain, which is online poster printing, SurveyGizmo, which is a survey software, business intelligence, and SnapEngage, which is live chat software for websites, which StickerGiant uses. Avid4Adventure, which is a kids adventure camp. They're all bootstrapped. Originally, organically grown and profitable, very profitable, all of them from day one and with no outside investors. It's a good, well-rounded way to grow businesses, I think.
[00:05:29] Jesse: Yes. You have a lot of experience in that for sure.
[00:05:33] Hamish: Yes, I think you already touched on that already and saying, I reference customer funded, that's obviously something that was pulled straight from your websites. Maybe you could elaborate on what that means to you, and how that relates to getting new customers?
[00:05:46] Bill: Yes. Well, the term didn't even come up, because I didn't even realize there was another option for funding your business, as I said. Then, we talk about VC funded businesses or-- This is like a play off of that, to say it's customer-funded, meaning our customers, the more customers we have them, the more profitable the company gets. The more funds it has to reinvest in growing the company. That's what we mean by it being customer-funded. As we do more business with more customers, we have more funding.
[00:06:28] Jesse: It totally makes sense. [chuckles]
[00:06:29] Bill: Without having to borrow money or have outside investors.
[00:06:32] Jesse: You work with a lot of different types of companies, all tech-based, but what are the different channels that have really led to a lot of success? Maybe there's different examples of the different companies to acquire new customers?
[00:06:46] Bill: Yes. In the online world, the best thing that ever happened to me was getting into internet businesses. Because it has provided an easy way. The single easiest way to acquire customers is by having a presence on the internet. Before the whole social media thing started, that was, how do we get to the top of the rankings when someone searches for sticker printing, for example.
In doing that, it involved having a relevant website, having other sites that wanted to link to our sites. That really got us on the map and on page one and then up to the top of the rankings, so that a lot of people when they were searching, they would find our sites. I call it a want attention. People go there and say "I want," and type it in. Then hopefully, we show up.
On the second layer after that, I'd say it was customer referrals. The next layer is how do we take great care of our customers in each of our businesses so they want to tell lots of other people about it. That's been the second greatest source of customers, is doing a great job so that people want to tell other people. That particularly plays through in more recent years through social media because people now have an easier megaphone by which they can tell other people about their experiences with companies they're doing business with. That's great.
Then it gets smaller and smaller from there, in terms of obviously, the next layer would be paid advertising of advertising on Google, Google AdWords and Facebook advertising. In those cases, it is a much more effective world in way of growing a business than where I come from, which was offline advertising. You put an ad out there, you have very almost no tracking. You kind of guess whether it was worth it or not. You know, because of seeing if people are clicking through on your ads and you know exactly if they're buying and how much they're buying if you have an e-commerce enabled site. The next layer is very trackable, easy to know if it's worth it or not, in terms of growing the business.
Then you get into other things that can be maybe not quite as obvious, which might be sponsoring things. Doing a lot of whether it be sponsoring events or activities that are going on out there, or whether it means providing a lot of free-- Providing free stickers in certain situations where we're sponsoring events through actual stickers. Providing them with stickers, that becomes a little bit looser and whether it's benefiting and how much the ROI on that. We tended to do it more.
[00:10:09] Jesse: We know a few things about sponsoring events with stickers. We do heavy sponsorships before in WordCamps and Startup Weeks. Let's see if we have a question from our viewer out there. I'll go ahead and get that here…
[00:10:20] Danny (call in listener): Hi, this is Danny, and I just wanted to call in and thank you for the sponsorship of the Tampa Bay Startup Week stickers!
[00:10:32] Jesse: Danny, thank you for the shout out. It's perfect timing. Yes, we make a ton of sticker sheets for your Startup Weeks over all over the world and Tampa Bay's been a regular annual event for us for a few years now, I believe. Thank you for chiming in, Danny. We appreciate that.
[00:10:47] Jesse: I think that's an interesting one. That difference between paid advertising, which is a direct return on investment and maybe sponsorships, which are more of a branding exercise and help them get the name out there. Do you find that you working with your software companies will say working with the kids adventure venture companies and the channels that you use and in what ways do you think that differs?
[00:11:08] Bill: They all differ slightly. Certainly, the kids adventure camp is a much bigger word of mouth or parents are sharing with each other. Really got me going over the top on the experience side, making sure not only the kids have an amazing experience, but the parents do too is really-- there's a lot more that goes into that because that's where the majority of the growth of the business comes from.
Then if I compare it to the other businesses, two software businesses and two printing businesses, those companies there's more I think involved in getting the word out there through more obvious B2B scenario, which would be how are we providing information in a way that helps other people and whether on the survey side? How do you do a 360-degree review using surveys and what is the methodology by using that in an HR perspective? If it is writing a 30 page online paper for that that people can source and get benefit from. Or your sticker stories of how schools are helping to promote themselves, I love that Santa Barbara Sticker.
How do you promote your school in a fun way or your business in a way that has more color and personality to it? Obviously, if you're buying more, I've never heard of it. People do it all the time of buying wine bottles strictly based on the label and it's true. It's like, yes, you can maybe taste differences between wines, but at the end of the day, you can enjoy all wines so why not pick the one that has the most colorful label. The same as true, I think in businesses.
You have so many choices of who you can do business with and in any category. If one has a more colorful personality then and it's more helpful and more friendly, that can come through a more colorful website or more colorful stickers. I think it all plays into it.
[00:13:39] Hamish: To touch on that, I think a phrase I heard going around and it's people buy from people. When you talk about business to business actually, you want to have a personality to your brand, like having great customer service. People want to know there is a real person on the other that cares about their order, that is making sure everything is going well.
[00:13:56] Bill: That's right. There's also a balance there because you want to be professional, you want them to know that you can take care of their needs, that you're serious about taking care of their needs. Then you also want them to know that you're human and you have a personality and you can make them laugh and that thing. There's that getting that right mix of here's how we're serious about stickers and printing them and making sure they get out on time and taking care of customers whenever there's any issues, real serious about that but on the flip side, we're a group with a lot of heart and personality and care that you get as well. You don't just get stickers, you get a lot more from it.
[00:14:45] Jesse: Definitely. I think really the core of what we're getting at here is make sure you start for small businesses or listeners out there. Start with your branding and make sure that follows through your personality, your identity. When you do go print up the labels or stickers or create a website, you want to make sure that's all consistent and follows through with what you're promising your customers and then you're going to get a lot of customers.
[00:15:07] Bill: That's right.
[00:15:08] Jesse: What advice would you give maybe some small businesses out there just getting started. Maybe they just put in an order with us today and happened to see this. What would be the first step you'd tell someone? What's the first thing to do on your journey to getting your first customer maybe let's say, or maybe your second customer.
[00:15:26] Bill: Well, I've always-- earlier on I started companies from scratch and yes just getting your-- it's scrambling to get is to do whatever it takes to get customers, to talk people into doing business with you and to get people in the door. Then it's taking care of the customers in such a way that they want to talk more about what you're doing. Then it becomes how do you start scaling it. That comes back the example of StickerGiant of, "Okay, who can we support that has maybe bigger audiences, whether it's WordCamp or Startup Weeks and start getting the word out there more?"
Also if you don't have a spot on the organic search results on Google, then you start with paid advertising and that anyone can go on and start buying ads on Google AdWords. I think it's a great way to spend a little bit of money to start to suss out what attracts people because you've got to figure out what to write in the Ads and what wording on there resonates for them. Then that can translate also into your website what you want your headline and your website to say because what's going to attract them on the Ad is also probably going to attract them in and pull them in one for them to want to do business on your website. The same type of wording, so-
[00:16:55] Jesse: Relevant messaging, make sure it's consistent.
[00:16:57] Bill: Yes. That resonates for people. AdWords I've always found this to be a good testing ground to see what one Ad gets more people to click through, than another Ad and it's the fastest way to go, that wording does something for some of them whereas the others doesn't. For example, one of my earlier companies RegOnline we did online registration for conferences and events and we would say “easy online registration”. What performed much better was “online registration has never been easier”. I didn't understand why, but we went with it because it always converted better.
The subtle difference that I think I realized, in the end, is there's so many people who are new to trying to use online registration. They didn't want to just be told that it was easy. They wanted to get a sense of, it's reached a point where it's now become easy enough for them to use. Has never been easier for some reason, struck a chord and it's very subtle, but it made a big difference.
[00:18:09] Hamish: If everyone's easy, you want to be the easiest.
[00:18:11] Bill: Yes, but he just said easiest then there's also a sense of using hyperbole and people don't believe it as much. I'm the best. A friend of mine started a company called Moosejaw Mountaineering outdoor apparel, and he had this way of saying, "We're probably the third best place to buy outdoor apparel." It just caused people to stop and say, "Well, who would ever say their third and something?" It brought the human aspect into it. He used humor and then was able to lead people in a way that they can trust them.
If you say you're the best at something, they're easiest, it doesn't necessarily-- people don't believe it. That's the other part. It's just that balance and messaging is really it's just subtle and-
[00:19:10] Jesse: Be true to who you are and make sure that resonates with whoever you're trying to reach.
[00:19:15] Bill: That's right.
[00:19:16] Hamish: That's where your customers come back into it because they're going to verify those claims as well. If you want to be the fastest, you want to be the easiest, you need your customer shouting about it as well.
[00:19:24] Bill: The customers need to shout about it. Is whatever the customers are saying, but to even repeat exactly what the customer said, you're the best, StickerGiant is the best. We hear it a lot, but if we put on our site StickerGiant is the best, it's not as credible. We try to figure out how to share that in a way without actually saying it.
[00:19:51] Jesse: Let your customers say it for you. The referral factor that you brought up.
[00:19:54] Bill: That's right.
[00:19:57] Jesse: How do you go about managing your budgets or do you have much say in the budgets for your companies for marketing and reaching customers? Is there any quick tidbit you can give people?
[00:20:08] Bill: My philosophy on marketing budgets has always been spend more where you know you're getting the return. If you just spend a dollar on pay per click advertising and it returns you $2 worth of customers and you can make money after you figured out what the cost of goods sold is, then do more of it. I've always had that philosophy I'll try lots of little things and spend more money on it as it's producing the results, as it's returning the investment in it. There's a lot of companies that look at it and go, "We'll spend 10% or 5% or 20% of your marketing."
I just think it leads them down the wrong road to just arbitrarily have a number that they just spend the money on every year. I think it's much better to just look categorically. In one of my companies, we were doing direct mail pieces that we couldn't really get the return on when we were spending $5,000, $10,000 a year on it. Then all of a sudden, we had someone who said instead of doing a postcard do a 16-page information booklet on how to use online registration and event management software. We did that and suddenly we were getting three times the return on what we had spent on the brochures.
We went from spending $5,000, $10,000 a year just spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on it because it works because it resonated, it worked. The one thing that I'm always very cognizant of in any aspect of any of my businesses is how efficiently are we spending our money? I have no problem spending lots of money as long as it produces value. Otherwise, it's just being wasteful and I don't like being wasteful. Whenever I'm looking at what it is that we're spending money on marketing wise, my first question is, "Great, what is the return on it? Can we identify it?"
If we can and we know it's producing return, let's spend more on it. If we can't, let's figure out how to identify how it's doing or maybe do less of it.
[00:22:50] Jesse: I agree. I think the biggest obstacle for a lot of people is getting over that fear of laying down that first dollar. They're like, "It is going to bring you something." If you get over that first initial fear or figure out whatever platform it is and will really really help your business.
[00:23:04] Bill: That's right. Sometimes I've struggled with some companies that AdWords has never produced a return where others it's been a great return. Then sometimes it's, "Well, do we have the right messaging," or is it just some industries it's just not appropriate for some and others it is or whether it's on Facebook advertisements worked for some but not others and that sort of thing. You’ve got to feel it out. The other side is like with the direct mail, testing directing direct mail, I probably should've killed it years earlier but I kept spending just a little bit of our marketing dollars on it thinking that eventually can we get over the gap if we test out trying different approaches on it.
It's not just trying the vehicle but it's also trying multiple different approaches and seeing if you can crack the code on it at some point. The more legs you have from a marketing standpoint, the more you'll be able to grow your company. Eventually, you'll get there if you just keep getting scrappy with trying to figure out other ways to get yourself out there.
[00:24:17] Jesse: I think that's good advice. Get scrappy and go acquire customers. Just to try things out.
[00:24:22] Hamish: You can't rule it out just because you think it doesn't work.
[00:24:29] Bill: I have this saying ABT, always be testing or maybe “E” always be experimenting, always be experimenting. Then when the experiment pays off, double down and triple down 10X what you're spending on it to help it fuel the company.
[00:24:47] Hamish: We've talked a lot about new customers. I guess I asked that the whole topic of conversation is acquiring new customers through something like AdWords. Do you have a way or a formula for splitting between advertising your existing customers and also going after new customers?
[00:25:03] Bill: I don't necessarily have a formula but a lot of times a thing that I probably been lacking on is advertising enough to existing customers. Feeling like, "They know us, they'll come back when they need us," versus, "Let's stay in front of them, let's continue to keep us top of mind for existing customers." I think in a lot of my business, we could do a lot more and be a lot more creative about how we can be really connecting with our existing customers more. I'm trying to think of examples on that.
One example of that was I think it was Valentine's Day, one year and I thought, "You know what, I'm going to send an email to all of our customers." It was business to business, software business. We had a couple of thousand customers. I sent out an email that just said in the subject line, "We love you." Then in the email it said, "We love you. We really do and we just want you to know we feel so fortunate to have you as the customer and we want you to have the best Valentine's Day ever." It was a little bit like, "Is this really appropriate for saying to business customers."
[00:26:29] Bill: Then I got so many responses to it like, "This is the best email I think I've ever gotten from a company and you guys are awesome. We love you so much and that this is why we love you." This is just one example of why. It doesn't always have to be some big program. It can be something that is just little, small. One of the things that I'd like to do in businesses is just reach out to customers who've been with us for a long time or who have been good customers and just call up and just say hi and say thanks and just talk to them, get to know them better.
It's just little things that I think can really make a difference for existing customers. A lot of people tend to do these Christmas programs where we're going to send everyone a care box around Christmas and say happy holidays and all that. I think it's a waste of money. I think it's much better to be unexpected and more personable than it is to just be a part of getting the collective stuff that everyone else gets there in the holidays.
[00:27:46] Jesse: Like make a cookbook, right?
[00:27:48] Bill: Make a cookbook.
[00:27:51] Bill: That was an idea that one of my marketing managers originally brought to me. I was like, "That is just the quirkiest idea to create a company cookbook." I talked to my business partner, he's like, "I hate the idea. I don't want to do it." It's like, "We're business to business here, how can we send a company cookbook?" I just got this good feeling. I was like, "We're going to test it out." We sent it out and people loved it. Now, a handful of my companies and other friends of mine's companies have done company cookbooks. It's just a great way to share ourselves, especially in an online business where you're not face to face but then the-
[00:28:35] Jesse: I think we're going on our fifth or sixth year of doing it now. We're just actually staging our next cookbook that will come out at the end of this year. The reaction we get from customers is amazing to have them baking the recipes that our employees put in the cookbook and then we see the pictures of the dishes and the feedback comes through on surveys. It's incredible.
[00:28:57] Bill: It's different and there's something unique about it. You can tell that you put a lot of energy into it. I remember how it takes a lot to put together those cookbooks but it's just so worth it because it's just different and connects in a different way.
[00:29:14] Jesse: I agree. Bill, thank you so much for coming on and talking to us about customer acquisition. We hope everyone learned something out there. Let go of the fear, get scrappy, maybe throw in a cookbook.
[00:29:27] Jesse: That's some advice to take home today, I'd say. Thank you very much for joining us.
[00:29:31] Bill: Great to see you guys, thanks for having me out here. Thank you.
[00:29:35] Jesse: Good luck with all the businesses, all of them.
[00:29:38] Bill: Thank you.
[00:29:38] Jesse: [laughs]. Have a good one, Bill.
We hope everyone out there enjoyed that. Hamish, what do we have next today for all our viewers and listeners out there?
[00:29:52] Hamish: Right now we just want to touch on next month's episode. We're going to be going out on the 8th of September. We're going to be focusing on you, our actual customers. We really want you guys to get in touch with us. If you have a story about your business, you want to come and share it. If you use stickers or labels get in touch and hopefully, we can have you on the podcast. If you're Colorado based, we'd definitely love to have you here in the room but also if you're further fields, don't be afraid to get in touch as well. We can dial you in over Skype. As I said, we've talked a lot about StickerGiant and Bill coming on with a bunch of older companies and also being a part owner in StickerGiant. It'd be really great to get in touch with some of our customers.
[00:30:35] Jesse: Totally. Andrew's going to be back next episode. Again, it's a month from basically today, 30 days out, the second Friday of every month at 10:00 AM mountain standard time. We are up here in Colorado and we really, really hope you, maybe you're watching right now can sit in this chair, tell us about what you're doing, your business. If you've ordered stickers or labels from us before, we want to hear your story, have you on the podcast, get you up on Facebook like we are right now.
Please reach out, comment. If you have any questions for us or our guest Bill today, shoot him on the comment stream. Email us firstname.lastname@example.org. We, of course, have a Twitter at StickerGiant. We're always looking forward to chatting with our customers or just anyone out there who has questions about our business. It's what we do. We love to tell stories and talk with people.
[00:31:27] Hamish: Just the usual stuff. The podcast is available on iTunes, Google play and SoundCloud so it's available to download. If you want to download, please leave us a review, leave some comments again, let us know what you want us to talk about, what we could do better. We want to hear from you guys. I guess what is left to do is say a big thank you to Bill Flagg for coming on today, Jesse for joining me as well and filling in for Andrew. We want to wish everybody a great weekend and remember, every state has a story. What's yours?
[00:33:03] [END OF AUDIO]
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