Year In Review: Reflections On A Spectacular 2015

From client acquisitions to speaking on several panels for the first time, to stepping away from my consulting business and becoming a full-time, proud Rocketeer, to helping grow the local diversity in tech group I founded in my home city of Boulder, CO, Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup, to over 225 people, plus hosting and participating in a dozen local events in Boulder and beyond, 2015 has been a year to remember. Best of all, I’ve also had the privilege of working with some truly amazing people, companies, and mentors. To close out this memorable year, I thought I’d share some of highlights.

Three of My Clients Got Acquired–And Then One Of Them Acquired Me

Hiking near Los Altos with ServiceRocket CEO Robert Castaneda and VP of Enterprise Ray Bradbury the day after joining the company.

Hiking near Los Altos with ServiceRocket CEO Rob Castaneda and VP of Enterprise Ray Bradbery the day after joining the company.

Perhaps the biggest professional news of my year involved the extraordinary success of my clients. Among this list of successes included three acquisitions: Learndot, a Customer Education platform for Customer Success-driven businesses sold to ServiceRocket in January 2015; Taxify (part of ShipCompliant), a Boulder, CO-based B2B tax automation SaaS was acquired by Sovos Compliance in April; and, most recently, Frontleaf, a Customer Success analytics platform was acquired by Zuora in May to become their Z-Insights product line. Read more about the acquisitions, and how thrilled I am to now be a Rocketeer at ServiceRocket.

Named One of MindTouch’s Top 100 Customer Success Influencers To Meet at Pulse 

Top 100 Customer Success Influencers at Pulse.

This year MindTouch listed me as a ‘Top 100 Customer Success Influencer to Meet at Pulse Conference.’ I was honored by the mention, and enjoyed connecting with others on the list as well as the uncounted numbers from incredible companies who deserved to be on here. Grab the PDF list of influencers on the MindTouch website.

Customer Success Twitter Chat Thrived

In 2014 I launched the first-ever Customer Success industry Twitter Chat (#CustomerSuccessChat) while consulting with Frontleaf (acquired by Zuora in May ’15). Frontleaf co-founders Tom Krackeler and Rachel English were totally on board, and together we launched the chat back in 2014, and in 2015, it really took off. The monthly twitter chat brought together Customer Success enthusiasts and practitioners to talk shop, share best practices, and discuss overcoming challenges.

The chats consisted of lively real-time discussions including a series of questions on one topic (onboarding, sales and customer success, etc.) leveraging the #CustomerSuccessChat hashtag Twitter. We asked subject experts to mark their calendars to guarantee a high-level discourse, and others from the world of software adoption and customer success were also invited to weigh in on. After the chats, the Frontleaf team and I compiled chat recap blogs highlighting the gems from each one. This one on Customer Success as growthhacking is my favorite. At the moment I’m not running the chat, but maybe some form of it will return in the future.

Helped Launch The World’s First Customer Success Podcast

When Frontleaf asked me to devise a new channel to reach their target audience, I researched and created a plan to launch the Customer Success industry’s first-ever podcast exclusively dedicated to that topic. In early 2015, Customer Success Radio, the first-ever podcast about all things Customer Success and the cloud, hosted by Frontleaf co-founders Tom Krackeler and Rachel English launched to great acclaim. The show served as a phenomenal source of leads and buzz for the company. The podcast archives are really worth a listen. While the podcast is currently on hiatus, Tom and Rachel tell me they will hopefully continue the podcast in some form at Zuora.

The experience of creating a plan for a podcast from soup to nuts was invaluable, and the lessons learned along the way have been very helpful in the creation of the brand-new podcast Bill Cushard and I will be co-hosting through ServicerRocket Media. Look out for “Helping Sells Radio” podcast in the first quarter of 2016.

Grew Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup

Flatirons LGBTQ Tech MeetupIn May 2014 I founded Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup in an effort to increase diversity and inclusion in tech in Boulder, CO and beyond. In 2015, with the help of epic co-organizers, we hosted a dozen local events, became a NCWIT Affinity Group Alliance Member, and continued to be supported by our amazing sponsors SendGrid, Pivotal Tracker, Galvanize, and more. We even got a shout-out in the Denver Post and hosted an official Boulder Startup Week event. I’m so proud of the community we’ve built and are continuing to build here in the Rocky Mountain region and beyond. I look forward to working with more local companies and organizations and to hosting and participating in more events in 2016.

Moderated ServiceRocket’s “Helping Sells” Webinar Series

Throughout 2015 I co-hosted the webinars in ServiceRocket’s “Helping Sells” series alongside ServiceRocket’s Head of Training and Director of Marketing, Bill Cushard. This year we interviewed industry leaders talking about customer education, customer success, software adoption, and more. Guests included expert GitHub trainer Peter Bell, Behavioral Design (Gamification) Expert Yu-Kai Chou, ClientSuccess Founder/CEO Dave Blake, and many other industry thought leaders. You can check out the archives and look out for more great webinars featuring all-star guests in 2016.

Spent A Month At ServiceRocket’s Office In Santiago, Chile

This year I had the incredible opportunity to spend a month working out of ServiceRocket’s office in Santiago, Chile. ServiceRocket is a major contributor to the growing startup community in Santiago, and it was a blast to join the team there to host and participate in events and work on projects together.

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Enjoying empanadas with incredible ServiceRocket team in Santiago, Chile.

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Hiking in the Andes near Santiago, Chile with ServiceRocket colleagues.

Was A Panelist At S-Factory Event In Santiago, Chile

In October, S-Factory accelerator, which is run out of Start-Up Chile, invited ServiceRocket’s Chief Operating Officer Erin Rand, accountant Noelia Rio and me to speak on a panel to discuss how we’re “rocking it”. I was honored to speak to the entrepreneurial audience about growth marketing, our company values, and how we approach software adoption and customer success. S-Factory Executive Director Patricia Hansen was an engaging moderator, and I enjoyed participating as well as listening to and learning from insights shared by colleagues Erin and Noelia.

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Speaking at S-Factory (part of Start-Up Chile) in Santiago in October 2015.

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Participated In NewCo Boulder Diversity In Tech Panel

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Speaking at NewCo Boulder “Diversity in Tech” panel in November, 2015

In November, I was a panelist on the “diversity and inclusion” panel at NewCo Boulder, hosted at Quick Left in Boulder alongside Quick Left’s VP of Engineering Chris McAvoy and Executive Leadership Coach Gerry Valentine, moderated by Rachel Beisel. I loved being a part of the discussion and getting to chat with people after who wanted to continue the conversations about “bringing your whole self to work.” I shared personal stories as well as lessons I’ve learned from working with Silicon Valley Women of Influence, ServiceRocket’s COO Erin Rand and VP of Marketing Colleen Blake, both of whom do amazing work to increase inclusion in tech. It was cool to hear that people enjoyed the panel and that QuickLeft may want us to recreate the panel again.Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 2.30.45 PM.jpgScreen Shot 2016-01-01 at 2.30.28 PM.jpgScreen Shot 2016-01-01 at 2.32.21 PM (1).jpg

Interviewed Hooked Author Nir Eyal With Bill Cushard

Sarah_graphic-05I helped crowdsource edit the book Hooked by behavior engineering expert Nir Eyal and have been a huge fan of his work for a while, so it was a big honor to get to interview him and Bill Cushard for ServiceRocket Media. It was an amazing discussion about behavior psychology, customer education and software adoption. Listen to the interview.

Looking Forward To 2016

I’m grateful for the amazing people and companies with whom I had the privilege of working in 2015. Thank you to everyone who helped make this such a special year, and for being on this journey together.

I’m excited for what’s to come in 2016. In the first week of January, I’m headed to ServiceRocket’s office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for team building and to work on projects with our team in KL. ServiceRocket Media has some awesome projects in store including a brand-new podcast, epic webinars, and much, much more. Happy New Year! Thanks for reading. Sarah

Book Review: Uncommon Stock Series By Eliot Peper


Uncommon StockImpressive (adj.) A male writer who spends only six hours in Boulder and is able to craft a compelling story starring a Boulderite woman entrepreneur. Also see: Eliot Peper.

Dissatisfied with the sparse startup fiction landscape, writer and startup vet Eliot Peper took matters into his own hands and wrote Uncommon Stock 1.0 and its sequel, Uncommon Stock: Power PlayBesides practically creating a new genre, Peper launched an entertaining and compelling series centered around startups, Boulder and human relationships.

Without spoiling too much of the plot of book 1.0, Mara, the outdoor sports-enthusiast protagonist, and her co-founder, James, get themselves into a lot of opportunity, excitement, and life-threatening trouble with their startup Mosaik. Along the way they deal with challenges like building the company, getting beta customers, managing founder roles, fundraising, risking their lives uncovering dangerous secrets through Mosaik’s software, and oh yes–being hormone-filled young adults.

Eliot Peper

Uncommon Stock Writer Eliot Peper

The plot twists and turns are undeniably gripping (without spoiling too much, let’s just say some ex-lovers get a little too crazy about amateur private investigating and pay the price for it), but, for me, my favorite part of 1.0 was how Peper captured Boulder’s startup vibe. I found myself nodding while reading about the savory dishes at local restaurants, beautiful descriptions of the Rocky Mountain landscape and local Boulder institutions.

Power Play takes us along for more adventures of Mozaik. Mara deals with the reality of being CEO at one of Boulder’s fastest growing startups, and the consequences of that role–less time out in nature, and more responsibilities and risk. More lives are at stake in this book, too.

I feel privileged to have been based in Boulder, CO for the past couple years, and really enjoyed reading descriptions of the local restaurants, trails, sights and institutions. If you’ve ever been to Boulder (for even six hours!) I think you’ll love that about this series, too. If you haven’t been to Boulder but appreciate early stage startup drama, Uncommon Stock will also be up your alley.

Peper (who seems overall like a really awesome guy) emailed me that he’s working on Book 3. I can’t wait to read it, and recommend you catch up on one and two so you can get excited about Book 3, too. You can follow him on Twitter to stay abreast of Uncommon Stock news.

Why You Should Hire A Marketing Consultant: A Rebuttal To Neil Patel’s Post

Why you should hire a marketing consultant

A recent post on Neil Patel’s blog suggests you shouldn’t hire a marketing consultant. The gist of the article is that, despite having been a lauded, successful marketing consultant himself, Patel argues against hiring marketing consultants.

Before launching into my rebuttal, I feel it necessary to point out that Neil Patel offers paid online marketing courses for entrepreneurs to teach themselves how to do marketing. It’s in Patel’s best financial interest to convince entrepreneurs not to hire marketing consultants and instead pay him money for his products and e-courses. It’s likely he wrote this just to get people to click the controversial headline and convert (aka buy his instructional products).

So, knowing this article is likely just click bait to sell his own products, as a professional digital marketing consultant, I feel it necessary to respond. I respectfully disagree with Patel’s sweeping claim that hiring marketing consultants is never a good idea. I think he’s doing a disservice to his audience of entrepreneurs in a lot of his misguided, if well-intentioned, advice.

We’re going to go through Patel’s post line-by line, reader, to point out where his words are false. I’ve used Patel’s original article subheadings to organize my critique.

Consultants aren’t miracle workers

Patel starts out his troubling post by letting us know how in-demand he was and is as a marketing consultant. It’s not empty bragging; we all know Patel is skillful businessperson, which is why we all read Quick Sprout. Patel even says he still gets a thousand inquiries or more per month, despite no longer running his marketing consultancy. Patel tells readers that he received rave reviews and got great results for his clients while running a multi-million dollar marketing consultancy. He then goes on to say that hiring all marketing consultants is a bad idea. If you’re having trouble following the logic, you’re not alone.

“I’m telling you that you shouldn’t hire me, or any consultant for that matter, to help you with your marketing.” – Neil Patel.

Patel’s first reason you shouldn’t hire a marketing consultant is that consultants aren’t “miracle workers.”

He says: “If you have a bad product, a low converting site, or an offer that just doesn’t make sense, driving thousands of visitors to your website won’t fix your business.”

I absolutely agree with Patel on this one. No marketing consultant should take on a client  they think has a bad product or broken business model. But for every entrepreneur who hires a marketing consultant thinking it’ll be a panacea for their broken business, there are those who do have viable products and just need to figure out how to tell the right stories about them to the right audiences, aka marketing. Marketing consultants are not doing their jobs correctly if they don’t manage expectations from the outset.

I’m not sure what Neil claimed to be for his clients, but I personally care about a lot more than clicks and site traffic. There may be marketing experts who are just focused on bringing in visitors, but I urge against categorizing all marketers as single-minded in their approach. Perhaps his article should have been called, “Why You Shouldn’t Hire Someone Just To Drive Traffic To Your Site If Your Site Is Terrible And Your Product Needs Work.”

You can’t build a skyscraper without laying the foundation

The next point Patel makes is that entrepreneurs should “build their foundation” instead of hiring a digital marketing consultant. “Even the best marketers can’t turn around a shitty business, which is why you need to focus on creating a great product or service before you talk to a marketing consultant.”

At this point, Patel is saying you should consider hiring a digital marketing consultant, just after building the foundation of your business. We’ve already touched on the hypocrisy of this claim, but it warrants further exploration. It isn’t clear why Patel doesn’t just stake the claim that you should wait until hiring a marketing consultant until you’ve built a business foundation. Why throw all marketing consultants under the bus, per the title? Part of my job as a marketing consultant is to not take on any clients who I think lack the foundational elements of their business. This includes: solid value propositions and at least awareness and plans for ameliorating things like lackluster websites and social media presences.

You need to walk before you run

In the next point, Patel seems to be firmly changing his position that you shouldn’t hire a marketing consultant. He says he recommends trying to market your business by yourself before hiring a consultant. Again, that sounds rational–much more so than the title and thesis claim that you should never hire a marketing consultant. Just as many advise doing sales, customer success, and other business aspects before hiring, I think advising CEOs to do their own marketing first is a great idea. A CEO especially needs to have a strong grasp on the market positioning of his or her product. Patel recommends things like optimizing SEO, speeding up your site, starting a blog, interacting on social networks, etc. as things leaders should do before hiring. Again, Patel and I couldn’t agree more.

But then Patel loses me yet again. He says, “If you aren’t able to do all of the things above, you can always hire an intern or a college kid to help you out. Again, don’t look for a consultant.”

This part is especially troubling to me, and I believe is the worst advice given throughout the piece. I am all for lean startup business models, but hiring inexperienced help early on can seriously sabotage your startup and sap your energy. It’s a shame that Patel advises this, because hiring an amateur always leads to wasting time and money, undoing mistakes instead of reaping the benefits of a seasoned professional who has helped numerous other startups solve similar problems. Imagine if Patel had advised hiring a designer who is still in school learning Adobe, or a developer who just finished reading a book on Rails.

There’s nothing wrong with startups hiring interns to help with marketing, but that should be no substitute for expert marketing strategy and implementation. At the least, a marketing consultant can hire and manage a less experienced team to ensure all efforts are aligned and goals are being met. Patel laments that marketing consultants are “expensive,” which is another worrisome claim. What’s expensive is your business never getting off the ground because you’ve hired someone who has never done startup marketing before. Do you really want to hire someone who has little experience in your market and have them spend your time and money doing trial and error? Imagine your product never taking off because you’ve become burnt out trying to redo your website copy without the help of a professional content marketing expert. Do you really want to go the “cheap” route?

When to hire consultants

In the penultimate paragraph, Patel finally admits that hiring a marketing consultant is actually a good idea.

“Once you test the waters and try to grow your business on your own, you can consider hiring a consultant. Make sure you hire him or her for specific tasks instead of all your marketing needs.”

This is great to see, but I wish Patel had been more upfront about his perspective that someone should hire a marketing consultant after they’ve done the necessary work instead of not at all. He suggests the cases in which hiring consultants who meet specific needs has really helped his business, and advises not to look for “one-size-fits-all marketing consultants.”

I absolutely agree with Patel on this. I am sometimes asked to do things outside of my core competences, and I am always upfront about where my strengths and weaknesses lie. For example, I will not run and/or optimize clients’ PPC campaigns. It’s just not what I do.

Final thoughts

I completely agree that a lot needs to happen before you can bring on a marketing consultant or team (just as a lot needs to happen before you can hire a sales team). An excellent consultant can and will work with you to identify and build out assets you need, and/or advise when you need to improve other aspects of marketing than those they specialize in.

In my experience, startups and marketing consultants are often perfect matches. Many great startups can’t afford to hire full-time marketing experts, but they can afford to pay for an expert marketing consultant who can work as an “in-house asset” to strategize and deliver on measurable goals. A great marketing consultant can be agile and meet the unique needs of a company. S/he can work directly with CEOs and other consultants, and act as if they were an employee. Delivering measurable value should be their primary concern. Like any field, there are top performers and those who under-deliver and underwhelm. A great marketing consultant would never charge clients for what Patel calls “thumb twiddling”.

The right marketing consultant—one who works with you as if they were an employee, who has already worked with dozens of other startups and helped them accomplish their goals across various market segments—is a fantastic choice. They can also help you build out the foundation elements that Patel mentions in the post. Hiring an “intern” or “kid” can waste a lot of time and money. It’s far better to find a marketing consultant with reasonable rates who will get it right the first time.

In sum, I’m grateful for Patel’s dialogue, and would love to continue the discussion here. Have you ever hired a marketing consultant? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Boulder Startup Week 2014 Recap: Hacking Diversity And Growth

This year, I was fortunate to attend Boulder Startup Week (May 12-16, 2014), an annual celebration of all things startup-related in this beautiful Colorado mountain town. I’ve lived and worked in other startup-filled metro areas including NYC, LA, and the San Francisco Bay Area, and after living here for almost a year, I’ve discovered that Boulder has some pretty unique tech culture that isn’t typically found elsewhere (as far as I know).

Why is Boulder’s startup scene so unique? I think it’s because “giving before you receive, without having the expectation to receive” is exemplified here (for more on this check out Brad Feld’s Boulder thesis). So many companies and individuals in the community are committed to this, which I believe is why magical things happen within our startup community.

I’ll touch more on this idea of giving back to the community later in the post, but first, here’s a recap of the events I went to. I should note that I tackled a full client workload this week while fitting in events, and so I chose to prioritize attending diversity events and events on startup growth.

The first event I attended was the Startup Crawl, in which ten offices in Boulder opened up their spaces to meet and give out booze and refreshments to entrepreneurs and community members. The offices that participated: Simple EnergyShipCompliantPivotal LabsGalvanizeSendGridPivot DeskMobileDay/ JumpcloudKapostMocavo and Slice of Lime. I didn’t get a chance to visit every office, but the ones I went to, Mobile Day/Jumpcloud, SendGrid, and Galvanize, were a blast. I loved meeting awesome new people, and walking into noisy, sometimes raucous, rooms filled with great people laughing, talking, and toasting to our work and our community.

It was snowy when Boulder Startup Week 2014 began.

It was snowy when Boulder Startup Week 2014 began.

SendGrid's beautiful view. I got to see their awesome new office during the Startup Crawl.

SendGrid’s beautiful new office view. Photo taken during the Startup Crawl.

Amazing vegan lemon gelato served at new coworking space Galvanize in Boulder. Enjoyed during the Startup Crawl.

Lemon gelato enjoyed at new coworking space Galvanize in Boulder.

SendGrid's brand new swinger lounge was a star of the Startup Crawl.

SendGrid’s brand new swinger lounge.

The next event I went to was a discussion of a new book soon to be released by Foundry Press, Jane Miller’s Sleep Your Way To The Top* And Other Myths About Business Success. After holding leadership positions at food industry giants like Heinz London, PepsiCo, and more, Miller stepped in to helm Boulder’s Charter Baking Company, bakers of Rudy’s Organic and Rudy’s Gluten Free. Miller’s book, and the lively discussion, focused on the lessons she learned during her career. Miller also discussed how she became involved with Unreasonable Institute, leveraging her vast corporate management experience to help make a difference in the world. Peppered with advice and anecdotes, the talk was definitely entertaining and informative.

Sleep Your Way To The Top: * and other myths about business success

Brad Feld and Jane Miller discuss her new book on being a successful female CEO.

The next morning, I attended coffee hour/ talk on “Controversy of Diversity,” which focused on strategies for increasing diversity in technology startups. This was probably my favorite event of all of startup week. While enjoying Ozo Coffee and BronutsTara Calihman and Julie Penner kicked things off, followed by Ingrid Alongi, CEO of Quick Left, who talked about the big data behind the issues and Dr. Wendy DuBow, a NCWIT research scientist, shared tips on becoming a male advocate. I learned some startling statistics about how gender inequality around technology starts super young, as girls are often conditioned to think computer science is more for boys. Over time, the numbers of women angel investors have increased, and there are more women in tech, however startup management positions are still 96% male, according to Alongi in her fantastic, statistic-filled presentation. I was inspired by Alongi’s mission and company, as well as her passion for increasing diversity in the startup tech world.  

CEO Ingrid Alongi of Boulder's QuickLeft

CEO Ingrid Alongi of Boulder’s QuickLeft spoke at the Controversy of Diversity panel.

The NCWIT presentation was another highlight; DuBow said in addition to adopting gender neutral hiring language, there are specific strategies companies can do once women are on board to help them succeed alongside their male peers. This includes mentorship across gender, which I found to be a very important point and something I’ve personally benefitted from. There was also a Q&A session that included more discussion about the subtle ways startups can either encourage or discourage diversity, including creating during-work social events to avoid penalizing parents who aren’t interested in building company community at a bar, and trying to call on women during meetings, as men are still statistically more likely to speak out.

The Controversy of Diversity talk held at Techstars during Boulder Startup Week 2014.

The Controversy of Diversity talk held at Techstars during Boulder Startup Week 2014.

Startup growth panel at eTown during Boulder Startup Week.

“Early Stories At Big Companies “panel at eTown during Boulder Startup Week.

The final event I attended was “Early Stories At Big Companies,” on the final day of Boulder Startup Week. It was amazing to listen in to founders and early employees of big startups like Github, Twitter, SendGrid, and more share some lesser known stories of how they grew, challenges they faced, and how they overcame adversities. Some of the takeaways: “if you aren’t unhappy with your product when you launch, you’ve waited too long to go to market,” “take initiative and ownership of what’s important to you and the company,” “focus on what you really care about and what you’re spending your time on, and correct any misalignment on an ongoing basis,” and “don’t have an air gun fight in a parking lot outside your startup unless you want local police involvement” (you had to be there).

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I’ve been really inspired by our community’s “give before you get” mentality. Startup Week diversity events solidified my interest in helping to build community and support around a community I personally care about and am aligned with, which is why, with ally Brad Feld and other startup community members’ blessing, I’ve started Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Startup Meetup. Our group already has its first event scheduled, and is open to all. We’re also looking for a business sponsor of the meetup.com dues and possibly some events, so please drop me a line if you are or your company is interested in getting involved.

Thanks for reading my recap of Boulder Startup Week 2014! I’d love to hear in the comments if others attended these or other events and/or what your impressions were of the week.

 

Interview: Bidsketch Founder Ruben Gamez On Business, Freelancing And Teamwork

A while back, I reviewed the wonderful service Bidsketch, a tool for creating successful, highly professional bids. Today, I’m thrilled to post an interview with Bidsketch founder Ruben Gamez. While working full-time as a software developer, Ruben harnessed psychology principles to build tools to help create bids to close seven- and eight-figure deals. Ruben eventually built Bidsketch as a premium tool to help take the pain away from the proposal process, and turned it into a full-time business. Ruben answered my questions about how he got started, why Bidsketch is so cool, and what he’s learned in the process of building his successful company.

Bidsketch founder Ruben Gamez.

Bidsketch founder Ruben Gamez

Sarah Brown: Why and when did you start Bidsketch? Was it a sudden decision or had you been thinking about it for a while?

Ruben Gamez: I was working full time when I started Bidsketch. A friend of mine asked me about web design proposals. He had never written one and was about to go to his first client meeting. I searched for templates online and found a product that allowed web designers to create proposals. Unfortunately, it was an old-school downloadable software plugin for MS Word. I couldn’t find anything that was web based so I decided to build it myself after doing some keyword research to measure demand.

Sarah: My blog focuses on b2b digital marketing news and insights. Why should marketers use Bidsketch to help get clients?

Ruben: Customers tend to use Bidsketch to cut down on the time it takes to create proposals and help them land more clients. We build Bidsketch with those things in mind. Of course, it’s not a great fit for all businesses, but if you’re creating client proposals (instead of product proposals), I think it’s worth checking out.

Sarah: Is your team made up of contractors? If so, have any of them applied through Bidsketch?

Ruben: Most of the people that I work with are technically contractors (and one full time employee), though I treat everyone like they’re part of the team — because they are. I’ve actually worked with several people that first started out as Bidsketch customers. Often, I’ll get into conversations with customers and sometimes that results in us working together on important projects.

Sarah: How do different types of freelancers/agencies/etc. use Bidsketch differently?

Ruben: Freelancers generally tend to send out less proposals than Agencies. So often they’ll use it in batches — heavily for a month and lightly for a couple of months after that. Some agencies send out proposals on a daily basis so there’s a major need to collaborate and cut down on the time it takes to write them. In all cases, they benefit from the online features like electronic signatures and instant notifications when a proposal is viewed.

Sarah: What’s the best success story you’ve ever had from a Bidsketch customer?

Ruben: There have been some great success stories, but my favorite is a customer that used it to close his first million dollar deal. He emailed me and was very excited and mentioned how Bidsketch helped him close the deal. It’s great to know that people are paying a few dollars a month and are closing deals in the tens (or hundreds) of thousands. I love that.

There have been some great success stories, but my favorite is a customer that used it to close his first million dollar deal. – Ruben Gamez, Founder of Bidsketch

Sarah: How has being a part of Bidsketch changed you as a person?

Ruben: That’s a good question. I think I’ve always had the attributes that I have now; the biggest change is in how I get to spend my time. Nowadays I spend my time working on things I love, and get to spend a lot more time with my family. My schedule is much more flexible than when I worked for someone else.

Bidsketch founder Ruben Gamez currently resides in Spokane, WA.

Ruben Gamez: “Stay focused, take massive action, and you’ll get there.”

Sarah: Do you have any life philosophies or strategies that motivate you?

Ruben: I think the biggest thing for me has been to stay focused. New opportunities come up all the time. That’s why many of my competitors have gone out of business. They get distracted and start doing something else then wonder why their business suffers. This works for pretty much anything that you want to get really good at: Stay focused and take massive action, and you’ll get there.

Sarah: Where do you currently live, and are you active in your local tech community?

Ruben: Right now I live in Spokane, WA. There’s not much going on as far as tech is concerned here. That said, I do go to tech conferences and have a couple of mastermind groups that helps me stay connected. We’re also going to be moving to the Seattle or Portland area soon.

Sarah: Anything else you’d love to share?

Ruben: Since we’re on a blog that focuses on b2b marketing, readers might be interested in checking our free eBook that goes over several simple marketing tactics that will help them get more clients.

Thanks again to Ruben Gamez of Bidsketch for taking the time to share his insights! If you haven’t already, definitely check out Bidsketch and see if it’s right for helping your business. Follow Ruben Gamez on Twitter: @earthlingworks.

The 8 Best Marketing Books I Read In 2013

Reading is one of my favorite activities, and reading marketing-related books allows me to constantly evolve both my marketing philosophies and practices as I help my clients better engage their online stakeholders. In no particular order, here are the eight best marketing books I read in 2013. These books made this list because they changed my perspectives and made me a better digital marketer and/or human being.

1.Hooked By Nir Eyal Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal and Ryan Hoover.

Hooked just came out this week, but I got the privilege of reading and providing feedback/revisions on an advance copy of the manuscript as part of a crowd-source editing project (how cool is that?). Delivered with humor, Hooked explores the human psychology behind habit-forming products and technologies. Why do we log in to Instagram or check our e-mail? Why do we use one keyboard and not another? What makes us loyal to our favorite brands and turn up our noses at competitors? I absolutely consider this essential reading for digital marketers, or anyone who really wants to understand (and better serve) their target audiences/markets in the ever-changing digital age.

2. Designing For GrowthDesigning for Growth: A Design Thinking Toolkit for Managers by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie

Design thinking incorporates a unique, collaborative process to determining whether an idea or product will work in the marketplace. What Is? What If? What Wows? What Works? Are the crucial design-driven  processes outlined in the book and in a Coursera class, Design Thinking For Business Innovation, which I participated in as a companion to the text. The book contains incredibly practical strategies for testing assumptions and using an iterative approach to developing business and marketing ideas.

Letting Go Of The Words3. Letting Go Of The Words: Writing Web Content That Works by Janice (Ginny) Redish

Letting Go outlines an easy-to-digest approach to creating  “marketing moments” and building user trust and confidence across all web content. While the book doesn’t address the flat design and mobile responsive elements that companies typically seek in website designs nowadays, the philosophies it contains on what converts on the web are timeless and valuable. Redish suggests using concise copy that entices users to take a clear action. A must-read if you’re doing web writing, editing, or run a business that includes any of the above.

Pitch Perfect: The Art of Promoting Your App on The Web

4. Pitch Perfect: The Art of Promoting Your App On The Web by Erica Sadun and Steve Sande

What so many app developers don’t realize is that developing and pushing out an app is just the first step–promotion is a crucial part of the process that can’t be underestimated. This book offers a lot of great advice for those who want to launch apps, optimize landing pages and SEO for the iTunes store and Google Play store, as well as create the ideal PR materials to support products. The authors’ best advice? Position your app well among existing apps in the marketplace and  build relationships with key bloggers and influencers in the space.

Persuasive Technology by BJ Fogg 5. Persuasive Technology: Using Computers To Change What We Think And Do by B.J. Fogg

In 2002, working out of his Stanford Persuasive Technology lab, BJ Fogg anticipated how deeply our lives would be changed by technology–even before smartphones, Facebook and many other modern technologies were around. Fogg’s research shows how technology can be used to persuade us to take action–sign up for a newsletter, install anti-virus software, drive slower, and influence user perceptions of a company or product. I paid particular attention to the ethical concerns related to persuasive technology section–one that’s quite timely in the wake of NSA surveillance and other potentially invasive applications of available technology.

Jab, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook6. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World by Gary Vaynerchuk

Gary Vaynerchuk has a big onstage personality and equally big credentials to back up his stage bravado. After building multi-million dollar wine business WineLibary.Com, Vaynerchuk established Vayner Media, a successful (and profitable) digital marketing agency with home bases in San Francisco and New York City. His latest book explores the nature of each social networking platform, and discusses how brands can leverage each to support their marketing endeavors. While Vaynerchuk’s signature foul language and off-the-cuff style are present in this book, the information shared is top-notch and should be required reading for any marketer or company leader serious about getting a return on investment on digital marketing campaigns.

Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web (2nd Edition) 7. Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web (2nd Edition) (Voices That Matter) by Christina Wodtke and  Austin Govella

Information architecture is one of the most important aspects of a website, and this textbook introduces the core concepts of information architecture: organizing web content so that it can be easily found, creating user-friendly web interactions and interfaces that are easy to understand and use. It’s useful for marketers to understand information architecture philosophies and best practices as well as user experience (UX)–whether overseeing web development or not.

Ultimate Guide To Google Adwords8. Ultimate Guide To Google Adwords (3rd Edition) by Perry Marshall and Bryan Todd

This is a no-nonsense guide to Adwords, great for anyone who needs to set up a new campaign and/or wants to learn more. I appreciate how it outlines “peel and stick” best practices to get the best results and optimize ad ROI. There’s a lot of nitty gritty details that can make or break a PPC campaign’s success and budget. This book is one of the best in class for anyone working with Adwords on a regular basis.

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear what books you read and loved in 2013 and why they made an impact on you and/or your business. Please feel free to share in the comments.

Smartsheet: Marketing Collaboration Made Easy

When working with new clients, one of the first things I do is determine how they currently organize and translate ideas into action steps among their team.

This is where Smartsheet comes in. Smartsheet is a project collaboration system that has been really helpful to me in increasing productivity among creative, sales and marketing teams.

I first began using Smartsheet while working with an LA-based tech company. They used it to help manage projects alongside JIRA (note: Smartsheet is compatible with JIRA, and the Smartsheet team told me the JIRA team even uses Smartsheet in-house).

When we began using Smartsheet for our marketing team, we could easily determine which tasks were important, when they were due, and who was responsible for execution. As we crossed off items on our Smartsheet, we got an accurate picture of how much we could accomplish in a given time period, which led to increasing our goals and meeting them. Smartsheet made our collaboration feel like a breeze.

In my consulting business, I’ve begun offering the premium version of Smartsheet to my clients and have been met with enthusiasm and gratitude. What’s perhaps so great about Smartsheet is how flexible it is in terms of scale. It works as well with my small business clients as it does with larger organizations. When I create a Smartsheet for a client, I share it with them and can choose whether to give them admin, editing or viewer privileges. It’s easy for a CEO, individual client, or member of another department within a larger team to easily receive notifications updating them on my or my team’s progress without time-consuming e-mails.

Examples of some common project update questions:

How is the Pinterest build-out going?

Where are we on collaborating with endorsement companies?

When will the mobile downloads ROI report be finished, and which team members are reporting on it?

When will the Facebook mobile ad campaign A/B testing round be completed?

What are the next three content marketing blog topics?

When do we need to rotate copy on Google Adwords campaigns?

What Youtube videos will be uploaded this week and when will SEO keywords and descriptions be added? 

These questions can all be answered with a quick click to Smartsheet.  It saves both parties much time not to have to check in about each individual task, because Smartsheet does the reporting work for you.

Smartsheet-template-event-plan-and-budgetAn example of a marketing template on Smartsheet.

According to Smartsheet’s product description, it’s designed to help with the following: collaboration, file sharing, google apps, alerts and reminders, calendars, budgets, easy reporting, and so much more. It’s easy to update projects, re-assign tasks, adjust due dates, and keep everything laid out in a beautiful way. The possibilities feel nearly endless. Smartsheet offers numerous templates to get started, and the option to integrate with other tools like Google products, Dropbox, Box and JIRA is at your fingertips. I highly recommend adopting Smartsheet to help organize your next project. Give it a try (they offer a great free trial program) and see if it doesn’t change everything.