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Miscellany

We Are Iron Man: An Introspective Pause, With Popcorn

By | Creativity, Miscellany, Web Marketing | 4 Comments

Just go with it for a minute…

Everybody loves a process. And for good reason. Processes make things clean and simple. They ensure that things don’t get missed, that you can consistently deliver the same proven steps and, hopefully, get the same proven results.

And if you’ve paid attention at all, you know that here at Mack Web Solutions, we really love a good process. We research and test and put the steps together and shuffle them into the optimum arrangement. And then we share them with all you lovely people.

Because in addition to loving processes, we also love helping people.

(And ice cream. We love ice cream almost as much as being helpful and slightly more than processes).

But there is a very important piece to the business of web marketing that we try to keep sight of through all the processing and systematizing that we do.

We call it: The Human Element.

The Man in the Suit. (Which is entirely different from the Man in the Iron Mask).

I’m sure that sitting in a movie theater is hardly the strangest place to have an epiphany.   (We took a poll here in the office and decided that the actual strangest place to have an epiphany would be Disneyland or Six Flags. Because between the overstimulation and the sugar high, who has the concentration for soul searching?)

So, no, a theater isn’t that odd. All kinds of deep and meaningful can happen in a movie:  It’s A Wonderful Life and Shawshank Redemption and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Great Mouse Detective. (What do you mean a talking mouse who tracks down missing people and foils regicide attempts isn’t meaningful? It’s clearly symbology for the mysteries of the cosmos. Just ask Douglas Adams).

An epiphany in a movie theater in the middle of a summer blockbuster (and a sequel, at that) is a little odder.

Nevertheless, an epiphany is what I had, while thoroughly enjoying the charmingly irreverent Robert Downey, Jr. in Iron Man 3.

It was a very small epiphany but worthy of the name, nevertheless: We are Iron Man.

Without spoiling the movie for you, let me sum up the lesson learned in this third(ish) installment in the franchise:

The fancy (and it is hella fancy) suit isn’t what makes Tony Stark Iron Man. It is Tony Stark who gives the suit its name.

(Or something like that. The movie, entertaining though it was, didn’t do a particularly awesome job at closing all the emotional loops).

But the idea is there, all the same. He needs the suit to do all the high-flying, boat-exploding, damsel-rescuing stuff he does.

But is Robert Downey, Jr. himself…er, I mean, Tony Stark – with his ingenuity, his determination, his charm, and his charisma – who actually drives all of these accomplishments. And even when stripped of the armor, he manages to win the day.

(Uh…that might have been a little bit of a spoiler. Sorry. But it is fairly standard fare for the hero cycle, right?)

Processes are the suit.

So when I say that the Mack Web team is Iron Man, I don’t mean that we’re genius billionaires with alcohol dependencies and a ‘saving people’ thing. What I mean is that we’ve managed to find the balance between the magic suit of awesome and human anima that truly drives progress.

(And we did it without blowing anything up or spiraling into a self-destructive morass of booze and egotism. So take that, Tony Stark).

Yes, we love and use the processes that we’ve developed and we put them front and center in most of our public outings.

But inbound marketing (and Mack Web Solutions, in particular) is about more than the tools. What sits right at the heart of our company and our team is the understanding and knowledge of what we call ‘The Three Rs of the Human Element.’

(Well, sometimes we call them that. Sometimes we just call them, ‘that stuff. Y’know, the good stuff.’ An eloquent bunch here at Mack Web Solutions, I tell you what).

So, the three Rs: Roles, Relationships, and Reasons.

A quick note on the Three Rs.

As we talk about the three Rs, you’ll notice they’re all quite different in how they fit into the big picture. But the thing they have in common, the thing that ties them all together, is that they are all driven by people.

By being a person among people.

Which is the one thing we never want to forget to do. Be a real, live person with a soul who remembers that they live in a world driven by other such people, flawed and fantastic as they are.

So. There. That’s that. Note over. Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Roles: Working with the right person.

AKA, If Your Archnemesis Has Developed Regenerative Technology, Make Sure the Guy At Your Back Doesn’t Have an Amputee Grandchild. (A bonus lesson, courtesy of Iron Man).

In most of the internal processes we’ve developed and shared, there is at least one portion that deals with assembling and training your team. Getting the necessary buy-in and priming them for success.

The Human Element (can you hear the appropriately dramatic echoes?) is an inescapable part of this. Because your team is made up of people, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, enthusiasms, and prejudices. And you have to be prepared to make allowances for that simple fact.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t train and educate and motivate and, when necessary, scold.

It does mean that you can’t just arbitrarily assign the roles to people on your team. Just because your 22-year old intern is the only one who knows how to use Facebook doesn’t mean that they should be running your social media.

It means that you need to be deliberate about how you assign the roles on your team. Web marketing has a lot of moving pieces and most of them you shouldn’t hand them out willy-nilly to whoever has a free moment. Instead, figure out who they’re best suited for and then find a way to make the balance work.

Some of that is obvious. You don’t ask the girl from whom crayons run away in terror to do your design. You don’t ask the introvert to run your social.

If that means hiring more people or different people, then that’s what you do.

That’s the dream anyway. To be able to maneuver the exact right people into the exact right positions.

But drastic personnel shifts aren’t the only, or even the first, solution.

Take the time to approach the team as if they were real people. Explain what you hope to accomplish with inbound marketing. Take the time to tie it to your real company goals. Don’t hesitate to offer training and time to get up to speed.

Be a person among people.

(See how that ties in? Nifty, right?)

Relationships: Much like Soylent Green, the Internet is people.

AKA, If Your Flying Suit-Robot Mistakenly Crashes You in the Middle of Nowhere, Tennessee, It’s Not a Good Idea to Alienate the Weirdly Tech-Savvy Kid With the Potato Gun.

This one is kind of a duh to anyone who’s been paying attention to the recent trends in search. Automated link building and mechanical SEO aren’t enough.

To really harness the power of the Internet, you need to capture the hearts and minds of the people who surf it.

This means reaching out both on and offline to the influencers in your industry. If they know you and like you and respect you as a person representing your brand, they’re a lot more likely to share and promote your stuff, wielding their influence on your behalf.

They’re also a lot more likely to share their wisdom and insight with you. Almost as if you were a friend or a mentee or something. Crazy, no?

It also means knowing what drives the people in your customer base audience. What do they really want from you? What resources are missing from the vast cacophony of the Internet? What is about you and your brand that calls a response from them?

You know how you find out honest answers to those questions? You develop relationships with the actual people who buy your product or use your service. And then you ask them.

And how do you develop these relationships? Be a person, of course. Be transparent, be enthusiastic, be humble, be generous. Take the time to listen as well as talk. Put yourself in their shoes and then act accordingly.

(But don’t forget to give the shoes back. Nobody wants to be friends with the guy who left them barefoot in the mud).

See how that works?

Reasons: Find the Why.

AKA, You May Have Built Suit Number One to Rescue Yourself from Afghanistan, But Once You Get to Suit Number Forty-Five, There’s Clearly Something Else At Work.

This is probably the single most important factor of The Human Element.

It’s not enough to go from day-to-day, following the processes, and reacting to everything that comes your way.

If you really want to do the inbound marketing (or, really, anything) right, you have to figure out why you care. What part of it is exciting to you? What do you want to do? What stirs your soul?

As many wise souls have pointed out, it can’t just be about the money.

It needs to be about more than building the tools you need in the moment.

You need to have some bigger vision, some overarching goal to drive you forward. Otherwise, you’ll always lag a step behind.

When the big names in, well, just about any industry talk about their journey to success, they rarely talk about the individual products they developed.

They don’t wax lyrical about the killer app they built (or discovered) and how it inspired them. They don’t talk about their fantastic breakthrough in spreadsheet usage.

They talk about their vision, about the world they wanted to help build, about the lessons learned, about the characteristics they developed in and of themselves.

These human lessons are what drove their successes.

But more importantly, if you don’t understand the why of what you’re doing, you’ll probably go nuts.

As someone who has been here at Mack Web Solutions for a while, through the internal testing of a lot of the processes and systems we use and share…let me tell you this, quite frankly: if I didn’t believe in where we were going, I probably would have quit in the middle.

Ironing out processes, shifting gears, backing up to see the bigger picture: this stuff can hurt. It’s hard, it’s frustrating, and you’ll spend some time feeling like a failure.

Without a clear destination in sight, the journey itself can be enough to make you turn around and go home.

So, figure out the why.

And then share that why with your team, with your customers, with your community. Your genuine passion and enthusiasm will be what draws them to you and sparks their interest.

You Are More Than an Arc Reactor.

So, that’s it, really. My rambling, ranting little reminder of why summer blockbusters about handsome, muscular, egotistic men with savant-like knowledge of robotics and an arsenal of quips are relevant to life.

Because they remind us that it’s not the tools that define us. It’s the spark of ingenuity and the ability to dream big for the future, the ability to connect with other living souls, that makes us great.

So, find your inner genuis, billionare, playboy philanthropist.

And then remind yourself: I. Am. Iron Man.

 

Our Little Girl is All Grown Up…and Speaking at Search Love Boston

By | Events, Miscellany | 2 Comments

Something to celebrate

In honor of the day, we Mack Web folks decided to send out a little love…to one of our own.

It may surprise you to know that we here at Mack Web Solutions do not actually conduct our lives as a non-stop party.

I know, I know. We just exude an aura of constant revelry, but the truth is…we are actually serious people conducting serious business.

Ha! Yeah, I couldn’t even keep a straight face typing that. We try to have a good time and we usually succeed.

That being the case, you can bet that when there’s an actual reason to party…we do.

Congratulations, Mack!

One of the strongest messages we send as a web marketing company is that your content should only be about 20% self-promotion or back-patting, but we also think you need to celebrate your wins.

Which is why the rest of the company is taking this chance to sincerely congratulate (and let the rest of the world know that we are sincerely congratulating) Mackenzie Fogelson AKA EponyMack AKA Our Fearless Leader for being selected as a speaker at the upcoming SearchLove Boston Conference.

In case you aren’t aware, SearchLove is a conference that Distilled, an international online marketing company, hosts yearly. They are pretty amazing.

(For more information on the conference, scroll allllllll the way down. (We could just link to it again here, but…we think you should read the post first. Not that we’re biased or anything).).

This is a goal Mack set for herself and our company less than a year ago. (Seriously. Remember this Twitter post from back in the day? That marks the start date of her tireless campaign to get here.) We are incredibly excited and amazed to see it come to fruition so soon.

Nothing says “well done” like confectionry.

Knowing Mack, she’ll probably be putting together a thoughtful post reflecting on the road she traveled to SearchLove and the ways in which that journey validates our company philosophies (which it does, fyi).

But that’s a post for the future. This is a post for unabashed self-congratulation.

And also cake. See, here, Mack’s celebratory cake:

And see, also, Mack’s face upon receiving said cake:

(Not an actual depiction. In case you were wondering).

‘Nuff said

Aaaaaand, that’s pretty much it. Like we said, the whole point of the post was blatant congratulations, so that’s what we’re doing:

Yay Mack! Yay team! Yay SearchLove! Yay cupcakes!

(And if you don’t think a cupcake counts as a party…well…I have nothing to say to you. Clearly you fail to understand the cosmic importance of cupcakes).

Go see Mack (and other people) speak

Here’s the vital stats, if you’re interested in witnessing Mack’s triumph first hand:

Where: Joseph B. Martin Conference Center, Boston
When: May 20-21, 2013
Cost: $699 (basic ticket), $999 (fancy ticket, bonus content, etc).

That’s the basics. For more information or actual ticket purchase, go talk to Distilled about the SearchLove Boston. They know what’s what.

 

Contrast breeds clarity: Mack’s commitments for 2013

By | Mack's Musings, Miscellany | 2 Comments

I call bullshit on New Year’s resolutions.

It’s just a lame way of saying that you’re going to make a big deal about the things that you think you should be doing in your life but don’t, tack them on to your already over-committed routine, wonder why you don’t see results in less than 30 days, and then quit.

I’ve bagged that whole thing for taking a look at what hasn’t really been working, determining how it needs to be different, and committing to making a change.

There’s a whole boat load of things that I’d like to do differently, but there’s no way I can tackle it all. This is what I can confidently commit to revamping in my work life this year:

I’m going to change my routine

I’ve heard the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I’m done banging my head against the wall trying to make an old routine fit a new role.

For years I have been out of the production side of things. Instead of working on client stuff, my job has been to focus on systems, processes, and leadership. This has been the biggest contributor to the strong and rapid transformation that Mack Web made last year.

Due to our evolution, I have been presented with some new (and uninvited) responsibilities. With new systems and processes comes new roles for everyone, and I need to jump in and help the team with the transition. This means a little bit of production work, more training, and a whole bunch of management in the first quarter of 2013. This doesn’t get me overly excited, but it will help the team to feel empowered, better serve our clients, and get me back to focusing on the growth of the company.

I’m going to ask for help

As a leader (and an over-achiever), it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like I need to know (or learn) how to do everything. There’s too much that I want the company to accomplish this year, and I can’t be the only one who’s working on figuring out how to do it. I’m going to ask for help.

Lucky for me I’ve had a lot of people who have been willing to guide me as I grow Mack Web. I have always looked to mentors to coach me on the things that I have no idea how to do (or didn’t realize I needed to be doing). Hands down, our success can be attributed to the generosity of people who have been willing to advise me.

A long time friend of mine, Mike McCurdie has been mentoring me since I was a sole proprietor (God bless him). When we’re not venting over martinis, he’s pushing me to stay focused on what the company needs (and not what I’m tired of doing that particular day).

Last year, I received phenomenal guidance from many thought leaders in the industry. I can’t thank the Distilled team enough for their insight (when we grow up, we want to be just like them): Will Critchlow, John Doherty, Paddy Moogan, and Duncan Morris have been so incredibly generous with their time and have helped me through some really tough spots. This year, I’m going to add to my circle of mentors and find a few more who can provide knowledge and expertise where I need to be stronger.

Mentorship really has made all the difference in our survival. And someday, when I’m kind of a big deal, I’m going to do whatever it takes to pay it forward.

I’m going to give back

I love sharing knowledge. Even though I didn’t care for being in the trenches at the junior high level, I really do enjoy teaching. I also really like blogging, and that has been one of the most rewarding ways for me to utilize my teaching skills, contribute to our industry, and help others.

Something that I’m really excited and honored about doing this year is contributing to the SEOmoz main blog. SEOmoz has asked me to be an Associate, and as a result, I’ve committed to contributing one blog post a month. This is a hefty commitment with everything else I’ve got on my plate (Moz posts take me days on end to write), but it’s one that I’m eager to fulfill.

Every time I’ve contributed to the Moz blog it has pushed me to grow, but more importantly, it has provided the opportunity to connect with others who are learning as well. It will be nice to have the external motivation to make a consistent effort to learn, teach, and give back to the community that has been so good to me. And of course, make a ton of new friends (which is hands down my favorite part).

I’m going to dwell in possibility

This is our year. I can feel it. We figured out a lot of stuff last year. Contrast breeds clarity and I have no doubt in my mind that we know who we are, what we want to do, and that we sure as hell are going to do it.

We have a ton of work to do this year. My challenge with that is two things:

  1. Not get stuck in the day-to-day but instead dwell in the possibility of where all of that work is going to take us.
  2. Don’t kill (i.e. overwork) the team.

We’re starting the year off by getting grounded in our values. All of us need a better understanding of exactly what we stand for so that we can exemplify this every day:

Knowledge: our dedication to staying on top of the industry and providing our clients with accurate and valuable information that will assist them in making good decisions about their businesses. We take a lot of pride in and have a lot of passion about educating our clients and our community.

Service: our commitment to take remarkable care of our clients. To communicate. To be responsive. To be kind, helpful, honest, and understanding. To show our clients that we value their relationship and we’re worth every penny they’re spending with us. If our clients feel this from us on an ongoing basis, then when we make a mistake or drop the ball (it does happen), we can earn their forgiveness.

Initiative: exhibiting leadership both internally and externally with our clients and agency partners. Internally, our team has to have the drive and ability to observe when something isn’t quite right. When we can do better. When we need to make a change. And not waiting for someone (like me) to ask them to take action.

With our clients, it’s our job to lead them with knowledge and expertise but also with an intimate understanding of their business. It is our responsibility to make their lives easier by always thinking of them first and taking the initiative on their behalf.

Integrity: for me, integrity encompasses so many significant non-negotiables like transparency, accountability, character, and trust. When we’re not a fit for the job, we find the team who is. When we make a mistake, we own up to it. Sometimes integrity means embracing the fact that you’re the guy who sucks. It’s all part of being real and being human.

Relationships: this is all that matters. Sure, I want to make money, but what I really want for our company is to come to work every day and love who we get to be with. I want us to create life-long friendships with people who inspire us, challenge (yet support) us, and make us better. I want us to help other people do amazing things. Things that they didn’t believe were possible before they met us. This starts with the team we’re building, the clients and partners we choose to work with, and the community we are growing. Through these relationships we will make a big difference. In everything.

This is gonna be good

Here’s to a productive and life changing year, kids. But it’s not going to happen doing the same stuff you’ve always done. Shake it up a bit. Be thoughtful about living in the moment and making the most of where you are right now. That’s a tough one for me, but I’m working on it.

What are you committed to doing in 2013? Whatever it is, make it count.

 

 

If the world had no turkeys…

By | Miscellany | No Comments

Rather than following tradition and rhapsodizing about how thankful we are at Thanksgiving (though we are, of course), we wanted to discuss something quite serious. Our philosophical ponderings led us to one of the great hypotheticals of the universe. Second only to “how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood” is the Grand Question:

What if there were no turkeys in the world?

This is a grave matter, folks.

The universe would be a very different place.

For example, school children and adults alike would learn to make handprint peacocks. Like so:

But it does not stop there…

In the spirit of giving back to our community, the Mack Web team spent some time ruminating over this question on your behalf. After days of deep meditation, we came to the following startling conclusions.


Courtney

If there were no turkeys in the world, Courtney believes we would eat cornish hens at Thanksgiving instead. (Of course, some of us do that anyway).

Her mom would have to find new ways to refer to people who cut her off in traffic.

And a hefty slice of land in Asia Minor would still be called Byzantium.


Natalie

If there was no turkey, Nat’s family would substitute Chicken curry or Shrimp Biryani for their Thanksgiving meal (she has admitted that they have done  this a few times in the past and she didn’t mind at all).

Benjamin Franklin would have to find another fowl to praise as being “a much more respectable bird” than the bald eagle.

And worst of all, cheesy Turkey clipart would become non-existent. There would be none of this:


June

If there were no turkeys in the world people would be less sleepy on Thanksgiving. June would have no excuse for why she fell asleep on the couch as her husband and friends watch football on the telly. Even scarier, perhaps the word “food coma” would not exist.

June says she’d be fine, because she prefers ham on her plate rather than turkey. Also her cute little four year old would not walk around saying “gobble gobble” but rather, “oink, oink” as ham would become pretty popular.


Mack

If there were no turkey, Mack  would quit her job and spend every last dime to go on a pilgrimage, find Adam Sandler, and beg him to re-write his Turkey song. Maybe with bologna instead.


And with that folks, we will leave you with this present:

So…how would your life change had the turkey never graced planet Earth with his presence?

Oh, and…Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Rules & Reasons for Strategic Partnerships

By | Miscellany | 4 Comments

The truth is…in here

So, there are a few incontrovertible truths in the running of just about any business. (And by “incontrovertible truths” we mostly mean “We here at Mack Web have discovered them to be so and therefore we will pass them on with all the pomp and weight of a divinely-revealed proverb”).

The first is that situating your office across the street from a coffee shop is excellent for morale.

The second is that not every client/customer/what-have-you is going to be a good fit for you.

Third, there are definite benefits to making friends out of would-be competitors.

Finally, never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.

Of course, just like Vizzini, we’ve actually gathered a lot more wisdom than these four points, but if we shared it all at once, well…first of all, this would be the most epically long blog post in the history of blog-postery. And also, well…we’d have nothing left to offer and have to shut down the company and retreat to lives of quiet contemplation and mild depression.

So, no, you’ll have to content yourselves with these little tidbits, particularly the last three, which center on one particular topic: strategic partnerships.

First, a note or two

For obvious reasons, most of our insights on this subject are going to be specific to the web marketing industry. (If those reasons aren’t obvious, um…you might be on the wrong website. If that’s the case, well, first of all…welcome. Secondly, to clarify, Mack Web Solutions is a web marketing company. So…the connection’s obvious now, right?).

That said, we believe there are a lot of home truths for every businessperson in what we’re going to say. So stick around for a bit and see if you agree.

Also, we can’t take credit for all the wisdom you’re about to encounter. We talked to a couple of our friends (see the benefits in action already?) at Rocket Jones Interactive, Outspoken Media, and Distilled to get their two cents worth as well.

So you lucky people are getting, uh, eight cents worth of strategic partnership wisdom. Wow.

Funny Confession Ecard: I will take your advice so I can blame you later.

More publicized than Bigfoot

The myth of “the perfect client” has always been extremely popular. The perfect client understands instantly your methodology and does not scruple to meet your price. They are gracious and responsive and eager to work alongside you to make every effort end in success. They already come with a large customer base and are web savvy enough to understand everything you explain, but humble enough to accept your guidance. They smell of roses and the pavement before the rain and they take your entire company on yearly retreats to Hawaii.

Let’s all take a moment to sigh wistfully.

Hawaii Hawaii Hawaii.

Moment over, back to real life.

Obviously, there are no perfect clients. We all make do with the “close enoughs”. But part of what has helped Mack Web succeed in the last 10 years is being selective about who we work for.

Of course, sometimes practicality demands taking on less-than-ideal clients. These come in two forms: those who just don’t fit and those for whom you aren’t quite enough.

Kris Kringle or Ebenezer Scrooge?

First of all, when you take on a client who’s just not a match for your services, nobody wins.

Handing them over to agencies who most closely meet their needs or fit their personality is always going to be better for everyone. (Like Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street, telling overwrought Macy’s shoppers where to find the cheapest toys).

But, of course, if you don’t have anyone to refer them to, well…that becomes a problem. You don’t ever want to gain a reputation as the Ebenezer Scrooge of your industry, turning away people with no recourse and a nothing but a “Bah humbug” to see them out the door.

Or, as Rhea Drysdale of Outspoken Media says, “When we can’t take someone on, if I can point them in the direction of someone amazing, they’re going to remember that and it strengthens our relationship and trust with the agency or consultant. For example, when Penguin hit, I had a network of direct competitors to turn to and compare notes with which drove innovation and success for all of our clients.”

But of course, this can only happen if you’ve managed to develop a good relationship with your competitors.

Moral of the story? Be Kris Kringle, not Ebenezer Scrooge.

Puzzle pieces

Of course, there’s a difference between a good relationship and an actual partnership. And for the clients who need more than you can give, it’s the latter you need. Not every company has the bandwidth to be a one-stop-shop.

The Mack Web Story (yes, all caps), is a great example of how this can happen. We started out nearly ten years ago as primarily a web design agency. We did designs and basic coding for fairly simple websites. But as we grew and the demands of our client base got more sophisticated, it became clear that we needed to reach out to a more advanced programming team.

It didn’t go well at first. Until we met Rocket Jones, who had (and have) the team and the technical know-how to back us up on this stuff. Partnering with them ended up being a game changer for Mack Web Solutions. Rocket Jones became a role model for us in regard to conducting a partnership.

As they’ve always said, “It takes a lot of different disciplines to pull-off a professional web project. We believe strongly in the motto, “…everyone doing what they do best…”. We learned, a long time ago, to focus on the things that we do best and develop partnership for the other pieces of the puzzle.”

And now, even as we’ve evolved again, and are moving further and further into web marketing and away from our development roots, we can rely on them and refer clients directly to them when the situation suits. And vice versa.

This is a common story, one Outspoken Media has encountered as well: “The partnerships that seem to work best for are with local developers and designers. Troy, NY has an incredible pool of talent, especially with Ruby on Rails developers. Those companies include GreaneTree Technology and Enable Labs for web and app development, and Curtis Canham and Seth Louey for design among others. We also have a local branding expert, a security team, and other partnerships we are in the process of strengthening.”

Duncan Morris of Distilled has benefitted from a similar arrangement with industry superstar SEOmoz, when the latter decided to move into tool development full time: “We have been working closely together since 2007, and in 2010 we took over SEO consulting from them.”

The (dunh dunh dunh) Competition

Of course, in a lot of these situations, we’re not talking about a direct competitor. When you have complementary skills, a partnership can be a natural fit.

But, outside of the Kris Kringle Angle or the Puzzle Piece Scenario, what is the benefit of developing actual, friendly relationships with your competition?

(And in the web marketing industry in particular, we have competition coming in from a lot of different angles, with a lot of overlap: traditional marketing companies, web developers and programmers, analytics experts, tech tool developers, the list goes on).

It’s the same reason that (the crazy people who call themselves) runners are always looking for a good running buddy: you want someone who, just by running next to you, encourages you to keep up the pace.

Funny Confession Ecard: I'd love to go running with you today, but I hate running, and I also hate you.

Duncan said it best: “We have very good relationships with what many would see as two of our closest competitors, SEOgadget  and SEER. We regularly get together and talk about our businesses sharing insights and strategies.

“I’m sure many companies, especially the more traditional would see these relationships as a conflict of interest. I couldn’t disagree more, I believe they make us stronger, and make our industry stronger.

“Without planning it this way we are all constantly pushing each other to improve. When we see any of our competitors doing something amazing it pushes us to try harder. The lessons we have learnt from other people and the lessons we have learnt when writing on our blog all help us (and our competitors) to perform better for clients.”

Rhea agrees that knowing your competitors results in a strange kind of accountability: “Our competition keeps us on our toes and looking for even greater ways to drive our value proposition whether it’s by working to get the entire team Google Analytics certified or bringing new services into the mix like branding, crisis communication and content creation.

“Without embracing that and communicating about our experiences and knowledge with other SEOs and marketers, we miss out on an opportunity to make this industry more credible.”

Good for the goose and gander alike

Obviously, these points are especially valid in the SEO industry, which is a fairly tight-knit community that exists almost entirely on the internet and which changes too rapidly that no one company, operating in isolation, could possibly test out all the possibilities for innovation.

But here’s a little fun, incidental fact for anyone not from the industry: building an online community is the pillar of every web marketing campaign that Mack Web puts together for our clients.

An online community has a lot of pieces: potential customers, potential employees, and neighbors for a start. But the first thing we look at, every single time, is our clients’ peers.

Also occasionally known as…the competition.

Bonus points

Duncan pointed out an unexpected benefit that Distilled (who, if you didn’t know it, runs the amazing LinkLove and SearchLove conferences every year) discovered from these mutually beneficial arrangements: “On a very selfish level, these relationships have enabled us to constantly attract amazing speakers to our conferences. Both Richard Baxter and Wil Reynolds [who work for direct competitors SEOgadget and SEER Interactive, respectively] have spoken at our conferences. I continue to be amazed by the quality and amount that people are willing to share at our conferences.”

So, y’know, all kinds of extra perks.

Iocaine powder, or The Vizzini Rule

Now, we’re not telling you to run out and start swearing blood-brotherhood with the company who snaked your best lead last week. (We operate in the real world; we know there’s no tooth fairy. Santa told us so).

Obviously you need to be selective not just in choosing who you work for, but also who you work with. (No Sicilians, when death is on the line, okay?). Don’t go rushing into anything. Relationships require time and communication to develop the kind of trust you need to start relying on each other freely.

There’s really only one piece of advice we can give you for embarking into those (possibly eel-infested) waters: communicate, communicate, communicate.

When you’re working with somebody new, make sure everybody understands in advance what their role is.

The good folks at both Rocket Jones and Outspoken Media agree.

Rocket points out that knowing what your potential partner expects can help define the way the project will go and whether you’ll be able to deliver what you promised: “There are companies that hire us as “vendors” (“…just do what we tell you to do…”) and then there are partners (“…let’s all bring our areas of expertise to the table in order to best serve our client…”). We are working to build more into our “partner” relationships and spending less time in “vendor” relationships.

We try to develop mutual respect for ALL the various disciplines needed for a successful project. When one vendor has the “I’m the most important part of this project” mentality, the projects tend to “spin off of center” and the client is the one who ends up losing.”

Funny Confession Ecard: If there's anything more important than my ego around here, I want it caught and shot now.

Rhea, too, knows the pain of conflicting ideals and has learned to circumvent them from the outset: “We’ve had a few negative experiences. In those situations it usually came down to values. We had vastly different ideas about what the client needed, communication styles or what deliverables should look like. To prevent those conflicts we’ve learned to set expectations, define roles and ask the uncomfortable questions immediately. I’d rather know what we’re getting into from the start rather than find out by surprise later. If those bases are covered, everyone works better and we just have to keep the communication going.”

With silver bells and cockle shells

We know it sounds like a lot of work and that it can be more than a little scary to think about being open and transparent with people who might be competing for the same big-fish customer next week. The temptation to wrap any interaction in ironclad non-disclosure agreements and mutual skepticism is strong.

But it’s also not going to get you anywhere. That’s why you take it slow, communicate well, and let the relationship grow organically, just like you would any other friendship.

The results can be beautiful.

Japanese Garden, Portland Oregon

Or as Duncan says, “When the relationship is based on friendship and trust I don’t think anything formal is required. Tom [Crichtlow] actually wrote a post on our blog way back in 2008 about the benefits of engagement. I think this is as relevant today as it ever has been. We have found, over and over again that when we are generous with our time and knowledge it is repaid tenfold.”

That’s the why. Now the how.

There are all kinds of tools that can help you reach out to your potential partners, to build your community. All of the social media outlets like LinkedIn and Twitter, Google+ Hangouts, lunches and conferences, even good, old-fashioned coffee house meet-ups (See? Told you they were useful).

But, in the end, it amounts to pretty much the same as developing any relationship. You start with the first tentative overtures, you put in the time to get know them. You can stay in that phase forever if you want and still get some good stuff out of the acquaintance.

Or you can take a deep breath and take the plunge. Extend your trust a little further and come away with a friend.

Simple, yes. Easy, no.

Worth it?

We think so. What do you think?

 

From Ashes to Art

By | Creativity, Miscellany | No Comments

This summer, we watched as the High Park fire burned 87,284 acres and destroyed 259 homes outside of the Fort Collins area, leaving ashes and blackened trees in its wake. The total cost to fight the fire was $39.2 million, and many of our fire departments were financially devastated from fighting the blaze.

After the fire, I was inspired to see how our community reached out to those affected by the fires. Volunteers planted trees in scorched areas to help the restoration process, homeowners and renters propped up thank you signs for the firefighters in their front yards, and businesses placed donation boxes on their counters. Observing all these acts of kindness, I, as an artist, wondered how I could use my creative skills to help.

That’s When Something Awesome Happened

Lori Joseph and Tim O’Hara invited me to participate in the Ashes to Art Project, an online art auction to raise money for the Poudre Canyon Volunteer Fire Protection District.

Lori and Tim contacted artists across the nation, asking us to donate our time and skills to create art pieces for the auction.

The only rule: you must incorporate charcoal from the fire into your artwork.

The response for The Ashes to Art Project was nationwide, with 70 artists submitting their work for the auction. 9news’ interview with Laurie helped to kick off the event.

CTV News also interviewed Tim and Lori about the fundraiser, and showcased some of the art that folks can bid on.

Get Cool Art, Support a Good Cause

I’m proud to be part of this amazing effort. The auction ends October 21st (which means there’s still time left to place a bid), and includes a wide variety of mediums such as paintings, drawings, pottery, and even a necklace which incorporates the charcoal from the fire. Check out some of the pieces below, and go to the web site to see the entire collection.

Earth Energy, by Penny Benjamin Peterson

Earth Energy, by Penny Benjamin Peterson

Newman’s Pride, By Rich Mills

Newman’s Pride, By Rich Mills

Smoke on the Mountain, by Eric Newman

Smoke on the Mountain, by Eric Newman

Aspen Grove, by Natalie Touchberry

Aspen Grove, by Natalie Touchberry

Additional Ways to Support Our Firefighters

Tim & Lori will photograph the art and compile it into a book for the public to purchase. All proceeds from these sales will go towards the Poudre Canyon volunteer Fire Fighters. Check the Ashes to Art Facebook page for updates about the book and where it can be purchased.

For those who want to donate cash, there’s a page on the auction website to do so. Every dollar you donate will go towards the Poudre Canyon Volunteer Fire Fighters.

You can also go to the Poudre Canyon Fire Protection District’s donations page for other opportunities to provide support or donate.

 

 

Highways, Backroads, and the Occasional Tire-squealing U-Turn: Mack’s Journey as an Entrepreneur

By | Creativity, Mack's Musings, Miscellany | 14 Comments

I don’t have a remarkable story. I didn’t become an overnight success. I didn’t invent a product that saves lives. I haven’t made millions. And I don’t have a degree in business.

But what I am is determined, motivated, and passionate. I am a hard worker. A creative. A leader. A dreamer with a work ethic. I have more endurance and drive than most people you’ll meet. I don’t cave in the face of adversity. Rather, it pushes me to accelerate.

I am a mom of two, a wife, and an entrepreneur. Lots of days I’m barely hanging on by a thread, but I love what I do and I have had the great blessing of getting to see my efforts bear fruit.

The latest chapter

This year has been a game changer. Although I started the company almost 10 years ago, this feels like our first year in business. We have taken more risk in the last 8 months than in all the previous years combined. We have also had a lot more win than I can ever remember.

Something is working this year that separates it from any other. We’ve certainly matured, but I think we’ve also determined who we are and what we want to be when we grow up.

In a nutshell, here’s what has made this year remarkable:

We developed a personality.
We truly defined our brand and our values. We decided to have a sense of humor and focus on finding joy in our work.

We started investing in ourselves.
We made ourselves a client. We’ve decided that we will pave the way and actually do what we are recommending to our clients. We spend every Friday working on ourselves so that we can become a better company.

We stopped letting our processes run the show.
We have shifted our focus to the customer and we customize everything we do for them based on their business objectives. We are thinking bigger.

We started being transparent.
We are putting ourselves out there. We write about what we do and how we help our clients. We are reaching out to our competitors. We’re being bold and taking risks to show the world who we are.

We made an effort to build a community.
We are reading and learning more. We are sharing our knowledge and helping people out. We are making new friends in the industry.

We started saying no.
We are standing strong in our values. We are deciding as a team what direction to take and we’re sticking to it. We became selective about our relationships so that we can make the most of what we do every day.

If I’ve learned anything about being an entrepreneur it’s that you’re the one who’s writing the manual. There are no right answers and everyone takes a different path.

For what it’s worth, here are some of the most important things that I’ve learned so far on my journey:

Courage and risk are requisite

At the beginning of the second quarter of this year, we changed our business model. After 9 years of the same basic service offerings, I decided we weren’t a web design company anymore. We were an internet marketing company, a hybrid agencyThat’s what we were good at and it was the kind of work we wanted to do. And that was it. I made the decision, discussed it with the team (who, fabulous as they are, affirmed my decision), and that was that.

It’s not like we were doing anything revolutionary, but our approach was new. We were asking businesses to look at their web marketing in a whole new way. To forget about everything they had ever done, throw out all myths and stereotypes, and trust us. “Give us the keys (and your budget),” we said, “and let’s go for a ride. You’ll like where we’re going. We promise.”

And it worked. I mean, it is working. In fact, 8 months later, that story is still unfolding. And that’s the thing about growing a business. It takes guts to do what you love. A lot of times it’s scary uncomfortable, but you just make a decision and go for it. If that doesn’t work out, you make another decision and you do something else. It’s all just part of the process.

Failure is actually serendipity

What I have come to realize in this last 8 months is that failure is relative. It’s just an interpretation of expectations. The only reason you fail is because you expected a different outcome than what actually happened. And as a result of that, you deem yourself a failure.

How do you know that the outcome actually is a fail? Can’t you look back at moments in your life that you thought were an absolute train wreck at the time, but now in hindsight you can see that they unfolded into something amazing? Something that never would have happened without your epic “failure”?

To me, that’s not failure. That, my friends, is serendipity.

It’s all in your perspective. So call it whatever you want, but I’ll take failure any day over not having the courage to take the risk in the first place.

You’re probably going to feel lonely and I guarantee you’ll want to give up

I’m the sole owner of Mack Web Solutions. I have an incredibly supportive husband, a family who loves me, great friends, brilliant mentors, an amazing team, and 9 times out of 10, I still feel alone.

Being an entrepreneur is lonely. There are no rules, no right answers, and no guarantees. Victories can be short-lived, and sometimes they are few and far between. I have learned that you just have to continue to put yourself out there and try not to be overly emotional about the decisions you make.

I want to give up. A lot. When we’re in a stage like we’re in right now, I want to pack it in on a daily basis. What keeps me going is knowing that we’re doing good things and we’re on the right track. Every few days or so I get a glimpse that things are working. I know in my gut that there’s more ahead, so I put my head down and just keep going.

Sometimes, my team serenades me with, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming” and threatens to replace my office artwork with “Hang In There, Kitty” posters.

It helps.

A little.

Humility is a really important quality to possess

Rand Fishkin is the founder and CEO of SEOmoz. I have learned so much from Rand and I admire him greatly for his transparency, values, and humility. Here’s one of the 12 lessons he learned while building SEOmoz. I have this slide hanging in my office:

There are lots of times when you’re running your business that you feel like you’re on top of the world. Like you’re a genius. Seriously, like you’re a bad ass. The truth of it is, unless you’re saving the world, you better keep yourself in check.

It’s ok to celebrate victories (which is very necessary to endure the volume of struggles you face as an entrepreneur or a start-up), but instead of always basking in your greatness, use it as a time to reflect and give the credit to your team.

You need heart and hustle, but you also need to have priorities

Call it drive. Motivation. Desire. If you want to be a successful at anything, you have to have heart. You have to be passionate. You have to be all in. And you have to be willing to bust your ass.

But you also have to be realistic and set boundaries. Entrepreneurship requires an insane amount of sacrifice and it will drain everything you have if you let it.

When you’re an entrepreneur, you have to do whatever it takes to make the company successful, but you also have to take care of yourself or there won’t be a company to run.

These days I could invest a lot more time on my family (oh, and some free time for me), and a lot less time on the company. But that’s the stage we’re in, so I keep pushing along. I work daily to keep my imbalance in check so that when things let up, overworking hasn’t just become standard routine.

Transparency is the key to everything

One of my kids’ favorite books is The Rainbow Fish. Long story short, the fish realized he wasn’t happy until he gave away what was so near and dear to him (his shiny, beautiful scales). Once he let go of what he thought he had to keep only for himself, he found satisfaction, joy, and happiness.

One of the biggest contributors to our success has come from the choice to be transparent. It sounds simple, but transparency is actually a huge risk. You have to be willing to own up to your mistakes (and be public about them). You have to be open to criticism. You have to have the guts to take a look at yourself and face the things that you may not want to see (and then do something to change them).

But transparency also means being human. It means being kind to others and taking time for relationships. It means sharing things with people that you’ve worked hard to develop, monopolize, and own. Opening up about how you operate and what makes you a great company will make you more successful. It will also empower others to be successful, and they’ll have you to thank when they’re on the other side.

I have learned (the hard way) that not everyone possesses integrity, authenticity, and genuine kindness. Not everyone will embrace your transparency.  But there are a lot of people who will. Reach out. Take the risk. Show them your stuff. Learn from each other. It will change your business and you’ll make some amazing friends in the process.

You’ve got to be a leader, too
(and don’t forget your team)

The biggest thing about being a leader is that it’s not about you. Even if you work for yourself and you are the only employee in your company, you aren’t doing this alone. You always have people who are helping you along the way (and yes, your mom counts, too).

You can’t build a business on your own. You may think that because you’re the entrepreneur you are due all of the credit for success. But the fact of the matter is you won’t get anywhere without a team of people who support and believe in you, who can see your vision and know, with a certainty you may sometimes lack, that you will get there.

Building a successful company is a full-time job in its own right, but being the leader your team needs is at least another part-time job on top of that. And, unfortunately, you aren’t going to be able to do the former without the latter. You’ve got to invest as much time in leading your team as you do in achieving your vision.

Someday, I’d like to get more sleep

This year I haven’t slept much, I definitely have more wrinkles, and I have worked more than either my husband or myself would like. But as I take the time to reflect, I can see that it’s been a pretty amazing ride.

For me, success as an entrepreneur isn’t about the money (although that certainly would be nice someday). It’s not in the recognition or respect you get as you grow your brand and people come to know who you are.

It’s in the relationships.

This year has been the most exciting for me because I have made so many new friends. This year has been successful because our team has worked their asses off. I have put myself out there, and we have taken more risk as a company than I ever thought I had the courage to do.

We’ve got some pretty amazing stuff we’re doing for our clients. And we also have some valuable things that we are planning for our community. That’s the thing. This stuff never, ever ends.

It’s been 10 years, but get ready, kids.

We’re just getting started.

Bonus! Video Footage

I had the honor of speaking about my journey as an entrepreneur at the Colorado State University Women Entrepreneurs’ Leadership Summit. In a TED talk style format, I tell my story.

 

Sometimes you have to toot your own horn. Toot. Toot.

By | Events, Miscellany | No Comments

Mack Web is always looking to lead by example. The way we see it, if we’re not doing the stuff we recommend to our clients, then how can we feel confident in the direction we’re providing?

So lately we’ve been working really hard (yes, very, very hard) in developing valuable content. And we are so very excited that our efforts are paying off.

Here’s a little inspiration for you (and a little pat on our backs as well):


Top 50 Best Internet Marketing Posts of 2012


Back in July Mack wrote a post about how we facilitate content and social media marketing here at Mack Web. The post had so much value for agencies and people all over the SEO industry that it made the Top 50 Best Internet Marketing Posts of 2012 on Search Engine Journal. Now that was cool to see. Especially because there were so many people on the list from our industry we highly respect.


Agile Marketing & Client Collaboration


Mack is two-for-two on SEOmoz (one of the most reputable SEO blogs in the world). Her most recent post on Ensuring Client Collaboration Through Agile Marketing provides some insight into how we are using agile marketing to bring more value to and work more collaboratively with our clients.


Community Manager of the Day: June Macon


We’re so proud of June and her feature as Community Manager of the Day on My Community Manager. June shares some insight to her role as community manager at Mack Web. You can learn more about that as well in June’s guest blog on being a “hybrid” of sorts on the Raven Tools blog.


How about you?

As a team, we are excited to see our hard work and dedication gain recognition within our industry. We’d love to hear your successes as well. Don’t be shy!

 

 

8 Gluten Free Snack Ideas

By | Miscellany | No Comments

Get your gluten on…or don’t. For Natalie, Mack Web’s very own design ninja, it’s definitely a no-go on a diet that contains gluten. Back in 2009, Natalie’s body began having allergic reactions to the protein component of wheat. This was a sad time for Nat because she loves snacks, and sweets, and treats…and well anything that involves food. And snacks. Did we mentioned snacks? Snacks are food, too.

Because of this discovery, Natalie has become a connoisseur of gluten-free goodies. For all of you gluten-free people out there, here’s some of Nat’s top picks.

Natalie’s List of Top 8 of Gluten Free Deliciousness:

  1. Yogurt or Cottage Cheese mixed with fruit.
  2. For those who like a healthy breakfast – Bob’s Red Mill Creamy Brown Rice  (with brown sugar, a dash of salt, and some milk if you want it even creamier).
  3. Since it’s summer….apricots, peaches, and plums.
  4. In theory, yes popcorn is gluten free, but be aware that the factory in which it’s produced may contain gluten-products (thus, cross contamination is possible).
  5. For those with a sweet-tooth, Udi’s makes some great muffins. (Blueberry Muffins are Nat’s favorite).
  6. If your sweet tooth still isn’t satisfied, try out French Meadow Bakeries Fudge Brownies.
  7. Gluten free baked goods from Cafe Ardour (if you inhabit the Fort Collins area, check them out).
    (Photo of Cafe Ardour’s gluten free Chocolate Lavender Orange Cupcakes. You know you want one.)
  8. Nut-Thins Rice Crackers with cheese.

If you are unable to eat gluten and have a list of top treats, please share with Natalie and the rest of our community because only 25 percent of American’s seek out gluten-free foods! The gluten-free community has to share snacking secrets right?

The gluten-free community also should be sharing some humor so here is our contribution:

Share on friends. Share on.

 

 

 

Mama Macon: love my family, crave for my career

By | Miscellany | 2 Comments

Motherhood has brought me so much joy. It has grounded the wild child that occasionally stirs inside of me. I know the epitome of love due to the birth of my son.

When I gave birth I nearly died. Seriously. I had a case of 24 hour preeclampsia (which means that I had insanely high blood pressure) and my nurses and husband were running around my hospital room frantically as I sat there arguing with my nurse about my condition.

I felt fine. I was calm. I knew I wasn’t going to die…and I didn’t because 10 hours later Price Juron was born and the life of a 22 year old changed forever. I began to truly live.

My son was the sweetest baby ever. He rarely cried, always smiled, and ate really well. (Babies that eat well make life easy.)

I fell in love with his little blue eyes and blonde hair.  They are anomalies given that my husband and I have dark features. (Gerald is African American and I am Korean.Yeah, we are both mixed with some Caucasian.)

My husband changed every diaper for a straight month and we were on rotation for sleep. I was thrilled and my son was precious.

It was bliss…bliss or sleep deprivation.

When my son was 3 months old, we decided to leave Chicagoland, where a majority of family lives to venture out to the wild wild West and cheer for my brother-in-law as he played football for Colorado State University.

On July 5, 2008 my entire family sobbed,  including myself as the Macons drove off into the firework flashing sky and began our first journey as a family.

Fast forward nearly four years later and you find me realizing how quickly time moves.

I have enjoyed three Mother’s days where it was I who was being honored. I embrace the recognition because motherhood has had its ups and downs.

Not a full night of sleep for three straight years, being peed on, being pooped on, money going towards diapers instead of shoes, money going to daycare instead of clothes, meltdowns in public places (both Price and myself). Plus, the changes a woman goes through while being pregnant and after giving birth are ones you can’t prepare your mind or body for.

When my friends refer to me as a mom, I think…yes, yes I am.
When my sister says, “You are just saying that because you are a mom”, I think…no, no I am not.
When my husband reminds me that I am not “just one of the girls” anymore and I can’t spend weekends frolicking the city or hitting up a happy hour sans Price without getting a sitter, I think…damn why did we move so far away from family.

BUT I would not change it for anything because look at his face!

Before I had Price, I knew that I wanted to conquer the world of business. I would not be a stay at home mom. It wasn’t for me. I stayed home while I obtained my Master degree and loneliness was nearly my demise. (We were new to Fort Collins, Price was less than a year old when I began my studies and I am an ENFJ.)

We spent many a time doing stuff like this…

And having conversations through out his four years of life that leave me with great Price quotes like:

“Mom, I woke the sun up.”
“Mom, I just transformed from Batman to Superman.”
“Dad, can I transform?”
“Which grandma? The one that speaks English?” (Both grandmas speak English, my mom just has a Korean accent.)
“Dad threw away my old toys and that’s so rude. You should buy me this new toy.”
“You’re not my best friend, dad is. Okay, you can be my best friend.”
“But I want to snuggle with a real human being.”
“What desert can I have after breakfast?”
“I want a sister then a brother then a sister and then a brother.”
“Four-year-old’s know everything.”

In hindsight the time at home was great, but I felt desolate and about two years later I graduated and I was desperate to become June again.

I was desperate because I need to work. I am a workaholic. I love to interact, engage, be bossy. I love to read, to learn, to teach. I needed to be in the professional world, especially because I took out student loans and need to pay them back. And now I have two jobs. One as an instructor at a local community college and the other as a social media strategist.

At my job in the world of web marketing, inbound marketing, SEO, SEM…or whatever other name it goes by I am specifically focused in all things social.

I am always involved on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+ and even Tumblr. I do have a WordPress blog out there, too. I do it for my company, I do it for our clients, I do it for our country…okay that is a little dramatic, but you get it.

Because of my obsession, er, passion, I mean job, my son knows how to work a Droid, Iphone, Ipad, computer, laptop. He knows what Facebook and Twitter are. (Although he calls it Tweeter.) And he is familiar with being videotaped and stalked as though I am the paparazzi and he is my celebrity muse.

I am happy when I work. My son and my husband are happy because I can truly be a good mom and wife when I am fulfilled.

I love my family, but I also crave for my career. And so here I am on this journey of motherhood all the while focused on my career.

Please wish me luck, once we have an addition to this family I can only hope that my career will still live on.