Business and marketing are so ingrained in my DNA that almost every experience, story or song I hear in someway gets tied back to my work. I can’t help it. The other day, one track in particular jumped out at me. Ten Crack Commandments by The Notorious B.I.G..
If you know me, you know I love me some straight up gangster rap. The energy. The hype. The struggle. The rawness and realness. It’s all there. And, when it comes to my Mount Rushmore of gangster rappers, The Notorious B.I.G. is my George Washington.
That might sound weird coming from a digital marketing nerdlinger, right? Much to the dismay of my office mates, there’s little I love more in life than getting down on some pivot tables and audience segmentation with gangster rap blasting over 90db.
So, what was it about this seemingly ominous track that stood out to me?
Here, I’ll let Biggie explain:
I’ve been in this game for years, it made me an animal
There’s rules to this shit, I wrote me a manual
A step-by-step booklet for you to get
Your game on track.
If there was ever a voice of reason in business, a central go-to figure of guidance, a North Star of good advice – it’s probably Biggie…
So, let’s break down Biggie’s infamous crack commandments and see how they make sense in relation to digital marketing…
Clients with big digital media spends are hard to come by. It took until 2017 for digital advertising spends to finally outpace television ad spend. While TV spend is nearly stagnate – expected to grow only 2.5% in 2018 – digital ad spend is expected to increase 13% to $237 billion. All positive signs for the long-term health of digital marketing.
Even without numbers to support this idea, I feel comfortable saying the majority of that digital ad spend belongs to a handful of global agencies. This leaves the remaining scraps to be clawed at by the rest of the 20-100 employee agencies scattered around the globe.
My recommendation to agencies looking to grow in the digital space – keep your spends, channel-mix and performance metrics close to the vest. We all like to brag with our fancy case studies and website animations of numbers counting upwards really fast and really high. But, the more your competing agencies can garner about what you’re doing, for who and how those tactics are performing, the more vulnerable you become to their same-industry clients, or them poaching your clients outright.
I speak from experience, having used competitor’s own case studies against them in new client pitches…
As digital marketing changes faster than any marketing channel before, people who to try solve problems with yesterday’s instructions will be rewarded far less. The future belongs to the marketing professional who can draw a new map and solve problems that didn’t exist yesterday.
Big problems are rarely solved by the people coming out claiming they are going to solve said problem. More often, the problem solving is done in silence, with little encouragement from anyone else.
My biggest breakthroughs (or solutions to my biggest problems) were accidents or late night experiments. These same solutions are things I apply every single day to garner results for our clients. Some of the stories behind how I found these solutions often get perpetuated to win new business. Yet, my drive to solve these problems was never for these reasons.
I simply saw a problem, couldn’t find a known solution, then set out to develop my own.
Much like commandment number two, be careful about who you’re arming and with what kind of information. We have to remember the human brain is specifically designed to do what is best for the long-term survival of the vessel it operates.
After all, sympathy and empathy are relatively new evolution’s.
I can speak from personal experience here of working with a national journalist to write a story about a client. This journalist found a more click-worthy story to tell, or in Biggie’s words, became “gassed up” and used my words as the setup for his clickbait article.
This was only able to happen due to my misplaced trust.
While obvious in Biggie’s industry, not so obvious in digital marketing. Instead, I’d phrase this as, “don’t develop an emotional attachment to your idea.”
Business. Never personal.
When you’re too emotionally attached to an idea, especially if it’s your own, it’s easy to develop a bias when discussing the outcome. This creates an unwillingness to adapt the idea as better opportunities emerge, client demands change, or the industry changes around it.
In poker terms, this is a classic example of sunk cost fallacy. Throwing good money after bad money.
Your “own supply” in Biggie’s words is your ego, your pride and your attachment to your own ideas. Don’t get too high on any of those things.
It’s not uncommon for a freelancer, hoping to one day pull in some big name clients, to take on family and friends as their first clients. Quick cash from low hanging fruit has a way to cloud a freelancer’s judgement.
Family and friends are not clients – they’re family and friends. They have unrealistic expectations, they’ll provide skewed feedback, and you’ll likely over service their accounts at already discounted rates taking valuable time and resources away from attracting more lucrative new clients.
I once had a family friend’s restaurant as one of my first freelance clients. Every time I’d go into the restaurant they’d discount my meal, throw in dessert, send me home with frozen pizzas – you name it. It was great!
The time came to grow the account through additional ad spend, additional services and of course a higher monthly retainer.
“Well, we’ve been giving you free food for months. That should cover some of this, right?”
Cash flow is the heartbeat of a business. Delaying cash flow is delaying growth.
The problem in digital marketing – especially when it comes to media buying – it’s not often clear what the final invoice will look like until the ad spend is spent or the hours are logged.
So, what happens is agencies and freelancers aren’t able to send an invoice until the work is complete. Commonly with a net-30 clause, resulting in the agency or freelancer carrying upwards of 60-days of debt.
The risk here is the potential for clients and their business’s to fail, taking their debt with them. Or, as is always the potential in digital marketing, clients unhappy with the results of the completed work and refusing to pay. It happens. Especially when expectations aren’t properly managed.
The lesson here is that until your business is large enough to mitigate the associated risk of carrying a client’s delinquent billings, focus on upfront cash generating services and billing practices.
This one is a throwback to commandment number five in my book – but it’s worth repeating.
Don’t mix family and business.
Take it from me. Growing up, my mom owned a restaurant almost entirely staffed and managed by family. I owned a quick-serve restaurant with two friends. I owned several businesses with an ex-girlfriend. Owned a clothing company that collaborated with a lot of very good friends.
Almost every single situation was negatively impacted by the inclusion of friends and family. Sure, there were a lot of benefits along the way. Yep, There are a lot of a “family-owned business” success stories out there. But all things end, and when they end with family, they end badly.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos famously implemented what became known as two-pizza teams. The idea that a team small enough to be fed by only two pizzas will thrive through efficiency, clear communication, moving fast and increased innovation.
Not as commonly mentioned is that the smaller a team is, the more responsibility the individual team members have, the higher standard their work is held to and the less likely they are to let their (smaller) team down.
Now look around you. Do you work with eight people? 25? 100? How many of those people are floating right around the Mendoza line?
Any team member or employee not carrying their weight needs to be brought back into the fold or worked out of the day-to-day functions of the business if the business culture is to remain one of efficiency and productivity.
This one goes back to the age old white hat versus black hat discussion.
If you’re unfamiliar, white hat’s operate within the guidelines and ethics set forth by technology partners, platforms and their recommended best practices.
Black hat’s operate by their own set of laws frequently looking for shortcuts, hacks and whatever means necessary to get themselves or their clients to the top of the heap.
Unfortunately, black hat tactics work very, very well and often immediately. White hat tactics can be slow, tedious and are never guaranteed.
But if you expect to be a business, or a hireable freelancer two years, ten years, 15 years from now, you have to operate within the guidelines our partner’s set.
For example, you can buy 200 backlinks for your website right now and jump to the top of Google organic search rankings (a black hat SEO tactic). But in a few months, when Google catches up, that same site can be immediately and permanently removed from Google’s listings.
How embarassing would that be to explain to your client?
Doing the right thing is always the right thing. Play by the rules. Stay away from the “police.”
You’d be surprised how easy it is to receive pretty substantial financing to quickly grow a business. Hell, if you’re looking for investors all you need to do is show up with an idea and a deck and they’ll throw money at you.
We’re living in wild times…
Startups – a relatively new term for any new business – takes time. It takes the investment of sweat equity and long-term decision making to build the foundation of a successful business that can support a steady growth pattern.
Creating debt early creates a snowball of bad ideas and short-term thinking. Through short-term thinking bad partnerships are made, half-baked ideas are rolled out to the public, the work is rushed and the core idea is sacrificed.
More important than that high-visibility office, the big sign and state-of-the-art technology is a highly profitable business model that will feed you, your family and your employee’s families for many years to come.
Don’t take debt unless absolutely necessary. Sure, debt can enable sustainable, positive growth if used correctly. But, stupid debt is a death sentence to any business. So, unless the opportunity the debt creates allows the business to generate enough additional revenue to offset the initial debt plus interest, say, “Hell no!”
As Biggie says, “follow these rules you’ll have mad bread to break up.” And then some other stuff I probably shouldn’t include in this blog… but who am I to argue with the great Notorious B.I.G.?
As a business owner you are inherently a decision maker and it’s a function of your job to make consistently good decisions in critical moments. But no two decisions are exactly same. Having a deep understanding of how decisions are made and having the tools to create consistent decision making frameworks are necessary to make more rapid and impactful decisions on a daily basis.