Inspire Series

At SoLoCo we are constantly inspired by those around us whether in our community or on the other side of the world. So, we have decided to start up a series where we will post up stories, videos and images that we find inspiring. We invite you to do the same and let us know if anything or anybody has inspired you to start your venture, how and why.

So, be prepared for lots of Ted Talks, blogs by people that we work with and some random stories that we come across in twitter or Facebook.  2013 is a time to be inspired and make things happen.  So, help us do just that!

So, to kick off here is one of my first inspirations to get up and make something happen.  Ernesto Sirolli’s approach to life and enterprise has had a lasting impact on me. So, shut up and listen….

H is for Hungry

To do a crowdfund you must be hungry for success. However, don’t confuse hungry with starving.  Because starving smells of desperation.

When hungry you want to see all elements working for you. You want to plan and prepare all of the aspects for the longer term so that you can taste each and every part of the meal you have cooked.  In crowdfunding terms, success looks like engaged followers, co-creation of ideas, longer term support AND money in the bank.

Desperate won’t achieve this. You will forget about the people giving the money, as the actual money is all that you can focus on.  You will probably give the hard sell, and will be so worried about not succeeding that you will probably be run ragged before you even start.

So. Give yourself time to plan and prepare. Look at all of the options. Look at who you are hoping to engage with. What do they want?  Are you providing an interesting, measured and appealing campaign?  Will it sate everybody’s appetite, not just yours?

My advice? If your funding is about to run out, steer clear of crowdfunding.  Fill yourself up on other funds and start to plan it for the future.

G is for Gratitude

Gratitude is key to your crowdfund. Each donor has done more than just donated money. They have taken the time and effort to show their commitment to your cause, and to your future. This time and effort is priceless and should never be underestimated or taken lightly.

Think about the process that person goes through to actually donate. They have thought through your offering in their head, worked out if they care about it enough, and then taken the time to actual physically go through the paying process. Yes, they may want the reward you are offering but more often than not they are giving you the thumbs up for your approach.
So, if you forget to personally say thank you to that person – they can automatically feel quite disaffected, disgruntled and less likely to tell others about you. In fact they are much more likely to warn others off giving to you too.
So, never forget gratitude. If it wasn’t for your donors, you wouldn’t get anywhere.
So, some tips on saying thank you…

– They don’t have to be lengthy, they just have to be authentic.
– Personalise your thankyou’s whether by email or tweet.
– Take a photograph that means something to the donor(s).
– Do a personalised youtube/ vimeo film.

None of these have to take long – but each of them will mean a huge amount to the person who has gone out of their way to engage with you.
So, for all of you who will read this blog and take heed,

Thank you.

F is for Flexibility

Plan, plan plan. We need plans, business plans, marketing plans, strategy documents, timelines, dead lines, guidelines etc. etc. They all have an important role to play in any business or campaign, without them you’re probably not going to go far. We have to know what we are, where we are going and critically, how we are going to get there.

There’s no doubt that plans are essential tools but they should never be rigid, things change so you have to be flexible.

Plans often are based on assumptions and by definition  may go out of date rapidly. Moreover, you can’t control your competitors who may change pricing structures or release a product upgrade etc. you have to be nimble and don’t be frightened of amending your plans.

You may find an approach you have adopted just doesn’t work, every business will encounter challenges sooner or later but what will help to make your proposition work best is by adjusting your behaviour, approach or strategy.

Perhaps by instinct or experience, most of us can tell if somethings not working, a drop in sales, a new fully funded competitor enters the market and puts your business at risk, it could be staff moral or you’re working 24 hours a day and not making any money; all very standard challenges that most businesses face.

If it’s not working then change it, find a mentor who can support you and your business, talk with people who have more experience than yourself, try to understand what is wrong and be creative in your attempt to fix it. No one gets everything right all the time, don’t forget that, there’s no shame in admitting that something has gone wrong or simply doesn’t work; on the contrary, identifying an issue and solving it makes for better business, a more robust business.

Everything comes and goes, things change, being flexible and adjusting to the present conditions is part of growing a sustainable and profitable business and in this context a successful crowdfunding campaign. When you start your crowdfund, you should have all the plans in place, you know what it is you are doing and how you are going to do it.

However, don’t be rigid, the campaign timeline will come and go, you may have to adapt or modify an aspect of the campaign, look for the things that are clearly working well and maybe do more of that, consider the aspects of the campaign that are not working so well and consider if it’s worth abandoning those things completely. Either way, flexibility is a prerequisite, remember, it’s not about you but your customers so don’t be precious about anything. With flexibility things improve, your campaign will be better. Unfortunately there’s no magic formula unless you happen to own an Oil Field but even those will dry out one day.

Next up: G is for Gratitude

E is for Evangelism (and Brand Ambassadors)

We’re going to be a little loose with our definitions here, but in this context I’m going to lump evangelism and brand ambassadors together. Ultimately they do the same job; both terms have been adopted by marketers and refer to individuals (paid or unpaid) who promote your company, product or service at every given opportunity.

You could argue that evangelism comes first, bringing a business to the market and brand ambassadors help to spread the word. But for now, if you think about the word evangelist for a moment, normally associate with the preaching of the Christian Gospels – ‘good news’, you can see why it’s been appropriated by the branding world; it’s a potent word that seeks to place brands on a level with the spiritual, the Godly, the great.

Evangelists and brand ambassadors are key to any business success. Without people talking positively about what you do, either formally or informally, you will struggle to sell. For small local businesses, the activity of ‘word of mouth promotion’ is still regarded by most as the best way of getting your messages out there; think of it in the same terms as a personal recommendation (a technique increasingly used by social networking sites such as LinkedIn).

If for example I recommend you to my networks on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc., you instantly gain an element of regard, people who trust me are more likely to trust you and use your services or buy your product. If I can say something positive about your business it’s probably the case that there are others out there who can do the same. You need to find these people and encourage them to speak about your business. It’s not necessarily about technology, instead it’s about individuals talking to others, either one to one, at a conference or a trade show. That face to face time is essential, it’s good marketing practice and it works..

Assuming you want your business to be sustainable and perhaps grow, gaining customer trust and enthusiasm are the first steps to gaining the evangelists and brand ambassadors you need. Your USP may be price, quality, capacity or any number of other attributes, what’s important is you get this across to your customers and get them to talk about it. Every customer is a potential evangelist, if they believe in your product or service enough they will recommend it to others. One final point for now; both your evangelists and brand ambassadors need to be nurtured, they are an extension of your work force, probably unpaid but non-the-less key individuals who care about your business and will help it to grow. Communicate with them, let them know what you are doing and above all, keep them happy.

Next up: F is for Flexibility

D is for Draining….!

We hear lots of hype about successful crowdfunds – but what we don’t hear is the behind the scenes work involved and actually how draining it is, it can be relentless.

Because most people tend to only crowdfund once, they are not prepared for the ongoing madness that just can’t let up until the end. Moreover, you’ll probably be trying to fit the crowdfund around your job, which means you’ll be putting in twice as much work, time and effort.

Speaking from experience here though we supported projects on our original platform, it wasn’t until we actually carried out a live crowdfunding campaign did we had any idea of the commitment, energy and early mornings that were involved. So, here are some tips to manage the drain.

Work out exactly how much you are trying to raise and over what period of time. We chose 80 days for the Nucoco campaign. That’s 80 days of tweeting, facebooking, writing thank you emails and updates to donors, very draining. From one SoLoCo account alone, over 3000 Tweets were sent during the campaign.

Ensure your Comms plan is flexible. If you’re getting fatigued with your messaging you can be sure that your followers are too. Early on we could see the tell-tale signs of boredom and worked out how we could change our messaging; putting out a photo campaign, focusing more on filming, doing a series of funny tweets, conversing more with our donors (that always made us feel better!)

Have lots of people to help out. Share the load. Be aware if one of the team is burning out.

Have a laugh. Don’t forget, its about engaging people and humour is often a great way to get your messages across.

Have team bonding sessions. Go to the pub. Go out, let your hair down, have a laugh.

Book some time out after the crowdfund. This is vital, you’ll need it. We were up at 7am every morning tweeting, including Saturdays and Sundays. It might be draining – but the pure adrenalin at the end is worth it.

Next up: E for Evangelise

C is for Creativity!

For arguments sake, lets say you have a very desirable product, a team of specialist marketeers and a massively engaged following…job done, your crowdfund will be easy and you can sit back and watch the cash roll in. If, one the other hand you don’t, then you need to get creative, very creative.

Next time you’re watching Telly or pass a billboard, pay attention to the advertising, see how they do it. Now I know they have big budgets but the principles are the same with or without money. Advertisers are not so clever, they just have a grasp of physiology; how to play to our emotions, our desires and our sense of fun. You have to think about what resources you have and make best use of them in a creative and inspiring way. Think about what will capture the imagination of your potential crowd, what do they want, what will make them sit up and give you some of their money. Again, have a look at other successful crowdfunds, strip away the veneer and see what they are actually offering, then watch how they present it.

For the difficult sell you will probably need what we call the ‘Golden Brick’ our metaphor for that thing that makes your customers really want to get involved. After that, you will need to get the messaging right. There may be more than one message to get out there depending on the diversity of your market. Use the social media channels effectively, try to get some PR if possible, get a celeb onboard, not easy but it can all be done if you put your mind to it. Get excited and your following will get excited too.

Before you publish your campaign, have the basic creatives in place, you need to know what you are doing before you begin. After launch you can add to or amend the messaging. You may find something surprising happens, something unexpected, go with it, add to your tool kit of messages, be creative in the way you respond.

And finally, listen to others around you, you may be so entrenched in your campaign you may miss something obvious to others around you who have clarity. Don’t be worried about adopting good ideas, make them your own and go for it. Some of the best advertising is theft, if the pros do it so can you. Remember, having fun with the creative will come across to your customers and they will like it all the more.

Next up – C is for Customers

B is for building relationships

On starting a crowdfund it is very easy to fall into the hard sell. But before you’ve hit the ‘publish profile’ button you need to ask yourself, what is it that you really want to get out of the crowdfund. Is it just the cash? Is it more customers? Is it a greater following?

If you are pre-selling a product, you are less likely to need to build a personal relationship with your customers as they are more interested in the product than in you. However, if you want to build a following of engaged consumers then you need to genuinely build a relationship with them.

Building relationships is a two way thing. It’s not simply about telling people what you do, it’s about conversing with them, paying them attention and genuinely listening to what they have to say. It’s about engagement.

Crowdfunding can be way less formal than a corporate website might be, you can chat to your followers and have fun. Twitter is great for the creative amongst us, with so few characters you need to be inventive especially if your campaign is going to last for months. The more fun you have the more fun your followers will have. This takes time, thought and flexibility. No Comms/marketing plan should be rigid, more a fluid document that will change and develop in time, but it is absolutely worth it in the longer term.

Not wanting to state the obvious but Twitter and Facebook are very different ways of engaging existing and new customers. Facebook though very visual is also a passive medium, users don’t have to do very much and inevitably don’t. Twitter on the other hand is a hugely powerful channel for engaging people. Users are prepared to converse and that is where the power and energy lies. We found Twitter to be by far the most effective method for attracting new customers, engagement and ultimately selling. On Twitter alone we sold approx £12K of product in 3 months.

Another great method for cementing your relationships is by creating micro-films and posting them on Youtube or Vimeo, they’ll allow you to update your followers and they’ll feel closer to you and your proposition. They don’t need to be super professional either, creating them on your phone is sufficient. And finally for this post, don’t forget offline engagement, go and meet your followers if possible, go to networking dos, events and to the street if you can; take every opportunity to further develop your relationships; these are your ambassadors, the folk who care about you, your business or project and will help spread the word.

Next up – C is for Creativity

A is for Aaaargh

A is for Aaaargh!

Over the next few weeks we’ll be writing the A-Z of crowdfunding. We want to give you some top tips, some of the pitfalls, the ups and downs of creating and delivering a crowdfunding campaign and attempt to unravel why some campaigns are successful and others are not. Our blogs will focus on the donations-based model, the space we’ve lived and breathed for the past 18 months. So, A is for Aaaaaaagh….should I, shouldn’t I??

The first question to ask yourself is: do I really have something that people want or can use or can buy into; if it doesn’t have the “wow” factor or a hook to engage micro-philanthropists how will you persuade me to give you a little of my money? Perhaps you think your proposition is great but have you checked with anyone else, do your customers or users think your idea is great too? I think you need to be completely honest with yourself, if you’re not there’s a strong chance you will waste a lot of time and resources going nowhere. Remember, an overwhelming number of crowdfunding campaigns fail, we hear about the successes but not so much about the failures.

Something else we’d recommend in the first instance is to have a look at all the major platforms, see how other people have done it, see what makes something work or not work, you don’t have to dig too far to find projects going nowhere, languishing on crowdfunding websites with no chance of raising funds. Spend the time to research propositions similar to yours, take it seriously, use sites like ‘social mention‘ or ‘topsy‘ as a guide to their social media presence. Be aware of the commitment that a successful campaign requires. It maybe that after some serious research you decide crowdfunding is not for you, on the other hand you may just be inspired to go for it.

Next up, B is for Building Relationships