Wendy Lieber, Founder, ContentBacon

Scaling Up Services - 018 - Wendy Lieber

Wendy Lieber, Founder, ContentBacon

Wendy Lieber is the entrepreneurial co-founder of ContentBacon, an inbound marketing resource that builds brands people know, like, trust, and buy from. Wendy has a passion for helping customers figure out and communicate their “why” so that it resonates with target audiences. She frequently speaks in entrepreneurial communities about the power of storytelling and how to use it to grow your business.

Prior to Bacon, she served as Athena Marketing’s president for fourteen years, helping clients use marketing strategies to enhance the value of their business. Wendy is a member of Entrepreneur’s Organization and a Board of Trustee for Women in Distress.



[00:00:01] You're listening to thinking outside the bud where we speak with entrepreneurs investors thought leaders researchers advocates and policymakers who are finding new and exciting ways for cannabis to positively impact business society and culture. And now here is your host Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt

[00:00:20] Welcome everyone to this is scaling up services. I'm resentful I'm your host today I'm here with Wendy Leaver.

[00:00:26] Wendy thank you for being on the program.

[00:00:28] Thank you. I'm so happy to be here.

[00:00:30] And Wendy is founder of content bacon and we're going to hear a little bit about the company. And it is a great example of a service based business so I'm excited to hear how you founded the company how you've been able to grow and grow it. I know you've been going through a lot of growth recently. So curious and excited to hear about that. Why don't we start with just a little bit of background how you got into the business what the business kind of originally did and then how you've kind of grown and evolved over time.

[00:00:57] Sure. So the content Bacon was founded in the fall of 2014 and I previously had another company called Athena marketing that was more strategic marketing company and everything I did at Athina marketing was customized consulting. So it was very challenging to scale and I was very interested in scaling a business and I happened to be at that time in the OEO accelerator program which was all about you know had scale about a million dollars and I met my current partner Dave kust and an accelerator and we started kind of collaborating on it. He was more in the branding on brand identity side. And again what I was doing was more strategy consulting and I started kind of collaborating on what we might do together. And one thing I had noticed is that every company was challenged with how to create enough content to stay relevant in today's world with all the social media that was you know becoming more and more important just keeping your website up to date. And so that's really how it was born was hey why don't we deviate from what we're doing and take what we're seeing and create a company that is just hyper focused on content creation. So we created a subscription based service where companies could sign up up a package of content that might include a certain amount of blogs a certain amount of social media emails. And we wanted to make it really easy. We wanted to make it really affordable but we also wanted to make sure it was high quality so we invested a lot in our infrastructure and finding good writers good editors and we were you know like I said we started in the fall and here we are almost four years later and we've grown exponentially.

[00:02:48] That's great. So let me ask a little bit about that image. I think that's a key kind of strategy is a key thing and that I think a lot of service based businesses run into which is they've got a pretty good client base and they have kind of a range of services that work with that client base. But as they go to scale they really it becomes challenging and challenging to figure out how to build the staff how to grow the kind of capabilities. When you focus when you decided to focus on the content development how did that conversation happen or what did that look like and did you look at sort of lots of different angles there wasn't you know were there other ideas that you were grappling with or was it was a kind of an epiphany for you.

[00:03:28] Yeah. So focus was definitely one of those things I had kept hearing about. But I wasn't doing like I really had that saying yes to everything made me invaluable to my clients and I got that. And when you're in valuable tier clients you cannot scale.

[00:03:47] You get a good occasion either.

[00:03:50] And that's one that was what I wanted and I wanted to be invaluable to my clients. They would call me at 3 o'clock in the morning that they had an issue. And again said Be careful what you wish for. So the aha moment was really understanding what helped me back from having a scalable business realizing it was me. And so one of the things I had started to do prior to officially launching contemn bacon is I had created these content packages if you will for current clients and which is kind of dabbling in them at that time I was doing all of the writing and editing and posting. But what I learned is that interaction with the customers was so much easier. They gave me their credit card. So every month you know it went through I didn't have the same type of interaction with them because they were just so happy to kind of be checking the box on those things. And so that was really the AHA is that. I had something that required less of me. The customer facing inside and I had something that I can really start to identify the processes and systems that I was using because that was the other key thing with the marketing. I never knew how I did anything. I did a scratch every time. So even if I wanted to scale I didn't know how. Because I was basing it on you know me and what I knew and what the customer was dealing with and it was all customized. And there was nothing that went this is how we do this. This is how we do that.

[00:05:14] That was the other key thing that held me back was I had no systems and processes I like the idea of kind of the experiment of figuring out how to take your current customers find a product or service that you can get to provide them knowing that you can do it now but it's something you can easily find other stuff to do. But I think the trick there is to have the discipline to do it in a systematic way. So even if you know you could create a really great custom piece or you know the perfect Oracle for them for this one thing it is not something you know you could produce repeatedly with yourself and not do it because you really want to test that. I like that idea and I think it's something a lot of people can try because they've got good customers a lot of times it's just sitting around what is the anger. What is a service I can bribe them that I could get.

[00:06:05] And I think something that I had learned again and learned the hard way is you know I would go an entrepreneur all benders all the time. You know so other people would approach me with ideas her that they wanted me to pursue. And I always thought everyone's business you know was more interesting a pastor to grow than mine and so I would constantly you know get the shiny object syndrome again. I'll work on that. And again just go on these tangents. And so this was finally when I did it for myself. And I started saying no to anything and everything and even when Dave and I started talking because I had kind of gone down different routes like that before. I was like kind of like a big no. I'm not doing you know I'm not collaborating. Are businesses together because then we would have just had a bigger version of what we already had. But what I have said is I have been dabbling in this site thing that I'd be willing to explore with you. And that was the difference maker. It was finally me owning what I wanted to do and not letting other people's ideas you know that they would come to me with distract me which I think probably a lot of entrepreneurs can relate to is that you know every every other business seems more sexier more interesting than ours at the time.

[00:07:18] I like the way I like the idea of an entrepreneurial Bender just a little bit about hangover.

[00:07:25] Let's talk about your resume.

[00:07:27] You usually have probably posted some of them where you're away for the Fed all sorts of new ideas of other banks.

[00:07:38] So you've figured out this Nishikawa focused on the content development once you kind of thing in this area. How did you iterate or how did you kind of hone in the product so you mentioned that you were doing monthly subscriptions. Like how did you come up with kind of the packaging of the pricing of honing the options that people had within the service.

[00:07:57] Yeah it was really based on just what I had already been learning by doing it and you know kind of just I'm guesstimating that we're going to start with a good better best scenario and we're going to introduce it and let's see what kind of response we got. And we got you know sometimes I'd rather be you know lucky than smart we got lucky because what we were. Proposing and I think you know it was very sensitive to price points I wanted to make sure you know I was in that entrepreneurial community you know at that time you know I was under a million and you know with accelerators I kind of knew what the thresholds were at least I thought I knew what the thresholds work or what people might spend on a service like this and so just creating kind of those price points that I thought were really valuable for the client and gave them you know that content that had them look relevant had to look like they had a pulse with you know increase their traffic and awareness. And then we just went out and tested it and you know to this day that's what we're always need. It's just you know we were using the market to test and validate what you know what our offering is what makes the most sense and what people really need. And sometimes they know what they need and sometimes they don't know if we can sticky.

[00:09:11] Oh and at this point your ideal or poor customer how would you describe them.

[00:09:16] So when we first started we we kind of had three different groupings of customers. We had kind of that customer who really didn't know about content marketing but once they got educated were like oh I need to do that and I need help. Then we have the second type customer that had dabbled in that had tried to do it themselves and just realized how challenging it is to create content on a consistent basis but really understood the value already didn't necessarily need to be educated so much that needed a reliable resource. And then the third was someone who was investing heavily in this saw the value but just needed more and wanted more and wanted it and additional reliable resource. And what we found those were kind of what we started with and what we found was one in two were our initial sweet spot with two being our true core and that to this day we've refined it since then. Today like today we're more niche focused with technology companies health care and a big bucket of all services which is you know attorneys accountants insurance and the key attributes are when you know these these companies want to position themselves as subject matter experts. They have prospects that do research online. It's a considered purchase and that the value of it and the time it takes for someone to make a decision is there is there some time and money there so it's worth investing and content on a consistent basis to build that asset that's truly who our core customer is today and revenue wise there usually you know between 2 and 20 billion.

[00:10:57] And I think that's great that you have put the work in to actually define the core ideal customer because I think that's something that can be done. I'm assuming that as you've kind of refined your offering and refine that target you had customers along the way that were historic or legacy customers that didn't meet didn't fit that core or didn't want that service. How did you do with that.

[00:11:19] Yeah. So some we didn't. So we had a couple of things happen that were both helpful and also learning lessons so I was able to take a lot of my marketing clients and transition them to content bacon customers and some of those we still have today. Thankfully some of our early customers that we took on because you know at that point we were just hungry they just kind of crossed themselves out just did it just didn't work. And then when we got to a point where we felt like we could fire customers you know we did that. You know we we just had conversations and we started weeding out customers that just weren't were not the rates that. And then today we are very careful about the sales process and the qualification process and making sure that the customers that we do bring on really fit the mold because what we what we've learned is that the customers that don't take up so much time so much energy and we give them that time and energy and then it is not going well you know for anyone so you know thank you.

[00:12:25] You don't even get the benefit of that and you neglect the customers that you really need and deserve your attention so that's a lesson I think we're always learning because we just had a big experience with a Fortune 500 company a division of a Fortune 500 company that we were so excited about like OK this could be a new niche for us. And we just completely overlooked some of the actions that one needs to ask to enter that market. Like what's your process on your side to prove you know how many people are involved in the decision making things that seem so common sense now that we didn't ask those questions and it turned out to be a nightmare because the bureaucracy of dealing with a company like that versus the entrepreneurial companies we deal with was a smaller division just completely ate all of our margin. And so if we are going to enter into that which you know we might you know we've now learned the hard way know how to do it smartly.

[00:13:25] It give us some insight in in terms of the question to do so when you're dealing with a prospect or you're quantifying prospects what are some of the key questions or things that you look at the podium identify whether or not they're going to be an ideal customer.

[00:13:39] Yeah. So part of it is you know they're understanding about content marketing inbound marketing what they're doing today what results they're looking for and how quickly or not quickly they're looking for results. So if they are coming to us and they are expecting to go from you know never doing any kind of blogging or or you know social media or email campaigns which again seems really basic but you'd be surprised how many companies just aren't doing that and they think that by doing that that they're going to start getting you know leads right away. That's a warning sign for us. So one of the things we try to do is understand what what what are you doing today where you at today. What's your traffic that you're getting a lot of times they don't know that or they're getting very low traffic. What kind of convergence are you getting through your online efforts today. Again if they're not getting any higher than we probably need to start with you know let's roll your traffic what to grow your you know kind of convergence first. So we try to really take our time to understand where they're at and educate them on you know to me it's very similar to going to a networking event.

[00:14:51] If you go to a networking event and you're looking to get customers at a networking event you're probably going to repel everyone because of the way you are being you know energy is if you go wanting to add value you know wanting to get to know people wanting to develop relationships. It's going to take longer but it's going to be you know more valuable for you. And it's really the same if you're building an asset with this and you know our whole our whole way of being as a company is. That being an educator giving more than you get is the way of being that if you take that on has tremendous benefits. And so we you know try to look for companies that have that same willingness that same way of being because that's what wins today not hard sell quick turnarounds. This is not direct response marketing. You know if you wanted to go spend money on those things. Yeah that's right. That's just not our niche.

[00:15:48] Talk to me a little bit about the breadth of the company in terms of people. So I think a lot of this ends up as you begin to find this service Neish you know kind of core customer ideal customer but that also happens which as you start to see what kind of cultural values or cultural trends you're really going to zero in on. And then what you need to build in terms of organization which means you need to get more focused and more specific about the people that you bring on. What have you noticed over time in terms of ways in which you've identified who ends up really being a good fit of the company and who does not. And what have you put in place to try to increase your batting percentage on those things.

[00:16:28] Yeah. So this is you know on Gelmi I think for me you know I went from being the you were in my business to having to really grow and develop myself as a leader where I spend the majority of my time today in that mood you know creating the culture implementing the culture reinforcing the culture and the whole hiring. And so you know I've really had to develop myself to do that successfully. And so the first thing is just understanding what your culture is and again because I came from that you know eow accelerator eow environment you know that was I think I was one of the biggest things in this business is that I was able to utilize so much of what I had learned and not done in my previous business in this business from the get go. So creating those values having a hiring process. So again you know I used to hire just kind of based on gut feeling. And I hated that you know because it was so challenging and so I found a process that at least gave us some early indicator so you know we only put out ads. We don't ask for resumes. We put our core values in the ads and the first thing people have to do is you know let us know why they think they would be a good fit how they exemplify those values.

[00:17:43] So that filters out like 95 percent of the people because most people don't follow directions which you know does work for us. You know that's a key piece and then we spend a lot of time in the hiring. And again it's sometimes it's very challenging. And as we need people quack and you just want to know you you high them which always ends up badly. So you know we spend a lot of time we use that process like what is that job smart smart. Yeah. And so you know we have an intro call that we have very specific questions we ask we have a very long interview whether it's you know here in our office or via zoom that we tediously go through things you know there were writing down things as they tell us like who they report it. So when we asked for references we're not asking for them to give us references we're saying hey we talk to this person who you report it to. So all of that and we've added in our own things because there are certain things you have to be able to do in this environment.

[00:18:42] You know if you're an editor or a writer you know you have to be able to at a rate that we have different tasks that impact people take we keep adding to that and do a lot of stuff in real time where we just kind of put people on the spot to see how they react. And. The more we put that into place the better the better. We are hiring. And again if we can find people that are coachable and have the right values there's so much of what we do that we can teach versus if we if we find the people that have the experience and it seemed like they'd be perfect but they don't have our culture. They never fit in and end up costing us so much more so I can't say that I have got it now but it's definitely one of my biggest challenges. As in growing this business is growing the team and finding the right people. But you know luckily I have some tools that have some resources I have some systems that that make it a little bit easier.

[00:19:35] And I think that's pretty common national identity earned unvarnished presentation of her and Dearsley awhile ago and had the audience out of the four decisions. You know people strategy execution cash which is the hard one. And I think it was over 50 percent of the audience most people.

[00:19:51] So it's I think it's pretty common for most most companies and especially most companies of this kind of growth stage and unironically out there and maybe not ironically.

[00:20:00] I think there's a correlation as as you refine and target and zero in on your service the training side actually becomes easier because now that the amount of things you're doing and how well you have to find them and made them repeatable has increased so you can actually focus more on the on the cultural side on the cultural fit side the you know you can you can train you how processes you have ways of teaching people how to do things so you don't need to be quite as focused on the technical skill. I mean certainly you need fundamentals of being able to write and things like that. But you know how to run the system how to do a blog post you know those kind of things become very teachable also which is a huge strategic advantage from a business point of view because your ability then to go out to the market to find talent shows dramatically and it opens up to it probably to a lot of people that you otherwise wouldn't be able to go to if you didn't have these defined processes and I think that's something that people don't realize on the strategy side as one of the reasons we want to do that really zero in on the service is that actually makes it easier to find talent or find good talent from some form of help.

[00:21:03] It makes it so much easier and I get not that we're there yet with this is still something we're finding but where you find talent onboarding them. So having that training process that doesn't cause so much brain damage to the organization every time you bring on a new person because you've now developed a very similar to what we do with our customers will we onboard. You know we're doing that same thing with our new team members so that we can constantly be bringing on new team members without disrupting the organization. And I think that's the other key thing about the hiring is always be hiring because we have sometimes gotten felt like we had our team filled out and like okay we could take a breather and then inevitably something happens whether it's a growth spurt or someone leaves or gives. And then you don't realize how just like in sales you don't realize how long it takes to fill that hype like you guys. So we are constantly you know hiring and keeping the bench Thall so that we've got people ready to go and that was a lesson we learned the hard way not just once not just twice three times three times a charm.

[00:22:12] Yes yes it ends. And. Think the way you kind of compare it to sales is is really on point because it's about having a flow of opportunities.

[00:22:25] And if you are not constantly filling the top of that funnel you will it will go dry and it often does dry when you need it the most.

[00:22:33] And it's been one of those delay factors.

[00:22:36] You know if you wait until you need a person to start looking for a person your you're fortunately and you know you're looking months months out and you're probably putting yourself in a situation where you're going to be pulling the trigger hiring people maybe to Buckley and that are not a best fit or at least know given more time and more candidates you can you could choose a much better job. But those are really key.

[00:22:59] You know I'd always love to give people a sense a chance to talk about other other things they have learned other lessons that they have been had. What would you recommend for folks that are in this kind of leadership position in this kind of growth company mode in the kind of services sectors. What else have you learned that you think would be helpful for them to know or hear about.

[00:23:21] Yeah. Now I'll just reiterate focus because I think when you market Tabori when you market to no one and I think getting really crystal clear at what you want to be create. And you know what you don't want to be great at it is a really important thing. On an ongoing basis do and we've done that. Where often you know what we're focused and then customers start asking for custom things that we start saying yes and all of a we're not focused anymore so it's not just something you do once it's something that you have to I think do on an ongoing basis. I think the other key thing for us was hiring before you think you're ready. So I think when you're at the early stages and you don't think you have the cash flow to support whatever position it is you know you will you know you'll end up doing it yourself with the mindset oh we're not you know when this happens to hire someone we hired people to start doing the writing start doing all the things that we knew we didn't want to do before we had cash flow because we didn't want to get sucked into that again and it works out because then you have the ability to go do the things that you're really good at.

[00:24:28] So you know I always I think that's really important. Also love that you know the line John daily uses if you don't have an assistant you arms to get out. And I think sometimes we don't realize how much assistant type stuff we land fall on our lap and it just takes away from the best and highest use of your talents. And I think I think even more importantly it works the growth of your business if you're doing that you're really holding your business back. I mentioned developing systems and processes. You know again I can't tell you how important that is now is one of the things I have. Heard so many times and just never did. And it's just so important that if you want to scale you have to be able to show people how to do what you do. And not that I want to be like McDonald's. That is a great example because they're able to create that didn't see because they've got such strong systems and processes for everything they do. And can train people because it's all in your head then you know you're holding your purse out.

[00:25:32] Any good examples of processes that you kind of starting with are that you realize were really important for you in the growth of the business to get to get out of your head and into something. And how. Give us some insight on how you actually did that was that you reading a down on a checklist and your videos what was the process for doing that.

[00:25:51] Yeah I think all of the above. Again I think because I came from a company where I was the company and I handled all assets the assets the customer interaction that when when I had people you my team that could do that. There might be a problem with the customer and I was so used to jumping and inhaling any problem because that's what I did and I realized by doing that you know I was continuing to hold the business back because I was the bottleneck CFO. I think one it's just a. Allow me your team to make decisions and make mistakes and then look at those mistakes and as a team to determine what caused them how can we do a better job and then creating the process around that but not being so hyper focused on you know customers can't be unhappy. And I have to fix everything. And again I think that was more of a mindset for me just because you know I was so used to you know being the customer face for so long that when I saw my team start to you know I mean it could be as simple as me thinking they took too long to answer an e-mail you know so it just crazy stuff.

[00:26:58] Not to hold the company back and so it was really kind of trusting that I had a team that could do what needed to be done and if they made mistakes which we allow in this environment you know we welcome it as long as we can talk about it then we can solve anything. And so I think I think that for me was huge and just letting them know input like today it's so great because if we say yes to a customer on something that's outside of you know kind of our menu our team fights back. It's so great because they are protecting you know they're protecting us they're protecting the business they're protecting the processes and initially that was a little hard for me because again I was so used to doing what I wanted. So I think if you're trying to create a company that can scale I'm doing everything I can to this business friends without me and that you know it doesn't need me. And I think just that mindset alone helps you identify where things get in the way.

[00:27:58] Yeah. And I think it can be a really hard one and it has to do with kind of Elands and sometimes it's kind of ego.

[00:28:05] But I think it's really about value the entrepreneur early. They want to solve problems that they want to serve customers they want to. They want to. They want to engage in problems. And so it's tough to kind of realize that if you want to scale the business you really want to see growth. You have to step out of that kind of being the critical person in the business and essentially creating a business that at some level doesn't mean you forget it in operations anymore but that can be that can be tough if you have an you know kind of switch that mindset and understand about it. That's ultimately going to be powerful for them.

[00:28:37] So we're going to have time here in a second. Wendy I would love to give you a chance to learn more about you about content big and what's the best way to contact you and find out more information.

[00:28:46] Yes it definitely you can e-mail me. Wendy W. E.A. why add content bacon dot com. I love conversations about entrepreneurship. I love helping companies with their you know content journey. So you know feel free to reach out to me you know about anything and everything. You know our website has a ton of information on social media. But I'd love to hear from you. And yeah help however I can support you. I'm on this journey.

[00:29:15] That's great. Thank you and I'll make sure for anyone listening that those links are in the show notes so they can click and learn more about Underberg and contact him when he does a little better.

[00:29:25] Thank you so much for being on. Thank you. Have a great day Bruce. Thanks. I

[00:29:31] You've been listening to Thinking Outside the Bud with Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt to find a full list of podcast episodes. Download the tools and worksheets and access other great content. Visit the Web site at thinkingoutsidethebud.com. And don't forget to sign up for the free newsletter at thinkingoutsidethebud.com/newsletter.