Speaker by Various Artists

21

Surviving Small III: Creating a Profile

by Xero 2

A few readers asked me to talk about how to create a PR profile. So here goes. I had to do it with Xero because I had to get my name and face out there and become known by the business community, so that we could raise the money we’d need to be able do Xero properly.

You need to make a choice to build profile. Having a profile is a double-edged sword, especially in New Zealand. I can report the tall poppy syndrome is alive and well and with any profile you will get plenty of flak. I don’t know why that is, but it just is. That’s why I think you need to start slowly and build experience like I mentioned in my article last year Setting media goals. There are skills to be learnt and you need to grow a thick skin.

I’ve always argued that serial entrepreneurship is repeatable. Stories like TradeMe get the press but they really are the exception. For most people stepping through a number of successful businesses is a more realistic way to do something finally great. Each business provides more experience, capital and networks.

But you need to be seen to be successful through each of these steps. I was thinking about doing online accounting well before the ink was dry on AfterMail so I made a point of ensuring that I got recognition for its success. There were a number of other great people at AfterMail who were welcome to take the limelight, but I saw AfterMail as a building block for what I wanted to do next, so pushed it.

Planning Xero, we quickly worked out that being a public company was key to our business strategy. I was probably well known in tech circles but not so much in the main stream business media. Having some business profile was essential to what we wanted to do. I didn’t formally come up with a plan to build profile but there were some natural things that it made sense to do.

Doing a blog was obvious, and I was already doing that, and there were a few other key things I worked on.

The first one was get to know some business journalists, so that they would call and ask for comments on stories. I always make a point of looking out at conferences and events to introduce myself. I also asked a few out for lunch to get to know them and understand how their industry works and how I could help them and engage. I think in general you should work out how you can provide value to other people.

One of the big things I did, which came out of Foo Camp two years ago, was to champion an issue. Broadband, especially international connections, is something I’m passionate about so I wrote a discussion paper, seeded it around which started a discussion on state involvement in networks. I had no idea how successful that would be but I think it worked because it was topical, I was passionate about it, it had conflicting people and companies on each side of the issue, and it had some controversy – a free market person arguing for state involvement.

Within a few weeks the ‘Drury Report’ was mentioned on TV and journalists were calling up asking what I thought interest rates would do. Suddenly I was a business commentator. I thought that was pretty funny!

Looking back you can see several stages. 1. Joining a conversation, which might just be commenting on blogs. 2. Starting a conversation - which I did with the broadband issue. 3. Hosting a conversation, which was starting to happen on my blog. Public Address is one of New Zealand’s great examples of hosting a conversation, which is exactly what we’re doing here today.

A recent example of another person building profile successfully is Ben Kepes based in Waipara just out of Christchurch. Starting initially by commenting on Xero he has set himself up as a SaaS industry commentator and is one of the main contributors of CloudAve which is becoming a key industry blog. It seems like he now gets flown around the world to speak at conferences on SaaS. In a very short time Ben has built a personal brand which is providing him with many exciting opportunities.

Networking is another important aspect. I’ve been told I am a prolific (if not veracious) networker. You do have to get out there and get known but there are a lot of people out there. Power networking comes from connecting. Understanding what people are doing and thinking how you can help them by connecting them to someone else.

As you get bigger and have resources your ability to connect gets stronger. You will find that spending money with key people will up your value and opportunities. That’s why it’s often worth paying a little more to be working with top quality people that can connect you. A good example is how we work with our legal advisors. We use Bell Gully and Quigg partners. Probably not the cheapest people in town, but we get invited to top-quality events where we can meet with incredibly high calibre and important people. So thinking about how you use your expenditure to advance yourself and your business is another of the tools an entrepreneur will make the most of.

A good example of starting a conversation, and an interesting experiment, was something that we put up on the Xero blog last week. We announced 1000 customers in 50 days. Seemed to impress oversees websites but wasn’t picked up by the mainstream media here. I wanted to do a cartoon rocket and we quickly found a well-recognised Tin Tin rocket that we put a Xero logo on.

This was happening while the section 92a debate was going so we had an internal discussion as to whether we could use it or not. I argued that I didn’t want to live in a world where you can’t have fun with images that weren’t doing any damage to anyone, and possibly quite the opposite. I did go and buy a Tin Tin book though to assuage any residual guilt.

Supersmarty Lance Wiggs picked it up along with a few others and that became the story in Computerworld. I was hoping to be taken to task because we wanted to have the public argument which would have generated even more exposure but it didn’t gain traction.

One of my all time favourite quotes is from Oscar Wilde and I think is most relevant to would-be entrepreneurs, especially when things don’t go your way:

“There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”

I invite your comments and questions.

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