The Bigness of Smallness

(Listen to this post, here.)

According to extensive research that I have been conducting for nearly five minutes, celebrated author Stephen King has a net worth of 500 million dollars.

Just to give you a sense of how big a number that is, it’s more than the combined net worth of Taylor Swift ($400 Million) and me.

All in all, not bad for a guy who’s earned a living by making things up.

Not only that, but it’s a terrific business model since his costs consist of nothing more than a desk, a computer, and (I’m guessing) a coffee mug made out of a partially decomposed human head.

So, here’s my question for you: If this business model is so lucrative, so simple, and available to anyone, why don’t big companies do it?

Why doesn’t Ford, or FedEx, or Facebook hire a bunch of people to write bestselling novels? 

Stephen King

After all, there are only 26 letters in the alphabet; how hard can it be? Certainly a lot simpler than building cars, guaranteeing overnight delivery, or ending democracy once and for all.

The answer, of course, is that good writing doesn’t scale. It’s not a function of time, effort, horsepower, or budget.

Writing is an activity about which the old adage applies: It takes nine months to make a baby, no matter how many women you put on the job.

You’re Missing a Big Opportunity

There are plenty of things big companies can do that people like you and I (small professional service firms and solos) can not.

We can’t offer live, 7/24 service.

We can’t hire famous actors, athletes, or British lizards to represent our brand.

We can’t buy enough advertising to have strangers remember our tagline, recognize our logo or, in many cases, even remember our company name.

But, like Stephen King, there are things we can do that the big guys can’t – things that don’t scale and, in fact, get worse with attempts to automate them.

Which means that if you are not doing these kinds of things to market yourself and your business, you are leaving a big advantage (and money) on the table.

Here are three that I live by:

#1. Handwritten Notes

They cost money, they can’t be automated, and they take advantage of a nearly forgotten channel (snail mail).

All of which means that when you send one – to say congrats, thank you, thinking of you, happy birthday, or whatever – you stand out. Hardly anyone does this anymore and the “open rate” on these notes is approaching 100%.

I send one of these each week.

#2. “Hello Emails”

Not to sell anything, not to talk about yourself, not to ask for a favor. Just a non-automated “How are you?” to the people on your house list (you do have a house list, right?).

What do you say? The same kinds of thing you would say if you ran into one of these people in the supermarket. How’s the family? How about all this rain? Your shopping cart is on my foot.

The one and only purpose is to keep your relationships alive.

I send 10 of these each week.

#3. One-on-One Meetings

Depending on where your contacts live and your comfort level with face-to-face get-togethers, you may have to do some or all of these on Zoom. When possible, I prefer in person over coffee or lunch.

Here, too, the point is relationship maintenance. You don’t need a plan or an agenda. You are simply trying to get to know people better and stay top of mind with them.

I do one of these each week.

Here’s the bottom line.

Online tools and automated stay-in-touch processes are fine. If you are a small firm or solo, you cannot survive without them.

But, don’t miss the opportunity to do things that can’t be automated – and that the big boys and girls, therefore, won’t touch.

Do these things and you’ll stand out, be remembered, and generate the kind of word-of-mouth buzz we all rely on. It’s either that or get yourself a really creepy coffee mug.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever drunk coffee out of a human head? Explain.
  2. Who is your favorite celebrity spokesperson?
  3. What’s your go-to, non-scalable marketing activity?

Share your answers below…

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13 thoughts on “The Bigness of Smallness

  1. Jessica

    Drink coffee out of a human head…? Surely you must mean skull? At least I hope so. Regardless my answer to that question is a resounding “no and I never will!”. LOL

    I do not have a favourite celebrity spokesperson. I am not a fan of any celebrity. I don’t do hero-worship. Again, never have and never will. It’s just not in my nature.

    I like to send handwritten cards to people to stay in the forefront of their busy minds. Much like you!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Haha, I had written human skull first, but then it occurred to me that that was probably not creepy enough for Stephen King! Glad the note cards have worked well for you too.

  2. Dianna Huff

    I don’t follow celebrities, so I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head.

    As for my favorite marketing activity, like you, I’ve used handwritten notes for years. Still do.

    For the last year, I’ve made a real effort to keep in touch with people by phone or Zoom. It’s been an amazing experience and well worth the time. You catch up, yes, but you also get personal in a way that you can’t with email or social.

    Social media will never replace one-to-one conversations or the connections they build.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I agree. One-to-one is great. I’m getting out again in-person these days (had two today) and I find that much more satisfying than zoom, as helpful as that can be when necessary.

  3. Giselle Hudson

    Great post!

    No “drinking out of skulls” for me

    I don’t have any favorite celebrity spokesperson. Perhaps the GEICO Gecko whose name by the way is Martin named after the Martin Agency who created him in 1999.

    I realize that I operate best with one on one meetings. Something about the connection for me. I also recently discovered that working with a client, via an agency doesn’t work for me. I almost always fall short on the delivery and that’s because I have no direct contact with the client and forced to take a third party “say so” on what the client needs.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Your “work direct with the client” preference really speaks to me. For much of the same reason, I don’t get contracted out under someone else’s umbrella but only work directly.

  4. Diane

    Haven’t drank coffee, but Dan Akroyd has a vodka that came in a crystal skull, so I think that counts. The only celebrity I try to emulate is YOU, although I have often thought of buying a Lincoln because of Matthew McConaughey (geesh, that’s him and you in the same sentence…how did that happen?).
    I do all these things…although the coffee and lunch meetings have waned since COVID. Now I do them on zoom, and we eat less…which is a good thing: handwritten notes, hello emails, phone a friend Fridays, and coffee with contacts. Four Habits that help to Grow My Business.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Probably the first time McConaughey and I have been mentioned in the same sentence, with the possible exception of my wife saying, “Michael, do you want to watch a McConaughey movie tonight?”

      Sounds like you’ve got a very robust stay in touch program going!

  5. Brad Dunsé

    Coffee out of a human head, me? No, My wife? Only when I take a giant gulp of coffee, pucker up for a kiss, and chase her around the kitchen. Eeeeew gag me with a lip.

    No celebs here. If I did have one, it’d be Bugs Bunny. But I think his animators had their principles.

    Nonscalable networking? E-mail. Being I’m a blind guy, hand written notes only leave the reciever standing at the mailbox looking up at the sky wondering “what bird just pooped on the post card?”. My handwriting isn’t all that attractive these days. But I could try a 10 or 15 second iPhone video clip couldn’t I. It’s nonscalable, personal, and accessible… not to mention unique. Just thought of that one. Thanks for the prompt.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I have a colleague who’s a big “phone guy.” Calls me out of the blue a couple of times a year. It definitely takes a bit longer (although he tells me that most people never pick up, so he ends up just leaving a message), but if that works best, it’s a totally viable option!

      1. Brad Dunsé

        Phone is good, yep. Though if most don’t answer maybe it’s not as effective. I was thinking putting my overtly attractive self–yeah right–in front of my iPhone camera and sending off a quick video attached to a e-mail. Somehow it shows a bit more consideration of time, or out of the way effort,than poking a number on a screen.

  6. Gina Longo

    Thank you for the laughs in this one! I especially loved the bust on that nemesis of the free world, The Company Formerly Known as Facebook.

    As to the questions…

    1) Nope, no coffee out of a human head. (No coffee, in fact, out of anything, as I don’t drink coffee.)

    2) Like everyone else here, it seems, I’m not a fan of celebrities, but I think I’d have to go for William Shatner, because The Shat is just too cool for school. Okay, I’m a fan of one celebrity, I guess!

    3) I don’t have a fave, but I suppose if I did, it would be handwritten notes. And thank you for the recent birthday card! That had a 100% open rate in this house, and it put a smile on my face as well.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Glad the card arrived safely! I probably send about 250 a year at this point. A nice way to stay in touch and kind of a nice little end of week exercise for me too.

      I’ll let Shatner know you said hello next time I see him.


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