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Annette Blaylock is the founder and strategist of Insights Media Solutions, a brand consultancy agency, and with over 20 years of experience in Marketing and Sales, she has worked in some of the largest media companies in the US.
Annette launched hundreds of successful campaigns, placing millions of dollars in ads for brands like Pfizer, Simon Properties, GM Dealers, and ConAgra Foods. She also consults on personal brand strategies for Corporate Executives and Creative Entrepreneurs. Her work won numerous awards and accolades for sales and marketing excellence.
Tune in as we chat with Annette and learn more about her goal to achieve 1 million dollars in revenue by 2023.
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From Media Sales To Entrepreneur
George: This is the Conquer Local Podcast. The show about billion-dollar sales leaders, marketers leading local economic growth, and entrepreneurs that have created their dream organizations. They wanna share their secrets, giving you the distilled version of their extraordinary feats. Our hope is with the tangible takeaways from each episode, you can rewire, rework and reimagine your business. I’m George Leith and on this episode, we welcome Annette Blaylock. Annette worked in the media business and media sales for almost 20 years at large media organizations like Spectrum and iHeartRadio. She wanted to start her own business. So she launched a digital marketing agency and did that in 2021. We’re gonna talk to Annette about the challenges of being an entrepreneur and her very lofty goal of getting to a million dollars in revenue some time in 2023 and how she convinced her husband to come out of retirement to help her with her growing and scaling business. Annette Blaylock is coming up next on the Conquer Local podcast.
George: Ron Burgundy’s favorite city, San Diego, California, and Annette joins… Did you know that Annette, that you are living in Ron Burgundy’s favourite city?
Annette: I did not, but I can understand why.
George: I was just there a couple of months ago. I actually really enjoy San Diego and I’m happy to have you on the show. We went through your bio in the introduction, but I wondered if you knew this, that you and I are both media sales professionals in our histories.
Annette: I did actually, I listened to your podcast, so…
George: Oh, there you go, that’s great. Everybody listens to the podcast. Well, I was super excited to get this time to ask a bunch of questions, because when I look back, you started your business and had left some great organizations that you worked for previous, but what was the catalyst to just go out on your own?
Annette: I’ve always been an entrepreneurial type. And I think a lot of salespeople are in sales and marketing. So throughout the years, I’ve had some great experience in corporate, but I saw a big piece of the puzzle missing, especially with clients and getting results. Even though we were able to drive traffic to their website or whatever or create these wonderful campaigns on TV and radio. A lot of times they didn’t have a good website or they were missing attribution setups. So they always didn’t know where the traffic was coming from or the traffic just didn’t convert, because they had a bad website.
George: Yeah and it’s so interesting because I probably have said this a billion times. I’m sure that producer Colleen has the exact count over the years. But if you could own the customer’s website, you control the marketing plan. And where I wanted to go with this is if the organization that you’re representing in the case of you and I both coming from previous media organizations, if it’s not on the rate card, then you can’t offer the website component. Was that your experience in your past? Or how did you come to this point, I really need to be able to give ’em a lot more to help them with the problem.
Annette: Right. And I think that came in when the digital marketing space was brand new and we were starting to sell other digital products besides the traditional channels that we were offering before. And so once we learned and got more into the digital marketing space, I was able to see, wow, we can offer so many other things. But that piece of the puzzle, of the website, was a big component that was missing. And also integrating all of those other apps with the website so that it can make everything work and we can have a full 360-degree marketing plan for them. And that’s what I’m involved in now.
George: And it’s great that you brought that up because that 365 view is really important. And I wanted to interrogate this finding that I have. I remember during COVID I had this customer and friend of mine and I got a call. They need sales training. I’m like, oh, okay, I got time. I’ll do some sales training. But what I found was, it wasn’t actually… They did need sales training, don’t get me wrong. But what it actually was, was a new journey for their potential customers. And they weren’t considering the entire journey of even discovering them on the website, their social media presence was horrible. They weren’t even in interacting with Google My Business, yet people were speaking to them on that virtual doorway. So the 365 component, is a real big piece of that. So of the customers, you have today, the question I wanted to ask, what percentage of them do you control the website?
Annette: I would say if I don’t… About half. we build half of their sites. But the other half, I do have some control, because I have backend access and I have access to their Google analytics.
George: So you got the website piece, we’ve got the opportunity to offer more products and services. And with these clients, if we were to look at basket size or the number of things that you’re helping them solve problems on, is it website, social… Is it five things, is it eight things? What sort of level are you getting to when it comes to how many problems you’re solving?
Annette: Well, I’m trying to solve as many problems as I can, but usually the strategy is that we have a discovery call and we look at the website and see what pieces are missing, especially when we run the snapshot report. So once we view that we are able to see areas of opportunity. And then when we put together a program that addresses each of those areas of opportunities in every single stage of the customer journey. So that could mean maybe if they have a bad website let’s start with a website redesign. And then social media management, reputation management, active campaigns, or some sort of CRM solution. And then paid advertising, of course, because that’s the background I come from. But usually with paid ads, like social ads, Facebook ads, TikTok ads, radio ads, TV ads, and so forth.
George: I wanted to ask that question. Thank you for leading me. I have so many notes and there’s so many things that I wanted to ask. When you were working for those large media companies previous to starting your own organization, how many times was it, advertising consultant? Like it was… Your title was around just ads?
Annette: Well, that’s mainly what my title was. So when I was working at corporate, we visited with the client and just basically did a needs analysis. But we’re only able to offer a TV or radio package.
George: Right, So I guess the point I’m trying to make is very ads heavy. So the client saw you as an advertising consultant, not as a digital marketing consultant. So how did you make that switch? Because you’re able to offer everything now in the role that you have today with your own business and you’re able to go out and find great solutions. How did you make that switch?
Annette: Well, I had a client that came to me and said, Annette, I really like what you do with the radio. But what else can you do? What else can you help me with? And so I had developed really good relationships with our clients. And at some point, I saw the jump and opportunity to jump as a freelancer or as a solopreneur and help that client more in-depth with their marketing. So that’s how I started. I left corporate and started on my own in that way.
George: Was there a period where you were tired of… You got to a point… ‘Cause I know I’ve heard this from others. It got to a point of it sucked to say, no. They say I’ve got this problem. Could you help me out with it? Well, I’m not really able to offer that. Did you feel some of that?
Annette: Well, yes, absolutely. And sometimes I would refer them if I had someone I was networking with who was a web designer, for instance, I would refer them to that person. So I developed a referral network as well, but that’s as far as I could go.
George: Right, it’s the lead club breakfast. We all like those, right?
George: You go to breakfast and somebody was there with, maybe they were a paving company and they could tell you all the new parking lots are being made. And then you run back to the station and put in the book that you want that lead. We all did that I’m sure. How many of your customers that worked with you at the large media organizations came with you when you started your own thing?
Annette: Actually, one. I have one car dealership that came in on board with me. And then after that, I just started getting referrals. I started networking and getting new customers that way in various forms, whether it be through a referral partner or just me cold calling on my own.
George: And in that cold calling though, it was people you were familiar with, or was it green field? Like we’re just in a brand new area where you gonna go find new customers?
Annette: Right, so I started… I say cold-calling, but it’s sort of a warm call. So I joined the chamber and I joined some networking groups. And then I started connecting with those people that way. Just say, hey, I’m part of the chamber, I would love to talk to you about your marketing and so forth.
George: And I’m really excited that you said that because I know I work with lots of folks that are building their own business and they really think that they can go by a lead list. And there’s some magical piece of technology that will make money happen in the middle of the night. Have you ever found anything like that? ‘Cause I’m sure I could… You and I could both sell a lot of that if it existed.
Annette: Yes, no. Cold traffic is really hard to convert.
George: So let me ask you about this sale. ‘Cause I could see it in the notes that the team put together. I guess you had another sale that you had to make when you started your own business. And that was to convince your husband to come outta retirement because you couldn’t handle all the customers that you were getting.
Annette: Exactly. So that happened about a year ago. I had a book of business and I found myself really struggling trying to fulfill all of these deliverables for our clients. And I just was working a lot. I’m still working a lot but in a different fashion.
George: I wanted to say congratulations on that pitch because I don’t think that if I was retired, you could convince me to come outta retirement. But good work on that. Getting Ron to help you out in your business and congratulations on the scale. So the other… I just love this in the notes. You’re gonna get to a million dollars sometime in 2023, that’s the goal, right?
Annette: Absolutely. So the one thing I really learned well when I was at corporate was monthly and quarterly goals and meeting those expectations. And that really… If I had it visualized and planned out, that really drives me to succeed towards those goals. And I took that practice into my own business where we do have a salesperson in-house and we get together and review the monthly and quarterly goals so that we can… How many people do we have on the pipeline to meet that number? And so that’s where that came from.
George: So the science that you learned in your career, that if you put these goals in place… And I’m glad you’re bringing that up, because the successful organizations where we have solopreneurs that have been born outta corporate previous opportunities if they bring some of that rigor with them, they got a hell of a lot better chance of getting to the goal. And a seven-figure company, that’s no small stretch to have built that, especially part of it you’re building during a bloody global pandemic that nobody saw coming. But let’s talk about, aside from the goal setting, what are some of the other tactics that you are deploying to achieve that $1 million in annual recurring revenue?
Annette: So I take that goal basically… Let’s just say it’s X or a hundred thousand dollars in a quarter or whatever that may be. I’m just putting a simple number out there and we just work backwards. Well, how many people do we need to close to get that? And then I go up the pipeline, well, if I’m closing four deals to get to that a month, then how many people do we need to talk to or pitch and how many people do we need to call or reach out to, to at least schedule those appointments or schedule those discovery calls. So we have a process that we go through and then we just… Every step of the sales pipeline has goals and KPIs.
George: I’m always fascinated to talk to entrepreneurs like you that have come from organizations that have this built-in rigor around pipeline, numbers, the culture is all built around that. So now you also have… You’ve gotta bring your husband Ron in, you’ve added a sales hire to help you drive even further customer contact. Who is the ideal customer profile? Well, you talked a little bit about automotive earlier, is it just automotive dealers or where are you going to find these clients that like working with your organization?
Annette: Right, so even though my husband and I both have automotive background, me pitching to auto motives and he was a former auto dealer. We are really specialized in local businesses. So, we get involved in our community, we join the chamber, we network with others in the local community. So our plethora, or our book of business, mainly deals with just local business, local IT service providers, HVAC companies, service companies, professional services, attorneys, and such. And how we differentiate ourselves is that we really network or try to get customers in awe of where we live and work. There’s a lot of companies out there that wanna reach out to somebody in New Jersey, from San Diego. And for me, that doesn’t work.
George: Well, so the hyperlocal focus that they’ve gotta be a local business, you’re using the chambers. And you obviously have a networking background, because some people you go, yeah, go to this event. You don’t know anybody and have a beer and maybe start to meet… It just gives ’em anxiety and they can’t do it. So you had that skill. Question I have, when you go to talk to these new local businesses, whether they be referrals or maybe somebody you’ve met through a networking event, how do you overcome the… Are Annette and Ron gonna be in business in six months? When you’re starting something brand new and you’re not representing a big national brand, I think there’s always a little bit of anxiety in the customer’s mind as to, yeah, this sounds great. Annette and her company, they look amazing. Will they be here down the road? How do you overcome that sometimes, unset objection?
Annette: Well, it’s difficult because our space, our digital marketing space has some bad players kind of like there were some bad plumbers and there’s some good plumbers. And so I think that the way we overcome it is our background. We have over 20 years of experience in digital marketing and advertising, we rented an office space. So we’re here entrenched in the community. We’re not going away in six months. So when we talk to them, we talk to them very casually about their business, and then we offer a free snapshot report. And so after we review that, we invite them to our office. Sometimes we do it virtually, sometimes we do it in-house.
George: Well, and I think I know the answer to this, but I’d love to hear it from you. What does that snapshot report do to help build that trust? What are you hearing from customers when you present? And snapshot is a Vendasta product. But really what it is, insight, space selling. You’ve done a bunch of research with that tool. You found out some things, what’s the thing that really tips them by using that tool?
Annette: I think a lot of them are… Some people are surprised and some people are not surprised. And they tell me, yeah, I haven’t been doing a good job in digital marketing. I have to really get into the 21st century. And so, we just review areas of opportunity and we don’t really talk about tactics. We just casually mention how social media can improve this or that or how reputation management can really get them listed, in several directories online and increase your visibility. So, it’s just a casual conversation. Then we ask them questions, We ask them what is your biggest challenge? And we do a mini discovery call with them.
George: How open do you find these customers to share? I work with a lot of different partners, we do some calls, we ask some questions and I hear some of them saying, yeah, it’s really hard to get them to open up. It’s really hard to do that needs analysis sometimes. How have you been able to overcome that, to get a customer to open up to you and really share where they are in their journey of digital transformation and taking advantage of the amazing opportunities with digital marketing solutions?
Annette: I think that snapshot report does open up an opportunity for the customer to say more about their business. Whereas if you were just doing a straight discovery call, it would be a little bit more difficult, especially if you’re asking open-ended questions that opens the space for them to speak about their business. But I think that having that tool in front of you and just going over step by step and listening to what they have to say, builds this immediate trust factor.
George: I see in the notes from the team, when we were getting ready to have this conversation, you’ve been able to achieve 90% retention of your customers. How? That is an unbelievable number and congratulations. How have you been able to keep 90% of those clients?
Annette: Thank you. Well, we stay pretty close to them. So every month we schedule a monthly review where we review all of their campaign performances, how they’re improving online, where we can do a better job. So we’re in constant communication with them, not every day and sometimes not every week. But at least once a month we have that sit down where we spend maybe 45 minutes to an hour and reviewing their marketing.
George: So, thank you. And I love that you’re saying that, because so many times I find that organizations that are struggling to hit their revenue goals, it’s because there’s a leaky bucket there. And it’s hard enough to find a customer once much less to get somebody that you can retain. And then to ignore them, means that now you got competitors that are selling to them, you’ve got maybe budget constraints happening and they’re not seeing the value on a regular basis. So, you’re doing the hard work and at least once a month, you’re talking to the clients. So I’m glad that you’re saying that. I’ve been saying it for a long time, but I’m glad that I’m hearing from you that you’re having this success. Now, here’s the catch-22. I’m wondering if you’re experiencing, because you have to communicate with these customers on a monthly basis and because you have to stay close to them to maintain that 90% retention rate, are you having issues in scaling and coming up with components that can be repeatable?
Annette: Sometimes, it depends on exactly what it is. It could be the way we do our proposals or the way we book discovery calls. But yes, it’s getting to a point where we might have to hire a second salesperson. We recently hired a project manager to manage some of the scheduling part of it and reporting.
George: Besides getting Ron to come out of retirement, your husband, what was the catalyst to make the decision to hire a salesperson? Why was it salesperson first and then project management? I think that’s the way that it came together.
Annette: It’s funny you should say that George because I wanted a project manager first and not a salesperson. And Ron’s coming from, managing big auto dealerships, he’s like, let’s get a salesperson first. And he was absolutely right. So we hired a salesperson and then we were able to backtrack into a project manager after that.
George: I don’t know, again, I’m sure you will, tell me if I’m wrong on this, but is it because you both reached the agreement that you didn’t have the processes dialed in yet and you wanted to do them yourselves? Now we got more time, we got a sales rep and we can now really dig into what we’re delivering to the customer and see if we can find a repeatable process. Was that where you were headed with that line of thinking?
Annette: We had some repeatable process, but hiring a salesperson really improved upon how our processes work. So because we had that goal in mind, like X amount per month or whatever, the only way to achieve that, because I was tapped out and I had no project manager is to hire a second salesperson. now in the interim, that second salesperson was doing both project management and account services and sales. But now that we hired a project manager, we’ve been able to move that task over to this person. And so the salesperson can focus more on selling every week.
George: Annette, when you started in the media business and not as long ago as me by the way because you’re way younger than I am. But you started in the media business. I’m sure the training was unbelievable. Like you just went in, spent like six months, you went to this university, they trained you on everything you got manual. It was unbelievable, is that true?
Annette: There was a lot of training, but there was a lot of useless training too.
George: So when–
Annette: The corporate minutia exists.
George: Well, I’m joking around this, because I don’t think any company really has their training dialed in, but the reason I bring it up is, now you hire a sales rep and it’s you and your husband that have started this business from scratch. How are you able to train that sales rep, knowing that we all have had bad experiences in our past with less-than-ideal training programs?
Annette: Exactly. So I spent a lot of time with this person going through, just different processes, what our ideal processes are. We’ve went through phone scripts, we practice them, we trained them on our CRM and on our platforms, we watched training videos on how to deliver a snapshot report, and all of this stuff. I mean it took about two weeks’ worth of training before I actually sent them out and started making calls and introducing themselves to the community because I wanted to make sure they were confident in what they had to say. And also I trained them in overcoming objections. But I didn’t want to burn leads either.
George: Well, it’s interesting, the Genesis, and then the story of how you got to where you are today with this organization and to get a rep up and running and proficient in a very short period of time, speaks to the skillset that you bring to it, that’s for sure. Congratulations on all the success. And for what you’re telling me that million dollars is definitely within reach with what you’ve been building. I would love to give you the last word though and with this question. You’ve been at this since 2021 when you decided to leave corporate, start your own thing, hang your shingle out there and be an entrepreneur and live the American dream. If you could do it over again though, what’s one piece of advice you would give to other entrepreneurs of, I just wouldn’t have done that one thing right there.
Annette: I’m doing it all myself. I would’ve really gotten some sort of support whether that looks… And for every business, it looks differently. For some people, it looks like hiring a VA or from others, it might be the support of a spouse or something. It’s just that… It gets overwhelming. I get overwhelmed with all that I had to do and I would’ve gotten help a lot sooner.
George: But I’d love to interrogate that a little bit more if it’s okay. Is it the loneliness of being an entrepreneur where you’re out there fighting the battle by yourself and not having people that you can… Especially coming from a corporate world, you were on a team and you had resources that you could reach out to, is it that loneliness, or what are you referring to that it would’ve been nice to have? Is it the workload? What’s the item?
Annette: It’s for me… I mean, I’m sort of an introvert or extrovert. So that collaboration was a big missing piece in what I was doing and trying to fulfill client deliverables. So the collaboration, the assigning of mundane… Not mundane, but just tasks that other people can do, so I can focus on the bigger picture, that would’ve been a lot more helpful.
George: No and thank you for that. I see the trepidation of saying the word mundane, but at the same time what I’ve found is, there’s a whole bunch of people out there that want that work and value that work and bring a lot of value to the organization. So I agree with you. And a VA is not that expensive. To get somebody to just take these eight things off your plate so you could focus on the customer. That’s great advice. And thank you for being so open and sharing in your journey, because that’s what we try to do here is to provide content and provide great guests like you for our audience that maybe can give them ideas or give them concepts they haven’t thought about or maybe be the catalyst for them to start their own thing and be their own boss. And it’s a very inspiring story that you’ve told us about the success that you have had along with your husband in building Insights Media Solutions from back in April of 2021. And we wish you all the best on your way to that goal, that wildly important goal of $1 million in revenue, sometime in 2023. I’d ask this, Annette, will you just send us a quick note so that we can announce to the audience that Annette hit her million dollars. I would love to be able to do that at some point and congratulate you.
Annette: Absolutely George.
George: Thanks for joining us on the show today and have a great day.
Annette: Thank you.
George: Annette had me at a million dollars. No, she had me at 90% client retention. That’s one of the measurements that you want to have on how successful your business is. And when you have 90% client retention, it’s time to pour gas on that fire and maybe hire some more people and take the processes that you’ve built and start to scale them. And then you’ve got a hope of getting to the million dollars annual recurring revenue. And keep in mind, Annette and her husband did this in 24 months. And I’m telling the truth in advance because she hasn’t quite hit that milestone, but I’m sure we’ll hear soon from Annette and Ron that they got to that number. So here’s a couple of takeaways as to how this power duo has been so successful in building this business. The first thing, website. If you control the website, you control the client. We’ve said that a million times on this show, we’ve had numerous guests that have told us that to be true. And now we’re hearing it once again. That’s the first item. You can’t just buy a list of leads, put them out there in the ether, and hope that you’ll make money in the middle of the night. It’s not a thing. It can be something that can help you find new customers, but it’s not the only thing. And Annette and her team have went back to the old, tried and true. Let’s go network, let’s meet some people. Let’s go to the Chamber of Commerce. We’re focused on hyper-local anyways in the San Diego market. So where can we find a bunch of business people that are hanging out? The Chamber of Commerce is a great place to do that. And I love that she’s using that approach. Then she’s using some technology that shall go nameless, to show some insights to the customer and build that trust and rapport that they know what’s going on. And they have some insights that can help that customer improve whatever state that they are in today. And then they layer in the products, services, and tactics, but, and a big but, they always make sure that they follow up with the client. They’re very close to their customer. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve talked to people in this space and I’m like, so what’s your retention rate? Nowhere near what Annette’s is. And I ask another question, How often do you talk to your clients? Once every six months. Yeah, it’s no wonder your retention rate is so low. And it’s also no wonder that usually the answer that these clients give me is, yeah and I don’t get a lot of referrals. The reason that you don’t get referrals is because you’re not doing a great job for your current customers. So why would they refer you to a friend? And when you’re at networking events, you don’t get that network effect, because when people ask your clients that are in the network event, how great of a job you’re doing, they say, ah well, I never really hear from that company. So I love the fact that Annette leaned in on that and said at the very least, we talk to our customers at least once a month. That is the bare frigging minimum if you are going to be successful and build your own startup to a million dollars in recurring revenue in 24 months. You just don’t have a hope if you don’t follow through on that client service… Customer service. Yeah, really it’s that basic. But a lot of people don’t do it. Thanks to Annette Blaylock for joining us on this episode of the Conquer Local Podcast. And if you liked Annette’s episode discussing scalability, let’s continue the conversation and check out episode 527, scaling your business with Jason Herman, or episode 448, rewiring your brain and how to navigate opportunity with Cathy Poturny. Please subscribe and leave us a review. And thanks for joining us this week on the Conquer Local Podcast. My name is George Leith. I’ll see you when I see you.