Podcast

Episode: 337 |
Gresham Harkless:
Building a Media Agency:
Episode
337

HOW TO THRIVE AS AN
INDEPENDENT PROFESSIONAL

Gresham Harkless

Building a Media Agency

Show Notes

Gresham Harkless Jr is the founder of Blue 16 Media, which provides website design, social media, SEO services for entrepreneurs, startups and business owners.

He’s also the Founder of CEO Blog Nation and a podcast host.

Learn more about all of his ventures at:    https://iamgresh.com/

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman 00:02
Hello and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. I’m your host Will Bachman and I’m here today with Gresham harkless, who is a writer. He has a podcast. He runs a website, design studio and all sorts of everything digital and multimedia. Gresham, welcome to the show. Well, thanks so much for having me on the show. So Gresham, first, why don’t you start by giving us an overview of your business, you have quite a few different activities going on why you want to give us an overview?

Gresham Harkless 00:39
Yeah, absolutely. So I have a digital marketing company called Blue 16 media. And we focus on web design and SEO, primarily to help out business owners as far as getting their name out there. And and I like to say if you’re a Wayne Gretzky fan, skate to where the puck is going to be. So figure out where people are searching and try to be there with your content or information in your website. And quarter. That is my whole entire marketing philosophy, which is, you are a media company. So the idea is, you know, no matter what business you’re in, the idea is you want to basically be your own usa today or your Washington Post for your target market. You figure out exactly what they’re looking for, what your goals are, and what is success look like for you. And you basically create content around there. So my media company is CB nation. And I know that our blogs, podcasts, and video content ought to help the people that I try to connect with most, which are those entrepreneurs, CEOs and business owners to succeed. So I often use this equation where I say, visibility plus resources equals success. And that’s kind of like what we do at the core is to try to help that success happen by interviewing and showcasing entrepreneurs and business owners, and also hopefully providing them some resources to help them level up as well.

Will Bachman 02:00
So you’re really practicing what you preach here, building your own visibility, tell us about some of the ways that you are building visibility and maybe start with one you you use the website hero or help a reporter out often to kind of source quotes for your your stories. Tell us a little bit about that?

Gresham Harkless 02:21
Yeah, absolutely. So at the core of what we try to do, again, is about visibility. And, and I always said, I wanted to try to create a platform, that we can have experts that are the experts at what it is that they do showcase that and in many different ways. So we use herro help a reporter out to basically find a lot of those people that are experts at whatever question we might have. So we have usually three or so three, if not more questions that we usually have going out each week, that answers any specific kind of business questions. So that could be everything from how to use your podcast for your business? Or how to use Instagram for your business? or How did you incorporate your business? Or what are you doing during this latest economic downturn differently? How did you pivot? So some of those questions that are burning question that entrepreneurs and business owners have, rather than you know me, right for 1000 words about what I think I think the best way in doing that is to kind of have a conversation with people at different set size businesses, different stages, be able to kind of give that insight and herro is a great way for us to be able to kind of Delve, or be able to get in and kind of synthesize a lot of that information that we’re getting from different sources. So that at the end of the day, the person that’s reading and looking at the post can say, Okay, I have these actionable items by which I can use to leverage Instagram or use my podcast or know how to pivot in my business itself. And hopefully, we try to help bizarre succeed in that way.

Will Bachman 03:57
Now, I have signed up with herro as more as a source on the source side, and I occasionally will respond to those. And I’ve been quoted a few times, you know, based on connecting with writers via hero. Tell us about the process for using it as a writer or reporter. How much does it cost to get, you know, access to that? And then how does it work to send out your question and like, how many responses do you typically get? Tell us a little bit about your process of using herro from the writer side?

Gresham Harkless 04:33
Yeah, funny enough. I think the very first time that I use herro it wasn’t from the writer standpoint, I was like, this is a really phenomenal idea because you’re basically bringing two groups of people together, to be able to help you know get information out there. And for a lot of journalists, it’s been absolutely huge because the best way to find experts is to go through a site like herro to be able to find really valuable potential. comments and quotations that you can use for your posts. For me, the biggest thing about herro, when I initially signed up, when I first started the blog, I actually couldn’t even use herro. And that’s because there’s something called an Alexa ranking. And Alexa ranking is basically like a ranking score for your site. So when you first start a site, you won’t have a high Alexa ranking, you actually have to build it up. So the reason I bring that up is because a lot of times when people are trying to submit to sites through herro, they have a certain reputation automatically by being able to use herro, that they would get the kind of Joe Schmo that may have just started a blog yesterday, probably doesn’t have. So you automatically know you’re kind of reaching a certain, you know, high level of site. And then from there, what we usually do is we plan in advance. So we typically have most of our roundup posts kind of figured out for the entire year. So mercy who’s also on our team does a great job of being able to, to submit and figure out in advance what exactly what exact questions we’re going to be asking based on our current theme each month. And what we do is we don’t have to pay anything, you basically to set up an account, you said you submit your question through herro. And then it goes and is blasted out via email to all the people that want to submit to that specific response. And I believe it goes out at least three times a day, it might be a little bit more. And if you go to their Twitter, they have a little bit more deadline specific of inquiries that reporters might have. So from a publisher standpoint, basically, if I have something that needs to go out later on today, for example, I will submit it through herro. But I’ll also forward it to them so that they can tweet it out to the people that are on Twitter as well to to let you know, hey, this is the end of the day, I’m kind of asked. But one of the things that I found that a lot of reporters don’t do is just usually what they’re trying to do success for them as essentially having a post and submit it in writing that article. And then getting that done. What they don’t do is usually go back and let people know that, hey, you have been selected or you haven’t been selected. And me having used herro. On the submitter side I found and I would Google my name and found that I’ve been featured in this post and that post but no one ever told me. So one of the things that we try to do in order to hopefully build a community, but also build relationships with people is to let people know whether they were selected or they weren’t selected that hey, this post went live. So you’re not constantly having to search or have you know, Google alerts for your name to figure out whether or not you were were chosen?

Will Bachman 07:45
Yeah. And that’s good for you as well. Because those people may post that on Twitter or LinkedIn or social media, like, Hey, I was I was, you know, quoted on this on this blog post. And it helps drive more readership to your site.

Gresham Harkless 07:59
Yeah, absolutely creates a great win win opportunity, I think.

Will Bachman 08:03
So for people who are responding to these, you’ve fielded, know, so many responses, what are some tips that you have for responders of how to, you know, stand out a little bit more or be more likely to get quoted?

Gresham Harkless 08:17
Yeah, absolutely. I think the biggest thing that I usually say is, is we have usually after we have some, we have kind of a list of things that are criteria that we usually go through to determine what are really great. submissions. And, of course, the biggest thing is, are you answering the question? Usually, we have a very specific thing that we’re asking for, and sometimes we will get, we’ll get kind of pitches on things that are not even related to what we’re asking for at that time. And in Grand is a time and place for everything. But I think understanding that a lot of times the journalists or the people that are creating this, this piece of content have a deadline, we’re trying to stay really focused on what we’re trying to accomplish. And being an answering the question is, is a as simple as the sounds of something that’s often not done? nearly enough? And I think one of the things that I learned in my networking world is that everybody’s listening to the same station and that station is W III FM, which stands for what’s in it for me. When you are pitching and submitting a potential publication, the biggest thing that you want to try to keep in mind is how can you help that publication advance information to their readership? How can you provide value for the people that are potentially going to be listening and reading, we all have really great and phenomenal things and great stories, but you really want to frame it in a way so that it creates that win win win opportunity that I mentioned before? I think not enough people really do that. A lot of times you can tell people will just like copy and paste a message in but they’re not really crafting it. Specifically for the person. And for us, because one of the questions you did ask was just how many submissions do we get, we’ll get hundreds of submissions for some of the questions that we ask. Because of that, it makes it really difficult to kind of feel the questions when they’re coming in from LinkedIn, or Facebook, or, you know, you just get them everywhere. So I would say that’s another big thing that a lot of people don’t do as well, too, is really to be able to say, Hey, this is coming in from Heroku. We submitted it through herro, to hopefully allow that opportunity for us to be able to kind of organize and be able to understand exactly this is where it’s coming from. But outside of that, I mean, you want to want to make sure that people have a good reach. So that’s one of the criteria that we look at as well, too. And also, the thing that, again, is probably overlooked is the quality of the answer. Are you just trying to get it in fast? So you’re just gonna send, hey, I have a really good answer to this, you know, please contact me. Again, that’s another thing that, you know, we as publishers have to do an extra step. And you really want to try to make it easier for the for the person that’s asking the question. So having a valuable, if we’re asking for our paragraph response, it’s really great to have that, because it makes it so much easier for us.

Will Bachman 11:20
Sure. So answer the question, give a quality answer. You said if the person has reach, what does that mean? You’re you’re looking also at how well known is the responder or what their social media reaches? Explain that to me a little bit.

Gresham Harkless 11:36
Great question. Yes. So we’re also looking to see what a person’s reach is. And it’s not always the, if the person sends us a sentence, and they have 1 million followers on Instagram or Facebook, that’s not necessarily going to be somebody we’re going to choose. So it’s not completely a hard, fast science. But we really do look into that. Because of course, we want to make sure that person also as you as we kind of talked about the beginning practice was there preach, maybe they are successful, because that’s one of the metrics that can potentially show that it’s not the only one. But it’s something that we do take into account, but it’s one of the five or six criteria that we kind of look at.

Will Bachman 12:14
Yeah. So do I mean, do you ask people to tell you what their Twitter and LinkedIn is? And then you go check it out? Or? Or should people proactively say, Hey, I have this many LinkedIn followers, and this many Twitter and this many on Facebook, and these are the places I’ll post it, to let you know proactively, that this is how they’re going to share the article.

Gresham Harkless 12:36
I think that it is something that’s important, but I wouldn’t say for us, it takes precedent over the the value of the question. So we usually do a good amount of I call it cyber stalking our journalists abilities, they really look and kind of see who the person is and what exactly their, their reach might be. So it’s something that people do pitch in, they do say it. But I wouldn’t say that that has, I won’t say it has no impact. But really, the value of the content is probably the biggest thing. And then we’ll look and see. And kind of looking for consistency more than anything else. Because sometimes we’ll hear things that don’t always align with what we see on

Will Bachman 13:18
Yeah. What do you do with the the contact info and so forth in the content? beyond just that article? Do you maintain sort of a database of all the responses that you get and their contact info so that you can, you know, follow up with good sources on on other stories? curious what you’re doing, you know, just beyond that one blog post, if you are trying to kind of just store that somehow.

Gresham Harkless 13:48
Yeah, so we have a to some degree store, we haven’t exactly like created like a full all out database, we do have like sources of people that we do, kind of know, that we can reach out to especially like PR agencies as well, too. But it is something that we definitely could, you know, work on where we had originally. And this might be a little further down the line is kind of have somewhat of a council, where we have certain experts on certain topics that we’ll all kind of reach out to. So that we know kind of these are the goats who, and a lot of PR agencies sometimes have really great stories to make that a little bit more automated for us. But it just kind of depends for us. But that’s not something we have in place now. But it is something that we know that we can build upon.

Will Bachman 14:33
All right. Now, tell me about your podcast a bit. You know, people often ask me, Well, you know, is his podcast good for business development, worth the effort? Do you find that you’ve been able to connect and build relationships with folks that eventually turn into clients or, or tell me a bit about how you think about the value for you of doing the podcast?

Gresham Harkless 15:00
Yeah, absolutely, I think one of the most underutilized ways that people can use podcasts and leverage podcasts is to me as an extension, like a marketing channel of your your business and, and you know, I talked about the You are a media company, I often look at a lot of these things and buy these things. I mean, like social media, podcasts, blogs, as I call them ingredients, just like you’re going to the grocery store, and you’re figuring out what you’re going to make, and you figure out what ingredients are going to be essential to what you’re trying to do. So this ingredient, podcasting, specifically, I think, is a really great way to build relationships and build connections, I think more than most other most other ways. With video, sometimes you have people that don’t want to be on video. So sometimes you have to bridge that gap with podcasting, I think if you’re able to sit down and have a conversation and guide somebody through, I think it provides a really great opportunity to do that. So for me, that’s what I consider a success is really being able to kind of build connections and relationships. But I have also through those connections and relationships as well been able to develop strategic partnerships and clients as well, too, because one of the things we’ll do for the podcast is right in line with blue 16 media is we’ll have a website audit for everybody that’s on the show as well, too. So it kind of feeds into what we are also doing from that standpoint. So at the very least, maybe somebody does become a client, or at least they have a better idea of where exactly their website is. And they know, an agency to kind of touch base with based off of that. And then one other kind of really big thing that I think people kind of forget about with podcasts is it’s a it’s definitely a reputation reputation building tool. So having the opportunity to have a podcast, and especially if you are going to either be the person that’s inviting the experts on or even if you have a solo podcast gives you that opportunity to kind of drill down deeper into the expertise that you have. It provides you a media opportunity to really build your own, that allows you to showcase that experience and showcase that in many different ways on many different episodes. So I think, obviously, sometimes a lot of people start podcasts in order to get advertisers. And I think there’s definitely a time and place for that. But I believe the most strategic way is through relationship building and really as an ingredient to your overall marketing recipe.

Will Bachman 17:29
Tell me a bit about your web design firm about Studio 16.

Gresham Harkless 17:36
Yes, so we basically are a I say a digital marketing company, we do web design. But in web design we tried to do basically from a marketing standpoint is even digging, drilling down a little bit deeper from an SEO perspective. And I mentioned, you know, skating to where the puck is, you know, for people that might be Wayne Gretzky fans. And the whole idea is to really get into who your target market is, what exactly they might be communicating about our conversations they’re having, and even searching for, and really trying to build everything related to how exactly that interaction is happening, or potentially will happen in the future. And I think when we’re talking about any aspect of digital marketing, really, but definitely the designing of the website. So many times, we look, a lot of people look to have something that looks pretty, that isn’t really a kind of tool by which you can use to drive home, whatever your goal might be. A lot of times as customers, sometimes it could be more podcast experiences and visibility. But I think so many times we just have a website to have a website because we hear that we should but not using it very strategically to be able to reach that goal. So what we try to do is have that website be an extension of what exactly you’re doing and hoping to define as success in your business and organization.

Will Bachman 19:03
All right. Walk me through the process that you follow. I imagine that you have some kind of typical stages that you’ll go through in designing a website with a client or they maybe they already have an existing more homemade website that they did on, you know Squarespace or Wix or something. And you’re, you’re upgrading it walk me through the process.

Gresham Harkless 19:28
Yes, absolutely. And I think the process really starts offline. And I think it’s really having just like if you were to go to the doctor, to get an idea of where exactly your vitals are, you really want to do that, you know, from a digital marketing perspective. So we really try to have a conversation in the very beginning. A lot of that determines, you know, even if we’re the best fit, but also to determine like where exactly you’re at and where potentially if you have already had a website or already had digital marketing experience where exactly that maybe you know, fell, you know below par where you wanted it to be more or less than exceptional, honestly. So having that conversation really understanding who your target market is, you know what success looks like? Are you building a website so that you can drive home? You know, more opportunities? Do you want people to come? If you had a storefront, maybe go to your storefront? Are you potentially starting an e commerce site and you want to drive more people to, you know, sell more widgets from your site? Or are you just hoping to build your brand, and you want to be the expert at whatever it is that you do, really understanding what that is, is so important, and I don’t think enough entrepreneurs or business owners kind of do the work in the very beginning before jumping into a website, or jumping into different social media channels, or even thinking about SEO. So I try to spend the most time really drilling down on that sometimes, we work with clients that do or have already worked with like kind of brand strategist. And they have that pretty much laid out in a bow. But more times than not, I think a lot of people haven’t really done a lot of that exercise in the beginning. And then extension of your target market that I focus on, is I try to really paint a picture of who exactly you’re targeting. And that’s an avatar, that’s essentially saying my ideal client is Rick, he’s 32 years old, he’s been in business for five years, he has two and a half kids, he owns his home, he likes to spend his Sundays watching football. So really understanding on on a very specific level who exactly you’re targeting, you can have more than that. And the reason again, that is so important is because what you’re doing with your website, what you’re doing with your digital marketing is all communicating to that person. And if you don’t have an idea of who that person is, you’re kind of shooting in the dark. And there’s a time and place for that. But really, when you want to invest and really start to see things go to another level, you really have that kind of cleared away as much as possible. So we try to ask a lot of those questions and get an idea of where maybe there are some gaps or some opportunities. And we can run an analysis to see exactly from behind the scenes, especially for a website where exactly those gaps by fall. So not to get too technical, but if your your title tag and your meta description. And basically the way that you translate your website for search engines is not up to par, we can tell that we can tell some of the things that may be not being done as well. So we have kind of a plan of action, if that is something that is of importance to the person that we’re talking to. But again, a lot of that happens in the very beginning. And so we have an idea or a playbook by which we’re going to execute on the site. So after that, we usually start work with a client, we will put up typically a test site on that test site, it allows us to work while the current site is still up. So we’re able to go through and get all the information that we need. In the very beginning, we start to work on the different aspects of the website. And we usually go through three rounds of changes. And then at the end of the entire process, we’re communicating directly through a tool we call we use called Basecamp. So that we have everything all in it’s kind of electronic file folder and when communicating with the client, and they can see all the progress on the site itself. And then we can at the end of the top end of the final approval, be able to transfer the site and have it go to the lab site.

Will Bachman 23:33
Fantastic. With all the work that you’ve done in the podcast and the blog, what are some of the your favorite tips that you’ve learned, that have been either surprising or really valuable to you that you’ve learned from having all these guests and doing all these blog posts?

Gresham Harkless 23:52
I’ll say so on my podcasts, I have kind of set questions that I go through. One of the questions that I have is called as SEO hack. And the hack is can be an app a book or having that you have but it is something that makes you more effective and efficient. Hands down probably the the most consistent one that I’ve had, especially from high achievers have been the morning routine. And it’s made me also continue to pay attention to my morning routine on a consistent basis. And the reason for it is because I’ve heard the quote and I’m sure you’ve probably heard the quote, as loves who were in order to win the day you have to win in the morning. And that’s something that I have heard consistently. And I’ve lucked out by hearing no from different people that have, you know, different ways that they run their business, like different nuances of what they do for their podcast. So like I had, for example, a DJ on my show, and she talked about how she has a kind of a wind to day playlist that she plays. So you know, and I started to incorporate that because so many times you forget how important music can be to, you know what it is and how exactly you set your day. So just having all of those different nuances in And meditating, working out and doing all of those things have been so important. But it always, for me has gone back to that hack of really winning the morning. And that’s probably been the the absolute, you know, biggest thing that I think has, you know, kind of transformed everything that I try to do. And I think that’s probably been one of the more valuable hacks that I’ve gotten during the show. But there’s loads of information. I mean, I’ve done about 800 episodes or so. So episodes, yes. Yes, the daily one. So I’ve done a tremendous amount. And I’ve learned so much from everybody being on the show,

Will Bachman 25:39
that is amazing. 800 episodes, Whoa, what’s your morning routine.

Gresham Harkless 25:45
So I use the, so I’m in eastern time, so I wake up, usually at about six o’clock. And then from there, I usually do some type of meditation. So part of that meditation is gratitude, just, you know, thinking, banking, being thankful for one waking up, and just get an opportunity to be thankful for, you know, different things that around a lot of times, I think the practice, and I’ve never been a big meditation person, I didn’t really know how to do it. But I think just being present to where you are, has been so huge. And I think that in that gratitude, it helps me to be present for the bed that I’m laying in for, you know, the, the air conditioning, that’s, you know, buzzing above me. So all those little small things that you forget about, I think it helps to bring more of that out when you’re being aware of that. So really try to really focus on that aspect in the beginning. And then from there, I usually do some tribes tried to do some type of movement. So that can be everything from squats to, to push up jack burpees. Um, so I do some of those just to kind of get your blood rushing and get your sure did you on a higher elevation, so to speak, and, and you’re able to kind of operate better from there. I do, you know, all the brush in Washington and all those things, and then I take my dog out. So I take my dog out, usually said to the dog park, and that’s usually where I start listening while I’m out with her if not walking to the dog park, I’m actually listening to that when the day kind of playlist that I have going on. So I’m always listening to that and putting a lot of positive things into my mind trying to get my mindset, right, and then I usually come back, I do. I do and drink my shake, typically in the morning. And then I journal for a little bit. And I get started on the day, usually by eight or so and, and one other quick thing too is that I usually end my day with the gratitude journal. So I have a gratitude journal that I use. And I write in that and they asked me three things that I did, and I’m appreciative of that day. But I also tried to plan the next day. So really, the biggest thing that I think I’ve heard as well, too, is that the in order to win the day, sometimes you start yesterday and really doing that, and the day gives you that therefore momentum towards doing that,

Will Bachman 28:05
what’s been the impact on you of the gratitude journal.

Gresham Harkless 28:11
Um, it’s been huge. I’m a really high achiever, I guess you can say, and I’m really driven towards the next thing, I almost don’t do a really good job of enjoying the wins, I almost, I won’t say I don’t, I don’t seek out wins, I obviously want to win. But I always like to challenge and to try to reach for the next thing. So the gratitude journal. First of all, I’m a big reader and writer. So that’s always important to me, the prompts are phenomenal. But I think those three wins that you have every day has been huge, because I think it allows it has allowed me to be a lot more aware of the things that are going well, that sometimes we skipped over, even when things are not going as well as we hope. And I think that that’s how you create that energy and that momentum towards having more of that by really being appreciative of the things that we sometimes take for granted. And I think overall, you know, I’ve had some really great, you know, prompts that I’ve read, and that I’ve responded to, but I think overall just that practice of continually being appreciative of things that are around you that we take for granted has been a tremendous impact for me.

Will Bachman 29:25
That’s a great, great story. Gresham for folks that want to follow up and find your sites online. where’s the best place for them to go?

Gresham Harkless 29:36
Yes, absolutely. So a hub of everything that I have is my website. I am gresh calm and that’s I am g r e sh calm. You can literally find links to the podcast, the CEO Podcast. I am CEO podcast, my blog and blew 16 media as well too. And biggest thing that you know, I think is probably of tremendous value, as hacks and if you check that out that said SEO hacks that ko and that has all the hacks that I practice some of the hacks that I’ve heard about on the show and hopefully allows an opportunity for everybody to level up.

Will Bachman 30:12
Fantastic. Well, Gresham, thank you so much for joining today’s is great discussion. Really enjoyed speaking with you. I enjoyed it too. Thank you so much.

30:21
Well

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