Thursday, January 07, 2010

Karl's Full Disclosure: Endorsements (part 1)

The FTC has their understanding of words like "endorsement" and "testimonial." For purposes of this blog post, we're going to rely on the common understanding of those terms as defined in your dictionary of choice (I do not recommend but merely provide the following links: http://dictionary.reference.com, http://www3.merriam-webster.com/opendictionary).

For reference to FTC Guidelines, see Blog Post One and Blog Post Two. In truth, I started down this road after posting some smart-mouth disclosures on this post: http://blog.smallbizthoughts.com/2009/12/goodbye-and-good-riddance-to-2009.html.

One of the comments on the blog post was "I've always questioned, in my mind, if you would still be such big fans of Zenith, Robin Robbins and Autotask (over ConnectWise) if there wasn't some type of compensation that the average guy doesn't get."

First, let me make clear that I am (at best) just an average guy. The only thing special about me is my role as father to an awesome daughter.

Second, I understand that I am well-known in the SMB Community. But the bank doesn't take notoriety deposits, so I earn a living as a computer consultant and book author.

I'm not sure I've ever spelled out why I write this blog or participate in a well-known cadre of friends who pimp things on the internet. So in addition to giving you information about my financial connections to various people mentioned in my blog, this post may be enlightening with regard to my perceived place in the universe.

Fair warning: My financial interactions with all of you, all the vendors, all my clients, etc. are very complicated. So this post is about direct rewards for my activities. The next post will describe the complex world of financial interactions I deal with.


How I Operate

Thing Number One:
My modus operandi is very straight forward: I use my blog to say whatever I want. I have never signed an agreement to endorse any product or company. I have never entered into an oral agreement to endorse any product or company. I do not, in common layman's terms, endorse any product or company. I have never taken money to endorse any product or company.

If there is some other way you would like me to phrase this, let me know.

I have been offered money -- very large sums of money -- to endorse products. But I'm a scheming capitalist and I think there's more money to be made in the long run by having the freedom to say whatever I want.

I write about what I love, what I hate, and a whole buncha stuff in the middle.


Thing Number Two:
At least for the foreseeable future I am and will continue to be a Small Business consultant. I plan to attend conferences, meet people, share meals, and exchange ideas about how we all find success as SMB consultants. Therefore, I don't want to ever take a position that I'm not comfortable defending. Some things (for example, why I switched from one product to another) might be interesting gossip but are not open for public discussion.

Although it doesn't always seem like it, I tend to focus very heavily on the positive. So I'm much more likely to tell you what I like than what I don't like. True, there have been some extremely popular blog posts about what I don't like. But for the most part I spend my time telling you what works for us.

Enter my friends: a virtual blog ring of pimpologists. Whether it's Erick, Vlad, Harry, Dave, Matt, George, or a hundred others, I LOVE the SMB culture of spontaneously promoting the tools that work for us. I will happily let any guest on a podcast spend time promoting their products. Before we go on the air I tell them to make sure they get in whatever offer they have.

Commerce expands when lots and lots of people think about new things and have lots of opportunities to learn about tools that may be useful to them.

So I say whatever I want and I promote whatever pops into my head. I encourage everyone else to do the same.


Thing Number Three:
Money makes the world go round.

Sometimes when I mention (or promote) a product, people go check it out. Some of them decide to buy. Some of the buyers say they heard about it from me. Some of the companies making sales off all this have referral programs.

I want people with products and services to know that I am willing to help them spread their message. I want to build friendships and alliances. How do I put a disclaimer on that for the FTC? "I might make friends, acquaintances, and business associates through my blogging activities." Yeah, whatever.

In the last blog post on this topic I gave the example of the ASCII Group. I love the ASCII Group. I save thousands and thousands of dollars because of my membership in ASCII. I am happy to tell you about that. I would tell you that whether I got a payment or not.

To my knowledge I am officially enrolled in two referral programs. One is Amazon.com. I think that's paid less than $100 over the past four years. The other is Robin Robins' Technology Marketing Toolkit. I don't know my code for that, and I think the program is going away. But I do tell people about Robin and I have received referral fees when someone mentions that they heard about her from me.

I rave about Robin Robins and her program because I love it. As a technical consultant it is my opinion that the wisest investment I ever made in my business was Robin Robins' Technology Marketing Toolkit. The payback is not all in money. I find her motivating. I find her inspiring. She provides great tools and great guidelines. She kicks my butt when I'm lazy and congratulates me on my success. I would rave about Robin's programs whether I got a payment or not.

So here's what happens . . .

I say good things about products I like. Some of these companies send me money.

In addition, some companies have come to me and offered certain things for free. For example, I get some free stuff from Zenith Infotech. There is no quid pro quo. There is no written deal. There is no payment structure. It could all stop tomorrow. I did not solicit this largesse. One day I just got an email.

I don't even know if Zenith has a referral program. But I don't care.

And you can be sure: If Zenith pisses me off, you'll hear about it. I'm always asked how we get such great service out of Zenith. I think the biggest thing is that I tell my team that our Zenith team is part of our KPEnterprises team -- and key to our success. We work on the relationship. We spend time on it. We make it happen.

There are a thousand other relationships. 99.9% (that's 999 out of 1,000) don't reward me in any way for anything I say. But occasionally a gift card or Christmas basket will show up.

Note: I have been offered free services just so someone can say that I use their product. So far I haven't taken anyone up on that offer. That doesn't mean I won't. But so far I never have. In general when I use a product I want to be able to call and complain about lousy service. I'm far more concerned about that than whether I save $60 a month.

Here's my financial picture:


I make a living selling and delivering technology consulting. I make another living writing and selling books. I won't turn down referral money. But I also won't change what I say in order to go after it.

At some level you either believe I'm sincere or you don't.


Thing Number Four:
My life is complicated. In addition to running KPEnterprises (The Best Technical Consulting Company in Sacramento), I also write books and sell books and resources through Great Little Book/SMB Books.

Part of the whole uber-pimping came out of some specific relationships and events. First, of course, Harry Brelsford was the original distributor of my first book. Harry and I did projects together such as the Qlogic SAN tour, the first SMB Nation in Europe, the original Small Business Specialist Hands on Lab tour, and a whole lot of promoting each other. Second, Vlad Mazek and I stumbled into the realization that whatever he was doing with the SBS Show and whatever I was doing with Great Little Book were like peanut butter and chocolate: they just went great together. So we just started wildly promoting each other and it did us both a world of good.

Third, Amy Luby, Erick Simpson and I found ourselves on the stage together several times, including at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference. Erick and I released books on service agreements within a few months of each other. As friends we agreed to tell people about each others' books and that turned into a co-promotional festival that hasn't stopped.

Harry and I used to have a book distribution deal, now long gone. Erick has the same deal as any author (see www.smbbooks.com. But none of the co-promotion done with any of these other people was part of any written or oral agreement. We just did it.

And there are dozens more like this.

I became friends with these people because they do amazing things and they're great people. I promote their products because I believe in the people and the products. Somewhere along the line, they send me business. I'm not even sure how I'd quantify it. Who cares? The total effect of having a group like that promoting each other is mind-boggling. The most visible rewards seem to be related to meals and entertainment. But the total effect within the SMB Community is a lot of great promotion that grows exponentially with each project.

I don't feel that I'm "using" my friends or that they are using me. We're all just having as much fun as we can and promoting each other in the process.


Thing Number Five:
The Personal is Professional. I love making friends. I can't deny that I go to a lot of conferences because I get to meet new friends and spend time with old ones. I meet vendors and drink their wine. I take them to dinner. We become friends. A few of them do business with me. Most never do. But we still do things together in various cities around the globe.

Where does business stop and personal life begin? If you hate your job the line is easy to draw. If you love your job there isn't much of a line at all.

Strangers contact me from other countries when they're coming to northern California so we can get together. Believe me, I return the favor when I travel. Friends and vendors and customers and fellow bloggers. In the end, friends all.

Where does all that fit in the FTC regulations? I don't know and I honestly don't care. But now I have to try to craft a disclaimer that takes in all possible relationships and cross-compensation. It will have to be bland and meaningless and perfectly accurate. It will need to tell everything and end up telling nothing.

Because the world is just complicated.


More on that in the next post . . .

- - - -
First draft of FTC Disclosure Statement:
I may in some way receive money, rewards or other benefits from any of the products, services, or companies mentioned in this blog. Any experience mentioned here is just my experience and I have no knowledge about whether it represents a typical experience with any products, services, or companies mentioned.

:-)



It's Coming . . .
The Best NOC and Service Desk Operations Book Ever!

by Erick Simpson

Ships very very very soon!

6 comments:

  1. Karl - I am loving these posts. You are singing my song and I'm perfectly happy for you to do so. I'm looking forward to copying the final itteration of your disclaimer with no compensation to you of course. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Of course. What are friends for?

    Although I suspect you will bring me a vendor beer at some point.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Just go to love it when the "powers that be" just step in and tell us what we can say, do, think, or earn! In a world of "free" stuff, when we get that extra travel size bottle of shampoo with our normal purchase, is that an endorsment? The only ones that will make any money from this are the ones that interpret this mess.

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  4. Karl- there are skeptics of any statement made online, believing money is behind every action and endorsement. It's got to be tiring having to defend positive statements about the programs, products and services that make your business better, but you do it very effectively. I'm confident your friends and followers understand your ethics, and hopefully instill the same standards to their recommendations.

    For those doubters, I know when you made a switch in software, it was not because of a financial incentive to do so, but based on your desire to improve your business software. Just keep on doing what you do, and those that know you will continue to appreciate your fair and balanced discussions (unless they really do something stupid, and you call them on the carpet).

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  5. Hi Karl,

    Great post! Have always been a fan of your books & what you do for the SMB consultant community. Keep up the great work. I also like that in my days here in Sacramento, we never came up against you in a competitive situation! I would've been scared! :-)

    Jeff Johnson
    www.socialmedia4techs.com

    p.s. I can certify that Karl receives zero royalties if you click over to my blog listed above! ha!

    ReplyDelete
  6. For the record, Jeff, no one has ever been afraid of me.

    What I love about Sacramento is that it's an expanding universe. We virtually never go up against any other companies. And there are 130 members in our IT Pro User Group. You think you'd see the competition somewhere other than the meeting!

    BTW, you can just add the HTML anchor link to the address to make is a live link: www.socialmedia4techs.com.

    ReplyDelete

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