Col Gray: Selling without selling

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Notes

In this episode, Col Gray shares his personal and business journey on how content marketing is growing and shaping his business today.

Col is founder of Pixels Ink, a B2B graphic design and brand strategy company based in Dundee.

Col shares how he got started with content marketing; how he moved from blogging to video and his video journey, how his YouTube channel is creating incredible sales for him, and how content marketing has helped him level up as an expert in his field.

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Transcription

Chris:
Good morning Col, thanks very much for joining me today, how are you?

Col:
I’m good Chris, thanks for having me on.

Chris:
Good stuff mate, yeah, thanks for being here. We’re excited to document part of your journey, I know you’ve been on this journey for a long time now, but tell us a little bit about the type of business you run, and what kind of work you’re doing.

Col:
Okay, so I run a graphic design business, I do things like logo design and business cards, basically anything that you need to visually promote your business, and I also do brand strategy consultation as well to help people with their tone of voice, and their values, and their positioning, and things like that.

Chris:
Awesome. So, a B2B service based business is what we’ve got here. We got this, across the volumes Col, we’ve got a bunch of B2B and B2C type businesses, so it’s good to have a bit odd a mix, because I think a lot of people assume that content marketing’s only good for B2C type businesses and not B2B, but it really does work across the spectrum.

Col:
Yeah.

Chris:
So, tell us a little bit about where your content marketing journey begun, and we’re going to walk through that journey. So, where did it all start for you?

Col:
It does seem like a lifetime ago now. It was probably, what, late 2014 I think? And that was basically when I got introduced to you through my business coach, Laura, and I came along to your masterclass, not knowing what it was I was signing myself up for, really. And it was a bit of an eyeopener. Basically, the way I looked at it was selling without selling, and that really appealed to me, because I don’t like selling to people, I like being helpful and helping people solve their problems, and it seemed like a way that I could do that suited my own personality a lot better, but I knew that there was a lot of work ahead of me to get onto this inbound content marketing journey after that first four hour session with yourself, and see what it was about really.

Chris:
Yeah. Selling without selling, I love that, because that’s really one of the core fundamentals of content marketing, isn’t it, is this idea that people don’t want to be sold to, and they don’t like being sold to…

Col:
Yeah, I don’t like being sold to, and I’m a human being, so I presume other human beings feel the same way.

Chris:
Yeah, so part of that journey obviously is catching that vision for you, but then what happened next? How do you then go from saying, “Right, we’re going to try this selling without selling, being more helpful.” What started to make sense for you as you went down that journey? How has it become something that you do now? How did you make it a reality?

Col:
Yeah. I think a lot of people, and I’m still finding that today, that a lot of people are unaware of what it is. So, that’s the first hurdle, is becoming aware of what it is, but then as you become aware of what it is, you start speaking to other people who are doing it, and you can see what’s happening for them, different timescales, it happens for some people quicker than others, but it’s that you’re the average of the five people you surround yourself with, it kind of works the same way I felt with content marketing. The more I surrounded myself with people who were doing this thing, I could see the results that it was having for them and how it was improving the way that they communicated with their existing customers and potential customers, and so that drove me forward, even though I could see it was a lot of work, because I’m the easiest person to just procrastinate on something and not do it at all.

So, I think that was important to me, was that I was around other people who were doing it, and not just trying to do it on my own. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing right now if I was doing it on my own, trying to learn about content marketing on my own. It just wouldn’t happen.

Chris:
Yeah, I think it’s really important to recognize how important it is to get around people who are doing a similar thing that you’re doing, because they also recognize the challenges, and they just get it, right. So, when you do something if you’re looking for feedback or support…

Col:
Exactly, yeah, because other people think you’re crazy who don’t know. “What do mean you’re not selling anything? Why are you not asking people? Why are you not pushing your products? That’s what you do.” And they don’t get it, they don’t see. I think what it is, is when I started even in the first session I think with you, you were like, “This is not a quick fix. This is the long game, it takes time to build to this up. You’re building trust, and it takes time to build trust.” So you’ve got to be aware of that. When you speak to people who don’t know about it, they’re like, “You can’t do something that’s going to take potentially 18 months, two years to see results, you need quick results.” But when you surround yourself with the people who understand it, two years actually is a worthy timescale, if you do it right, I feel. And it was about two years for me really see results.

Chris:
Yeah, yeah. That seems to be about the norm, that 18 month to a two-year window is when things start to really ramp up. Now, what is the reality for you, how has selling without selling become a reality in your company then? What have you been doing? What kind of content have you been creating to bring these values and these principles to your content and to your sales process?

Col:
I think I started with the easiest, it wasn’t easy, I started with the thing that most people start with, and that’s writing a blog. I’d never written one before, and it seems funny now thinking back of how frightened I was about writing something that was almost coming from me. It wasn’t just a piece of marketing about, “Here’s a logo. This is what you get.” I think it was a review of the Content Marketing Academy conference 2015, actually, was my very first blog, and I was really nervous about putting it out there, because I didn’t know what feedback I was going to get, and I got better at writing blogs, but I didn’t enjoy them, and I found it really hard work and it was starting to push me off the track of content marketing, and then I think I had a conversation with you about that and you said, “Why don’t you think about video?” And that frightened the life out of me, and I thought, “You know what? Content marketing in a way is about pushing yourself and making yourself a bit different, stand out from your competition, and I like speaking to people.”

So yeah, I just put myself way out my comfort zone, and it took me five days to record a five-minute video, get it edited and put it up there, and I’ve not looked back since then. Video’s been what I’ve pushed into mostly. I am starting, I’m just away to start repurposing my videos into blogs so that they’re on my website as well, so there will be a written piece to back up the videos. But the video’s have been the big thing for me, and I’m now winning clients through my YouTube channel directly. I think I worked out 15% of my entire turnover for the last financial year came directly through YouTube, which is phenomenal to me, because I never thought that would happen, and that’s not why I started doing the videos. It wasn’t to win business, it was to just help people, again, content marketing thing. I hoped, I suppose, I would get business, but it wasn’t, I thought my website would be where I would get the business, YouTube would push people to my website, but I’m getting people contacting me directly from YouTube without going to my website, and asking me to do work for them.

Chris:
That’s awesome, I think it’s really cool.

Col:
I think that’s the thing with content marketing, it takes you into areas that you would never have believed that you’d be in.

Chris:
Yeah. It really does push you out of your comfort zone, into different areas, and it’s like everything; you start to push yourself, you start to see the world differently, you start to see different opportunities.

Col:
Yeah, and for me, I’ve become way more knowledgeable in my own subject, because you have to create content and deliver it in a way that’s digestible and people can understand. Usually, if you’ve got a product or a service, mostly service-based, you almost have muscle memory when you’re an expert at what you do. You can just do the thing you need to do, but when it comes to creating content where you’re trying to educate your audience about what you do, and how it affects their business and how it can improve their business, you have to do it in a logical step by step way, and that’s really interesting, and you actually, if I say, for example, “Okay, I’m going to do a video about negative space in logo design.” I actually go away and study that area a lot more in depth than I would normally. So, it helps you, as well as helps your audience. That’s what I’ve enjoyed the most about it, is it’s actually leveled me up quickly as an expert and knowledge in my own subject if I wasn’t doing content marketing. It’s crazy.

Chris:
Yeah, that’s an amazing point to make though, I didn’t know that was going to come out of this conversation, but I think it’s absolutely crucial to see how content marketing pushes you to fill those gaps in your own education.

Col:
Oh, amazing, yeah.

Chris:
Yeah, and it pushes you into this space where you are really still quite humble I think in your approach to studying your own craft. You’re not at the point where you’re taking your skills for granted, because in order to teach your audience you have to make, and this is something you’ve figured out as well Col, is that in order to teach your audience, or to help your audience more, you have to make the complex simple, and for someone that’s an expert in the industry with 20 years experience, like you said, it’s natural for you to just reel off how to do something that a designer might understand maybe, but does your prospective customer get it?

Col:
Exactly. And that’s the thing as well, is my content isn’t aimed at designers, it’s aimed at business owners. I’m B to B. I could very easily create my content for designers but they’re not my … designers learn from what I create for my business audience, but if I created content for designers, it would be harder for a business audience to understand. So, I’m going the route that’s the simplest, in terms of delivering the content. And I think that what I will say as well, is that you almost have to be not scared to in a way, not contradict yourself, but I’m finding that the videos I created three years ago, I’ve improved my knowledge of branding and brand strategy, and I’ve learned more, and actually some of the stuff I say in videos three years ago, I’ve changed my opinion.

So you’ve got to be comfortable creating new videos, and saying, “With more insight and more knowledge, I’m now aware that actually instead of doing this, if you do this you’ll get better results.” So, that’s quite difficult for me to do, but yeah, you’ve always said to me you’ve got to have an opinion, otherwise, it’s just vanilla content. You’ve got to be you, and I’m getting better at that, ever so slowly.

Chris:
Yeah, yeah. I think this is another really important lesson in this, because a lot of people actually hold back, Col, on creating content, because it is just their thoughts right now in this moment. So, for example, like you said, you create a video today and because you’ve got evidence now, you know that if you create a video today on a specific principle, like something that you have an opinion on something or a point of view on something, you know that in two or three years time that’s probably going to change, but you still have to be comfortable sharing that now…

Col:
And you have to say … yeah. Because it could be something I could say, “Right okay, here’s the best way to promote your brand on this channel, or this social channel.” The landscape on social changes so quickly, that that’s one place you need to be prepared to say, “Right, what I said now wasn’t wrong, it was correct at the time, but now it’s changed, and here’s what you need to do now.” So, it does make a difference in that way.

Chris:
But that’s again, another reason though why you need to continue to turn up as well. It’s like this consistency.

Col:
Yes, yeah.

Chris:
Let’s say, for example, someone goes to your YouTube channel today, Col, and the last video you did was 18 months ago. How does that make someone feel about how relevant you are in the marketplace today?

Col:
Well, that’s funny you should say that, because I’ve not done a video for eight weeks, and I’ve got videos planned this afternoon to record, and even eight weeks I feel like I’m becoming not relevant. But my videos are all evergreen videos, the content doesn’t really date, other than if the landscape changes, but yeah, you need to be there, because if you go and you’re like “Oh, they’ve not created content for 18 months.” The first thing I would think is, “Are they still business? Why have they stopped?” So, you do have to be super consistent with it to get any sort of traction. I think I created a video, up until about eight weeks ago, I’ve created a video every single week, at least one video every single week for two and a half, coming up for three years.

Chris:
Yeah.

Col:
You have to just do it, no matter how much you don’t want to do it for some weeks.

Chris:
Right. Well, nobody else is going to do it for you, right? It’s your marketing for your company, so it’s really important.

Col:
Yeah.

Chris:
Let’s talk about consistency a little bit, because I know you’ve got a really solid example of what consistency looks like. So, if we go back to the start of your journey with your video call, which was you doing your 100 days of video to really get yourself into this…

Col:
I actually think I did the 100 days of video, I think I was about five, six months into recording videos already on my YouTube channel. So I was actually five months in, so I’d probably done about 20 videos by that point.

Chris:
Okay.

Col:
But I still didn’t feel, it wasn’t natural to speak to a camera. I still felt quite wooden speaking to the camera. I spoke to the camera like it was a camera. Everyone sees that little red light come on, you’re all comfortable and relaxed, then the red light comes on, and you change into this block of wood almost. So, it was actually seeing Gavin Bell do his, he was about halfway through his 100 days, and I was speaking to Gavin about it and how he felt, and he went, “Oh, it’s amazing, you really loosen up.” So I thought, “I’m going to give that a go.” And I did the 100 days, I did every single day, no editing, just using my iPhone, and I just got comfortable about speaking to a camera lens, and it was the best thing I could have done. It was hard work because I really wanted to give up, but I stuck it out and did a video for 100 days, and it does really help you.

So, that’s something that I would suggest to anyone doing video, just record stuff. You don’t even have to publish it. Do a video a day for 100 days and just keep the video to yourself, you don’t have to publish it. You’ll just get comfortable speaking to the camera if that’s what you want, but that step of publishing it means that you’ll try to improve your best self as well because you’re putting video out there, but yeah. So that was proper consistency, 100 days consistency. And then the other consistency is the CMA 90 day challenges that we do. I can hand on heart say if we didn’t have those, my YouTube channel consistency would not be … I wouldn’t have done a video every single week, because you have ups and downs and times where you don’t want to do it.

So, having challenges like a 90-day challenge where you have to produce, and I don’t like failing challenges, so we’re coming up for the eighth one now, and I’ve done seven and I’ve passed them all, so completed stuff. If you don’t have the consistency, if you stop, you almost have to start from scratch again. So, you have to think about it that way, go, “If I do this for two years and stop for six, twelve months …” you’re almost having to go, “Right, it’s going to be another two years before I start to get any traction again.” That’s how I look at it, that’s what makes me keep going. The reason I haven’t done any videos for the past couple of months is that I’m restructuring my own business. I’ve taken on people to help me do things I shouldn’t be doing so that I can put more time into creating videos and content. I wouldn’t have been able to do that without doing content. The content is helping me expand my team.

So, I’ve always said I would just be me, sole trader, do everything. But when you create the content and you start to get more customers, and what I will say is higher value customers, that’s what content marketing’s done for me. It’s moved me from double digit and triple digit figures of work to high four-figure work, and I know for a fact that’s due to having content because it shows me as an expert and people trust me more to do higher value work.

Chris:
Yeah. And I think there’s been a massive change in you personally as well. Something that we see across the board, is when people really put everything they’ve got into their content, and really turn up, creating content, sorry, in a way that really builds them as an expert in their industry, showcases their expertise in a way that’s not bragging, but helpful to their audience or their prospective customers, what happens is you grow. You’re growing personally as well in terms of confidence, your personality, everything just changes, and grows, and develops, and I think that’s one of those things that’s not really talked about in content marketing much. We talk about traffic, leads and sales, and consistency, and all that kind of stuff, but actually there’s a personal journey happening in there as well. I think your 100 days of video is a really great example of that, doing something like that because you want to grow personally.

Col:
Yeah, personal growth is … Doing the content as well, I did the world-class communications training to be a better speaker, that was to help me with video, but that’s then transferred into me now doing workshops on brand strategy at universities and for companies. That wasn’t even in my field of view when I started content marketing, doing that kind of thing. I just was looking as I was a designer, and I now have a … went down to London, I did a qualification to become a certified brand specialist. These are things, these are opportunities and doors that have come around because of content marketing, which has, as you say, is my own personal growth in both business and how you are in your personal life. It all changes, and for the better, purely down to creating content which is helpful.

Chris:
Yeah.

Col:
It’s just weird. Weird but great.

Chris:
It is awesome. Really, I think every time when we talk about content marketing with people, it’s very difficult to talk about, everything’s an upside. Apart from the fact that obviously anything worth doing takes work and effort and resource, but apart from that it’s like there really is only upsides to this journey. I’ve got a couple of final questions really, just to run us towards a close here, and one of them is; you meet someone out and about, Col, an old business friend or something like that, they see that over the last couple of years you’ve grown your YouTube channel to maybe 13,000/14,000 subscribers, you’ve got half a million views, you’re winning clients through your content, you’re building out a team, you’re getting higher value clients, you’re making more money now than you ever have, and your old business friend is like, “Right okay, what is this thing, this content marketing thing?” How do you describe, explain, get that sense of belief over to your old business friends? What are you going to say to them that’s going to help them to say, “Oh right, I get it.”?

Col:
Yeah. I’ve always struggled with this because you try to say it in a way which is a content marketing way, but it’s base level for me. It’s just great content that will help people. That’s it for me. I create videos that answer a question that someone has out there, or someone has it, other people have it, and just do it with the best version of you. That’s important as well to me, is that you have to be you when you’re creating that content, because I’ve had experiences when you see a bit of content, or it’s written in a certain way and stuff, and then you contact the company or person, and they’re not like … the personality that comes across in their content is not how they are in person, and it’s a bit of a shock, and it almost puts a barrier up that that person then has to convince you that they are going to be able to do what they do.

So for me, I would say to them, I’d say, “Well, all I’ve done is I’ve obviously just looked at content marketing and what you should be doing, the guidelines of what makes for good content, and then taken that, focused it on my field, which is design and branding, and created content and delivered the answers in the way that I would speak to a client who’s sitting in front of me in my office.” And for me, that’s pretty much all I’ve done. The hard work part is doing that consistently. If you know your stuff, anyone can write about it or record a video, it’s just getting over that fear, and so for me just be helpful. Like I say, it’s not rocket science for me. Just go out there and use a platform that can reach as many people that you think you can help as possible.

And also as well, I will say, and this is an important point that you gave to me, was I was a bit worried about starting video because there are already a lot of designers out there, and brand people doing videos on these topics, and you quite rightly said, “Yeah, but they’ll deliver it in their style and their personality, you’ll deliver it in yours.” And people like people, so some people might not like the way I deliver it, but others will be attracted to it. So, don’t be afraid if you feel like your market on video or blogging are saturated, because only you are you, so still go out there and create the content, because you will attract people who like you, and they will share your content to other people who are like them, and that’s how you build up that tribe of people who will follow you and then share your content.

I’ve got people who share my content now like I’ll release a 10-minute video and they’re commenting on it and sharing it within two minutes, and I’m like, “You’ve not even watched it.” And they’re sharing it. So, they obviously trust that they’re sharing that to their friends because they know that I create content which will be useful.

Chris:
Yeah, they’ve become known that they trust you, they know what you’re doing, and they know that you won’t let them down, and I think that’s a really important point. I think you’ve done amazing work over the last couple of years, Col, I can’t wait to see what happens next with you building out this content team, and getting people to help you with your content, and it can only go in one way I think, as you grow and develop, and if people want to … I guess the best place for people to go and see a portion of your work is to head over to your YouTube channel, right?

Col:
Yeah, it’s just YouTube.com/pixelsink, with a K.

Chris:
Cool. We’ll pop a link in the show notes as well, and if anyone’s got anything they want to ask you about what you’ve shared today, any questions, any thoughts, any ideas, where’s the best place for them to find you?

Col:
You could probably get me on Twitter, that’s probably the easiest place. @PixelsCol, I do have @PixelsInk as well, but I’m most active on my personal one. So if you sent me a message on either of those, I’ll get back to you, or my website, pixelsink.com. 

Chris:
Cool, thanks.

Col:
Thanks Chris.

Chris:
Thanks very much for everything today, it’s been amazing. So many great lessons in there, Col, and thanks for sharing your journey with us, and looking forward to getting you back on the podcast in maybe a year, because of what that journey looks like, and we love documenting these stories. So, thanks very much for taking time out of your day, Col, I really appreciate it, and I’ll catch up with you soon.

Col:
Thanks Chris, thanks for having me on.

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