ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I’m joined today by Bonnie Mauldin, CEO of The Mauldin Group based in Atlanta, Georgia. Welcome to the podcast, Bonnie.
BONNIE: Hey, hey, hey. Thanks for having me.
ROB: Fantastic to have you here. Why don’t you start off by telling us about The Mauldin Group? Many agencies have a superpower, so what is your superpower?
BONNIE: Our superpower is content marketing. My team and I are natural storytellers. We write poetry, we write stories for kids, novels, science fiction. A lot of us are Harry Potter fans and fans of Game of Thrones and all kinds of sci-fi stuff. We are just a band of nerds that love stories, love art, love design, and we’ve all gotten together and decided to help business owners tell their stories in a unique way so they stand out.
ROB: Does this band of nerds have any particular industry that you work with more often than others?
BONNIE: Yes. We do have five main industries that we like to stick to our guns in, and that is healthcare, construction, manufacturing, senior living, and education.
ROB: Very interesting. How did you come to align on those different industries? Sometimes there’s some interesting stories on what gets you there.
BONNIE: Absolutely. We started off as a general digital marketing agency, full service, helping any and everyone. After a number of years of doing the work, we really narrowed down our niche by seeing the success stories of the companies that we did the work for. We saw a reoccurring account of tremendous success in those industries.
Some industries are a little harder to work with, like insurance and mortgages and real estate and finance, and that’s because these industries are heavily regulated and need a lot of security. We like industries where we can be free in writing our content and not have to get approval and permission from people to do so for the business owner. We can just put our heads together and share information, education, and entertainment online in a way that’s fun and productive.
ROB: You seem to know a lot about the writing interests of your team. Is that something that comes up much in the interview process?
BONNIE: That’s a good question. Yeah, I do like to ask, “What are your hobbies outside of work?” I also encourage the people on my team to play video games, to watch movies, to watch television series, and to draw and to paint and to go horseback riding and to do anything they can to keep them in a creative space and to give themselves enough room and enough time to take a break so they can relax, refocus, and regenerate their creative juices. That’s really the secret sauce to the work that we do.
ROB: It’s so helpful to have those outside influences and those places to distract. I find that often some of my best ideas come when I am doing something where my brain is detached from work and is focused on something more in the physical domain, so it definitely makes a ton of sense.
You seem to be very interested in the range of storytelling across different media. I know you mentioned video games, you mentioned poetry, you mentioned books. Obviously, there’s film, there’s TV, there’s even streaming. Where are you seeing some of the more interesting storytelling emerge that inspires you, Bonnie?
BONNIE: YouTube and Instagram are taking over for millennials and Gen Z. What I mean by that is this generation, millennials and Gen Z, are preferring social media over cable television. This is huge. This tells us that content creators can produce their own independent films and they can produce their own video series and amass an audience, just like a cable television station does.
ROB: Those people are getting more and more capable. Sometimes you have things that are very raw and authentic; sometimes you have things that are quirky and better produced. Is there any direction that starts to go? Do we lose the opportunity to be raw and authentic as other people get the gear and up their game, or is there always a window to sneak in?
BONNIE: There’s always a window to sneak in. Just come from a genuine place of something that you’re super passionate about, whether it’s helping people or teaching people or just sharing your story. Naturally, the audience that is right for you will gravitate to you and attract to you like a magnet. Next thing you know, you have a whole group of people that really enjoy your content and they want more.
ROB: You’re in some industries where, for me, storytelling would possibly be hard, or perhaps counterintuitive for the audience, like how would you tell a story in something like construction? What are some counterintuitive ways you’ve been able to weave story into maybe a client or two of yours?
BONNIE: Thinking about your childhood days and what influenced you when you were little to pick a certain subject in school and pick a certain major in college and get a certain job, these are the beginnings or the foundation of your story. The origin story of how your company began, the origin story of how you chose your first customers and what happened when you got your first customer and your first employee, and case studies of the clients that have experienced great success in your company, their testimonials and video, audio, or in text – these are all great bases to draw from when creating your story. Pictures, video, audio, the origins of everything that you’ve done. Where did it come from, why did it come to be, and where is it going next?
ROB: That’s a perfect segue. Tell us about the origin story of The Mauldin Group. How did you come to be and come into this world of entrepreneurial marketing?
BONNIE: My story is a little unorthodox. I got my start in medicine. Went to school for clinical laboratory science, was pre-med. Worked in a hospital as a lab tech for a number of years, and I decided to resign to start my own business. This was back when Google was new, Facebook was new. These platforms were just taking off, early 2000s, and I wanted in.
I did everything I could to learn about web design, social media, content, and started to produce high level content on a regular basis online and was able to garner an audience that really liked what I had to say. It allowed me to sell services like coaching and trainings and informational products, eBooks, and podcasts. All this led to me being in a movie. Someone found me online and asked me to be in their movie. I was like, “Cool, I’ll do it.” So that was a great experience.
I later had my own radio show at a local AM station here in Atlanta called Healthtopia, where I did celebrity interviews and book reviews. I just enjoyed the process of marketing this whole time, promoting my business, and I said, “Hey, this is a viable skillset. I know I can transfer this to help other businesses grow.” That’s the part I like the most – telling the story, producing the content, producing the websites and social media.
So, I started an agency, and as my book of business grew, I brought on a team. Now I have a full-time team of 12. We are a band of nerds. We love to write, we like to take pictures and video, we like to tell stories, and we help small business owners who are champions in their community that had the courage to stand up and start their own business to stand out from the competition, to have an exceptional brand online, to provide products and services in a way that no one else can. We partner with these companies, and we’re their extended online marketing team to help them grow.
ROB: That’s excellent. Congratulations on getting from yourself up to 12 people, and also that passion that you shared for other people who are starting and growing businesses. They can be sometimes a little flighty, but also very ambitious and growing very quickly.
Was your transition out of the medical field something that was gradual as you picked up these other aspects to life? Or was it more sudden for you?
BONNIE: I’ll be honest with you. All my life, when I was a kid, my parents told me to go to school and get a good job. Go to school and get a good job. I’m thinking, “Okay, which job should I pick? I like science and I like math. Okay, I’ll pick medicine. I like helping people, so maybe that’d be a good job for me.” But I got into it and went to try it out and I’m like, “Gosh, I’m bored out of my mind.”
The reason why is because it didn’t appeal to my creative side and the fact that I love speaking one-on-one with people and being super personable and creating things all the time. The job that I had picked wasn’t one that allowed me to do that.
I’m a firm believer in having kids in high school, especially in their junior and senior year, take some type of aptitude test so they can see what their strengths are and they can see where their interests lie, so they can pick a job or career that’s in alignment with what they’re able to do and what they enjoy doing, so they don’t have this drastic career change in the middle of their life because they find out that they should’ve been doing something else the whole time, and they don’t waste tens of thousands of dollars on tuition at a college to focus on a career path that’s not right for them. But that’s a whole other show.
ROB: [laughs] Absolutely. That sounds like a tremendous substrate for some additional change that we need in this world.
You mentioned that you are into the world of content marketing. I think there are some tried and true tactics, and there are probably some tactics that have become a little bit stale. What are some things that people might think of when they think of content marketing that maybe don’t work the way they used to?
BONNIE: When it comes to content marketing, you are providing educational content, informational content, content that provides value and improves people’s lives in some way.
The biggest mistake that I see companies make when it comes to creating content online is being boring and drab and dry and repetitive, or too complicated. It’s important to tell a story instead of preaching at someone, and it’s important to provide value before you ask for the sale. A lot of the content that I’m seeing from companies is very salesy. It’s “Buy my stuff, buy my stuff, I’m so great” instead of informative, “These are ways you can improve your life, this is how our product can serve you when you’re ready.” It’s not personable enough, attached to a person, place, or thing that’s relevant to the buyer.
ROB: It’s real subtle, but that person, place, or thing that they’re attached to, it’s relevance, it’s building that bridge from where that individual potential customer is to the company that’s putting out the content.
I think you already mentioned Instagram and YouTube as places where some younger generations are going. What are some new tactics you’re commonly seeing – again, some of your industries, at a glance, wouldn’t seem so novel in their channels. But do you find that the workforce is growing up a little bit where some of these other channels are relevant? Or are there some other unexpected marketing channels that are emerging content-wise?
BONNIE: You have your tried and true Google and YouTube, the biggest search engines out there right now, and then you have Instagram and Facebook, which are great in the B2C space where your demographic targeting is just out of sight. You can target people based on what they’ve liked and where they are and what their interests are and their age and gender. Targeting on there is phenomenal.
Then you have some of these emerging ones like TikTok, where kids are watching these short videos that are fun and funny. That is amassing huge audiences with young people. Always stay on the lookout for what the young people are doing, because that’s where the world is going.
Also, look at buying channels where buyer behavior is changing. People are more comfortable with purchasing things online, like clothes and food and household items, and it won’t be long before houses and boats and planes are purchased online as well, without all the complications involved with doing that right now.
So just looking ahead for the future, looking at how people learn, how people buy, how people relate to each other is going to be important to pay attention to so you can tap in early and ride the wave and not get left behind.
ROB: Those waves are obviously always moving, but as of right now – and I might even have to look at my calendar to remind myself of when right now is – but as of July 2020, where does that line end up in terms of who should be looking at TikTok and who should maybe not yet be looking at TikTok, or something tricky like that?
BONNIE: If you’re under 20, more than likely you have a TikTok account; if you’re in your sixties, more than likely you have a Facebook account. It’s just a matter of where your demographic lies and you delivering consistent, high value content on that platform on a frequent basis.
Most people are in an entrepreneurial mindset, especially millennials and Gen Z. They’re 188% more likely to start a side hustle or a new business versus Baby Boomers, and the reason why is because Baby Boomers were able to get a steady job and collect a pension at retirement, where that is not happening anymore. Most people are staying at a job maybe 2-3 years max and then moving on to another job or getting laid off.
So, people are thinking about different ways to bring in income. “How can I have something on the side that’s going to give me reoccurring revenue, passive income, that I can make?” That’s why you have this surge of small businesses opening, but unfortunately 50% of them close down within the first year, and then 95% of them fail within the first 5 years. So, you have a mass of people starting businesses and then having them not work out.
I’m plugged into the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce. I serve on the board of directors there, and the whole point of the chamber is to provide small businesses with support and community and a legislative voice so they can thrive and be successful. Small business owners definitely need to get a fair amount of training, mentorship, and support before they launch out on their own because there’s just so much to know to have a successful business and to have it thrive and stay alive more than 5 years.
ROB: Super solid, and you are well on that path of staying alive and growing, and congratulations on that. As you look back a little bit at what you’ve built so far with The Mauldin Group, what are some lessons you’ve learned along the way – things you might do a little bit differently if you were starting over from scratch?
BONNIE: You need to have your vision in mind of where you want to be and have a roadmap on how to get there. If you are a solopreneuer, a micro business, and you’re wanting to earn a good living and make a six-figure salary and serve a handful of clients, then just know that right off the bat and build your business for that.
But if you are wanting to have tons of clients and you want to have a staff to support your client base, then build your business for that. Know what industries you’re strong in and try to niche down in your services and your client base and the types of people that you’re targeting and the problems you solve. Don’t try to do too many things at once. Get really good at one thing and do it with excellence and become known for it.
And make sure you have the right counselors, mentors, and advisors on your team, whether that’s your accountant, your business coach, or some type of mentor who has done what you want to do and has been successful at it. It’s important to have people in your life that can give you a roadmap instead of you making all these mistakes and having to waste a lot of time and money. The person that is your mentor can tell you, “Oh, don’t do that, do this,” and then you’re 10 steps ahead.
So, if you don’t take anything else away from today’s podcast, I would just say have people in your life that can give you strong direction so you don’t make too many mistakes.
ROB: That’s excellent. One thing we’ve heard from time to time on the podcast is people who were connected with a mentor and they concluded over time that while that person may be wonderful, they weren’t the right mentor. Or even a lot of times, as many agency owners are accidental entrepreneurs, they find that they sort of inherited a vision from somebody else’s idea of what their business should be.
What have you found is helpful in terms of finding your own truth and direction when it comes to the vision and mentors that are good for you, not someone who may not resonate but is otherwise very capable?
BONNIE: It all stems from your mission statement, your core values, and the type of customer that you’re committed to serving. For me, I think it’s tragic that 50% of small businesses fail because I understand to start a small business, people are taking their homes and refinancing them, they’re cashing in their 401(k)s, they’re asking friends and family for money, they’re taking out credit cards and putting themselves in immense debt, they’re taking their life savings, and they are stepping out in faith and starting a business because, doggone it, they want to be their own boss.
They take all this money, this time, this effort, this fortitude to go strong, and they hit a brick wall because they didn’t have the right information, the right marketing, the right sales, the right service, the right market need. Then they find themselves back in a cubicle again, having to get a job. I think that’s tragic.
I want to do everything I can to empower that business owner with the information they need to run a successful business, to have a strong sales and marketing team, to have the right mentorship in place, to know how to hire, how to fire, how to automate their business processes. The Mauldin Group is all about giving people that strong foundation and structure to be successful.
When you’re building your mission statement, it needs to be heartfelt like that. It needs to come from the problem that you’re trying to solve and the person you’re trying to solve it for, and then everything else can lay on that foundation.
ROB: So, you don’t want to end up back in a cubicle, Bonnie?
BONNIE: Hell no.
ROB: [laughs] That resonance with the customer matters so much, and that’s something I think a lot of business owners are afraid to admit. Whether you say it overtly or whether they can judge on the same vibration that you don’t want to be back in a cubicle and neither do they, that’s just amazing for credibility.
When we look forward a little bit, Bonnie, what is coming up for The Mauldin Group, and maybe even on the broader marketing landscape, that you’re excited about?
BONNIE: Thanks for asking that. I just got my degree from the University of Georgia for Instructional Design and E-Learning. I’m a lifelong learner. I’ll always be in school, even when I’m 90. E-learning is where it’s at. A lot of the kids around here are going to have to learn from home for the first time, and companies are going to need to train their stuff from home. Entrepreneurs are going to need to put together trainings for their staff and for their clients. Private training schools that are used to face-to-face training are going to have to transition into an online learning environment.
I want to facilitate that transfer. I want to facilitate that change. I want to have my hands in the process of developing these online courses. A lot of people think it’s easy to do; the problem is, 80% of people who sign up for an online course don’t complete the course, and it’s because it’s not set up properly. It’s not done with instructional design in mind. I want to set up online courses for companies, for entrepreneurs, and for schools so we can have some really good courses out that are interactive and fun and actually help people retain the information.
That is the future for The Mauldin Group. Not only are we a full-service digital marketing agency helping small businesses with SEO, PPC, social media, and content, we’re also going to add that e-learning arm to our agency where we’re setting up those online courses.
ROB: I want to reiterate – listeners, you heard the word “instructional design.” Not industrial design, not interactive design. Instructional design. That seems like something we’re all going to need to pay attention to.
I think a lot of people start off – I’ve known many people who have started making an e-learning course, much like they’ve started making a podcast, and then it never comes out. They tell you they’re working on it, they tell you they’re still working on it, they hit 10 hurdles along the way. Where is it that people seem to get stuck, where they think they can make an online learning course and then they just hit a wall? What are the hurdles there that people might not expect when they start out?
BONNIE: The first thing is having a framework that you go by. An ISD (instructional designer) is going to follow something like an ADDIE process. ADDIE stands for analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation.
First you need to analyze who the course is for, why this person is taking the course, and what this person is going to do with the information. Then you need to design the course with a proper outline of what the course is going to be about, the topics, and the subtopics. Then you need to develop the course and decide if you’re going to do this with video, with audio, with explainer cartoons, with whiteboards, with text or PowerPoint. You need to come up with the development and actually implement what the course is going to be.
After you implement it, you evaluate the results. You get people to try the course out, see if they’re able to retain the information by giving them some quizzes afterwards, looking at the work performance afterwards, looking at the results of their new skillset afterwards, and evaluating if the course actually accomplished the goal that it set out to do.
Having that ADDIE framework as an instructional designer gives my clients the power to make a course that is functional, that is fun, and that actually accomplishes the result that they want.
ROB: That’s a great roadmap for success both in getting it done and also – I think we all see this – in giving customers confidence that it’s going to get done, having that framework you can articulate on the frontend instead of just saying, “Trust me, I can build an online course.” It helps for them to know that it’s rooted in some of the education you’ve just completed.
That’s probably a good segue. Bonnie, when people want to find you and find The Mauldin Group online – either learn some things from you or maybe even make some online learning courses happen – where should they find you?
BONNIE: My main website is bonniemauldin.com, and all of my service offerings are there, whether you’re looking for a nice website or a digital marketing plan to promote your business and an implementation team to give you ongoing service to make that work.
I also serve as a speaker/trainer. Organizations hire me all the time to come in to teach and train their team. Also, I offer one-on-one coaching on a quarterly basis to give small business owners marketing strategy sessions.
Lots of offerings at The Mauldin Group. With me personally, I have a passion for helping small businesses succeed. I have a passion for entrepreneurship and education, and I love to plug in with what people are doing when they’re ambitious and they’re innovative and they’re ready to get some money in their pocket. I have so many ways to strategize with them to make that happen online.
ROB: That is excellent. Thank you so much, Bonnie Mauldin of The Mauldin Group. Great to hear some more about your story and learn about learning. Have a great day.
BONNIE: Thank you. Let’s go to the top.
ROB: There you go. Up to the top. Bye bye.
ROB: Thank you for listening. The Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast is presented by Converge. Converge helps digital marketing agencies and brands automate their reporting so they can be more profitable, accurate, and responsive. To learn more about how Converge can automate your marketing reporting, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit us on the web at convergehq.com.