In 2009, the New Year brought with it a great deal of fear and uncertainty.
The world had slid into one of the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
After eight years of product and market development, OptiFuse should have been in the ideal position to capitalize on its “better mousetrap” designs. Instead, the company now found itself at the edge of insolvency.
As an owner, I was frustrated that although OptiFuse’s products and service were superior than its primary competitors in so many ways, the company wallowed in relative market anonymity.
With no marketing budget and a near-empty bank account, I had the daunting task of competing for customer mindshare against market leaders with deep pockets and a hundred-year head start.
While attending a local entrepreneurs event, I was introduced to a series of low-cost seminars offered by the San Diego chapter of SCORE. I decided to sign up for a one-day course offering training, insights and tips on using social media to promote products and services. The course showed me how a consistently published company newsletter could help to promote OptiFuse and its products.
Seeing that this idea could be a very valuable, relatively inexpensive tool, I set out to create a comprehensive newsletter that would provide customers and prospects with product data, application materials and generally useful information about a variety of topics. Using the strategies I had learned in the SCORE course, I selected an electronic mailing service, created a template and populated the mailing list with the emails of our 6,000+ contacts.
I’ve long been a fan of the preeminent marketing guru, Seth Godin, so I decided to follow his lead by drafting a short (100-300 words) blog each day. I rotated through topics that covered our products, applications and general musings. I wrote seven days a week, 365 days a year.
In April 2009, the OptiFuse Daily Blog was officially launched.
After just three weeks, it became painfully clear that a daily blog was significantly more information than our contacts wanted to receive. More than one third of our original contacts opted out of receiving additional e-mails from OptiFuse.
Armed with this feedback, I quickly reduced the frequency of the OptiFuse Blog to a thrice-weekly publication and continued that way for about three months.
Then, everything changed. In July of 2009, I was involved in a significant bicycling accident and found myself lying on my back in the hospital, recuperating from the substantial injuries I incurred.
My Monday blog that week was entitled “Crash and Burn.” In it, I told readers that due to my present condition, the OptiFuse Blog would be suspended until further notice.
It was mid-August before I returned to the office.
Upon my return, I found that business conditions had eroded to the point where sustaining operations through the end of September would be difficult. So, I gathered my team of employees and painfully reviewed the financials with them. Since its inception, OptiFuse has embraced open-book management, so our employees quickly understood the dire situation. After a short presentation to my employees and a quick Q&A session, the meeting ended.
Later that afternoon, a group of employees marched into my office to share a plan that would keep the doors open at least through the end of the year. The plan consisted of severe measures: a 30% salary reduction across the board, a suspension of our travel/entertainment budget, a reduction of inventory, and renegotiating vendor terms.
That Friday, the blog was re-launched as a weekly communiqué, consisting of a 1,000-word essay with themes spanning technology, business, and living a fulfilling and enriched life.
The OptiFuse weekly blog described a small company with values and priorities shared with its readers. It discussed the same struggles we all face each day, understanding that we all want to live in a world that will be better when we exit than when we arrived. It spoke of innovation, collaboration, and a hope for a better future for our children and grandchildren.
What was noticeably omitted from the blog was any significant mention of OptiFuse; its products, applications, and the markets it served.
Right away, the response from our readers was favorable and positive. People who were essentially strangers began to contact me and ask how they could become distributors or customers of OptiFuse. Visits to the OptiFuse website, where the blog was archived, increased four-fold.
When OptiFuse sales personnel attempted to make appointments with prospects, they were no longer met with a dismissive decline. Rather, they were greeted warmly, all because of our weekly blog.
Despite the lingering effects of the recession, OptiFuse sales have grown nearly 20-30% every year since 2009. In 2011, employee salaries were returned to their pre-reorganization levels. In 2012 and 2013, all of the salary concessions made in 2009 and 2010 by employees were paid back.
By 2015, the company was debt-free, highly profitable, and made the list for Inc.’s 5000 fastest growing companies.
Several of OptiFuse’s customers share that they regularly post the OptiFuse blog on their lunchroom bulletin boards, insert copies into paycheck envelopes, or host company round-table discussions regarding the weekly blog topic.
We can’t say for sure if our blog was solely responsible for OptiFuse’s remarkable recovery. The company produces quality products, hires enthusiastic and knowledgeable employees, and fosters strong relationships with its vendors and customers. That said, it is no secret that the company’s most recent success directly coincided with the advent of the OptiFuse weekly blog.
Now, seven years and nearly 400 posts later, our blog remains a significant and stalwart contributor to OptiFuse’s identity and marketing efforts, and we’re proud of what we put forth each and every week.
Want to hear more from Jim on how you can get started on your leadership blog, and his secrets to writing success? Join us next Wednesday, September 21st for an online video-webinar that we like to call a Fishbowl. Click here to learn more and register today!