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My favorite marketing platform is local events.  My first major lunch & learn came on the heels of moving from an IT position to a presales support role in the wide area networking (WAN) space.  A major manufacturer sponsored our meeting, the marketing was taken care of by our in-house marketing person, sales people were charged with getting clients and prospects to the meeting, and I was offered an opportunity to be one of the speakers in our half-day event.  I hadn’t done much speaking at this point in my career, outside of a local Toastmasters club I had joined and some oral reports I did in school, so I labored over my presentation material wanting it to be just right.  As a presales guy, I wasn’t involved in the logistics of this event, just responsible for great content.  I had no working knowledge or experience with marketing, demand generation, follow up, or anything, other than articulating what various technologies could do (all from a speeds and feeds mentality.)

Finally that day came when I would present.  It was the first time I had seen an attendance list.  I had dreamed about presenting to 50 or 75 people, maybe even 100 would show up to hear my presentation! There were 6 on the list. Six!  I couldn’t imagine presenting to an audience of six.  Do you actually stand to do this, or just sit at a round table?  We decided to go forward given we had some pretty good names on our list.   You’ve probably guessed this already, but as I’ve come to learn, attrition is the biggest enemy of any event, and only two showed up.  I thought six was bad; two is horrible.  I think I would have rather had one and made it a sales call.  We had two companies with completely different business needs.  It was a total flop.

That was over twenty years ago, and since then I have learned that this really is a great way to market.  However it doesn’t just happen.  It takes a strategy, commitment from sales and marketing, and contribution from every person on the team.  When done right, it is an excellent investment, done wrong it can be a very costly mistake.

© 2011, David Stelzl


It’s that time of year – time to rob our bee hives!  If you’ve seen me speak you know I am in the process of raising entrepreneurs.  Avoiding traditional learning programs that tend to produce “worker bees”, while searching out ways to develop my children’s creativity and business acumen.  Seth Godin writes about this in his latest book, “Linchpin” – urging us to move beyond the #2 pencil, to develop our problem solving skills and creative abilities.

Yesterday we suited up in our “almost” bee proof uniforms, and headed out to the bee hives.  They’ve been working all summer to make enough honey to survive the winter, and hopefully enough to support my apiculture team through the winter as they sell their honey.  But, like all business ventures, there are no guarantees.

The bees do most of the work.  They begin by building up the hive in the early spring.  We start to really see some activity in March as the queen is mating and recreating to build up her team.  As the first flowers appear, nectar flows and the bees collect pollen.  Comb is then built on frames, first in the lower brood boxes, then in “supers” which are added as the brood chambers are filled with both brood and honey.

But there’s a risk.  As the hive builds, the bees know its time to multiply.  They’ve been created with an instinct to raise up a new queen, and so some of the brood are targeted for this new role in the hive.  Royal jelly is applied to several eggs to raise up this new queen.  A queen cell develops from this application, and two-thirds of the hive members prepare to leave with the old queen!  That’s right, most of our hive will try to flee the hive, hunting for a new home somewhere out of our reach.  If we don’t find a way to stop them, they’re gone.  The new queen will then emerge and begin repopulating the hive.  All of this is natural, however it completely disrupts the honey production, leaving the bee farmers with only a small amount of honey at the end of the season.

There are other problems as well. Mites may infect the hive, killing it off.  There are other pests that may disrupt the hive, weather conditions such as drought or a freeze may disrupt the nectar flow leaving us empty. Or perhaps an animal will get into the hive and completely destroy it as they help themselves to the honey.

It turns out that this was one of those years.  After faithfully caring for the hives through the summer, we incurred a few swarms (this is how the bees take off with the new queen), one of our hives died last winter, and for some reason the hives just didn’t produce.  In fact, only one hive had enough honey to actually harvest.  The rest only made enough for next winter.

Of course the kids were disappointed!  But let’s not miss the important lesson here.  For the Stelzl family, keeping bees is less about profit and more about learning (at least that’s how I see it).  I don’t expect any of my kids to actually support their future families on bee farming, however I do want them to learn about investments, overhead, gross profit, marketing and selling, and the work required to produce their product.  This year we’ve learned a lesson on risk – there is no guarantee.  They’ve put in a great effort, however the pay plan is pure commission.  In fact, they’ve even spent their own money buying bees to replace past failures, purchasing equipment and hive repairs, and purchasing jars to sell the honey in.  Who will make up for their loss?  No one.  There are no bail-outs for this type of failure.  Instead they will have to rely on their other business ventures to support their coming year’s expenses.  And of course, there’s always next year’s honey if all goes well.  But there are no guarantees.