Interview with Ron Stauffer, Founder of Lieder Digital, LLC

Note: a few months ago, someone from a marketing publication reached out to me and emailed me some questions for an interview. I put in the time and effort to thoughtfully consider the questions and write out my answers. As far as I know, that interview was never published. So I’m posting it here so it doesn’t go to waste. It’s kind of silly, but really… who interviews people and then doesn’t do anything with it? -Ron

Q: You’ve helped dozens of brands and companies market themselves; what advice do you have for those struggling to get heard or craft a voice for themselves in their industries?

Have an opinion! That’s something I tell every client I’ve worked with. Most small businesses I’ve helped over the years are very opinionated about “the best way” to do whatever it is they do… but they’re reluctant to say that out loud because they think it’s rude. This is strange: their clients are hiring them because they value their opinions or their approach! So why would a company that has an opinion about what they do—which clearly works—shy away from saying it? That’s always been confusing to me.

Take me, for example; I have a strong opinion: I only work with open-source web technologies. Period. That means that I won’t take on clients that use SquareSpace or ASP or other proprietary systems. I’m not saying it’s “wrong” to use them; just that I can’t help a client who insists on using them. And you know what I’ve learned? I have never lost business because of this. The few times I’ve stuck to my guns, I’ve actually gotten more business because of it. So by my being vocal about what I will not do in my industry helps me evangelize for my perspective, and people end up thinking, “Well, he seems like he’s really thought this through, and it sounds like he knows what he’s talking about. If we hire him, we can clearly count on him to be honest.” That’s gotten me a lot of good deals.

I tell my clients to do the same. If you want to have a voice in your industry, start talking and say something you believe in, even if it seems overly opinionated. If you’re an insurance agent, for example, and you only sell term life insurance, and you don’t think people should sign up for whole life insurance, or vise versa, say so! Most everyday folks are looking for advice from experts who know what they’re talking about. They want to know that you’ve carefully considered your position. Don’t be the type of businessperson who says, “I’m here to do whatever you want. I have no opinions or preferences. You’re the client. You tell me what to do.” That seems wishy-washy and doesn’t inspire confidence! YOU are the expert in your industry, and your clients want you to show them that.

Q: You’ve mastered the digital marketing industry; where do you see this industry going in the next couple of years?

Well, I don’t think I’ve mastered anything, especially not something like digital marketing, which changes so quickly. But I will say this: it’s all about people. I’ve said that for at least 15 years. Even with technology, marketing is still all about people. You can craft the most incredible website with the most amazing graphics and unbelievable back-end technology that offers a fabulous user experience. But if your message is off, or you don’t understand your audience or are too ambiguous with your pricing or business model, it’s not going to work. You have to treat people like people. It’s people who make purchasing decisions.

So I think a big secret to where the industry is going in the next couple of years is: simplicity. Making it easy for people to understand who you are, what you do, and why they should care. As an example, Amazon has a cloud offering called AWS (Amazon Web Services) that helps power almost every major Web 2.0 company in the world: Uber, Lyft, Twitter… almost everything people use on a daily basis uses AWS to at least some extent. But the end-consumers don’t know that. Most everyday laymen don’t know what AWS is at all or what it does. I think for the next step, we’re going to see companies with really complex offerings finally start to explain what they do in plain English so the everyday Joe Schmoe business owner can understand it.

The key element here is making complex things easy to understand for everyday people. That’s hard to do… but the few companies who do (Apple is the best example) will knock it out of the park.

Q: More people have chosen to work from home as the months go by. What are your top tips for maintaining professionalism in a work/home environment?

Hey, now this is one I can answer for sure! I created a whole course called “Work From Home Like A Boss!” and sold it on Udemy right after the pandemic hit. I had been working from home on and off for over a dozen years when COVID-19 first hit, so for me; I didn’t have to change anything at all in order to work from home.

I think my biggest suggestion would be: make working from home intentional. I have several videos on this topic, but that’s the overarching theme of all of them: you have to carve out a specific space in your house where your family knows “this is the office—I can’t go in there.” I have five kids, but even if you don’t have kids, it can help your spouse (and even yourself!) to be able to say “this room is my home office” and have some sort of line of demarcation, so you (and anyone else) knows “when I walk through this door, I’m at work.” That’s huge. And so is the reverse: being able to say, “When I walk back through this door, I’m done with work.”

These days, I have a downtown office that’s about 15 minutes from my house. But even so, I still have a home office. And everyone knows when my home office door is closed, it’s off-limits. Even my cat knows! He’s constantly meowing and trying to spend time with me, but when I’m “at work,” I’m at work, and he knows he can’t come in, and I am not going to pet him. It’s hard to set boundaries like this, but it’s important.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

Be real! In the early days of the internet, I remember companies trying to look much bigger than they really were. They’d get these 1-800 numbers and try to obfuscate their support process, so they seemed like really big, complex organizations, even if they were just two guys in their 20s working out of a garage. Those days are over! These days, I think the name of the game is “be real.” Don’t try to look bigger than you are. If you are just two guys in your 20s working out of your garage, embrace it! That’s your competitive advantage! You don’t have to insult clients by making them call a 1-800 number and press several buttons to get routed through your phone tree. Just give people your cell phone number if you have one. You can actually talk to real-live clients that way, which will give you amazing intelligence on your consumer base, and it will make them feel special.

Seriously, when’s the last time you were able to directly call the founder of a company whose products or services you use? That’s amazing!