Making Your Ideas Stick (Without a Lot of Money)

Urban legends stick. A sticky idea is one that’s understood, remembered, and changes something—behavior, opinions, or beliefs. Legends like the “kidney thieves” tale seem to stick effortlessly. But it’s not just sleazy ideas that stick naturally, it’s also lots of valuable ideas: proverbs, fables, and scientific ideas, to name just a few.

Unfortunately, most ideas don’t stick. Case in point: the last PowerPoint presentation you saw.

So how do you make sure that your ideas stick? In our book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, we describe the six traits of ideas that stick. For instance, one trait of a sticky idea is “unexpectedness.” The kidney thieves tale surprises us, and so do false factoids like “You only use 10% of your brain!” Notice, too, that great advertising is often unexpected—as with the Volkswagen Jetta campaign, where we’re jolted to attention when the car crashes. Or think of John F. Kennedy’s call to put a man on the moon—in 1961, that sounded like science fiction! So these 3 ideas—one urban legend, one advertisement, and one political initiative—share a trait: Unexpectedness. It’s a trait you can build into your ideas, too.

But, let’s get real, don’t you ultimately need a big budget to make an idea stick? Well, it doesn’t hurt. But here’s the good news: The success of an idea is not proportional to the budget. Urban legends don’t have a budget, after all.

A sticky idea is a great equalizer—it can easily wipe out a better-funded competitive idea that’s not as sticky. Think about how quickly and effectively the Atkins diet spread—it was a household term long before the widespread advertising began. Weight Watchers is also quite successful, but it has spent vast sums of money achieving that success.

Here are 3 tips for entrepreneurs and business owners who want to make their ideas stick:

1. Be concrete in your marketing

A sticky idea is concrete, which means that it uses sensory language. “He woke up in a bathtub full of ice”—you can’t get much more sensory than that. When people can visualize an idea, it’s easier for them to remember it. So using concrete language will help your customers understand and remember what’s different about you. Here’s a case study: two local ads from a periodical in Sanibel Island, Florida. Ad 1 is from a local construction firm: “Building is a series of conversations, interactions and collaborations with a focus on creating the kind of synergy that produces extraordinary results.” Ouch. That’s intended to sound impressive and credible, but it’s not. It’s meaningless. You’ve already forgotten it. Ad 2 is from a wedding and event planning firm. They say, “Who designs it, arranges it, brings it, loads it, drapes it, pins it, hangs it, lights it, serves it, coordinates it, maintains it, and then takes it all down so you don’t have to? We do.” That is brilliantly concrete and is sure to stick.

What’s your equivalent of the wedding and event planning firm’s self-description?

2. Don’t hide your size, exploit it

There’s a startup restaurant chain in Boston called b.good. b.good sells healthy fast food (like fries that are baked instead of fried). They talk on their site and in the stores about one of the founder’s Uncle Faris, a great cook and great dispenser of advice, who inspired them to start the restaurant. And they let customers come up with the names for new menu items—it makes people feel like they’re part of the team. Large businesses are going to have a much tougher time building that kind of relationship with their customers—it can happen organically at the local level, but if you’re TGI Friday’s, you’ve got to have a “system” and “infrastructure” for relating to customers.

One attribute of a sticky idea is “emotion”—there’s got to be something that makes you care about the idea. People should always care more about their local florist than about 1-800-Flowers. They should care more about Jane Summers’ Consulting rather than about Bain. If they don’t, there’s something broken with the local business’s branding campaign.

How can you make your small size an unfair advantage against your larger competitors?

3. To align your team, paint a mental picture of success

Concreteness isn’t just for marketing. To lead a growing business, you’ve got to be able to coordinate the efforts of many different people—full-timers, part-timers, and freelancers—toward a common goal. That’s a tough challenge. One way to make it easier is to create a concrete vision. JFK’s speech is the Holy Grail: We will put a man on the moon and return him safely within the decade. Was there anyone in American who misunderstood? Was there anyone scratching his head, wondering what JFK meant by “man,” “moon,” or “decade”?

Boeing was incredibly concrete (and specific) with its goal for the 727 passenger plane: “The 727 must seat 131 passengers, fly nonstop from Miami to New York City, and land on runway 4-22 at LaGuardia [one of the shortest runways at the time].” Concreteness ensures alignment—if Boeing had challenged its team to build “the next-generation passenger plane,” everyone might have been working toward a different goal. (Worse, they might not have realized it until it was too late.)

Sometimes, a concrete goal can guide a business for decades. For instance, a man named Hoover Adams founded a paper called the Dunn Daily Record in Dunn, NC. The Dunn Daily Record has the highest household penetration (112%) of any newspaper in the country. For the five decades Adams served as publisher, he gave his staff a daily challenge: Get as many names in the newspaper as possible. Adams knew that he could never beat USA Today or the New York Times in the breadth or depth of his coverage. But he knew that people buy local newspapers because they want to hear what’s going in the community, to hear what their neighbors are doing. Counting names was a great way for the staff to keep score and make sure they were honoring Adams’ vision of local coverage.

Concrete goals like these help to ensure alignment—they ensure that everyone shares a common picture of where you’re headed. Does your team have a picture of your destination that’s as clear as the “man on the moon” speech?


Tips From The Trenches for Outsourcing to Independent Contractors

Analyst firm NelsonHall recently forecast that business process outsourcing (BPO) will grow to a $450 billion market by the year 2021.

I’ve been noticing that small businesses are doing an increasing volume of outsourcing of project work and even certain parts of their business processes. It’s a strategy that helps you grow your business flexibly. You can increase your capacity and throughput, without adding fixed expenses that would be difficult to scale back.

But being smart about outsourcing is crucial.

So, I asked a number of savvy business owners how they successfully hire contractors. Specifically, I asked the question:

“When you use contractors (independent contractors/service providers) in your business, what is your #1 question you ask or tip you have for screening or choosing contractors?”

Below are the tips I received. As you can see, some opinions differ but it’s all valuable wisdom – there’s bound to be something you can apply.

Start out small

Jonathan Fleming, Elance buyer and Real Estate Agent in the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area says, “Never pay before the job is done, pay in Milestones and keep in constant contact. Also, hire on a trial basis. During the trial, you are testing to see if you have found the magic candidate. Be sure to hire with the sense of it being a ‘try out’.”

Get a reference number

Tim Berry, Founder of Palo Alto Software and blogger at Planning, Startups, Stories says, “It’s like diet and exercise. We all know what we’re supposed to do, but we just don’t do it. And with contractors, that’s check references. Not just get them, but call them and check them. And ask about past clients who didn’t like them, and why not. And call every one of them.”

Taking any vacations?

Yvonne DiVita, President and Founder of WME Books says, “Everyone, on every project at Windsor Media Enterprises is expected to be the best and give the best. Consequently, we only choose professionals who are already delivering that quality of work and have client testimonials to show for it. The most important question then becomes, “What, if anything, might prevent you from completing this project on time?” That way we uncover pending vacations, or issues the vendor sees that we don’t. So far, that’s worked for us.”

Get a fixed price

Barry Moltz, author, angel investor, entrepreneur and Founder of says, “Will you do it for a fixed price? I believe for many projects, a fixed price works better than an hourly rate since I can pay for a result. I can evaluate return by measuring the cost of delivering that result. I like to pay a deposit and then the balance upon completion of the project. I do not like to get into time based contracts unless the nature of the service makes it absolutely necessary.”

It’s all about chemistry

George Langan, CEO of eXpresso Corporation says, “References don’t matter! Sounds like heresy but think about it, when was the last time you heard or gave a bad reference? It’s all about chemistry, don’t do an interview – have a conversation, find someone that fits your work style. In today’s market there are lots of talented people in the independent contract world. It’s important to pick someone that has the same values and goals rather than “the perceived best in class.”

What went wrong?

Jonathan Fields, Founder of New York City’s Sonic Yoga who also blogs at Awake at the Wheel, says, “Tell me about a job that went bad.” This gets people out of their canned answers, reveals how they define a problematic relationship, demonstrates resolution and problem-solving skills and reveals more about what it’s like to work with them. All the other stuff, like portfolios and references are the easy ones.”

No flakes please

Robert Rutkowski, an attorney with Weltman, Weinberg & Reis and blogger at The Credit Union Blog says, “Honestly, the first thing you have to do when hiring an independent contractor is to make sure you’re not hiring a flake. The more you can find out about a person or company, the better. Check references, talk to people with whom the IC has worked and look at performance samples.”

Communicate with me

Ramon Ray, technology evangelist and editor of says: “The number one question or tip is how much are they willing to engage me online and answer questions. I don’t know the provider at all and the more we can have an email dialog, the more they can answer questions in full and upfront, the more they show they GET what I want, the more I’m inclined to use them. Also, when someone follows up – that is an even BIGGER plus.”

Start small, rinse and repeat

Now finally for my own advice: “Try out freelancers or contracting firms on a small project before committing big. Even if you only have one project, do your best to break it down into 2 projects, with a smaller piece first. Not only can you assess the contractor’s work, but you sometimes discover you overlooked something in the vetting process: e.g., that you should ask a certain question or require a particular kind of work sample. This approach may seem counterintuitive, but it has saved me tons of frustration in the long run. Oh — once you find great contractors, treasure them!”

So now you have some tips for outsourcing and hiring contractors. What is your key advice? Share it in the comments below.

Best Practices for Working With an Illustrator

For many people, purchasing illustrations or hiring an artist to create a unique image is a new experience. Because each artist is different and the client-artist relationship is critical to success, it’s helpful to have a few basic tips to refer to when you want to hire an illustrator.

Posting the Job

It is important to provide as much information as possible when posting any type of job on Elance, especially an illustration job. This is because the deliverable for an illustration job isn’t a static product, rather, an illustration is a manifestation of ideas and concepts that help tell a story in a dynamic and visual way.

Below are a few items to include in your job description. Keep these points in mind to make your job more attractive to potential artists:

Use Examples

Point to a clear example of the types of illustrations you’re looking for, and mention specific style examples in your job posting. Giving the provider more information up front will help eliminate confusion down the road and give a more accurate representation of the work you want completed.

Define Quantity, Frequency and Medium

Give the provider an idea of the number of illustrations needed and consider how frequently the final images will be used. Typically the more exposures your final image receives, the more the illustrator will expect to be compensated for their work. Be sure to also communicate where the images will be displayed – whether on the web, in print, or some other medium.

Define Ownership

Consider whether you’re buying a single use of the illustration or if you plan to retain all the rights of the image. If you are buying a single instance, the illustrator is free to resell the image for other applications. Buying exclusive rights to an image may result in a higher bid from the artist.

Communicate a Clear Timeline

Allow enough time for the illustrator to provide comps, revisions and final art. If you are leaving the creative interpretation to your illustrator, it’s best to provide additional time for multiple rounds of comps and revisions to ensure both buyer and provider are on the same page before the final art project begins. Making changes after the final art phase begins can be frustrating for both parties.

Set the Budget

When setting the budget for your project, consider all the factors involved in getting an illustration completed. Your illustrator will provide you with time, creativity, skill, and professionalism. If your budget is small, that’s not a problem, just be sure to clearly communicate the work you want completed.

Non-Disclosure Agreement

If you will require the artist to work under a Nondisclosure Agreement (NDA) or Confidentiality Agreement, it’s a good idea to state this in the job posting.

Reviewing Proposals

After posting the job, you are ready to receive and review proposals. Be sure to take some extra time to choose the artist – this is critical to getting the right illustration.

The illustrator’s portfolio, along with the communication you initiate during the proposal review process, should provide enough detailed information about an illustrator’s skills to allow you to make an informed decision about their abilities to complete your project.

Below are a few elements that will help you evaluate proposals:

Identify Style and Technique

When you begin to see proposals come in for your project, take some time to study the portfolio of work for each illustrator. Learn to look beyond the subject of the images to see if the style or technique you require is represented. Remember that some illustrators specialize in one unique style that they have refined and perfected, while others may have a variety of styles they produce.

Browse the Portfolio

A good portfolio will showcase an artist’s top work. This could be a full gallery of work or simply a few select pieces that brilliantly showcase the illustrator’s refined style. A good illustrator will frequently update their portfolio to keep it current.

Review Feedback

Review prior buyer feedback on each provider profile and let it help you learn more about the experience of previous customers.

Establish Business Terms

When you’ve narrowed your list down to one provider, be sure to discuss the business terms to reflect your deadlines and scheduled payments to the illustrator. This will help eliminate any confusion about money and timelines once you’ve started the project.


After you have chosen the provider that is right for your project, it’s time to start collaborating.

Make Contact

Once you have chosen a service provider and awarded the project, make contact with the illustrator as soon as possible. At this phase, it’s also a good idea to establish your preferred method of communication for the project and any key milestones. Will you meet via phone, IM or collaborate via PMB and email?

Exchange Information

At this point, you can provide additional reference items for the illustrator such as photos and web links, as well as the NDA or confidentiality documents. Some illustrators may also require a contract outlining the specific use of the illustration.

Provide Additional Specific Direction

Allow the artist to provide comps or sketches based on your initial conversations. Walkthrough the details to provide specific direction and requests. The more information you can provide your illustrator, the smoother the project will go.

Give and Get Feedback

Make comments and give honest feedback during the comp stage. Work out all the details to ensure all project needs are met before giving the approval to move into the final art stage. At this point, the illustrator will take the feedback and refine the art to meet the client’s needs. Typically, approval of comps and moving to final art is a key milestone where an artist would expect the release of a portion of the overall project budget.

Final Art

Now that you are nearing completion of the project, it’s time to take delivery of your final art. Once the project has moved into final art, most illustrators will limit revisions to one major change. The flexibility on the number or revisions, whether major or minor, will depend on the artist and the terms agreed upon in the proposal.

There are a variety of ways to have your illustration delivered. Most artists will be able to provide you with a recommendation for the best presentation method. If the work is digital and you have purchased all the rights, you should expect all the original working files. Generally, final payment for the work is due upon the delivery of final art.