Friday, May 8, 2009

Interview with Dr. Barbara Weaver Smith author of Whale Hunting Women

Many authors focus their marketing around building relationships with readers and selling their books one at a time or to small groups at book signings and lectures. Many freelance writers are solo entrepreneurs and make their living by taking on one small or medium-sized project after another.

I’ve had the pleasure to interview Dr. Barbara Weaver Smith during her virtual book tour for Whale Hunting Women. The techniques and attitudes she covers may help you lose your “minnow mindset” and begin seeing ways to attain whale-size goals no matter where you are now. She also addresses the emerging shift in marketing from "me" to "we" and collaboration.

MaAnna: Many Just the FAQs readers are solo entrepreneurs in the book writing and marketing sectors. They are building their businesses by offering helpful advice and support to writers, and by building strategic relationships with other solo entrepreneurs who offer related services such as editors, publishers, and online marketing experts who supply content, technical support, or other services. In Whale Hunting Women, you state that women are socialized to excel at certain traits that make them successful at this type of business venture. Could you tell us more about that?

Barbara: I use the metaphor of the whale hunt to illustrate characteristics of a complex sale or other big deal, when you are doing deals with an organization much bigger than you. One quality of a big deal is that you can’t do it alone. Whales don’t buy only through the efforts of a salesperson. They want to meet others on the team who will deliver services and products. So the sales skills are those of orchestration, team building, and training rather than the stereotype of the loner or “rock star” salesman. I think women like to work in a collaborative environment and tend to be good at it, since we are rewarded for those talents.

MaAnna: Are women better prepared to thrive in this type of collaborative culture?

Barbara: In my experience, business women thrive more in a collaborative culture than in a competitive culture. By that I mean, although we can be very competitive, we don’t like internal competition and discord. In the “old world” of business, women were expected to conform to a more male-dominant style or be considered “soft.” In the world of an interwoven global economy, driven by internet communications, cooperative behavior is much more highly valued.

MaAnna: At the end of each topic you include two sections for notes. One is Reflection and the other is Action. Tell us about the type of questions you ask there to help folks respond to the information you’ve just presented.

Barbara: I use brainstorming prompts, lists, and charts. I ask questions that will prompt the readers to process what they have read and apply it to their particular whale hunts. Questions like “when have I observed this?” or “how could I improve in this area” or “what are the first three steps I will take and when will I complete them?”

MaAnna: To become a whale hunter, you say that it is important to get rid of the “minnow mindset.” Some Just the FAQs readers are freelancers that work from a home office. Even if they grow to the point of outsourcing to strategic partners, their office mindset has not grown. They acknowledge that they are busier, but often don’t see themselves as bigger. How can folks who work from a home office lose their minnow mindset and start thinking like a whale hunter?

Barbara: I had the privilege to hear T. Boone Pickens speak recently, and he said “It’s no harder to do a big deal than a little deal. Go do a big deal.” In my experience, there are more resources for big deals than for little ones, and more interest, and more excitement. The trick is to think like the orchestrator of a team, not just a soloist, even if you work alone in your home office. Just the FAQs readers are enormously connected through social media if not f2f.

Whales buy all kinds of services that require innovative leadership, the kind of idea generation and implementation at which your readers excel. But whales are afraid to buy from a single person; it’s too risky. That’s where strategic allies and supporters come in.

How do you break the minnow mindset? Don’t hang out only with minnows. Talk to some big fish and whales. Find out what you have that they need. Learn how they make buying decisions. Seek out people who do big deals. Ask their advice. Spruce up your website, calling cards, collateral material. Get your banker, accountant, and best customer on board. Find a partner. The more you behave like a whale hunter, the more you will start to think like one.

MaAnna: One of your tenets in Whale Hunting Women is to “Decide who you are and what you do.” Clarity is key in hunting whales. Some smaller companies diversify to bring in multiple streams of revenue. Whales don’t tend to buy from folks who present themselves as a jack-of-all-trades. But, you also state that folks can’t safely build their business with only one whale. You say that, “Either you will need a school of fish to balance out the risk…, or you’ll need to systematically add more whales.”

Some folks start their business part-time and then suddenly have the opportunity to land a large account. Can you offer some tips for how folks can get over the fear of changing to a full-time career by throwing all of their eggs into one basket with their first whale while cultivating more business?

Barbara: Well, it is scary to start out new. But if you can start out with a whale, that’s better than starting out with a couple of minnows! You conquer fear by planning, seeking and heeding good advice, and protecting yourself. Have a sensible business plan. Ask knowledgeable people to review it with you. Don’t spend all of the money that your company is taking in from the whale; put some aside and invest some in increasing your capacity. Figure out the worst-case scenario if you lose this account and work to add other accounts to your portfolio.

MaAnna: Let’s revisit the idea of being clear about who you are and what you do from the standpoint of freelancers. Folks who work from a home office sometimes tend to relax the line between their personal and professional lives. In the book you state that it is very important to present your Web site bio as totally professional, leaving out hobbies and other personal information.

However, business owners who successfully participate in social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have a mix of presenting their services or products in a helpful way while injecting a little bit of their personal information. Can you offer some advice about what’s appropriate to post about yourself on social media sites?

Barbara: What’s appropriate depends upon the persona you want to present to your prospects, customers, and professional associates. In the business world, I think it is still considered more acceptable for men to talk about their families than for women to do so. The most important thing is to think through this issue from a long-term perspective, and to participate in social media sites for a purpose. On Twitter, your post is fleeting and soon forgotten—it’s more casual. Facebook walls stay up longer. Linked In is where prospective customers will look first.

My advice is to be very conservative about what you post of a personal nature, including political views and family information. You can participate in the conversation give-and-take by interacting with other people around those more business-oriented topics. Have a professional persona and a personal one. Keep the personal one much more private—on most social media sites you have control over what information you share and with whom.

You noted that women in particular share info about kids, husbands, etc. If you are a woman whose business serves other women in their roles as mom and wife and friend, personal conversations are at the crux of building the relationship. But if your business is focused on what people need at work or for work, rather than at home, I advise not crossing that line. I have many online friends who are blogging about their experiences as wives and moms. I can interact with them on the blog more casually than I would do in Facebook or Twitter.

Share political views? Depends upon how important it is to you that your political views be known. I comment on political issues that are relevant to business (and most are!), but I do so in a nonpartisan manner. That’s just my personal preference. I have friends and customers all over the political map—their politics and mine are irrelevant to our business relationships.

I don’t like the mix of personal family information with work information. First I think it’s risky to expose your kids to a public internet presence that is easily linked to you and your place of work, home etc. Second I think if customers or prospective employers are checking you out, it sends a wrong message. I’d rather see a family construct their own internally-controlled web exchange site, and invite friends, but keep it more limited.

MaAnna: Many companies start as a cooperative entrepreneurship. In Whale Hunting Women, you give tips to sustain this fast-growth culture and keep the business from becoming a slow-growth bureaucracy.

But, some solo entrepreneurs who have developed strategic alliances rarely have group meetings to discuss trends and developments in their markets and how they, as a group, can maximize on those changes. Would more collaboration help them loose the minnow mindset?

Barbara: Absolutely. I don’t mean necessarily a meeting where people have to be physically in the same place at the same time. But conference calls, webinars, private asynchronous discussion spaces, Skype accounts, etc. offer opportunities to think and plan together and learn from one another. Your alliances will not propel your business and your ally’s business geometrically unless you leverage your knowledge base and intellectual/social capital. We are overwhelmed with data (e.g. the stream of Twitter posts) and information (e.g. a discussion forum). What we need desperately is to filter the data, turn relevant data into information (by providing a context), and work collectively with the information until it becomes knowledge and eventually wisdom. The more you practice this process, the more knowledgeable and wiser you will become.

MaAnna: How can strategically aligned businesses better work together to hunt whales?

Barbara: The best way is to structure some kind of formal business relationship that has some staying power. Whales are suspicious of short-term alliances. They like to see long-term commitments where no single partner is likely to pull out and sabotage the efforts of others. I would consider creating a new entity to house the work of the alliance or a holding company providing an umbrella for multiple separately-owned allies. Ask your attorney, or your SCORE consultant, or your accountant to explain the options to you.

Once you have a proper structure for whale hunting, you need to learn to look and act like a team in public. It may involve having a joint web site to promote work that you’ll do together. It certainly involves determining roles and rehearsing for a presentation. You may decide to create a target filter and a whale chart for prospects that you intend to hunt together. In short, you can behave as much as possible like a single business unit.

Thank you for visiting this post about Barbara Weaver Smith and Whale Hunting Women. We are offering a free giveaway to two people who comment during the tour and to the hosts where they posted. It is simple to be entered in the giveaway – just post a comment on any post about the tour and you will be entered. But, an interesting post is more likely to get our attention. The host on the site where the winning comments are posted will also win a three-volume set of Whale Hunters Wisdom in audio format. Volumes include I: Mind of a Hunter, II: The Hunt, and III: The Whale Hunting Culture. This is a $90 value. To see the tour schedule visit

Barbara Weaver Smith’s website -
Barbara Weaver Smith’s blog -
Order your copy of Whale Hunting Women –



Barbara Weaver Smith said...

Hello MaAnna, and thank you so much for interviewing me and hosting this interview as part of my virtual blog tour. You asked such great questions! I would love to interact with your readers about their questions, comments, or challenges to my ways of thinking. Many of these points are developed in greater detail in the Whale Hunting Women eBook, which is the purpose of my blog tour. Thank you again for being part of it!

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