Bryony Thomas knew exactly what she was doing when she wrote her bestselling book Watertight Marketing: ‘Lots of people write a book and then go, “Now what?” I thought, “What do I want to be? Ah, a book’s a good way of getting there.”‘
What she hadn’t expected was the extraordinary community that she created, and the creative ways in which they’ve used her principles in their businesses. She reveals how she runs her community to maximise engagement and results, not just the businesses following her Watertight Marketing plan but also the consultants licensed to train her method.
As you’d expect from an author committed to revealing to readers how to create watertight marketing funnels, Bryony’s own funnel from book to site to client engagement is perfectly executed, and I’ve learned a lot from simply walking through her process. She also has fascinating insight into how to use case studies for maximum impact, and the inestimable value of the post-it note.
This is a masterclass in embedding a book in a business for maximum impact.
Alison Jones: I’m delighted to welcome to the Extraordinary Business Book Club today Bryony Thomas, who’s an inspirational marketing speaker. She’s the author of Watertight Marketing, which is what we’re going to be talking about today, which was billed by Start Your Business Magazine as a must for small businesses and was described by one MD as the entrepreneur’s essential marketing manual, and by another, and I love this, as “the best business book I’ve ever read,” which is kind of what you want really when you’re writing a business book, isn’t it, Bryony?
Bryony Thomas: Yes. Hi Alison, hi everybody. Thank you for inviting me along. Yes, absolutely. I didn’t even pay for that one. I didn’t for any of them, but what a gorgeous thing for somebody to say.
Alison Jones: It is brilliant. You don’t get many reviews like that. That’s fantastic. Bryony, let’s start off. Just tell us a little bit about yourself and about your business.
Bryony Thomas: Thank you. I run my business, which is called Watertight Marketing funnily enough, and it’s wholly centered on the methodology that is captured in the book. I started out like most marketers, marketers who leave a big corporate job, by doing time for money consulting, and at three years in of doing consulting projects I was turning business down at three-to-one and drawing all the same pictures and having all the same conversations, so I thought it was about time I wrote it down.
Alison Jones: It doesn’t scale up, does it, that one-to-one time?
Bryony Thomas: No, it doesn’t, and also I hate saying no to good people. I thought if I wrote it down then I would never need to say no to a good person because they could at least get the book.
Alison Jones: Brilliant, and a very concise way of putting it as well. Now, this book’s really interesting because it’s an entire course, isn’t it? Obviously, as you say, it’s come out of that methodology. It’s this comprehensive, step-by-step guide to the whole process of setting up a marketing funnel, and it’s got a workbook that readers can download from your site and they can scribble in so that they tailor it to their own business. Just tell me a little bit about your approach, about your goals as you wrote the book.
Bryony Thomas: Okay. Originally my business was called Clear Thought Consulting. I was director of marketing at Experian immediately before setting up on my own, and when I left I did a branding exercise on myself and I asked people what they thought of me and what was my distinguishing features. The thing that came out time and time again from clients I’d worked with, my boss, my colleagues, was that I had a very logical, clear mind and that I was able to very logically and sequentially take someone from one place to another. I think unlike many marketers who might be tarnished with the brush of being fluffy or imprecise or difficult to pin down in terms of value, I think one of the things that stands out for me is that I am a very logical, clear thinker.
In the engagements that I’ve had with clients, what they needed wasn’t necessarily lots of marketing ideas. In fact, they probably had too many marketing ideas. It was in what order to put those into practice and where to start. What do I do first, and then what do I do next?
Alison Jones: Yes, absolutely, and I recognize that in myself. I’m not short of ideas. It’s the process, the system for putting them together. The way you’ve done it, obviously in that very, very logical, structured order, did you have that sense of, “Is this a methodology or a course or a book or is it all of them?” Was there a sense of, “What do I do first here?”
Bryony Thomas: Well, as you’d expect from someone who’s just described themselves as a bit of a clear thinker, I did have the end in mind before I put a word on a page. I had mapped out the business model that now exists. I started talking about “my book” seven years ago, and that was inverted commas for those of you who can’t see me, “my book,” seven years ago, and I only actually started writing … It came out three years ago, so obviously there was a period of time in which I was talking about this book that didn’t exist. My whole business model, which includes a public program, a set of information products, videos, all of the things that you would expect, a training program which includes workshops, et cetera, and licensing of people who are using the methodology with their existing clients, that whole business model was mapped out before I put a single word on a page.
Where I think lots of people write a book and then go, “Now what?” I thought, “What do I want to be? Ah, a book’s a good way of getting there.”
Alison Jones: This is music to my ears. I think this is so important, because quite often people want to write a book, and as you say they then write a book and there’s a sense of, “Oh, gosh. Well, if I thought this through, I wouldn’t have started from here.”
Bryony Thomas: Yes, absolutely. To be honest, I’m the same with the people I consult with, and it’s what I say in the book. You have to start with the end in mind. It would’ve been a little contradictory of me, wouldn’t it, to put a book out and then go, “Hmm, what next?” when the book is about having a logical order to the decisions you make. Yeah, it was. It started on the back of an envelope like all good business plans, and it grew through lots of good conversations and the unwavering support of my husband. What’s great three years on after the book having come out is it’s better than I thought it was going to be. You map something out on paper, and it’s lovely to find something that’s better than you thought it was going to be.
Alison Jones: In what way is it better than you thought it was going to be?
Bryony Thomas: Well, the thing that you can’t capture on a piece of paper in a business plan is the human element, or certainly I can’t because I’m this logical thinker, aren’t I? I’d mapped out the methodology I’d been using in the field. I’d worked with clients, it’s usually a 12-month project, and I was capturing essentially there are 11 chapters and there are 12 months in the year, it lends itself to a year’s project with a month’s immersion or whatever you want to call it. I’d mapped the programs, and what I hadn’t appreciated is the community that would come with it.
Alison Jones: Yes.
Bryony Thomas: I had a line on the plan which said, “Watertight marketing community,” but I hadn’t really anticipated how that would feel. The people who are on the programme.. I’ve made some significant changes to the master plan program that accompanies the book, I’m six months into a reworked version of how that runs, and the key difference I’ve made is to bring people through the program as a single cohort rather than them starting whenever they want to.
They now have to start either in January, April, or September, and they join with a number of other businesses. They’re buddied up and we have a Facebook group, and I just see them helping each other out and chatting with ideas and putting in examples. There was a Facebook group comment the other day where someone had posted the Boden catalogue that landed on their doormat and said, “Oh, right, this is a really good example of x from the book, and you, Johnny, this would work really well for you.” Brilliant. Absolutely fantastic.
Then the same is true for the consultants. The Watertight Marketing accredited consultants who are independent marketing consultants who are licensed to use the methodology and also brave enough to put themselves up for a customer satisfaction guarantee that we run, they are a phenomenal community. They read over each other’s business proposals. They pick each other up if they’ve had a bad day. They holler and celebrate when someone’s got a good win. One of them described it as having colleagues without the politics.
Alison Jones: That’s a great way of putting it. I love that, because you’re right, everybody has community or Facebook group or something in their plan somewhere, but actually underneath that bald outline, those are people, and extraordinary things happen when you bring the right people together with a common purpose and vision.
Bryony Thomas: It’s fantastic, and they’re all using it. They’re using it in contexts that I hadn’t even anticipated. As logical and sequential and forward thinking as I can be, you can never anticipate everything, can you? There are some of the clients who are on the program that when they initially applied to be on the program I looked at their businesses and said, “I can’t see how it applies here,” and they go, “It does.” “Okay then.” There are a few people I’ve gone back and I’ve said, “I can’t take your money because I can’t see that it applies, but I’d love to see you try. Let’s have a look, let’s have a go, and I’ll support you through it and we’ll learn together.” For every business, every consultant who’s taken somebody through the process, I’ve learned something. The methodology’s strengthened through use. Yes, it’s been phenomenal.
Alison Jones: That’s fantastic. That power of collaboration, the stuff that comes back to you, the author, from seeing it in practice, that’s really interesting. I did laugh and I did say to you earlier that I did chuckle because obviously I went through registering the book on the site, and I might say your marketing funnel is exemplary, as it had to be, I guess. Was that a bit of pressure there to get the funnel bang on?
Bryony Thomas: Oh, I feel enormous pressure to be an exemplar of the things that I tell people to do, and I always hear in my voice my father’s head who always said, “Do as I say and not as I do.”
Alison Jones: You could claim it was a sort of object lesson in how not to do it. Glad you picked up on that.
Bryony Thomas: Yes. When things do go wrong, which of course they do in any business … I had an example the other weekend where somebody had taken me up on an offer. They’d gone through the payment process, and because they’d used a different e-mail address, they’d used their PayPal e-mail address, the videos that they’d purchased didn’t appear on their account. That’s a classic example. Friday evening at 5:30 there came through to my mobile a very short e-mail about not being able to access the videos. Of course, these things happen, and it was resolved and she was very happy, and then I had a very sheepish e-mail, having sorted it out within half an hour, going, “Oh, gosh, I thought you were just one of these big faceless companies who didn’t give a damn.” Yeah, it is pressure to be exemplary.
If anybody has read the book and they’ve done the Touchpoint Leaks, I take people through traffic lights on that. There are 13 Leaks and we do a traffic light report for people, and every time I stand and do that there are people with a sea of amber and red. A, that’s a really good thing, because every red or amber is an opportunity to make more money. B, I’ve only got 6 on green.
Alison Jones: Which is really heartening, isn’t it? There’s always scope for improvement.
Bryony Thomas: Yes. Some of them are deliberately on amber, because actually what I’ve got in place is something functional, not embarrassing, whilst I’m testing the concept, and then I will tweak it up from there. I’m not going to go for perfect first time, because I want to check that it’s an appropriate tool or an appropriate message, and then I will put the welly behind it.
Alison Jones: That the technical phrase, of course.
Bryony Thomas: Yeah. Put the welly behind it, absolutely. You can tell I’m Welsh.
Alison Jones: Yes, ‘Give it a bit of welly.’ I was talking to Brant Cooper the other day, another Lean entrepreneur chap, and what you’re describing is Agile. It’s like you put it out there before it’s perfect, because there’s no point striving to make it perfect before you know it’s going to work and people are going to want it, and how they’re going to use it, in fact.
Bryony Thomas: Yes, and I think anybody who knew me 10, 15 years ago would be astounded at my ability to let things out of my control that are not perfect. It’s definitely something that I have had to work very hard to get to. As with many successful people, being a perfectionist is both a benefit and a disadvantage. I think I’ve come to a place where I know when good enough is good enough.
Alison Jones: Yes, and ship.
Bryony Thomas: Then I’ll work it out from there, yeah. It’s so important. I think for anybody who’s listening to this and has read any of the books that you’ve interviewed authors on, they will fail if they try to do everything every author tells them to perfection, so they need to pick and choose a few things from each of these brilliant books and do them to a level that allows them to test whether that works in that context.
Alison Jones: That’s awesome advice, really well put. Thank you. It’s good to hear it from somebody who is a perfectionist as well. No, but it’s true, isn’t it? Because some people say this and you’re like, “Oh, that was always the way you were,” but it’s good to hear that you have actively worked at becoming that kind of person because you know it works from a business perspective.
Bryony Thomas: I’ve actively worked on being able to let things out the door that aren’t great, and it’s done me loads of favours.
Alison Jones: Excellent. Well, let’s go back to that onboarding process for a minute, because, as I say, it is beautiful. It’s the most perfectly executed one I’ve ever seen. There’s a QR code on the back of the book. People scan it through. There’s a question to register the book when you get on there. There’s the Facebook group. There’s the network of consultants. You can talk through it in detail if you like, because I think that would be really, really useful for people, but tell me particularly which bits have worked really, really well. What are you most proud of in that sequence?
Bryony Thomas: To give people context, when you get your book it is a wholly satisfying read in and of itself, but there are additional companion workbooks should you want to use them. I think that’s a really important point. I think lots of people particularly who write books as a business tool lock away their crown jewels, and then effectively in order to get the value of your book you have to go and give your data. I was very conscious of making sure that Watertight Marketing in and of itself was a wholly satisfying and useful book. In addition, you can then go and get the workbooks. In order to get the workbooks, you register. There are reasons for you to do that to get your workbooks. There are reasons for me to do that. You also click the thing to confirm terms and conditions, that you’re not going to run off and use my IP in other places. There are also very good commercial reasons for doing that.
The things that happen? They get a tweet to say, “Hi.” I like that. That’s a nice little touch, and we do get good conversations with people.
Alison Jones: I like that, actually. It’s not intrusive, but it’s different. Not many people tweet you to say, “Hello,” and I like that you did that.
Bryony Thomas: Yes. That’s a nice little touch, and it’s sequenced within my system. It’s not like somebody’s sitting there. There’s an automated element that goes to a real person who looks you up and says, “Hi.”
Then I think the bit I’m most proud of, which is the question you asked, is the Facebook group. I’ve had so many conversations with particularly B2B marketers about whether or not Facebook is appropriate to business-to-business marketers, and I wholeheartedly say that it is. I am a member of 26 business-focused groups on Facebook, and they are tangibly different to LinkedIn groups. They are softer, warmer, more collaborative places, and I think it might be something to do with people sitting on their sofas with a glass of wine, couldn’t possibly say, whereas the LinkedIn groups, people are a bit more formal. They’ve got their telephone voice on when they’re in that context.
Alison Jones: That’s a really good way of putting it. I know exactly what you mean. You’re real on Facebook, aren’t you somehow, because you do so much of your real life there.
Bryony Thomas: Yes. It tangibly changes the nature of the interaction. I think the Facebook group has been really, really valuable. However, of the people who are registered, I think it’s about 25% who are in the group, and the rest aren’t, so, again, if I were to rate myself on… You described it as perfect. I would give myself a 6 out of 10 for our onboarding process because there are 75% of people who don’t get to the bit that I think is most valuable. It’s certainly a process that is continually up for improvement.
The thing we did recently add in is a telephone call for UK businesses in particular because our consultants are all UK-based at the moment. We do pick up the phone, say, “Hi, can I show you around the members club area?” Then there’s an offer of a video pack if they want to add it on for a small fee.
Alison Jones: Does that give you good results? I always feels a bit weird when people phone me up. I feel like it’s intrusive somehow in a way that a tweet or an e-mail isn’t. I’m really interested to hear your experience that.
Bryony Thomas: We’ve been doing it now for 6 months, and I think in that time there’s one person who has said that they felt it intrusive. Bernadette, who does our calls, she is judicious about it. We can tell on our end of the database how much interaction somebody has had. She can see whether they’ve had a tweet, whether they’ve got into the Facebook group, et cetera. We have a contact identity. If they have received more than 6 e-mails within the last 10 days and they’re in the Facebook group, then she doesn’t pick up the phone, or she’d put them on a call in a month.
That’s the skill of a telemarketer, and that’s where automation has to have in it a human review part. If I were to fully automate that process and it simply went to a call centre who picked up the phone regardless, then it wouldn’t work, whereas because Bernadette is a human being with 20 years of sales experience, she can use her discretion.
Alison Jones: This is such a lovely example, actually, of how the data that we have, the fact that you can analyze big data till your eyes bleed and pull out all sorts of implications for your business, marrying that spotting of opportunities and potential with really skilled human beings gives you the magic, doesn’t it?
Bryony Thomas: Absolutely, absolutely. I’ve had loads of conversations with people about marketing automation. Anybody who goes through the Watertight Marketing book will look at it and go, “At some point here I’m going to have to automate things. What system do you recommend, Bryony?” I say, “I recommend a large wall and a pack of Post-it notes.” Just map out what it is you want any system to do, because they’re all a bit rubbish, and actually the technology is not the answer, the thinking is the answer. You need to map out with a large wall and a set of Post-it notes what you want the sequence to be.
It might be in smaller organizations that you can achieve that simply by putting notes in your diary to call people or having a checklist pinned above your computer to work through. In larger organizations, you may well want to automate that with a CRM tool or something, but people jump straight into automation. They go and they build campaigns, and as they’re building they go, “Oh, I wonder what they could get next?” You’re so much better to do that not from inside a system.
Alison Jones: That’s brilliant. I love that. My system is a wall and some Post-its.
Bryony Thomas: It’s a wall, and I carry Post-it notes with me everywhere.
Alison Jones: Oh, I hear you. I think I should have shares in Post-its. I should be on commission or something. For books, of course, all the time.
I wanted to pick up on the VA-Voom! case study in the book, which I loved and I thought was so clever the way it runs like a golden thread through the book illustrating all the different points. Tell me how that came about and tell me what it made possible for you.
Bryony Thomas: Yes. I love that part of the book too, and thank you for picking up on it. When I sent my manuscript off to my editor, a chap called Robert Watson in Australia, I sent it across and he replied and he said it was the most complete and accurate manuscript he’d ever seen, but I had a serious mixed metaphor habit. I had a number of ship-shaped buckets and that sort of thing.
Alison Jones: You’ve got to be very careful with that one in particular, haven’t you?
Bryony Thomas: Indeed, indeed, yes. With a ‘p’. Anyway. He said although my case studies were useful, they didn’t show the whole journey, and because the beauty of Watertight is that it is a journey, it is a process, then it would be better illustrated looking at one organization end-to-end. I thought, “Well, none of my clients will want to go into that level of strategic detail.” He said, “Well, why don’t you just make one up, then?” I thought, “Oh, of course. Why don’t I just make one up then?”
I made up a virtual assistant company called VA-Voom!, and they’re introduced in the second half of the book, which is the sleeves up where we get really practical. You essentially see their entire marketing plan. Every time I say, “Here’s an idea for you,” there is a worked example of that idea for VA-Voom!, and when you register your book you can download… I paid a designer to create a brand for this fictional company, so there is a set of visual guidelines. There’s a set of tone of voice guidelines. There’s a full budget.
In my dreams for the future there is also a VA-Voom! website where I put in all the lovely ideas that we came up with. There’s webinars, there’s papers, there’s blog titles all detailed in the book. I would love to create a website, put it all on there, and you look at it as a website and then click the “show me rationale” and the website gets annotated with all the elements from the Watertight Marketing methodology. In my “maybe/some day/later” list is this beautiful VA-Voom! website with a kind of overlay of the Watertight Marketing methodology. It’s all there, it’s all in the book. All that would happen if I put it in that context is it would bring it to life in a more tangible way.
Alison Jones: Just put it in HTML. Love that.
Bryony Thomas: Yeah.
Alison Jones: Of course, what you’re doing is actually what novelists do: tell the truth by inventing something that actually speaks to it more than any one individual human could. You’ve invented a fictional character.
Bryony Thomas: Two, actually. There are two, they’re co-owners. VA-Voom! has two joint MDs, which to my clients might give away who it was based on, but hey.
Alison Jones: Michael E. Gerber said something similar about Sarah. He said that was what made The E-Myth, was people go, “I’m Sarah, I am that person that he was having the conversation with in the book.” Really, really interesting. Great technique. Thank you.
Now, there’s going to be lots of people who are in the throes of writing their book. I, for example, am in the throes of writing my book. What is the one best piece of advice that you would give somebody listening who’s still in the trenches there?
Bryony Thomas: Can I give three?
Alison Jones: Yeah, please. The more the better.
Bryony Thomas: The first, I’d say map it out. I have used mind maps. The way that I tend to get through an outline structure is to go into PowerPoint or Keynote and put a headline and bullet point level as if I were going to present the whole end-to-end to somebody else. That for Watertight became the chapter and subheading structure. I would do that all the way through before you start writing a single word. I would then, once you have that structure, sit down and think very carefully about how your book fits within your business model. What does it lead to? What are the companion materials that go with it? How are you going to use it in reality? For example, are you going to want to re-spin versions with a special cover for a conference so you can package it in, or do you want to be in airport shops or whatever? Work out how you’re actually going to use the book.
The third piece of advice is to write forwards and never look back. Those of us who are given to perfectionism, if you write a paragraph of copy and then you go back to edit it and you change your grammar and you swap out words, you just never get to the end. The piece of advice I was given by the coach who I was working with at the time was simply to write forwards using your maps, using your structure, and only go back and edit when you get to a full final manuscript.
Alison Jones: Awesome advice. Absolutely brilliant. For those of you who’ve worked with me, I did not tell her to say that, I promise. Absolutely brilliant.
The last question I always ask everybody is who else you think would make a really, really good guest on The Extraordinary Business Book Club Podcast, someone with something interesting to say about business or books or the business of books. Who do you think we should have on?
Bryony Thomas: I would thoroughly recommend talking to Sonja Jefferson and Sharon Tanton at Valuable Content. Check out their websites. They’ve got great comments on content generally, but they also have put a book at the heart of their business and are speaking and doing workshops as I am. Rather than the information product routes, they’ve taken a route, they do a thing called pub school where they get people along for an afternoon in a very real, very human setting, which is almost the antithesis of the information product revolution that we’re seeing at the moment. I think they would be very interesting people to talk to.
Alison Jones: That sounds really fascinating. I am really interested in that online/offline mix, and I do think that online information only, it leaves you feeling very dissatisfied and disengaged, so it’d be really interesting to talk to them. Fabulous recommendation, thank you very much.
Bryony, if people want to find out more about you, more about Watertight Marketing, more about the book, where do they go?
Bryony Thomas: www.watertightmarketing.com. If you head to watertightmarketing.com, you will find a sample of the book, you can register a book, and you can also find out about the events that we run. We run a lunch-and-learn in five cities across the UK monthly. They’re in Bristol, London, Guildford, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh. That’s six. We’re at six, gosh. There’s one that I haven’t counted. We’re also running our very first online conference on the 19th and 20th of July. If you go to www.watertightmarketing.com/wmconf16, then you will find out all the information about that.
Alison Jones: Fantastic. I’ll put all that in the show notes so people can go and check on that link and go and see it. It was such a pleasure talking to you today, Bryony. Thank you so much for coming in and talking to us.
Bryony Thomas: Thank you, Alison. Thank you, everybody.