[Editors note: This post contains about 15 too many cat puns.]
Budgeting for a small business is similar to giving a cat a haircut; a lot of cuts happen and in the end, it probably isn’t good looking. No one understands this more than Chicago’s own entrePURRneur Steve Gadlin, founder of Blewt! Productions and recent Shark Tank alumnus. He was featured on ABC’s Shark Tank pitching his venture, I Want To Draw A Cat For You and for $25,000, one of the sharks became a 33% holder in his company.
It’s a pretty unusual industry Steve is in (in his words, he’s in the “economy for stupid, and I’m overflowing of it”), the methods he’s used to generate sales and the CATastrophes he faces are on par with regular small business owners: he’s been featured on Groupon, he posts all of the cat drawings to his social networks, and he’s constantly engaging with fans, but he’s a one-man shop, there’s more cats than there are hours in the day, and he’s also juggling a full-time job as well.
Steve PAWsed from drawing cats for a minute to answer a few questions about web development (his day job), internet marketing, social media, and how to PURRfect them in, not only the economy of stupid, but the economy of small business:
Joe Calderone: Can you give us a little bit of background on how you got into drawing cats?
Steve Gadlin: I’ve been doodling cats for as long as I can remember. In high school study halls, I’d pass time by drawing a comic strip called Silly Cat Comix. Every one of my creative projects since has really been an off-shoot of that ridiculous comic strip.
JC: What are some creative and engaging ways IWTDACFY is using social media?
SG: Every time I post a cat drawing to the site (about 40 times per day), it’s sent out as a Tweet. I also engage my Facebook fans in a daily basis through contests and conversation. Every Friday is “Free Cat Friday” in my Facebook page, which always generates a pretty big response.
JC: How many people engage with you on a daily basis through social media? What program, software, or tips do you have for managing interaction on Twitter/Facebook?
SG: I’m not sure about a daily number, as it depends how often I’m posting on any given day. I have just under 8,000 Facebook fans and about 1,500 Twitter followers. If I post a free cat contest on Facebook, I can count on 150-300 quick responses. Except in the case of the automated new drawing tweets, I don’t use any special social media tools. I think it’s keeps my voice genuine by just cracking open my web browser and connecting with my followers. I use the same tools they use to consume the message, in real time.
JC: While pitching the Sharks on your episode of Shark Tank, Robert Herjavec mentioned how great you are at generating free PR. Are there any tips for a small businesses or individuals to help further their low-cost/free marketing and PR?
SG: Well there’s no real FREE PR. If it doesn’t cost money, you pay in time and effort. I spent many years standing out on a corner handing out postcards to get attention for my other projects, and now I have a great list of media contacts and relationships. But it took a long time, and a lot of hustle, to earn that PR.
JC: In your day job, you work in the web department at your company. Are there any new technologies you’re excited about in web building?
SG: I’m probably a little old school when it comes to building websites. Technologies and platforms come and go. Content really is king. Finding a way to communicate your message and connect with an audience is the real exciting challenge, and that’s often completely independent of the technology behind it.
JC: Chicago’s own Groupon is in a bit of hot water because of their accounting practices. What was your experience/results when working with them?
SG: I had, and continue to have, a great experience working with Groupon. They’ve been very open and communicative with me, and I really credit them with helping to give IWantToDrawACatForYou.com the boost of exposure it needed to become more than just a silly side project.
JC: What can we expect next from I Want to Draw a Cat For You and Blewt! Productions in the future? Are we going to see a follow up to your amazingly addictive “I Want to Draw a Cat For You” song/dance/video?
SG: I have all sorts of projects cooking. Shark Tank will air an update on my company on 5/11′ but I’d rather not give anything away. When I declared on the original show that I was a fountain of stupid, I meant it! Blewt! has a variety of projects in development right now, and you haven’t seen the last of the stick figure cats!
Currently you can enter I Want To Draw A Cat For You’s contest for a grand prize of a LIFE TIME SUPPLY OF FREE CAT DRAWINGS! You can also CATch an update on Steve’s cat-drawing business on May 11th’s episode of ABC’s Shark Tank. To view all of Blewt!’s ventures and productions, check out their website here.