This week, Peter and Jonathan talk about how to pitch your business, and Park Howell (from The Business of Story podcast) explains how to tell your brand story.
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Listen to Episode 10:
- How to Pitch Your Business – (:26)
- Free Download: Investor Pitch Deck Templates
- Listen: Alex Blumberg botches his pitch on the Startup Podcast
- Read also: Guy Kawasaki’s tips for pitching
- Read also: Our Favorite Tools to Create Your Pitch
- Check out: PitchEnvy.com
- Brand Storytelling with Park Howell – (11:13)
Jonathan: Hey Peter, how’s it going?
Peter: Pretty good, all right.
Peter: It’s cool. We didn’t really work out an intro, did we?
Jonathan: No, not really. What are we talking about this week?
Peter: Well, I think you want to talk a little bit about this new cool thing you launched on Bplans, but it’s related to pitching in general. We’ve talked about the idea of pitching a business a few times. We’ve talked about the in’s and out’s, the here’s and how’s, the who’s and why’s.
Jonathan: Yeah and specifically the content of a pitch and what you should be talking about in your pitch, right?
Peter: Sure, I guess. I lost it…
Jonathan: The who’s the what’s, the in’s, the out’s.
Peter: It got very Dr. Seuss there for a moment.
Jonathan: Yeah, the who’s its and the what’s its.
Peter: Moving on, I think one of the things in this is relevant to our guest today. One of the things is this idea of storytelling, this idea of telling a story. I’m sure anyone who has ever watched a TED Talk, everyone who has seen a great public speaker ever knows that the concept, the core idea of really engaging a listener often revolves around this idea of storytelling.
Jonathan: Yeah and just as a disclaimer for our listeners, if you want to learn about what should be in your pitch and the content of your plan, that’s something that you should go back and listen to episode two for, not two four.
Peter: Episode two dash…
Jonathan: Episode two.
Peter: Two colon four.
Jonathan: To help you learn what should be in your pitch. This is going to focus on how you pitch.
Peter: One of the things that we’ve talked about before, this idea of why you put the pitch together, why do you think through it, why do you rehearse it, why do you come up with all the points that are going to go into it? When you do that, how many types of pitches should you have ready? Do you have one for an investor and then one for new employees? As the CEO, you’ve got to be able to summarize that company, what you do, how you do it, all that kind of stuff.
Jonathan: On Bplans, we just released this a few weeks ago, is free investor pitch deck templates. We have about three different styles that you can download. The information is all there. All you have to do is customize it to your business and you’re ready to go. It looks great and you will look great too. If you want to download our investor pitch deck templates, then you can do that by going to bit.ly/bcast-pitch and that’ll get you to those downloads.
Peter: That’s great. How do you click that audio?
Jonathan: You have to type it in and that’ll be in the show notes too.
Peter: One of the big questions out there, we’ve got this PowerPoint available, we’ve got these templates available, do you need a PowerPoint at all? I think a lot of times, literally the concept of an elevator pitch implies, you don’t have a PowerPoint to open, right?
Jonathan: Right and there are some cases where you won’t have a handy dandy pitch available.
Peter: I think the problem with a lot of folks is you get really obsessed with the things that you know enough about and you tend, as a business owner, you tend to ignore the things that you don’t know as much about or that scare you a little bit so financials, forecasting your financials, coming up with maybe strategic partners if you don’t like doing that kind of work, all those kinds of things are the exact items that then fall extremely short in your pitch, right?
Jonathan: Yeah. How would you prepare to give your pitch? Do you have a way to think about it or a way to practice it? What would you suggest?
Peter: Yeah, that’s a good point. There’s a personalized answer to that question. On one hand, I would definitely recommend use a template like what Jonathan’s made available at his bit.ly link.
Jonathan: Don’t worry. We’ll put that in the show notes.
Peter: Audio to click link. We’re going to have to work on that. Use something like that. Use something like what LivePlan has embedded in it. Figure out a way to get everything into one place and then figure out how long it takes you naturally to talk through all those items. If it takes 10 minutes, that’s okay. Start to think about how to pare that down, how to summarize things even better, how to further edit yourself down to whatever timeframes you think are appropriate and then go ahead and have a version that is two minutes, a version that is three minutes, a version that is five minutes by beefing up certain sections or by not including certain sections accordingly. Just make sure you’ve got everything in there.
Once you do that, you’ll be ready to start practicing and I think that practice part is really something you got to do alone. It’s something you should do with friends and family. It’s something you should do over the phone. It’s something you should do over Skype. Do it in as many weird situations in a way as you can.
Jonathan: What’s the benefit of doing that, of practicing it in those different ways?
Peter: Well, with the Alex Blumberg example, he was caught off guard. He was on a street corner. He felt like that was a different situation than when he was just pitching to his wife alone in the house. I think a lot of performance-type people will have the same situation, and I might recognize a little bit of this, but if all you ever do is practice your trumpet in the house, behind a closed door by yourself, the second you get on stage, everything is different. Your hands don’t work the same. Your brain doesn’t work the same. Everything is different.
Jonathan: Things go blank.
Peter: Go ahead and throw all of those weird scenarios at yourself. Talk to a bartender. Give the pitch to someone who doesn’t want to hear it. Give the pitch to someone who is bored hearing about it, whatever you can do to really shake up your own delivery so that it becomes so engrained in what you do that you almost can’t mess up certain parts, you can’t not deliver major sections.
Jonathan: Before we get into some questions about how you should prepare your pitch and other things like that, we wanted to mention Guy Kawasaki. He has some rules about pitching that are good to follow.
Peter: At the end of the day, Guy Kawasaki’s big point of view is really about this idea of storytelling and we’re going to hear a little bit more in depth about how to make sure you’re engaged in that storytelling process. His book “Enchantment,” even in “Art of the Start,” he talks about this idea, but again, the notion of describing a business, of describing all these elements, it really should be about telling that tale, telling that cohesive narrative that also reveals a little bit about who you are, the storyteller, what the business is and what it’s doing so that’s the practical side.
Also, and this is I think the whole core of the “Enchantment” book, also brings the listener in, makes them feel like a part of it, makes them want to engage more. Of course, you can imagine the value. If you’re talking to an investor or an employee, a potential employee, a potential strategic partner, all those people are folks who you want to have at the end of your pitch feel like they need more, feel like they need more from you or hear more from you, that kind of thing.
Jonathan: Guy Kawasaki’s rules for an effective pitch, he calls it the 10/20/30 Rule and that’s 10 slides, 20 minutes long, minimum 30 point font and do it on a black background. That’s his rules for an effective pitch, but again, you’ve talked about scenarios where you might not have 20 minutes. You have 10 minutes, five minutes, three minutes.
Peter: I think you can take what you will from it. I think if you can put together the way he describes and you sort of are an acolyte of the Guy Kawasaki method, absolutely go for it. If it works really well for you, that’s great. I think you should go through that process, but I would suggest also taking that exact same piece of content, that 20-minute piece, and being able to, again, deliver it in a one-a-half-minute format and maybe a three or five-minute format and just have that so practiced that if someone at the bar says, “Hey, what’s your deal, what’s your business,” you can rattle it off so quickly that they’re going to be impressed and you might find out that person is the next great investor to you.
Jonathan: Do you want to know my secret trick to make all of my pitches effective?
Peter: All of them.
Jonathan: I play the Final Countdown in the background.
Peter: Just in your head.
Jonathan: Then in the grand finale, throw a bunch of pennies on people. It’s perfect. It’s the best way to end it. I’ve never had a pitch miss.
Peter: We should just change this to the Arrested Development reference podcast, shouldn’t we?
Jonathan: Will people get that? We’ll see.
Peter: Maybe not. The other thing that I think you alluded to, Jonathan, there is this idea of when you’re delivering it, do you memorize the pitch, do you know most of the words you’re going to say and I really think that’s a very personal aspect. It comes down to your own personal take on the whole thing. Again, if you’re doing Shakespeare, you did memorize all the words. A lot of people cannot deliver a memorized pitch without sounding robotic, without sounding stilted and it’s a great skill. For me personally, I love to know basically every word that I’ll say and then I actually have to practice again to come back to sounding natural. If I’m talking extemporaneously, there’s this natural cadence hopefully, I don’t know, natural enough cadence. You tell me man.
Jonathan: I think the goal is that you don’t walk up and sound like a magazine salesman. “Hi. My. name. is. so. and. so. and. I. want. to. show. you. this.” You want to get out of that type of a rhythm.
Peter: Absolutely. We’ve all heard those kind of pitches. They come from that place of memorization. They come from almost being too expert in the thing that you’re saying and you yourself, the deliverer, have lost the natural cadence, the natural rhythm and interest really in what you’re saying. You have to re-train that if that’s the problem that you’re hitting and somebody who’s listening to you practice will tell you that and you need to listen close if someone delivers that feedback.
Jonathan: It’s important to remember that the content of the pitch is incredibly important, but it’s how you deliver it too because you can’t forget that when somebody decides to invest, they’re primarily investing in you as the founder. You’re what’s selling your product.
Peter: Absolutely. Really, the idea here is in a minute, in three minutes, five minutes, 20 minutes, whatever that format is, get those down, practice them, but really what you’re practicing is not missing major components. Do not lead to the Shark Tank effect—I guess I’ll call it—where the audience is always asking the same three questions every time you’re done with your presentation. Get to the point where if somebody keeps asking those questions, you build it into the pitch and then if they keep asking new questions, you build it and again, it’s about summarizing and sometimes it’s very difficult to summarize complicated points into short, concise sentences. That’s where the work is. Feel free to put that work in. Again, I think a lot of people just don’t do this activity, but it’s valuable and it’ll pay off in the long run.
Jonathan: I think I’m going to give a couple of things for our listeners to do just to wrap this up. One is go download our investor pitch deck templates. I’ve given you the URL for that already. The other thing is we have an article called ‘Our Favorite Tools to Create Your Pitch’ so check that out. Some things that we’ve mentioned is Haiku Deck. LivePlan also does it. Then we have one more site called PitchEnvy which is a great place to check out other pitches and slide decks to get some inspiration.
Peter: Develop envy.
Jonathan: That’s right.
Peter: All right, great. Well, we should talk a little bit more about this storytelling idea too so I’m glad we’ve got our guest on today.
Jonathan: Hey. Peter, today we have Park Howell, who is the founder and president of Park&Co. He’s been in the business for about 30 years and while he’s the founder of Park&Co, the advertising agency, he’s also a professor of storytelling in the Executive Master’s of Sustainability Leadership at Arizona State University.
Peter: It sounds like fun.
Jonathan: The way we came across him is because he has a popular new podcast called ‘The Business of Story’.
Peter: Let’s make sure to link that in our notes.
Jonathan: Absolutely. We recommend people check it out and give it a listen. Welcome Park and we want to just let you take it from here.
Park: Thanks Jonathan, thanks Peter for having me on board. I love it. We just launched our podcast July 1. We’ve had a lot of success. I’ve been working with Jay Baer. I imagine a number of your listeners may know of Jay. He does a lot of social media work and a lot of speaking across the country. His team at Convince & Convert Media teamed with us to help launch, produce and promote the new ‘Business of Story’ podcast. We’ve been just having a blast.
Jonathan: Park, what do you want to talk to us today and especially what do you want to share with our listeners?
Peter: Well, I think it comes down to storytelling. It’s such a fascinating subject for me and I guess I’ve been geeking out over it in the last 12 or 13 years or so, the reason being is I’ve been in this business, as you mentioned in your intro, for 30 years. I’ve always wondered, how could you be so intentional and pragmatic in your sales and marketing storytelling that you could almost ensure success? I didn’t know if there was really a silver bullet. I guess there really is no silver bullet out there, but what I have found is this power story when you use story structure in a very pragmatic and intentional way.
What I mean by that is people really don’t have an appreciation for what story is. I certainly didn’t until I started studying it. People often talked about, “I’ve got my narrative pulled together or my brand narrative pulled together or my brand story pulled together.” Well, the difference between having a brand narrative and a story pulled together is this, narratives are that really boring guy or gal that you run into a cocktail party who’s already two drinks too far in and is going on and on and on and on and usually pepper their stories with ‘and this, and that, and, and, and, and’ until you start rolling your eyes and sneak out the back door or off to get another craft beer up in Eugene if you will.
A story is that male or female that grabs your attention, gives you a setup to the story but then immediately throws you into conflict like, “Oh my god, what happened next?” Then there’s resolution. A story has absolutely three parts to it, a beginning, a middle and an end. One of my clients said, and I thought it was the best, when he’s thinking about sales and he says, “In a story, you must have the hurt, amplify the pain and heal the wound.” I think that’s where brands go astray of all sizes. It could be that one-person shop down around the corner or it could be very, very large brands that don’t have an appreciation for how important conflict is in every story they tell.
What I work with our clients and we use brand story structure from everything, from high level brand strategy down to the actual tactical execution and whether that execution is a PowerPoint that needs to be done very, very well in a board room or a large work area, communicating with internal employees in a break room setting whatever or reaching out externally through advertising and marketing, the basic structures to story remains the same. Set me up, give me a problem, resolve it.
Jonathan: For our listeners who, maybe, are a mom and pop shop or a sole proprietorship or just selling their wares on the corner with a booth, where does storytelling come in for them? How does that work?
Peter: Are you talking about a banana stand, Jonathan?
Jonathan: I might be talking about a frozen banana stand.
Park: A frozen banana stand. Well, my first question to that proprietor is why do you sell frozen bananas? From a very personal realm, what is it all about? Why are you doing what you do? I think by now a lot of people have seen the amazing Simon Sinek TED Talk about really understanding why you do what you do because that’s what people buy. They don’t buy so much your how and your what but the why. My question always is … is to first write your why story. You can use this basic story structure we call the story cycle. I’ll tell you a little bit about that in a second, but what you want to do is take this basic 10-step story structure and in a couple three sentences per step, you can outline your story.
I always ask people, brands of all sizes, to start with your own authentic personal story, why are you in this business and what do you hope to attain, what do you bring to this world that levels up your community and customers? Once you have your whys written down, then you turn it outward and you are no longer the central figure of the story. You’re now going to place your brand as the central figure of this story and you as the owner are going to be the mentor in this process and you’re going to take it through the same 10-step storytelling structure process to understand your brand story.
Those are really important steps to set the foundation for the most important story of all and that’s your customer’s story. Once you have your why story in place and then that story about how that led to the creation of your brand, now what you want to do is place your customer at the center of the story using the same 10-step story cycle process. You then write the story about your customer, where do they start, where are they going, what’s at stake for them, what do they want, what comes up against them in trying to buy your product, how are you there as the mentor in their journey so you are the Obi Wan Kenobi to their Luke Skywalker and then you, through this process, go through the customer engagement process ending up on the 10th chapter of the story cycle and that’s creating brand ritual about how do you create ritual around the use of your product.
Now, you might imagine anybody could use this from Coca Cola right down to that frozen banana stand, the same story structure principles works for everybody. In fact, I will say, for the small folks out there, it’s kind of that rock and your David’s sling as you’re out there competing with the Goliaths that have more money, more opportunities to reach out and connect with their own audiences. If you’re trying to get a little piece of that frozen banana pie if you will, I have found that story structure helps to level the playing field when you do it in a very intentional and pragmatic way.
Peter: When we’re putting together a story, we’ve talked a little bit about the idea of pitching the business. Obviously we’re going to talk a little bit more about that today. The pitch for a business, the pitch for an up and running business, is there a certain length that we should be going for when we talk about or tell this story? Should people prepare their stories? Should you rehearse it, memorize every single word? What’s the advice on that front?
Park: Absolutely. I think there was just a report that came out a couple of months ago that the goldfish now has a longer attention span at nine seconds than your average human being does. The length of your story is very important. You want to capture someone’s attention immediately. Some of the people we have on our show, they’re all different writers. They come from very much the creative community. One of our upcoming guests, Lisa Cron, who wrote a terrific book ‘Wired for Story’ talks about having to keep a ball in play and having a ball in play immediately, so that’s the first thing.
When you practice your story, you first obviously have to write it down. Outline it, write it down and have it in mind, but grab that attention of your audience as quickly as you can and then once you have their attention, throw them into a little bit of conflict and then let them understand how does your brand or your company help bring them out of that conflict and then do it again. You don’t have to have a one-and-done story done right. You could do two or three different revolutions through this set up, conflict, resolution program.
That old adage of ‘you don’t know what you know until you write it down’ is really important here because I think you have the story or most people that are really serious about their brand already have this brand story in their mind. When they write it down, they get to be more intentional and more pragmatic about it. What I don’t want them do is to memorize it. What I want them to do is get a very great feel for the flow and be able to just have that memory to call it up in a very natural conversation. If we sound too memorized when we’re telling our brand story and we just sound very stilted and it sounds like we’re just promoting our brand, but when we can create an actual conversation around it using some storytelling techniques, then you can hold your audience’s attention a lot longer and connect with them on a very visceral way.
I mean that because our subconscious is absolutely hardwired for story. Let me bounce this off. Think about this for a second. Our brain is a little bit like an amoeba. They both share one thing and one thing in common and they have a singular goal of survival of the being. If you think about it, we can go weeks without eating. We can go days without drinking, but we can only go about 35 seconds without our mind having to create meaning out of something and we do this by constantly scanning our environments. We’re always searching for clues beneath the surface, our subconscious is, with this embedded app called curiosity.
Now curiosity is really cool because it’s basically our primal search engine. We scan our environment, as I mentioned. We pull in external stimuli. We sift it through past events and experience just to help our brain try and predict the future. Why does it want to predict the future? It wants to create clarity out of the chaos around us all in the name of survival. Nature has done us a wonderful thing. Nature has blessed us and enticed us with storytelling. Why, because stories absolutely attract our rapt attention. We learn from them, keep us out of trouble and we don’t get killed in the process.
Now think about every great story you’ve ever heard. You can absolutely live vicariously through the character so that you can try on trouble without having the risk of being killed in that process, also that you can learn what you would do just in case it happens to us. Now, this is a subconscious turning, constantly turning no matter how hard we’re in our conscious mind, it is constantly scanning and looking for this. It is creating stories out of what’s happening around us.
Finally, powerful stories use urgency, novelty and surprise to basically deliver a universal truth because that’s what our minds are looking for. When you go back to thinking about sharing your brand story, what is the universal truth that you are trying to express? Starting with why do I do this in the first place, it gives your audience a great understanding of who you are and what you’re about, share your values and how those values are reflected through the brand of your company and then you want to connect the values of you and your brand that you share with your audience and you do that through the moral of the story.
Every story has a moral to it whether it’s innate or it’s explicitly implied out there because within the moral, our brains find the truth and finds the meaning of what’s happening around us. That’s why story structure, it’s an important biological mechanism, every bit of it is as important as our lungs, as our mind and really, as our heart and that’s how story plays to brands large and small.
Jonathan: Park, what would you say for somebody who’s listening today who this is the first time they’re hearing about the concept of storytelling structure for brands and now they want to learn more. They’ve listened to this snippet in our podcast. Where do they go to find out more?
Park: First off, I’ll be really surprised if this will be the first they’ve heard of it because story and storytelling has become sort of the soup du jour of advertising and branding agencies really over the past 10 years and rightly so because we, in our line of work, have been given permission to be storytellers and to really flex our storytelling muscles. It seems like the rest of the world has been silenced starting in grade one and all we try to do is ignite that inner storyteller in everybody. Your listeners can learn more if they go through businessofstory.com, that is our new site that houses our podcasts, but there I’ve also got some storytelling tools and they can actually go in and download for free an interactive PDF that takes them through the 10-step storytelling process and they can use it, of course, over and over and over again.
They can first write their story, then from that story have it inform them to write their brand story and then from that story, having them write a third story and that’s about their customer’s story and how their brand interacts with it. That’s where they can go to learn about the kind of work that I’ve been doing and how our agency has pulled this together through the story cycle that we call it and that’s our version of the Hero’s Journey for brands and executives really that just want to be able to move their initiatives forward faster and again, you can find that on businessofstory.com.
Jonathan: That’s fantastic. We’ll link directly to that storytelling structure from our show notes.
Park: Thank you. I appreciate that. It’s so much fun. I get so much enjoyment out of this because when I stand up in front of a room, and I just did it for a whole bunch of small businesses about 60 of them a month or so ago, we have a big utility here in town called Salt River Project and they do this quarterly and they bring in their small businesses and try to help them grow. When I get up and I’m able to do a workshop with them and then we sit down and they actually, in 20 minutes, are able to quickly sketch out the story of themselves and their brand and then a few of them would get up and share it.
It almost never fails that I get one of them sharing shed a tear. They cry. It’s the most amazing thing. I don’t think it’s because I’m a brilliant storyteller or presenter, I think there is just something that is so universal and basal that connects with the human and the heart. When it starts hearing really structure or a great story based on real structure that it needs in order to connect and have empathy with that audience or that presenter that it’s really quite amazing how moving and even in a little bit, in a small dose I will say, as trite and corny as this sounds, a spoonful of story helps the data go down. That’s what I teach our executives. We talk about our brands, we talk about ourselves using data, but when you turn data into drama and wrap it into a story to deliver a universal truth, it’s really quite amazing how you can move a room to action.
Peter: Do you got any reading recommendations? Do we have any books they should read, any articles that our audience should read here to keep up with all this?
Park: Yeah. First one, one of my all-time favorites and it’s quite often when I go into a room especially with experts in the way of attorneys and engineers and PhDs and highly educated people, they always start with their arms crossed looking at him and they will say, “Yes, communication is a soft skill.” They think story and story structure is just a gimmick that they would use to sell us out a bunch of stuff. There’s a book out there that if you’re that same person or you’ve got a doubting Thomas in your life, it’s called ‘The Storytelling Animal’ by Jonathan Gottschall.
Jonathan Gottschall is an English professor out on the east coast and a brilliant mind, a great writer, very fun, very approachable, but it was the first book I read that allowed me, helped me connect how our brains are physically hardwired to accept and appreciate and enjoy story. He, of course, uses story over and over again to explain this to a reader, so that’s a great one, ‘The Storytelling Animal’. Another one and we just did a podcast with Jonah Sachs. It’s up and running. You can hear Jonah. He’s been doing this line of work, storytelling in sustainability and purpose-driven brands for a long time. He’s got a terrific book called ‘Winning the Story Wars’ and I think the subtitle goes something like ‘those who tell and live the best stories will rule the world.’
Those are the two books I would highly recommend them starting with. I’ve got a whole bunch of other things. There’s some great tools online, TED Talks to listen to. Also, one other movie that’s really fun to watch, it’s motivational and educational at the same time, it is about Joseph Campbell, created by the Joseph Campbell Foundation, and it is called ‘Finding Joe’. You can get that on I think iTunes or Netflix. It’s coming out or you can order it online. If you want to get a taste of it, have your listeners go to findingjoethemovie.com. They’ve got a terrific little two-and-a-half minute trailer there that will give them the sense of what the movie is all about and who Joseph Campbell was and how this universal pattern of the Hero’s Journey is reflected in our lives from our day to day activities to the big epic adventures that we all go on.
The reason why we connect with it so much in story is story is simply a mirror to our lives and this particular movie helps them really have a better understanding and appreciation for Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey. Again, that’s what inspired us in our work with the story cycle.
Jonathan: That’s great. By the end of all this, hopefully, I will help win the story wars and Peter will be a storytelling animal himself.
Park: Hey, anything can happen in Eugene, Oregon.
Jonathan: That’s our motto actually I think.
Park: I know. Eugene Eugenius. I love it.
Peter: Lots of stories to be told, lots of small businesses out there to get out there and tell them. Thanks so much for the time today. This has been excellent. I think we’ve got some recommendations, some to-do’s. Get out there and start telling your story. Tell it to your friends, your customers, your family, your employees until they can’t hear it no more.
Park: Most importantly, write it down and tell yourself your own story.
Peter: Is that a real recommendation, write it down and tell it to yourself?
Park: Absolutely because you will not believe how much that story evolves. Our students in my first six weeks, all they do is focus on story structure and it absolutely transforms from that first one thousand Word document they write to the sixth week when they have to give me their final deliverable and it is amazing how they transform as people in the process.
Peter: That’s great. Tell your own story. Tell it to yourself. Tell it to your friends and family. I like it.
Park: You bet.
Peter: This is great. This applies directly to this idea of pitching your business, getting out there and talking about your business. This is really the how-to portion of the talking about your business. Everyone, get out there and start writing that down, telling yourself your story. That’s awesome. I want to thank you, Park, for your time today. It’s been great having you. Hopefully, we can have you back in the future for some more storytelling tips.
Park: Well, I really appreciate you guys taking the time with me. This has been a lot of fun.
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