Episode 7 of The M Word podcast with Gresham Harkless Jr., founder of CBNation and Blue 16 Media.

Gresham “Gresh” W. Harkless Jr. is the founder of CBNation and Blue 16 Media. CBNation is a Business to Business (B2B) Brand focusing on increasing the business success rate by providing visibility and resources for CEOs, entrepreneurs, and business owners. Blue 16 Media is a digital marketing agency providing digital marketing services including web design & SEO to small to medium-sized businesses and organizations. Connect with our guest, Gresham on Facebook, TwitterLinkedIn!

Listen to other episodes of The M Word Podcast here.

Full transcript below:

Jennifer: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to The M Word. I’m Jennifer.

Heather: [00:00:05] and I’m Heather

Jennifer: [00:00:07] Today we’re talking to Gresham Harkless with Blue 16 Media Gresh is the founder of CB Nation and Blue 16 Media. CB nation focuses on increasing the business success rate by providing visibility and resources to CEOs, entrepreneurs, and business owners. Blue 16 media is a digital marketing agency providing web design and SEO to small to medium-sized businesses and organizations. Thanks so much for being here today, Gresh. 

Gresham: [00:00:35] Appreciate being here. Thank you, Jennifer. 

Jennifer : [00:00:37] Why don’t you start us off because I think it’s, first of all, I think I told you before we started recording, it’s intimidating having you here because you’re this awesome podcast host yourself. You’ve been doing that for quite a bit. What is this duality of businesses that you are running and how and they work? 

Gresham: [00:00:56] Well. I appreciate that, Jennifer. You’re way too. Nice. So, I definitely have to have you back [00:01:00] on the show.  You say so many nice things, but I’m at the heart of what I try to do, is I always say, and even going back to how I got started, I say I’m a journalist at heart. So I’ve always been interested in asking questions. I started a family newspaper when I was like 10 years old and that really hasn’t, left my heart and soul of what it is that I do. I was at the crossroads when I was graduating school to try to figure out how potentially you can create something that was sustainable in the journalism industry, because that industry has been completely disrupted where there aren’t really a lot of, newspapers or people that create content that stay around because they’re not able to generate revenue. So one of my big challenges was how can I. It takes something I’m passionate about and something that I do, which is, that digital marketing, building website, doing things along those ends, and maybe couple that with the ability to create content, to create something that was a sustainable and didn’t need to be like subsidized in some way. So that was something that I really had at my forefront. And, as I mentioned, even as a kid, it was something that [00:02:00] is a passion. And I think, even something I would call a gift of mine that I try to kind of couple of those things together. 

Jennifer : [00:02:07] That’s great. So how long have you been doing both of these endeavors?

Gresham: [00:02:14] Great question. I think it’s been in, my heart, for a while, but I think if we really drill down to the numbers as far as like the blog, I probably have had it for maybe about nine or 10 years, the digital marketing business I’ve had for about eight or nine years. I did a lot of the discovery, the interviews before I knew I wanted to start a business, didn’t really know exactly what that was. And they organically came together where I would. Help out, business owners in terms of building a website or potentially some SEO or some type of digital marketing.

And then I start to see that these are the same people that I was interviewing. So I wish I could say that I knew going in that this is exactly my master plan, but it just organically happened where the same people I wanted to interview were the same people I wanted to kind of service as well.

Heather: [00:02:56] Gresham you said that you loved marketing, and I’m going to [00:03:00] guess that is specific to digital marketing. What is it that you love about it? For me, it’s really the communication slash storytelling piece. And I think that every entrepreneur, every CEO, every business owner has a story. Even if someone has the exact same services that they’re providing for in comparison to another organization, there’s something unique about how they do it, how they got started.

Gresham: [00:03:27] That to me is. Motivational it’s inspirational. And it’s something that I always try to showcase in their products and services. And on my show, I call it the secret sauce. But I feel like we all have some type of secret sauce or something that sets us apart and makes us unique and is a different way that we even execute on the services that we provide. So from a marketing standpoint, I’ve always looked at how you can take that story? Take the secret sauce, the way that you do what you do and showcase that to as many people as. Possible and try to communicate with them, let them know that you understand exactly what their [00:04:00] pains are, what solutions you’re providing. That’s how I look at marketing is like using different tools and ingredients to bridge that gap so that people truly understand what you do and how you, so Gresh, what’s your secret sauce? I think it’s just that journalists and mindset, my secret sauce is all about Having and showcasing somebody else’s talents and their gifts and asking questions, interviewing people to try to pull that out. I’ve always loved, constant and information has changed tremendously from, the print newspapers that I used to do with the clip art and all of those things to now doing blogs and podcasts. So I think that the way that I’ve done it has been differently, but I love to sit down and hear stories and try to showcase that and put people in their best lives so that people understand what they do.

Heather: [00:04:46] So I want to dig a little bit deeper about the evolution of your marketing. Going from clip art to, now you’re doing a podcast. Talk to me more about how your marketing has evolved over the years.

Gresham: [00:04:57] Yes. It’s so funny. I was [00:05:00] talking with somebody and I was saying that my marketing company has evolved with digital marketing in general.

I think the first time I did quote unquote digital marketing and didn’t even have a business, I was in college and was just creating a Facebook group to try to bring people at that time. I was going to go to law school. So bring pre-fall people together. So know about different events and things that were going on in Washington, DC. It’s crazy to think like how much that has even evolved as Facebook has evolved and how digital marketing platforms have evolved. And I think what I used to always say is that I do digital marketing that used to include Facebook, that it used to include building a website. He used to include so many different aspects now because it’s so broad. Because each of the different platforms are so sophisticated, I’ve niched down more in terms of the services than anything else. So as The platforms have evolved as I’ve evolved and understand exactly what I want to do has been more of understanding like this is like our laser-focused way that we want to try to help [00:06:00] clients to build a foundation. And we don’t necessarily want to do these other aspects. We’re not like a social media agency, for example, even though that plays a part in what it is that we do, we’re aware of it, but we’re not necessarily hanging our hat on. That’s exactly what we do. So it’s all in trying to, as. They become a lot more sophisticated, understand what our lane is and really stay true to that as much as possible.

Jennifer : [00:06:22] Yeah. I love that. And I think it’s interesting because There’s agencies of every Stripe. And I say to, like I said to somebody today, I said, marketers, we have the same toolkit, it’s there’s not there’s not a toolkit that you have someone else doesn’t have, but it’s how we deploy our tools and it’s which tools we sharpen the most. And so I think it’s interesting that you’ve chosen To niche down the way you have. So was that an easy evolution for you to go in the direction where you are now? Or was it out of just the tools that you most enjoyed using? Or did you see that was that like an intentional market opportunity that you latched on to?

[00:07:00] Gresham: [00:07:00] That’s a really great question. And I think it, it kinda just happened organically over time, but I think too when you start to run the business, you also have to work on your mindset. And that piece is looking from more of an abundant mentality. And that’s something that I’ve had to work on a lot. And I think we all have to work on, so much, because I think as soon as you start a business, you just want to try to help as many people as possible. If somebody says, do you know, X, Y, and Z of course I can try to do X, Y, and Z, because I want to help you out. But as you start to evolve and you start to work on certain projects, right? Work with certain clients, you realize that, Hey, this isn’t necessarily what I want to do. I want to focus more on A, B and C rather than, X, Y, and Z. And I think that’s probably definitely been a part of the process for me. And I think too, as you said, like there’s different agencies that have different ways that they deploy and execute on the different tools that they have, but you start to really know what you do better than anybody else. And you start to hear that from clients, you start [00:08:00] to feel really at home and confident in what you’re doing. And I think it takes time to get to that point. And I think it’s always an evolving process, but I think for us really been about understanding this is where and what type of service that I want to grow more than anything else. It’s not that we necessarily can’t do certain things. It’s just that we feel like we’re the best or close to the best at, what it is that we do. And we want to lean more into that and get better. But you have to be able to let go of things, which is definitely the biggest challenge when you start to niche down.

Jennifer : [00:08:31] I love it. I love that. So how far into your journey did you have, did that confidence become more evident to you where you felt like this is my I’m an expert? W when did you know that? 

Gresham: [00:08:46] I feel like it’s an ever evolving process. I’m just of the, I think my personality is always that there’s always something I can get better at.

So I see like the word expert, or even I use the word CEO or, whatever that might be thought [00:09:00] leader as something that. Is like that carrot that you never ever reach, because I feel if I reached that expert status, then that means that I can rest on my laurels. But I think that if I’m always looking at it as somewhere that I can be in getting better, every single day, then it’s something that’s more of a journey. And that’s why as I’ve grown older and experienced business and grown it, I’ve tried to have peace in that. And knowing that it’s not a destination, it’s just a journey in general that really, I feel at home with. And that’s been part of it. But I think once you start to see success with clients, you start to get more confidence. And I think that every level that you go to, there’s going to be some type of challenge that you have. And it’s just a matter of leaning on some of those successes. Some of those wins to be able to see that come to fruition. 

Heather: [00:09:46] Can I ask you an uncomfortable question? Are you afraid to spend money on marketing?

Gresham: [00:09:52] No, I’m not, but I think I’m a little bias obviously as part of what I do, I think that [00:10:00] what I try to be very careful about doing is. Staying true to who I am and how I see the company going and not trying to replicate what somebody else is doing. I often say, and this could be definitely adopted to marketing if you run your own ratio, never lose. The reason I say that is because just as Jennifer said we have the same tools, but the way that you execute in and strategize with them and deploy them is going to separate you. So I try to make sure that I. Pay attention to and respect the successes that people have, but you don’t want to get caught up in emulating that, because I think that there’s a lot of reward you get from being a first mover. Often when you see somebody deploy some type of marketing strategy and you try to replicate that the opportunities sometimes go on. So you have to be true to who you are and try to create your own strategy around that. 

Jennifer : [00:10:54] So I’d love to, to get you to dive a little bit into, your niche your, you’re your web [00:11:00] guy, you’re building sites. You’re probably rebuilding sites that are data you’re maybe brand new sites, w what’s new and important in, in web design that, people need to know.

Gresham: [00:11:12] Yeah. I think simplicity is everything. And I think where a lot of people struggle is they don’t necessarily do a lot of work on the front end to try to understand their messaging, being able to communicate that messaging so that when they do and create a website or they. Look for keywords for SEO, or they’re doing a pay-per-click campaign that they have a real strong understanding on who their target market is. Even what success is for them as an organization. And. Some people might think that’s like an extra step, but I think it manifests itself in the way that a website is designed. So for example our screens, while they seem like they’re getting bigger, they’re actually getting smaller in comparison to being on computers. When you’re thinking about mobile [00:12:00] devices and the way that people are interacting from that standpoint, you want to be very specific about what it is that you do and how you do it. When you think about from an SEO standpoint, how people are searching there’s and I won’t say the word because it’ll definitely go off on me now, but there are smart devices all around us and how people are searching and finding, ways that they want to know what it is that you do. And for you to answer those questions. When you’re thinking of how you’re solving those problems, you want to bridge that gap and do the work for them prior to people searching aimlessly for whatever it is that you do. But those are the two kinds of biggest things that kind of come to mind is just that simplicity and design and being able to make sure that you are Translating your content and information for people that are searching for it. And I think that a lot of that happens not when you design a website, it happens before you design a website and that work that you do prior to that. Those are the two or three biggest things that I think I can come to crush on. 

Heather: [00:12:56] Is there anything about marketing that you find [00:13:00] cringe-worthy or any examples that you’ve seen that leave you speechless?

Gresham: [00:13:06] Yes. I think we’re in a, we’re in a place where in, at a time where there definitely are still a large amount of people that have websites, but there’s still people that don’t have websites. They still have people that are completely against digital marketing. I remember I worked for a company and I don’t know, I probably won’t say the name. But I worked for a company and I remember doing like a lot of cold calls and I remember somebody telling me that the internet was a fad and that there was not going to be the internet around and. Still on, that, that trend of, needing a website and things like that. And so fast forward a lot of years, but I still see websites that look like they have been created just as an afterthought. They’re not something that people see as their digital storefront. They’re not something that people see as a way to communicate with their targeting clients. A lot of times I do not have a mobile friendly website. Not having, I’m geeking out [00:14:00] on more of the backend stuff, but looking at the title tag and meta-description, and that not being in place or even people having more than, having 200 characters in their title, tag it to me, it makes me cringe and I’m sure she engines are cringing as well. But I think it’s just some of those things where people have good intentions, but sometimes they just DIY and yeah. They don’t, invest in those things that will help them to grow their business. And one other big thing that makes me cringe as well too, is that people feel as if marketing is in contention with word of mouth advertising, word of mouth referrals or opportunities. I’m a big believer in that, people, and I’ve always heard that in order to be a millionaire, you need it. A certain amount of streams of income in order to do that. I think in order to build a successful business as well, you want to make sure that you have multiple ways that you’re able to bring in clients and opportunities as well. And I think that helps out in times like this, if you completely were, I’m going to go to face networking events that have completely changed. So the best [00:15:00] way to quote unquote combat is to really have a diverse range of ways that you’re able to drive in clients and customers. And I think that it pains me to see businesses that are, set in their ways, not willing to try different things. And I think that it hurts those businesses or organizations in the long run. 

Jennifer : [00:15:15] Yeah. So what is your, do you have a rule of thumb or what do you say to a client who says, so how long will this website last or how often do I need to invest in this, brand asset of.

Gresham: [00:15:31] Yes. I usually say you want to really look if your website is probably around three to five years, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to have a redesigned, you might just want to have a refresh. One of the things that we do, especially because we work with WordPress is there’s a lot of updates and improvements to WordPress on. It seems like a daily basis where they’re improving the features and opportunities there. A lot of times. If someone purchases a theme or they had a custom built theme, maybe three, four years, five years ago you could run into a [00:16:00] situation where the website breaks and when the website breaks you can fix it. And it usually depends on a case by case basis, but sometimes that refresh will take care of it. Not all. Designers and developers are created equal as well, too. So understanding and knowing the nuances of the behind the scenes of your website is absolutely huge because you might have a theme that isn’t potentially being supported on a regular basis. So in three years, sometimes one year your thing might be completely, non-usable and if it breaks, then you have to either get somebody to custom, build something into it, or potentially create or find a new theme. It’s important to just. Stay on top of it. Just like you would, if you were taking your car to get an oil change on a regular basis, you want to just make sure that everything as far as the backends, the plugins, the themes for example are set up correctly. But I think that you can do a lot more refreshes if you do that work in the beginning where you’re looking at your strategy, looking at your avatar, you’re creating the content related to that. But if you’re just just [00:17:00] doing it without, that strategy and stuff in place, you might have to do it more frequently, but I think you’d get away with more refreshers if you do that work in the beginning 

Heather: [00:17:07] so much good information.

I love it. I want to pivot to marketing for the greater good. Do you, or have you incorporated any cause of marketing into your program or businesses? 

Gresham: [00:17:19] That’s something, I probably have to do a better job of talking about it a little bit, but I will say this part of what I wanted to do. And I was on a lot of different boards and a lot of different organizations and helping out there I ended up being on the boards, but what I wanted to do is to take a step back and I started like a program called blue 16 gives basically where we donate or potentially Reduce the costs of certain services. We provided non-profit organizations. But part of it was, I’m a big believer in allowing people to be in their zone of genius and operate in their gifts and my thought processes and being on those boards, there’s a lot of people want it, the information about the technology, the websites, all of those things. So I wanted to create a little bit more of a formalized [00:18:00] program where we were able to give and donate. Per to, to organizations like the Northern Virginia veterans association. There’s been other organizations that we’ve donated, websites, too, but part of it has been, how can we help these organizations do what they do best? And while I wish. That I could get 28 hours out of a day. I could only get 24 and I can’t work all of those hours. So my thought process was if I can’t go out and, support a lot of the causes that do a lot of the things, why don’t I try to help out those organizations not have to worry about like their website updates and things like that, so that we can, hopefully make that impact in a little bit of a different creative way.


Jennifer : [00:18:37] That’s amazing, Gresh, and it warms my heart to hear you talk about using your business for the greater good it’s important to us. And I know you’ve been involved in the leadership Arlington program in the past. And it’s, I think it’s people yeah. Want to do business with businesses that are supporting the community. And so you’re using your gifts, as you said [00:19:00] to give back, because it’s. It’s inspiring. And I hope people who are listening think about ways they can use their own gifts for giving back. So thank you. You are in a field that is evolving by the minute, it’s so how do you keep up? What is it, are there resources? Are there leaders or people for whom you consume that content so that you can. Keep your knives and your toolkit sharp. Yeah. I think for me the best thing has, and probably still will be like continuing to have internal projects that we work on.

Gresham: [00:19:33] I think even part of what I was related to was talking about, relates to our our Our marketing strategy is something that I try to incorporate myself, but there’s definitely the loads of different podcasts and things that I listened to that allow people that people talk about, their change agency, their change ages and how they’re able to make that impact. You have the Gary V’s and people of the world and Neil Patel’s and people like that are always talking about how they’re implementing and deploying [00:20:00] their different marketing strategies. But I also will say too, and one of the things I love about. You know your podcast as well as you can learn a lot from having people on shows and just talking with them and extracting as much information from them as possible. So as much as, listening to podcasts, reading blogs and search engine journals and all of those different publications that are out there. I think that I learned a tremendous amount from a marketing perspective, and even just from a business perspective by having people on the show and the blog and the podcast and everything.

Heather: [00:20:33] Gresham. Is there anything that you want to try this year that you haven’t done before or anything you want to do differently? That is a great question. I think that I always want to get more out of it. I’ll tell you, the big thing that I’ve been able to do with the content is create a lot of content.

Gresham: [00:20:52] The step that I want to take that I think is the next step is bringing all that content together and having more of a community feel. So that’s [00:21:00] something that I want to, and in part of me starting the podcast was to have people that had been featured on the blog before and actually hear their voice. Speak to them and have a relationship with them. That was part of the emphasis of that is like, how can I create that relationship with people and create that community field. That’s something that I want to drill down and do, even more, I think. As we talked about those tools are there and they’re important, but I think even more now I know I am craving that human interaction with the relationship, that connection. So I want to see how I can maybe accelerate that or do that a little bit more with some of the people that have been featured on the site and create those relationships and connections between them and myself. I think that is something that’s a little bit more, it’s not as tangible, but it’s something that I definitely want to do.

Jennifer : [00:21:48] Is there anything you’ve done in the last year or so, through. The pandemic. It’s not everybody asked the COVID question, but, is there anything that you’re particularly proud of that you’ve been able to achieve, whether it’s for your own [00:22:00] business or for your clients?

Gresham: [00:22:01] I, I did, so I was awarded 40, under 40 and Alexandria, Virginia Fright during a pandemic startup. And it was something that I was pretty proud of just because those words and things aren’t something that just happened. That day usually is a buildup over things that you’ve done, for years. So I was pretty appreciative of it. We didn’t get to celebrate it as I would love to celebrate, but we did everything virtually. And I think it’s just so important to give yourself, grace, and this is not something that you get an award for anything. But I think like during the pandemic has been really difficult on everybody in some form shape or fashion. I think that. Me being a type and wanting to go all the time. It’s been so huge for me to just take a break and say, it’s okay if you don’t have it, today is okay. If you’re not having a great month it is okay. If you’re not sure where everything is. And I think that has been something that I’ve taken away from the pandemic. Which of course, there’s [00:23:00] been a lot of, Less than great things that have happened during the pandemic. But I think one of the things that it reminded me of, and I even heard somebody call it the great pause, it’s reminded me to pause and celebrate some of the wins and the journey that I’ve had and the fact that I even have a business in, during a time like this is something I’m really grateful for and appreciative of. Hopefully you know that, this is a question, I think it’s just me. Starting to celebrate the wins and celebrate the small wins and being appreciative of every aspect of life that probably has come out a lot during this time.

Heather: [00:23:32] I think that’s great advice, Gresham, if you could go back to the first day you started CB nation or blue 16 media and tell yourself one thing, what would that be?

Gresham: [00:23:43] It’s gonna be hard and hard as hell. I would definitely say. So it’s something that is probably one of the hardest things that you can definitely do. And I hear sometimes that it’s going to, I heard it in the beginning is gonna. Take twice as long and be twice as hard. And [00:24:00] I think when you’re young and naive, you hear it, but you like, okay, I’m going to do it differently. It’s not going to be that for me. It was for me to still be that for me? So it’s definitely been one of the more challenging things that I’ve ever done in my life. And I think that so many times I talked a little bit about mental health and all of those things. We. Don’t realize, running a business just in and of itself in a vacuum is hard, but trying to balance relationships, trying to grow and move and do all those personal human things is probably, yeah. One of the hardest things that you’ll have to deal with. And it’s not just the business, it’s all the other balls that you have to juggle along the way that is really hard. But yeah. I would definitely tell myself to keep going. Don’t give up and know that you have more than sometimes you think that you have that it can help you get to where you want to be.

Jennifer : [00:24:53] That’s great. Would you ever want to give up? Yeah, there’s definitely been times I’ve wanted to give up. [00:25:00] I think everybody who’s run a business has felt those feelings. But I think that if you. What I’ve really tried to do is I’m really, I’m a big believer in God. I believe we all have gifts.

Gresham: [00:25:11] I’ve leaned on that heavily. And when I started my business, it wasn’t a popular thing that I did, but it was something that I felt like I was called to do. So when I put that in perspective, I understand and really drill down on why it definitely helped me to understand that. Even though it was difficult, even though it’s hard, it’s not just for you, it’s for, the gifts and the talents and the opportunities that you can give to others, especially like during podcasts and interviews. It may be difficult. It might be hard, don’t quit and don’t give up.

Jennifer : [00:25:38] That’s terrific. And I certainly am very happy. You have not given up, but that you continue to use your gifts and talents for everybody. This has been a lot of fun grasp, but if our listeners want more where they can find your podcast, your blog, and you.

Gresham: [00:25:54] Yeah. So I have a hub at, I am gresh.com. I am G R E [00:26:00] S h.com and it has links to blue, 16 media.com, CB nation.co on the podcast and everything that you know, I’m working on. So that’s probably the best place to go and to get a snapshot of everything that I’m working on. That’s awesome.

Jennifer : [00:26:15] Thank you. And thanks again for being on our show and we’ve enjoyed our conversation with you. We’ve been talking to Gresham, Harkless blue, 16 media, and stay tuned for our next episode. Thanks for listening. 

Heather: [00:26:30] Bye.

[awesome outro music]

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