10 Ways You Can Become a Better Networker (and Get More Business While Doing It)

10 ways to become a better networker

We’ve all heard the same phrases. Networking is a necessary part of business. It’s all about who you know. Having a well-established network will get you more sales.

All that is true. Unless you’re not networking correctly.

I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t networking just meeting people? How can I mess that up?

Networking is much more than just meeting people. The truth is, most business owners are approaching networking all wrong. And then wondering why they aren’t getting any business.

I recently attended The PennSuburban Chamber of Commerce Small Business University. It was a day filled with sessions on helping small business owners get more visibility for and grow their businesses.

One of the sessions I attended was all about business networking, led by Deb Moses from VerisVisalign. I was sure Deb was going to share networking tips that I had already heard many times before.

Boy was I wrong.

Deb blew me away. She talked about why most business owners are networking incorrectly and how they can get back on track. She shared tips to make the most out of your networking experience and to find the right people to network with (which as most of us know is half the battle!).

Many small business owners focus solely on growing a presence online, which is certainly important, but neglect the power of face-to-face relationships. That’s why I want to share Deb’s tips with all of you.

Get your business cards ready, flash that smile and perfect that handshake – let’s talk about the 10 ways you can become a better networker (and get more business doing it!).

Do your research ahead of time.

This sounds like a no brainer, right? But how many of us have attended an event and come home without any connections? I used to write it off as a problem with the event format or that the right people simply weren’t in the room.

The truth is, the problem was with me. I never did any research ahead of time to see who would be attending the event. I never looked up the event attendees on LinkedIn to learn more about their background.

Deb brought up a great point during her talk. These days it’s incredibly easy to stalk people online (in a professional way, not a creepy one). Before every event you attend, see if you can get a list of who’s going beforehand (most organizers will give you this). Go through the list and identify people who are in your target audience or who are connected to individuals in your target audience. Go to their LinkedIn profiles to learn more about them – where did they go to college? What are their interests? Memorize their photo so you can locate them at the event.

Then go meet them.

Just don’t use your boring sales pitch. More on that next.

Don’t sell. Period.

Networking is first and foremost about helping others. You have to give before you get. Contrary to popular opinion, you’re not at a networking event to sell. You’re there to meet people and cultivate relationships. As Deb says, if you develop relationships, sales will come.

If you’re so focused on selling your product or service, then you’ll forget to listen to the other person. Listening is the most important thing you can do at a networking event. Listen to what the other person says. It will tell you a lot about the challenges they’re facing or the things they’re interested in. Those are great insights you can use to grow your business.

The speaker at my networking session said this: Seek first to understand and then to be understood. Most people have it twisted the other way around. If your primary goal is to sell, sell, sell – then you will leave every networking event without a single sale.

Network with the right people.

How many of us have ever been cornered at a networking event by the wrong person? If you’re too polite to get away, then you could spend the whole event talking to just one person and miss out on meeting the right people.

So how do you escape someone who has you cornered? Deb had some great tips for this one. She suggested politely telling the person that you need to grab a drink or use the restroom. Or simply come out and say that you want to meet so-and-so and could they please excuse you. Sometimes you have to be direct in order to get what you want. You don’t owe that person anything (besides respect). Don’t let someone dominate your time and keep you from the people who can actually help grow your business.

Skip the food platter.

How much time do you spend eating at a networking event? The answer: too much. I know, I know, networking events are only as good as the food. Answer this: is indulging in some baked goods and coffee going to grow your business? If the answer is no (spoiler alert: it is), then skip it altogether. Spend the time you would have used eating on making 2-3 new connections.

Most networking events have a time limit. Some events only allow you to network at the beginning and end. Realistically you’re looking at an hour (if that) of total networking time. If you spend 7-10 minutes talking to each person, then you’ve got enough time to meet with 6 or 7 people. Use your time wisely.

Go in with an agenda.

Having an agenda is another way to maximize your networking time at event. Set expectations beforehand. What do you want to get out of this event? Who will be there? What can you offer those people that will help them take a step forward in their business?

Asking yourself these questions in advance will ensure that you steer all conversations in a productive direction. It will also help you effectively measure the success of the event and whether it was worthwhile for your business. Not all networking events are right for your business, so the more you can measure, the more you can decide how to prioritize your time down the road.

Offer a strong handshake and a confident smile.

This is a tough one because we can’t necessarily shake hands with ourselves or see our smile in action. Wait a second. You own a mirror at home, right? Use it! Practice your smile in front of the mirror. Shake your spouse’s hand. Practice, practice, practice. A handshake and smile are your first impressions and you want them to be good. You want people to remember you after an event. Trust me – people remember a weak handshake.

Deliver your elevator pitch with confidence.

One of Deb’s key points was making sure you know the answer to the inevitable question: what do you do? You may think you’re prepared to answer, but most business owners pause or hesitate when responding to this question. That split second of hesitation can put a dent in your credibility. You should be able to respond to that question immediately and with confidence.

The best way to do this is to practice (you knew I was going to say that). Where should you practice? Yes, you guessed it, in front of the mirror. It’s important to see how you look when you’re giving your elevator pitch. Your words may say one thing but your body language may say something completely different. Make sure your posture and smile exude confidence. That’s how people will remember you later – especially when they’re ready to make a purchasing decision.

Make sure you have a list of action items.

Action items? No one told me I was going to have more work to do after this networking event!

I get it. We all have busy lives and full plates. Remember what I said about being helpful to those you network with? That means you may have extra work to do.

Deb said something during her talk that really resonated with me. She said that if you’re networking correctly, you’ll come away from every event or meeting with 4-5 to-do’s on your list. These may include making an email introduction, setting up a coffee meeting or sending someone ideas for how they can grow their business.

Don’t be intimidated by the extra work. If you’ve networked with the right people, then it will come back to you in the form of new sales and customers.

Book a second meeting. Always.

Have you ever met the perfect contact at an event and then left without scheduling a follow-up meeting? Chances are you probably said, Let me check my calendar and send you some dates that work.

Guess what? That follow-up meeting will probably never happen. Why? Because life happens. Unexpected things will come up and derail you from your original goal, which is to get time with that person one-on-one. Deb encouraged everyone at the session to schedule the one-on-one meeting right there at the event, where momentum is at its highest.

Whip out your cell phone and get a date on the calendar while you’re talking to the person. That way you don’t have to worry about it later. One less thing off your plate!

Look within your existing network for connections.

Maybe you’re not a member of a local chamber or association. Or maybe you are and there aren’t any networking events coming up that appeal to you. That shouldn’t stop you from networking.  Even you’re not attending an event or conference, you can still find valuable connections.

Where? Within your existing network.

Even if your network is small (and it probably isn’t, you just may not realize how many people you actually know), you can still find 5-10 people who can introduce you to the right people. Reach out and ask those people to help you. Tell them what you’re looking for. Tell them about your ideal client or customer. People love being asked for their help. It makes them feel important.

So ask away – just remember to return the favor later!

I hope you found this information helpful. Some of it may seem self-explanatory, but as business owners we tend to get too far into the weeds to remember the basic details. Consider this post a return to the basics and fundamentals of meeting new people.

Remember, networking is not an overnight boom for your business. However, if you remain consistent and make it a point to meet 5-10 new people at every event, you’ll start to see traction for your business.

Start with relationships and the rest will follow.

Here are some other helpful networking tips and etiquette Deb shared:

·      Carry a set of blank index cards. That way if the person you’re talking to has forgotten his or her business card, you can write down their information on the index card.

·      Line up business cards in the order of the people you meet. This is helpful for after the event when you’re trying to match names with faces.

·      When meeting someone new, don’t ask what they do. It’s a boring question and one people get asked all the time. Stand out from the crowd by commenting on their appearance or something you share in common (this is where your LinkedIn stalking comes in handy). Or you could break the ice with a question about the event or fun fact about yourself.

·      If two people are standing close together face-to-face, do not interrupt them. If they are talking, but are standing with their bodies facing away from one another, then feel free to approach.

 

 

How Social Media and Email Marketing Helped My Client Make an Extra $3.5K

How social media and email marketing helped my client make an extra 3.5K

I had a new client come on board last March with a very specific goal: increase attendance for a big conference in May. She had reached nearly half of her attendance goal, but needed an extra push to get to the finish line.

Together we created a marketing strategy that focused on email marketing and social media. This strategy resulted in a huge uptick in event registrations that continued right up to the conference. More importantly, my client surpassed her income goal by $3,500!

With her permission, I am sharing our strategy and what helped us reach (and in some cases pass) our goals. Many small business owners are skeptical about the impact of marketing on their business goals – especially social media marketing. I hope this post will help you see the value social media and email marketing can bring to your business.

The Strategy

Our goal was straightforward: sell 220 tickets to the conference in two months.

We planned to accomplish this goal in a variety of ways:

·      Distribute emails to our master list leading up to the event.

·      Create engaging, interactive social media content (driven by compelling copy and visuals)

·      Offer discounts to Facebook followers

·      Employ targeted Facebook advertising

·      Engage previous and current attendees in helping us spread the word

·      Utilize live video to generate excitement and answer questions

My client also relied on sponsors to help promote the event. Most of the sponsors were already signed on before I began working with her, but it’s worth mentioning that sponsors and event speakers are your best ambassadors for sharing news about your event.

Putting the Strategy into Action

Social Media Marketing

Two months out from the event, we began posting our custom social media content. Most of our content was visual and included photos of the speakers, videos from previous events and graphics with quotes and testimonials. Facebook was the primary channel for advertising the event and it’s no secret that video and photos perform particularly well on that platform.

However, even with the best visuals and copy, people still need an added incentive to register for an event. So we created a special registration code just for our followers on Facebook. We promoted the code in almost every post about the event. It wasn’t a huge discount, but it was enough to entice many people to register. We also set an expiration date for the code so people had to act quickly to grab it. That significantly increased registrations.

Additionally, we were very purposeful in our Facebook advertising. We only boosted certain posts to a very targeted audience. Our audience was entirely local, so we knew everyone who saw our ads was a potential attendee.

Lastly, we decided to utilize Facebook live video to promote the event. My client went live for a few minutes one evening to talk about the conference and why people should attend. She also answered some questions we knew were on the top of attendees’ minds. We included a replay of the live video in one of the emails about the event and it was a huge hit! In fact, a prospective attendee responded to one of our emails with a question about the conference. She received an automated reply saying we would get back to her as soon as possible with a link to the Facebook live replay. My client saw her email an hour later and discovered that the woman had already registered for the event after watching the replay. All her questions were answered and the video was compelling enough that she decided to purchase a ticket. A huge win!

Email Marketing

My client set out a total of 32 emails about the conference. We made sure to have a set schedule so we weren’t pushing out too many emails in a week (after all, no one likes spam!). Each email had a very specific call-to-action. One email gave a rundown of the conference specifics, another talked about why people should attend and another was sent out a few days before with a last-minute call for registrations. Each email was short and succinct with a compelling subject line (e.g. attending this conference is the best thing you can do for your business).

Our campaign was a huge success. In fact, nine people registered in one day after receiving the “why attend” email!

Additionally, we knew it was important to get people who had already registered involved in helping sell tickets. So we sent out an email specifically to that group asking them to share the information with their friends and via Facebook. We came up with a fun subject line (can you do me a favor and save your friend $5?) and were able to bring in more registrations through that audience as well.

Lastly, we asked previous attendees to provide testimonials about their experience at last year’s conference. We didn’t get many responses (likely because we didn’t include an incentive), but it was a good first try and with some tweaking I think we can start to engage that audience in a bigger way in the future.

The Outcome

When we began our work together, my client and I set a goal of selling 220 tickets in two months. I’m proud to say that we hit that goal and then some! Since beginning our work together, we sold a total of 257 tickets. Altogether my client sold 765 tickets and exceeded her original goal of 750. 

We also saw a significant increase in followers and engagement on the event Facebook page. In just one month, we reached more than 20,000 people (a 132% increase) and engaged nearly 1,500 people (a 161% increase).

Oh and did I mention we also saw a 220% increase in Facebook followers?

At the end of the day, it wasn’t just our marketing strategy that led to the success of the event. My client and I worked as a team. We were partners. We communicated regularly and my client was great about giving me updates on attendee numbers. That way, I knew what was working and where we needed to devote more of our marketing efforts. I also developed a (healthy?) addiction to tracking the latest registration numbers…sometimes on an hourly basis!

As you can see, the power of social media and email marketing is real. Whether you’re promoting an event, a product or a new service, the power lies in cultivating relationships and offering value. Value isn’t just discounts or deals – it can be a resource guide answering commonly asked questions from your audience or a blog post sharing tips or a behind-the-scenes look at your business.

The key is to know your audience and what they desire. Then give it to them. It’s really that simple.

What marketing tactics have been successful in growing your business? Any key takeaways to share?

Interested in channeling the power of social media and email marketing for your business? Send me an email: michelle@vroomcommunications.com!

 

 

16 Ways to Grow Your Business During the Slow Times

16 Ways to Grow Your Business During Slow Times

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my first year as a business owner, it’s that business ebbs and flows. One minute you’re swamped with work and the next, you’re wondering where the heck all your clients disappeared to. There’s usually no happy medium – you’re either really busy or you’re not.

The slow periods can be scary. It’s easy to fall into a cycle of anxiety and worry. What if business never picks up? What if you never get another client? These are the lies we tell ourselves during the slow times.

Here’s the thing: slow periods in business don’t have to be scary. Yes, it can be nerve wracking wondering when the next paycheck will make its way to your bank account. The good news? There are many things you can do during the slow time to grow your business. That way, when the busy times reappear (and they will), you’re ready to tackle them head-on.

Next time business is slow, take your business to the next level by trying one (or all!) of these things:

Give your website a facelift.

If we’re honest, most of us would admit that our website needs improvement. I’ve yet to meet anyone who is 100% happy with their site and would make no changes. There are always little (or big) tweaks that need to be made. And when business is slow, it’s the perfect time to turn your attention to your site – which is your digital hub.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is always top of my to-do list. I want to make sure my website is rising to the top of Google search. For you, maybe it’s refreshing the copy or design on one of your pages. Maybe you want to update your services page or add a portfolio showcasing your work. Make a list of priorities and start tackling that list when things are quiet. Your website is one of the first things potential clients/customers see, so put some love into it and the return on investment will be huge.

Start a blog.

Blogging is one of the best ways to garner credibility and trust in your field. If you haven’t already, now is the time to start a blog. If you already have a blog, chances are you may find it difficult to post regularly. During this slow period, write several posts that cover topics you know your target audience is interested in. Craft 5-10 posts so that when things pick up, you’re still pushing out a steady stream of content.

Make social media a priority.

Social media is often one of the first things to fall by the wayside when business gets busy. Now that things have slowed for the time being, dust off your social media plan (don’t have one? Talk with me about getting one set up for your business!).

If you’ve been posting irregularly on social media, use this time to create a content calendar. That way, you know what you’re posting and when. You can also develop posts and schedule them in advance so that you’re covered when business does pick up (make sure to leave some room for spontaneity).

Maybe you haven’t explored social media, but you recognize its importance to your business. First, create a social media plan. For example, which social media channels does your target audience use? What content do you want to post? If social media strategy is completely over your head or you don’t have time to devote to it, then hire someone to help. When done right, social media will allow you to build one-on-one relationships with potential clients/customers.

Get out of the office.

Yes, networking can be annoying and perhaps even intimidating. But getting out there and meeting people in your industry is still one of the best ways to gain access to new clients and projects. Pick one or two industry events you think are interesting and make it a point to attend. Talk with as many people as possible and share details about your business and what you offer. I have made incredible connections during networking events that have led to long-term clients. Trust me, it’s worth your time.

Explore public speaking opportunities.

You want to be recognized as an expert in your field, right? One of the best ways to reach that goal is to pursue opportunities to speak in front of your peers or potential clients. Yes, public speaking can be scary and may not be your cup of tea, but if you push yourself to become more visible, the possibilities are endless. Start with small events and work your way up. When people see your passion and charisma, they’ll be more likely to keep you top of mind for when they (or others) need to utilize your services.

Reconnect with old clients.

Is there a previous client you haven’t connected with in awhile? Shoot them an email to say hello. Let them know you’re looking for new clients and ask them to pass along any referrals. Even if you’re not working with a client anymore, you’ve still built a relationship. Most clients will be more than happy to keep you in mind for future work. All you have to do is ask. Remember, your clients are busy people so periodic check-ins are a great way to stay on their radar.

Get organized.

This tax season taught me the importance of being organized. I finally have a system in place for tracking income, expenses, etc. If you find that business is slow, clean out your desk, file folders, etc. Create new systems that will save you time and allow you to be more efficient. You’ll thank yourself later when you’re inundated with client work.

Partner up.

Chances are there are many experts with services complementary to yours. Reach out to those individuals and set up a coffee chat. Talk with them about what you offer and brainstorm ways you can work together. I’ve found networking with other consultants to be one of my largest sources of income.

Pitch yourself.

Does your local paper publish business news? Is there a blog you read that addresses topics you’re well versed in? Pitch yourself for those opportunities! For example, my local paper has a weekly Small Business Spotlight where they publish information about local business owners and links to websites.  I submitted information about my business and was published one day later. Because the online article included a direct link to my website, I saw a huge spike in traffic. In fact, I’m still seeing visits to my website as a result (even though the article was published several months ago).

Any article that you’re published in also offers an opportunity for inbound links – which are links back to your website. This is SEO gold and will help get your site at the top of Google search results.

*If pitching really isn’t your thing or you’re not sure where to start, consider investing some money into hiring a consultant to help you. Public relations is one of my core services and I’d be happy to give you more details.

Invest in your professional development.

When you run your own business, the learning never stops. Maybe there’s a course or webinar you’ve been meaning to take. Or perhaps there is an event or workshop that will give you valuable insights and skills you need to grow your business. Since you’re not under water with client work, you actually have the time to pursue these opportunities. Educate yourself on new skills or tactics that will make life easier and impress your clients at the same time.

Set up client management systems.

During a recent slow period I created a welcome packet for my clients. I got the idea from Leah Kalamakis’ “Stress Less & Impress” course (highly recommend it!) My welcome packet includes a brief note to my clients, my background and skills, core services, office hours, preferred method of communication and samples of my work. My clients enjoy receiving the packet and it kicks off our work together on the right foot.

Is there a system you can put in place to onboard new clients more easily? If you provide an incredible experience from start to finish, clients will be more likely to continue working with you and send referrals your way. 

Shout from the rooftops.

Do your friends and family know you own a business? If not, spread the word. I found some of my first clients through friends and family. Don’t neglect this important resource – send out an email letting them know you’re looking for new clients or post the news on your personal Facebook page. Immediately after I started my business, I posted the news on Facebook and ended up securing one of my largest clients. Clients can come from anywhere, so leave no opportunity untapped.

Get analytical.

How often are you measuring your efforts? Probably not as often as you should. Review the analytics for your website (Google Analytics is free and easy to set up), social media channels and email list. Measure your performance month-over-month and year-over-year. Look at what’s working and what’s not working. For example, are you focusing all your efforts on Twitter but Facebook is sending the most traffic to your website? Consider putting more emphasis on Facebook versus Twitter moving forward. Are your monthly emails falling on deaf ears? Switch up the content or try a new email format.

Clean up your email list.

Speaking of email marketing, most of the small business owners I encounter have email lists, but they’re a complete disaster. In many cases, the lists haven’t been updated for years. Given that email marketing is one of the top ways to close a sale or snag a new client, it’s well worth your time to clean up your list and get organized. Look at your stats and remove people who haven’t opened your emails for the past year. Yes, you’ll have a smaller list but it’s much better to have a list of 100 engaged people versus a list of 1,000 people who couldn’t care less about what you have to say.

Participate in online groups/discussion forums.

Want to be seen as an expert? Offer valuable advice free of charge. It’s that simple. Search for 1-2 discussion forums or groups that focus on your area of expertise. Frequent those groups and post helpful tips and advice without asking for anything in return. This may seem counter-intuitive, but people will start to become familiar with your name. When they see you’re offering such valuable insights for free, they’ll wonder what they could get if they actually paid for your services.

Not sure where to find these groups? LinkedIn and Facebook have tons of groups for every industry. Just do a quick search on your topic to see what appears. I’ve also had success with Quora – a discussion forum that covers a wide array of subject matter.

By the way, this doesn’t have to be time intensive. Set aside 30 minutes to an hour one day a week to search the forums and answer questions. If you show up consistently, people will begin to pay attention to what you have to say.

Volunteer your services.

Normally I don’t recommend offering services pro bono, but if things are really slow you may want to take on a project for free to build your portfolio. Perhaps there’s a non-profit organization you’re passionate about. Consider offering your services free of charge in exchange for publicity. This is a great way to expand your presence in the industry and build up a queue of referrals. Be sure to have a contract in place clear timelines so you’re clear about expectations.

Hopefully this list will change the way you view the slow periods in your business. Remember – slow periods are inevitable. It’s what you choose to do with them that really matters.

How have you handled slow periods in your business? Leave a comment below and share your tips!

 

 

How I Snagged an Associated Press Interview [and how you can get FREE publicity for your business]

I'm going to tell you exactly how I got an interview with the Associated Press...

I'm going to tell you exactly how I got an interview with the Associated Press...

In my more than ten years of public relations experience, I’ve pitched the Associated Press many times. I’ve never gotten a story placement – until now.

A few weeks ago, I pitched an Associated Press reporter who was writing a story about how small business owners use social media. Given that I’m a small business owner who specializes in social media, I decided to throw my hat in the ring. I sent a pitch to the reporter.

For transparency’s sake, here is a screenshot of the actual pitch I sent:

Associated Press pitch

When I didn’t hear back by the end of the day, I assumed the reporter had decided to pass.  No big deal. It happens. I moved on.

Lo and behold, I received the following response in my inbox 24 hours later:

Associated Press pitch

After sitting in shock for a few seconds, I immediately responded:

Associated Press pitch

Several emails later, we had confirmed a phone interview for the next day. One week later, the story ran with a quote from yours truly included.

So how can you land publicity for your business? Here are a few reasons why I was successful and how you can be too:

I identified the right opportunity.

 Thanks to a free service called Help a Reporter Out (HARO), I receive several emails in my inbox each day with queries from reporters. Because I know what reporters are working on, I can be confident that I’m pitching myself for the right opportunities. Since I had expertise in the topic that this particular reporter was writing about, it made sense to send a pitch.

The key to securing publicity for your business is to match the right story with the right reporter. So if you’re in the food and beverage industry, it doesn’t make sense to pitch an entertainment reporter. You need to do your research ahead of time to find which reporters are writing about topics in your industry.

I had a catchy subject line.

Reporters receive hundreds of pitches every day. To be successful, you have to stand out from the pack. The subject line is the most important part of your pitch. Why? Because that’s what reporter will see first in his or her in box. If you don’t capture attention immediately, the only thing your pitch will see is the inside of the digital trash bin.

What made my subject line stand out? I spoke directly to the audience the reporter reaches and offered a nugget of advice. Sure, I could have simply written a subject line that said: “An expert for your HARO query.” But what does that tell the reporter? Nothing. There’s no meat to it. By including a tidbit of information in my subject line, I piqued the reporter’s attention and made her want to open my email.

My pitch was brief and to the point.

When it comes to the body of your pitch, brevity is best. In this case, the reporter asked potential sources to answer two questions in their pitches. You’d be surprised at how many people try to impress reporters by including flowery, colorful language that doesn’t actually answer a question. In my case, I answered both her questions in a brief, succinct manner. I gave enough information, but not too much.

Remember: you don’t want to send reporters a novel. Give them enough to hook them and if they’re interested, they’ll follow up with questions or an interview request.

I responded quickly.

Once you send out your pitch, your job isn’t over. Time is of the essence here. If a reporter responds to your pitch, do not (I repeat, do NOT) let a day or more go by without a response. Reporters are on deadline and if you can respond to requests quickly, they’re more likely to use you as an expert. Because I responded quickly to the reporter’s interview request and offered a date/time and my contact information, I was able to snag the interview.

I gave a good interview.

The interview lasted about 20 minutes and during that time, I gave the reporter as much information as possible. I answered all her questions without rambling on and I spoke in sound bites (meaning I gave quotes that were exciting and interesting). I spoke slowly and stopped at the end of each response so she could catch up (most reporters are taking notes while they’re on the phone).

Interviews can be scary, especially if you’ve never participated in one before. But with the right preparation, you can nail any interview. Here’s one tip: take time beforehand to jot down 2-3 key messages you want to convey during the interview. This will give you structure and guidance when responding to the reporter’s questions.

I was available for questions afterward.

At the end of the interview, the reporter asked if she could contact me via email with any follow-up conversations. Of course, I said yes. When she emailed me a few days later to clarify a piece of information, I responded quickly. Again, your job isn’t over until the article runs. Reporters want to get their facts right, so be available for any questions after the interview.

I sent a thank-you note.

 Once the article ran, I sent a quick note to the reporter thanking her for including me. Why did I do this? It wasn’t to suck up to her. I truly appreciated the opportunity (I mean, it is the Associated Press). Reporters are people too – so treat them as such. If you focus on cultivating a relationship with a reporter, he or she will be much more likely to reach out to you in the future. This means being helpful and giving the reporter valuable information – even if it doesn’t directly benefit your business.

As you can see, public relations is very involved. There are many steps to getting an awesome media placement and if you skip one, you won’t get the results you’re looking for.  It takes time to generate publicity for your business, so if you don’t have the knowledge or resources to do it in-house, consider hiring someone to help.

One last thing: when you do snag that incredible media placement, share it with the world! Being featured in an article is great exposure for your business and positions you as an expert in your field. It’s marketing gold – so be sure to take advantage of it.

I’d love to hear from other business owners who have secured media coverage! What worked best for you? What tips would you offer other business owners?

Follow me on Facebook for more tips to get free publicity for your small business!

Behind-The-Scenes: My First Year in Business

Behind-The-Scenes: My First Year in Business

One year ago, I made a life changing decision.  A decision that took me way out of my comfort zone. A decision some might consider foolish.

I left my safe, “secure” 9-5 job to start my own business.

I agonized over the decision for months before making the leap. I crunched the numbers, I reviewed my client roster and I considered all my expenses. Once my husband and I decided we could afford for me to make this jump, I still hesitated. Why would I leave a steady paycheck behind in favor of inconsistent income? That was crazy, wasn’t it?

Then I considered my passion for marketing and public relations. I knew there were many small business owners out there who needed help promoting their business but didn’t have the budget to hire a big agency. I had something to offer those individuals. The thought of working with new people on new projects excited me.

Next I thought about my commute into the city everyday. I tallied the cost of parking, monthly train pass, city wage tax…and it started adding up. All the while I’d be leaving my son, who was born a few months prior, in the hands of someone else. There was the possibility I’d miss milestones in his life. I wasn’t comfortable with that.

I remember my husband telling me, “You’re never going to feel ready to start your own business. That’s why you just have to start.”

My mind was made up. It was time to leave. Next up? Telling my boss and colleagues. Gulp.

Thankfully, everyone was extremely gracious and understanding. Their support didn’t lessen my feelings of nervousness and self-doubt, but it certainly helped to know there were people out there who believed in me.

This first year of business has had many ups and downs. The life of an entrepreneur is never easy or simple. Owning a business means testing your limits and pushing yourself to the next level. Any growth is painful and I’ve certainly experienced some pain this year!

In honor of my one-year business anniversary, I decided to write a post about the 10 lessons I learned in my first year. Whether you’ve officially made the leap and started your own business or you’re still on the fence, I hope this post will encourage and inspire you.

Lesson #1: Walk before you run.

Let’s just say I’m not the most patient person in the world. I get anxious when things are left unfinished. I have a tendency to want immediate results. This first year of business has taught me to find peace in the waiting process. It takes time to build a business from the ground up. Part of the experience lies in taking things step by step. Progress means putting one foot in front of the other. Growth may not seem like it’s happening, but trust me – you’ll look back and realize how much you’ve accomplished.

In my first year of business I created a logo/brand, built a website, launched my social media platforms, started a blog, wrote five free resources, networked with other professionals, hired a virtual assistant and worked with 12 different clients. That’s a heck of a lot of progress in just one year!

 Lesson #2: Trust your gut.

As a business owner, one of the toughest adjustments has been making decisions on my own. Wishy-washy doesn’t work in business. You need to stand firm and be confident in your decisions – even if others around you aren’t. There were many circumstances where I wavered on one decision over another. Looking back, I think it hindered my progress at times.

The truth is, clients and customers expect you to have the answers. In fact, they’re paying you to have the answers. Yes, you may need to do some research or talk to others in the industry to make an informed decision. But once you have all the facts, create a path forward and stick to it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

 Lesson #3: Take your business seriously.

This sounds like a no brainer, but how many of us have ever felt like a fraud at some point? How many of us have questioned whether we truly have the skill set to succeed?

I let “imposter syndrome” creep in quite a few times this past year. I think most business owners face this. The key to moving forward? Focus on what you’ve done right. Think about a happy client or successful project. Remind yourself of your successes. Don’t let self-doubt infiltrate your business.

Taking your business seriously also means being selective about which clients you choose to work with. There were times where I took on a client or project that I knew wasn’t the best fit for my business. I chased the money and in turn, I suffered from stress and projects didn’t move forward as quickly as I would have liked.

In other cases, I allowed clients to reschedule calls last minute, add on projects that weren’t in the original scope or delay payment. Now I’ve learned to stand firm and make sure you have an ironclad contract in place. Outline the scope of work very clearly and include a deadline for payment (and a late fee if the deadline has already passed).

Your business is your livelihood. Treat it as such. If you have clients who don’t take you seriously or respect your time, then it’s time to reevaluate whether you should be working with them.

 Lesson #4: Don’t compare yourself to others.

This is a tricky one. It’s always good to have a pulse on what your competitors are doing (or not doing). In fact, I always advise my clients to research their competitors before creating a product or promoting a service.

However, this can be taken to an extreme. For example, I spent the first few months or so following other business owners in my field and obsessively reading and digesting everything they put out there. And you know what happened? My confidence took a huge hit. I started wondering why they were successful and I wasn’t. I started questioning my own business and my own progress. Soon it felt like every other small business owner was succeeding when I was failing.

Of course I see that wasn’t true. Every business owner has his or her own journey. What works for one person may not work for another. I had to focus on my own journey and make decisions based on my business and my clients – not on another entrepreneur.

It’s easy to lose sight of our goals when we focus on someone else’s. Keep your eyes on the road in front of you and take pride in what you accomplish along the way.

 Lesson #5: Remember the “why.”

I wish I could say every day of owning my business has been sunshine and rainbows. Not the case. There have been many dark days where I’ve questioned the decision I’ve made. Where I’ve wondered if I’m cut out to be a business owner.

How did I handle those days? I remembered the “why.” I reminded myself of the reasons why I started my own business. I looked back at previous emails from clients who have been happy with my work. On some days, I disconnected entirely and focused on my family.

It’s easy to get burnt out when you’re a business owner. After all, we’re responsible for every detail of our business. It’s not a 9-5 job we can clock in and out of. It’s always there waiting for us.

Make sure you take time for yourself. Time to recharge. Stepping away can boost your creativity and lead to new ideas you never would have imagined before.

Lesson #6: Failure is a good thing.

Wouldn’t it be nice if every single project went exactly as planned? Absolutely. But as we all know, that’s usually not the case. While some projects soar, others crash and burn.

I’ve never been okay with failure. As a child, if I got anything less than a B on a test or report card, I beat myself up for weeks. I set high standards for myself. That’s not a bad thing. However, there are high standards and then there are impossible standards. Impossible standards will only bring you frustration, stress and doubt.

I’ve learned that failure teaches you just as much as success does (if not more). It’s through failure that I’ve come up with some of my best ideas. It’s through failure that I’ve found new, more efficient ways of doing things.

Don’t view failure as the enemy. Failure is only a bad thing if you fail to learn anything from it (see what I did there?).

Lesson #7: You never know who’s watching.

Ask any business owner the number one thing on his or her mind and it’s almost always how to get more clients or sell more products.

I’m no different. I’m constantly thinking of ways to grow my business and secure new clients. I never know where the next client will come from and that pushes me to come up with new ways to market myself.

Know what I’ve learned?

The next client can come from anywhere. I’ve found clients through referrals, networking events, social media, discussion forums and my website. I’ve learned that people are always watching – even if you don’t realize it.

That’s why it’s important all of your channels look professional and tell the same story. Customers and clients should have the same experience on your website as your Facebook page. Stick to your brand, offer value without selling and clients/sales will follow. It’s really that simple.

Lesson #8: Invest in self-promotion.

I may be a little biased given I help small business owners market their products and services, but self-promotion is a critical part of business growth. You can create a website, but if no one knows you exist, then your efforts will have been for nothing.

Allot time each month to promote yourself and your business. If promotion isn’t your thing or you’re not sure where to start, then hire a marketing professional to help (pssst, I can help!). You have to invest time and resources into promoting your business if you expect to move forward.

Lesson #9: You have to spend money to make money.

In the early days of my business, I was fearful of spending money. I quickly learned that in order to be successful and to position myself as a true professional, I had to spend some money.

So I set a budget. Then I prioritized which things I truly needed in the first year of business versus the second or third. It was hard to part with my money, especially when I wasn’t sure where my next client was coming from. But I can honestly say that the investment was worth it. It made me feel like the real deal. I took myself seriously and as a result, so did prospective and current clients.

Here are some of the things I invested in during my first year of business:

-       My website (Squarespace is quite affordable, in case you’re looking)

-       Logo and other brand graphics

-       A registered LLC (a must-have if you own a business)

-       Accountant (those quarterly taxes aren’t going to take care of themselves)

-       Invoice and bookkeeping system

-       Canva – an amazing piece of software that lets you create design worthy graphics for your blog, social media, marketing collateral, etc.

-       A social media management platform (since that’s one of the core services I offer my clients, it made sense to spend some money here)

-       Professional development resources/trainings/webinars (I had to be careful here, as there are so many resources out there. It’s easy to blow all your money!)

I also made sure I set up a business banking account and debit card. That way, I could keep all business income and expenses separate from my personal checking account right from the beginning.

Lesson #10: Lean on your support system.

Were it not for my family and friends, I’m not sure I would still be running my business today. I was fortunate to have tons of support when I launched my business. That support carried me through the tough days and tough clients. Because everyone believed in me, I believed in myself.

Even if you don’t have a ton of support, you can still run a successful business. Your support system can exist anywhere – family, friends, church, a professional networking organization, previous colleagues, etc. The important thing is to find people who will rally behind you and bring positivity to your life.

On the other hand, there may be people in your life who don’t support your business efforts and who bring more negativity than positivity. If that’s the case, keep your distance (as much as possible). This is your dream and you have every right to pursue it without reservations.

I want to hear all about your journey! How did you start your business? What have you learned along the way? Don’t be shy - we can all benefit from one another’s experiences!