Take the Overwhelm Out of Marketing — Write it Down

I have done several 90-minute brain picking sessions with small business owners in the last few weeks. They all come to the session with a mind overflowing with ideas. If I’m meeting them in public for the first time, I can easily spot who I’m there to see by the slightly wild look in there eyes. This is, after all, the look of an entrepreneur.

What usually transpires in the first 20 minutes of our session is this: the small business owner talks about why they started their business, the mistakes they think they’ve made, and what they’ve done to market their business. Next comes a long list of what they’d like to do in the future. This often resembles a verbal dam being released. Finally! Someone to talk to about this!

Have I mentioned that I love these sessions? I love the look they give me at the end of their “brain dump.” Most often they’re a little sheepish, a lot overwhelmed, and rarely know what to do with all the stuff living in their brains.

When I started offering these sessions, I really saw them as an opportunity for people to pick my brain and get all those tidbits and tricks that make life easier but take a lot of time and effort to accumulate. What they have evolved into is an informal marketing calendar writing session.

I’m finding that once we’ve sorted through the ideas and picked a few priorities, the next step of pulling out a calendar and choosing when to work on activities and actually launch projects is crucial. You might think that a business owner would automatically do this upon returning to the office. Well, what actually greets them at the office door — calls to return, a few fires to extinguish, client projects to complete — often pulls them far a field of the marketing.

Writing Down the Plan is Important

I’m not talking about writing a thesis. I’m not even suggesting you include graphs and diagrams. I’m merely saying that doing the simple act of opening your calendar, writing down your launch date, and working backwards to find the milestone dates that will make the launch possible is important. Key, really, to getting it done.

The Overwhelm Quickly Goes Away

Best of all, once we’ve picked activities and dates, the business owner’s face loses the look of complete overwhelm. At that moment, accomplishing their marketing activities is very possible and success is achievable.

How to Do It Yourself

Feeling a little crazy right now? Try this exercise.

  1. Tell Yourself Your History: No one is listening. Go ahead and tell yourself why you started the business, what your initial vision was, and how you’d planned to get there. When you get to something that twigs a “to do” or reminds you of a plan you let go of or haven’t had a chance to explore, jot down a note.
  2. Talk About How You’ve Marketed Your Business: Again, run through the activities you’ve tried in the past. If something clearly worked, jot it down. If something failed horribly, ignore it. If something wasn’t given enough time or energy (or any), make a note.
  3. Brain Dump Future Ideas: This is where the crazy will start to leave your face. Make a list of everything you plan to do in your business but haven’t done — process changes, marketing activities, customer relations, employees, everything.
  4. Choose Three Things: From your list and the jots you’ve made during your stories, choose three things that you can work on immediately. Do not choose items that will take significant research or planning. Pick three items that will make a difference to your business. Make sure you know how to measure this difference (very important.)
  5. Schedule The Items: Pull out your calendar. Choose completion dates and then work backwards to identify milestone dates. What are milestone dates? These are when you will have tasks done when working towards the completion date. For example, maybe you’ve decided to post on Facebook three times per week. A milestone could be to sign up for Facebook (if you’re not already on there), another could be liking some pages that are complimentary to yours, and, finally, writing a list of what you could post about1.

Still feeling stuck? Have a colleague or friend review your list. Often that extra set of eyes — especially when they aren’t involved in your business — can make all the difference and see things you’re too used to seeing to recognize.

1This is often the biggest obstacle to consistent social media activity. By writing a list beforehand, you can always pull something off it should you be stuck for your next post idea.

Marketing Calendars Revisited

In honour of September and all things new, fresh, and well-planned, I’m linking to my post on marketing calendars, “Marketing Calendars: the Friendlier, More Gentle Cousin of the Marketing Plan.”

Sometimes we all just need a reminder of a tried and true oldie:

Marketing Calendars: the Friendlier, More Gentle Cousin of the Marketing Plan

Have you ever been told, “Your business needs a marketing plan?” Did you politely smile and slowly back out of the room? I’ve done the same thing (and I’m a marketer).

They’re right, of course, in that everyone needs a plan, a goal, a well-thought out way of getting to their destination. I do, however, cringe slightly at the thought of all business people slogging over a 20 plus page document, only to complete it and file it away for review in 12 months. How helpful is that?

It’s not.

A marketing calendar, however, is a working document — something that lives on your Google Calendar or on your cork board. It lives. It works. It does the heavy lifting. The marketing calendar is where you plan what activities you’re taking on, when they need to go out, how they’re getting done, who’s doing them, and where they’re being sent. See? They’re the action genre of the marketing world.

Anything this helpful must take forever to plan and write, right? Nope. That’s the beauty. Read the Full Article

So You Know Your Target. Now What?

I  received a very frustrated call from someone a few weeks ago who had spent time and money defining her target customer but was now realizing that it wasn’t enough. She seemed to have a lot of data but no way of converting it to sales. I completely understand her frustration.

It is true that we need to spend some time looking at who our targets are. But that is just the first step. That information needs to lead us somewhere or it’s useless.

For instance, say you’re determined to find the perfect wine. You spend weeks driving to wineries for tastings, you read all the wine experts’ opinions you can get your hands on, you buy several random bottles in a quest to find the hidden gem. In the end, you settle on the best bottle. You don’t buy the bottle or ever drink that wine again; you’re content just knowing the answer. Has this information helped at all? Not really. You haven’t put it into play. It’s just information sitting around gathering dust.

That’s exactly what a defined target customer is without a plan. Information gathering dust. Sigh.

Dusting Off the Target

Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to lay out 3 things you can do today to get this information back into play. Once you start, this process will become easier and easier.

  1. Decide Where Your Target Lives: Do they go to network meetings? Do they join clubs? Do they attend sporting events? Make a list of at least 10 places. This step is often overlooked but is truly key to deciding where to spend your marketing money and time.
  2. Decide How You’ll Talk to Them There: Choose three places from step one and list two short-term ways and two long-term ways you could reach your customer in that place. Don’t worry about what’s possible. Don’t filter right now.
  3. Make Plans to Talk to Your Target: This is the filter phase. Does your target attend a particular type of networking event? Research those and sign up for one today. Do they go to watch local sports? Read the paper? Spend a lot of time online? Set aside 30 minutes to make a few calls/do some searching to find how much attendance/sponsorship/advertising might cost. You might be surprised at how do-able some marketing activities are. If they turn out to be crazy expensive, look for cost-effective ways to get the same result.

I would be remiss to not mention that whatever you decide to do, take a moment to define how you will know the activity has been a success and how you will measure that. Number of business cards? How many click-throughs? How many calls from the ad? It’s important to know beforehand so you can collect the right data as the activity is in full swing.

Please let me know how it goes! Twitter | Facebook | Comments (below)

Social Media Editorial Calendars

aka How to Stay Consistent with Social Media

The big trick with social media is staying consistent. It makes sense — your strongest relationships in life are generally with those you make time for, right? Social media is no different. Having these virtual conversations and building these relationships takes time and effort — consistent time and effort.

One of the ways to do this is by paring down the number of social media activities you engage in. Unless you have an editorial staff of 50, you cannot possibly regularly participate in all of the social media vehicles available. Can not. Please don’t try.

What you can do is choose the ones you know (or are pretty sure) will work for your business, your personality, and your time limits and participate in them regularly. Have I mentioned that consistency is important yet? Actually, not important. Key.

One way to ease the burden of regular participation — especially when you have a zillion things going on — is to write an Editorial Calendar. That sounds like a barrel of laughs, doesn’t it? Don’t worry! It’s not difficult and it can be fun!

  1. Write a list: Simply divide your paper (or spreadsheet) into three columns: week, activity, and topic.
  2. Now fill in the blanks: For instance, week one (March 1-7), might involve a newsletter, a few Tweets, and a blog entry.
  3. Write in the topics: Beside each activity (newsletter, Twitter, blog) write the topic you want to cover: the newest fashions, a book review, or anything else that pertains to your industry.
  4. Follow the calendar: No excuses. If it’s scheduled, do it. I know I sound like a tyrant, but — did I mention? — consistency is key. Add the dates and topics into your marketing calendar for quick reference, if you haven’t already.

You may be thinking, “But doesn’t this kill the spontaneity of social media?” I get your point. I thought that too and then I realized that I hadn’t added anything to my blog in three months. There’s a fine line between a commitment to spontaneity and abandonment. Don’t abandon your social media activities. The Editorial Calendar will get you through your busy times and — when you have time for spontaneity — feel free to add a not-planned blog post or LinkedIn update! After all, that’s what it’s there for.

Marketing Calendars: the Friendlier, More Gentle Cousin of the Marketing Plan

Have you ever been told, “Your business needs a marketing plan?” Did you politely smile and slowly back out of the room? I’ve done the same thing (and I’m a marketer).

They’re right, of course, in that everyone needs a plan, a goal, a well-thought out way of getting to their destination. I do, however, cringe slightly at the thought of all business people slogging over a 20 plus page document, only to complete it and file it away for review in 12 months. How helpful is that?

It’s not.

A marketing calendar, however, is a working document — something that lives on your Google Calendar or on your cork board. It lives. It works. It does the heavy lifting. The marketing calendar is where you plan what activities you’re taking on, when they need to go out, how they’re getting done, who’s doing them, and where they’re being sent. See? They’re the action genre of the marketing world.

Anything this helpful must take forever to plan and write, right? Nope. That’s the beauty.

This is my recommendation for pulling together a basic, easy-to-follow, effective marketing calendar:

  1. Brainstorm: Take an hour to think about what marketing activities have worked in the past, what you love to do, what activities you really dislike (e.g. maybe you’re not a good writer and so drafting that newsletter each month feels like climbing Mt. Everest), how much of a time and money budget you can dedicate to marketing, who your competitors are and who your target audience is. Freaked out? Only give yourself 5-10 minutes for each topic and go at it full speed ahead…there are no right or wrong answers
  2. Organize the pieces: Take a look at the “what works” and the “what you love” lists and see if there are any cross-overs. Start there. Choose two or three activities that you can do consistently. If you commit to a monthly newsletter, make sure you can actually deliver a monthly newsletter. Be sure to take into account how much time each activity will take to prepare
  3. Get out your calendars: Actually, physically schedule the activities you have chosen. Writing a monthly newsletter? Set a date to start writing, a date to lay it out in an e-newsletter program, and a delivery date. Do this for each activity for the next three months. Take a look at your commitments and make sure they are realistic. Frustration does not encourage consistency
  4. Review your marketing calendar: Remember how I said this was a living, working, moving document? This is where that comes in. After you’ve lived your activity schedule for a month, take a look at how that went. Do you wish you left more time for preparation? Do you think you can add another activity? Adjust your next few months accordingly

As you go through this cycle of doing your activities and reviewing your schedule, you will begin to see trends. Maybe some of your activities work better than others. Tweak the calendar as you go, remembering that activities take a bit of time to get results. Don’t revamp your activities every month, but it is okay to make improvements as you go along and learn more about your market, your targets, and what they’re looking for from your business.