Retreats for All! (Even if you’re a solo entrepreneur.)

I love what I do.

I love getting engrossed in a project and emerging several hours later with a plan or a really pretty, shiny piece of collateral.

What I did not count on when I jumped into the entrepreneurial life, however, was how completely involved running a company is. Even running a one-woman show with sub-consultants involves more savvy and energy than I had initially appreciated.

(Just the accounting alone is enough to send me round-the-bend batty.)

After almost 9 years of running along my Pebble Road, I have come up with a really good way of injecting imagination, creativity, and new perspective into my world.

Retreats.

Now, there are lots of ways to do retreats. You might be thinking about a corporate retreat right now, where there is lots of brainstorming and eating and planning. That’s not what I’m talking about, although there is nothing wrong with eating.

I’m talking about taking a break from your core business to focus on something that brings you a new perspective, ideas, or even just renewed energy. I have some ideas for you. Continue reading “Retreats for All! (Even if you’re a solo entrepreneur.)”

How to Know if that Invoice for Your Domain is Real or Fake

Every few months, I get an email from a client asking me if the emailed invoice they just received to renew their soon-to-expire domain name is legit or not. I, too, get these emails and even get the occasional snail mail bill from some domain company demanding money or my domain will expire.

How to Check When Your Domain Actually Expires

The quickest way to confirm if it’s authentic or not is to check if you are receiving the notification a month or two before your domain actually expires. How do you do that? Continue reading “How to Know if that Invoice for Your Domain is Real or Fake”

Ah! I Want to Write but I Can’t Stop Browsing Blogs. How to Make it Productive Time.

I’m sure this has happened to everyone (except, perhaps, the most focused of us). You sit down to write — you’re determined to knock out some great content. It’s been percolating in your brain for days now and it’s time. Time to get it out onto paper/blog post/Word document. Continue reading “Ah! I Want to Write but I Can’t Stop Browsing Blogs. How to Make it Productive Time.”

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.

Make This Your Bamboo Year

While reading Paulo Coelho’s novel, Aleph, recently I came across a new term I found to be inspirational — “A Bamboo Year.” As the story goes, the bamboo looks fairly insignificant in its first five years. It’s really just a small shoot that barely grows. However, what it’s really doing is establishing an impressive network of roots, finding the nutrients and water supply it will need when it enters its accelerated growth phase. This growth phase typically begins at the end of the fifth year.

Coelho coins this sixth year, the year when exponential growth begins, as the Bamboo Year.

Is this actually true? I don’t know, but I love the imagery.

Why did I find this so inspirational? Well, the lifecycle of the bamboo closely resembles that of a small business, doesn’t it? We spend the first few years building our networks, finding clients, and establishing business practices that we hope will develop into thriving enterprises. We struggle away, horrified how the bills seem to always outnumber the invoices. And then one day, it happens. The tipping point. Our Bamboo Year.

Make This Your Bamboo Year

There are a number of things to get in place in preparation for your Bamboo Year. Interestingly enough, these are also the activities that will speed you towards that sometimes elusive-feeling tipping point (isn’t that always the way, after all?)

  1. Review your processes: I know this is right up there with “get a root canal” but there’s almost nothing more frustrating than realizing that your invoicing system isn’t going to be sufficient to deal with your busy client list in the middle of serving your newly added clients! Take a look at your processes — invoicing, bookkeeping, online payments, webinar provider, mass email provider, web host, and project and people scheduling. Do you have the tools you’ll need for when the busy season hits?
  2. Beef up your help: Few of us can afford to hire team members when we’re starting out, but consider what would happen if you had a super busy month and no one waiting in the wings to help out? What if that month extended into forever? Would you be able to hire and train people properly? I’m betting not. While you’re growing, find a cost-effective way to ensure you have some back up. Be creative. Look into part time help from students, source out some great sub-contractors, or find a virtual assistant.
  3. Streamline your marketing and sales: While it definitely requires time and energy to hook customers, most of us are less efficient than we could be. Take some time to review how you get sales. Is there a better way? Consider writing a marketing calendar to keep your efforts consistent so your not stuck in a cycle of highs and lows. Make sure that everything you do is measurable and that you make the effort to follow up. Follow up can mean phone calls, an email, or even a postcard. The most effective follow ups find a way to keep your hard-earned client engaged and buying.
  4. Innovate: It’s so much easier to sell a new product or service to existing clients who already love you than it is to bring on new clients. Brainstorm 10 things you think will make your clients’ lives easier. Narrow the list to the one or two things you can provide with your usual level of high quality and service and develop it! Don’t waste the good will you’ve already painstakingly built with your customers.
  5. Network: Networking is not just about finding new customers. It’s also about meeting potential contractors or vendors, hearing about the newest “thing” on the street for your industry, and spending a little face time with those who can recommend you and your business to their networks. This is about building and maintaining relationships. When you get busy, you may just need these contacts to get the job done on time and on budget.

Pebble Road Marketing is 5-years old this year (I’m in shock.) I’ve had a great time working with my fantastic clients, watching my business grow and expand. Of course, there were frustrating moments…this is being an entrepreneur, after all. But I would do it again a thousand times and I’m so excited by what is waiting around the corner.

I hope we all make this our Bamboo Year. Whatever your current level of success, it’s time to sprout even higher!

 

Boosting Your Business in Summer

The quiet summer is the perfect time to give a little TLC to your business.We’ve all been busy since the New Year and things start to fall through the cracks.

No matter how well you’ve been managing to hide what’s in those cracks, these pesky tasks still sit in your brain and sap your focus and energy. Why not take care of them now while you have a moment or two?

  1. Clean up your social media: This is a great time to spend a few hours getting the social media back up to snuff. Not sure how? Here’s a post I wrote for tidying up social media for the New Year, but it applies equally well now.
  2. Review your marketing calendar: Spend some time reviewing what has been working to bring in leads and revenue over the last few months and what hasn’t. Then, write out the Fall’s marketing calendar, including more of the effective bits and reducing or throwing out the disappointing ones. I wrote a step-by-step post on how to write a marketing calendar a few years ago; take a look if you’re unsure where to begin.
  3. Get back in touch with business contacts: We all get busy and lose touch. Is there someone (or maybe a few someones) you’d like to get back in touch with? Pop over an email or give them a call. This is a great time of year to sit on a patio and catch up.

Want some more ideas for summer? This is, in fact, my third annual Summer & Business post. Here are the two previous posts:

Marketing Specific Traits Makes a Better Campaign

Nissan has recently released a new ad for their Altima Tire Pressure Warning System. It’s a funny, lighthearted look at one of their newest product traits.

It’s also an excellent example of why marketing specific traits just makes for a better, more memorable campaign. After all, what good is a campaign if no one remembers it long enough to act on it?

First of all, I want you to take a look at one of their more typical commercials:

This one’s pretty good. It tugs at your heartstrings. It even ends with a feel good. But will you remember it in 10 minutes? You probably already don’t remember the first part of it.

Now, take a look at a commercial that is advertising a very specific trait of its new car:

You may not remember which car it’s for, but you can walk into any Nissan dealership and say you want to see the car that honks when you fill the tires. They’ll know exactly what you’re looking for.

Most ads ask you to remember specifics of the product to be able to find it again, if it even moved you to act. This one is not only entertaining but you don’t need to remember a darn thing about the product to act on the campaign. Describe the ad to someone and you’ll quickly find the right product.

Next time you are in the position of advertising your products and services, choose a very specific trait that makes you different from the competition and build your campaign around that. It’s not important that the viewer know everything about your company from seeing your ad once. You just need to give them something with which to start their search.

Company Social Media Is Best if It’s Not All Business

Want to capture the spirit of social media for your company? Stop talking about your business.

I know it seems counter-intuitive to tell a business owner to stop promoting themselves and their products, but just hear me out.

Social media is — well — social. It’s about conversations and relationships. We’ve all heard this a million times and I know I’m preaching to the choir, but in practice this can be very difficult. We want to promote our products, we want to show how great our stuff is and why everyone should pull out their credit cards for it. In short? We want others to see how fantastic our stuff is and, in turn, make our business a successful one.

With this in mind, it seems unreal that we would take the precious time we have with our prospects and clients to talk about anything BUT our stuff. In reality, however, those people are attracted to our social media pages because of the personality behind the posts and the good information or amusing anecdotes provided.

Okay, so now what? Be yourself. Talk about what you and the staff are doing. Do you support a community group? Talk about it. Do you support Kiva? Talk about it. Do you go on buying trips or hole up for R&D sessions? Talk about them!

I recently posted this photo on my personal Facebook account thanks to a “like” by one of my friends (my personal account is connected to many of my client’s accounts so I use it to stay up to date with them.) I got lots of likes and even a few comments. It’s quirky, people are attracted to it, and it gives them a bit of insight into me and my personality. It had nothing to do with my business, but it served to nurture the connections that are so important to the success of my business.

I would encourage everyone to loosen up a bit with the posts. Don’t post anything inappropriate or counter-brand, of course, but let your connections in on what makes you you and what makes your business tick. Once you have their attention, pepper in some product information and you’ll have a happy, informed audience. Good luck!