Solopreneurs Taking Vacations & Keeping Control

Solopreneurs Taking Vacation & Keeping Control

Isn’t being your own boss glorious!?

You get to set your own schedule, you have nobody you have to report back to, and what you say pretty much goes!

So, with setting your own schedule, it seems that taking a vacation should be pretty simple, right??

Wrong!

Plan your trip and make it official.

To begin with, it seems to be a common quality found in many solopreneurs; they have a hard time relaxing and finding the right time to “stop work” for vacation time. “No work” often equates to no income, and that can be a hard thing to justify when you are out “playing.”

In 2014, a survey by OnDeck discovered that only 57% of small business owners were planning on taking a vacation that year; what’s even worse… just over a quarter of those (26%) were only going to take a few days! 😳

 

OnDeck.com

Small business owners agree. Your business is your baby, and getting away is hard!

Consider your time away from work, though, as an investment. It’s an investment in both your personal and business life. Studies have found that employees who take regular vacations tend to be happier and more productive at work in the long run.

“It’s typical for families to celebrate the month of August by shutting down the computer and skipping town. From a raw numbers perspective, this counts as lost work. But that’s a short-sighted view, psychologists now say. In fact, by serving as the least productive month for millions of workers, August unexpectedly serves as a productivity-booster.

Just as small breaks improve concentration, long breaks replenish job performance. Vacation deprivation increases mistakes and resentment at co-workers… ” (Thompson, 2012).

The proof is there. You need a vacation. 😉

Make it official by booking it, marking it on your calendars, and making plans with friends and family. Commit to your vacation!

Plan a budget.

As a small business owner, it’s important to stay on top of your finances, plan ahead, and know exactly what things are going to cost you ahead of time.

An excellent way for solopreneurs to plan ahead for a financially worry-free trip is to simply not take the trip until you are sure you have the necessary money set aside for it. To be sure you get your vacations, a really great budgeting idea is to put aside a certain percentage (at least 5%) of your weekly income until you reach the amount needed for the trip.

Prioritize tasks.

Lists relieve stress by getting everything out of your head and onto paper. Then, you can prioritize tasks and work through them less distracted.

Think of all of the most important tasks you have as a business owner and product or service provider. What are your responsibilities as a solopreneur? What are your responsibilities to your clients?

Make lists. Check them twice. Put all the most important or any time-sensitive tasks at the top of your list. As most of us know, getting EVERYTHING done on our to-do lists is an impossible feat. That’s why we have to prioritize. Get it all down on paper, order it accordingly, and get as much of that list done as possible before you leave for vacation. Knowing things are taken care of will help set your mind at ease so that you can enjoy your time off more fully.

Also, what is left on the list are the projects and tasks that you begin on the second you get back to work. Pick up where you left off.

Tell your clients ahead of time.

Send out an email or handwritten letter maybe four weeks in advance to let your clients know of your upcoming trip. Follow up with reminders as the date approaches.

There might be something out of the ordinary you need to plan for. If you have clients with strict deadlines, or clients you need to have weekly meetings with, it’s important to touch base with them and make the proper arrangements ahead of time. Tie up any loose ends and know exactly what it is that you need to do for these clients before you leave for vacation, or during your vacation. For example, exchange Skype usernames and set up a meeting time in advance.

If you do have one or two employees, great! Now is the time as a proud business owner to release some of your grip on the reins, and let your employees shine. Trust them to do the jobs you hired them for. Assign specified tasks to each worker so they know exactly what they are responsible for while you are away.

Remember to change your “out of office” email message and voicemail to let your clients know you are out of town. Tell them when you will be returning and how they can reach you in the meantime. Include an email and/or phone number that you will have access to during your trip. An alternative is to hire an affordable live answering service, such as ReceptionHQ, where a professional will answer you calls and either take a message or forward the call directly to you.

Do some work remotely (if you have to).

…but only if it’s necessary! You are supposed to be vacationing away from work!

Disconnecting can be hard. If you for some reason absolutely have to do some work on your vacation, or if you feel the need to check in with work to ease your mind, make sure you have the proper tools and apps to make working on your mobile devices convenient. Keep tabs on your business by checking in a couple times via phone or email (Staying connected is pretty easy these days 😉 ).

Don’t forget to take pictures on vacation for your social media accounts!

Hopefully, you will have planned ahead for your vacation enough that these “interruptions” can be minimal.

Set a communication policy for yourself ahead of time, so you’re not always thinking about it. Will you check in once a day, once a week, or not at all?

The time will come for vacation to end.

And you need to quickly return to your focused, entrepreneurial, driven mentality.

Don’t let it get the best of you.

If possible, refrain from working on your first day back. Instead, use this day to get organized, both mentally and physically, and to fight off jet lag! Again, lists are always helpful in brainstorming and prioritizing; figure out what needs to be done during this first week back to work. Pour it all out onto paper and get it out of your head so you can continue to relax. Then, enjoy your final moments of “vacation.” Tomorrow is a new day… that you are already well-prepared for. Your first day back to work will be a breeze…

With the proper preparation and organization, vacations can be possible for any small business owner.

Solopreneurs, fear no more.

Vacations are necessary… even for the boss! You have to take care of yourself if you want to care for your business; if you get burnt out, your business will burn out.

Plan ahead, start packing, and go take a vacation instead! 🙂

 

– Mandy

 

Small Business Owners Survey – OnDeck. (n.d.). Retrieved August 23, 2017, from https://www.ondeck.com/vacation-study/
Thompson, D. (2012, August 06). The Case for Vacation: Why Science Says Breaks Are Good for Productivity. Retrieved August 21, 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/08/the-case-for-vacation-why-science-says-breaks-are-good-for-productivity/260747/

Social Media Analytics & ROI

Social Media Analytics & ROI

Social Media ROI can be such a debatable topic; it’s nearly impossible to measure what exactly is coming back to you, based on an Instagram post or a Facebook tag, with 100% accuracy. It’s hard to tell if “that one IG post” increased your revenue or bottom line. Measuring the effectiveness of your social media marketing efforts is, in fact, really challenging! A recent study showed that:

41% of companies admitted to having “no idea” of whether or not their social media marketing efforts were successful (ConvinceAndConvert.com).

What is social media ROI?

Basically, it is the sum of what you are getting back, based on the money, time, and resources you are putting in to your social media. Generally, you measure your return in dollars.

You need to track what you are doing, what you are spending, and what results you are getting.

Why measure it

Measuring your ROI is crucial so that you can find which media channels are bringing in the most revenue, you can avoid wasting time and money, you can improve your marketing efforts, and you can see how changes in your strategy affect the overall return.

How to measure it

  • Step 1: Start by defining your social media goals.

    • They should be quantifiable and measurable… something you can assign a number to. (Examples: email list sign-ups, completed contact forms, downloads of your e-book, time spent on an important webpage, trials, purchases, etc.)
    • You can track metrics like followers or shares, but these shouldn’t be your main goals. It’s more meaningful to track the number of people who go from a casual browser, to a lead, to a paying customer, than to worry about “popularity.”
  • Step 2: Track and measure your goals.

    • Google Analytics seems to be the easiest way to track your goals. Within the dashboard, you can set specific goals to be tracked on your social media platforms. This is where you set the goal you chose earlier, such as email sign-ups or downloads of your e-book (For these, set up one landing page for sign-ups and/or one landing page for downloads, and within Google Analytics, choose the goal type of “destination page.”) For accurate measurements, be sure that the landing page you are tracking is created specifically for this campaign. It should have a special, unique URL and should not be discoverable on Google; this way, you can be sure that you are only tracking the conversions brought in from “that” specific effort. You will know that the only way the person landed on this landing page was by signing up for your email or downloading your e-book.
    • Here is an article that lists some other super helpful tools: Social Media Analytic Tools

 

 

 

  • Step 3: Track your expenses.

    • Include things like:
      • Ad costs – Ads cost money… Include the expense you put towards your boosted Facebook post, your promoted tweet, etc.
      • Labor (man-hours) – Time is money. Measure the amount of hours spent altogether on each specific campaign, per campaign, and multiply the hours by the hourly rate paid.
      • Content – Did you have a professional copywriter help you create a landing page? Did you outsource postings and status updates?
      • Tools – Do you use any tools, like Buffer, Grum, or Hootsuite? Social media management software can be extremely helpful (and reduce man-hours), but there is sometimes an added cost to having/using these. (Again, don’t forget to measure this on a per campaign basis. If you paid for a year’s subscription, and the campaign only lasted 2 months, include the cost of 2 months of that year-long subscription.)
  • Step 4: Calculate your ROI. Income minus costs, times 100, divided by costs.

(Income from Campaign – Costs from Camp.) x 100 / Costs from Camp.

= SOCIAL MEDIA ROI

Going deeper

If you were using multiple efforts to direct consumers to your landing page, and you want to break your numbers down further, look at each social media platform individually. Find your income and your costs for that one campaign on that one platform to calculate your total ROI for that one platform. (Use the same equation above.)

Analyze & adjust

Find the platform that is giving your company the highest ROI, and adjust your marketing efforts to focus more on the most effective platforms.

A negative ROI on a campaign or social network means that your strategy needs to be adjusted. Work to reduce your costs, or make your campaigns more effective.

If you’re more of a visual person, check out THIS INFOGRAPHIC created by ‘Quicksprout’. It will walk you through an excellent example of a fictional company setting, measuring, and analyzing their own social media efforts and ROI.

It’s not all in the numbers

Keep in mind that not everything can be tracked and measured. It’s important to also remember the indirect benefits you can receive through social media. For example, if a top influencer on Instagram shares one of your photos, your brand is instantly exposed to a whole new (huge) audience! You will likely gain some followers, and this may or may not result in sales. So when you look at your social media ROI, remember that it’s not all in the numbers and dollar signs. Everything you do on social media can affect your ROI.

It’s possible, and it’s worth it

While tracking and analyzing your social media ROI can be incredibly challenging, it’s worth taking the time and energy to do! It will pay off by showing you where you are struggling and where you can shift your marketing efforts and dollars to better benefit your business.

Go in with a planned strategic approach. Organization will make this task immensely more enjoyable (and accurate)! Over time, fine-tune your numbers; your expense estimates will become more accurate with experience and, as with anything, the process will get easier with practice. 🙂

 

– Mandy

Social Media Policies for Employees

Social Media Policies for Employees

What’s your company’s policy?

Do you know? Do your employees know?

As with any policy, in order to be effective, this needs to be a firm set of rules.

It needs to be an organized, well thought out list that is written down, shared with employees, updated over time, and posted around the workplace as a constant reminder.

Enforcing a social media policy is important in keeping your company (and brand) safe!

A firm policy will protect your brand, while empowering employees. A social media policy tells the employee what is accepted in the workplace, as well as what is expected from them. Laying out these guidelines will give the employee a sense of creative freedom; by having everything laid out, they feel confident in their work and know they are doing exactly what they are supposed to be.

Your company has likely developed a certain voice, a certain character. It has become a brand…

Keep your brand and message consistent.

This will ensure your brand’s voice, vision, and character come through loud and clear. A social media policy will make this easy! Use the policy to outline expectations of what your brand’s voice and tone should be. Images, as well as copy, should follow one unified voice. Keeping your brand consistent will help you draw in your ideal market and allow customers to really connect with you.

Do you have public-facing employees? Make sure they are well aware of the company’s policy and “voice” and that their public image fits with yours. Consider encouraging them to create a Twitter handle that includes a reference to your brand. For example, if you have employees interacting with the public on behalf of the company, they could create a Twitter handle such as: @”Co.Name,EmployeeName” (Ex: @AmazonTiffany). This makes it clear that Tiffany is an Amazon representative.

What to include in your Social Media Policy

Your policy should cover how your company uses social media, as well as how employees are expected to use their own accounts. Here are some ideas on what to include:

  • General guidelines for overall conduct. Use phrases such as “Act respectfully, amongst both customers and peers” or “Be the solution, not the problem.”
  • Stress the importance of confidentiality. What is your company’s policy on new product releases? What’s your policy for company news?
  • Employees should never reveal or discuss sensitive, private information – not about the company, other employees, or your customers.
  • Be very clear in describing the brand, the character, and the voice. Give examples of what kinds of messages, wording, and images to use, and explain how to talk about specific products within your portfolio.
  • Humor posts can be good, but stress to your employees that it has to be appropriate and relatable to your brand. (Ex: Is politics somewhere you want to go…?!)
  • It’s important that your employees know how to act, but they also have to know how to re-act. How should they handle negative content that they see on your company’s page? How should they handle any negative comments about your brand that they come across? What procedures should they follow?
  • Include etiquette guidelines that explain how employees should respond to complaints respectfully.
  • You might want to clarify which sites employees may/may not visit at work.
  • Do you want your employees to claim accountability on their own social media profiles? For example, should they write something like an “opinions are my own” disclaimer?
  • A lot of people’s personal profiles link to their employer, stating where they work. Do you think employees should “behave” a certain way on their own personal accounts? They are, after all, public representatives of your brand…

Assign roles.

To ensure a successful social media policy, assign employees to specific tasks that they will be held responsible for. Here are some basic roles that should be filled:

  • Training, education, and implementation of the policy to new and current employees
  • Branding guidelines (voice, character, images)
  • Social media post approval process
  • Online customer service guidelines and protocols (how to act and re-act to both good and bad comments)
  • Safety and security of the company/brand
  • Legal issues (always credit original sources if sharing or borrowing content)
  • Maintaining a logical, effective, up-to-date social media policy

Here are some examples of social media policies!

This is Adidas Group’s social media policy: Adidas Group

Here is one by AP (much more in depth than Adidas’): Associated Press

More: Reuters’Shift Communications

The following is more formal, as a governmental policy: NYC Department of Education

A healthcare industry example: Mayo Clinic

And last but not least, the following article is super helpful because it gives a list of big brands’ social media policies, then goes on to discuss where each one succeeds and/or fails.: Need Sample Social Media Policies? Here Are 7 to Inspire Yours

Social media policy templates, for you 🙂

Templates provide an AWESOME starting ground for your own company’s policy.

This one is short and sweet, and super clear: Template Sample

Here’s another: Workable.com Template

So, how would you define your company’s social media policy? Good, bad, old, non-existent? It’s time to get a solid, updated policy in place so that you and your team can start curating great content (AND SHARING IT SAFELY!), today. 😉

 

– Mandy

The Importance of Creating Video

As technology progresses year after year, consumers continue turn to it, even rely on it, for advice, news, networking opportunities, and so much more; and as the digital world is advancing, it is YOUR job to keep up with it.

Give the people what they want!

Consumers are out there using this technology, searching for answers to their questions and problems, and YOU need to be out there, too! You need to be there, providing solutions to their problems; and you need to be current with not only the information you provide them, but also in your marketing strategy and message delivery.

How do you connect with this technologically-savvy, digital-age audience? To keep up in today’s modern world, VIDEO needs to be a major component in your marketing strategy.

It was recently reported that, on average, 100 Million hours of Facebook videos are watched every single day! And Business Insider reports that YouTube earns approximately six times that amount, 650 Million hours! … every day! (mediakix.com)

Then, in a study from Facebook, The Persuasive Power… , researchers used eye-tracking to find that people gaze five times longer at videos in their newsfeed than they do at still, static content. (Facebook states: “We identified five factors related to the rise of online video viewing: smartphones, shorter attention spans, binge-watching, the importance of context, and the thrill of novelty.”)

According to Livestream.com, video dominates again. Apparently, 80% of a brand’s audience would rather watch live video from a brand rather than read their blog. Additionally, 82% of the audience prefers live video from a brand rather than social posts. The bottom line is: online audiences have definitely taken to video… 78% of online audiences are ALREADY watching video on Facebook Live.

Last but not least, YouTube reports that mobile video consumption rises 100% year over year. (livestream.com)

What that all boils down to is that, basically… You should to be making videos for your business! 

Use native videos rather than shared.

A recent study (quintly.com) proved that original videos (native videos) that are uploaded to Facebook get a 1,055% higher share rate than videos shared from links (like from YouTube or Vimeo, for example). Native videos also get a 186% higher interaction rate.

If you want to get serious with video content, the only way to do it is to BE ORIGINAL! Create and upload your own videos natively; or, do your own live videos!

With your own, original, entertaining content, your reach, engagement, and share rates will increase.

 

Is Live video better than pre-recorded?

They both have their places…

If you want a perfect, polished video, you will obviously want to plan it, prepare for it, pre-record it, edit it, the whole “shebang.” With live video, however, it’s generally much more quick and spontaneous! It’s an easy way to create quick, original content for your page; plus, it will boost reach and engagement.

A major perk of live broadcasting is that you are able to connect and interact with your audience in real time. Viewers can write in the comments section, and you can read and respond to them in your video. This is neat because viewers have the ability to sway the conversation into exactly what they want; you will know that you are providing the content that the audience wants!

You have lots of options for live broadcasting, including: Facebook Live, YouTube (need 10,000+ channel subscribers), Twitter Live (Periscope), Instagram Stories, and Snapchat Stories.

Facebook’s Newsroom recently reported that FB Live videos are watched three times longer than regular videos.

Have you considered going live!?

The successes of programs like Meerkat, Periscope, and Snapchat have proved that worldwide viewers thoroughly enjoy original and authentic, candid content.

 

What should you do when you go Live?

Here are some things you can do to entertain your audience (on Facebook Live):

  1. Share a helpful tip. All you have to do is open your Facebook page on your mobile device, go to make a normal post but instead click “Go Live.” Next, choose your front/rear camera preference, give your video a description (this can be edited later), and “Go Live.” Finally, go ahead and share a quick, helpful tip with your audience, and if questions come in live, respond!
  2. Let them behind the scenes. People love sneak peeks! Share a quick, candid video of what’s going on “behind the scenes” at YOUR business. You can also share videos of events – setting up for them, during them, or even when you are the one attending them.
  3. Host a live discussion, talk show, or mini-webinar. This video might be a little longer. If you want to do some of these videos, it’s a good idea to plan ahead so that you can give your audience a head’s up through email and you will have more people “in attendance.”

Remember, though, video doesn’t always have sound.

Keep in mind that videos don’t necessarily have to have sound. In fact, 85% of Facebook videos are viewed without sound! (mediakix.com)

This means you need to make your videos versatile. Design your videos for sound-off, just in case. The viewer should be able to get the main gist of the message regardless of whether or not they can hear it.

If words are necessary to get the point across, you can always use captions. The key is to make videos that are captivating and engaging, even if watched in silence.

Check out the app Animoto, which allows you to easily create professional quality videos using video clips and/or images. You can also add text overlay (This is GREAT because people tend to watch a lot of videos with the sound off).

Ripl is another cool tool that we personally like to use for our Instagram posts!

It’s okay to be camera shy!

If you or your team is not comfortable being in front of the camera, there are still PLENTY of things you can do to create videos without ever personally being on-camera. For instance, create a tutorial for your product (maybe showing just your hands, demonstrating the product), or get guest speakers to come on and do little mini-talks. Videos can also be easily created by making slideshows of images, using animated effects, and getting creative with apps.

Adobe Spark is a FANTASTIC free tool, for both desktop and iOS users, for creating videos and fun animations. If you’re new to the “video-game,” camera shy, think video-making will take too long, or think you need a lot of equipment, you need to try this app! Your smartphone and this app is all you need to create attractive, professional quality videos. It’s definitely a great place to start. 🙂

Here is an article that will walk you through filming and putting together the best, most eye-catching videos using just your phone and Adobe Spark: 16 Time-Saving Tips for Making Awesome Videos with Your iPhone

Just Make it good.

If you’re putting the time and energy into making videos, make them good, so that viewers want to continually come back and keep watching your videos. Put some thought into them, even if they’re candid, so that they are interesting and engaging.

90% of Facebook viewers think video quality is the most important aspect of Facebook Live videos. (livestream.com)

Repurpose.

Over time, your little video library will become a big video library. With all these videos in your “repertoire,” feel free to repurpose them! You have different audiences on different platforms, so share them everywhere! Don’t post the same video to ALL of your social channels on the same day, but save your videos and post them on your various channels over the coming weeks. Recycling your videos (that you put your precious time and energy into creating) will save you tons of time while allowing you to reach new audiences.

Even live videos can be saved for later, “non-live” use. For instance, on Facebook, after you “go live,” you have the option of downloading and saving your video. Then, you can post it to any platform you choose, or consider embedding it into your website or blog! Share the wealth 😉

Now, hit record.

It’s your turn!

Video can definitely seem a bit scary at first, especially LIVE video, but don’t let it intimidate you.

Just start recording! Everything gets easier with practice.

– Mandy

The Importance of Newsletters

e-newsletters

e-newsletters

The Importance of Newsletters

How do you stay connected to your fans? How do they stay informed and “in the loop”? Is there a particular method you use to reach out to them? If you need to send them a message, how do you do it? …Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, newsletters, snail mail?

If you’re relying strictly on social media to communicate with and build connections with your fans, that’s probably not enough…

You need a direct mode of communication to your fans. You need a way to send them messages that they will receive right in their inbox.

E-Newsletters.

E-newsletters are an essential piece of your marketing plan. It’s not safe to just assume you are connecting with your fans on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or through your blogs. There are too many reasons your posts on these pages might be overlooked or never even shown to your audience. For example, Facebook and Instagram use algorithms to decide which posts will appear in each user’s newsfeed; posts that are getting more “likes” and/or “reactions” will automatically receive a higher post ranking in the newsfeed, thus gaining a higher reach and exposure. Far too often, posts on social media get overlooked.

Newsletters, though, are a way to directly send a message to your audience.

Newsletters are great because people tend to feel an emotional connection to their daily/weekly/monthly subscriptions. If it’s a good newsletter, fans might even look forward to and anticipate getting it each term.

Fans have to first agree to receive your newsletter, either simply by sharing their email address with you, or by making the conscious effort to personally sign up for your e-newsletter through your website. So in that, you already know your mailing list contains an audience that is interested in you and your business. As long as you continually add value to the lives of your readers, they will continue to open and read your newsletters.

newsletters

How do you add value?

Think in terms of, “If I signed up for this newsletter, what would I want to see?” What information would I find interesting? What photos would I enjoy? Are there links I would like to be included, in case I want to read more about a topic? Is there a certain length and depth of detail that I would expect in a newsletter from this company?

Tips for creating a captivating e-newsletter:

  • Be creative.

    The Subject line of your email is the first thing the reader will see. Be creative! If your reader isn’t already sold on your e-newsletter, the Subject line could be the one factor that determines whether or not the reader chooses to even open your newsletter. (Tip: Emoji’s are sometimes a good way to make your Subject line stand out among the other emails in a reader’s inbox.)

  • Use a professional email service.

    MailChimp and Constant Contact are two examples of email marketing tools. They are especially helpful for newsletters because they allow you to create and save a general template for your newsletter; then, with each publication, you simply need to update the details within the letter. Speaking of “professional”… Don’t forget to proof-read for spelling or grammatical errors!

  • Make it informative and relevant to your readers.

    Most importantly, your newsletter HAS to interest them. You could include items such as: links to your own (or 3rd party) blog posts, how-to’s, tutorials, current industry news, events, local happenings, promotional offers or coupons, helpful/educational information, interesting facts, fan photos, contest winners, any deadlines or other important dates, etc.

  • Be reliable.

    Provide accurate, up-to-date information that your readers know they can trust.

  • Be consistent.

    Pick a schedule, whether it be monthly, weekly, or daily, and stick to it! (You might want to include in the reader’s e-newsletter opt-in form the frequency of your newsletter. Some people want to know exactly what to expect when subscribing to new email lists.)

  • Make it look good.

    The newsletter should be professional, visually appealing, and enjoyable to look through. Use content blocks, pictures, blurbs, and an attractive color scheme.

  • Keep it short and sweet.

    Your readers’ time is precious, and in today’s modern world, their attention span is spread thin! Not only should the content of your newsletter be interesting and informative, but it needs to be easily scannable and easy to digest. Use content blocks, snapshots, and bullet points to help organize the letter and make it easier to scan. Keep the information short and sweet; then, you can use links to direct readers to things like: articles on your website, your “shopping” page on your website, your Facebook page, etc.

  • Don’t sell.

    The reader was already kind enough to let you into their home by agreeing to receive your newsletter; now don’t be a salesman! Readers want to be informed of special promotions or sales, but they don’t want to be pushed. Either just briefly mention upcoming sales in your e-newsletter (e.g., “Don’t forget about our 25% off Spring Savings Sale this weekend!”), or, use a separate, promo-specific email to relay the message. E-newsletters are not the place for selling; they are a means to convey information to, and build a connection with, your audience.

  • E-mail is not one-way communication.

    Let your fans know you are listening. If they reach out to you, respond! When creating your newsletter, in the “From” label, make it clear who the email is from and who the reader can respond to (e.g., “info@diannarands.com”). Use a company, not personal, email address.

It’s time to start building relationships.

Now, do you see the value an e-newsletter can bring to your audience?

The ultimate purpose of newsletters is to relay information; inform and educate your readers. In the process of supplying interesting, reliable, consistent newsletters, your audience will begin to know you, trust you, and love you! It’s time to start building relationships with your fans.

Don’t forget to include clear, specific call-to-action buttons in your e-newsletters.  Give readers the option to click and instantly be directed to wherever you choose – your website, your blog, etc. It’s time to start building those relationships, and let your fans know you are there for them. Give them the information they need and want, and give them the information they didn’t know they needed and wanted!

If you already write newsletters for your business, way to go! We hope this article has motivated you to re-evaluate your process and think a little deeper about how exactly you are creating your newsletters. With everything we do, there’s always room for improvement. Practice makes perfect! 😉

newsletters

Mandy

The Importance of Writing Articles

The Importance of Writing Articles

The Importance of Writing Articles

It can be a challenging task for some of us.

If you’re not a natural-born writer, writing articles for your website can sometimes be really challenging. It can be hard to think of the appropriate topics, fill in the correct details, and tie it all together with the right words.

 

It's worth it!

… But the pay-offs are worth it!  

Writing your own original, informative articles is a super important factor in your marketing strategy. It increases your SEO and discoverability, has the power to boost your sales, and provides value for your customers.

Provide value. Increase customer loyalty.

It’s important to understand your audience. What are they looking for? What resonates with them?

Have you created your buyer persona? Who is your ideal customer? Think about what he/she would be interested in, and create your article topics based on their needs.

With monthly or weekly articles, a wide array of topics can be covered. Just plan it out! As your fans come to know, trust, and love your articles, they will look forward to the next one. They might rely on them for pertinent information in the industry, or look to them for tips/pointers. You will have developed customer loyalty and trust within your fanbase.

 

Plan ahead!

Plan ahead.

As long as you know and understand the topic at hand, blogging isn’t hard at all! It just takes a little planning, and with proper organization, the task will become far less daunting.

For example, after considering your target audience, come up with a list of topics they might find interesting. Then, choose a date for each topic (monthly, weekly, daily, etc.). Now, you will already know exactly what you are writing about each time you sit down to blog.

With the topic already nailed down, you will have more energy and brainpower to put towards the actual article.

A good way to start each article is to create a layout. First, figure out general headings for each topic you want to cover, then fill in the details. Write about what you already know, then do some research (if necessary) to gather additional details, examples, statistics, or facts. During writing, or when you are finished, you can go back through the article and see if you are able to make the headings more interesting, captivating, or fitting to the material discussed in the section. Also, please don’t forget to proofread and edit your articles! Nobody wants to take advice from the “pro” who can’t form a proper sentence.  😉

What do you want the reader to do?

It’s helpful to include a Call-to-Action (CTA) at the end. What do you want the reader to do next? Subscribe to your blog or newsletter, download an e-book, register for an event? CTA’s are a way to offer additional value to your readers, and if the reader follows your CTA, he/she could instantly become a lead (and even a customer) for your business!

Call-to-action

In one of our recent articles (about Editorial Calendars), our CTA was an offer for readers to download their free 2017 EC. They entered their name and email to receive the free template, and in doing so, became an instant lead for us! (Click on the photo above to view our article about Editorial Calendars and download YOUR free copy.)

 

don't forget to add visuals

Make it pretty.

Last but not least, add some visuals! (Pay attention to copyright laws.) Find images that are relevant to the topic at hand. Images help create and develop a story. Studies have shown that readers are more drawn to articles with images than those without.

Once your article is complete with images, proof it one more time (or give it to a co-worker to look over). Fix spelling and grammatical errors, correct any alignment or formatting issues, and make it look beautiful.

Organization and planning can go a LONG way in making blogging a more desirable task!

 

still struggling?

Still struggling?

If you still just have no idea where to begin, check out this article: 20 Prompts to Inspire Your Next Professional Blog Post. It has lots of really great blog ideas/topics you can adapt and use for your own business! This is a great article to bookmark and refer back to whenever you are having a hard time coming up with new ideas.

 

Your audience is out there searching the world wide web, every single day, for solutions to their problems.

Be the solution.

Give them the information they are looking for. Start writing articles for your website (and your target audience) today!

 

Time Management Tips & Tools

Time Management Tips and Tools

There is never a better time than the beginning of the year to discuss how to optimize your time. Time management can help you get your work days under control. Whether or not you are believer in New Year resolutions, the start of a year has the feelings of a fresh, clean slate. It’s the time to to look for things that aren’t exactly working, and start new ways of doing those things. One of the things you can look at in regards to productivity is, how you are handling the hours in each day. Are you using the hours you devote to your business actually working on and growing your business? Time is precious. Are you using it effectively? This article has some great tips and tools in it to help you become far more efficient in time management.

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”

– William Penn

Time Management Apps & Tools

If you know that you lose time but are not sure where it is going, then you may want to look at an application like Rescue Time. This time management app sends weekly reports indicating where you’ve been spending your time. They do have a free level that can get you started on time tracking. Once you get a baseline of where you are spending your online time, you can start making changes or finding solutions that will allow you to better make use of, and optimize, your time.

These days, there are hundreds of tools and apps out there that are so easy to download and use… why not give them a try!? The data may surprise you!

Remember the milk

Aside from Rescue Time, another free time management tool is Remember The Milk. This app is especially useful for those who juggle a bunch of daily tasks and find themselves bouncing back and forth between various devices throughout the day (It is compatible with desktop, mobile, gmail, outlook, etc.). Remember The Milk stays in sync between all your devices, so you can get those “to-do’s” out of your head, and you can focus on the task at hand! The app will send friendly reminders throughout the day if you choose, wherever you are, so you never miss an important task again. You can even share lists or assign tasks to others, such as your spouse 😉

Focus Booster

If you have a hard time paying attention to the task at hand, try the Focus Booster App, which also offers a free starter plan (no credit card info required)! This app will help you overcome distractions, maintain your focus, and stay on track. You can sign in to use the app online, or you can download the desktop timer for easy access. It is also great as a time tracker, automatically recording your time spent on individual tasks/jobs and displaying them in nice graphs and charts.

Tips for a more productive day

Don’t touch anything twice.

Focus on the task at hand, and finish the task at hand, before moving on to something else. It’s not always easy to just pick things up, put them down, and come back to them later. You lose your train of thought, your momentum, your interest… It’s just a time-waster. As a task catches your attention, whether it’s an email, phone call, or small job, you should act on it, delegate it, or delete it.

Don’t multi-task.

Studies at Stanford have confirmed that multi-tasking is much less productive than just doing one thing at a time. They found that people who are regularly interrupted by various streams of electronic information have a harder time focusing, paying attention, recalling information, and switching from one job to another than do those who complete one task at a time.

Eat the “frogs” first.

Don’t procrastinate. “Frogs” are the most dreaded, unappealing tasks that need to get done. If you “eat the frog” right away in the morning, the rest of your day is open to do the more exciting and enjoyable tasks!

Don’t let meetings be a time-waster.

A 20-minute meeting can easily drag on to an hour-long meeting if you’re not paying attention. The best way to avoid this is to make a schedule for each meeting, and stick to it! Don’t get distracted on side-tangents, and don’t discuss things not pertinent at this moment. Having a schedule to follow is super helpful in making sure you cover the topics needed, and only the topics needed. Having a schedule also encourages meeting members to be more focused and efficient.

Technology is there; use it!

Don’t let technology be a distraction; use it to your advantage! There are lots of tools and settings you can use that will help you become more efficient in your everyday life. You can set up filters in your email accounts that will prioritize and sort messages as they come in, and set alarms and reminders on your phone for important deadlines. You don’t need to be constantly checking your phone; let your phone come to you! Put technology to work for you.

Get ready for tomorrow, today.

…..especially if you’re not a morning person! This is one of the BEST time management tips! By doing this, you not only solidify the work you’ve accomplished today, but it will ensure that your tomorrow will be off to a smooth start.

 

You don’t necessarily need to work harder or longer, just work smarter. Doesn’t it feel amazing leaving the office after an ultra-productive work day? Let that be every day!

“Time is really the only capital that any human being has,

and the only thing he can’t afford to lose.”

– Thomas Edison

Mandy

Business Plan For Success

2017 Business Plan

2017 Business PlanIt’s not your average Business Plan

As you head into the new year, you should make sure you are armed with all the tools you need to be successful. One of those tools should be your 2-Page Business Plan (or 2-Page Strategic Plan). This is not to be confused with the multiple-paged document created for banks for business loans. Many new entrepreneurs may also create one at the beginning of their business thinking that is just one of the steps they need to take. While there are some benefits to these long detailed documents, they usually end up on a shelf gathering dust.

Your 2-Page Business Plan, on the other hand, is reviewed weekly and updated annually. And a key point about this plan is that it is ONLY TWO PAGES. Our lives are complicated enough as is, so this tool doesn’t need to add to the complexity. It is meant to make your business life easier!

In this article, I will give you all the details of what goes into a 2-Page Business Plan and also offer you a template you can use to make your own! For our business, we look at our 2-Page Business Plan every Monday to make sure we are on track for the week, month, quarter and year. It is an essential tool in our business.

The purpose of the 2-Page Business Plan

Many small business owners not only run their businesses, but they are also the craftsmen of their trade (meaning they also do the billable work). With this scenario, the owner may constantly feel like they are putting out fires, answering urgent phone calls and emails, hitting the pavement to keep the sales funnel full, etc. All of these items feel like they are of equal high importance, when in actuality they are not. Trying to immediately tackle all these tasks by yourself can cause early burnout or a realization that 20 years has gone by and you aren’t living a lifestyle you imaged by starting your own business.

In Chuck Blakeman’s book Making Money is Killing your Business, he states that these types of plans “…bring the Important things to the front of the line, to give them the priority they should have – in a sense, to create urgency where none is visible”. This document shows you what the important items are that you should keep your focus on, rather than getting sidetracked by all the urgent day to day tasks that can take up so much of your time.

Page One of the Business Plan

BUSINESS PLAN

The first page covers broad strategies for your business. It includes your Vision, Mission and Strategies that you have for generating income (both directly and indirectly), and a couple of strategies on how you lead your business (employees, customers, etc). As you complete your strategies for your business, check that they will either generate money (directly or indirectly) or assist in leading your business.

By writing out your intended strategies, it makes it really easy to fill out page two with goals.

Page Two of the Business Plan

Business plan

This page is where you want to outline the tactics you will be using in the next 12, 3, and 1 months to fulfill the strategies you listed on page one. Do not confuse these tactics with items that more appropriately fall onto a to do list. If the item will generate income this month, but doesn’t grow your business in a way to make money later on, then it does not belong on the plan. These items also need to be measurable. They have a date associated with them by which they must be completed.

Example: Our Page One has an indirect strategy: “Building authority in our field with our website”. Our 1 Month Goal has “Determine next quarter’s article topics”, but we don’t have each article listed by line item. The “write this month’s article” is a to-do list item rather than something that goes on the Business Plan.

12 Month Goals

These are goals you have for the next 12 months for your business. They are based off of the strategies you used on page one. Any goal you list should have a correlating strategy assigned to it. Each of these goals should have a date associated with them for when they should be completed or reached. You will be pulling from these objectives to complete your 3 and 1 month goals.

3 Month Goals

Next, look at your 12 month goals and see what items you need to do in the next 3 months to attain those goals. Look at each objective to see what (if any) work you need to do in this quarter to reach them. You will also assign not only a date, but a person responsible for completing this goal. This allows for accountability throughout the whole process.

1 Month Goals

These are the goals you need to do this month to reach your 3 month goals. This 1 month section makes your big 12 month goals feel more attainable. The whole purpose of this Business Plan is to make your life easier and your business successful. Be sure every item listed in the 1 month goals correlates to items in the 3 month goals. Assign a person responsible for working on each goal as well as a due date. This allows for accountability, which in turn garners more success.

Now what?

Business Plan

You have now moved from the planning phase to the action phase. Nothing will happen without you actually doing something. This is where you start creating a weekly to-do list. Look at your 1 Month section and determine what items you need to do that week to meet those goals. If you know an item will take 4 weeks, make sure it is listed in the first week; you don’t want to get to the end of the month and run out of time.

You should review your 1 Month Goals weekly, your 3 Month Goals monthly, your 12 Month Goals quarterly, and your Page One Strategies every 6-9 months. This Business Plan should be malleable; it should conform to your business’s needs as they evolve.

Example: I sit down with my 2-Page Business Plan every Monday morning first thing when I arrive at the office. I look at each item, its due date, and where we are in completing it. I block off my calendar setting aside time during the week to work on those goals that are mine. Then, we have our Monday morning staff meeting to go over the 2-Page Business Plan. We discuss items with upcoming due dates, who they are assigned to, and clarify any questions that may arise. This way everyone is empowered and in line with their goals for the week.

On the last Monday of each month, we add the task of creating the next 1 Month Goals, so they are ready to go at the next meeting. Likewise, if it is the last Monday of a quarter, we then create the next 3 Month Goals and 1 Month Goals for the upcoming weeks.

FREE for You!

We have created an Excel template for you to use in creating YOUR 2-Page Business Plan. Read the “Instructions” tab first, then start filling in for your business’s goals. Fill out the short form on this page to get your Free Download today!

Tips

  1. If you find you are constantly “rolling over” a Page Two objective from month to month and it never gets accomplished, remove it from your plan. It is only dragging you down to see you have not accomplished it.
  2. Only spend about 10  minutes each week reviewing the 1 Month Goals. It takes about 20-30 minutes per month to update the 1 Month Goals section. Update your 3 Month Goals quarterly, and it should take about an hour. If you are spending more time than that, you may be making this harder for yourself than it needs to be.
  3. Do not spend time trying to make it perfect. You could get frozen if you do this. You can improve upon it and add to it as you go along and become more comfortable with it.
  4. Remember, having a two-page plan laid out in writing is a life SIMPLIFIER. It is strategized, pre-planned, keeps you and your team aware of and on track with your business goals, and gives you guidelines to follow to ensure many successful and profitable years to come.

 

Dianna
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Using an Editorial Calendar

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While there are many pieces that go into a complete marketing strategy, one piece that is central to many other parts is the Editorial Calendar. The complexity of the calendar you use can vary. However, not having one at all means you are working blindly.

If you spend time creating your business’s marketing strategy, you need to make sure you follow through with it. Your Editorial Calendar helps you follow through with your strategy by giving you guidelines and a planned strategic schedule to follow. Your editorial calendar will keep you on track.

Many people feel like staying on top of their social media accounts is overwhelming and time consuming; but the reality is, if you take the time to plan ahead, then the actual posting will seem quite effortless. Also, if you have a central Editorial Calendar for your business, you can have it open to your team so everyone knows what each other is doing.

It’s a Breathing Animal

Orca

You want to think of your Editorial Calendar as a living, breathing tool. You can do all the planning in the world for your entire year, only to have something pop up unexpectedly later in the year. Therefore, you want to make sure your Editorial Calendar can evolve with your business as time passes. At a minimum, make sure you review your Editorial Calendar once a month. This way you can add or modify any social media/print messages when new opportunities arise.

Remember to also reference the calendar to keep you on track with the type of content you should be sharing during that week or month. For example, if you know you are going to talk about “Image Editing Tools” in a February article, then you would also want to have your social posts for that month talk about Images.

Know Your Timelines

Sales Timeline

Be sure to have a good understanding of the life cycle of your sales process. Know the timeline you follow when starting a promotion to the closing of a sale. This will dictate how far out in advance you need to start promoting your business before a launch, during a launch, and after a launch. TIP: This information can be quite valuable with your CRM, as well.

What Should You Plan For?

Large corporations start their planning well in advance of the following year. Think April-May planning for next year (sometimes they may even start two years out). However, many “solopreneurs” and small businesses find themselves in a reactionary position scrambling the week of a launch to get their ducks in a row. Ideally, small businesses should start planning the following year by the 4th quarter of the current year… that time is now! Think of things like:

  • Season changes
  • Slow times of the year
  • Busy times of the year
  • Holidays (locally/nationally/internationally)
  • Product launches
  • Specials on pricing
  • National events
  • Local events
  • Speaking engagements
  • Trade Shows
  • Really anything you want to make sure you share with your audience

Seasons

By creating the content for your Editorial Calendar well in advance, you will hopefully notice all the “seasons” and layers of your business. During the planning, you may find that you are missing out on important events in your industry; or it may show you that you are putting too much focus on items that do not bring you leads. The calendar planning gets your gears grinding and creative juices flowing so that you are able to stay on top of your business and the industry in which it competes.

Let Us Help You with an Editorial Calendar!

DR Editorial Calendar sample

We understand that it may seem quite overwhelming to think about everything you need to include in your Editorial Calendar. That is why we have created a Calendar template that you can start using today. We created it in Excel, so that you can easily modify it to your specific needs. This provides you with a starting point to alleviate some of the stress. Get your free 2017 Editorial Calendar today! Start piecing it together now so you are not scrambling after the new year to get it filled in 😉

Dianna Rands

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Instagram Business Account with Insights

Is it worth the switch?

Instagram got us all excited about the release of their proprietary ‘Insights’ earlier this year. We all waited patiently for it’s release. But is it all it was cracked up to be? Maybe not…

We went ahead and switched our accounts (not our clients’) over to a business profile, just to test the functionality of it; but the lingering question is whether or not we will get penalized down the road. Business pages on Facebook have to “pay to play” these days, whereas personal profiles are getting increased exposure to friends and family. And since Facebook owns Instagram, we can pretty confidently make the conclusion that the same fate will befall our business profiles on IG in the future.

When you use these social platforms for business purposes, the ‘Insights’ and ‘Analytics’ are valuable tools to test whether or not the work you are doing is, well… working! We are going to take a look at two different analytical tools for Instagram business profiles. The first will be the native ‘Insights’ tool that the new Instagram Business Account offers, and the second will be using information supplied on a third party platform that specializes in Instagram called Iconosquare. (All of the following stats and images come from our sister company, Chill Digital Marketing.)

If you haven’t converted your account to a business account, you first need to switch it to be able to see these insights. Select the cog wheel in the upper right corner:

 

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Next, select “Switch to Business Profile” and follow the steps to make this change.

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On a side note, it does appear that for now, you can always revert back to a Personal Account. Not sure if this will go away or not.

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Now that you have switched your account, you will see four “statistics bars” in the upper right corner next to the settings cog wheel.

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Select these bars to open the Insights for your account. (Note: you will only be able to access Insights if you have at least 100 followers!) Once inside, you get some great basic data. The top section you can scroll through to see your impressions for the week, your reach for the week, and your profile views. In the past, I have seen clicks to website as well (when folks click on your link in your “About” section).

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In the next section, you can see your top posts for the week. If you select “See More”, you will see a list of posts. By clicking on any of the blue words in the description, you can pull up the filters and change them to what you wish to look at.

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You can select the back arrow in the top left to return to the main ‘Insights’ page. In the third section, you can see more detailed demographics of your audience: gender, age, locations, and times of day, as well as days of the week, that your followers are most active. Select the “See More” to get to that data.

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Be sure to click on the different options in each section to get other types of data for that category.

Not only do you get the benefit of the ‘Insights’ when switching your IG account from a personal to business account, but you also get the option to run ads on posts directly within the app. Personal accounts cannot do this. And with each passing week, the ability to advertise on IG through the Facebook Ads platform deteriorates.

Now onto Iconosquare.

While Iconosquare can provide you with all of the same information, they also have some features that you would have to keep a separate spreadsheet going if only using the IG Insights. I won’t be covering EVERYTHING they offer, but I will point out some nice features.

This first little feature falls under their “Community” section. You can see who is following you that you are not following back. While you probably don’t need to follow all your followers, sometimes you may want to follow some of them back! Within this section, directly from Iconosquare, you are able to instantly start following those you choose. 2016-10-21_16-21-33

Another unique feature they have is that they show you which hashtags you used that have garnered the most engagement. This can also be a nice, fun visual to include in any reporting you may do for clients or bosses.

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Another graph I really like is the “Best time to post.” It point-blank states when you should post for the most engagement. Thursdays at 8pm is when Chill should be posting!

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And one of the best visuals (to me, at least) is the ability to see your followers growing right before your eyes 🙂

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This is just a small sampling of the features that Iconosquare offers. As of the time of this posting, you can get a 14-day FREE trial to take their program for a spin if you’d like. (I have not been paid or compensated in any way for this endorsement. I’m just a regularly paying customer of theirs.)

Only time will tell if making the switch to an Instagram business account is worth it… Right now, that will just need to be a personal decision based on each account. Hopefully this article provided you with some information and clarity to be able to make that decision for yourself!

Dianna Rands

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