At one time or another, you’ve probably looked at your business and thought “Ok, now what?”
Maybe it was because work stopped coming in. Maybe it was because you realized you were in a rut with no inspiration. Maybe it was because you reached a turning point in your business. Or maybe self-doubt and fear crept up on you when you weren’t looking. Whatever the cause, feeling stuck when it comes to your business isn’t unusual and that stuck feeling will resurface every now and then.
Since we are all individuals with unique businesses, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to feeling stuck in your business. However, when I asked five fellow business owners what they did when they were feeling stuck in business, some common themes emerged.
Why did I ask these five women for their input? I’ve known them for several years, they each have a different kind of business, and they are experts in their fields as well as being thoughtful people.
Julie Jacob owns Traveling Julie Photography is a Portland family and maternity photographer. She also offers head shots and business photography.
Nedra Rezinas owns Blue Deer Forest. She is a website developer, business coach, and speaker.
Selena Maestas is speaker, coach, and the founder of the Love YOU More Project.
Abbi Wood is a Wordsmith and workshop leader. She helps business owners ensure their “biznality” (she is a wordsmith, after all) shines through in their writing.
Chelsey Craft owns Amethyst Bodywork. She is a Portland massage therapist and doula.
I asked them each a simple question "What do you do when you feel stuck in business?"
Take a break
When you’re feeling stuck, your first instinct might be to quit. You might also find yourself in a worry spiral that keeps you up at night and keeps you from getting unstuck. Instead, consider taking a brief break to clear your head. How you do it is up to you, but planning downtime regularly is vital to running a business and avoiding burnout.
You’ll notice the common theme is self-care and finding a way to temporarily change your view.
Julie says “I take my camera out for a walk. Sometimes just to see what I see, but often with the intention of taking self-portraits. Sometimes I have a plan and sometimes I wing it. Most often I have a plan that then flows and changes as I shoot. Since I’m both behind and in front of the camera, I’m not rushed or shy or concerned about looking weird in a photo. (I lost that worry years ago!) Sometimes the resulting photos are unexciting, but sometimes I'm really proud of them."
“Getting away from the computer. Taking a break from staring at the screen - it could be running errands or going for a walk,” says Nedra.
Chelsey explains “For me, it always comes back to self-care. I take extra time for myself, to nurture my body and soul. My first go-to is Epsom salt baths with some essential oils in a dark room, it helps me reconnect with my heartbeat, the rhythm of life. Getting a pedicure is another favorite. It allows me the time to sit still while also enjoying some pampering while caring for my feet, that take me so many places. Or even something as simple as taking a walk around the block. I find peace in solitude, allowing myself some space to just be and appreciate what is around me.”
Fall in Love Again
Sometimes being stuck is a symptom of burnout or feeling uninspired in your work. It may sound strange, but we’re in a (hopefully!) long-term relationship with our business and that means ups and downs are to be expected. Look at the things that inspire you about your business and what made you decide start in the first place in order to fall in love again.
Julie says “When I do personal, creative projects that I have complete control over, I feel even more exhilarated and excited than I usually do about photography. I think about the giant list of random ideas or visions for things *I* want to shoot. Two summers ago, I came across an incredible location and just had to do a shoot there. So, within two months, I found a model, put together several wardrobe options, and we created gorgeous images.
Last winter, I had a full, complete vision of another nature-based maternity image. I almost did nothing about it, but I had recently started reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, so I forced myself actually make a shoot happen. It did, and it was amazing. After a client shoot last year, I had a ton of more creative ideas, and that same client became a model for me to bring those visions to life in a separate shoot, and I loved it!”
Falling in love also means getting your focus back so you know what to do to move forward.
“Nobody says it better than Nike. 'Just do it.' In the moment, of course, this is easier said than done because the thoughts of overwhelm and daily to-do lists consume your mind. So, you have two choices. One, dive in. Two, take a step back and evaluate. What is the most effective thing for you to do right now? Then do that.
It's easy to fill our days with busy details and short-term successes for quick wins. Where are your long-term wins? Look for those and direct your attention there. I promise you will feel equally accomplished doing something that your future self will thank you for," says Abbi.
One of the more challenging aspects of owning a business is feeling as if we should have all the answers all the time (hint: we don’t). A little self-doubt coupled with the sometimes over-glossy and over-rosy view others present on social media can send us straight into the mud.
Instead of feeling less-than, look for people, books, and podcasts that inspire you.
“One of the most common things I do is listen to podcasts that aren’t about photography. Since I spend so much time either doing photography, editing photos, thinking about photography, I don’t usually like listening to people talking about it.
However, I *love* business/creativity/entrepreneur podcasts! I find that I’m inspired by people’s stories who do different things than I do, and very often it gives me ideas or new ways to think about something—either visions of work to create, or ideas about marketing, or renewing efforts for things like writing and sending newsletters,” says Julie.
Nedra is also a fan of business podcasts. “I listen to "Breaking Down your Business" podcast while running or driving on a regular basis and I get lots of ideas from Jill and Brad. It's been amazing how many eureka moments I get listening to their advice,” she says.
Chelsey explains “I have an extensive library of books that I don't always give the attention it deserves. Choosing a few to revisit helps me get out of my head and put different thoughts in it, which is so helpful when I find myself playing the same record over and over. And on that note, keeping a gratitude journal is invaluable in my life so that I have a tangible thing to touch and see how much I have in my life to appreciate.”
It is also valuable to recognize when feeling stuck is a symptom of a larger issue that needs to be addressed. With my clients, I often see money issues, fear of visibility, and money fears pop up over and over.
Selena says “When it comes to being stuck, it's because we get in our own way. There is something inside of us that tells us, we aren't good enough, aren't smart enough, not "enough" enough.
Our inner critic is based out of our fear or repeating past experiences and our fear of our perceived future. None of it has to do with the NOW.
Your Inner critic, let's call that the EGO, wants you to remain stuck because it's easier. It's comfortable. It's what you know. Pushing forward in business goes against all of that, which causes the EGO to pull harder and scream louder - "Watch out! You don't want to fail!"
Now, no one likes to fail, but it's actually very important for your growth of yourself and your business. If you fail and survive, then you can show your Ego that it's OKAY to make change. It's OKAY to try something new. It's OKAY to move ahead.
Get out of the stuckness and into your success.”
Busy lifestyles and juggling, well, everything can also get in our way when it comes to successfully running our business. A little dedicated quiet time can go a long way.
“Giving myself a few hours each week of uninterrupted time gives me time to think about my business and work on internal projects. It's amazing what I can think about and change in that little time,” Nedra explains.
Too often we’re led to believe we need to do it all and do it all by ourselves to be successful. We know that isn’t true, accurate, or even possible, but those voices creep in despite our best efforts.
When you are feeling stuck in business, invite a friend out for coffee to reconnect and get support. This is especially helpful when you ask a fellow business owner out to coffee because you can be sure she needs some support as well!
Nedra says “I reach out to a colleague in person or over the phone. I really enjoying running ideas, problems, and brainstorming with them.”
“Reaching out and asking for help or attending more networking events. Connecting with my people, my tribe, to remind myself that I am not alone is so very comforting and uplifting. We're not alone in this journey and the more we can take care of ourselves, the better we are at helping others. I know it works for me,” explains Chelsey.
Regardless of which method you choose, remember to be kind to yourself. Feeling stuck is almost always a temporary situation. Look at what is going right in your business and which parts make you feel happiest. How can you increase those aspects?
It may also be time to examine your systems, work flow, and look at the things in your business you don’t enjoy or that make you dread doing them. Look for ways to outsource those, if you can. If you can’t outsource them, look for ways to improve either your response to them or looking into training or education to make the processes less miserable for you.
One of the first things I discuss with clients is their pricing. In nearly all cases, their prices are set too low to create a sustainable business they won’t grow to hate.
When I ask how they feel about their pricing, I get a range of reactions:
“They are ok, I guess.”
“I don’t think anyone would pay more.”
“I need to raise them, but I’m scared I’ll lose my clients or no one else will hire me.”
It isn’t unusual for my clients to even be reluctant to talk about their prices!
Why? Why Is talking about our prices and money taboo? Why do we feel the need to apologize? Why shouldn’t we be just as proud of our pricing as we are of the work we do?
Why we aren't our ideal client
Let’s break it down and examine the pieces. First, it is easy to imagine ourselves as our ideal client. After all, we love what we do, right! We’d be a perfect client! But! In most cases, we aren’t our ideal client at all. Take a moment and jot down the differences between you and your ideal client.
As an example, I love SEO and social media, so it wouldn’t make sense to hire someone like me to do what I do because I enjoy it and it is fun. My clients, on the other hand, would rather hand it off to me or have me help them through it.
I’m not a fan of most online courses, but one of my most popular “products” is my Build Your Marketing Muscles (an online course)!
On the other hand, I’m not a very crafty person, so paying an artist for their creation or paying someone to create a costume for my youngest is not only a great way for me to spend my money, it makes my life lighter and less stressful! And I have the added benefit of supporting another small business.
Remembering that we aren't our ideal client, especially when we're starting out and charging too little, is vital. I think it is even more important if we’re already coming from a place of money scarcity and feeling as if any sale is a good sale.
Can you "give back and still have a business?
My clients have good hearts and a desire to reach out to people who couldn’t normally afford their services. This is a wonderful thing, but in many cases, it isn't sustainable and is a fantastic recipe for burnout and exhaustion.
A good client doesn't want you to exhaust yourself! In fact, they need you to take care of yourself because they believe you are good at what you do (after all, that’s why they hired you, right?)
Can you still “give back” and have a business? Absolutely! But consider waiting until your business is stable and you have a clear idea of your boundaries so you can give back in healthy, long-term ways. I give myself permission to offer some free work in the form of consulting here and there, but draw the line at social media management because it is so time consuming.
Yes, I completely understand the desire to make what we do accessible to everyone, but you can't be so kind to others that you are damaging your health & relationships by running yourself into the ground trying to serve everyone.
You don't control someone else's finances
We need to let go of the guilt or responsibility around whether someone can afford what we do or what we sell. If someone can’t afford us, that’s ok! It doesn’t make us a bad person for sticking to our prices just as it doesn’t make them a bad person for not being able to afford what we offer. It just means they aren’t our customer (right now). If what you offer is worthwhile to someone, then they will pay it. If not, it isn't worth it to them and that isn't anything we have control over.
I doubt a Land Rover salesman feels bad that I'm not a Land Rover customer - no matter how much I want one (ok, I don't actually want one, that was just the first car name that came to mind!).
You must cover business costs and expenses
You also need to think about the cost of running your business. Those costs include taxes and expenses and that can really add up! If you aren’t covering those very basic things with your pricing, while still leaving enough left over to live on, you won’t be able to sustain your business. Or you’ll grow to resent it because it costs more money to run your business than you make.
How do you stand firm in your pricing?
Be clear around what you offer and the process. If, like photographers, your work involves a lot of behind-the-scenes action the client may not see you’ll need to be extra clear around the benefits and upfront about the amount of work you do on your own to get the end result the client loves.
Focus on the quality of your work and the benefit to the client.
Believe in yourself and what you bring to your client – not every client will be the right fit, but you can be the perfect fit for the right client.
Practice saying “These are my prices and I’m happy with them.” – yes, you’ll feel silly at first, but that is all you need to say to someone questioning your prices and your value. You don’t need to pull out a spreadsheet, a Venn diagram, and give them an hour lecture on how you arrived at your prices (no matter how tempting it is!)
Finally, and this is going to sound a little out there, but stay with me!
Imagine your business is a tree with deep roots that are well cared for and strong. When someone complains about your pricing, imagine it is like a gust of wind. Imagine your business tree swaying in the wind as the gust of wind passes by.
Neat image, right? No harm to the tree, no harm to the gust of wind – it just wasn’t a good fit right now.
Do you see your customers as flat demographics or as real people?
If you are too caught up in creating a “client avatar” you may be missing the chance to connect with the real humans behind those numbers.
What is a client avatar?
Sometimes called a persona or ideal client, this is just an idealized version of who you want your clients to be. Most client avatar worksheets focus on you seeking and understanding your clients’ needs (or “pain points” which might be one of my least favorite terms ever). While it can be helpful to tease out your clients’ demographic information for yourself – especially when considering something like Facebook advertising (which has impressive ad targeting abilities), it is equally as valuable to approach it from a perspective of which clients are the best fit for what you offer.
For example, if you sell couches, you could say “I can sell to anyone! Everyone needs a couch!” This is true in an extremely broad sense. Most of us DO need couches at some point. However, you can’t sell to someone who doesn’t need a couch, doesn’t like the kind of couches you sell, or is opposed to couches entirely, and thinks only chairs are suitable for sitting.
By eliminating a few types of people, we’ve just narrowed down your audience a bit, right? Now you can say “I sell couches to people who need the kinds of couches I sell.”
Now we’re getting a little closer, but that still isn’t terrifically helpful to you.
But if we dig deeper, we can move closer and examine the kind of ideal client you are excited to see. At this point, take a look at which clients make you happy, energized, and thrilled to do the work you do. What common elements do they have? What is it about working with them that makes you happy? Which customers make you leap out of bed in the morning because you can’t wait to work with them?
Continuing our couch example, let’s look at the types of people who would be interested in buying a couch AND who would also be your ideal client:
Are they young families looking for something durable, yet comfortable? Maybe you love working with families and helping them find something in their budget.
Are they people who love interior design? Maybe helping people pull together all the pieces of home décor is fun for you.
Are they someone looking for unique furniture? Maybe you are most excited to work with someone looking for the perfect piece regardless of cost.
Are they someone who asks lots of questions? Maybe educating clients is something you love to do!
Obviously, your answers will vary depending on what you sell and your own personality. They may even change over time!
We can also flip this around and look at the types of customers you aren’t excited to see. What kinds of customers drain you? What types of interactions aren’t worth a sale to you? Which customers make you want to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over your head?
Are they someone who is consistently rude to you or your staff?
Are they someone who drags out the sale process, but never decides?
Are they someone who makes demand after demand?
By avoiding those kinds of clients (or sending them to someone else), you can enjoy your work more as well as leaving space in your schedule for clients you are excited to see!
Yes, it can feel scary to set boundaries and stand up for ourselves, our time, and our business. Deciding there are some clients who aren’t a good fit for us can feel scary. What if we refer them to someone else and no one comes to take their place?
The next time you are tempted to segment your clients into little boxes, turn it around and look at it from the perspective of “who do I want to work with and what do I want to do” rather than “who will give me money” (and don’t get me wrong – money is awesome!).
Are generic client avatars helpful? They can be! But you don’t have to know every detail of a fake person’s life to connect with real people. Strictly following a client avatar worksheet may also inadvertently cause you to miss a great client because they didn’t fit into your predetermined client mold.
Black Lives Matter.
My body, my choice.
Ok, now that all the people this blog post isn’t for have left, I want to talk to those of you still hanging around. This blog post is for the business owner who wants to be involved and active, and is feeling overwhelmed because they still need to run their business in addition to being, maybe, more politically active than they have been.
There is a lot of justified angst on social media right now. It can feel as if you are being pulled in all directions every time you open social media. I understand the desire to get involved with absolutely everything, but I suggest choosing a couple of issues that matter most to you and being active there rather than spreading yourself so thin you can’t focus.
This is a must read - You can do something, but you can't do everything.
Not every person is going to embrace every issue the same way you do – one person may be more passionate about climate change and another may be more passionate about health care. That’s OK. The situation that exists right now isn’t something that is going away,. We need people caring about all kinds of different issues.
What do you do when your newsfeed is too stressful
As a business owner, how do you maintain your presence on social media without getting distracted from a chaotic and frustrating social media feed?
Using a couple of the Facebook mobile apps lets you do the work you need to do on Facebook without getting sucked in conversations or discussions when you should be working.
Facebook for mobile:
Groups app – allows you to directly access any group you are a member of and by-pass your main wall.
Pages app – allows you to post and schedule to your Facebook business page and by-pass your main wall.
Messenger app – allows you to access messages and by-pass your main wall.
When you are ready to jump into your main social media feed, be aware of the news sources you read as well as the ones you share. It feels great to read something you agree with 100% all of the time, but if the source isn’t credible or skews information in one direction – you lose credibility by sharing it and you may be missing nuances that can’t be covered in a click-bait article.
If this is affecting your mental health, if you are having nightmares, or if you are physically unable to participate, it is OK to pull back a little bit to the point where you can still function and still participate in the issues that mean the most to you without burning yourself out. Get rest. Get adequate (and tasty!) food. Get exercise. Get fresh air.
I’ve talked about burn out before. It isn’t pretty, its messy, and it doesn’t accomplish anything. Instead of trying to do everything and being so stressed you burn out in the next week, consider where your efforts will have the most impact in the time you have.
Is you time best spent organizing a post card writing party (or attending one)? Participating in marches and protests? Calling representatives? Volunteering with groups that support the most vulnerable? How can you make yourself heard in the time you have each day?
This isn’t something that will be resolved in the next month or even the next six months. This is a two-to-four- year effort and burning out in the first 10 or even first 100 days benefits no one.
It is so easy to keep refreshing your news feed and scrolling and scrolling getting caught up in all the horribleness that seems to happen every hour on the hour right now.
In no way am I saying we can log off and never look back because someone else will do the work for us. What I am saying we need to be smart about how and where we are spending our time. It is ok to be involved without burning yourself out or pushing yourself to the point of getting sick or making you want to give up entirely.
Giving up isn’t an option and burn out is a real possibility.
Focusing on the causes that mean the most to you doesn’t mean you don’t care about other issues - it means you are being realistic with your time and energy and choosing the make the most impact possible where you can.
If you imagine your time as a pie chart, how much time each day can you devote to making your voice heard? One of the things I talk about when it comes to marketing your business is baby steps and building consistency. I believe those ideas can be applied to activism also. Can you spend 15 minutes a day working on the causes the mean the most to you? Or maybe it makes more sense in your schedule to set aside a one hour period once a week.
Whatever it is be consistent and be active because there is a lot of work to be done. Stand up for each other, look out for each other, and use whatever privilege you have to help someone else.
News & Guts
Learn your representatives contact information - http://www.whoismyrepresentative.com/
Indivisible - A practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda
Black Lives Matter
100 days – 10 Actions for the First 100 Days
5calls.org – 5 Phone Calls to Make Each Day
How to Call Your Reps When You Have Social Anxiety - does the idea of making a phone call to a stranger make you sweat? Not sure what to say? This is a great guide.
Emily's List - Encourage more women to run for office
Southern Poverty Law Center
Hard Conversations Book Club list – 2017 focus is books by women of color
How to Stop Islamophobic Attacks - I think this is also something to keep in mind for any kind of harassment.
Intersectional Feminism – What is it and why does it matter?
Butterfly Boxes – Put together welcoming boxes (or donate items or funds) to help welcome a refugee coming to Oregon. They often arrive with very little and need personal care items and more.
Janus Youth Programs - Helping homeless youth
There are many ways to invest in your business. You can take classes, attend seminars, buy books, and even hire someone like me. But that isn’t enough. If you aren’t also making a real commitment to working on marketing your business, you won’t get very far.
You can outsource your social media, your SEO, your website design, and your content development – but if you aren’t involved in the process, as much as you can be, then your marketing becomes generic and less “you”. There are already plenty of generic websites in the world. Your people are looking for you to be yourself – because that is who they will connect to through your business.
Yes, I know. You have a to-do that is long and growing every day. I understand. But regularly committing time to the marketing side of your business keeps you thinking about it, and the more you think about it, the more likely you are to take action. Sometimes marketing ourselves and talking about our work feels awkward. We’re waiting for someone to jump out and say “Ugh! Why are you talking about this?” Do it anyway. I promise, it will get less awkward.
A very smart, very busy client of mine said “I have ten minutes, what can I do in ten minutes?”. At first, it sounded impossible, but I love impossible puzzles and lists, so here is my list of ten minute marketing hacks:
1) Connect with new people and pages on social media. Notice I didn’t just say “follow new people”. Social media is all about connecting and interacting. So get out there and make new friends!
2) Read over your website. Depending on when it was last updated, you might have old information online. Or maybe you’ve expanded your business or changed your direction a little bit. Your website is an online reflection of your business, so make sure it is accurate and up to date.
3) Click around your website. Pages change and links stop working. A new visitor to your site is looking for an easy, stress-free experience. Dead links and missing pages will help them decide to go elsewhere.
4) Reuse previous social media posts. Did you post a link to something brilliant two months ago? Do you still think it is brilliant and useful? Then create a new post for it. Social media moves fast (really fast) and a post from two months ago might as well be two years old.
5) Read that cool sounding marketing article you’ve been meaning to read. We all have a hidden stash of things we know we want to read. Take ten minutes and read it. If it is valuable, make notes.
6) Look at a competitor’s site. What are they doing well? What aren’t they doing well? Would you use them based on what your experience with their site? Now look at your site - does it measure up to what you want from a website experience?
7) Sketch out an idea for a blog post. Set a timer and write for ten minutes with no distractions. Most of us can’t write a blog post in ten minutes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take baby steps.
8) Talk about your business. Don’t be obnoxious, but if people don’t know what you do, then how can they call on you when they need your service?
9) Brainstorm – where are you now? Where to you want to go? Ten minutes, a timer, and keep the pen moving. Scribble, draw arrows, circle things, and get messy. Once you get the “we can’t possibly do that!” side of your brain to disengage, you can uncover some clever, if off-the-wall, ideas.
10) Now take one of those ideas and try it out.
11) Organize your computer files. Put all of your marketing materials (photos, gifs, style sheets, etc) in one folder. Create a folder for blog post ideas so you have a place for your ideas. Set a timer and do it for ten minutes.
12) Really look at your customer service. Are you customers being served in the best possible way every time? How can you improve it?
13) Back up and update your website. Do you really want to start from scratch if it all goes away? Nope! Back it up and keep it updated.
14) Go for a walk. Get away from work and clear your head. Changing your environment can change the way you think about things.
15) Teamwork and networking (in the helpful way, not the slimy way) is a fantastic way to increase your reach and partner with another business. Make a list of possible businesses that would be a good fit with your business.
16) Now reach out to them.
17) If your work email is full of junk email, take ten minutes and clean it up. You can use a service like unroll.me. A clean inbox means you won’t be searching for anyone’s email. And, more importantly, emails won’t get lost or buried.
18) And speaking of email, do you need to respond to or follow up with anything? Take ten minutes and reach out to people who contacted you, but never followed through. Don’t assume that an unanswered email means a lack of interest – sometimes emails get lost, misdirected, or the person on the other meant to respond, but didn’t.
19) Take a good look at your to-do list. Can you outsource anything? Combine it with something else? Move it off the critical list? Move it onto the critical list?
These are small steps and I can’t promise any single one will turn your business around and land you on the cover of Forbes magazine. But, daily tasks do add up and they do make a difference.
In this quick tutorial, I'll show you how to use Facebook's Debugger tool so your images and meta data from new pages will display properly!
Last year, my word of the year was “visibility”.
I purposefully chose a word I knew would challenge me to push myself over and over. You can read more about that here.
This year, I decided to go for something even scarier.
I chose “audacious”.
I love the word “audacious”. It has a couple of different meanings, but brazen and impudent are among them, and those are great words. I love that it can mean “bold” and it can also mean “defiant”. As I travel through the year, I’m looking for opportunities to be more audacious in both my personal and professional life.
Around the time I was deciding on my word of the year, I came across the blog Power, Peace, and the Porch Gym. In a series of posts, Bethany discusses cultivating habits. The idea of habits was interesting to me since the idea of a habit feels less stressful than big scary resolutions (which I don’t do anyway). It made me think about habits and how I could incorporate useful habits into my daily routine.
Sometime in the past six months, Selena of the Love You More Project posted this question on Facebook “What is one thing you can do to love yourself today?” The question stayed with me. It also struck me as such a fierce act of audaciousness – to choose some way you could love yourself more.
I decided I wanted to cultivate a habit of going to the gym for 60 days in a row as a form of self-care. This would be something I did for myself every day. Something I enjoyed. Something that was easy for me to do (the gym isn’t far from my house) and provided its own reward (thank you, endorphins). Choosing to prioritize self-care without tying it to anything but feeling good is both an act of boldness and defiance.
When I reached 60 days, I extended my goal to 100 days. Today is the 100th day.
I hadn’t intended to blog about the experience because my blogs are usually about marketing, and I’m pretty sure no one cares how many laps I swim. But, as I approached the 100th day, I started to look back at the lessons I’ve learned along the way. And, no surprise, they are kind of universal. But since this is a blog about marketing for small businesses, I’m going to talk about things from that perspective.
We need breath to function in our bodies, but we also need that quiet space to breathe in our business. When you own your own business, the space to breathe doesn’t always happen naturally. It is easy to work on just one more project or let work life seep into home life. But if we’re always rushing from one thing to the next, never catching our breath, we don’t give ourselves time to create, reflect, revise, and plan.
Focus on the day
I only focused on my goal for that day (going to the gym). I didn’t focus on the day after that. I showed up. I did the work. Every day. Over and over. When I was feeling unsure on day 27, I didn’t plan ahead to day 28 or day 40. I just focused on what I could do that day.
Obviously, we have to plan ahead in our business, but we also have to focus on what is happening every day in our business and do the work needed to get to the next day.
We need support and encouragement in our lives. We’re not meant to do it alone. Women, especially, need a cheering squad that has our backs. Whether it is online or in person (I’m lucky enough to have both!), find people who support you, believe in you, and encourage you. You’re worth it!
Learn from others
While I’m not a complete gym newbie, techniques and best practices change over time, and it had been a long, long time since I was a regular gym member. By interacting with and observing other members, I was able to pick up some new moves, and learn about the people I saw every day. Paying attention to what people you admire are doing helps you improve and introduces you to new ideas.
Celebrate your wins
Surpassing my personal records pretty much only matters to me, but it still feels fantastic. I celebrate the little victories because they matter to me.
Be prepared to change course
One night, on the way home from the gym, I was rear ended by a drunk driver. Although this was obviously something I didn’t have any control over, I was disappointed (and sore!). While I recovered, I reduced some gym activities and modified others. Taking it slow and changing my plans was a better decision for me than trying to do it all and injuring myself further.
During this project, there were actually TWO days I didn’t actually go to the gym. One was Easter Sunday and the other day I wasn’t able to get there on time. Instead, I used the ancient thrift store exercise bike I have at home (not comfortable for me, but the kids love it).
Set small realistic goals
Can I tell you a secret? My real goal is to go to the gym 365 days in a row. And that’s crazy, right? Who knows what could happen in a year? It is in the back of mind, but right now I’m focusing on the small achievable steps, the chunks of time that I feel comfortable doing as I work towards my bigger goal. My goal was 60 days. Then 100 days. Now it is 150 days. When I reach that goal, I’ll set another one.
I’ve been dealing with plantar fasciitis for a couple of years, and I wasn’t sure how it would affect my goal of going to the gym day after day. Although I regularly take my kids hiking and on excursions that involve a lot of walking, I wasn’t interested in purposefully causing myself pain every day. I knew I’d need to stick to exercise bikes, elliptical machines, and swimming so I didn’t aggravate it.
That is until I tried to use an elliptical machine. I lasted only one minute before the pain was too much, and I had to limp off the machine. No more elliptical machines for me!
Around day 80, I was inspired to hop on the treadmill since my foot pain had practically disappeared (What can I say? I’m an optimist!) Around day 85 things were going so well, I thought I’d try a little running mixed in with the walking. The first couple of days were fine, and I was thrilled with the new routine. Then the foot pain came back. No more running for me. I liked the running, and I’m disappointed that is a limitation I have right now, but I’m really attached to walking without pain.
As moms and business owners, we’re not going to have the same amount of free time as others. That is a limitation we need to accept and deal with, and why I think really looking at our limitations and planning accordingly can help keep us from burning out.
Don’t do something that feels wrong
Weeks after I was rear ended, when I felt I was completely healed, I tried a new movement. Almost immediately, I knew there was something about the movement that was wrong for me. I could have pushed through, hoping things would improve. Instead, I put the weights back, stretched, and moved on.
There are so many ways to market your business, and (I hope!) some of them will feel natural and fun. Some will feel challenging. Some will feel wrong. If you run into a program or method that feels icky and wrong to you – you don’t have to use it. If it feels wrong, move on to something that feels right and true for you.
I’ll be honest. There were some days I really would have rather stayed home. Not many, but definitely a few. I had lots of excuses and reasons to skip, but I went anyway.
Show up. Keep going. Do the work you need to do. Every victory you achieve gives you a chance to create another.
Tomorrow will be day 101. Sometime in the future is day 200. But right now, I’m celebrating today’s win.
Do I have to blog to succeed?
No. Nope. Not at all.
End of blog post? Not quite.
No, you don’t have to have a blog on your business website. Lots of businesses don’t.
But before you leave thinking “Gwen says I don’t have to write blog posts,” I want to talk about the benefits of blogging for your business.
Communicate with Current and Future Clients
Blogging gives you a chance to speak to your audience directly AND gives you a chance to speak to an audience you haven’t met yet. I have no idea who will read this blog post. I don’t know where it will be shared or how often. Which means, I may be speaking to someone who needs my help with their marketing, even though we’ve never met and they’ve never heard of me before (if that is you, welcome!)
Write about topics that are important to you and and your clients
You get a chance to go in depth with ideas and topics your audience would find useful. Many of my blog posts are instructional. My SEO 101 series and my Periscope 101 post are great examples of this. I’m able to provide information that is useful and relevant to the people who could benefit from my expertise.
This is my blog so I could talk about my favorite cookie recipe (best cookies ever!), my obsession with Hamilton (no shame here, I adore it), or my volunteer work with a local animal shelter and other non-profits. Instead, I prefer to talk about things my clients (and potential clients) would find helpful as they navigate the world of digital marketing.
Use Keywords to Help People Find You
Including keywords and keyword phrases in your blog posts helps your potential audience find you.
When someone uses a search engine they enter a specific word or set of words. If I have a craving for dim sum and I live in Portland, I enter the phrase "dim sum Portland" - this tells Google both *what* I'm looking for and *where* I'm looking for it. In many instances, I don't need to specify Portland because Google already knows where I am via location tracking on my phone or laptop.
For local businesses, blogging can be enormously important as it can educate, inform, build trust in what you do, and focus on your specific location in a way that attracts potential searchers to your blog page.
Once upon a time, Google relied on specific keywords to tell it what was on a page, but now it looks at other words that are in the same topic family or should be associated with those words. In my dim sum example above, Google might also expect to see the phrase "Chinese food" and maybe the names of specific dishes.
If you were doing an internet search for your business, which words and phrases would you use? What questions do your customers need answered? If your business is highly technical or specific, and your client base is the general public, remember to use words that *most* people would use to search for your business.
Earn Links from Other Websites
Links are becoming increasingly important as Google and other search engines find ways to provide both value and context to their users. By providing good, useful, interesting content that someone might want to share with others you create the opportunity for linking. Quality websites sharing links to your website will affect not only your website traffic, but also your overall ranking on search engines. Thanks to social media, links can spread quickly.
Creating Your Own Content to Share
Speaking of social media, blogging allows you to create your own content to share and reference again and again. This means you are able to share your own work and connect with people, rather than sharing another persons thoughts and ideas. I'm a fan of mixing it up on social media and sharing your own posts and posts that inspire you.
Many of my blog posts are inspired by questions I'm asked frequently. Rather than rewrite the same thing over and over, and possibly missing an important detail or distinction, when I write a blog post, it is an easy to find and reference piece of information when the topic comes up.
Which means the next time someone says "Why do I have to blog?" "What is the purpose of blogging?" or "Are you really going to make me write a blog?" I can send them here where they can process and think about blogging and how it applies to their business.
If you want to learn more about best practices and how the look of your blog can help you reach more readers, you can read my Anatomy of a Blog Post. If you're stuck on what to write about or how to do it in a way that feels right to you, email me and we'll chat!
I love digging into the different facets of marketing to learn more about how and why they work. I believe modern digital marketing tools like social media and websites should be an extension of how we interact with each other in person.
Right now, I want to talk about some annoying marketing trends I can’t wait to see go away:
Too many emails
Sure, you want to stay in touch with your audience, but does that really need to be daily?
Emails with no value or just links back to their site
If you are taking up space in someone’s inbox, you owe them the courtesy of providing something of value. A fluff-filled email wastes your reader’s time.
"Six figure” anything
Money is awesome! I love money! But the “six figure” crap needs to go away first.
Trying to make me feel bad for not signing up for "the thing"
Don’t guilt people into doing things. That’s rude.
Downplaying the importance of hard work
Owning a business is hard work. Marketing your business is hard work. Balancing life and work and everything else is REALLY hard work. Some things will come easy to you, and you’ll struggle with others. That’s normal.
“Passive income” (especially when coupled with photos of the beach or a hammock)
This is the big daddy of “look how easy it is”. Just create a thing, sit back, and watch the money roll in. And, by the way, if you pay me thousands of dollars, I’ll show you how to do it. Yuck.
The idea that each email has to have a yucky (I mean "effective") subject lines
Last chance, You'll be sorry, Oops, we made a mistake, You'll never believe this, You MUST do this today – do any of these make you feel good? Are you sick of seeing them in your own in box?
Awful freebies (either no value or poorly put together)
Is there anything worse than signing up for a freebie that sounds interesting, only to have it be worthless or riddled with typos? And now you are on someone’s mailing list.
Any video or music that auto plays.
No. Don’t do this.
Webinars that are a waste of time
Someone is giving up time to watch your thing, you owe it to them to be good, helpful, and useful.
“Branding” is a hot word right now and I'm seeing it applied all over the place to describe a variety of different things.
Depending on who you are talking to branding can mean:
How do I brand myself
How to brand your website
How to create a brand through photography
How to create a brand through awareness
For example, when I say “branding” I’m usually talking about the voice you use when writing blog posts, the types of things you share on social media, the general feel of your website, and the experience your customers get from working with you:
I’m a marketing person, so when I talk about branding, I’m talking about it from an overall marketing perspective.
If you look at branding as “how the world sees you”, you’ll see it can pertain to almost anything in your business. Which can be overwhelming at first, but also valuable for finding ways to make your overall brand stronger because lots of little things add up.
Branding and graphics
Take a look at this Target ad, for example.
You know Target, right? The red and white bulls-eye? Watch the video and look for all the ways they are incorporating their colors and circles. Notice how there are no hard edges? Everything has a rounded feel to it. Would that ad be as effective and as immediately identifiable as “Target” if it was filled with hard-edged blue and orange rectangles? Or if every time you saw a Target ad, the colors and fonts were different?
Or, if you feel like getting a little nostalgic, take a look at how 25 brand logos have evolved over time. The next time you see an ad for one of those companies, notice how the colors and fonts generally remain similar across all platforms.
Emily at Fresh Paper focuses on showing entrepreneurs how to make the most out of their visual branding, even without a logo. I chatted with about her class a few month's ago for a blog post. You can read it here.
In her class, Emily covers things like fonts, colors, and consistent graphics with a focus towards truly representing your business and helping attract your ideal customers – which is something I hadn’t considered before meeting her. Obviously, I knew the visual aspects of branding were important, but hearing her talk about them in depth made me realize how vital and enduring the visual side of branding could be.
Branding and Business Cards
Business cards are the workhorses of marketing. Almost everyone needs them, and they do their job admirably. But today’s business cards can go beyond name, address, and phone number.
My first set of business cards came from Vista Print. I wasn't quite sure what I needed, but I knew I needed business cards. So I found a design I liked, entered my information, and received a box of business cards. I didn't love them, but who loves business cards?
About six months ago, I realized I'd grown, my business had grown, and my business cards weren't going to work for me anymore. So I went with Moo because I'd heard amazing things about their quality and service.
I adore my business cards now. They are fun, eye-catching, and represent how I approach my work (with humor and fun). And that "Yay!" sticker actually comes on the box of Moo cards.
I have seven different designs on the back of my business cards. I could have had 12 individual designs, but I decided to only use the ones that spoke to me.
The little orange monster and the quote "That's why we're here - to make a dent in the universe" is what made me fall in love with this set. Why? Well, first, I believe that. Second, I'm a huge Doctor Who fan, and that sounds like something Ten would say.
I love the cards Emily designed for Selena Maestas (Love You More Project). Round business cards!
If you look at Selena's site, you'll notice the colors and fonts are the same. The experience is seamless between the online world and the physical world.
Branding and photography
For many modern online entrepreneurs, our faces and personalities become a part of our brand. This can be uncomfortable, and forces many of us out of our comfort zone. But it is also important to remember that as humans we connect with faces, and seeing a friendly face can immediately build trust.
While it can be free or extremely inexpensive to have a friend or family member take some quick photos with their smart phone or basic camera, investing in good quality head shots is important if creating trust and connection is part of your business. People want to purchase from people they trust, and a clear, inviting photo shouldn’t be overlooked.
Professional head shots used to be limited to boring photos against a plain backdrop, but that isn’t the case any longer. Today, head shots can be done indoors or outdoors, and against a variety of backdrops. Mine were taken by Shayne Berry at Portland’s Cathedral Park in the rain. Luckily, the bridge provides perfect cover, and it is a popular destination for all kinds of photography!
Julie of Traveling Julie Portraits photographs not only fresh, modern head shots, but also “in action” photos of her clients at their place of business. This means, not only is there a basic head shot, but also images that show off the business and their brand in action.
Annika Bielig Bussmann focuses exclusively on female entrepreneurs and helping them create their branding via photography.
Normally, you don't get to see side by side head shots of the same person taken by two different photographers, but Emily happens to have been photographed by the two photographers I mentioned above. So you get to see side-by-side examples!
Clearly, both Julie and Annika capture Emily's personality and sense of style. When it comes to choosing a photographer for your head shots, choose someone you feel comfortable working with and who understands the look and feel you are looking for in your photographs.
Branding and Your Website
My first website was a mess.
It didn't reflect who I was or the type of clients I wanted to work with. I'm always revising and refining my work, so it makes sense that my website has gone through a few (OK, more than a few) face lifts.
I tried kind of a flower/garden idea for awhile (it seemed like a good idea at the time).
Then I tried something super modern. It looked pretty and utterly unlike me.
Right now, I love the look of my website, but at some point I know I'll evolve and it will need updating (again).
When you are thinking about your branding and your website, think about the business you have now and where you want it to go. Think about your customers/clients and how your website can help you connect with them. Think about the overall feel you want your clients to have when working with you.
Need inspiration? Go look at the websites I've linked to throughout this post. Each is a fabulous example of lovely websites coupled with their personalities and who they want to work with as businesses.
Your Brand and Change
One thing you may have noticed that has come up over and over in this post is evolution. Your brand and your focus will likely change. That is completely OK and normal. Those first business cards, websites, and elevator pitches are just the beginning.
You'll change direction. You'll grow into some things and outgrow others. You'll discover a new path that is even more exciting than the last.
Have fun with it!
Musings about marketing, social media, and small business.