How to Make Your Next Event More Successful

Quick note: During the summer, we'll only be publishing one blog post per month as we focus on some new activities and allow you some down time without falling behind on content.

I don't know about you, but I love events. I love attending them, of course, but also working on them behind-the-scenes. When I was an event marketing director, I was able to help create a dynamic experience for almost 8,000 people. And with my nonprofit and social enterprise freelance clients, it's still a blast to see an event go from concept to completion, resulting in smiling faces, sales earned, and money raised.

A couple of years ago, I had the privilege of working with one of my favorite local organizations, Atlanta Dream Center, on their annual benefit dinner. I had been volunteering with them for three years at that point, and they were Signify's first, official client, so they'll always have a soft spot in my heart. Understandably, I was thrilled to be working with them on a professional level now, too.

At the end of the evening, we had quite a surprise—we had not only met the fundraising goal, but we had quadrupled the previous year's total! High fives all around!

However, I don't think it was an accident. After working on so many events over the years, both large and small, I believe there is a key factor we implemented during the event planning process that changed everything.

So, if you're looking for event planning tips, this one's a doozy! Here's how to make your next event more successful than your last. (Hint: It's probably not what you think.)

 How to Make Your Next Event More Successful

If you stumbled upon this post looking for the latest event planning tips and tricks, you might be a little disappointed. But, hang with me, I think you'll still learn a really valuable lesson, especially if you're a beginner to the event planning world.

You see, what I've found over and over again, across many contexts, is that while there are always shiny, new ideas to make your event look awesome, there is one element of event planning that should always get the spotlight.

It's the step that should never get skipped.

So, what is it? Strategy.

I truly believe taking a more strategic approach to planning the 2016 Atlanta Dream Center (ADC) annual benefit gala was key to its financial success.

Here's why.

A FOUNDATION FOR SUCCESS

When I first started as a contractor for the benefit dinner, I was mostly working alongside the development director, who had been in the position less than a year. So, we were both newbies to the event. And even though the dinner was entering its fourth year, I felt like the event was just trying to get off the ground. 

There was no established model to follow. The ADC staff had tried a few different formats, but hadn't really fallen in love with one yet. That gave us a lot of latitude without a tremendous amount of expectations, except for the fact that this was their largest fundraiser of the year. #NoPressure

There were a couple of things we immediately did to start off on the right foot. The first was to get organized. Those who had been in charge of the dinner previously were no longer with the nonprofit, so we had to conduct a treasure hunt for some of the assets because I really wanted to take a look at what had been done before to assess how effective it was, and ways to build on it.

Once we had them collected, my suggestion was that we move everything to Google Drive so all stakeholders would have instant access. This plan worked great, and allowed us to collaborate well. It also solved the problem of keeping everything in a central location should someone else leave in the future.

The other, main thing we did was set up regular planning and check-in meetings leading up to the event, which was about five months away. Some of those were just between the development director and I, and some involved all department heads for the organization that needed to have a say in aspects of the dinner. 

These two choices may seem small or inconsequential, but I promise you that they made a big difference in the tone and feel of the event right from the start. And everyone could feel it.

Never underestimate the power of being organized!

STRATEGY'S ROLE IN EVENT PLANNING

Now, we were ready to start the event planning process. And this is where strategy became the star player.

During one of our early meetings, the entire team was sitting around a table discussing the format, logistics, and what people liked and didn't like from previous years. I also started asking them more questions about who would be in the seats.

This proved to be a key moment because, not only should you ask this question every time you plan an event, but that year was a turning point for the organization. The goals for this dinner were bigger because costs had risen, of course, but they were also gaining a bigger reputation in the area.

Previously, it had been friends, family, and close partners who attended the event. That year, however, they wanted to target new individuals and corporations. Essentially, they were ready to broaden their reach.

So, we had to start looking at everything fresh for that year's dinner. What had worked in the past might not work for a new crowd.

We revamped the sponsorship package, added a lot of cold leads to the potential sponsor list, and changed the format of the event to be more forward-thinking and informative, rather than using "insider" language as they had done before.

This new group of attendees might not be familiar with the different ministries under ADC's umbrella, or know why the work is important, or understand how their donations can effect people and programs all over the state. It was a big opportunity, and we didn't want to miss it.

I also created::

  • Positioning language for the sponsorship package, instead of it just be a list of benefits.
  • A formal sponsorship letter that anyone on the staff could use as a framework to solicit donations.
  • Talking points so that anyone who spoke about the dinner to a potential sponsor or donor could stay "on message," relaying the most important aspects of why the event was being held.
  • The language for the website and email/print newsletters, so that everything was aligned and on point.
  • A marketing plan for them to see the event strategically from start to finish, even if I wasn't around.
  • A press release to get the word out about the event's success after it was over, which could bring more eyes to their work, resulting in even more new supporters, donors, or partners.

The ministry also began working on ways they could highlight their uniqueness, as well as how it relates to the overall mission of the organization. We needed to clearly communicate how everything worked together. And it turned out to be a very cool, experiential element of the evening that they improve each year.

From the initial conversation to the wrap-up meeting, my goal was to bring a new level of professionalism to the event, and a fresh pair of eyes.

Don't get me wrong, their staff is outstanding at what they do, and they are relational to the core. (And a whole lot of fun!) But, like many small nonprofits, they struggled with systems and processes. Strategy wasn't the foundation of the event. 

We made a huge amount of progress that year—and it showed. Yes, the final fundraising tally was fantastic, but those who had previously attended their benefit dinners also noted how different everything felt. They had a great time, and were looking forward to the next one. That's definitely what you want to hear!

The staff also said that it was the most relaxed they'd felt at the benefit dinner. Each person knew their role, and were able to connect with sponsors and donors throughout the evening rather than running around putting out fires and pitching in on last-minute logistics. 

One of the other things I suggested to the team was that we not only ask for donations at the end of the event, which was already part of the plan, but we give attendees other ways to stay engaged and build deeper relationships with ADC throughout the year. This was important both for the die-hard fans and the people who were new to the mission.

You don't want to have a great event and captive audience, and then just say you'll see them next year. You want to give them a clear next step, and make it easy to take.

Our answer was to have staffed tables and flyers available in the lobby while people waited in line for valet service. This move gave attendees options for getting more involved with whichever ministry struck a chord with them that night, as well as opportunities to further utilize their time, resources, and funds to support the nonprofit.

DETERMINING SUCCESS

It's absolutely true that sales and donations are important. Those things keep the doors open and the lights on. And it's equally true that people have planned events with far less strategy and still seen great results.

But planning a successful event can be seen so many different ways:

  • Hitting bigger sales and revenue goals
  • Increasing attendance
  • Not driving your staff insane
  • Letting you sleep easier at night
  • Allowing your tribe to take the right, next steps with your organization

That's why I think strategy is the key to making your next event more successful. It certainly worked for Atlanta Dream Center, and I think it will work for you too.

 

“‘Exceed expectations’ is an overused expression with few who can document occasions when they actually did exceed expectations. Kristi Porter is one who can point to the work she did with the Atlanta Dream Center and accurately state that she exceeded all of our expectations. You will be well pleased with the results achieved by bringing Kristi onto your team.” - Mark Northcutt, Atlanta Dream Center

 



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

 After working on so many  events  over the years, both large and small, I believe there is a key factor we implemented during the event planning process that changed everything.So, if you're looking for event planning tips, this one's a doozy! Here's how to make your next event more successful than your last. (Hint: It's probably not what you think.)

 Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


Want to Grow Your Business? You Need Help.

Quick note: During the summer, we'll only be publishing one blog post per month as we focus on some new activities and allow you some down time without falling behind on content.

 

Here's one thing I know about you: You want your business to grow. 

Not everyone does. In fact, some people are quite content for their small business to stay small, which is totally fine. They're just looking for some extra money, and a side gig or a "professional hobby" will do. But I know you want to grow your business because it's not just about you. It's about your cause.

Whether you're a nonprofit or a for-profit with a social mission, you want to increase your organization's capacity and influence because you're fighting for something. You may not have a desire to become the next TOMS or Habitat for Humanity, but you do have a desire to help more people. You want to have a bigger impact. You want to do more good.

So, how do you grow your small business?

There's one simple way that I recommend you start thinking about today: Get help. Yes, it may be simple, but I realize it's not easy.

It's not easy to decide to spend the money. It's not easy to allocate your resources differently. It's not easy to bring someone new into your process. But I believe this one decision can make all the difference. 

It has for me, and I think it can do the same for you. And guess what? It may not even require hiring more staff.

 Want to Grow Your Business? You Need Help.

First of all, I realize it's a bit of a Catch-22. You'd be happy to spend the money to get more help...if you could only make more money in order to do so!

I've been stuck on that hamster wheel myself, and some days honestly, I still am. But there is also something to be said for the old adage, "You have to spend money to make money." And I believe that's true. Maybe deep down, you do too.

But, like I said, there's also plenty of good news! It may not require hiring more staff to get your organization to the next level. It may just require some creative, out-of-the-box thinking. Or some networking. Or some short-term effort. Regardless, though, it will require help.

Why? You can only do so much at your current level—even if you already have a small staff. 

The Facts About Small Business

  • The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council states that 89.4% of small businesses have less than 20 staffers. 

  • The Small Business Administration notes that about half of all small businesses make it to the five-year mark, with approximately one third seeing their 10-year anniversary.

  • When looking at just women-owned businesses, Small Business Labs tell us that 41% of my #girlboss peers only have between two and four employees, while 51% are solopreneurs!
  • Finally, this report by Babson College tells us that 70% of the small business owners they polled found it difficult to hire qualified employees.

Besides throwing a lot of numbers at you, what am I trying to say? First, growing a business is hard, but I don't have to tell you that! Second, there is another way to get the help you need and grow your business without necessarily growing your staff, at least in the early stages when bootstrapping is the name of the game.

So, how do you grow your business without hiring more staff?  Keep reading.

 

Getting to the Next Stage of Business

Check out an awesome article from Todd Herman on the "Five Stages of Business Growth." In it, he shows you exactly what you should be focusing on for each stage, which is incredibly helpful. I'm in Todd's program, and I can say that he is an very smart guy. Learning from him has been definitely benefitted my business.

If you want to make it to that five or ten year mark, you need help. If you want to make a bigger impact, you need help. And if you want to avoid burnout for yourself or your staff, you need help.

What does this look like? I think it looks like finding interns, learning from mentors, bartering for services, and/or hiring independent contractors. It could even mean a combination of all of those things—it has for me.

You only know so much. You only have so much time. Why not fill those gaps with people who are there to assist you or are better suited for those tasks? Be the leader who sees the forest, not just the trees.

As I talked about last summer, work ON your business, not IN your business.

Why Is Getting Help for Your Organization So Important?

Right about now, you may be asking yourself why you should be hiring interns, consultants, or indepdendent contractors, especially if it's going to cost you hard-earned money. I mean, what's the big deal? You can just look up a few more articles or take a few courses and figure out everything you need to know, right? Anything you need to learn is just a Google search away.

Yes, that's pretty much true, and I'm guilty of the same thoughts and questions. But there are some INVALUABLE assets that come with these roles. And I’d like to explain by telling you how I've utilized consultants/interns/contractors in the past, both personally and professionally.

  • They provide a set of fresh eyes. We can often lose perspective as we work on our own projects day in and out. Allowing someone to see them objectively can provide insight we couldn't gain otherwise.
  • They cost you less than you might think. While the initial investment may seem significant, especially if this process is new to you, remember that these people do not cost you insurance or other full-time employee perks. You also don’t have to take taxes from their payments.
  • They don't have to stick around long-term. Sometimes you just have a short-term need, or a season that requires an additional set of hands. These people rally around you when you need it, and not when you don't.
  • They can relieve stress from you and your employees. Often small organizations rely on a limited number of people to do a wide variety of tasks. Sometimes, however, these tasks are not suited to their skills. Consultants and third-party contractors who specialize in certain areas can be invaluable to helping you reach your goals, while taking the pressure off your team. This will either allow them room to breathe, catch up on their primary tasks, or take on new assignments within their wheelhouse.
  • They allow you to focus. Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. You need to be working on the tasks and goals that specifically require your time and attention. If you have the ability to outsource beyond that, do it. Focus on the things no one else can do for your business.
  • They can provide expansion. These folks allow you to “go beyond” what you’ve already been doing. You can dream bigger, cast your net wider, and experience results you could not have had before at your current pace. But the ROI (return on investment) may be significant. Yes, it's important to consider the cost, but if you make more sales and donations than you would have without their help, it will be worth it!

 

Where Do You Find These Magical Creatures?

Well, of course, if you're looking for someone to help you with your writing, marketing, or communications needs, I'd be remiss not to mention that I can help you with those tasks. Whether you hate doing those kinds of things, or just need to focus on something else that's more deserving of your attention, I'm here. 

I launched Signify almost two years ago to help nonprofits, social enterprises, and other for-profits with a social mission with their marketing and communications. It’s been a crazy adventure! But I love being able to fill the gap for these types of organizations, especially the small ones that need my kind of help, but can’t afford a staffer or an agency.

Most of the people I work with just need help for a short period of time, so I have the ability to pop in and out, as needed. And, during that time, I can help move their mission forward. My goal is to make cause-focused organizations look and sound more professional so they can build a larger audience, increase sales or donations, and do more good.

But here are a few, other resources:

When in doubt, ask around. We all have our own networks, and most people are happy to suggest someone or something that might be able to help you. I also love asking in Facebook Groups because they're already built around tribes.

The point, though, is to not just sit and wonder. It's time to take action.

Hiring Tips From The Pros

I asked a few friends in these roles to share some advice with you. Keep these tips in mind when you hire independent contractors, freelancers, and consultants, so that you can make the best decision possible.

When hiring a graphic designer...

"The first step is to make sure you (and most importantly, your audience) enjoy their overall style. They don't need to have an exact portfolio example of what you're looking for, but the general tone should feel right. Second, I'd look to see if they've worked with similar organizations or have experience in your field. If you're a nonprofit, for example, it can be so helpful to work with a designer who already understands the nonprofit language. Third, consider the energy: the design process requires a lot of honest and open communication. It requires vulnerability on both sides. I think it's important that you feel comfortable with your designer and would enjoy meeting with them! So, ask for a discovery call or meeting to see if the right energy flows!
Your budget may require you to work with a less experienced designer, or a designer who doesn't have a distinct style yet. I wouldn't rule them out for those two reasons, but the energy has to be there."
- Madison Beaulieu, graphic designer and co-founder of Mad + Dusty

 When hiring a web designer...

"If you’re ready for your online presence to capture the essence of your brand, and work to attract clients, you’re ready to hire a web designer. 
Before reaching out to an expert, spend time on their website and consider how it resonates with you. If it makes a great first impression, is engaging, and leads you to a clear call to action, you know they can do that for you. Having a beautiful website is one thing, but having one that works is another. My tip for you is to know that you need both!"
- Alison Chandler, website and visual brand identity specialist

When hiring an event planner...

"I think that a lot of people are naïve when it comes to the budget for any event. Many clients don’t know how much it costs to hire a good photographer, caterer, etc. so, they’ll spend money on little things and before they know it, they’re way over budget.
My advice: choose your top three Items and spend the bulk of your money there. My top three are always food, music, and alcohol. I like invitations, but they aren’t the most important item to me. Now, if you’re a graphic designer or your company sells paper, the invitations are probably really important to you and that’s ok. Make invitations one of your top three. The important thing is to focus on what’s most important to you, and then build the rest of your budget from there."
- Kristi Collins, certified wedding and event planner at CoCo Red Events

When hiring voice talent...

"It’s often easier to grab the admin assistant with the great phone voice, or the singing maintenance man for a quick 'read through' of your outgoing message, but resist the urge. It’s not enough to have a nice voice. A quality voice talent must be able to tap into the audience your trying to reach with the feelings you want to convey, so that anyone who hears it will want to take action.
Your message is too important for it to sound like it’s being read from a handwritten notebook. With intentional script writing and the right voice, you’ll move beyond your customer or donor’s heads and into their hearts."
- Jennifer Wilder, voice talent

When hiring any freelancer/contractor/consultant...

"When you hire an expert to help you in a certain area of your business—listen to them. Trust them. You hired them for a reason, so let them do the job they were hired for. Sometimes that means taking a leap of faith and doing something different than you're used to. Sometimes it means trying something new that you're not entirely sure of. Experimentation is what business is all about—trying something new to take your business to a new level."
- Kristen Miller, Sales Funnel Strategist | Social Media Manager | Digital Marketing

I echo all of these ladies, and many of the same principles apply to copywriters as well!

 

If not now, then when?

You may be stuck thinking that you don't have the money or time to find and hire contractors/consultants/freelancers/interns. I get it, and I've been there too. Plenty of times.

And I'm not discounting those statements. They're valid concerns. But here's what I will ask you, "If not now, then when?"

Make a plan to begin your search or interviews. Make a plan to save the money. Make a plan to ask for help. Otherwise, time will continue to fly by, and you'll be no better off in six months than you are today. After all, where were you six months ago, having these same exact thoughts?

I don't want that for you. Your mission is too important. I want you to grow, have a bigger impact, and do more good. 

You've got a cause that you're fighting for. It's time to fight just a little harder.



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

 Whether you're a  nonprofit  or a for-profit with a social mission, you want to increase your organization's capacity and influence because you're fighting for something. So, how do you grow your small business? There's one simple way that I recommend you start thinking about today: Get help. Yes, it may be simple, but I realize it's not easy.

 Kristi Porter, Chief Do-Gooder at Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


How to Generate and Organize Content for Your Blog

This month we’ve made our way around the revolving door that is content marketing. If you haven’t had a chance to review Kristi’s take on email marketing, or our other posts on storytelling, trends in content marketing, or social media’s role in content marketing, then give those a rundown.

Among topics in the inescapable tide of content marketing is the importance of blogging. Blogging is the “meat and potatoes” of the internet right now and, if it’s not already, it should be an important tool in your marketing tool belt. 

Blogging builds your audience (in our case, Signifers), brand image, and increases your visibility on the internet. It’s also a very easy and practical way to show off your expertise. But don’t take our word for it—talk to our friend SEO. “Who’s SEO?”, you may ask. Well it’s not a “who,” but rather, a “what.” SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization

In layman’s terms, SEO is your visibility and popularity to followers, fans, and partners online. This is how you get to sit at the big kid’s table of websites and gain a following on the interwebs. Blogging plays a far more crucial role in you getting the attention you deserve than we sometimes like to believe.

Tech guru Larry Kim says, “If you’ve done any SEO at all, you’ve probably noticed that the stories that rank well tend to have high social share counts.”

 How to Generate and Organize Content for Your Blog

Blog Consistently: Start with Objectives in Mind

Search engines like Google and Bing use algorithms that discover analytics about your website. The more recurring visits, frequency of clicks, length of visits, and perpetual content (like blogs and social media) that these algorithms discover, the more likely it is that your website will be placed in an optimal position on search engines (hear: the coveted front page). Therefore, blog consistently. And, of course, make sure the content is good!

Soooo then, how do you blog consistently? To do this well, it begins with organization. If you want to blog well, you must plan well. 

You can’t assemble a car without the engine. You can’t construct a skyscraper without the frame. And you can’t create a phone without a silicon chip. Each of these objects has a core element—an piece that it can’t operate without. And each design is planned carefully around this centerpiece, knowing full well that the screen wouldn’t light up without the chip, the building tower go up without a frame, or the car fire up without an engine.

In the same way, you should create objectives and goals for your content. Start with a broad goal in mind and then move into the specifics required to accomplish it.

Objectives should be succinct, specific, and inform everything else. For example: 

  • Increase monthly sales by 5% in 90 days through increased blogging content about products
  • Increase email sign-ups by 150 in 60 days through increased exposure on your blog

Objectives exist as the frame for the overall picture. By setting clear objectives, you have a directed vision of where you’re going. Otherwise, it might lead others to believe that there is no consistency, thought pattern, or organization in your company’s writing. However, objectives require specific content. Starting from your objectives, first assess content that you have currently and then generate new ideas or improvements.

 

Auditing Previous Blogs: A Plan for Improvement

Last week, our other intern, Megan, suggested conducting a simple audit of all of your social media platforms. Through this process you can use an easy analysis—like SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats)—and revamp the existing content on your website. You have to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going.

In the same way you can analyze and improve Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, you can evaluate the current content on your blog. Take an hour or so to study your websites analytics. (Google Analytics is a great, free tool!) See which content performed best, what is now off-brand and may now need to be removed, and what can be updated and reused. Also, take note of what content should’ve been included, but wasn’t, what’s new with your nonprofit or social enterprise that should be discussed. You can certainly do a more in-depth audit, but that’s probably the quickest way to evaluate your current and previous edits. 

So, now, how do you generate new content?

 

Moving Past Writer’s Block: Here’s What to Blog About

In her guest post,  Ask The Experts: Content Marketing 101, Jennifer Garrett addressed the issue of content oriented writer’s block. Yes, there’s a solution to the cry, “I don’t know what to blog about!” 

Currently, the content that is the most valuable online is the content that tells a story and intersects with your audience. However, you also need to make them take an action as a result of reading your stellar content. This could be signing up for your email list, purchasing a product, registering for an event, or making a donation. Remember, it’s a mutually-beneficial relationship. So, start with your end goal and make a list of ideas that both aid that goal and serve your audience. 

Here are just a few types of blog post examples: 

  • Surveys
  • Feedback or answers to customer service questions
  • Holiday-oriented content
  • Transcript or summary of your podcast episodes
  • Product or service spotlight
  • Successes or updates
  • Year-end giving campaign
  • Tell people about what problem you solve and give examples
  • Confronting objections people may have to your work
  • Questions that prompt ideas or actions
  • Guest posts
  • Updates to old posts (revive if outdated and repost; from your audit)
  • Upcoming events
  • Partnership or sponsor highlights
  • Grants or awards won
  • Member or staff profiles
  • Insights into your culture
  • Your organization’s history
  • Mention influencers or celebrities that recommend you
  • Milestone celebrations

(Want 80 more idea? Click here.)

Also check out this previous post on 12 Questions That Inspire Content Creation.

After establishing each objective and writing a list of topics, create specific content to support it. For the example of “Increasing monthly sales by 5% in 90 days through increased blogging content about products,” you might create a month-long blogging series on popular products your company sells. So, if your social enterprises sells jewelry to fight human trafficking, talk about your cause and how the product will aid in that process. By talking about what you know, you will become an authority in that topic, and people will follow you and come back to your blog to read more about subjects that interest them.

 

Plot and Plan Ahead

Plotting out blog content six or 12 months in advance can seem like a tall order. However, there are a variety of tools to help aid and hone your marketing skills and consistency.
Google Sheets or Excel are easy to use, often recommended, and even utilized by a lot of pros. A simple Excel doc is even what we use here at Signify. It has simple headers for the date, topic, the action we want people to take as a result of reading, if a supplemental piece is being created for the post (like a checklist), relevant holidays to tie-in, and notes. And here’s an example that’s broken down by the team at Edgar.

By organizing your content, you’re creating a strategy for your organization. You’re telling yourself and your team what’s important to talk about right now, and in the future. It’s relevant and actionable. Creating a professional editorial calendar will also aid in this process.


I prefer to use Google Calendar or a computer’s calendar to amplify the benefits of an Excel sheet. Google Sheets are nice, but it’s additionally helpful to have your deadlines and purposed content stored in a calendar somewhere so you can see it visually and even add reminders. The combination of Google Sheets and Google Calendar can be a powerful planning tool. There are plenty of how-to’s on the internet for merging Google Sheets with Google Calendar. Take a look at this example. As always, the idea is to find a system that works for you, and that you can stick with.

 

Maintaining Frequency in Your Blog Posts

But what about frequency? We recommend blogging a minimum of once per month. But remember, this is a minimum, not ideal. But start something, and build on it. Create the consistency for yourself and your readers. This gives them an expectation of when they’ll see new content from you, and allows them to eagerly anticipate what you’ll be talking about next. A by-product of this is that you’ll start sticking to a schedule, when it might have previously been easy to let it slide. Plus, Google’s algorithm loves frequently updated content!

You may also be asking yourself when you should post? After researching the best times to post and surveying analytics on your website or blog, you might realize that Wednesday and Tuesday mornings are great times to post because your audience is online around that time. These analytics vary by audience, demographic, and region. Research your audience a little bit, look for the right times to post, and then maintain a consistent schedule. 

This research can be done through your website analytics, social media analytics, and even reading experts online. But don’t get too hung up on the analytics portion if that seems overwhelming. (Totally get it!) We’d rather you get started than put off regular blogging for another month or two because you don’t feel like you have all the information.

While you may have some topics that need to post at certain times, like sales or giving campaigns, you’ll also have gaps on your calendar to fill in, or loads of ideas you aren’t sure what to do with. Don’t let those ideas past or go to waste! Be sure to capture them so you can fill in your calendar as needed. You definitely want to have a reservoir of topics to choose from so the supply doesn’t run dry. 

 

Helpful Tools For the Planning Process

Here are a few tools to help you jot down those notes as well as plan your content: 

  • Word doc - See, it doesn’t have to be fancy! You can just keep those “extra” ideas here for safekeeping.
  • Evernote (or Microsoft OneNote) - Not necessarily the best platforms for specific date planning, but can be helpful for simply jotting down ideas. Kristi uses Evernote, and loves it.
  • Asana.com - Good for planning specific deadlines and tasks, and delegating to specific employees or yourself. We use this here at Signify.
  • Monday.com - Stripped down planning software

Through consistency and effectiveness in your planning, you can ensure greater success for your blog and begin to implement a strong content marketing strategy. It will begin to feel more intentional to you, and that feeling will also translate to your readers. That blog doesn’t need to stay bare! 

This practical approach of generating ongoing content can increase your company’s visibility, which is exactly what you’re looking for because that results in more sales or donations. And that’s why content marketing is so important.

 

Read the other posts in this series:




Boost Your Content Marketing Through Blogging

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Michael Griffith Banks is a graduate of the University of Georgia with a degree in Public Relations and a minor in Spanish. He’s throughly involved with UGA’s Office of Admissions, having served as an Orientation Leader for the University.


Building Better Content: How to Improve on Social Media

We’re continuing our theme of content marketing for the month, and this week we’re focusing on one teensy, tiny thing (joking, it’s huge): social media! Love it or hate, it it’s here to stay! So, we might as well learn our way around it and benefit from it.

Social media marketing is a huge part of content marketing. Why? Because you can quickly and easily use social media platforms to advertise and share content to your target audiences.

Over 70% of Americans are using social media! Not to mention pretty much everywhere else in the world. These platforms are massive and they literally help you reach millions of people. This is where you need to be spreading your message and promoting your business or organization, and you need to do it right.

The content you share on social media has the ability to attract your target audience and turn them into loyal customers or supporters. That’s why this is so important. It’s also the perfect opportunity to interact with your audience, whether it’s answering questions, addressing concerns, or just showing your appreciation!

Listening to your audience and understanding what they like and need will help you create more engaging and effective social media content. In turn, you'll improve your content marketing strategies and grow your nonprofit or social enterprise. But how? Let’s break down social media content marketing and the components you need to maximize your business exposure, easily.

Building Better Content: How to Improve on Social Media

Your first step: conduct a content audit on all of your current social media platforms.

This is your starting point to building a better social media presence. You need to evaluate what you have already done, assess your strengths and your weaknesses, and determine how you can improve. A simple content audit will allow you to see what posts have performed best and what topics your audience likes most, eliminate posts that are outdated or no longer relevant, locate gaps in your content, and generate new ideas. The goal is to create better content and increase traffic.

This doesn’t have to take long, only an hour or so! It depends largely on how long your social history is, and how in-depth you’d like to go. Just sort through your social media profiles and evaluate what you’ve posted. Most social media platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, also have really helpful post and profile analytics, and data on business pages that you can take advantage of. These usually show you how posts are doing in terms of likes, reach, engagement, etc.

It’s also important to look at how often you are posting. If you have a social media profile linked on your website that you rarely if ever touch, it’s probably a good idea to remove it! You don’t necessarily have to delete it, but you don’t want to promote something if your last post was four months ago….or let’s be honest, four years ago. So, let it go!

Developing a simple content plan for your social media profiles will also save you time and stress.

After you conduct your audit, we also recommend starting some sort of spreadsheet for current and future social media posts, if you haven’t already. Or a calendar! Here’s a good example from Curata. This is a more broad, long-term plan setup for content ideas, but it’s still good starting point.

This will help keep you organized and serve as a great reference tool should you ever need to go back and quickly and easily find a post. To go more in depth, I recommend creating a spreadsheet for each platform and then listing the date of the post, the content, and any links or outside sources you included. It doesn’t have to be super complicated, however, you can also add analytics later such as how many people were reached, the number of likes, etc. Knowing any of this information will make future audits easier, too!

Laying all your content out in a spreadsheet will help you see what items, events, holidays, etc., your organization needs to promote at a glance. Then you can fill in any gaps with more day-to-day, behind the scenes, or fun posts that also fit with your brand. Here’s another simple example of an Instagram plan for a service-based business.

To help develop your plan, ask yourself a few questions. What are your goals? Is it to get the viewer to visit your website? Do you want to gain more email subscribers? Do you need more donations, or more sales? What do you want the overall tone of your profile to be? Funny and lighthearted? Serious and issue-oriented? What kind of content does your audience want? Is it mainly photos, text, or videos (I’d definitely recommend using them all.)?

These questions will also help you generate content ideas. Figure out the answers and let that drive your content creation. Brainstorm ideas and get them in writing, then develop them further.

If you’re still stuck on what kind of content to post, here are some ideas:

  • Guest takeovers: Have someone on your staff or that you know talk about a relevant topic to your business/organization, something they are an expert in, or if they are an influencer, they can draw new fans to you with their perspective on your work.
  • How-to posts: Share helpful tips and advice with your audience.
  • Behind-the-scenes: Give your audience a look into the background of your business or nonprofit. This makes you more personable and approachable, too!
  • Do a Q&A session live on Facebook, Twitter, or on an Instagram Story. Be sure to engage with audience!
  • Create visuals like infographics to demonstrate how your business or nonprofit is making a change. Quotes are always popular, too.
  • Video is enormously popular right now, whether it’s live or recorded. Talk about your mission, show off your work, introduce your team, promote your events...the possibilities are endless!
  • Reuse and recycle: Are there previous pieces of content like blogs, videos, interviews, podcasts, etc., that you haven’t promoted in a long time? Or maybe they only lived on your website and never made it to social? See what you already have available that should still the light of day again.
  • Conduct a poll: This is another great way to interact with your audience and get their feedback. Facebook and Instagram Stories offer built-in polls you can use, making it super easy.
  • Show your viewers what a day in the life looks like for you or for another key member of your nonprofit or social enterprise. You can do this via photos, video, or story!
  • Share your favorites: This could include books, podcasts, movies, products, another business...anything you think your audience will like or benefit from! Give some recommendations!

It’s a good idea to mix evergreen and timely content. Evergreen content is content that stays fresh and relevant for a long period of time. Like an evergreen tree, it never dies. Timely content is content revolved around more short-term situations that won’t be relevant in a few months. For example, a holiday, event, fundraiser, promotion, etc., would all be considered timely content.

Both types of content are important. Timely content shows what you are actively doing and evergreen content will always be useful. You can continue to repost and repurpose it. A good rule of thumb here is the 80/20 rule. Eighty of your content is evergreen, 20% is timely.

Speaking of time...

Consistency is key in social media content.

You have to make sure you can stay consistent in developing and putting out content on social media. If you don’t, people will forget you or won’t even bother following you. You have to stay on their minds and in their feeds.

I know this may seem daunting and overwhelming—there are so many platforms to keep up with! However, I think it’s better to consistently keep up with just a few, strong platforms than to try to keep up with all of them, spreading yourself too thin, and then end up neglecting some. So, pick a few that work for you and your audience and make them your babies.

The most used social media sites right now are Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. These are the four I would recommend keeping up with and building a presence on. Familiarize yourself with these platforms and what they can do for you and your business. Here’s a quick guide.

You also need to determine where your specific target audience hangs out the most, though. That may differ from business to business. Try to see where your audience congregates and then make those platforms your top priority.

In terms of how many times a day or week you should post and when, this also varies by platform.

 

According to the Content Marketing Institute, posting on Facebook once or twice a day, monitoring Twitter all day, and spending time each day on LinkedIn is the best.

Studies also show that at a minimum you should post three times a week to Facebook. Once a day is optimal, but you can build. Three times a day on Twitter is the minimum, 15 is optimal, and 30 is maximum. You want to post about three pins a day to Pinterest, twice to once a week on LinkedIn, and post once to three times a day on Instagram. Again, you can always start at the minimum and build up from there once you get the hang of it. Find what works for you!

As far as times of day goes, here is a good article on the best days and times to post to each social media site. I would also highly recommend setting up a social media calendar or using a scheduling tool like Buffer, Smarterqueue, or Hootsuite.

These tools will make your life so much easier. You just write your social media post, add an image or video, schedule a day and time, assign it to a profile, and you’re done! No more worries, it’ll just automatically post to your profile when you scheduled it to. Here’s more on that.

See, social media isn’t so scary anymore, is it? You just have to determine your audience, find what works best for the both of you, and then get organized. Once you start brainstorming and getting the hang of things, you’ll be surprised how quickly ideas flow!

But, again, the point here isn’t to overwhelm you. It’s to help you evaluate what you’ve done so far, make a plan for the future, and start posting great content consistently. Your consistency may be slow right now, and that’s fine. But creating a schedule and plan to follow will help you and your followers.

Social media content marketing: check. Come back next week to learn more about maximizing your blog!

 

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Building Better Content: How to Improve on Social Media

Megan Westbrook

Megan Westbrook holds a B.A. in journalism with a focus in public relations and a minor in Spanish from Georgia State University. An aspiring writer, her interests reside in blogging, social media, content creation, design, and photography. She is also a passionate social justice advocate and interested in nonprofit or cause-focused work. Megan is currently a receptionist at Servcorp in Atlanta, Georgia. 


What (and Why) You Should Be Emailing Your List

We've been talking all things content marketing this month, and today's subject is a biggie. Everyone wants to talk social media all the time, but it's not the most important thing when it comes to engaging with your current donors and customers. That's right I said it—social media is NOT the most important thing. Breathe that in, people.

Don't get me wrong, social media is an important (and unavoidable) part of marketing, especially when it comes to finding new prospects, but it isn't the top priority for those currently in your circle of trust. I'd rather you stop focusing on social media, and start focusing on your email list. 

I've had many, many conversations with friends and clients about this topic. I get some slow head-nodding, blank eyes, puzzled looks, and then a question or two usually follows. Something along the lines of, "Why is email marketing so important?" or "Ok, but what should I send to my email list?" I usually also hear that people do send emails to their fans and supporters, but it's been a few...months.

Sending emails just sorta happens when they get around to it. Maybe they'd planned to send out an email blast, but there was yet another fire to put out. Or, they'll email again when they have something "important" to say. 

Any of this sound familiar?

I'm here today to tell you what and why you should be emailing your list. Because it's vital to the health of your organization. Yep, it's that big of a deal. Whether you're concerned about content marketing for your nonprofit or social enterprise, or not, email needs to move up on your priority list.

 What (and Why) You Should Be Emailing Your List - For Nonprofits and Social Enterprises

WHY EMAIL MARKETING IS IMPORTANT

Though social media is the shiny object of the marketing world, email marketing should be the staple. It's true that nothing will ever beat in-person conversations; those should always be the first option. But for electronic or online communication, email should be your focus.

Why? You "own" your list. We've already seen a handful of algorithm changes on Facebook this year alone, and they're all making it more difficult for your business to get seen by your fans and followers. That's great for us as individuals who want to see more pics of our friends kids, pets, vacations, or last night's dinner. Not so great from a marketing standpoint.

And as things change again, and they will, you'll be further and further removed from your audience, unless you are paying to get in front of them. However, with an email address, you land directly in their inbox. Whatever you need to communicate to them is front-and-center. They don't have to go hunting for it, and they don't have to wait to just see it occasionally, if the internet powers that be, decide today's the day to show them.

Plus, if one of those nifty social networks goes away tomorrow, or decides to remove businesses entirely, you have no way to reach those people. Poof! They're gone. But you know what you do have? That's right, your email list!

You also have more real estate in emails to get your message across than on social media, and emails still have the highest conversion rates as well. Two, more very good reasons!

Oh, and if you're slightly panicked about neglecting your social media, here's my solution.

(Side note: I recommend setting a reminder to download your list a few times per year so you never lose it either. Unfortunately, nothing is guaranteed!)

WHAT TYPES OF EMAILS YOU SHOULD SEND TO YOUR LIST?

Okay, now that you understand why you should be making more use of your email list, you might be stuck on what to send. Besides a lack of time, this is the issue I hear most.

So, what should you email to your list? The good news is that the options are pretty limitless! 

Here are just a few examples:

  • Program/product/service updates
  • New hires, job openings, or internship opportunities
  • Recent blog posts
  • Behind-the-scenes details
  • Thoughts from the founder or staffers
  • Links and resources your audience would find helpful
  • Tips and tricks
  • Surveys
  • Needs list (ex: resources a nonprofit might need to further their mission)
  • Staff or recipient profiles
  • Holiday announcements or celebrations
  • Photos or videos of people using your product/service 
  • Testimonials and stories
  • End of year impact reports
  • Recent press/media

(Want 85 more ideas? Click here!)

Think about it: These people willingly gave you their email. That means they want to hear from you! And they want to hear from you more than a couple of times per year... So, don't neglect sending just because you don't have any "big announcements." 

I also recommend keeping a list somewhere of topics that would be good for your emails, even if it means they need to wait a while. You don't want to lose any good ideas! I use Evernote, since it's always handy, but you can use Google Docs or Sheets, a Word doc, a sticky on your computer, or whatever is a good fit.

To make things even easier on yourself, you can even set up a template for your regular email newsletters so that all you have to do is just drop in the new content each time. This is exactly what I do with Special Features. I have a formula that I follow of specific things I want to communicate to my audience. Each section has a purpose. Doesn't mean that it'll stay that way forever, but right now, it works for me.

 

A FEW TIPS ON FORMATTING YOUR EMAILS

Photos and graphics, or no photos and graphics? Headers or no headers? Long or short?

The truth is that I've seen emails of all shapes and sizes get the job done. Some are beautiful and some are plain. So, whether you have yours laid out by a professional graphic designer or not is your call. What works with your brand and your voice? That choice is up to you.

Here's what I will stress, however: It needs to be easy to read on laptops, tablets, and phones. (A LOT of people are reading your emails on their phones these days!) That may sound completely intuitive, and like I don't need to say it, but trust me, I do. I have seen some emails that likely have great content, but they are so hard to look at and read that I just hit delete. I'm sure you've done the same.

So, what's the cure? Well, a lot of the advice we've been giving over the past few months for websites and blogs carries over here, too. 

Namely:

  • Write is short paragraphs of one to three sentences. If you're reading anything on a phone, do you want to just stare at a wall of text? Answer: Nope.
  • Use headers where needed for clarity and changing topics, especially if the email is long. People are skimmers, whether we like it or not. Don't fight it.
  • Let white space be your friend. 
  • Leave the jargon at the office. Keep the language easy to understand.
  • Give clear calls to action (telling people what you want them to do), and make it easy for them to do it.
  • Make it about the reader as well as your organization. Make the content relatable, and let them feel a part of your work.
  • Go back to your brand standards. All your fonts and photos should match your brand, or be extremely complementary if, for example, you have a really uncommon font. But make sure everything looks like goes together—and matches your brand. Watch out for sizes, spacing, and keep those headers in check, too. Tip: Look at it like a blog post. Get all matchy, matchy.

If you think that you do want to include graphics, but aren't good at design, have a graphic designer create templates that you can use over and over, just replacing text and photos as needed. This is what I did.

I had my designers create a standard template for my monthly newsletter, a couple variations for different categories of opt-ins, and a really generic one for simple announcements. Now, anytime I need to create a new email blast, I just choose the right template and switch out the info and graphics—presto! Now, I don't have to reinvent the wheel every time. (Hint: This also makes coming up with your content easier because you know what "boxes" to fill in!)

Your formatting is just as valuable as your content, so don't skip this step.

 

WHEN SHOULD YOU EMAIL YOUR LIST?

As with pretty much everything else, there are no concrete, black and white answers. Sometimes that's a good thing because you may feel bad that you can't keep up with "standards." However, sometimes that's bad because you don't have a guaranteed blueprint to follow for success. What works for some may not work for others.

But, here's what I tell my clients: I'd like you to email your list at least monthly. I guarantee you've got something to share each and every month. If you can email more frequently with smaller updates throughout the month, do it! But if you wait more than a month, you risk being forgotten.

Remember, we're all out of sight, out of mind creatures. So, if you aren't talking to your list, you'd better believe someone else is!

I'd also like you to figure out a consistency or frequency that you can stick to. This is an effort to make sure it happens, and also helps people expect when to hear from you. Both are uber important.

For example, in an ideal world, I'd email my list a couple of times per month with small updates and information that will be helpful to them. But as a solopreneur, I've got a lot on my plate. So, for now, Special Features goes out once per month. Specifically, the first Thursday of the month. I even have a reminder in Asana to help keep me on task. One particularly busy month, I worked late and finally hit send about 10:00 p.m., because come h*ll or high water, that thing was going out on the first Thursday of the month! It's a promise I made to myself and my tribe.

Others I know send emails every Friday, or every other Wednesday. So, make the decision of when you're going press the magic button, and commit to it.

THE NUMBER ONE EMAIL MARKETING MISTAKE

One of the biggest problems in not emailing your list very often is that you only tend to email them when you need something. This is a big no, no.

It takes time to build the "know, like, and trust" factor with your audience. This is what leads them to action.

Like real life, this is a relationship to be nurtured. So, how would you like it if you had a friend that only talked to you when they wanted you to buy something or donate to their cause? Ewwww. I imagine they'd move off your friend list pretty quickly!

Yet, this is what I see nonprofits and social enterprises doing again and again. They get busy, and only email their fans and followers when it's convenient for them. As a result, donations flounder and sales fumble.

The result? Organizations are left thinking email marketing doesn't work. So, once again, they put it off.

But the lesson should be to change the strategy. Begin working on the relationship with your audience regularly and gradually, rather than using it part of the backup plan.

 

EMAIL MARKETING AS A STRATEGY

Here are Signify, we're big on strategy. Yes, it's good to be sending those emails, writing those blog posts, and connecting on social media, but it becomes much more effective when there's a strategy behind it.

Other than, "because I have to," WHY are you sending the email?

Do you need to sell a product, drive donations, announce a new program, or promote an event? All of these are pretty big "asks" and will usually require more than one email. A series of emails primes them to take action. This gives them all the information or motivation they need to make the decision. And this requires planning. You'll need to figure out ahead of time what what to say and when to say it.

Often, once you lay out on a calendar or spreadsheet all the things you absolutely need to say in a year, you'll see how fast space actually fills up. Then you can plug in other types of emails such as the above examples.

Of course, the unexpected will come up, and that's fine! Nothing wrong with a special announcement now and again.

If you find it overwhelming to think about a year's worth of emails, start with six months, or a quarter, or heck, even a month. But it's time to get intentional. Email marketing is too important to ignore or leave to chance.

What questions do you have?

 

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 Whether you're concerned about content marketing for your  nonprofit  or  social enterprise , or not, email needs to move up your priority list.

 Kristi Porter of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.