Work ON Your Business, Not IN Your Business (Part 2)

There are a couple of stereotypes that come to mind when the word "entrepreneur" is brought up. First, is the more romanticized notion of being able to travel, take long lunches, and basically do what you want, when you want. On the other hand, there's the overworked, underpaid, and basically frazzled lump of a person. Those are the opposite ends of the spectrum, and honestly, depending on the day, either can be accurate.

We entrepreneurs are definitely lured away from more traditional jobs by the first persona, but for many of us, it's the second one that ends up taking root. And though none of us signs up for long hours and little pay long-term, those of us who are leading purpose-driven organizations often just chock it up to the cost of doing business differently. But I don't think this has to be the case.

Last week, I shared that I'd recently finished the book The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, which made the phrase "working ON your business, not IN your business" popular. In that post, I recounted that he says there are three different types of personalities that all business owners must display in order to be successful: the entrepreneur, manager, and technician. Building on that idea, today I want to share his strategy for growth and scale. And, like last time, I'll also tell you what some of the nonprofit and social enterprise leaders I admire do to work on their business.

Work ON Your Business, Not IN Your Business (Part 2)

The first part of the book, the section which primarily deals with those three personalities, made perfect sense to me. I recognized those traits in myself, but also saw areas of improvement I know I need to work on if I want to making it in business, as well as see my social enterprise thrive.

However, there were aspects of this second part that initially rubbed me the wrong way. But I pushed through, and Gerber made a strong case for his argument. I think I even became a believer along the way.

So, what was it?

The Franchise Model

The stance Gerber takes in this book is a bold one, in my opinion. He submits that to grow and scale, all small businesses owners must adopt a franchise mentality. That is, they must on some level be able to replicate themselves through systems and processes.

Some of you might automatically get stuck after reading that paragraph. Even being a girl who loves systems, "I totally paused," to quote Clueless, when I started this section of the book. At this point, I don't see myself setting up numerous Signify offices around the country, or hiring hundreds of employees. In fact, that thought makes me kinda want to barf. However, I am flying solo on this venture right now, and it would be super terrific to one day maybe have a bookkeeper, a few specialists on retainer, or heck, even an intern. And those things mean that I need to think bigger. I need to think in terms of scaling. In Gerber's philosophy, I need to franchise.

If a business is to thrive, it must obviously move beyond the founder. It cannot be wholly dependent on me or my skills—or in your case, you. Otherwise, it can feel very burdensome. It's more of just a job at that point. If I am out on vacay or sick in bed or taking that glorious three-hour lunch, nothing's getting done. Sound familiar?

Gerber equates business growth to the development of a person, with an infancy, adolescence, and maturity stage. The infant stage is exciting. Everything is new, but it can also easily get overwhelming. There are so many tasks to complete, and not enough help or time to complete them. You enter the adolescence stage when you hire someone. This is pretty spectacular, but too many owners end up wanting a break so desperately that they shove everything on to the newbie, which creates a whole new set of problems. It's possible said newbie either becomes overwhelmed too, may not yet carry the vision, or may have a different take on doing things that they execute in your absence. None of those are good alternatives. Gerber calls it "managing by abdication rather than delegation."

At this point, he says the owner has two viable options: the first is to either return to their comfort zone of the one man band, or expand with a franchise model mindset. 

Turnkey Revolution

His solution to success is the "turnkey revolution," which is a model that allows basically anyone to complete the process. Yes, just like a franchise. He uses the example of McDonald's.

While many businesses fail every year, putting processes, systems, and organization in place allows 75% of franchises to succeed. Wow, that's crazy! This is because they are consistent and predictable. And we humans are often creatures of habit, so those two words are comforting.

There are four basic principles behind the turnkey model:

  1. Design for simplicity and efficiency. Your system should determine the outcome, not your people.
  2. Document everything in an operations manual. This includes the roles, the work itself, and everything between.
  3. Predictable service is a necessity. You must provide consistent value to your customers (or donors, for you nonprofit founders who are still with us).
  4. Be results-oriented. Create a profit for your business, and be able to measure goals and objectives. And, of course, be ready to tweak at any time.

My Hang-Ups

I've already mentioned my first issue, and that was trying to define what scaling meant to me. Through his examples in the book, he is definitely talking about becoming a big player, but again, at this point, I have no desire for that. But his case was strong enough to help me realize that even wanting to scale on a very small scale could benefit from what he had to say.

Item number two may have made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up as well, and that was "Your system should determine the outcome, not your people." Okay, ouch! I pursed my lips and scowled a bit when he started in on this idea. After all, if I'm one person now, and want to expand that to two, three, or five people, I want to hire great people! I want to love them, and be friends with them, and invite them for sleepovers. (Okay, maybe not that last one, but I haven't ruled it out.)

But, after thinking about it a little more, I'd heard something similar before that I did agree with, and that was to hire based on the capability of the person, not the job description. Gerber may not agree with me there, but I'm gonna go with it. His point is that when you get a good system in place, most anyone should be able to pick up the ball and run with it. You should make it that simple, efficient, and seamless. And there is a lot of that I can stand behind.

Along those lines, I was a little put off with his continued use of McDonald's as an example. I'm personally not a fan for many reasons. But I am smart enough to recognize the business sense and innovation that company, and Ray Kroc, had in the early days. It just took reframing that concept for me. An assembly line is not what I'm looking for, but because I love systems, I understand the value of putting a process in place to help guide or predict an outcome.

The other thing I'll say is that if you choose to read the book, he pretty much sticks to product-based businesses to illustrate his point. So, you service-based guys and gals like me will need to think a little more intuitively. 

Overall, I really did find the book interesting and worth my time. I would recommend it as well. There are some steps I've already started putting in place along these lines, and plenty more to come. If anything, it'll just get you thinking differently about your little engine that could.

If you've read The E-Myth Revisited, what did you think?

What It Looks Like in Action

I also asked a few small business owners that I know, or follow online, to share how they work on their business, not just in their business. Here's what they had to say:

"You can't do everything on your own. Outsource what you can to freelancers, so you can focus on scale and the North Star of your vision." – Grant Trahant, Causeartist
“Every year on January 2, the Plywood staff takes a retreat to focus on the year ahead. We turn off our email and spend the first few days of the year focusing on the big picture." – Callie Murray, Plywood People
“For sixteen years, through North Point and Orange, I have heard ‘work on it instead of just in it.’ I get it, but it is so difficult to live it out. With everything thing that needs to get done, stopping to theorize, dream, analyze, and ask tough questions often doesn’t make the list. But I declared summer of 2017 the summer of analysis. This summer we have worked on it instead of just in it, and it has changed the direction of our division in many ways. The greatest benefit of working on it, is the peace of mind that you are working on the right things.” – Ted Lowe, MarriedPeople
“To continually improve our effectiveness, we block four hours per week for the entire team to work 'on' the business. During this time, we may work on our marketing initiatives or redesign key business processes. There are weeks when it's really hard to protect the time on our calendars. However, even without a 100% success rate on our goal, we've seen our organization's projects move forward more consistently than ever before.” – Kevin Jennings, Junction 32
“The only way I actually find time to work on my businesses, instead of just in them, is by making them a priority. Think back to high school or college dating . . . if your crush was available to hang out, it didn’t matter if you had class in two hours, or a paper due tomorrow, or a project to work on. You can bet you were hanging out with your crush! You found time to meet up with them, because it was your priority. Your business is no different. You have to trust that the work that needs to get done will get done when you take the time to make working on your business a priority, just like it did when you were younger and you survived school work and a date with your crush all in one day.” - Christina Scalera, Founder of The Contract Shop
“The thing I've had to learn as Refuge is growing from a small mom-and-pop venture to a larger-scale nonprofit is to let go! Not to let go of vision and culture, but to let go of the details. That's not a problem for me in some areas—the things I don't like to do or don't do well—but anything having to do with messaging or partying, I want to have my hands in it. I have to find people I trust and let them lead. It's freeing, but hard at first. In the end, it's so worth it, not just for your organization and your own sanity, but for the people who take those details, learn, grow, and knock it out of the park. Plus, they get the credit and satisfaction, and that's really cool.” – Kitti Murray, Refuge Coffee Co.

Read the first part of the series.



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

I recently finished the book The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, which made the phrase "working ON your business, not IN your business" popular. Today I want to share his strategy for growth and scale. And I'll also tell you what some of the nonprofit and social enterprise leaders I admire do to work on their business.

(Amazon links are affiliate links.)


Kristi Porter, founder at www.signify.solutions

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.


Work ON Your Business, Not IN Your Business (Part 1)

I've recently become a little obsessed with the phrase "work ON your business, not IN your business," made popular by Michael Gerber. Since my own business turned one this summer, I've been in a constant state of reflection, evaluation, and motivation. And those words, and his book, The E-Myth Revisited, kept popping up in conversations and online. Not a coincidence! So, I finally decided give it a read (via Audible). I can say that it was well worth my time, and I think that it would be worth yours too.

Since nonprofits and social enterprises are mission-driven, and not profit-driven, it can be difficult to understand or incorporate a traditional "business mindset." Heck, that phrase may even sound a bit icky to you. After all, you and I aren't in this for business as usual. But, hang with me, because I believe there are some valuable lessons to pull from this book that you can use in your organization. Think about it, how much good can we do if we can't grow and scale? Serving a larger purpose takes a strong strategy. One person can absolutely make a difference, but the point is to bring others along, right? And if your organization continually struggles or gets stuck, you won't be available to help anyone. Ouch! I know that's not what you want, and it's not what I want for you.

Have you heard the phrase "work ON your business, not IN your business," made popular by Michael Gerber in The E-Myth? Since nonprofits and social enterprises are focused on the mission, and not solely the profit, it can be difficult to understand or maintain a traditional "business mindset." In fact, it may often be considered undesirable. But I think there are some valuable business lessons to pull from this book. 

While there are many ideas in this book that are intriguing (some of which I admit that I was hesitant about at first), I'm only going to focus on two, over-arching themes of the book. I'm also going to share what a few other, stellar nonprofit and social enterprise leaders said when I asked them how they work on their business.

The big idea I want to chat about today are the three "personalities" Gerber notes that every business owner must identify and utilize: the entrepreneur, manager, and technician. He states that all business owners already have these personas inside them, but most people tend to lean heavily on one, and rely very little on the other two. However, he believes that it takes all three to be successful. He actually makes a case for that feeling you get of being pulled in multiple directions! To me, that's reassuring.

THREE FOR THE PRICE OF ONE

The entrepreneur is, as you'd expect, the dreamer, innovator, and visionary. On the other hand, the manager craves order, solves problems, and enjoys details. And the technician is the craftsman who actually gets the work done.

Every year, approximately one million small businesses literally or figuratively open their doors. One million! By the following year, 40% of them are closed. And four out of five don't make it to their five-year anniversary. Sad! I know you are out there trying to make the world a better place, and so, we need you to survive. Not only that, we need you to thrive!

Gerber says that the average small business owner is 10% entrepreneur, 20% manager, and 70% technician. Most small businesses fail because a technician isn't necessarily a good business owner. This guy/gal is a worker bee, but can't necessarily think long-term or accomplish large goals. They only focus on the task right in front of them. If that's the case, he/she is likely either burn out or continue to struggle because the work can only be sustained for so long by that one person, and they aren't making enough profit to bring in other people.

Likewise, if we rely too heavily on our inner entrepreneur, we'll have oodles of ideas, but never actually accomplish anything. And then the manager is stuck right in the middle without the other two, constantly pushing paper, answering emails, and posting on social media (hear: staying very busy), but with no direction or substance to back it up.

Which personality feels more dominant for you? Entrepreneur, manager, or technician? Gerber is right on target for me. I definitely have facets of all three, and value all three in myself, but I mostly rely on my technician, because she makes the moola. :) 

Oh, and this is a good exercise to think through even if you have a partner or small team. One of these personalities may be more prevalent across the board, and you'll need to find a way to bring some balance. 

Next week, we'll talk about Gerber's strategy for success. But I wanted to begin by understanding where we're all starting from. Again, his belief is that it takes all three of these personalities working in harmony for small businesses owner to achieve success.

I have no doubt that, like me, you got a little overwhelmed when you started your organization. You knew how to do one thing well, or maybe even a few things, but as a small business owner, you had to learn a whole bunch of skills to stay afloat . . . IT, marketing, admin, HR, fundraising, salesperson, social media manager, writer, coffee gopher, pep squad captain, etc. That definitely works for a while, but it's not sustainable. It's not going to allow you to grow (no matter how you apply that definition to your business), or help more people through your mission.

So, first identify your dominant personality. Then, consider ways that you can start developing the other two. Think of it as being holistic, well-rounded, or even just what it takes to be the #WorldsBestBoss. This is the beginning, the foundation.

Intrigued? Pick up a copy of the book. I highly recommend it!

WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE IN ACTION

And if you're looking for some ideas of how you can work on your business, rather than simply in your business, here's some feedback from a few pros:

“I prioritize goals weekly and quarterly, and make sure to keep them in a place where I see them every day. This helps me remember what's truly important, and keeps me moving toward bigger goals on a daily basis.” – Joanna Waterfall, Yellow Co.
“One of the best ways I know to guard time to work on it, not in it, is by ensuring I don't schedule most of my time away in meetings. I ensure that no more than 50% of my time is spent in meetings. Ideally, it's 30%. That way, I have 50-70% of my time to dream, write, create, and work on it, not in it.” – Carey Nieuwhof, www.LeadLikeNeverBefore.com
“I use time blocks on certain days throughout my week, which are for specific, higher-level projects that make my work easier in the long run. One of the things I do during these time blocks is work on my content library. These are spreadsheets of content focused on evergreen—undated, but always relevant—blog posts and quotes that I can schedule into my social media calendar. Cataloging this content and repurposing it in this way helps me to keep helpful and interesting content in front of my customer's eyes on social media, without always having to take the time to create new content. Between scheduling out this evergreen content from my library of spreadsheets, I sprinkle in current, dated, timely content and information that keeps things fresh on my channels.” - Jennifer Wilder, Voiceover Artist and Social Media Manager
"I utilize a To Do List organized by order of importance so I'm always engaged with the most important issues of our organization." – Larry Witherspoon, Automotive Training Center
“I work with a coach. Having regular check-ins and accountability helps me keep my eyes on the prize, as it were. I also invest in my development (and the development of my team). Professional development budgets are often overlooked in small businesses and organizations, but it means so much to me and to my staff to be able to focus on learning and growth." – Cindy Wagman, The Good Partnership
“I do find myself in the trap of working IN vs ON my business more frequently than I wish, but my best approach for getting above it and feeling like I am giving real strategic thought and leadership is by connecting and carving out time with others not directly involved with the business, but whom I trust and respect. This may be a lunch date with one person, a working session with a peer group, or a professional speaker event within my network circles. This ‘space’ and time always allow me to hear from others, learn from their challenges and focus, and think about intersecting opportunities for SparkFire Active. Every time, I come out energized, refreshed, and with a clearer roadmap for the plan I want to be working on. The spirit of creativity and collaboration elevates my focus. – Samantha Hodgkins, SparkFire Active


PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

Have you heard the phrase "work ON your business, not IN your business," made popular by Michael Gerber in The E-Myth? Since nonprofits and social enterprises are focused on the mission, and not solely the profit, it can be difficult to understand or maintain a traditional "business mindset." In fact, it may often be considered undesirable. But I think there are some valuable business lessons to pull from this book.

(Amazon links are affiliate links.)


Kristi Porter, founder at www.signify.solutions

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.


Ask the Experts: Understanding Your Audience

Each month, I invite guest contributors to speak about timely, relevant, and sought-after topics that are important for cause-focused organizations like yours to be aware of as you grow. For August, I've invited my friend, Jen Gordon, to share about uncovering the hidden desires of your donors and customers. Understanding your audience will be a key to your success.

Uncover the hidden desires of your donors and customers.

Q. What are the latest trends in your industry?

A. What I’m seeing lately is a trend toward companies identifying their marketing strategy first, and then outlining the tactics they will take to align with that strategy. By “strategy," I mean really digging into the hidden and unspoken desires of your prospect, and developing your approach to that audience around those wants.

In the past I’ve seen marketers using tactics like, “Hey, let’s send out a direct mail piece like the one I saw from XYZ organization.” Or, “Oh, let’s send an email campaign about our next fundraiser,” before truly identifying why their prospects would want to engage the content.

There has always been interest in the marketing world around the psychology of marketing, but today there is a lot more content readily available about the psychological drivers that cause prospects to take a certain action, to leave, buy, or donate. Nir Eyal writes a blog that focuses on consumer behavioral triggers and habits. Though most of his work focuses on software development, the concepts he teaches are applicable to any industry.

Q. What is the biggest mistake you see people making in regards to what you do?

A. One of the mistakes I have seen many times over the years of creating landing pages and sales funnels is that business owners may have a short-term plan or campaign they want to launch, but don’t have a clear roadmap for the year in terms of where they want to be in 30/60/90 days or six months, etc. They generally know what they want to achieve, but the path getting there is often unclear.

Right now, I’m working on a marketing calendar (with some inspiration from this SEJ post) for my own product, the Hope Deck, using Google Sheets, Google Calendar and Trello—all free tools!

Q. What is your best piece of advice?

A. If you aren’t trained on how to uncover your prospect, donor, or customer’s hidden, unspoken wants/desires, then find someone who is. :) Learning how to do this while working on the Hope Deck has completely changed how I connect to, and communicate with, my audience.

It has allowed me to understand how I can bring the maximum amount of value to my customers. I no longer assume that I am a part of my target audience, which I have done in the past. My mind is open to a wider range of problems people want to solve, and emotions they want to feel or not feel.

Q. What is one thing readers can do this week to improve?

A. Start figuring out what your audience really wants—not what they need, but what they want. I created a spreadsheet for the Hope Deck where I am in the process of identifying my customer’s unspoken desires. Don't get overwhelmed. Keep it simple to begin, and then edit or expand it over time.

Q. Anything else we should keep in mind?

A. The best way to uncover these hidden wants and desires is to actually talk to your customers or donors. I’d recommend recording the conversations, if possible, so you can review them later and pick up on details you may miss in the moment. Another option is to get them in writing through emails or surveys. You'll then use their language when speaking to them in your emails, social media, and any other communication pieces, so that it's familiar and relatable.

And be sure to ask them open-ended questions about why they choose to partner with, donate to, purchase from, or do business with you. Most of the time they won’t express their hidden desires outright, but you can infer from their answers what is important to them, and from there brainstorm motivation, emotional triggers, and things like that.


Jen Gordon is a momma, artist, and entrepreneur based in Atlanta, Georgia. For the past eight years of her career, she’s specialized in conversion centered design, working closely with marketers and business owners to increase sales by testing and optimizing their sales funnels. Her geeky passions include finishing stuff, brain rewiring, crafts of any sort, and anything Dolly Parton has ever said or sung. :) You can find her latest creative project, a collection of inspirational postcards, at www.HopeDeck.com.



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

Start figuring out what your audience really wants—not what they need, but what they want. Uncovering the hidden wants and desires of your audience will be a key to your success.

Kristi Porter, founder at www.signify.solutions

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.


Why Free Help Isn't Always the Best Option

Whether you are just getting your organization off the ground, are in a growth phase, or are trucking along at a good pace, today's topic has probably hit your radar at some point. So far this month, I've covered the lessons I learned from my first year in business, 10 tools to make your small business look more professional, and my favorite tip to get people to spread the word about you. But now, I want to address how you should approach a situation in which you're asked for, or offered, free help.

No matter from what perspective you're reading this post, as a "do good" organization, you likely have a love-hate relationship with free help. You're either at a nonprofit or purpose-driven, for-profit who has taken advantage of long- or short-term volunteers, or you've been asked to do something for free for which you'd normally charge. 

And you likely have both good and bad experiences. I know I do.

Here's why free help isn't always the best option for nonprofits and social enterprises.

Volunteers and interns can either be the best thing that ever happened to you, or the worst. Nonprofits often heavily rely on volunteers to keep the doors open. And social enterprises, especially just starting out, may be in the same position. Sometimes these people are even called interns, and become more of the process. You, like me, may also know fully-functioning businesses that are solely run by volunteers. Any of these can be a great strategy. But, it just depends on who these people are, and how hard they're willing to work. Regardless, a system should be put into place to account for any "bad eggs" that do come along. In these situations, people rarely have bad intentions. They may, however, have a bad work ethic. Or the scope of the position may change, or it was never adequately explained. There can easily be fault on both sides.

On the flip side, there may be times when you or your organization is asked to do something for free. It could be offering your service at an event, like providing free coffee at a conference. Or it might be giving away your product, such as samples in a goodie bag. As before, neither is a bad option. In fact, they could lead to other revenue sources or exposure you might not receive otherwise. But every opportunity should be carefully thought out. I don't think there is a blanket response. Value is measured in more ways than one.

In today's post, I shared with the folks over at Horkey Handbook all about the pros and cons of either being approached by someone who offers their help for free, or how to handle being asked to do something for free. 

READ THE FULL POST HERE.

 



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

There are both values and costs when it comes to volunteers and interns. Social enterprises and nonprofits must weigh the pros and cons when either offered free help, or asked to provide their service or product for free.

Kristi Porter, founder at www.signify.solutions

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.


Make It Easy For People to Talk About You

This month we've been talking about building your business, lessons to learn from, and making it look more professional. Today I want to give you one of my top tips for getting the word out about your organization, a new product or service, latest initiative, or some other big news you want people to know about.

Make it easy for people to talk about your organization, your latest initiative, a product or service, or your latest big news with this one, simple, but powerful tip.

I first heard about this strategy in an interview Jon Acuff did years ago with Connect Faith magazine. It certainly wasn't the focus of the article. It was just sort of a side note in the feature, but it stopped me in my tracks. I think I literally quit reading and exhaled, "hmmm," aloud. It was so simple, but so remarkable for me as an event marketing professional. I started implementing it immediately, and never looked back. It was an incredibly effective tool for the organization I worked for at the time (that they still use), and it's proven itself time and again for the clients I work with now.

So, what is it?

Provide social media samples and images for your network of influencers.

Let me explain. You likely write emails, blogs, and social media posts for your organization's latest, greatest, and next big thing. You spend a lot of time crafting exactly what needs to be said, sending it out to your database, and posting it on your social outlets. If you have a staff or board, maybe you even give them a nudge to forward and share it. You're excited, and you know they will be too. You're gearing everyone up to shout this message from the rooftops! Perhaps, if you're a real go-getter, you even send a reminder.

But after the launch, you look back and hear . . . crickets.

Few people shared the message.

They said they would. They were excited. They had every intention. But, in the end, time or writer's block or a Netflix binge got in the way.

They'll do better next time, right?

Maybe. I'm not usually a cynic, so it's entirely possible. But I'd rather you provide all influencers with sample social media posts and images to make it as easy as possible for them to talk about what you've got going on.

In the interview I mentioned above, Jon stated that when the events he was speaking at provided him with posts he could literally copy and paste on his social media outlets, it removed any barriers to his good intentions slipping away. 

Sure, you'd probably rather someone gush in their own words about your organization, but what's better: the slim chance that they might do it, or the high probability that they will? I think most of us would prefer the second option.

So, that's what I started doing and it worked BIG TIME! Awareness and engagement increased. Influencers thanked us for supplying them with exactly what they needed, and in the end, we reached more people, sold more products and event tickets, and gained a larger base of supporters.

What's an influencer?

This might all sound great to you, but perhaps you're asking yourself exactly who an "influencer" is and how you find one of these mythical creatures. Probably the purest definition from a marketing perspective would be someone with a large and established network. They influence crowds. These are usually big name folks. 

Maybe this is the person who started your organization, a spokesperson, a celebrity affiliation, well-known speaker, author, or personality, and people like that. To work with them on the level I'm talking about here, you'd already need an established relationship. It's highly unlikely that you can just email George Clooney and tell him that your organization provides relief to third world countries, and by the way, you have a new product coming out, and would he post it on Twitter if you wrote him the samples . . . Ummmm, sadly, probably not. (But if you try it, and it works, please let me know!)

In addition to the types of men and women with large networks, I believe you should also include all others already in your circle. The "low hanging fruit," if you will. After all, everyone has a network of some size. And sometimes grassroots movements are the most effective. So, be sure to include staff, volunteers or interns, board members, event speakers, and anyone who has a vested interest in seeing your organization or event succeed. When you've made it this easy for them, you might just be surprised who ends up sharing.

What should you include?

As mentioned, you should include pre-written social media samples and images. The three I am typically asked to write for include Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But you'll need to determine if those are right for you.

Here are a few other tips:

  • Make sure all pre-written text is the correct length for each outlet. For example, don't send people copy that should be Tweeted about, but extends well beyond the 140 character count. #annoying
  • Ditto with images. They aren't a one-sized-fits-all. Make sure you provide images that are correctly sized for wherever you're asking them to share.
  • Write it from that person's point-of-view, when necessary. At times, it may be fine for everyone to say the same thing in the same way, but with some easy tweaks on your part, it will be far more effective. For example, if you're sending these items to event speakers, write it as "I'm speaking at..." rather than just general event info. (Or include both)
  • Try writing two to five examples for people so they can use whatever fits their voice/brand, or can say different things at different times without just sounding repetitive.
  • Encourage people to customize the text for their own voice or brand, but don't expect it. Some will, but most won't.
  • Always provide a deadline or schedule, and always send a reminder. Again, people are busy, so if you're on a timeline, they need to be made aware of it.
  • Deliver it in whatever way works best for you and your crowd. This may be via email, Dropbox, Google Drive, Google Site, a hidden webpage, or something else. I would not suggest sending huge, mass emails, though. Segment the group as needed. For example, send an email to staff only, and don't include event speakers unless they are staff members.

Want to take it a bit further?

  • Include videos for sharing as well.
  • If the people you're sending these items to are also bloggers, you might even consider writing some blog posts they can copy and paste as well. (Don't forget images or video!)
  • Ask people if there is anything else you can provide them with for sharing. Maybe their website has a banner image that can be used, or maybe they have an email list and would be happy to send something out that is customized for them.
  • Host this "spread the word" kit on your website so that other fans can share it.
  • Include a "spread the word" kit or just one or two samples and images in confirmation pages and emails to event attendees. (Don't give them too many items or they'll get overwhelmed.)

Anything else to remember?

Hopefully, you're excited about this strategy. In fact, you're mind is probably already buzzing with the different items you can put together, and how you can utilize it for your next launch. I can't wait to hear about how it goes!

The other added benefit of this technique that we haven't really talked about yet, is that this strategy allows you to control the message. Maybe you've asked someone to share about your event before, for example, but they got the details wrong, or didn't make it sound very exciting, or just missed the mark somehow. This trick ensures that your message is said exactly as you wanted. No more guessing. (I have a PR background, so this this method means a lot! ;)

Before I go, I do want to give you one note of caution: use this strategy sparingly. You want to save it for important things, not a coupon for $5 off an next order. Definitely don't wear your people down, or they'll be less likely to share when you really need it.

Other than that, there are lots of ways you can tailor this strategy for your cause and organization. And if you find a way to improve upon it, let me know!



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Mobilize influencers, fans, and insiders to spread the word about your cause or organization. This one tip makes it simple and effective. Plus, receive other free and cheap marketing ideas for your nonprofit or social enterprise.

Kristi Porter, founder at www.signify.solutions

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.


10 Tools to Make Your Small Business Look More Professional (Most Are Free!)

I wrote last week that my business just celebrated its first birthday. That was a milestone many of you are eagerly awaiting, or remember fondly, as well. And for those of us who work solo or with only a small team, it's extra special because you not only don a party hat for yourself, but also for the dozens of hats you wear on a daily basis.

I'm not sure it will ever get a lot easier, because I don't really know anyone anywhere at any size company who wishes they had more to do. But when you have a larger team, you at least have more of a division of responsibility. So, it can be challenging to look like a larger organization when it's just you at a desk in your guest bedroom, or just you and a few friends who decided to jump in and solve one of the world's problems over coffee one afternoon. However, looking more professional, like a large business would, can often mean more sales or donations, more support, and more attention. 

10 Tools to Make Your Small Business Look More Professional

So, how do you make that happen? I still have a lot to learn myself, but here are just a few of the tools that help my one-woman show look a wee bit bigger and more professional.

1. Unsplash

It's more important than ever to utilize images in your content. In fact, did you know that Facebook will show your posts to more people if you include images? Yep, true story. Additionally, blog posts with images are more engaging to look at, and it's also easier to share them on sites like Pinterest. But if you aren't a photographer, or can't continually pay for stock images, you may feel a little stuck. Well, Unsplash is one answer. They have beautiful stock photography completely free of charge. You don't even have to credit the source, if you don't want to. Unsplash is my go-to, but there are oodles of other options if you Google "free stock photography." (It may take a bit of searching to find a site with the kind of photography that matches your brand.) 

2. Canva

Having a designer on staff isn't something that all of us can afford. Heck, we can't even hire a designer for every little thing we need on a weekly basis like blog posts, newsletters, email blasts, reports, flyers, or social media prompts. So, we need a workaround. Enter Canva. It's not perfect, but it is pretty user-friendly, and allows you to make graphics without the use of a designer. One of the best features is the pre-built templates that make it quick and easy to get started. They have templates for social media, presentations, eBooks, infographics, flyers, brochures, postcards, ads, and much more. You can also buy additional templates, photos, and illustrations for just $1. I currently use the free version. 

3. Bitly

Space on social media is limited and valuable. So, why take up half the allotted real estate with a long link? Bitly is a terrific, free service that shortens links to usually around 15 characters. Now you can actually say what you need to say on Twitter, and leave room for sharing and hashtags too. Plus, it gives the indication that you actually know how to use social media. A number of companies also use Bitly, but have branded URL's that make them look extra spiffy. I'm going to try and learn about this soon, and if I do, I'll be sure to let you know on this blog. Until then, the free version is a great option.

4. Hootsuite / Buffer

I recommend these two services to small business owners and employees a lot, but I think they scare those who don't feel technologically inclined. I get it. When your To Do list is already piling up, it's hard to think about sitting down and learning new programs or software. However, most of these same small business owners know they need to be more consistent and present on social media, but struggle to do so. That's where these two gems come into play. By taking 30 minutes or an hour to schedule your social media ahead of time, you can knock it out all at once, and just return to it on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis without letting time continually pass you by as you do nothing or let it remain sporadic. I use the free version of both of these because the free versions have limits to the number of accounts you can link. I use Hootsuite for LinkedIn and Twitter, and Buffer for my Facebook Group. (Side note: these two also have their own capabilities to shorten links.)

5. Moo

Sure, things like business cards are becoming less and less necessary, but they still have a place. And people tend to notice when you have a nice business card to hand them when the occasion calls for it. I got my cards at Moo, and have been really happy with the quality. Moo also has other printing options like post cards, stickers, labels, flyers, notebooks, greeting cards, and envelopes.

6. HelloSign

Should you ever need to have people outside your organization sign legal documents, HelloSign is a great route to take. And you get three free documents per month. This is how I facilitate my client contracts and letters of agreement. It's also a much better option than emailing Word docs, having parties sign them, scan them, and email them back. Once all parties have signed electronically, each get a notification, and can download a signed PDF. Voila!

7. Google Voice

For years, way back before it was popular, I've only had a cell phone. No home phone, and now, no outside office to host a phone anyway. But there are certain times, like on a public website or business documents, that I don't want to give out my cell. Google Voice is the perfect, free alternative. When someone calls my Google Voice number, it still rings my cell phone. It works a bit like call forwarding in that way. And you can also get voicemails transcribed and emailed to you. You can even select your phone number to make sure it's geographically close to you, or has a particular set of numbers that you'd like to use. 

8. PO Box

I work from home, except when I'm at a coffee shop. So, much like the Google Voice, there are times when I don't want to list my home address on public or professional documents. So, I use a PO Box instead. I have the smallest box available at $38 for six months, which was the cheapest price in my research. And, the good ol' USPS has now gotten on par with other PO Box providers by allowing you to use a street address in case you don't want to list a PO Box. 

9. Squarespace

A decent looking website is non-negotiable these days. No one will take you seriously otherwise. So, the two most affordable and popular default options are Wordpress and Squarespace. I choose the latter for this site and am really happy with it. Both make it pretty easy to DIY a site if you can't afford a designer (or update it after its been designed), but I prefer the options, security, and customer service that come with Squarespace. (And should you need a designer, I recommend Mad+Dusty.) Regardless, pick something that works well for you, and invest the time into making it look good.

10. G Suite

If you're running an organization of any size, I'd really love to tell you to stop using something like yourname@gmail.com. I think if people are donating to you, or buying your products, you need to kick it up a notch. They should feel safe in giving you money, and having your own branded email address gives a sense of comfort and professionalism. I pay just $5 per month for this service and it's well worth it. G Suite comes with other features as well, but the branded email is my favorite. 

And a some bonuses!

Depending on your type of organization, you may require a few other odds and ends, like I do. Here are a few others that I regularly use:

11. MailChimp 

Admittedly, its not my favorite email marketing service. But it is extremely popular, likely due to a free option, and I do currently use it. The point here, however, is that you need to actually use whatever service you sign up for. Don't let anyone fool you—email marketing is still very much alive and well. Talk regularly to the people who support you, not just when you need something!

12. Freshbooks

Should you need to send invoices, I really like Freshbooks. Plus, it's way more professional to send a branded, online invoice and take online payments rather than emailing a Word or Excel doc back and forth, and waiting for a check in the mail. (Paypal for Business or Go Daddy Bookkeeping are free and cheaper alternatives, respectively, but all three have different features. I actually use all three, and there are many more options.)

13. Pinterest for Business

I'm fairly new to this one, just having opened my account in April. Unless you already have a strong need for this, or already using Pinterest, I recommend holding off on this one. Doing it well requires a lot of work. I actually took a course on how to do this, and I can tell you that using Pinterest for your business is a lot different than pinning cute hairstyles and tasty recipes. However, if this is a service that would benefit you, make sure you're using a business account, which gives you a lot more options than personal accounts.

14. DropBox / Google Drive

I talked about these in an earlier post about getting organized, which I think is incredibly important. I use DropBox and Google Drive to store and share files, especially large ones. They also make collaborating with others easy as well. If you aren't currently using these free resources, it's a no-brainer. (This is readily available via G Suite as well, and already connected to that nifty, branded email.)

15. Spark Business

One more thing. It should go without saying, but if you're running a professional business or nonprofit, you should not be using you personal bank accounts to run things, even in the early stages. After some research, I decided on Spark Business, and it's worked just fine for me.

 

What have I missed? What helps your small business look more professional?

As you can tell, I have no idea what I'd do without Google. ;)

(Note that some links are referral links.)



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

For small businesses, looking more professional can often mean more sales or donations, more support, and more attention.

Kristi Porter, founder at www.signify.soluti

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.


7 Lessons From the First Year of Business

I tend to get a little sentimental this time of year. Sure, there's the Fourth of July, which many people across the US celebrate. I, too, am deeply grateful for all of the people who made (and make) our freedom possible. But I also moved into my first solo apartment on a sunny Independence Day weekend in 2003. And last year, I officially launched this business on July 1. So, the beginning of July has many layers of significance for me. Freedom takes on many forms.

Naturally, I've been reflecting a lot on this first year of Signify, which was created to help small nonprofits and social enterprises get noticed and grow through effective marketing and communications. It's been my desire to help cause-focused organizations like these succeed because they are making positive impact on the world. They are the types of businesses I support personally, and now I'm able to support them professionally as well.

So, here are seven lessons that I've learned over the past 12 months. I think you might find them helpful as well, whether you're just starting your organization or need some additional perspective as a seasoned business owner.

7 Lessons From the First Year of Business

1. You must start, and remain, flexible.

One of the hallmarks of tech companies, which continually sets them apart from other businesses, is that they're pretty nimble because their feedback loops are small. Meaning, they put something out there, which isn't necessarily perfect, then they gather feedback, make improvements, and relaunch. They live in this mode.

However, most businesses tend to try and perfect their product or service prior to launch, gather feedback slowly, and then might make some adjustments over time, and eventually relaunch. It's usually at a snail's pace, especially for nonprofits. But if you haven't noticed, your phone's Facebook App is updated every two weeks! They don't wait for major fixes, they test and tweak along the way.

I get it. You don't want to be a tech company. Neither do I. But I think there are some valuable lessons here. Less than six months into Signify, I hired a business coach for a short-term project. I would've actually hired her earlier, but I had to meet certain qualifications to work with her.

One of the first things she told me was rethink my mission slightly. She was afraid I'd narrowed my niche a little too far to be profitable. And it was a good point. So, before I even had a website, I made the shift. It was a relatively small step, but it did make a difference, and has brought in some fantastic additional leads and clients that I might not have had the privilege to work with otherwise. 

Startups tend to bend toward flexibility because almost everything is a learning process. My story above is probably not unlike one of your own. However, startups later become big girl or big boy businesses, and with experience, they tend to slow down in adulthood. I could see myself doing the same because I might feel that I have things "figured out." But the lesson for you and me is keep the mindset of the youngster. Organizations that stay agile are more connected to their audience, willing to learn, and lesson the pains of having to make large changes after heading down the wrong path for too long.

2. Even solopreneurs don't work completely alone.

When you're just starting out, the thought of hiring people, event to do small tasks, seems like an absolute luxury, doesn't it? And today's technology makes it easier than ever to learn things out of your depth, like using Canva to design graphics when you aren't a designer. 

So, most of us cobble everything together, using bandages and duct tape to run our business. We declare it good enough for now, and when we _____(insert milestone), we'll hire someone else to improve it. 

However, the ability to scale your business often means relying on others, and we all started our business to eventually scale, if only by a little bit. My website is built in Squarespace, which prides itself on putting the capability to design a website in the hands of the everyman. And, as a project, I actually designed a simple website for a client in early 2016 using Squarespace. So, I knew my way around it. 

But I also knew there were better things to spend my time on, like working on paid projects and writing my site. And I wanted it to look better than anything I could do myself. So, this was the first thing I hired out. Yes, it was scary because it was a big expense for me, but I've been really happy with it, and again, it allowed me to do tasks that actually paid me rather than spending my time designing a site, and taking much longer than a pro. (Thanks, Madison and Dusty!)

I've also hired an account because I'm world-class terrible with numbers. And I spend a lot of time asking and listening in Facebook groups to learn from others as well. None of us can do everything. It's just not possible. My clients are often looking for the unicorns that can do it all (and I don't blame them), but the truth is, they don't exist. So, be humble enough to learn from others or ask someone else to do the work. You'll relieve a lot of stress when you cross this line.

3. Relationships are everything.

You've already realized this, but sometimes listening to "experts" can be a little misleading. For example, I was under the impression that I would build this business differently than I've built the rest of my career.

There are a lot of people online touting that if you just put great content on your blog and promote it on social media, your email list will just steadily build and those people will become clients. It seems so easy, and guys, I fell for it. #goodmarketing

I have no doubt that this is the case for some people. It has, however, not be the case for me. Instead, I spent years freelancing while I had a full-time job, volunteering, giving free advice, and building long-term relationships. These are the amazing people who have become my clients

When I first started talking about my business, they were excited for me. They asked how they could be a part of it, and were thrilled to have more of my dedicated time—and, low and behold, they were happy to pay me! For the first three months, they sustained Signify. I thought it was incredibly wonderful, but it wouldn't last. I needed to do what those experts said instead. So, I did, and while I've made some great new relationships and a few potential leads, it hasn't been everything those experts said, at least so far.

Six months. Nine months. Now twelve months. My business is still running because of people I know first-hand and referrals. Helping people is an amazing thing. Helping friends is even better. With the exception of two jobs, one of which was at a restaurant, every job I've ever had has come through a personal relationship. So, for me, this new endeavor shouldn't be any different.

Think about who you know. Be good to your friends. Try to be helpful. It will come back around!

And do yourself a favor, and get a mentor if you don't already have one. These relationships have been invaluable for me.

4. To some extent, organization determines your success.

This may seem like an odd inclusion, but getting organized has come up several times over the past year. I'm a pretty organized person by nature. It's just part of my personality. And I can't work in a messy environment, whether that's on my physical desktop or my computer's desktop. However, it's also something I often end up discussing with clients.

I've heard stories of people losing leads because they weren't organized enough to find the right documents to send to these potential clients. They simply took too long, and the lead moved on. And I've known clients who weren't very productive because they were unorganized. It stopped them from making much progress, whether they were gathering sales or donations.

I also worked on a fundraiser that started out fairly disorganized. Employees left the organization, and files were everywhere, changing hands year-to-year, getting scattered throughout the organization along the way. I felt like Gretel chasing crumbs down the hallways. There were a number of things we did differently last year, and organization was one of them. They actually ended up grossing 400% over the previous year in donations! Yes, there were absolutely other big things involved in making last year different than previous years. Otherwise, this girl would be on her way to the millionaire's club. But the staff all noted that organization helped the process feel more smooth and professional. It showed to them, and to donors.

If organization doesn't naturally come to you, I urge you to find a system that works. It doesn't have to work for everyone, but it has to work for you. Your productivity will increase, your stress and that feeling of scrambling will decrease, and you'll look and feel more professional. And I think those are two keys to success.

5. Comparison really does kill.

Theodore Roosevelt said, "Comparison is the thief of joy," and Teddy was right. Recently a friend and I were talking about this subject. It's difficult to look on the internet and see emails, ads, and posts by people who are doing similar things—and thinking they're doing them better.

One of the proposals you have to continually make with your business, whether starting out or just seeking out a new client, is your position. You have to declare what makes you different, which helps build your case.

This is easier on some days than others, depending on your mood or how business has been going lately. But the thing my friend and I reiterated for each other, and what I want you to hear as well, is that what makes your organization different is you. The service or product may be the same or similar to someone else, but no one can take away your individuality. YOU are what you bring to the table. Be confident in that.

(But if you want a few ideas from nonprofits and social enterprises that you can tailor to make your own, take a peek here.)

6. Without strategy, your plans have no purpose.

I'm a huge proponent of strategy, but even I lose my way. (Like, a lot.) It's just so easy to see the To Do list building and get distracted by tasks. But if you never move from small tasks to actually accomplishing your goals, you're just going to spin your wheels. And that's the opposite of progress.

This is actually a series I'm planning to do soon because it's occupied my mind during June. I can't stop thinking about it . . . likely because of this season of reflection that I'm in. And I'm grateful for it. This is a prime time for learning.

To keep your business moving forward, you need a strategy. This may be a marketing strategy, refining your products or services, growth or expansion in general, bringing on additional help, etc. There are a thousand things this could include. You'll have to decide for you. For me, it means adding to my 1) client base for revenue and 2) email list so that I can continue being of help to others through my blog and Special Features, my monthly newsletter. That means I need to make all efforts concerning those two goals a priority, and figure out how to handle everything else. This will likely mean some outsourcing. Again, scary, but good. I'll keep you posted.

Consider your strategies. Are they working? What can you to do improve them?

7. Even in "failure," show yourself some grace.

I have a confession to make. And it's a hard one for me. 

I didn't meet all my goals this year.

A year ago, when I looked forward to this time, I thought I'd be in a different place. I thought I'd have some digital products, an online course, a larger list, more income, etc.

Some of this realization has been difficult for me. As a goal-oriented person, it really is a hard confession to make. You may look at it and think it's no big deal. You may even think that yes, of course, things look different after a year. We can't predict the future. And, if it were you saying these things, I'd say that you're absolutely right.

Sure, these things might not officially be labeled "failures," but they were for me.

It's always different when it comes to ourselves, yes? I've always been my toughest critic. 

During the last year, I've had to adjust goals, timelines, and so much more. Some of these have been incredibly difficult because consistency is the pulpit from which I preach. But I know there was a good reason I made each and every one of these changes. I didn't take them lightly. I had me in mind, and I had you in mind. 

I have to continually remember that I've also had some great successes. I've helped out friends with their projects, launched my website and online presence, improved my health, and sustained myself financially, to name a few.

On the days that I remember my failures, I also have to remember my wins. Not to do so is a disservice to myself and my clients. We've done some great things together. I have to show myself some grace. I'll use the past experiences to propel myself forward.

I encourage you to do the same because the world needs our work. No one else can do it.

Here's to year two! Wishing you abundance and joy as well.

If your organization is new, did any of these surprise you? If you're a seasoned business owner, what other advice would you give?

NOT-SO-SIDE-NOTE: a HUGE thank you to everyone who has supported me over the past 12 months. I have amazing family, friends, and clients. I'm more grateful than I can say!