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.

 



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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.)



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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! 



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Here are seven lessons that I've learned, and 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.

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.


3 Tips for Finding a Personal Mentor

Ever wish you could borrow from someone's experience? 

Would you like to bounce ideas off of someone with greater expertise?

Do you need feedback from a professional in your field?

Could you use some encouragement and support from someone who's "been there?"

3 Tips for Finding a Personal Mentor

These are the kind of perks you get by having a mentor. (Plus, so much more!)

It really doesn't matter what kind of role you fill at your organization. Anyone from the founder to the part-time assistant can benefit from a mentor, because if you care about what you do (and I know you do!), you want to do it better.

I've had the benefit of having four official mentors during my life. The first two were spiritual mentors. The third is still currently my all-around mentor. And the fourth is new. She serves as a business mentor since launching Signify was a completely new endeavor with a lot of unique, and exciting, challenges.

My guess is that one of these might be of interest to you as well. I know many of us are in Facebook Groups, signed up for online courses, and attend networking groups because we want to learn from successful people. And whether you want to entirely emulate them or just pick up a few pointers in a specific area, mentors are one of the best ways to make this happen. And guess what—the rules are up to the two of you!

I wanted to share this guest post with you because I've been deeply appreciative of having caring mentors over the years, and I've also been asked about how I found my mentors. I'd love for you to have the same opportunity, whether it comes along naturally, or you give it a little nudge.

Read My 3 Tips for Finding a Personal Mentor.

Let me know how it goes!

PS: I use the term "personal" mentor just to define a one-on-one relationship, not the type of mentoring. It's up to you to decide!



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It really doesn't matter what kind of role you fill at your organization. Anyone from the founder to the part-time assistant can benefit from a mentor, because if you care about what you do (and I know you do!), you want to do it better.

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.


5 Essential TED Talks for Social Enterprise Leaders

Last week, I shared 5 Must-See TED Talks for Nonprofit Leaders, but as this blog is devoted to both for- and non-profit organizations driven by a cause, I wanted to give equal time to my social enterprise peeps. 

While both traditional businesses and nonprofits have been around for a long time, social enterprises are still an emerging model. But, like you, I hope and believe that they are the future of business. Make money, and do good—at the same time? Yes, please! I can't wait to see what happens next in this movement.

And because I want you to also have fun and be successful, here are five TED Talks that I think will encourage social enterprise leaders, and employees, on their way to making a meaningful impact.

(PS: You don't have to work at a social enterprise to like them!)

5 Essential TED Talks for Social Enterprises

1. Tony Robbins: Why we do what we do

This speech will help you find, or remember, why you lead or work at a social enterprise. It's educational and motivational. It can be difficult to remember your "why" when funds are low, days are spent combing through email, you feel unappreciated or distracted, meetings never seem to end, or you're just caught up in the day-to-day of work. Sometimes we remember the "why" all on our own, and sometimes it takes someone to intervene. If you need the latter, use this talk. 

2. Elizabeth Gilbert: Your elusive creative genius

Whether you've reached your career-defining moment or not, you'll be encouraged by her talk. This is evidently the prelude to her latest, lovely memoir, Big Magic, and an opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief. I believe many social entrepreneurs are "feelers" because they place the mission first. They're all about the business of improving lives, and while that can be attributed to the head, I think it's more likely attributed to the heart. Elizabeth gives us a way to deal with success, failure, and more importantly, the everyday in-between. I love her refrain to "keep showing up," and think you will too.

3. Shawn Achor: The happy secret to better work

In this funny, 12-minute video Shawn will back up your theory that happy employees are better employees. And he reveals some incredibly interesting research that shows you how to think differently about success, because your views on success impact not only your happiness, but the happiness of those around you. Because these are two things that matter to each of us, I hope you'll pay attention. He's challenging us to create a new reality. Are you up for it?

4. Jacqueline Novogratz: Inspiring a life of immersion

If you've ever received any criticism, skepticism, strange looks, odd comments, or even raised eyebrows when you tell people about your work, you'll be interested in this talk. Though she tells a number of stories, I believe the theme of legacy is what binds them together. As a social entrepreneur, you're all about creating a better future, not just for yourself, but for others who need a partner or helping hand to make it so. Your work is designed to improve lives now, and for generations. You'll identify with her journey as you strive to live your own life of immersion.

5. Ricardo Semler: How to run a company with (almost) no rules

In some ways, a social enterprise is a hybrid between a traditional business and a nonprofit. This offers a lot of gifts, and a few challenges. And the social enterprises I know have two things in common. First, they all (obviously) choose to not to do business as usual. They want a more innovative environment, and want to run things a little differently. Second, there are usually at least a few people who have had more traditional business jobs, and therefore, bring that experience (or baggage) to the enterprise. Given these two things, creating a compelling office culture is vital in helping differentiate your organization and instill loyalty to your mission. In this talk, Ricardo is definitely a disruptor to traditional office culture. He may give you some ideas you want to explore, and maybe even a few you prefer to ignore. The point? You get to decide because it's your organization! 

6. BONUS: Richard St. John: Success is a continuous journey

Part cautionary tale and part business lecture, this four-minute video will remind you to stay focused on why you started your organization: for your customers and the people your work benefits. Success is relative, but hopefully not fleeting. And second chances are available to all of us.

By the way, I spent the better part of a day watching talk after talk to bring you five+ that I thought would help you be a better social entrepreneur. Whew—grueling work, but I'm here for you! Did I miss any of your favorites?



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5 Essential TED Talks for Social Enterprise Leaders

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.


5 Must-See TED Talks for Nonprofit Leaders

TED Talks are a little like Lay's potato chips—it's hard to just watch one. Delivered to you in just 15 minutes, these gems are packed full of inspiration and education. But with thousands of videos now on their site, navigating them to find applicable content can be a little challenging. So, I've selected just five that will be of interest to nonprofit leaders, employees, and volunteers. Take a long lunch break and consider this your ongoing education curriculum.

(PS: You don't have to be at a nonprofit to enjoy them!)

5 Must-See TED Talks for Nonprofit Leaders, Employees, and Volunteers

1. Dan Pallotta: The way we think about charity is dead wrong

A terrific watch for those working and serving at nonprofits. It will take a LOT of effort to turn this ship, but there are definitely some ideas worth chasing. You may not agree with everything he has to say, but he makes some incredible points to think about regarding hiring and fundraising. Even if you aren't the one in charge of making these types of decision, see what your influence can do to push the envelope a bit.

2. Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action

Some of you may have already heard of his immensely popular book, Start With Why, which came after this talk. Nonprofit folks may initially dismiss this lesson, believing that the "why" is already front-and-center at their organization. But I encourage you to watch it, and then take a look at your website, emails, newsletters, and marketing to see if you've made a slight shift from "why" to "what." I see many charities make this mistake.

3. Bryan Stevenson: We need to talk about an injustice

Regardless of whether or not you agree with his work, Bryan does a brilliant job of helping the audience find common ground with his subject matter, and relating that to a topic every human struggles with at some point: identity. He also uses only a few statistics to make his point. Figure out how you incorporate this approach at your next presentation and see if it works for you too.

By the way, if you do like the talk, his book is remarkable as well.

4. Angela Lee Duckworth: Grit: The power of passion and perseverance

This talk should be an encouraging one for all of us. The lessons she derives from her students hold true for adults as well. It's easy for you to think that you don't have the support, resources, money, or ______ (fill in the blank) to move your mission forward. But this speech is a good reminder that your grit can help determine your success as well.

5. Melinda Gates: What nonprofits can learn from Coca-Cola

I love the fact that she applies corporate tactics to the nonprofit model. I believe more people should be doing this same thing. Nonprofits have a reputation for moving more slowly than their for-profit counterparts, and resisting change, but there's no reason things can't change. While you may not be able to utilize these same ideas, I have no doubt there are other business principles that you can blend with your current process. (And don't forget, I can teach you how to improve your marketing!)

6. BONUS! Derek Sivers: How to start a movement

This fun and entertaining video is only three minutes long. It'll make you smile, and also teach you a thing or two in the process.

Okay, so those are five plus one Ted Talks that I think nonprofit leaders, employees, and volunteers should see. Did I miss one that you'd recommend? Tell me in the comments below.



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5 Must-See TED Talks for Nonprofit Leaders and Employees

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: Event Planning Trends and Strategies

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 June, I've invited my friend and former co-worker, Kristi Collins from Coco Red Events to share about event planning since many of you are starting to prep and plan for fall events.

Event Planning Trends and Strategies

Q. What are the latest trends in your industry? 

A. As a foodie, I think my favorite trend right now is casual food, especially a Mexican buffet with fajitas and tacos. I mean, who doesn’t love queso? For dessert, we’re seeing more donut installations, pie bars, and bite-sized treats. Most cakes (wedding, birthday, or anniversary) are smaller with a statement design, such as tiers in geometric shapes, a colored glaze dripping down the side and marbled fondant.

For design, we’re seeing a lot of clients interested in a woodlands theme. Think muted colors like a dusty rose, ivory, and sage green paired with lots of greenery and other natural elements like moss, river rocks, and tree slices. I think a big reason why people are choosing to go this route is because it’s gender neutral and everyone can enjoy the aesthetic. And people always enjoy a good vintage piece. Whether it’s a farm table used as a dessert table or an old library card catalog used to display escort cards, these pieces will create more dimensions to the design.

Our clients are also moving away from the traditional photo booth with props, and opting for a Polaroid camera setup instead. Guests love it because they can take the photos with them, and our clients love it because it’s engaging. At the end of the event, we’ll gather the left over photos and save them for our client, who can turn them into a photo album. The photo album is a great keepsake, whether it’s a coffee table book for a newlywed couple or something to keep in a company break room for employees to flip through.

Q. What is the biggest mistake that you’ve seen people make in regards to event planning?

A. I think everyone should have a day-of coordinator for any event. And I’m not just saying that because I am an event coordinator. Trust me, I had someone coordinate my own wedding! I think it’s so important for our clients to be able to relax and enjoy everything that they’ve envisioned and worked hard to create. If you’re running around, making sure that everything is perfect, you will not have a good time. You should be able to mingle with your guests and enjoy yourself. Even if you’re DIYing your whole event, hire someone to handle the details and make sure that everything runs smoothly on that day. It’s worth every penny!

This is especially important at a fundraiser. Your guests are there because they believe in you and what you’re doing. Think of yourself as the brand ambassador and make yourself available to answer any questions that your guests may have. If they can’t find you to get more information about your cause, they are less likely to support it. We are there to make sure that everything goes off without a hitch and that you are able to reach your fundraising goal.

Q. What is your best piece of advice?

A. I think that 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.

Another great thing about working with an event planner is that we get discounts, which we pass onto our clients. A good event planner will save you several hundred dollars in various areas, covering some of their fee.

Additionally, if you’re just diving into the event world, be sure to cultivate relationships with other vendors early on. Find out how you can work together and offer discounts for your clients. Meet other like-minded vendors that specialize in your area and be sure to send them leads for dates that you have already booked. They’ll return the favor and help grow your business. The wedding and event industry is a small one, where everyone knows everyone else. Networking is so very important. Go to as many networking events as you can and start making those connections early on!

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

A. If you’re an event planner or getting ready to plan an event, do some research. If I’m planning a company event or fundraiser, I always ask myself the following 5 questions:

  1. What is this company’s daily mission?
  2. What is their goal for this specific event?
  3. What brand-specific elements can we incorporate into the event? (Awards, logo placement, etc.)
  4. What is something fun and memorable that we can do during the event to increase brand awareness?
  5. Is there something that guests can walk away with that will keep the brand or mission at the front of their mind?

Q. Anything else we should keep in mind?

A. No matter what type of event you’re planning, it’s important to remember the story your organization or client wants to tell. When guests walk into the event, they should be able to look around and know who or what this event is for. Everything should reflect the brand or personality. That’s what makes your event stand out from everyone else’s. And most importantly, make sure that your guests have fun!


Kristi Collins has been involved with events for over 15 years. She has her BA in Musical Theater from Samford University. After theater, she went into retail, then coordinated events in the non-profit sector and finally found her calling in the wedding and social event industry. Kristi has received her Certifications in Wedding and Event Planning, as well as Social Media Marketing. She lives in Decatur, GA, with her husband, J.R., and her insanely cute dog, Toby.

Learn more about Coco Red Events.



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Event planning for nonprofits and social enterprises

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.


6 Easy Marketing Tactics You Should Steal Right Now

We're wrapping up "Marketing May" here on the blog! So far, we've covered trends and strategies, marketing 101, marketing plans, and daily marketing implementation. Whew—that's a lot! Even if you started with very little understanding of marketing, you should feel a lot more confident now, and also feel more prepared to add some intentionality into your organization's marketing and communications efforts. 

Today, I'm going to take it one more step further and give you six easy marketing tactics that you should steal right now. These are pulled directly from the playbooks of your peers and organizations that we all admire. 

6 Easy Marketing Tactics You Should Steal Right Now

Okay, so stealing may sound a little dramatic. If you prefer, substitute the more flattering word emulate. The truth is, there are proven strategies and techniques that organizations like yours should be implementing—immediately. By doing so, you're setting your cause up for greater attention and success.

Don't believe me? Just check these guys out! They all have a very loyal base of followers, fans, and supporters.

And though I have categorized them into nonprofits and social enterprises, the general ideas will work for everyone!

NONPROFITS

Atlanta Dream Center reaches the lost, rescues those in need, and restores the brokenhearted through their three primary ministries: iAM (the homeless), Out of Darkness (trafficked and prostituted women), and Metro Kidz (at-risk children). 

What you should steal: Every time they rescue a woman or have ministry win, they share it on social media. It gives their supporters an opportunity to celebrate with them, see real-time updates, and for volunteers and donors, a chance to see their contribution at work. They also provide recaps and larger figures in their direct mail and newsletters.

IF:Gathering exists to gather, equip, and unleash the next generation of women to live out their purpose.

What you should steal: They do a fantastic job of showcasing their event as it is happening through social media. It's surprising to me, but many organizations don't seem to promote their event in action, only before and sometimes after. IF utilizes quotes, video, and photos through their social media that make you really want to be there. They also mobilize and empower their audience with their hashtag and a photo booth. While events are certainly not easy to pull off, they are a very simple way to get people interested in, and excited about, your cause. 

Orange provides resources and events for church leaders and volunteers to maximize their influence on the faith and character of the next generation. 

What you should steal: They regularly use guest contributors for the Orange Leaders blog. This strategy allows for plenty of content that they don't have to create themselves. Additionally, the contributors promote their post once it is published, providing additional traffic to Orange's blog and social media.

SOCIAL ENTERPRISES

Lamon Luther creates expertly crafted furniture by employing the homeless, thereby giving them a hand up, not a hand out.

What you should steal: Many people in the Atlanta area know, and love, Lamon Luther. Their furniture is always in high demand, it seems. And though they primarily produce goods for individual homes, they have done a great job at partnering with other businesses to drive demand, expand their reputation, and of course, obtain larger orders.

Raven + Lily is an ethical fashion and lifestyle brand dedicated to empowering women through jobs by design.

What you should steal: Everyone loves free stuff, and Raven + Lily fans are no different! Sometimes they host their own giveaway with one or two of their stylish products, and sometimes they team up with other ethical brands for a huge grand prize. Either way, I've got to assume this steadily builds their email list and social media following.

Warby Parker was founded with a rebellious spirit and a lofty objective: to offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses. For every pair purchased, a pair is distributed to someone in need.

What you should steal: They offer a fairly simple selection of eyeglasses and sunglasses, but they take advantage of holiday calendars in their marketing and make it work year-round. You'll find them reaching out to you via email or social media for back to school, summer, and even Christmas. They know holidays are on your mind, and they want a piece too.

Any other nonprofit or social enterprise marketing tactics that you recommend? Tell me what you've seen, or what's worked for you!

And if you find yourself short on time for new marketing efforts, here are five things you can stop doing this week that will free up some of your energy.