The close of 2017 means that I've been in business for 18 months now. Whew—what a ride! Some days it feels like an eternity, and other days it feels like I just opened my shop. And I still get asked a lot what it's like to be an entrepreneur, or generally, "How's business?" My answer is always that it depends on the date and time that you ask me because it's an emotional rollercoaster! There are moments when I think I'm killing it, and moments when I wonder what the heck I'm doing. And I've been told by others that those feelings just sort of stick with you. Great . . .
But as I'm reaching the end of my first full year with Signify, I wanted to share some of the marketing mistakes I've made and lessons I've learned so that, no matter what stage your nonprofit or social enterprise is in, you can learn from them.
The vast majority of my clients have very little training in marketing, so these are the things I'd want to share with them if we were sitting down over coffee.
My guess is that none of them will truly surprise you. They wouldn't have surprised me. And, in fact, I already knew to avoid them, and maybe you do too. But sometimes we just need to hear them at the right time. I hope this is your right time.
Marketing Mistake #1: Not starting my email list soon enough
I'd been warned. I'd been warned multiple times in multiple places and from multiple people, and I waited anyway.
Something you should know about me: I'm a perfectionist. I'm also a cultivator, which is a pretty word for the fact that I become obsessive about research so I can learn #allthethings before making a decision. I'm not prone to inaction, but I wanted to figure out all the ways something can be done, and then take bits and pieces to form my own process. I actually like that I behave this way, but as you can guess, it's time-consuming.
I didn't launch my online presence for Signify until seven months after I started my business. I wasn't in a hurry, and I had projects to work on in those early months, so it wasn't a big deal. However, I should have started my email list well before I had a website to show off.
I've been freelancing since 2003 without a website. I've always relied on relationships and word-of-mouth referrals, and most of the time, I had a full-time job anyway, so it was just extra money. I've also had different types of jobs, and even volunteered in different places, too. So, I had contacts from lots of different industries and organizations.
And what I should have done is begin emailing all of those people individually and consistently along the way telling them what was coming, and asking if they'd like to be on my email list.
But I didn't.
I was busy with other things, and thought I'd make time for it later. However, I was so overwhelmed by all of the launch work for my website and social profiles that I took shortcuts when it was "time" to build my email list. I just didn't want to ask people to be on a list for something they couldn't actually see online. #fail
I'm sure what I'm saying makes sense to you on both sides of the coin. But the result of waiting was that my list growth has been slow, and I'm still waiting to do some of those individualized and customized things I put off for later. Ugh. Can't I buy more time on Amazon yet???
So, the advice I'd give you is to always be focused on building your email list. Social media algorithms change, but landing directly in someone's inbox is prime real estate. When you have something to say, this helps ensure it's heard.
(Of course, I shouldn't have to tell you, but I will: you also have to talk to your list. Find a consistency that works for you and reach out. Those people have agreed to be on your list, so don't squander that opportunity. There's always something to say.)
Marketing Mistake #2: Too many social profiles too soon
I'd never call myself a social media expert, but I have a pretty darn good handle on it. I know the what, when, why, and how of social media. But it sure eats up a lot of time!
I knew I should be on Facebook because that's where my audience is primarily. And I wanted to be on Twitter (because I like it). I also knew I wanted a Facebook Group to share resources more frequently, and help connect people to each other. So, those three profiles.
Then, in the spring, people kept telling me how great Pinterest was for business, so I bought a course, and hopped on there too.
Are you following all of this?
Some days I have trouble following it myself. Six accounts. And you can name a few others that I have chosen not to be on.
All-in-all, updating these guys takes a couple of hours minimum per week. Scheduling doesn't take that long since I know what I'm doing, but it's social media, and you should also be, well, social. A couple of hours may not sound like a lot until you find yourself needing more hours to get things done (like pretty much all of us).
Let's also state that I'm a solopreneur in a new business. Those are two other kinks to work out.
What I should've done is start with Facebook, and maybe add in a new profile every couple of months when I've found my rhythm and best practices. (PS: You don't have to add new profiles.)
But what I have done is get some help so I can focus more on tasks that can only be done by me, and/or that are more revenue-focused. The first way I did this was to invest in a social media scheduling tool, so that I'm posting multiple times per day on auto-pilot. Then I can jump in personally as I'm able to add more value and personality.
The other thing I did was ask my friend Jen, who is a social media manager, to do some freelance work for me. She is actually the one who got me set up with SmarterQueue, and has also been helping me determine a better strategy as well as dealing with some of the other little tasks I haven't had time for right now.
Unfortunately, I can't hire a social media manager permanently at this time. Maybe some day. But in this busy season, it has been a dream to have the extra help, and well worth the money. And now I know better what to do when she's not around. Even on a tighter budget, consider getting some help in busy seasons so you can focus on more important tasks, projects, and initiatives. (These are some of the same reasons that people hire me, so it makes perfect sense!)
Marketing Mistake #3: Postponing Content Creation for My Launch
I love launches. That's one reason they are my signature service. They're fun and exciting, and there's so much to show off. They're like the first flurries of winter.
So, like anyone would be, I was excited about my own online launch. But, they're also a lot of work, aren't they? I had to write emails, blog posts, social media posts, website content, and on and on and on.
And just like building my email list, I waited until my launch was right around the corner to really start doing anything about it. Why? I had other projects to work on. From the moment I said I was ready to take on clients, I had clients. So, I started prioritizing paying work over something that was months away. And after all, I wasn't paying myself to create content for Signify.
So, it just kept getting bumped back. I started working with my website and branding designers in November, so that got things moving a little. But the launch was February 1, so January was when everything went into overdrive. And I was exhausted by the time I launched! Plus, now I had to learn to create content for Signify while working with paying clients. That's definitely something I should've eased into.
The moral of the story? Start working on your plan and productivity. Use a planner or free software like Asana (I love it!) to set deadlines and keep you on track so that when you do find 15 spare minutes, you can check something else off your list.
There are so many facets to content creation, and you can use little bits of time here and there to move projects along. Small momentum is still momentum. Plus, you might actually get a good night's sleep during the launch.
Marketing Mistake #4: Not enough focus
While I do manage to get a decent amount of things done, I'm no where as productive as I'd like to be. I definitely have days where I look back and wonder what I've accomplished, or have spent a full day watching TEDTalks or webinars, or sorting through email. It happens to the best of us, and I'll probably never shake it completely.
But one of my main goals for 2018 is to figure out a better way to focus, and figure out what I need to be focusing on at any one time. Let me explain.
There are two things any business owner will tell you to do: make money and expand your reach. So, I have clients to pay my bills, but because I work mostly on projects, I have to continually acquire new project work. Well, I also need to expand my reach to find new clients so that I can continue to make money. Kind of a chicken and egg scenario.
There are also a million strategies to take on either route. So, when I have consistent income coming in, I'll work on expanding my reach. But then the pendulum swings, and I need to shift efforts. So, it's constantly going from one to another, and then trying one of the millions of strategies as well.
This example may look similar for you, or not. But if not, you can probably fill in the blanks pretty easily. The point is that I'm guessing you, like me, switch up your efforts a lot. And I don't think is helping either of us.
I jump into everything with two feet, but I constantly act like I have 40 pairs of feet to jump in a bunch of different strategies with. This isn't good, and honestly, this is what I've been struggling with the most as this year comes to a close.
But what I'll tell you, and what I'm telling myself, is that the only way to make significant, lasting progress is through focus. This may come as the result of a change in strategy, or getting help, or cutting things out of your schedule or life. For me, it's meant a combination, and I still have a lot of work to do.
However, I do recognize the problem. And I am making the effort to fix it. I know it will be a process, but I'm on the path.
So, as we come to the end of December, and start peaking into January, what does regaining focus look like for you? Where can you change your strategy, get help, or cut back? These are the things that will lead to growth.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but the easiest thing to do (and the thing most of us do), is to add. If we can see that something isn't working, or not working fast enough, we try something else. But we don't stop Strategy A, we just try sticking Strategy B on top of it. This won't work. We know instinctively, and through trail-and-error, that it won't work. It's time to do something different. I am, and I hope you will too.
One final note: Besides the lessons themselves, the other big takeaway is that even marketers make plenty of marketing mistakes. This should cheer you up! We're all just out here learning, and trying to share what we know. Take heart. Learn from my mistakes. And I hope and pray that next year is your best yet.
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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.