email list

What (and Why) You Should Be Emailing Your List

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

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

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

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

Any of this sound familiar?

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

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

WHY EMAIL MARKETING IS IMPORTANT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT TYPES OF EMAILS YOU SHOULD SEND TO YOUR LIST?

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

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

Here are just a few examples:

  • Program/product/service updates

  • New hires, job openings, or internship opportunities

  • Recent blog posts

  • Behind-the-scenes details

  • Thoughts from the founder or staffers

  • Links and resources your audience would find helpful

  • Tips and tricks

  • Surveys

  • Needs list (ex: resources a nonprofit might need to further their mission)

  • Staff or recipient profiles

  • Holiday announcements or celebrations

  • Photos or videos of people using your product/service

  • Testimonials and stories

  • End of year impact reports

  • Recent press/media

(Want 85 more ideas? Click here!)

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

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

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

 

A FEW TIPS ON FORMATTING YOUR EMAILS

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

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

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

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

Namely:

  • Write is short paragraphs of one to three sentences. If you're reading anything on a phone, do you want to just stare at a wall of text? Answer: Nope.

  • Use headers where needed for clarity and changing topics, especially if the email is long. People are skimmers, whether we like it or not. Don't fight it.

  • Let white space be your friend.

  • Leave the jargon at the office. Keep the language easy to understand.

  • Give clear calls to action (telling people what you want them to do), and make it easy for them to do it.

  • Make it about the reader as well as your organization. Make the content relatable, and let them feel a part of your work.

  • Go back to your brand standards. All your fonts and photos should match your brand, or be extremely complementary if, for example, you have a really uncommon font. But make sure everything looks like goes together—and matches your brand. Watch out for sizes, spacing, and keep those headers in check, too. Tip: Look at it like a blog post. Get all matchy, matchy.

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

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

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

 

WHEN SHOULD YOU EMAIL YOUR LIST?

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NUMBER ONE EMAIL MARKETING MISTAKE

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

EMAIL MARKETING AS A STRATEGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

What questions do you have?

 

Read the other posts in this series:



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

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

Kristi Porter of Signify

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


How to Woo Your Fans and Supporters

It’s the final week of our “business resolutions series,” and I hope you’re already making big progress on your goals this year! Before we dive into today’s topic, let’s recap, shall we? First, we talked about seven simple tools that build a strong small business foundation. Then, we talked about how to gain authority and trust at your organization through internal communication. To wrap up, we’ll discuss wooing your fans and supporters—and those who could be—through external communication.

You have to actually talk to the people who support you, right? Yes, of course, you do. However, too many small businesses that I speak with know that they should communicate with their customers and donors, but they don’t actually do it.

Marketing and communications usually gets shoved to the back burner, often because it’s just not prioritized. But to retain current fans and attract new ones, you’ve got to reach out. And to begin, you don’t need to be perfect, but you do need to get started.

So, while there are undoubtedly lots of ways to communicate with your customers, donors, and the people who could be, I’ll just highlight three areas that I think you should focus on for maximum impact.

How to Woo Your Fans and Supporters

Email Should Be Your Top Priority

Email, email, email. I can’t stress this enough. For talking to your previous and current customers and donors, this needs to be your top priority. Unless you’re sitting down over coffee with these lovely people, there’s no better way to communicate with your fans.

Don’t believe me? Think social media should be your numero uno? Did someone tell you email is dead? Consider two arguments.

First, how many companies, either for- or non-profit, do you readily give your email to? And how many more do you follow on social media? Yep, there’s no comparison. We’re all getting more and more stingy with our emails, so when someone willingly hands over their email, you should treat it as precious. You have a direct line to their hearts and minds.

Second, think about it this way: you own your email list. With social media, we’re all at the mercy of the ever-changing algorithms. The majority of our posts are filtered out, meaning only a fraction of the people that follow you see what you post. And even if you do get the hang of it, the algorithm will change again in a few months. Plus, we all know that some platforms are here today, but gone tomorrow. MySpace anyone? However, for better or worse, email has been our constant companion the last few decades.

As a marketer, this is frustrating, but as a human, I have to remember the “social” aspect of social media.

So, now that you’re thinking email might be a good idea, here are two ways to handle it:

  1. If you don’t already have an opt-in on your website, you need to think about adding one. An opt-in is simply something you give your list in exchange for their email. Examples include e-courses, lists, e-books, insider access, coupons, and more. This tactic will help you build your list, drawing in potential customers and donors.

  2. I’d like you to email your list at least once a month, and be consistent. We’re all creatures of the out of sight, out of mind variety, so you need to remind people that you’re still here and open for business. You may want to email them more frequently, which is sometimes recommended, but it sort of depends on your organization and other factors. Most people, though, send emails every couple of months, and only when they need something. Yuck! This is not the way to treat those precious emails and the people they represent. So, aim for monthly communication.

Social Media is Important, But Not Everything

People online are currently freaking out over the new Facebook changes that were recently announced, stating that content by companies will be less visible in news feeds. And, I agree, it’s a little scary. I also just dinged social media in the section above. But, no matter how you feel about social media (I have mixed feelings myself), it’s still important and necessary.

So, while I think you should focus on your email list, that won’t always help you reach those who don’t yet know about you. And you probably don’t want to email those who already love you every day and get a bunch of unsubscribes. Enter social media. It’s still an effective way to get your name out and keep it out there, but we’ll all have to try a little harder. But who has the time? This is why I switched to a social media scheduler.

While it’s true that posts sent by schedulers get less play than real-time, “native” posts (typed straight into the platform), for me, it was a matter of what would actually happen. I could have great intentions about getting on social media every day with new content, but the reality is that may not happen. I have too many other things to do, and so do you. This is why I went with a social media scheduling tool, and you can read all the details, as well as my review of 13 popular platforms, right here.

Definitely jump on social media and post in real time, interact with people, share pictures, and generally live it up when you can. But for those times you can’t, consider a scheduling tool. I’m glad to know that if my head is down, and I’m working on a writing project for a few days, my social media posts are still going out the door without me having to press any buttons. I’d rather have a few people seeing my posts than none at all.

Another social media option to consider is Facebook groups. There are millions of them out there, for everything under the sun. My suggestion would be to find a few that contain your target audience, and get active. Be helpful, make connections, and follow their rules for self-promotion. They definitely take time, but are a great and personalized way to build new relationships.

By the way, my friend Jennifer, who is a social media manager, will be talking all about these new Facebook changes, how to stay in front of your audience, and alternatives worth pursuing in my Facebook Group tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. EST. Join us!

Networking and Events Never Go Out of Style

We’ve covered a couple of online options, but you already know there’s no replacement for good, old fashioned face-to-face connection. So, it’s time to get outside your office and shake a few hands. This is still a terrific way to meet potential customers and donors, or even make deeper connections with those who already know and love you. (Bonus: It's also a great way to invest in yourself!)

For us introverts, this may or may not be a welcome suggestion. Me? I love being at home, but I also love attending events. But if you’re the kind of guy or gal who would rather have an email exchange than coffee with someone, then I’m sorry, you’re just going to have to push yourself for the good of your organization. #sorrynotsorry

You may choose to be an exhibitor, an attendee, or even a speaker, and all can be effective. You’ll likely need a combination over time. Obviously, you’ll get the most attention from a larger audience by speaking, but exhibiting and attending can allow you to have more meaningful and personal conversations.

But before you show up, I suggest doing a little event prep work:

  1. Follow the event’s social media or hashtag to start making connections ahead of time.

  2. Make sure your social profiles and website are updated.

  3. Don’t forget to bring business cards or handouts about your org.

(You can read more about each of these items here.)

The important thing is to make the most of the event. Of course, you’re probably showing up to learn, but if you can snag a few more fans, even better! Oh, and in case you’re looking for some cool, cause-focused events to attend, check out this list by Cause Artist.

 

Read the other posts in this series:



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

Marketing and communications usually gets shoved to the backburner, often because it’s just not prioritized. But to retain current fans and attract new ones, you’ve got to reach out. And to begin, you don’t need to be perfect, but you do need to get started.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

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


4 Marketing Mistakes I Made in My First 18 Months

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.

4 Marketing Mistakes I Made in My First 18 Months of Business

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.

Plus, I use my own Instagram account. And I thought I should revive my LinkedIn now that I'm a business owner.

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.



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

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.

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.


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.