women-run businesses

The Key to Your Success May Be Staring You in the Face (Literally)

The end of the year is coming fast, which very likely means a busy season for you. You either have a big sale ahead of you, or you’re heading into the year-end fundraising season. Some of you may also have both.

And, realistically, a lot of you are already tired.

Not only are you a human with a life and responsibilities, but you are also at a cause-related organization, either for- or non-profit. So, whether your work deals with extremely sensitive and dark subjects like human trafficking or not, you still feel the pressure to succeed because there’s a social problem you’re trying to solve. There is a different kind of gravity to your work that few understand.

This can certainly wear on you over time, and without checks and balances, can lead to burnout. And burnout would be a terrible situation not only for you, but for your cause. The world needs your work!

So, what’s the answer to combating the fatigue and burnout? Community.

Community can give you the inspiration and motivation to make it through another year, month, or even day.

Essentially, you need to find your tribe—even if that’s only one other person.

How do you find the community you desperately need? I’ll show you.

The Key to Your Nonprofit or Social Enterprise Success May Be Staring You in the Face (Literally)

Why You Shouldn’t Only Rely on Co-workers, Friends, and Family

When it comes to community, too many people only rely on their co-workers, friends, and family to fill that void, even when it comes to their work. I think this is a problem.

I don’t know about you, but very few of my friends and family have founded a nonprofit or social enterprise. They’re incredibly supportive for sure, but they just can’t relate.

And as a solopreneur, I have no co-workers! Some days I love this fact, and some days I don’t. But even if you have co-workers, there are probably still a few things you avoid talking about like your salary. It just gets messy.

If you founded the organization, unless you have a co-founder, you also don’t have any direct peers. Meaning, you can’t be completely open and honest with the people in your office either because you need to maintain some professional distance.

Are you seeing the pattern? If you only rely on co-workers, friends, and family to be your community, there are gaps of your work that may never receive essential feedback, support, or input. That can impact you in a big way! It may stunt your success, allow little problems to grow into big problems, or even cause blind spots.

Worse still, without the ability to adequately communicate your thoughts and feelings to people who truly understand, it can lead to depression and isolation. I don’t know about you, but these are two things I already struggle with at times, so I don’t need anything else contributing to these issues.

Again, this would be a heartbreaking for you as a person, but it would also effect your organization. And my guess is that you care deeply about your cause and want to succeed. I want that for you too, so let’s talk about a few places where you can find the community you need.

Accountability Partner

Anytime a new or aspiring entrepreneur asks me for advice, the first thing I tell them is to get both an accountability partner and a mentor. I didn’t know how badly I needed these people in my life until I had them—and I don’t want you to miss out!

An accountability partner is someone in a similar situation or role. They don’t have to be at the same type of organization, but it’s great if they have similar responsibilities. Alternatively, they could be someone who is trying to accomplish a similar goal like writing a book.

Accountability partners are fantastic because they serve as a peer who can almost act like a co-worker or partner without the same strings. You are there to help each other succeed in your goals through, well, accountability.

You’ll be able to accomplish your goals because someone is there to regularly ask about them. It’s the same reason that Weigh Watchers meetings work so well. You take the necessary steps because you’ve got to get on a scale the next week to measure your progress.

You also both show up because you don’t want to let the other person down. Plus, they can provide a perspective and sounding board that you may currently be lacking. And, let’s face it, sometimes you just need to complain to someone who fully relates to your situation. We all have those days!

If you don’t have someone already in mind for your accountability partner, ask friends, family, or even put the word out on social media. It may take some time to find this person, but it will absolutely be worth it.

You might also consider a trial period to make sure you’re a good fit. My previous accountability partner and I had only just met when we decided to test the waters. We agreed to meet twice a month for three months, and we loved it so much we continued for six months. It was a huge boost for both of us—and our businesses!

Mentor

I think we all consciously, or even unconsciously, crave a mentor. We want “someone who’s been there” to show us the ropes. We are, of course, talking about your working life here, but you could also seek out mentors in marriage, parenting, hobbies, or any number of things.

The only prerequisite for a mentor is that they have more experience in a particular area than you do, and they are willing to share that knowledge. They almost act like a shortcut in that way, helping you bypass more of the struggles to get to more of the wins.

Let me also take a moment to dispel a couple of common misconceptions about mentors. The first is that we commonly picture mentors as much older than ourselves, but that isn’t always true.

My mentor Holly is only a couple of years older than I am, but she is CFO at a nonprofit called Growing Leaders, so she has vastly different experience than me. (One of those being that she’s good with numbers, ha!) She sort of serves as my all-around life mentor. We talk about everything, and often, that includes my business.

I had another mentor for over a year, Christina, who created The Contract Shop. She is actually over a decade younger than me, but had the experience of selling online products which I wanted to learn. So, while you may be seeking someone much older than you for one reason or another, you certainly don’t have to.

And because I also work with cause-focused organizations on both the for- and non-profit side, it’s also helpful to have mentors in both spaces.

With those two examples, you may have guessed the second misconception, and that is that you only need one mentor. Holly is the one who turned me on to this concept. She has multiple mentors that fill different roles in her life and career. Some she sees regularly, and some she may only see once a year. I really love that, and want to follow her example.

In my experience and in talking to others, mentors are much more difficult to find. It was six years of searching between finding Holly and my previous mentor. And I only had Christina for just over a year before her work got too crazy to maintain our appointments. So, I know how daunting it can be to find a mentor.

But again, I suggest that you start by asking your network. And even if you have the perfect person in mind, but they seem to already have a lot of commitments, never assume they’re too busy to fill that role. Make the ask, and be okay with hearing no, but don’t let an assumption keep you stuck. Mentors often get as much out of the relationship as mentees, so it’s definitely a mutually-beneficial situation.

Honestly, you may also just need to be patient. Don’t give up, but be okay with waiting. You’ll be so glad you did!

Mastermind

You may have noticed that I said things were going great with my accountability partner, but we only met for six months. That’s because we turned the partnership into a mastermind group.

I knew several other women who were looking for that kind of opportunity, and none of us were direct competitors, so for us, it made sense that we give it a try all together.

We meet every two weeks via an online chat, and sometimes in person. Our format was pulled from reading about other groups, as well as our own preferences. So, we usually have one person that shares about something they’ve learned which would benefit us all, and we also share a win, something we might need feedback on, and something we’d like to be held accountable for at the next meeting.

The benefit of a mastermind over an accountability partner is, of course, more perspectives and voices. But in all three of these scenarios, it’s been really incredible to get the additional support and encouragement. And that includes both the good days and bad days. We all know they’re both part of the equation!

Other spaces to find community

The three recommendations above are my go-to suggestions because they are often the most hands-on and consistent opportunities for community. They also make it easier to go deep on some of the hard subjects you need to discuss.

However, if those aren’t options right now, or you’re still in the search process, here are some other, great alternatives to try. Who knows, one of these may even lead to an accountability partner, mentor, or mastermind!

  • Events: This weekend I attended the Tribe Conference for the second year in a row. There are a lot of writers in the room, and “writer” is one of the main words I use to describe myself, so these were my people. It was comforting and motivating just to be around their energy. I also feel that way when I attend social justice events. Find the places your people gather and go meet them.

  • Co-working Spaces: These places have become huge community hubs for many entrepreneurs and small businesses. Not only are you working around new people you might not otherwise meet, but many of them also have regular and special events for you to actually hang out with the people sitting around you. I would definitely need these sort of structure introductions. ;)

  • Facebook Groups: It’s quite common now for course creators, coaches, and business owners to have Facebook Groups. (Psst: Have you seen the Signifiers group?) These online outlets are another great place to meet people in similar situations or pursuing similar goals. I’m in a bunch of them that relate to different areas of my life like business, hobbies, church, causes, friends, etc. If you’re have trouble finding community in-person, or have very limited time on your hands, this could be a great source for you.

  • Social Media: I’ll differentiate social media from Facebook Groups for the purpose of this post because groups are generally more targeted. On social media, you may have other friends and followers who could easily become trusted members of your community. For example, I have a new friend I met this summer over Instagram because I wanted to find other people who were Enneagram 4s as well as INFJ’s, both of which are smaller segments of the population. So, it’s been fun to chat with her about how our weird and wonderful minds work. :)

Encouragement From Tribe Conference Speakers

The work of your nonprofit or social enterprise is essential, and it needs you. But you can’t serve it well if you feel isolated, depressed, or burned out.

All of the above examples will meet different needs at different times, and when you mix and match a few of them together, you’ll be unstoppable. You’ll have the community you need to champion your cause, do your important work, reach your goals, and struggle less in the process. I want that for you, so I hope this post will help you take the next step.

As I mentioned, I was at Tribe Conference this weekend, and I can’t tell you how awesome it was. Well, I could, but we’d be here a lot longer! That event was the inspiration for this post because it definitely gave me the inspiration and motivation I needed to finish the year strong.

So, before you start taking those next steps, I wanted to leave you with some of the words of wisdom that meant a lot to me this weekend. I think they’ll do the same for you.

“You cannot avoid rejection and do your greatest work.” - Jeff Goins

"If you do work that is different, you’re doing something dangerous and worthwhile. People will question your differences now, and celebrate them when you succeed." - Todd Henry

"Other people see your work for what it is. You see your work for what it isn’t." - Melissa Dinwiddie

“Be relevant, authentic, and advocate for your brand.” - Amy Landino

"Community will help you succeed." - Chase Jarvis

"Dream big. Start small. Keep moving." - Charles Lee

“Lead with acceptance. Become a better listener. Don’t fear failure.” - Dave Delaney (Check out this guest post I did for him last year!)

"If you keep waiting for your dream to feel easy, you’ll never stop waiting." - Ali Worthington

"Don’t wait for permission to create your work." - Nicole Gulotta

"Marketing isn’t about closing a sale, it’s about opening a relationship." - Mike Kim

"We need to say out loud what our souls are silently screaming, because it may give someone else the courage to do the same." - Tim Grahl

“Know who your audience is. You can even have a less than perfect product or service depending on who your audience is and what they’ll pay for. They may just be waiting on you to create something.” - Joseph Michael

“Get okay with being uncomfortable.” - Heather Teysko

"Tell the stories people want to hear, not the stories you want to share." - Janet Murray

"Failure doesn’t ruin your story. Failure helps you write it." - Paul Angone

“You need to take responsibility for your own success.” - Joe Bunting

"It's easy to think about the things you haven't done or success you haven't attainted. But remember that there was a time when where you are sitting now was out of reach." - Ken Davis



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What’s the answer to combating fatigue and burnout? Community.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

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


Want to Grow Your Business? You Need Help.

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

 

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

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

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

So, how do you grow your small business?

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

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

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

Want to Grow Your Business? You Need Help.

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

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

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

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

The Facts About Small Business

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

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

  • When looking at just women-owned businesses, Small Business Labs tell us that 41% of my #girlboss peers only have between two and four employees, while 51% are solopreneurs!

  • Finally, this report by Babson College tells us that 70% of the small business owners they polled found it difficult to hire qualified employees.

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

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

 

Getting to the Next Stage of Business

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

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

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

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

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

Why Is Getting Help for Your Organization So Important?

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

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

  • They provide a set of fresh eyes. We can often lose perspective as we work on our own projects day in and out. Allowing someone to see them objectively can provide insight we couldn't gain otherwise.

  • They cost you less than you might think. While the initial investment may seem significant, especially if this process is new to you, remember that these people do not cost you insurance or other full-time employee perks. You also don’t have to take taxes from their payments.

  • They don't have to stick around long-term. Sometimes you just have a short-term need, or a season that requires an additional set of hands. These people rally around you when you need it, and not when you don't.

  • They can relieve stress from you and your employees. Often small organizations rely on a limited number of people to do a wide variety of tasks. Sometimes, however, these tasks are not suited to their skills. Consultants and third-party contractors who specialize in certain areas can be invaluable to helping you reach your goals, while taking the pressure off your team. This will either allow them room to breathe, catch up on their primary tasks, or take on new assignments within their wheelhouse.

  • They allow you to focus. Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. You need to be working on the tasks and goals that specifically require your time and attention. If you have the ability to outsource beyond that, do it. Focus on the things no one else can do for your business.

  • They can provide expansion. These folks allow you to “go beyond” what you’ve already been doing. You can dream bigger, cast your net wider, and experience results you could not have had before at your current pace. But the ROI (return on investment) may be significant. Yes, it's important to consider the cost, but if you make more sales and donations than you would have without their help, it will be worth it!

 

Where Do You Find These Magical Creatures?

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

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

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

But here are a few, other resources:

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

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

Hiring Tips From The Pros

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

When hiring a graphic designer...

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

Your budget may require you to work with a less experienced designer, or a designer who doesn't have a distinct style yet. I wouldn't rule them out for those two reasons, but the energy has to be there."

- Madison Beaulieu, graphic designer and co-founder of Mad + Dusty

 When hiring a web designer...

"If you’re ready for your online presence to capture the essence of your brand, and work to attract clients, you’re ready to hire a web designer.

Before reaching out to an expert, spend time on their website and consider how it resonates with you. If it makes a great first impression, is engaging, and leads you to a clear call to action, you know they can do that for you. Having a beautiful website is one thing, but having one that works is another. My tip for you is to know that you need both!"

- Alison Chandler, website and visual brand identity specialist

When hiring an event planner...

"I think that a lot of people are naïve when it comes to the budget for any event. Many clients don’t know how much it costs to hire a good photographer, caterer, etc. so, they’ll spend money on little things and before they know it, they’re way over budget.

My advice: choose your top three Items and spend the bulk of your money there. My top three are always food, music, and alcohol. I like invitations, but they aren’t the most important item to me. Now, if you’re a graphic designer or your company sells paper, the invitations are probably really important to you and that’s ok. Make invitations one of your top three. The important thing is to focus on what’s most important to you, and then build the rest of your budget from there."

- Kristi Collins, certified wedding and event planner at CoCo Red Events

When hiring voice talent...

"It’s often easier to grab the admin assistant with the great phone voice, or the singing maintenance man for a quick 'read through' of your outgoing message, but resist the urge. It’s not enough to have a nice voice. A quality voice talent must be able to tap into the audience your trying to reach with the feelings you want to convey, so that anyone who hears it will want to take action.

Your message is too important for it to sound like it’s being read from a handwritten notebook. With intentional script writing and the right voice, you’ll move beyond your customer or donor’s heads and into their hearts."

- Jennifer Wilder, voice talent

When hiring any freelancer/contractor/consultant...

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

- Kristen Miller, Sales Funnel Strategist | Social Media Manager | Digital Marketing

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

 

If not now, then when?

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

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

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

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

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



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

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

Kristi Porter, Chief Do-Gooder at Signify

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


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.


Ask the Experts: Marketing Trends and Strategies

Each month, I'm inviting guest contributors to speak about additional timely, relevant and sought-after topics that are important for cause-focused organizations to be aware of as they grow. For May, I've gone rogue and asked myself to share! But this is not just an attempt to satisfy my vanity. Though I obviously cover marketing a lot on this blog, I wanted to provide you with some clear and concise trends and strategies in one little post.

Ask the Experts: Marketing Trends and Strategies for Small Businesses

Q. What are the latest trends in your industry?

A. I've talked a little about it before, but content marketing has become HUGE over the last couple of years, and only seems to be growing in popularity. And with apps and technology, it's now easier than ever to implement content marketing whether you're a solopreneur or multi-national corporation. There really is no excuse not to give it a try. Content marketing should be a part of every organization's marketing strategy.

If you're new to content marketing, it does seem counter-intuitive. Why would you give away free content when you have bills to pay? But the answer is all around you. Have you ever read the blog of one of your favorite authors, and then read his or her book? Did you opt-in to a free course, only to buy another product or paid course later? Do you listen to free podcasts, only to pay to hear the host speak in person at an event? Likely, the answer is yes. It certainly is for me.

Free content allows us to build what we in marketing call the "know, like, and trust" factor with our audience. People/consumers are becoming more savvy and harder to convert. So, they need you to establish credibility in order to fork over their hard-earned cash. Content marketing allows you to do just that. You want to become the go-to expert for (insert your thing here), and this is a great way to start.

Content marketing can include items such as blogging, podcasting, free e-courses, downloads, and checklists. It's a way for you to "give your content away" in an effort to secure a sale later. Marketing is all about creating customers, and then managing the relationships that brands have with customers. So, content marketing seems a very logical step in that direction.

(If you'd like to learn more, Content Inc. is a terrific book on this subject.)

Q. What is the biggest mistake you see people making in terms of their marketing?

A. I offer the same piece of advice to people all the time, no matter their industry or organization. My #1 tip when it comes to marketing is consistency. I see this mistake, well, consistently. Most of the people I work with are at small nonprofits and purpose-driven for-profits. They are so focused on their cause that they ignore, or at least have a very lapsed relationship with, the people who can support them, whether that be sales or donations. But unless you're organization has one benefactor that will never dry up, consistently talking with your supporters is one of the best things you can do. If you are only communicating with people when you want something, you're going to lose that relationship to another organization who is happy to keep them updated and informed.

Q. What is your best piece of advice for people regarding marketing?

A. The people I speak with are always crazy concerned about social media. They've signed up for all the accounts they were told are important, but they are now overwhelmed. So what happens? They do nothing. Or maybe they post now and again on the platform they know best, but let the others collect dust bunnies. 

I get it! Social media is important. And it's difficult to keep up with, even for those of us who work with it regularly. But my best advice with social media as it relates to your marketing is to remove the profiles from your website that you aren't going to update. They're making you look bad. Once someone has looked at your Twitter profile, and seen that it hasn't been updated since 2013, they aren't going to go back to check it out again later.

I don't recommend deleting profiles because handles can be very hard to secure these days, but remove them from public view. Hide the accounts, if that feature is available. You can always go back and use it later if you'd like, but right now, it's doing more harm than good. And you have plenty of other things to keep you busy anyway.

(If you'd like to hear more about other ways to get back your time and focus your energy, check out my free e-course.)

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

A. Make a plan! Marketing shouldn't be haphazard. It's a strategy for creating customers/donors, satisfying their needs or wants, and then getting them to come back. This shouldn't be left to chance.

Even if your initial plan only covers this week, do it. Then, block some time on your calendar to plan further out. And if you need to, ask for help. Marketing is one of the best things you can do for your business because it helps you get noticed and grow. Be intentional, not reactionary. Your time is too valuable.

Q. Anything else we should keep in mind?

A. I'll end on a similar note as Jen did in last month's Ask the Experts social media edition. We worked side-by-side for several years, and maybe our minds have started to meld. But keep in mind that social media is rented real estate. Email lists are owned.

Social media is difficult to keep up with because the rules can change at any moment. For example, up until a couple of years ago, businesses were seeing huge numbers of views and engagement on Facebook. Then the algorithm changed, and numbers drastically dropped. Now, it takes a lot of strategy, and sometimes money, to hit those same figures. That made some people mad, but remember, social media networks are first and foremost, for socializing between friends. Businesses have been smart to get in on the game, but you can't blame the platform for protecting their model, and then monetizing it to outsiders.

However, email lists are yours to keep. They are a direct line to people's inbox, whereas only a fraction of your Friends, Followers, and Fans see your social posts. Email is the way to go, and many people have forgotten that because of social media's flashy appearance.

Do yourself a favor. Start content marketing. Start building your email list. Then, talk to the people who have asked to be in relationship with you. You'll be glad you did!

I expand on some of these ideas in my free e-course, 5 Things to Stop Doing This Week. Jumpstart your marketing and communications, free up your time, and focus your energy.



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Marketing Trends and Strategy for Small Businesses

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.


Celebrating International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day! So, I thought that one of the best ways I could celebrate would be to highlight women-run organizations that I love, and would love for you to be aware of. And, in keeping with the spirit of this blog, I'll let you know what I like most about their marketing and communications as well.

Highlighting women-run organizations that I love.

Here are 10 that I've chosen, but there are so many more that I could've listed! There are many women out there doing inspiring, and much needed, work. Be sure to check these gals out, and support them in some way, even by just following them on social media or telling a friend.

NONPROFIT

1. Be the Bridge: This budding organization utilizes resources and conversations to further racial reconciliation. They believe that the Church must become a bigger answer to this issue, and are equipping people to host racially diverse small groups that create open lines of communication.

What I like most about their marketing and communications is how grassroots-oriented it is, which fits with their business model. People who are a part of their online and in-person groups have a voice, which creates not only fans, but advocates for the work.

2. TrueNorth Freedom Project: TrueNorth helps individuals, families and ministries navigate our sex-saturated culture through resources and conversations. By learning how to talk about sexual issues with grace and compassion, relationships will be strengthened, kids will be better prepared for the challenges, and the Church will become more effective in leading many to true freedom in Christ.

What I like most about their marketing and communications is their approach. They tackle a very difficult societal issue, but always take the stance of grace over shame, and that always shines through.

3. A21 Campaign: They are fueled by a radical hope—that human beings everywhere will be rescued from bondage and completely restored. They are the abolitionists of the 21st century, and work with you to free slaves and disrupt the demand.  

What I like most about their marketing and communications is that they frequently share survivor stories which makes the need real and urgent.

4. Refuge Coffee Co.: They relentlessly pursues the goal to provide employment and job-training opportunities to resettled refugees, to create a unique, welcoming gathering place in Clarkston, and to tell a more beautiful refugee story to Atlanta.

What I like most about their marketing and communications is that they tell a lot of stories, including the staff and volunteers, neighbors and those who frequent the establishment. Their mission involves being active and present in the community, and that is apparent in all aspects.

5. Thistle Farms: Thistle Farms is a sanctuary for healing for women survivors of abuse, addiction, trafficking and prostitution. They are a community of survivors, advocates, employees, interns, volunteers, and friends from all across the world. They are young and old, women and men. They want to change a culture that still allows human beings to be bought and sold. They believe that in the end, love is the strongest force for change in the world.

What I love most about their marketing and communications is how diverse they've become in their model, which allows them to constantly talk about what they're up to, and a great deal of cross-promotion. Currently, they have Magdalene House, a bath and body care product line, Thistle Stop Cafe, Shared Trade Global Marketplace, The Studios Workshop and the National Education and Training Center.

Honorable mention to: The Mend ProjectWellspring Living, Malala Fund

FOR-PROFIT

1. Dr. Bombay's: One of my favorite spots in Atlanta, this darling little tea shop in the Candler Park neighborhood funds “life scholarships” for girls in India with their Learning Tea program. With these funds, girls can go to college, have a safe place to live, and have all their basic needs provided for. (And her chai is my absolute favorite!) I've actually seen their work in India first-hand.

What I love most about their marketing and communications is how "local" it is. They are good neighbors. Many of their ingredients and offerings come from local or small businesses, and they also place event posters in other area parter businesses as a regular part of their promotions. And the atmosphere is so quirky and unique that it makes a great place for people to take and share photos!

2. Yellow Conference: They are a conference for creative, entrepreneurial women who want to change the world. Bonus that it takes place in Southern California!

What I like most about their marketing and communications is their heart for their community, both in-person and online. They are supportive and encouraging, and always looking for ways to help their fans be better in life, in their jobs, and in the world.

3. So Worth Loving: They are a community of passionate and original individuals who exist to embrace your past and empower your future. They believe no matter your history, past mistakes, religion, career choice, or relationship status, you are worthy of love. And they believe that fashion is the most iconic way to make a statement.

What I love most about their marketing and communications is that they always keep it simple. And it's highly effective! They share the stories of their fans, promote the idea of self-worth, and sell clothing that reminds people that they are worth loving.

4. Business Boutique: This is a fairly new conference that speaks to Christian, women entrepreneurs. They focus on all three aspects of a business: Dreaming, starting and building. 

What I love most about their marketing and communications is the practicality. I left their event feeling informed and resourced in moving forward in my business. And the podcast is a way to continue to soak up the knowledge.

5. The Skimm: A short, daily email telling you all about the day's top political news.

What I love most about their marketing and communications is that its fun! Otherwise, I wouldn't read it, to be honest. I have a hard time connecting with politics and news because it is usually so depressing or mean. They give you the highlights in a compelling way.

Honorable mention to: Joyn, Fashionable, Huffington Post, Raven + Lily

What do you think? Who would you have included? Tell me below!

And happy International Women's Day! #BeBoldForChange



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Highlighting women-run organizations that I love

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.