Category: marketing

Building a Community During COVID-19

Building a Community During COVID-19

My son’s school, like many others, has sent home enrichment projects for him to complete during his time off (if he and we want) and being the parents we are, have encouraged him to keep his mind active. He’s already excitedly picked out what he wants to do and what topics he wants to focus on and the one he is most excited about this week is building a community.

When it came to this week’s blog post, I was not sure what I wanted to write about, or even if I was going to be able to write about anything. But then I thought about my son’s enrichment project, and what he is working on. It’s perfect for what many of us are finding right now. That our sense of community, the people we interact with and engage with, are still available, although our means of communication has changed.

Communicating Virtually

This week has been filled with Zoom meetings, video chats, messages, and more on social media. We are reaching out and using it more than ever before because that is our primary source of communication with our community. We’re checking Facebook for community updates, where to find eggs, and to keep in touch with our loved ones.

I have looked at pictures from camera rolls – landscapes, flowers, general pictures sharing our lives with one another. I have had friends post unpopular opinions and watched as others commented and laughed. And I am watching as my community, comes together, works together, and is helping one another through what may very well be one of the most difficult times we can imagine. It’s really quite beautiful.

But how do we transition this movement into our business pages? Because that is the ultimate goal from all of this, to stay in business even though how we do business has changed significantly. In a Zoom meeting this week, we discussed how we can support one another personally through this time by focusing on what we are grateful for and what our gifts are. This simple shift in perception can change your audience’s interaction with you on social media quickly during this time and may set you apart when business resumes “normal” operations.

Be Gracious

To begin, ask yourself what you are grateful for. This may be difficult for some, especially if you are stuck in what I call the boot loop of doom. This is when everything sucks, nothing is working the way you want it to, and everything that happens is complicating things further and you are left feeling frustrated, angry, lost, and hurt. Maybe you are crying or have lashed out on someone in your home and now feel bad. It happens. It happens to the best of us. And let’s be honest, we’ve had a lot of shit thrown at us in a short period of time.

Find something you are grateful for, something you are appreciative to have. At a time when many of us are looking at what we have lost, look for what you have gained. Small businesses are starting to gain the appreciation that we have been asking for. Yes, we are in a sucky situation where we may not be sure how to make ends meet and if we can keep employees on, but we have options available to us now that have never been before because we ARE the backbone to our communities. We ARE the support for our economy. We ARE important and everyone is becoming acutely aware, even if they aren’t sure what to do or how to help.

Be Giving

This is where your gifts are important. As a business owner, you have a special gift – your business. You are knowledgeable about your business. You know what you provide, and hopefully who your target audience is. Ask yourself, what can you give to your audience that may help them right now because every single of one us is struggling right now. We are all looking for a bit of solace in the chaos. What can you give? How can you help? What is your gift?

For us, our gift is understanding marketing and social media and how that applies to small businesses. This is why we are hosting an AMA on our page. This is why we are offering to help small business owners without charge for marketing assistance. Because this is our gift to share with our community. From sharing this gift, we have been able to maintain a sense of “normalcy,” continue doing what we love, and most importantly, build on our sense of community.

Speak to Your Community

It’s still there, that sense of community, even though we are farther apart because we have technology with our use of social media. We are inherently social people and we need to communicate with one another, and where can we go when we cannot openly and freely meet with people? We go online. We’re going to social media. We’re sharing and connecting and learning it isn’t all bad.

So, go out there, share your gifts with your community, show them you care, and show them that this isn’t going to stop you. You are a small business owner. You are made of tougher stuff than this. Share your gifts and share your gratitude. I am sure it will come back to you in ways you never expected possible.

Speaking to Your Audience During COVID-19

I struggled on what to write this week. If I should write this week, and if I did, what would I write about? Because I’m sure, like you, my mind has been thinking about all of the things. But in opening Symbiotic Marketing up as a resource to all businesses and all individuals during this time has been a blessing to me. While many are struggling to find their footing and are looking to the only platform we have now – digital – and this is something Symbiotic Marketing was built on and uses daily. I’m saying we are blessed because we have the background and we have the knowledge, but by opening up our services to everyone, I have been able to continue doing what I love and that gives me great peace.

So, with that being said, this week’s blog is going to be focused on speaking to your audience right now on digital platforms, specifically your website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn pages. I will touch on some things and give you some ideas of what you can do. If you need help, reach out. Because while we are all scrambling, we can also pull our resources together and help each other out. I am going to try to be concise and to the point, but as we all know, that may or may not happen. If you need clarity, please ask because your audience is acting very differently right now and needs to be treated differently.

Restrict All Sales Speak

It may be tempting to drive traffic to your digital outlets when talking to your audience online right now – that’s what they were put in place for! But here’s the thing. Like you, many people aren’t working right now and don’t know when they can expect to return to work. For anyone living paycheck to paycheck, this is an incredibly trying time and the stimulus cannot come fast enough.

While some may be “lucky,” my family included in this lot, to have someone who is considered essential and life sustaining and with this pandemic.  Our finances are more secure, but at what cost? Our family members are out working every day with people who may or may not have this illness and may or may not bring it home.

And the overarching fear that we all have, no one knows how long this is going to last or what toll this is going to take on our health care system. The stories are scary. Trying to remain informed is scary. We aren’t sure who or what we can trust right now. Our very sense of security has been shaken. This is why toilet paper and food are being rationed. And this is why any attempt at sales will fall flat right now.

Drop The Pretenses

The fear is too great right now. Too consuming. In addition to this, many are feeling frustrated. Frustrated because they can’t work or because they must work. Frustrated by the closed stores and lack of supplies. Frustrated because we just don’t know. We need a sense of order for our society to function properly and that has clearly been upset.

We need something we can control to bring back a sense of normalcy. And right now, there’s just a whole lot that is out of our control. As business owners, we always have something that we can be doing. But individuals, they may not have that luxury (if you want to call it that). As a small business owner, you have resources available that you use to operate your business. Think about how you can transition what you do into how you can help someone. And this does not mean instructional how-to things, you also can help someone emotionally by bringing a sense of togetherness and community.  Think outside of the box. Again, if you need help, reach out.

With this, you need to drop the pretenses that everything is okay. Because it’s not. Whatever your personal thoughts on this matter may be, empty shelves at the grocery store say otherwise. It’s okay to talk about COVID-19 because it is relevant. It is on people’s minds. But your page is not the place to spread the fear and frustration. Focus on positivity, long-term vision, and helpful information. Now is the time to build your brand and you will have to let down some pretenses to do it.

Speaking to Your Audience During COVID-19

Website

It is imperative that your website be clean and easy to use right now. It must drive any traffic you have coming in, to their purpose for being there. While it is a personal choice to make any adjustments to your website in light of COVID-19, know that if they are coming, there is a reason for it and clear direction is necessary.

As this is an ever-changing event, it is your socials that will be of key importance. Take the time now to make any adjustments you want to your website, but the main focus should be on reaching your audience where they are right now, and that is all over social media. Currently, audiences are making adjustments on all of the platforms but their main intention, their main source of use, has remained the same. With that, let’s dig deeper into social media.

Facebook

Facebook has traditionally been “all the things” about life, literally, ALL THE THINGS. But it has maintained its focus on connecting people, getting to know one another, and communicating. While some have already used the platform to bring people together for a common good – look at all the new groups forming and informative pages. You must take the time to evaluate and reach your audience on this platform now if you are on it.

This can be done many ways based on your specific business and your options are really limitless. Status updates, shares, photos, videos, Facebook live videos, YouTube videos, Zoom meetings shared to Facebook Live. In these, everyone knows that most people are working from home right now and with that comes certain, shall we say, unexpected complications?

Everyone I have had a video chat with this week has had the opportunity to meet Sir Barnabas AKA “Barney,” my pug poodle mix. And it’s okay! Because that is life right now. A few weeks ago, this would have really bothered me but now, we’re all in this boat together. It’s okay. And know that while everyone is getting a sneak peek into what it’s like in your home, you are getting a sneak peek into what it’s like in their homes too. No one has their shit together. Drop the pretense and embrace the chaos.

Instagram

Like Facebook, Instagram is dropping some of the pretenses. Things do not need to be as polished, but it does need to remain positive and informative. Everyone is struggling right now so anything upbeat, helpful, and true insight on what you are doing to help yourself are all things being discussed on this platform.

How this transitions into what you can discuss on Instagram about your business, is just that – helpful, positive, and let people in. We are social creatures and need socialization to survive. This is where you can dig more into your why, what you do in your business, and why you do it and go personal. This is the time you can make a really deep connection with your audience.

Twitter

Twitter has remained news and opinion focused. If you use this platform, try to stay news focused, informative, up to date, and pay close attention to trending hashtags and how they may be used to support your brand. This platform may be very time-consuming right now and can easily start to affect your mental health. Be careful of the amount of time spent on this and any other platform. If you are starting to feel tired, negative, irritable, frustrated, hopeless, angry, or any other negative emotion, it’s time to hop off and do something less stressful. Bake some cookies, Netflix and chill, anything that can give you a sense of peace.

LinkedIn

Rather predictably, as businesses nationwide started to close and transition over to virtual platforms, LinkedIn’s audience behavior took quite a hit. Thankfully, with the small business loans and grants that are being offered, this audience is finding their feet again. Again, helpful and informative are what this audience is looking for. We’ve had a lot of shit thrown at us in a short period of time, so make it easily digestible.

Just Be Real

While this is a broad overview, the sentiment remains the same. We’re all in this together and no one knows what to expect. This is a time when the full power of what social media is and what it can do for us as individuals and us as business owners can be realized. The way we work may very likely be forever changed from this. At Symbiotic Marketing, we were already set up to be primarily virtual, we were set up to work from our homes remotely and we have resources we use to make this work for us. But many of you are struggling because you do not have this in place. Let us help you.

Our proverbial masks are being taken down. There’s no where to hide. And why would you? You are a business owner. You are born to stand out. You are born to make a difference. You’ve got this. Throw your cape over your shoulder and just be real. That’s all anyone is looking for right now.

Special COVID-19 Announcement

Special COVID-19 Announcement

I have been struggling writing this week’s blog. Not because what I had intended to discuss is difficult but because, right now, life is difficult. I’m struggling. And no, it most certainly is not similar in any way to some of the very difficult decisions my fellow business owners are being forced to make. But to pretend that everything is okay and write in such a way is something that I cannot do.

I simply cannot pretend that everything is okay, because it’s not. While my daily routine has not changed that significantly, my mindset has. And that has me struggling. I have not felt a depression this deep in a long time, but I am fighting it. I am fighting it because you are fighting. Because we all have something worth fighting for.

Ladies and gentlemen, your time to step up and show your community how much you care is here. It is your time to shine and each of you, in your individual ways are doing it. Those of us who can, are continuing to work from home, providing the services we need to keep things moving. Those of us who are needed on the front lines are out there, ensuring our quality of life. And those of you who have closed and will be closing during this time, you are helping lessen the curve.

So many of you are showing your community how much you care, and I am overwhelmed with love for you and for the wonderful community I live in. When I find myself pulling in and allowing the fear take over, I look at you and know that I am not alone. Because we are not. And I believe each of us on social media right now knows this to be true. Let’s be honest. It’s where we are.

Even if we have neglected our business pages, we are still on social media because it is how we can communicate right now. And I am seeing some very beautiful things. Just an incredible use of technology, I am in awe of what some of you are doing to bring some sunshine into our lives.

We are communicating more than ever and with this, we have the opportunity to help in so many simple ways that can make a huge impact. And with this, I am hoping that I may be able to give back to you the support you have given me.

Starting today and until further notice, the Symbiotic Marketing Facebook Page will host an AMA (Ask Me Anything). Come and ask your questions, from social media marketing and websites, to marketing in general. I will PM you with questions so I can fully understand your question and any details needed and then help you with find a resolution to your specific issue. Pick my brain. In addition to this, I will be addressing as many questions as I can in a general format to assist others who may also have a similar question. These will be specific posts because at times, answers can get lengthy.

I know you may be feeling very uncertain right now and probably downright scared, but I want you to know that you inspire me every day. I am incredibly honored to be a part of this wonderful group of crazy small business owners. Because we are crazy. And you are my people.

I sincerely love you all and we’ll come out of this better for having gone through it together. I firmly believe this.

See you on the other side, Ray.

What, How, When? Social media etiquette explained

If I have learned anything in life, it is that at times, it is going to be hard. Some of the most beneficial lessons we can learn come from a hard place and sometimes, it’s that hard pill that we need to swallow. And, this may be a hard pill for some to swallow. But it needs to be said. Ladies and gentlemen, I need to discuss social media etiquette.

I get it. It’s hard knowing how to get people to look, actually LOOK at what you are doing. Knowing that you have less than a second to capture someone’s attention is beyond daunting! Add in trying to increase your page following, because more must certainly be better, and it’s easy to become so frustrated and overwhelmed you aren’t sure what to do. And that’s just your business page.

As a business owner, you inherently will have two accounts on Facebook and potentially two on LinkedIn. What to post, where to post, and how to share are all important because they affect your brand awareness. Likewise, who you are friends with and who you follow on your personal page affects your brand. Whether we like it or not, as the owner of the business, we are the face of the business. How you interact with those you follow, and how they interact with you says a lot about you and how you run your business. With that, let’s get into those hard truths.

1. For the love of all that is holy, leave dirty laundry offline.

This may seem like a given, but dirty laundry presents itself, even when we do our best to filter it. This may be someone shooting off on your page, responding to a comment in an ugly way, or even a negative review.

If it is something directly related to your business, respond in a respectful way (even though you may feel very differently) and offer to take the complaint offline. Period. “I am sorry you have experienced this. I will call you to discuss how we may be able to resolve this issue.” Keep it respectful and professional and most importantly, take it offline.

If it is related to you personally, you should remain respectful in your response but take the conversation to a more private space if necessary. Something as simple as responding, “I’ll PM you,” lets those who can see that conversation know that you have boundaries of what you will accept publicly and what you will not.

We all have that one relative who just won’t stop. Redirect to a more private area and save some face. Know that no matter what, some dirty laundry is going to come out at some point. How you handle it matters because nothing just “goes away” in digital.

This is not to say that you should not have opinions and show them online but keep it in check and don’t go overboard. When you start to feel emotions coming up, get offline, regroup and then come back to address it. When you are frustrated and angry, the socials are not the place to be until you can respond in a logical manner.

2. Be aware of who you are friends with and who you follow.

This is such an easy one to fall into. The more people on your personal page, will transfer to more people on your business page, right? Not necessarily. And, it may actually hurt your brand. Here’s the hard truth, people create fake accounts to snoop. We all know someone who has done it or have heard of someone who has done it. But it is more than that, especially this year.

There are things called “bots.” These are NOT people but look like people online. They often have posts shared to their newfeeds and are tagged in the posts. They rarely post themselves, and when they do, it is primarily directed toward an overall theme. If someone looks highly stereotypical in the type of posts shared to them or they themselves share and do not post anything personal – no status update, it is most likely a bot.

We are going to see an increase of bots this year because it is an election year. These are “individuals” who post highly politicized posts and posts associated with those values. The issue with these is twofold. First, by friending a bot, allows it to work like a virus and send requests to all your friends. Others will be more likely to accept it because you have, so it must be legit, but it isn’t. This discredits your integrity. Bots happen on business pages. They shouldn’t happen to personal pages.

Secondly, who you interact with says a lot about you. While you should have a diverse list of friends, it should be reflective of who you are personally. In accepting a request from a bot opens you up to more bots sending requests. This is why people make Facebook sweeps and clean their friends lists. They want to see from the people they care about (this comes back to the algorithm) and if you are someone who falls victim to bots frequently (we can see who our “mutual” friends are…) you may become unfollowed and you would not know.

A good rule of thumb to follow, if you think you may have received a request from a bot, do not accept it right away. Look at their newsfeed and something seems “off” let it sit for a few days. It won’t go away, but it will give you time to think about whether or not accepting this request will be beneficial for you. Come back to it later and if it still doesn’t seem right, it’s probably because it isn’t a person.

3. Be careful with emojis.

Oh, emojis. Aren’t they fun…? Here’s the thing. Emojis are meant to enhance and complement text. They are meant to show the emotion behind the words typed. This is an issue that many of us have faced. How to transfer tone and emotion through text alone is difficult, because while we (the one who is typing) is trying to be effective in communication, emotions don’t always transfer through. What’s worse, is the reader (the person who is responding) to what was written, may respond in a very different manner than what was expected.

I am sure I am not the only one who has written an email that I thought was very clear and concise and to the point, to have it received differently than I expected. We first tried to combat this with self-created emojis – colon, dash, closed parenthesis for a smiley face or carrot, 3 for a heart. But this has transformed over the years into the emojis we know today.

Now we have hundreds of emojis to choose from. Literally, anything and everything we can think of, including poo. Even more so, we at times, choose to not respond with any text, but rather just an emoji to show our emotion. This completely acceptable depending on the situation. Other times, we intermix emojis with our text, and that is acceptable as well, but only in small doses. This is important, because when we are online, we are looking to read what has been written. This is the expectation.

When you mix emojis throughout your text, or use them incorrectly, it not only makes what you are saying difficult to read and more likely to be dismissed, it also reeks of dirty sales. This is a ploy that has been used by many multi-level marketers (MLM) to help sell their products. If you are an MLM and don’t mind being associated as such, go for it. Just be aware that your posts are difficult to read and may not be read. If you are not, you should stop NOW.

The issue with this, is that by presenting yourself as an MLM through your use of emojis, you are presenting yourself and your business that you are not professional and that you may not be in it for the long haul. Let’s be honest, we have all met someone who has joined the MLM bandwagon, sold the product for a bit, and moved onto another. This is not saying that all MLMs are bad, because they aren’t. But the expectation has been set, lots of emojis throughout a lot of text sends a message that you may not want.

This is what too many emojis reads like.

4. Business should start with business and transfer to personal.

This one also seems to be a given, but it’s so easy to share from your personal to your business page – what can be the harm? This comes down to a fundamental issue. You are the face of your business, but your business needs to stand on its own. You are more than just your business and that’s how people know you. The goal of branding is that people know your business first, that is your brand awareness, and you secondly. The brand you build is the business you will have.

This is incredibly important. If you do not focus on your brand, you will be perceived as mixing business with pleasure. That is not to say that you cannot find pleasure in your business, hell, you should! Why else would you be doing it? But with that, you should start with your business first, and then share to personal. With this, you should also be speaking to two very distinct audiences and using two distinct voices, your professional voice and your personal voice.

What I mean is this, every week, I publish this blog and share it to my socials. I start with the business pages first, because I am building on that brand. I want all the work I have put into building the brand to be associated with it. I also write to the specific page audience in a professional tone. Then I share it to my personal page, using a personal tone.

Additionally, if you are sharing information about your business to other pages (such as groups), see if you can join the group from your business page. Some, not all, allow users to be able to do this. Not only does it continue to build on your brand and brand awareness – because you will be again addressing the audience in a professional tone, but you will also be free of spamming your friends and followers. Here’s the hard truth, if you only share from your personal page to these groups, any friends who are also members of the same group you shared to, see that you posted to that page. Now, consider how many groups there are devoted to things happening in the area and how many of your friends may be following those pages as well. It adds up quickly. And if your friends and followers see you are personally posting about your business to these other pages, especially in rapid succession, it looks like spam.

 

5. Posting, Commenting, Sharing

Professional Voice on Personal Page

While it may be tempting to share every post from your business page to your personal page and simply adjust your tone for the audience, you want to be careful of overwhelming your friends. The truth of the matter is that you are a different person in the eyes of different people. Yes, you are a business owner and that is a large part of your life. But you are also a friend, a colleague, a family member and these are your friends and followers on your socials. They follow you because they want to see all of your aspects. Not just one. No one likes to go to dinner with someone who only talks about one subject, and that what social media is, a place to catch up and connect with loved ones. Don’t be that person.

Remember, you are speaking to two very different audiences on your business page and your personal page. What you post on your business page should be specific to building your brand and increasing your brand awareness. It needs to be different from what you share on your personal page because again, you are building a brand that should stand on its own. Let me say this again – The brand you build is the business you will have.

With this, share highlights of your business page to your personal page. Treat them as you would sprinkles. Sprinkles are great on any sweet treat, but you wouldn’t want them in your salad or on your burger. So, be picky and choosing what you share to your personal page from your business. By sharing the exciting stuff, people will be more likely to see what you have going on. Use this to drive them to your page if they aren’t already there. And if they are, then they are working for you every time they engage with your post.

Here’s the truth, every time one of your friends likes, comments, shares your post that you shared from your business page, it widens the overall reach of your initial post. This is how friends and family support your business online whether they are aware of it or not. Increasing your reach organically in this way increases the likelihood of an increase in your page audience and more importantly, a quality increase in this audience.

These are individuals who are interested in what you are doing, the more you can direct them to your business page, with highlights of what you have, the more likely they will be to interact with your page going forward. You want them there, give them a reason to go there.

Professional Voice on Business Page

As a business page, you can follow other businesses as your page. By following other businesses as your page, you are building on your brand awareness through their brand awareness. No small business owner succeeds in isolation. There’s a reason why we have our own community and this needs to be reflected online as well as in person.

Liking a page as your page and then sharing highlights from their page, not only shows that you care about your community, but also increases your overall page reach. Sharing events is an excellent way of increasing your page reach because they inherently can increase engagement through more options.

One may like, comment, or share but also mark interested or going, all of which are engagement and are weighted differently within the algorithm. Remember, these are the figures you want. Sprinkle in other’s stories within your own and your page will begin to show the diversity your personal page should already have and from this, begin to stand on its own.

In addition to this, you will want to post specifics about your own business. That is the point of having the page to begin with! In posting about your business, you will want to be sure that you are posting frequently enough that you are not overwhelming your audience with what you have to offer. Having specials, events, and sales are great, but be sure you do not undercut your brand to be able to do so. Your business encompasses more than sales, share about what you do but also why you do it. Give helpful tips that you have learned. Discuss topics that would interest your visitors and they will likely come back for more.

Personal Voice on Personal Page

This is where things can get sticky for many, especially right now. Not only are we in an election year, when tensions rise, but we are also facing a global health concern. Tensions are high and emotions are all over the place. Every SINGLE one of us has an opinion and right now, it’s hard to keep that opinion to ourselves because these topics are forefront on everyone’s minds.

Here’s the hard pill to swallow. If you choose to discuss these topics, do so knowing going in that you are setting up for a debate. You will need to be prepared because if you do this, you need to be firm in your stance yet open for discussion. You need to be ready to admit when you are wrong, because that may happen. You will also want to be aware of trolls because you will be opening yourself up to them. Let me be quite firm, DO NOT ENGAGE WITH TROLLS. YOU WILL NOT WIN.

Your safest bet is to take a middle ground or keep your opinion to yourself. Because in addition to this, you need to pay attention. People will be ready for an argument and sometimes, some rather unexpected results may happen. Try to put out fires when they are small and respond to each comment individually if possible. Fires spread quickly when emotions are high, and a small fire now can lead to pretty significant repercussions down the road.

These topics aside, what should you post on your personal page? Everything you feel you would want to share on your personal page, just be aware that portions will be reflected on your business. This returns to how you present your business in a positive light, if your business page is on point but your personal page says there’s something wrong, there’s something wrong.

Here’s the thing, we all have those not so great moments in life. And some need to be shared, but not all. Personally, since starting this business, I have seen a great deal of loss in my personal life, which I have shared in some capacity on my personal socials. I did this because this information needed to be shared. But not all information needs to be shared. Often, during these periods of loss, I was struggling with other stressors, both personal and business related. This information was not shared, because it was not necessary.

Friends and family will respect that you are going through a lot but do not need to know everything on your plate. Although your emotions may be all over the place, it does not need to show publicly. In these times of difficulty, it may be best to take some time off from digital. People will understand and accept that you may need to “go dark” for a bit to regroup.

Or, you may choose to regroup publicly, and find posts that speak to you in a positive way. You may see on my Facebook page, that during some of the times of loss, I posted a lot of motivational and uplifting memes and posts. These were as much for me as they were for my friends and family. There isn’t a one size fits all option, but both are acceptable. Just be aware that if you go dark, you will want to put a time limit on it because people will want to know you are okay.

Outside of this, post anything that speaks to you on a personal level. Share photos from your life, tag your friends and family, share status updates about what you are doing, share other’s posts that are meaningful to you. Tell people about you, who you are and what interests you. If they like you, they’ll want to know more about you and how they can support you.

 

For more small business marketing insight, check out our previous blogs and come back next week when I will discuss what we mean by brand awareness and how to use it effectively in your business no matter how small you are.

 

Presentation Is EVERYTHING (Conclusion): Bringing It All Back Together

Websites. That glorious thing that we all know we need because it drives traffic directly to our business. It’s how we show we are officially in business as a business today. We know we need one because we know that’s where the people are – online. We also know that it’s a part of our sales funnel and how it collaborates with social media. But like every other post in this series, we are going to go deeper into what your website says about your business and how you may present it in a positive light.

While there are a lot of choices for platform builders, the two main components we discuss with clients are budget and visuals. Depending on the platform you choose, the overall time spent on visuals and layout can change drastically based on your budget. With that, a lower cost platform to operate, is going to require more time devoted to layout and visuals than one with a higher annual fee. No matter which platform you choose, what you have is really a blank slate to build on. So, let’s start with that and then dig deeper.

What Does Your Website Need To Say?

There’s a phrase tossed around in marketing circles, “Facts tell, stories sell.” Your website should tell a story, who you are and what you do. And like many stories, your website should have several “chapters.” A home page is an introductory chapter, it should give visitor’s an overview of your business. But more than that, it should tell a story. Start with who you are and what you do but also think about why your visitor should care. Because the more they care, the longer they stay.

This is what is known as your “bounce rate,” how long someone stays on your site before moving onto another site. Ideally, you want your bounce rate to be low. This means your visitor spent some time on your site looking around before leaving. The longer they are there, the warmer that visitor is in your sales funnel. But we’re not looking at individual people who visit and why. Nor should your website be focused on one type of audience in your sales funnel.

Your website should speak to cold to hot audiences. As such, you will want to speak to both at the same time but in very different ways. Your hot audience needs a clear and direct path to what they are looking for. Give them clear direction to find what they are looking for because they are in the decision-making process. Whereas, your cold audience, those who may have found you through a search engine such as Google, they need a bit more. This is where your home page, and what you say on it matters.

Start with the facts, who you are. This includes any representation of your business, such as your logo and any visual representations that reflect your business, such as the restaurant may show a close up of a foot-long. With this, tell your audience a little bit about your business. What you do and why you do it. Think of this as your “elevator speech.” If they are interested, they will keep scrolling.

Tell A Story

From here, the story should go more in depth. Give more details about what the site is selling. If your company sells goods, highlight the products but be careful to not overwhelm the viewer. Remember, if they are interested, they will keep going. Selling a service, will be a bit different. Rather than showcasing goods, you will want to showcase the finer details of what you offer.

How this differs from your “elevator speech” is important. From our own website, the first paragraph is telling the visitor who we are, a small business marketing agency. The second goes into greater detail, specifically the services we offer, how and why. Remember, you are telling a story so build on what is already known and go into details as you progress.

Determining what to add to from this point is up to you. If you have testimonials you would like to share, you may do so. But remember to keep them concise. Pick and choose those that are well written and showcase your business is the most positive light. Not all testimonials are going to be useful to the visitor so if you are looking to add this, be sure to find ones that highlight specifics about your business.

And most importantly, make sure the transition time between the testimonials allows enough time for the viewer to read it. While it is tempting to have a lot of movement on the site, remember, people are here for information. They need to be able to read.

Don’t Forget A Conclusion

All homepages need a conclusion. People need to know when they have reached the end. Then if they choose to investigate your other chapters, they may do so. But creating a conclusion to your page and doing so in a positive light can be more difficult than expected.

Many small businesses do this by creating a contact box, a link to socials, contact information, or a combination of all three. While some may consider this the conclusion, it is imperative that your site include a footer with a copyright. To go without it, not only sets you and your business up for any kind of infringement from the information on your page, it also suggests ignorance and oversight. Neither of which present your business in a positive light.

Writing Your “Chapters”

As websites tell a story, your pages are your chapters. There are some key pages that should be on your website no matter how large your business is: Home, About, and Contact. As we have already discussed what should be included on the home page and contact is self-explanatory, let’s dig into the About page.

Your about page should not only tell visitors about your business but also about yourself. Include an introductory paragraph about yourself, give a little background and what brought you to where you are today. Then discuss your business and dig into your why. This is important because the visitor was already interested by your home page and clicked on your About page to learn more about you and your business. They are asking to learn more, what can you tell them and how can you make them care?

More importantly, why should you care. This may seem like a little thing, but in fact it can make a huge difference in moving a visitor along in your sales funnel. Think about the last time you wanted to know more information about something, and you received a response that didn’t really answer your question.

I love my child and genuinely want to hear about his day, but “it was pretty good” doesn’t really answer my question. Now while I may probe with deeper questions, such as asking how his math test went, your visitors are not going to do that. They may check out your socials, but then you are asking them to move away from your site. If they are already this far, they are interested. Don’t lose them this far in.

Your other chapters are highly based upon your business. You may have items for sale that can be grouped together into different types, or you may offer a variety of services. Creating pages for these items allows you to go into greater details of the specifics of what you are selling. Be aware that each different type of item should have a different page but like items should remain together. Such as, a restaurant may serve both hot and cold subs as well as sides. You can create one menu page, and separate submenus for each type of food offered to showcase the specific items for sale, the hot subs, cold subs, and side order items. Your menu should be easy to navigate and easy to read. This applies to both the example restaurant’s menu and your website’s menu. The easier it is to navigate, the more convenient it is to use. And, as you remember, we’re all about convenience.

Creating Stunning Visuals

We all know that websites are more than just text. There are visual components as well, and that includes more than just photos and videos. While photos and videos may be placed through the site as needed, the overall theme, color scheme, and sizing matters. So, let’s break these three things down and see how we can use them to present the text and structure started in a positive light.

The theme is the overall layout of your site. Where is your menu bar? Along the top? Or along the sides? Does it have text or symbols? Your theme should be appropriate for your specific type of business. While symbols are a great way to have your site look more app like, which many of us are familiar with and know how to use, does it align with your specific business or your audience’s expectations?

Remember, we are looking to ease a frustration. Think about your target audience, what would they be more likely to be comfortable with using? When in doubt, simple and straightforward fair better long term that what is trending.

The theme also often includes a color scheme that may be used. While ideally, you will want to utilize colors within your logo for consistency, you will also want to be careful of how colors relate to each other.

There are what is known as complementary colors. These are colors opposite of each other on the color wheel: blue-orange, red-green, and yellow-purple. When used together sparingly, these combinations make a stunning statement because they draw the eye in. However, when used together in a larger capacity, such as the overall color scheme of your website, they can be overwhelming and painful on the eyes to read. No one wants to use a website that is headache inducing from the color scheme chosen, when in doubt, use what the theme suggests.

Sizing includes all aspects of visual sizes. This includes not only how large your photos are on your site, but also how this relates to your text, the font and font size. Font should be easy to read and should stand out from your other visual components. Your text should not be overshadowed by graphics, but rather, they should flow together and complement each other. You should also be aware of color scheme for your text. If it is hard to read because of the hues chosen, the size and style of the font chosen, won’t matter.

Font and font size should only change based on the portion of the page you are working on. Such as, a title should have a larger font size than a paragraph. However, you will want to keep these different types of text consistent throughout your site. Including the menu bar. It may not seem like a big deal, but to have text sizing different in the menu bar presents that portion of the menu is less important or more important than other pages. Your whole menu is important.

In thinking about sizing, also consider the size of your buttons, how people navigate through your site. Disproportionately large buttons drive the eye away from the text – the information that visitors came to find. Whereas disproportionately small buttons may be hard to find or make the site difficult to navigate. While click through buttons highly depend on the size site you have and how it operates, there are also other buttons to consider such as, your social media icons. *

*Note: As websites are meant for both hot and cold audiences, like your social media accounts, and it is not only acceptable but expected to have both highlighted on each, it is imperative that if you link your socials to your website that they are updated frequently. Linking your site to unused socials shows inexperience and ignorance of all digital media and can present as the owner being overwhelmed.

Bringing It All Back Together

With the visuals and text in place, and both are clear, easy to read and navigate, your site is ready for eyes (assuming you have checked visuals on both desktop and mobile views and ensured everything is operational). But how do we get the visitors to our website other than from our social media accounts? This is where SEO (Search Engine Optimization) comes in. While this can be a very in-depth process as you grow, when you are first starting out, it is quite simple.

Each builder offers SEO capabilities, whether inherently built in or a plugin to be installed. Taking time to adjust your SEO settings allows search engines, such as Google, to narrow down a topic and sites related to that topic. As we know from our own personal use, the more detailed we can be with a search, the more accurate the results are. But what if we are just looking for something, or someone who can help with a project we need completed? This is where SEO comes in.

With SEO, businesses are able to use “keywords” that describe their business that helps search engines show your website to those people who are looking for your goods or service. This returns to what you do. In finding keywords for your site, be as specific as possible. Think about what your potential customers are looking for and how you provide a solution. Ideally, you want one word or phrase as your keyword. Depending on the platform you use, you may use multiple keywords per page on your site. Be specific and purposeful. Think about what people may search for.

Additionally, you may also have the ability to add a description to your specific pages on your site. This is the information shown to the person using the search engine. When using descriptions, be clear and concise as possible, this is your first impression, and may be the difference between someone going to your site over another.

Presenting Your Business In A Positive Light

No matter where you are at in your business or how long you have been in business, presentation matters. What’s more, even if you have fallen victim to some of the pit falls along the way, you can change the perception you are giving to others.

Think about yourself, your interactions, and what you are saying. Think about your audience and what they are saying. Get to know these people, because they are pretty cool people to know, yourself included. Remember, to get a little, you need to give a little, relationships go two ways.

From this, you can change the way you are communicating with others and present your business in a more positive light. Because as we now know, how you present yourself and your business matters. What you say and how you say it, from personal interactions such as networking events, to your businesses’ front facing details, and yes, even digital communities – presentation matters. It is attached to every other portion of your business. Presentation is EVERYTHING.

 

If you enjoyed this series, please check out our other blogs and check back next week for Social Media Etiquette. I will discuss those little things on your socials that matter, why they matter and how to use these platforms effectively.

Presentation is EVERYTHING (Part 3): Building A Sense Of Community

Oh, the struggles of understanding digital media, especially social media. There are so many things to learn and terms that seem to intertwine with other terms, it can be overwhelming to know where to begin, let alone how! And yet, you know you need to use it and it adds to the frustrations you already have, some of which were discussed in the first two blogs in this series: Presentation is Everything and It’s All About Convenience.  So, let’s start simple and build on what we already know.

Where to Begin?

To know where to begin, you need to first know which platforms you should use to reach your people, your target audience. Knowing who and where they are will help narrow down the platforms you need to think about. While we advocate that every business owner should be on Facebook (research shows that about 7 in 10 U.S. Adults use Facebook), there are other platforms that can be just as powerful, if not more so when used correctly. But do you need to use them? That depends on whether or not your people are there.

With Instagram and YouTube showing great success, especially for influencers, these platforms seem to be an easy way to find easy money, if only we knew how to do it…and then there’s all the others, Snap Chat, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Twitter – it’s a lot to consider. But is that where your people are? Instagram and Snap Chat are popular in younger age groups, 18-24 and Twitter users also, tend to be younger, and have higher education and incomes. So, if your business gears toward older adults, you need not consider these platforms.

If your target audience includes a younger demographic, then you need to consider how you will speak to that audience because each platform has a different means of communicating with others and needs to be respected. Not only will you present your business in a poor light with your inexperience with the platform, but you will also feel all of the frustration from the time spent for little return.

Speaking to The Audience: Facebook

To understand how to effectively communicate with people on these platforms, we need to know how they work. Let’s start with the big one, Facebook. People use this platform more than any other to keep in touch with friends and family and be in the know locally. It is highly centered around the idea of digital communities. Photos, videos, memes, events, updates, and shares (both personal updates and friends) are all centered around creating a sense of community digitally. This is why you can tag individuals, places, and even check in at events.

Groups are becoming more and more popular on this platform as well, which again builds on this sense of community. Facebook speaks to all the aspects of life, from the not so great moments to celebrations, it’s all there and discussed openly and frequently within these communities. In speaking with this community, you will want to have a clear idea of both who you want to speak to and where they are located. Other than that, your options are fairly open, just be sure to follow the 80/20 Rule and focus on your brand first.

Speaking to The Audience: Instagram and Snap Chat

Instagram also has a sense of community. However, this platform is focused on visual components – photos and videos with supportive text. As visuals are the key component of this platform, “stories” are very effective. Stories are a compilation of visual information that support your brand. While this may sound a bit complex, in reality, it is quite easy.

Let’s say you have an event coming up or something you want to promote. Creating a story can help boost interest by sharing photos with text and emojis that show for a 24-hour period. In creating a story, you can build excitement, but you are also using a key factor in how this platform is used, you are engaging with your community.

Because the communities on this platform can be so diverse, hashtags are used to associate with other pages as well as other communities on that platform. Such as if you have a restaurant in downtown Chambersburg, you may use #chambersburgpa to reach others who may also be interested in that community. This helps build your brand recognition within that community and builds on your own brand awareness, all in the same locale. Remember, it’s not just who your people are, it’s also where they are.

As hashtags are used heavily on this platform, it is acceptable to use up to 30 different hashtags! That can be just a little overwhelming. Determining which hashtags to use that support your brand may take some time. It comes down to some good, old fashioned research. Search for different hashtags, and see what is posted to them, does it support your brand? If so, make note of it and use it for future posts. You can also see what hashtags other businesses like yours are using and use it for your own business.

To keep posts clean, you can put your top hashtags (those that relate most with your business) in the post itself (up to 10) and any additional in the comments. Lump them together in packages of 10. This keeps everything clean and is less overwhelming for the follower to decipher.

Instagram is known for being a bit perfection forward and positive. Things posted on this platform should be uplifting or showing at your best. Presentation matters here. With this, you will also want to be aware of who you are following. Who your business follows says as much, if not more, about your brand than what you post. So be sure who you follow on this platform also supports the brand you want to build.

Snap Chat also shows stories for a 24-hour period but is used in a very different way from Instagram. Snap Chat is much more of a slice of life, it’s moments during your day and often funny. Let your silly side show and share moments of your day. People on this platform are looking for real, not glossed over like Instagram.

This platform can also be used to promote events and specials, but you should use it for more than that to keep your audience engaged. Share moments in your day with photos and videos with supportive text, emojis, and stickers, or have some fun with it and use a snap filter to become a pretty princess, a puppy dog, or even a scary monster, the possibilities are really endless. Snap Chat offers a great deal of filters that you can add to your post including based on your location – where you took the picture. Again, like Instagram, this can help build your brand awareness within your community both physically and digitally.

Speaking to The Audience: Twitter

Twitter, like Instagram, also uses hashtags but in a very different way. Yes, they are still searchable, but on Twitter they “trend.” This means, those who are using that platform are discussing a particular topic. This platform is much less focused on community, although that aspect is still there. Rather it focuses on discussing something that is on people’s minds.

Twitter is very news-focused and because of this, the majority of tweets come from a small portion of the users. With this platform, you will want to address things that are current and keep your audience up to date. You will also want to be aware of who you follow, because like Instagram, this says a lot about your brand.

This platform is known for being clear and concise in messages. Previously, you were limited to 120 characters in a post, including hashtags. This has now been increased to 240 characters, but the expectation remains, you should say what you need to say.

Supportive photos and videos are used on this platform, but it is focused on text – what you are saying. Conversation is key on this platform and with that, you will need to “talk” to or “talk about” others to your followers. This can include a shout out to another business in your area for a job well done or posting an update about something someone else has going on that supports your brand.

While this sounds a bit muddy, it really isn’t. It all comes back to what we do. Business owners know other business owners. We’re the ones who are asked, “Do you know someone who…” because yes, we probably do, and we probably know several! So following businesses on your account, especially those that relate to your brand and support what you do, and either retweeting (sharing) their posts, or tagging them in a post not only helps build their brand but also your own. It also starts a conversation, which is what Twitter is all about.

Speaking to The Audience: LinkedIn

We should all know what LinkedIn is used for, it’s where the business people are! But how we communicate with business owners is very different from how we speak to the general public. Treat this platform much like you would a networking meeting with a lot of people you know.

Tell them about what you have going on in your business, share posts or links that relate to your business, and if you own a business, create a page for it. This solidifies yourself and your business on this platform, it gives validity to what you are doing. It shows you mean business. Post business specific topics on your business page and share these to your personal page.

In addition to this, you will also want to maintain the sense of community. LinkedIn recently added different reactions to posts, which helps build on the sense of community the other platforms use and it is becoming much less of a sales dumping ground. So, post things specific to you or your business, celebrate others’ successes, comment on their posts. It’s the little things that matter.

LinkedIn also recently started using hashtags, which as we know, has worked for other social media outlets as a means of searching for information and communities. While there is no limit on the number of hashtags you can use on LinkedIn, you want to be aware of the community you are speaking to. Business owners don’t have time to go around looking up hashtags to determine if it fits the brand and on LinkedIn. Nor do we want to see a lot of hashtags in a post. It looks spammy and we all know how spam filters work. Keep hashtags concise and no more than 5.

Speaking to Your Audience In A Positive Light

Now that you know who is where and how to start a conversation with them, you need to know a bit more about who you are specifically talking to so that you can present yourself and your business in a positive light. From here, it is quite simple. Each platform, including YouTube, offers insights on your specific audience. These are the people who currently like or follow your page. And you can know a lot about them by looking at your insights. You can see their age and location, both of which are key in speaking to them.

Think about this, we all have a variety of people in our lives, from young to old. But we speak to them very differently, even when we’re talking about the same thing. Sometimes it’s simplifying the language to something they would understand, but often, we do this because of our relationships with those around us. Generally speaking, we talk differently to those within our age group than we do other age groups. But more than that, different age groups have different frustrations.

The frustrations experienced by a 25-year-old man may be very different from that of a 40-year-old woman. Whereas one may be looking for options to finance a first home, the other may be looking to refinance a current mortgage. While one business can speak to both these individuals, how you speak to them should be reflected in who you are as a business and how you speak to that age group.

Let’s return to the restaurant. A restaurant can service one frustration felt by many different ages, hunger. Sometimes choices are made based on convenience, what’s quick and easy. But often, decisions on where to eat are a bit more. Something as simple as deciding where to eat can be downright difficult! But as you have found, being concise and clear in what you say, who you say it to, and how you say it, can make all the difference.

So, with this information, start with who you have. Look at your audience, who is already on your page. How old are they? Where are they? How would you speak to them in person? Sometimes it helps if you can think about a specific group of people you know personally, try to be as diverse as possible. Once you have that group, think about their frustrations and how you have a solution for one of their frustrations. Now post about it – sell that 4.99 foot-long! But also, be sure to understand the community you are speaking to. What are their expectations for your communication? Do they want text or visuals? Do they like hashtags or not so much?

In addition to this, you should also be aware of how close your current audience is to that of your target audience. If there’s a discrepancy, you will want to focus your branding on speaking to both audiences while speaking to each individual audience. Yes, you can sell a foot-long to a lot of people, billboards do just that but you will also want to speak to your current audience. Post something later in the week that will play on a frustration – too tired to cook, need something fast and easy because the kid has practice, haven’t gone grocery shopping – and use it to promote the deal on your foot-longs.

But it’s just a little more than that. Because you must be more than just that on social media. These are digital communities. And you need to be a part of that community, an active part of that community, to have it work for you and build your brand. To do this, you are going to have to give a little bit of yourself, tell a little bit more about what you do and why you do it. You’ll want to be aware of who you are speaking to and how they communicate. You will want to meet their expectations and when you do, that’s when things start happening. And that’s when it’s time to get excited, because it will start to reflect in all other areas of your business.

This, like everything else, takes time. And in that time, you still have a lot to do. Come back next week when I am going to finish this series by discussing how you can present your business in a positive light in your digital presence – we’re talking websites and SEO!

Presentation Is EVERYTHING (Part 2): It’s All About Convenience

Last week, I wrote on how we, as business owners, present ourselves and through that, our business in a positive light and what that may entail. It’s more than we expect and requires us to take a deep and personal look into our own behaviors. This week we will tackle how to present our business processes and through that, our digital and advertising efforts in a positive light and more importantly, why this matters.

As you will recall from last week, presentation is EVERYTHING because it sets not only our own expectations but also our clients and customers expectations for doing business with us. With so much of our lives being lived digitally – let’s be honest, most of us have a tiny computer in our pocket that we happen to call our phone which ironically, we rarely use for that purpose – the two, business production and digital presentation need to be tied together. But first, let’s discuss what I mean by business production and processes.

Business Production and Processes

Business production is focused on what you make. From handmade goods to services you provide, it all falls under what your business produces. For restaurants, this would be the food served, the type and presentation style tells people what to expect from eating at that restaurant. But there’s more to it because any restaurant owner will tell you that the atmosphere matters just as much as what is being served. You can be selling high end, farm to table meals but if your interior design looks to be that of a diner, then that is how you will be perceived.

This, then is your business processes. It is the support system in which you present your goods and services, or business production and tells people what to expect when working with you. Yes, the atmosphere you create, says a lot about your business. Let’s start with a big one that most of us consider in the creation of the business but may not have top priority as we grow.

When is your business open? Hours of operation are key to the success of any business and highly depend on the type of business you are in. Are your hours of operation clearly listed, digitally and physically if you have a physical location? Do you adhere to these hours of operation or do you make exceptions? And if you do make exceptions, are you clear in those or are you presenting that your hours of operation are merely suggestions?

Having clear and defined hours of operation for your business is not only important to maintain your own sanity, but also tells customers what to expect from your business. Certain types of businesses are expected to operate during specific hours, or “banking hours.” Whereas, others may have a very different set of expected operating hours. Having hours of operation that fit your specific business type may be rather straight forward. Say you operate a spa – your hours of operation tell customers a lot about what to expect from their experience with you. But it’s more than that. You are setting an expectation.

Setting Expectations

Let’s consider the expectations you set from your hours of operation. If you are in a situation where there are culturally accepted “normal” hours of operation, such as Symbiotic Marketing, our hours are already set by what is already accepted and expected. Businesses who work with other businesses typically operate under “banking hours,” Monday through Friday 8-5 or 9-5. This is why many networking events take place early morning, lunch time, and in the evenings. However, as many business owners will tell you, their hours of operation are very different!

While this may be because our personal “business” hours most definitely fall outside the “normal” hours of operation, because it does. But also, because not all businesses can operate successfully withing “banking hours.” For those, creating hours of operation and expectations for such are much more stringent but also flexible, which leads to another Catch-22 which is again, tied to frustrations.

Are You Setting Frustrations?

Any business owner will tell you that setting hours of operation can be a frustration. When you set that expectation, you are telling potential and current clients that you are working during those times. But then the kid gets sick. The car needs an unexpected repair. You have a doctor’s appointment. These things happen, and when they do, they interfere with your “working” hours. So, you make adjustments and work outside of your hours of operation to get things done. All the while, you are becoming more frustrated because honestly, how much longer can you keep this up? We’ve all been there.

What’s more important, is the customer’s perception and their possible frustrations that are being set by your hours of operation. This comes down to knowing your target audience, who you want to reach with your business. Who you are servicing with your business should be closely tied to your hours. Retail stores in a downtown environment have a very different set of expected hours than those in a strip mall. When you adjust your hours to be more restrictive or flexible than the expected hours of your location, it can make you appear to be difficult to work with. However, if you own a specialty service, you have the flexibility of creating more specific, non-traditional hours. And in doing so, sets the expectation that what you have to offer may be more of a luxury item.

In either case, you are setting expectations related to frustrations. People tend to do business with those that operate within the expected norms not only within the industry but also the location it serves. If you fall outside of those norms, you are presenting to your customers that you may be frustrating to work with or buy from or that an outside frustration can affect the continued use of your business.

Let’s return to the restaurant for a moment. I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t love a good meal and sometimes, that’s expensive. When our budgets allow, we are more likely to eat out and eat at nicer restaurants. However, when things are tight, we’re more likely to cook at home. It isn’t something we like to do, it’s something we feel we need to do. This not only affects the restaurants we eat at, but all other goods and services outside of what we see as our “real needs.” As budgets shrink, we tighten belts, and this is when items that are considered to be “luxury” are cut. We, at Symbiotic Marketing, have felt this as much as you. That’s when tough decisions are made. But here’s that Catch-22, as we become more frustrated, our “needs” either shrink or grow.

When Frustrations Grow

When our frustrations grow, we often look to convenience first. How can I make this frustration go away? There’s a reason why we can now buy a car online and pick it up from a vending machine and why we can now do all of our grocery shopping online and have it dropped off at our door or we can pick it up on our way home. We’re busy people! For our little frustrations, finding a quick and convenient way of addressing it, is key. Maybe it’s popping through the drive through for dinner because you just don’t want to cook. Or it’s having cat litter delivered to your home because lugging it from the store, to the car, and into the house is just too much work.

But what do we do when those frustrations are larger, because the need is larger? Or even worse, what do we do when we are frustrated, and we don’t even know why because it’s somehow all tied together? For a business owner, it is all tied together. Your budget is directly tied to your finances. Your marketing is directly tied to your budget. Your sales and client load is directly tied to your marketing. And the result of your sales and client load is your finances. It can be a vicious cycle.

So, how do you speak to the customers and clients who are in the cycle of frustration? Whether their frustration is one from convenience, such as not having the time to maintain a yard or from some other outside frustration, such as looking for assistance with financial concerns, you need to be where the people are – specifically, your target audience.

Be Where Your People Are

According to Pew Research, 96% of Americans own a cellphone of some kind, and 81% own a smartphone. No matter how much time is actually devoted to being online or playing a game, it is clear how quickly and easily technology has integrated our lives.

Having lived in and remember the time before the internet (weren’t those the days), I am fascinated by easily certain transitions from what could be considered analog to digital are accepted and then expected. What I mean is that we used to meet people face to face or over the phone. That was how we communicated directly with each other. Today, we are much less likely to speak to one another on the phone but rather through text and messenger platforms. And now we can respond to these texts by a watch we wear on our wrist.

This speaks to our convenience frustration. We want things to be at our fingertips and we want it now! But it is more than just communication we want – we also want all of the things. We go to the internet for advice, recommendations, quotes, and most of all, for information. At a time when you can literally look up anything from Andy Rooney videos to communities devoted to cats, people are there. And they are consuming all of it.

There’s a reason why major companies advertise online and on specific platforms. Ever wonder why there are ads that play before a YouTube video? Because that is where the people are. While it can be easier for a larger company to spend the money on a larger campaign to reach more people, smaller businesses do not have this luxury. We need to be more specific, more targeted in our approach because we are pulling on a much smaller audience.

Knowing Your Audience

Having a clear view of who your audience is, is only part of the picture. You also need to know where they are, physically and digitally from you to be able to reach them. Physically, the determination is rather simple – how far are you or your client willing to travel for your goods or service. Digitally, it gets a little murky – for many, it’s about as clear as mud.

Your digital presence says a lot about you as a company and sets expectations for what it may be like to work with you. While there are some clear expectations for businesses, such as it is acceptable when you are small to start off with a social media account and grow into a website. Which platforms and how to use the accounts effectively is where many small business owners start to become lost.

To add to this frustration, how to reach those audiences, which we all know are there! Our frustration grows, because we know this ties to other aspects of our business, and this is when decisions are made. Do we dismiss this audience because we don’t know how to reach them or, do we dig deeper? Come back next week, when I will discuss how to go deeper into digital, specifically social media and how you can work to find your target audience and present your business to them in a positive light.

Presentation Is EVERYTHING: Presenting Your Business In a Positive Light

In the art world, presentation is everything. From how a culinary delicacy is plated to the atmosphere in a museum, it matters because it is part of the experience. Even more than this, it sets your expectations. If you are presented with a crock of soup that is clean and topped with a puff pastry as opposed to a Styrofoam cup of the same soup, you will expect not only a different experience in eating this soup, but that same soup may also taste better because of how it is presented.

Or say, you want to stop and see a museum. You act differently in a museum that has a lot of white space and lighted art on the walls than you would in one that has a lot to see and may have more lighting spread throughout. Because your expectations of what the museum is offering – high end art or informative and educational pieces depends on proper presentation.

Presentation is EVERYTHING

Whether we like it or not, as business owners, we are a part of the art world. How we present ourselves, and through us, our business matters. It is everything and includes every aspect of our business. While the size of or age of your business may be reflected in your presentation, it is important to present yourself and your business in the way you envision it could be.

It does not matter if you are just starting out with a Facebook page with friends and family following and a few business cards in your pocket or if you have been in business for several years and are known for what you do. How you present yourself in public, from meeting with clients to networking, to how you present your business production – what you make, and how you present yourself digitally – website, social media, search engines – and in advertising matters.

How Are You Presenting Your Business?

Think a bit on how you present your business. It’s harder to do than you would think. Often, we rely on telling what we do and through that, what we are good at. While this is a part of the presentation, it is only a small part. Think about how you interact with your clients, how you answer the phone or respond to email. Do you state your business name when you answer a call? Do you have a signature in your email? These little things matter in your presentation. It shows that you are committed to your business. But let’s take it a step further. Did you know that a smile can be heard over the phone? It’s true. Emotions can show through on how we interact with and communicate with others. And often, the two most recognized emotions, are happiness and frustration. Both of which, small business owners have in spades.

As small business owners, we know that our highs can be fleeting, and our frustrations can be many. But is that how we want to present ourselves and our business? Absolutely not! Who wants to do business with someone who does not like what they are doing? But often, if we look at how we present ourselves, this is just what we are doing.

What Are You “Saying?”

When business owners gather, either in small groups or in a networking setting, we talk about our businesses. Sometimes these conversations are more directed toward the business aspects, what we do and how we do it. However, when we are in a more comfortable setting, with other business owners we know well, our conversations are deeper. We talk more about specifics of our business; from specials we are offering to frustrations we have or lessons we have learned along the way. We look for help and offer help, all which stem from our frustrations.

Many business owners are focused on how to have Uncle Sam take less from their hard-earned money. For many, the money saved over time through retirement funds or traditional savings techniques have funded the creation of our businesses, which has already been taxed for us to access it. Then, in paying ourselves for the work in our businesses, we are taxed again. This is a huge frustration! So we become creative in how we pay ourselves and operate our business and we share what has worked with other business owners.

Be Careful of the Catch-22

However, there is a Catch-22 in sharing our frustrations and it can be seen in how we present them. Let’s address the tax issue again, because it is directly related to a fundamental issue many business owners have, finances. Operating a business means that you have two budgets to focus on, your personal budget and your business’s budget. Both of which need to be operationally sound for you to live. You need to know that what you have coming into the business will be enough to support you, and your family if you have one. Additionally, you need to know that what you are paying yourself is not only enough for you to survive, but also enough left over for other expenses – such as those yearly taxes. It is not only frustrating; it can also be overwhelming.

In this state, and in a comfortable atmosphere, we are more likely to indulge ourselves and discuss these frustrations. But it is in the presentation that matters. In a comfortable setting with people you know, how do you respond when asked how your business is going? Do you say, “Living the dream…” or some equivalent? Or are you straighter to the point, “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.”? Because both present the same way, they show that you are frustrated and overwhelmed. They also show that you may not continue with this chosen path. This can have a ripple effect. Not only are you presenting this to other business owners, you are also presenting this to those who you do not know, those who may have been a referral to your business.

Other business owners are often the ones who are asked if they “know someone who…” because we are so in touch with other businesses. We not only know who is around, but also who is coming and who is leaving, or may be perceived as leaving. If you present yourself to other business owners in this light, they will be less likely to tell others about you.

Changing Your Presentation

This is not to say that business owners cannot discuss frustrations with other business owners. Because, often in this, we are asking for help. When asking, be as specific as possible such as, “My business is making more money this year than expected, and I am afraid I will have to owe at tax time and won’t have the funds to cover.” This says more, than “I’m worried about my finances” and gives others the opportunity to help. This also presents in a more positive light. This is an experience many business owners can relate to. They most likely have been through this themselves or know someone who has. Because this is familiar, it is often associated with the beginning of a successful business. And as we know, successful businesses are referred businesses, which is directly related to growth in business.

You can be incredibly good at what you do, and let’s be honest, we wouldn’t be in business if we weren’t. But if you present that you are struggling, struggling in personal matters or business matters and are not clear and concise on your needs, it will be reflected in your business.

Professional Growth and Personal Growth

Often business owners focus on professional growth, what they need to make their business successful, and less so on personal growth. Personal growth, whether we want it to or not, is continuously happening, and happens at a much faster rate once we decide to start a business. We need to become intimately acquainted with ourselves to be able to present our business well. This means we need to address not only the things we do well but the things we aren’t and finding solutions to those problems.

To do this, we need to look deeper, much like how our conversations in a comfortable setting go deeper, and we need to be concise in what we are looking for. If finances are an issue, consider looking at your budgets – both personal and business – and break them down. Where, why, and how was money spent? Really look at if it was necessary.

Often, we think things are necessities when in reality, we may be compensating for a frustration. In business, this may be a turning point when you decide that this frustration is holding you back and you delegate it to another. However, when addressing frustrations of a personal matter, there isn’t anyone you can delegate it to. You can seek help, but ultimately, you must be the one who takes action to make the change.

Presenting Publicly in a Positive Light

How you present yourself and through that, your business is key in public perception. It tells people what to expect when working with you. It also tells people what to expect from your business, not only what you do but the strength and longevity of your business through your personal interactions. Reflect on what you are saying and how you are saying it and ask yourself, is this how I want my business to be perceived? If you find that you have been presenting yourself and your business in a less than positive light in a public setting, only you can take action to change that. In addition to changing your interactions, you will also need to double down on the other aspects of your presentation – digital presentation and advertising in order to shift perception and continue to grow your awareness.

Check back next week for part two of Presenting Your Business In A Positive Light where we will go into detail of how to review and change your business’s perception in digital and advertising platforms. And for specific tips on things you can do now to build your brand and networking, check out our previous blogs: Branding – Why is it important?, and Networking and Your Business.

Building Quality Relationships

I have recently reconnected with some people who due to life happening, we had lot touch. It’s funny, how quickly and easily we fell back into our old patterns and behaviors. It was as if the time that had passed has only been a few weeks rather than a few (or in one case several) years. The ease of which we were able to reconnect and reestablish our personal relationships started me thinking, could this be true for business relationships as well and if so, how could a business owner (mainly, I) go about doing this?

Let’s be honest, going to networking meetings and picking up business cards is a great way to get the word out about what you are doing, but it is what is done afterward that makes the difference. Relationships and the quality of your relationships can make a huge difference in your business. Think of it this way, you can have a lot of capital and spend a lot of money on your marketing but if people don’t know you or aren’t comfortable being around you, they will be less likely to do business with you or refer others to your business. As a small business, it is the continued support of those around you that keep your business operating because you are most likely focused on a smaller demographic area. While for some, this may mean a “take what you have” approach, I believe a “work with what you have” approach will be more beneficial and help you grow your business more successfully over time, because as you may remember, time is our most valuable asset.

Working With What You Have

So, how do you “work with what you have?” Let’s start simple, with those business cards you collected. Reach out to those individuals and follow up with them. Do some research, look up their business online to see what you can learn about them and what they do so when you do reach out, you are knowledgeable about their business and ask to meet to learn more. Business owners like to talk about what they do and why they do it. Once you have a better understanding of their business, the work really begins, building that relationship. You see, being a business owner is only one aspect of their lives and while it may be a large aspect, there are others that are just as meaningful, if not more so. Getting to know people on a personal level heightens your awareness of that individual and brings them closer to the forefront of your mind.

A quick example, I had someone I know personally reach out and ask if I knew a spiritual medium. Not a request that many would receive, I am sure, but the answer was yes, I know several, two of which I have a personal relationship with. Because of the personal relationship I have with the two, they were the first to come to my mind. Additionally, because of the personal relationship with these mediums, I knew that although both would provide my friend with the services she was looking for, they are different not only in approach but in personal interaction as well. From this, I was able to refer her to both and explain how the experience may differ between the two. While I know several spiritual mediums, it was the personal relationship formed that brought my mind to those two and from that, I was able to give my friend a recommendation that I feel good about and know that whomever she chooses, she will get what she is looking for.

But following up from business cards is only a part of building the relationship because as we are all aware, the Internet is where we spend most of our time. From watching cat videos to getting our news and weather, we are so acclimated to having the Internet at our fingertips, we feel lost without it. And understandably so, it’s where most of us get our information but it is also where a lot of us communicate with friends and family. We create digital communities of people we have personal relationships with and intermixed with these communities, we are inundated with ads and promotions. Often, we glance over them enough to recognize what they are, like flipping pages in a magazine, without stopping to look at what the ad is trying to sell us. Yes, there are some tricks to get people to stop and look (video has a huge return on this) but how do you turn this impression into a follow and a follow into a sale and most importantly, continued sales? By building the relationship.

Building Digital Relationships

Building a relationship online is different than in person, but the core aspect, getting to know one another, remains key. When we’re online personally, we share bits of our days, thoughts that run through our minds, quotes, graphics and memes that we find a personal connection with – we share information about ourselves and our lives with others and they in turn do the same. So, how can a business owner take one platform, the Internet, that is used for two primary reasons, information and communication with friends and family and make it work for them? The answer is quite simple, but many find it difficult to execute, do both.

I read an article a while ago explaining why computer sciences need humanities and while I will spare you the details, it states that in a mind digitally aware, we focus more on capability over privacy, what “could” be done rather than what “should” be done. For business owners, the equates to what “can” I share over what “could” I share, and the result is continued posting about what the business does or giving up altogether, blaming the algorithm. Neither of these two are working for you, they do not build a relationship with your potential clients. So then, the question to ask yourself is what could you share?

For us, that is sharing events in Chambersburg and the surrounding areas because we love living and working in this area. We love the people in this area and are genuinely interested in what is happening here. We especially love to share other small businesses and their successes. We want to support them in their endeavors and although that may mean we cannot always monetarily support them or attending their events, so we support them by sharing their information with others. In this, we are building relationships with other small business owners, and Chambersburg and surrounding areas, and with our own community of supporters who like and follow our pages and website. That’s a lot of relationships being built, but there’s more to it, we also need to tell others about what we do, both in the life of a business owner but also in our goods and services.

Find What You Like and Use It

Ask yourself how you could tell others about your business and continue to build on those relationships you have built. You can share pictures and videos directing people to purchase your goods or services but what could you do? For us, we write a weekly blog that both shares in our experiences and highlights our services. As the owner and a writer, this platform works well for me. Each week as I am operating my business, I am contemplating on the next blog. I think about the relationships I have and the issues they have and how I may be able to help. Often for me, narrowing down on the topic is difficult because what they are suffering from is the overall problem many of us face, we don’t know what the hell we are doing! We have this thing that we love, and we want above all else to keep it alive and we’re figuring it out as we go. It’s scary. But it isn’t always. Think about why you started this crazy journey and think about all the things you love about what you are doing and share it! Be serious, be funny, it doesn’t matter but above all else, be real.

Relationships take time to form and are never one sided. It takes two, time, and work but the result may be a separation of nearly twenty years, and it feels as if no time has passed at all. It may be that you and your business are the first to come to someone’s mind when asked, “do you know someone who…” Or it may even be that person who you have built that relationship with doing business with you. We may never know where a relationship will lead us, but it won’t start until we make the first move. First impressions count but it’s what we do afterwards that matters.

If you are feeling stuck, overwhelmed, or just not sure how to make your social media work for you, reach out to us for a free consultation. We will meet with you and discuss the front end of your page, what your audience sees and give you recommendations on how to maximize your time and begin to build those relationships with your audience. And for more defined and detailed assistance with building your relationships online and speaking to your audience, we offer social media coaching where we will discuss the back end of your page – who, where, and when is your audience online and what they like and do not like. Each session includes a written report of what was covered and how you can use that information to maximize your posting and build those relationships.

For more helpful tips and insight into the world of a small business owner and all the highs and lows and bumps along the way, be sure to check back every Friday when we’ll discuss another topic relating to you and what you are working through as a small business owner and things I have learned along the way that may help.

Operating As A Business Vs. A Hobby

Facebook likes to remind us of where we have been and what we have lived through. I, like most others, receive a notification almost daily, letting me know that I have “memories” with others. The greater the frequency of posting, the more memories Facebook has to share with me. Earlier this week, Facebook reminded me of a milestone that I had forgotten about; I have been a member of the community for 12 years. That struck me as both odd, because I thought I had been on for longer, and intriguing. I distinctly remember when users had a “wall” to write messages to others and wait for what seemed like an eternity for a response because back then, smartphones were primarily Blackberry devices with a few Palm and Windows devices. They were meant for sending and receiving emails, keeping notes, and if you were really glutton for punishment, you could try to access the internet but if you weren’t in a large city, you were left waiting or out of luck. Today, most of us carry tiny computers in our pockets that we happen to call a phone.

In an increasingly digitized world, our options may seem limitless.

Having continuous access to the internet has changed how we live and subsequently, how we do business. Today, I have many people who ask how to make social media work for them. There are individuals out there who are making serious money online, from videos of users playing games to creating their own brand online through tutorials, it can be a very lucrative business. While it is no secret how powerful the internet and social media can be, there can also be a blending of lines between what constitutes a hobby and a business in the eyes of the individual, the consumer, and the IRS. The difference between the two can be striking and it is imperative to understand the difference, especially during tax time.

According to the IRS, the distinction considers your intent and activity toward the operation. While there are nine key questions to ask yourself, from are you operating in a businesslike manner and keeping accurate books and records to are you looking to can you expect a profit from the activities. It can be a bit ambiguous and may be difficult to determine if you are operating as a hobby or a business when you are in the trenches, especially in the first years.

Are you operating as hobby or a business?

While it can be easier than ever to take something you enjoy and make it into a business, actually operating as a business takes a lot more time and effort. If you enjoy making or creating something and just want a little extra money in your pocket, that is a hobby. Hobbies are meant to bring us pleasure, to feed us mentally, spiritually, and yes, even sometimes physically. Operating a business can be draining in ways you may not have even imagined possible, wearing multiple hats that require completely different modes of thought, long hours, and the ever-present stress. The highs can be the highest you have ever felt, and the lows, can be downright dark. Asking yourself and addressing the hard questions is key to operating a business. While there is never a guarantee that your business will succeed, here are some key markers that you will want to ensure are in place to increase your chances of success:

  1. Do some market research first. Market research may sound daunting, but it is as simple as going online and searching for the type of business you want to create. Look to see how many businesses in your field are already in the area. Too many or too few may be red flags. Some competition is a good thing, too much and you may be setting yourself up for failure. Additionally, if what you are looking to provide is new or unknown to the area, it may be because it is not needed or wanted by the general population. Take a greater look at what you are wanting to provide and ask yourself if there is a true need in the area you want to market to. While you are researching, it is also a good idea to look at those in your field in the area that you would consider to be successful. Look at what they have digitally – website, social media, etc., check to see what organizations that company belongs to, and how they present themselves. This information will come in handy later.
  2. File your business name with state and federal government. This may be a DBA (Doing Business As) when working under a fictitious name (any name other than your given name) or an LLC (Limited Liability Company) for the state you reside in. While there are pros and cons of each depending on the state you live in, there will be a cost associated with either. Both can be done independently or with the assistance of an attorney, depending on the complexity of the business you want to create. Additionally, you will want to file your business name with the IRS. This will provide you with your Employer Identification Number which you will need to open a bank account in the business name, file and report taxes, and even apply for business loans or other outside funding.
  3. Create a business plan. Many transitioning between hobby to business see this as an extra step that is not necessary. While the complexity of your business plan highly depends on you and the business you want to create, everyone who is looking to start a business should have a plan. Having a vision of what you want to create is wonderful and you will want to hold onto that vision because running a business is hard work. As time progresses, that vision may become harder to see, seem more difficult to attain as I discussed in last week’s blog. Your plan will help you see where you are currently and help you find the steps needed to get you to where you want to be. Even the most basic of plans should contain your mission (your business why) and vision (where you see your business growing), how your business will operate (what will you offer, will you expect to hire employees, where will it be located), projected financial reporting (estimate expenses to be higher and profits to be lower than expected), and your marketing strategy (how will you let others know about your business). This should be reviewed yearly to compare how your business is operating against what you planned so you are able to adjust and change as necessary. While a business plan can be typed and many pages long, it does not need to be. Some find just putting thoughts to paper helps in seeing the bigger picture. Just be sure to write it out in some way so you can go back and review when needed.
  4. Create a marketing strategy. I cannot express this enough. People need to know about what you are offering to be able to decide on whether to make a purchase. Marketing does not need to be expensive. Social media accounts are free and managing an account only costs your time. Additionally, many platforms allow for the ability to schedule posts on business pages/accounts. We highly recommend spending time monthly on scheduling posts that relate to your specific business and that engage your community. Additionally, go back and review those businesses you found in your marketing research that you felt were successful and see where they focused their marketing efforts. While we may all be at different stages, this will help you with ideas of how you want to present yourself and your business. Keep in mind that the businesses you believe are successful often have the same issues you are facing or have faced similar issues.
  5. Look for opportunities to grow professionally and personally. There are many organizations that will assist your professional growth. SCORE and SBDC are non-profit organizations that assist small business owners with a variety of processes from starting a business to operating a successful business. These organizations have volunteers and mentors in the field who are ready and willing to help. Chambers and other similar organizations offer learning series on specific topics all focused on helping the small business owner succeed. There are webinars, online classes, and even support groups all focused on professional development. While there are many opportunities to grow professionally, personal development is often forgotten or dismissed. To have the mental fortitude to be able to manage a business, personal development must be addressed as well. Your views and attitude will reflect in your business. If you are feeling desperate and uncertain, you are presenting yourself, and your business in the same light. Growth and change are expected in business. The same growth and change should also be expected in your personal life as well. Ask yourself the hard questions and address those issues when they present. These are learning opportunities.

Incorporating Change

No matter where you are in the process of running a business or are looking to take your hobby and create a business, these steps can be taken at any time and will help determine the success of your journey. There are many reasons why a business may fail but having proper steps in place, planning for the unexpected, and ensuring that you are set up through the proper channels will help in the long run. Because that is what running a business is, an endurance run. Anything worth your time, money, and effort is. Treat it as such and when you start to question why you did this, you can look back at everything you have accomplished so far and remember, you’ve done it once. You can do it again. You got this. I believe in you. As always, we are here to help if you need because we firmly believe in your dream and want to see you succeed.

If you enjoyed this blog, be sure to check back next week and every Friday for another topic all focused on you, the small business owner, for more tips, tricks, ideas, and lessons I have learned along the way to help you find opportunities in dark places and find the success you are dreaming of.

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