Tag: entrepreneurship

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.

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.

Your Most Valuable Asset

Last week, I discussed creating a marketing mindset and some tips to help you along the way. This week is all about your most valuable commodity…and no, it’s not capital. Having enough funding is important in not only starting but also maintaining your business but having proper funding does not define a successful business. There are plenty of businesses operating today that started as nothing but a dream and the desire of the proprietor driving it. These businesses are run by individuals who work part time or full time to be able to make their dream come to life, or maybe they have decided to go all in and cash out what little savings they have to follow their dream. While funding is a necessary step to owning and operating a business, often our most valuable asset is one overlooked, time.

Time is by far the most valuable asset of any business owner and the quality of the time you spend on your business outside of operations defines your opportunity for long-term success.

Running a business is no joke. There’s a reason why as a company grows, its workforce grows with it. It takes a lot of manpower to reach a finished product from large scale operations to building a website. It takes time and a lot of hard work. As small business owners, we entered this world, star eyed and dreamy of what we could create and what we wanted to build. We have a beautiful picture in our minds of what we could do but over time, that picture becomes darker. Darker because we spend less time focusing on what is needed to make what we envisioned happen and more time on details of everyday operations. We become frustrated because that picture is harder to see and focus that frustration that bothers us most.

In my first year, I often told others to not look at my own marketing, but to look at what I was doing for my clients. Talk about shooting myself in the foot! A marketing agency telling potential clients and referral partners to not look at her own marketing, what hope did I have for long term success with this attitude? I did this because keeping up with my clients’ accounts took time, more time that I had considered. I hadn’t fully thought out the finer details in how I wanted this portion of my business to operate and I was frustrated. So frustrated that I did not maintain my own online appearance, and this was embarrassing.

I thought I was making the situation better. I wasn’t.

To tackle the frustrating aspects of the business, I started seeking help, direct help, now help. I found a bookkeeper who was willing to trade services because a business who tells people to not look at their work doesn’t get a lot of business. Which took a huge headache off my plate but finding a groove that worked for us took time. I started looking for contract help so I could focus on my immediate issue, resolving that problem I had created but finding people who shared in my vision and were able to help, also took time. And it wasn’t always fun during that time. It was often discouraging because all I had was my dream and what I had was more of a hobby than a business and life continued to evolve around me.

Shortly after a year in business, my husband wanted to follow his own dream. While I had my reservations, who was I to say no? Yes, it would be difficult but I had a year under my belt and I had been working on some of the finer details in the business, working out the kinks if you will and I felt confident that we could make it work. We just needed to make some adjustments in lifestyle.

As time wore on, that picture I saw started to flutter.

Through mounting pressures, particularly related to financing, we found that we were both struggling to see our pictures. Could we do this? Was this even feasible? Had we made a terrible mistake? These thoughts swirled in our minds and distracted us from the more valuable use of our time, addressing the issue at hand. Once again, the details clouded my view of the larger picture but this time rather than slowly changing, the clouds came in waves.

My website went down for a period of about two weeks as I transitioned over to a more budget friendly option. While I knew this would hurt my marketing, I also knew that I could bounce back from it in the way that I handled it. If I had looked at the transition as a point of frustration, “I can’t believe I need to spend time on this,” the site would have been down for longer because I would have put it off. Instead, I viewed it as a means of getting back to my why behind my dream. I reviewed the site I had and how it lined up with my overall vision of my business and found that the business had evolved beyond how that site portrayed. During this time, the picture was clear and sharp. I knew what I wanted to do and took the time to do it while learning more about the contractors I had brought on and finding how we would make the relationship work.

But in these times of clear vision of what I wanted and how I was going to get there, I had moments of darkness. My phone, tablet, and computer all needed to be upgraded around the same time because I had not anticipated the extent of the increased use would burden the devices, all of which took time. Time to research what I really needed and what would be a good investment long term.

It wasn’t just the time spent; it was the quality of the time spent that mattered most.

Today, I have a clear picture in my mind again of what I want Symbiotic Marketing to be and am actively taking steps to make it happen because of the time I spent focused on the business. Yes, I still feel frustrated by details but shifting focus from what frustrates me to what opportunities does this have and how do I want to handle this has helped significantly. If I had allowed those frustration to continue to cloud and darken my vision, I am not sure how long I would have been able to continue. It’s a distressing feeling when you’ve lost the vision that you had for your business. I had moments where I was literally stumbling in the dark, hoping the other shoe would not drop and this was all for not. But those flashes of what could be kept coming and I held onto them, they kept me going.

When it comes down to it, no matter how long it takes, no matter how many frustrations you need to overcome, it all comes down to time and how you spend your time. The more time you are able to focus on your business, looking at that beautiful picture in your mind and envisioning how you are going to create it, the more it will come to fruition but it takes time and action. Both of which are entirely within your control.

Check back next week, when I will discuss steps you can use now to take your hobby and make it your business.

Resolutions

Many look to the new year as a time of renewal and change. We make resolutions to be more positive, healthier, to save more, to work on those aspects of ourselves we would like to change, and companies take advantage of this. How many commercials have you heard or watched about getting into shape or cooking healthier meals, losing weight? It’s common knowledge that we look to the new year as a time to resolve to work on ourselves. However, it is also common knowledge that by the end of the January, those gym memberships aren’t being used as frequently and that diet has long since lost its luster. Why do we do this to ourselves?

When we fail to plan, we are planning to fail

Often, it is due to lack of planning. As a friend says, “When we fail to plan, we are planning to fail.” This is key not only to us as individuals, but especially as a business, for us to be able to see success in the long run. Running a successful business is an endurance run, and there will be times when things run smoothly and times when tough decisions need to be made. There will be incredibly frustrating times and incredibly exciting times. But if you don’t have a plan for your business, these times may seem scary and unpredictable. The times when things are running smoothly, you may be waiting for the other shoe to drop and unable to enjoy the ride for what it is. Frequently, unfortunately when we are in this state, we will pull back from activities. While there may be many reasons we rely on when others inquire, it should be noted that when changes are made to downsize your efforts, it sends red flags to others that your business may be faltering.

The great thing about planning is it can be done at any time because we do it all the time. From the household budget to trips we want to take; we are always planning something so why not plan for your business and how you want it to operate?

While it is widely accepted that new year’s resolutions are short term and high turnover, allowing this mindset to follow into your business can be fatal. Owning a business is not for the faint of heart, and to be running your own business, you need to be strong and resilient, but you also need to make intelligent decisions for long term success. When creating a plan, you can prepare for when your business goes through lean times but more importantly, know and appreciate the times when things are going well. By planning, you can make more informed decisions and be more secure in those decisions.

This new year is special because it is not only another year the earth has gone around the sun, but it is also a new decade. This is an exciting time, and many are looking to take the lessons learned from the past year and past ten years and put the knowledge learned into action. This can indeed be a period of great change and growth but only if we allow it to be so. We wish you all the success you allow yourself in 2020! Happy New Year!

Reflections

All marketing takes time, I tell clients it will easily take 3-6 months to see a change, and even then, it may be a small change but small changes lead to big things. We had a client reach out last week, impressed by what we had accomplished for her on one of her accounts. It was an incredible high for me, because she could see a difference. But unfortunately, that high did not last nearly as long as the lows. It’s interesting, isn’t it? This got me thinking, in business, and in life, sometimes our highest highs are outweighed by our lowest lows.

This time of year, is a time when many of us reflect over what happened throughout the past year, myself included. Reflecting back, I can absolutely tell you my lowest low of the past year. But my highest high…that is not as easily determined. It isn’t that I did not have any highs this year, I did. Those times were when I reached goals for myself, my business, and my clients. But that low, it sticks with me. And at times, it haunts me.

I want to go into year three like a three-year-old in a Batman t-shirt

Next week, Symbiotic Marketing turns 3. This is a huge milestone for many businesses because according to the Small Business Association (SBA) only about half of small businesses reach the five-year mark. It’s a scary statistic but I believe in what we are doing and believe we will reach that goal. I want to go into year three like a three-year-old in a Batman t-shirt, confident in what has been built and ready to learn more. But how can that happen if I allow my lowest low to continue to haunt me?

While there may be a whole host of reasons why businesses fail in the first five years, I believe it comes down to the owner’s confidence in what has been built and the ability to learn from mistakes. As a business owner, and as an individual, mistakes are going to happen. It is what we do with them that matters. There’s an anagram that I love, FAIL = First Attempt In Learning. Because that is what we are doing and that was certainly what the first three years in business has been for me, learning opportunities.

 

Symbiotic Marketing has changed and adapted from what it was when I first started it to today. The business has grown as I have grown. But that could not have happened if I had allowed the lows in the last three years to question what this business means, not only to myself, but to those who we have been able to help in that time.

Small steps lead to big things

Reflecting back, I can now say that it is more difficult for me to determine the business’s highest high this year because we were able to reach many goals but rather than celebrating them to their fullest, I treated them as check-marks on a to-do list. As opposed to the lowest low, which continues to be at the forefront of my mind. I look at it as a learning opportunity, to do better, to be better. As, one of my favorite authors, Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” But it takes time. If you are also reflecting and the negatives of the past year outweigh the positives, ask yourself if you are giving the positives the power they deserve and remember that small steps lead to big things.

One final note, Symbiotic Marketing would not be where it is today without you, all our supporters, from clients to family and friends. Thank you for sharing in our dream of helping small businesses find their voice and flourish. We couldn’t be here without you. We wish you a happy and prosperous 2020 and look forward to what the new year and new decade brings.

An Attitude of Gratitude

This time of year is a time of reflection and gratitude for many, myself included. I have been contemplating a great deal on where I’ve been, where I am currently, and where I’d like to go. Five years ago, I started working at the local radio stations and thought I had my dream job and in many ways, it was a dream job. I had flexibility with my schedule, was able to meet with many decision makers and small business owners and had a wonderful group of individuals working with me for the success of the business and other businesses. The position afforded me to flex my creative muscles while learning more about marketing as a whole. But a few years into the position, I found myself struggling to see how my vision of helping small business owners aligned with my employer’s vision. This was something I had struggled with before and knew that I could either put my head down and keep trying or leave the position all together. The decision was not one to take lightly, but in the end, I chose to leave for my health. My anxiety was at a constant high, depression had a tight grip on me, and a host of other health concerns were swirling around me. I knew I needed to make a change, but starting a business was not something I had fully considered.

Today, I am grateful for that experience. I am proud to have created a business that truly supports small business owners. More than anything, I am grateful for my wonderful team of individuals who help make Symbiotic Marketing special.

Meet The Team:

Phillip Whitley, owner of Mr. Phab Photos, creates stunning portraits, landscapes, and more. His work has been proudly displayed in many businesses locally and has recently began series of work based on concepts not widely portrayed by traditional media including strong black women, the LGBTQ community, and those with Down Syndrome. His vision of inclusion and acceptance shines through in his work.

Amy Weibley, owner of Weibley Media Consulting, is a graphic design master. With her extensive background in a variety of businesses and non-profit organizations, she brings ideas and concepts to life from logo design to website design and everything in between.

Jenna Kauffman, freelance writer and content coordinator at Chambersburg Neighbors, assists with social media branding campaigns, website design, content editing, and just about anything I may need assistance with. Jenna is my right hand, ensuring businesses quality work at a reasonable rate. Her work affords me the opportunity to continue working on the Symbiotic Marketing brand awareness and has been integral in the growth we have been able to achieve this past year.

I am in awe when I reflect on where I have been and to see where Symbiotic Marketing is currently. My goal of owning a small business that supports small businesses has grown and changed in a beautiful way. I am proud to work with such talented individuals. I am proud of the work we have been able to accomplish for our clients. I am crazy, ridiculously excited to see where we go from here. For that, I am eternally grateful for everyone who has supported this crazy dream and continues to support this dream. I am also eternally grateful for every client that we have been able to help along the way. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your journey and for allowing us to share in your dream. We wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for you.

Embrace the Chaos

Anxiety is something I live with every single day. For me, it is something that is inherently a part of my everyday life and comes in ebbs and flows and lately, it has been flowing. As much as I would rather not discuss this topic, it needs to be. So many are living with some form of mental illness or traumatic episode in silence and in that silence, the illness takes hold. It can become suffocating, overwhelming, all consuming and above all else, lonely.

An entrepreneur’s life can also be lonely, even if you have a team of people with you. You are in control of every aspect of your business from making sure the lights stay on to making sure work is completed. Many work well past the hours of “normal operation” to ensure everything that needs to be addressed has been because people rely on us to get it done, from our clients and customers to our family and loved ones. Sometimes it’s early mornings and late nights. It’s never having a set schedule but being flexible enough to make the important things fit into a schedule. Owning a business means these are your monkeys and this is your zoo and yes, at times, they are throwing “stuff” at you.

So, why would someone who struggles with mental and emotional health decide to embrace the chaos and start a business? Because it is fulfilling on so many levels. Yes, it can be scary, frustrating, and physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. But it can also be incredibly rewarding. I read an article a while ago that discussed the relationship between being an entrepreneur and personal development. While I cannot find the link to the article, there is a rather clear line between the two. Personal development and growth are closely tied with the success of your business.

Looking back over the past three years, I can see now that I’ve been making huge steps in my personal and professional growth. By focusing on myself and my overall health, I was also allowing my business to grow and become successful. I have big goals for Symbiotic Marketing, but I cannot reach those goals if I allow myself to fall into negative habits. That means going out and meeting with people when I want nothing more than to curl up in my comfy chair and binge Investigation Discovery all day and going to networking groups and meetings when I don’t know a single person there. It also means I need to make healthy choices for myself every day, getting exercise, eating healthy foods, and making time for me without feeling guilty about it.

I’m telling you about this because I know I am not alone. Many business owners struggle with some form of mental illness or trauma that continues to follow them years after the event. I know this because assisting others with marketing endeavors can become very personal. Marketing is closely tied to emotions and behaviors and the more I am able to learn about my clients and their businesses, the more I can do to help them reach their goals.  More than anything, I want you to know that you are not alone. While being an entrepreneur can be lonely, it doesn’t have to be. You’ve already done the scariest thing by following your dream. Embrace the chaos and together, let’s see how far that dream can go.

Your Website and Social Media – How Does It Work?

Your website is up and ready for potential clients to visit! You also have a Facebook page up and have invited friends and family to like your page. Now what? How do you make these things work to build your business? Much like other marketing devices, it’s all about the relationship!

To understand the relationship, we first need to have a general understanding of a sales funnel. Everyone you meet or who sees your page or website, fall in your sales funnel.  A sales funnel runs from cold (new to learning about you) to hot (ready to purchase). While all fall in a sales funnel, this does not mean that everyone is going to have a need for your product or service. Having an “always on” sales attitude breaks down the opportunity to build relationships.

We’ve all had that person on our newsfeed that is always pushing their gig, always. Always be selling pushes people away, but you want to get the word out about the awesome stuff you offer! Following the 80/20 rule (give more than you ask) is a great way to build you audience and move them along the sales funnel.

Your Social Media

Your social media should be a means of directing traffic to your website but also as a means of getting to know about your business. This is where your audience gets to know you, but what to post? Here are some tips to build your audience, engage you audience, and build your business with social media:

  • Like other pages as your page
  • Tag other businesses in your posts when applicable
  • Share other business posts to your page when applicable
  • Share any blogs from your website onto your page
  • Create visual posts such as pictures or videos especially for holidays
  • Create informative posts that relate to your business

 

When looking at what to write on your social media page, think of individuals who are on the cooler side of your sales funnel. Keep posts short and simple, if your text is too long, people are less likely to read what you have to say. Longer posts may be better suited for a blog or a Note on Facebook, and should be focused more on a warmer audience, those who already know about you and are looking to learn more.

Your Website

Your website should be more focused on transitioning a warmer audience into a hot audience. Individuals who seek out your page are there to learn about your specific business. Some choose to use blogs on websites to build a client base. Here are some tips to build a blog on your website:

  • Blogs should be between 200-500 words. If they are longer, use subtitles to differentiate the portions of your blog
  • Use tags – this helps with SEO and brings individuals looking for a specific topic to your site
  • Categories – this helps define what your blog is about, this is very helpful when writing on multiple subject matters
  • Check SEO settings – every builder is different, but all offer some SEO settings on for your blog
  • You are the expert, write what you know!
  • Download Grammerly – you can easily use the free edition to capture any misspellings and grammatical errors

 

Social media is meant to drive traffic to your website and gather an audience who may be interested in what you have to offer. Websites are dedicated to what you are offering and are a platform to sell your goods, to give individuals more information about what you offer, and to motivate the individual to reach out to your business. By understanding the sales funnel and how it works, you’ll be better equipped to handle both digital platforms well and build your business. As always, we are here to help, no matter where you are in your marketing journey.

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Chambersburg, PA