Tag: small business owner

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Chambersburg, PA