Tag: small business owner

It’s Time I Had Some Time Alone

It’s Time I Had Some Time Alone

I contemplated not writing this week, because lord – you guys have had me BUSY this week. Glory be! But then, as I sat sending out end of day emails and making my list for shit to do tomorrow, a song came on.

 

Now before I get too much further, I want you to know that I am a HUGE believer in the arts moving you. Sometimes it takes you back, sometimes it takes you forward and forces you to take action – hence why I am here, writing a blog when I should be thinking about what I am going to make for dinner.

 

It’s going to be a pizza night and I don’t care

 

Who remembers Myspace?

 

Okay. First, yes – it is still a thing (I KNOW, RIGHT?!?)

 

Second, I LOVED Myspace. It spoke to my artsy-fartsy soul in ways that “plain old” Facebook just couldn’t.

 

We all know how *that* worked out, but I digress, Myspace. Yes.

 

Three Miles Of Back Road

 

I’m pretty sure my Myspace is still out there, untouched for nearly 15 years with equally outdated artwork and probably with my tag line of “She’s Three Miles Of Back Road” (I didn’t try to log in, so those that are active, please let me know).

 

This is a line from one of my favorite bands growing up, when I formalized my let’s say “eclectic” taste in music. But I made it my tag line because it spoke to me.

 

It was how I felt about myself.

 

Bumpy, With Unexpected Turns

 

Growing up in what I still affectionately call, “The Middle of Nowhere,” I KNEW what three miles of back road FELT like. But I also know what it *could* FEEL like.

 

I knew it could be exhilarating and fun but could equally be dangerous.

 

That can be downright scary when you stop and think about it.

It’s just more FUN in a manual

 

I’ve driven 5-speeds since I was 18 and intend to drive a *true* manual transmission as long as I possibly can. The years between 18-22, I drove my little 5-speeds up and over the mountain, taking me from home to work and back again.

 

Weather at times made this trip fun and I have some great stories about trips over that mountain that are not for the faint of heart. While this was not always the case, I sometimes needed to take some back roads that would lead me to Route 75 and then my final few miles of back road to home.

 

Because of this, I endured quite a bit of ribbing for my choice in vehicles. But I have only gotten stuck once in my life and have had quite a bit of fun doing shit no car *should* do.

 

Oh, the Stories I *Could* Tell

 

The Child does not appreciate it when I tell him some of the stories. He understands the gravity of some of these stories as I have been in many car accidents, of which one I was at fault and his father has been in two since the Child was born. He has seen the very real affects of driving and the inherent dangers of such.

 

I also understand that for him, driving holds a very different position for him. For me, it meant freedom. Freedom to blast my music, put the window down and let the wind take hold of my hair. It took me to a different place, and at times, continues to do so.

 

So, there I am, pounding out end of day emails, listening to Amazon’s Feel-Good Classics when BLAM! A blast from the past knocks me on my ass and send me into a fun little rabbit hole.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It

 

It’s one of my favorites from one of my favorite bands and wouldn’t mind learning the lyrics, because as I have found, they throw some fun stuff in there if you are listening.

 

And that’s when it struck me, somewhere between those three miles of back road and realizing there would be no way I could ever sign that song without A LOT of practice, that what they were singing about gained significantly more meaning over the last two years.

 

We’re all figuring out this new world that we’re living in, certain of one thing: if you are sick, stay HOME.

 

That leaves a lot up in the air. And doing the most basic of human things is now something that takes great consideration, not only for ourselves, but for others.

 

Looking Ahead

 

Something as simple as an itchy nose has brought us to explaining and apologizing. While this may feel odd and awkward at times, it tells me that we’re starting to figure shit out.

 

We’re testing the waters of “people-ing” again and after what we’ve experienced, there’s bound to be some bumps in the road.

 

It’s. Expected.

 

So, for the next few weeks, I want you to take it easy on others because EVERYONE is stressed af and EVERYONE is struggling in some way this season.

 

But more importantly, take it easy on YOURSELF. You’ve been through a lot. You deserve a break. Allow yourself the time to do so in the next week and half. I’m going to need you bright eyed and bushy tailed for 2022. We’re going to do some amazing things together.

 

 

 

Eyes Wide Open: Starting to Take Back Some of Your Personal Power on Social Media

Last week, I wrote about ads, and mentioned that not all ads seen are on social media, but those that are on social media can be a bit “stickier” than others. This week, in our journey through the digital divide, I wanted to come back and discuss this a bit more because in the land of social media, these things take on new life.

 

Ads can be just about anywhere, and today, many of us choose to pay a little extra so we don’t have to watch or listen to them. The shear fact that over a relatively short period of time, we’ve gone from doing things during commercial breaks to paying for less commercial breaks tells me that we are so inundated with ads, we’re exhausted by them.

A Land of Light and Sound With No One Seeing or Listening

 

For a small business owner, the thought of creating something that can compete in this landscape is daunting to say the least. It looks downright bleak. Desolate.

 

So, we attack the devil we know – social media. And try to learn how to work the algorithm while finding our own voice. Which is rarely a smooth or easy process.

 

And for those who are uncomfortable in this setting, it’s often written off for other avenues – such as print or radio rather than working in collaboration with. This then, leaves a distinct disconnect in conversational traffic and often a disruption in the business functions – i.e. the shear act of doing business can be exponentially more difficult simply due to a lack of digital presence- website or otherwise.

Stuck in a Scarcity Mindset

 

This time of year is a particularly difficult time for many small businesses as we struggle for a small piece of the holiday spending pie.

 

This time of year may very well set the business for success or failure in the New Year as spending drops significantly in the first few months of every new year.

 

Every sale, matters. Every interaction, matters. Every person who walks through the door, matters more than any of us fully realize. And after the last year plus, these things matter even more.

 

Adding fuel to this fire is the shear fact that to advertise in any capacity during this time of year, inherently means a higher cost – not only financially but energetically too.

Discounting Ourselves

 

We’ve been trained as individuals to be on the “lookout” for the best deals this time of year. From Black Friday to Cyber Monday, and all the pop-up events that happen through December 24th are meant to do one thing – drive spending, typically through the “art of the deal.”

 

Now this is not all together a bad thing if your spending is going back into someone or something you feel passionate about. I’ve spent some serious dough on something that I have wanted without blinking an eye.

 

But as a business owner, I can tell you that I have fallen into the discount trap more often than I’d care to remember. Discounting in the business owner’s mind means discounting our goods or services but at the end of the day, what we’re really doing is discounting our VALUE.

 

From skimping out on business necessities, discounting merchandise, to discounting our own time – we are DISCOUNTING our own value.

 

Which stinks and makes us feel like shit.

Small Businesses ARE the Backbone to Every Community

 

While those of you who read this blog may be wondering what kind of tangent I have gone off on, I want you to know the realities of the battle for your attention every small business owner faces.

 

Things like billboards, radio ads, and even some digital and print marketing ad campaigns are simply outside of the budget. That is why we are almost relegated to a website and social media presence, and even then, these are not always easy to attain or maintain.

 

This is why you will inherently see less ads from small businesses and when you do, they appear to be of lower quality or mass produced – because at times, this is what can be afforded.

Now that doesn’t make the ad spend right – I’m looking directly at you small business owners. Spend your money wisely and intentionally. Treat it as the investment it is.

 

So, what we have when we’re online, especially on social media, is a great mixture of corporate (like Wal-Mart/Wish/Amazon) and large to medium-sized, fairly well-known local entities (like WellSpan/Orrstown Bank/Martin’s Potato Rolls) popping up either as Low Hanging Fruit or Sticky ads, depending on your usage.

 

Stand Out Against the Noise

 

Now, here we have the small business owner. Trying to find their footing in what could be a most precarious time no matter how you slice it. With as much knowledge of how to use social media, or really any form of digital media, as you, my dear reader.

 

To say that we don’t know what we’re doing is an understatement. Because as you will learn through our journey into the digital world, unraveling one string leads to another knot. This journey, however, is very similar to other journeys many others have taken.

 

There’s a reason why so many small business owners compare their business to their child. Because to a very real extent, it is. We’re literally following along by the seat of our pants and hoping that the decisions we’ve made are wise. And if not, our child/business will tell us by shitting the bed (not always metaphorically speaking) in and around the age of 3. We, like most parents, hope to have that shit under control by age 5.

 

Rely on Your Tribe

 

I tell you all this, dear reader, because YOU have a very important and integral role in not only what you see, but also in how well you can help these businesses achieve truly free advertising on their end, that builds and extends the local community experience as a whole.

 

That’s some pretty cool shit right there. Especially when you can do this by doing something you’re already doing any way.

 

Feel those feels because that’s some powerful shit right there.

 

Think BIG

 

There’s a reason behind all this local growth. The capacity for a Page to hit over 100K in Franklin County alone is not difficult. The capacity for that Page to then speak to a greater, larger overall audience is then that much easier to accomplish when proper steps are in place.

 

Think about what that could mean for the small local, non-profit organizations who’s mission it is to raise funds to support our community.

 

Think about what it could mean for voter turnout in our local elections.

Think about what it could mean to the small business owners in our community if more people knew about their goods and services.

 

That’s some pretty big shit.

 

And You, you as an individual, have the power to start making these changes happen. All by scrolling on social media and doing what you do.

 

It Really IS That Simple

 

Two weeks ago, I asked you to start looking at your Newsfeed for your Top 10. [I’d love to hear how that’s going for you btw – hit me up on socials and let me know] This week, I want you to do the same for local organizations and businesses that are important to you.

 

Search their social feeds and see what they’ve posted recently. Throw a like, a comment, or a share up there – just be sure to not share too much – no one wants a Spammy Cathy. And even though these things are weighted differently, you can do a lot with just a few likes and reactions. Trust your gut.

 

Now, here’s the sweet part for you – the more you do this, the more you will see from these organizations and businesses.

 

Ever miss out on hearing about an event until it was too late? Not. No. Mor’.

 

And that’s not only powerful shit, but some pretty sweet shit too.

 

Now go out there and help the local guy out. We need it and a few likes and hearts can show our Pages to others who may not know about us that need us.

 

It’s all about those connections. And my dears, that is what social media is all about. Creating and maintaining those sweet, sweet connections that you love to see.

Addressing the Elephant in the Room: Terms and Conditions Apply

It’s taken me a minute to sit down and write this week’s blog and for a while I wasn’t sure what was going on in my head – it’s not that I’m short on ideas, my sudoku puzzles show that I’ve been thinking quite a bit but the act of sitting down and formulating these ideas into a workable concept seemed a bit out of reach for me. And that’s when it hit me – I’m avoiding the elephant in the room.

 

That Giant Elephant that Everyone KNOWS exists, but few address it head on

 

My friends, it is the official beginning of the holiday season and every single thing we do seems to remind of us this fact.

 

Need to grab some milk? Gotta walk by the holiday section first because it’s right out front for everyone to see.

 

Heading to work? Every billboard and radio ad is trying to sell you on their holiday cheer.

 

Scrolling through social media? Everyone and their damn brother is talking about what they are thankful for.

 

We “Should” Be Happy

 

It’s a near constant reminder that this time of year, is supposed to be the “happiest” time of the year, yet in reality many of us find ourselves in a scarcity mindset where we overbook and overextend our time and finances to show others how much we care.

 

By January, we’re exhausted and usually a bit more in debt than we had been previously and not exactly setting ourselves up for success in the New Year and then wonder why our resolutions are so difficult to stick to.

 

This, like mentioned in the previous blog, sets up a vicious cycle where we are physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. And this is when digital can become dangerous.

 

Let’s talk about those Wish Ads

 

Remember how it only takes ONE second for the algorithm to register your attention? Because of how much or how little we share on Facebook, the ads we are shown can be HIGHLY individualized.

 

This becomes dangerous in the hands of advertisers because ads are created to address two functions: build the brand awareness and address/answer a “pain point”

 

A large yellow M and certain chime reminds young and old that there’s a place to go when we’re hungry

 

But ads aren’t just to remind us of a place we can go when we’re hungry. That may be how they function, but not how they work.

 

For ads to work, they need to utilize our emotions while fulfilling their function. This is why ads are longer – in 5, 10, 15, 30, 60 second integrals and sometimes longer on streaming channels – to give them time to engage our emotions.

 

Ads are meant to capture, maintain, and engage our minds

 

The more we hear, see, and recognize a brand, the more we establish and emotional connection to it by the pain point solution offered. This is where two digital giants of the modern age reign supreme: Google and Facebook.

 

As the top used search engine and the top used social media platform, these two know a good thing when they have it – a space where we both research future purchases and where we ask friends and family for their recommendations, all from the convenience of one portable device that 85% of Americans own.

This is why we feel like our phones are “listening” to us – because they kinda ARE

 

It just isn’t in the way we always think. And that’s when the creepy feeling starts setting in.

 

As a marketer, I enjoy “playing” with my Google algorithm, asking it to “find the REAL me” like it’s a digital version of the game show, To Tell The Truth. But Facebook, damn. There are times I feel like just posting that I bought the damn thing in an effort to stop seeing those ads.

 

Like an algorithm “reset” for ads

 

And what’s wonderful, given time, ANYONE can do this – without having to share on Facebook that we purchased the damn thing UNLESS WE WANT TO.

 

Take a moment and feel that power, that feeling of control. Envision it, think about what that could look like – because like any planted seed, it takes time to grow.

 

Now to begin, there are some things we need to know going in:

 

  1. Not all ads are created equal

Some ads are what I call the “Spaghetti at a Wall” type and can encompass anything from low-rate insurance to pay-day loans. These are typically found on websites and are listed as “sponsored content” and can be found either cleverly concealed within the text itself or at the bottom of the page. Spaghetti ads frequently use “bait and switch” tactics to get you to click on the “articles” which are nothing but more ads.

 

Next up are the “Low Hanging Fruit” – goods and services just about anyone needs. This includes insurance, banking, clothing, food, service utilities, housing, etc. These are ads you’ll see again and again and can be so familiar that the brands may poke fun at one another on Twitter (and elsewhere).

 

Finally, there are the “Sticky Ads” – those that when you stop to think about it, make you go hmmm. These are the ones to be on the look out for. There’s a digital link somewhere and is frequently tied to a “real life” interaction.

 

  1. Yes, your phone is listening to you, but often not in the way you think

Ads are a reflection of what we search for, who we communicate with, and any of our shared connections – be it financial distress, basic human needs, or something more tangible or emotional.

 

The Spaghetti ads, if treated as anything, should be for a good laugh at their attempt.

 

Low Hanging Fruit can also be humorous at times but all in all, they are fairly easy to block out unless it’s during the Superbowl.

 

Sticky ads are sticky because of the convenience of our phones and the software and hardware built into them to function. Every time we have our Wifi, Mobile Data, GPS, or Bluetooth on, our phones are sending and receiving signals. Now, consider how many of us have the voice command system on – Siri or Google (and BTW, Facebook has one too).

 

And all that is before we start searching for the “best” whatever, comparing two different products, or searching for somewhere to eat nearby. All before a conscious emotional connection can created.

 

  1. The idiom of “what has been seen, cannot be unseen” will take on greater meaning

This phrase is as old as the internet because in the early days, there was quite simply, a lot of shit that could be seen. And not always, ideal shit at the ideal time. So, once it was seen, it didn’t need to be seen again. Period. Done. Still in the memory bank and doesn’t need to be revisited.

 

As you begin to start to look at the different types of ads, you’ll start to notice some consistencies outside of the branding, consistencies that associate the ads to the 3 types: Spaghetti, Low Hanging Fruit, and Sticky.

 

Your brain will start to automatically process these without you needing to think about it and categorize them based on what is already known. Which allows the thinking brain time to find these digital connections that make the sticky ads so sticky.

 

  1. We are continually being sold to and sold

This last bit of knowledge is the double-edged sword of convenience in digital. People go to great lengths to have an ad-free experience when online and only then come up with less ads getting through. Most of us don’t have the time to devote to this experience, and for some of us, it’s a price we’ll happily pay for said convenience – in the “devil you know” kind of way.

 

But remember, the devil’s we “know” and how much they know about us. When you stop to think about it, it’s quite a lot and for some, that’s quite scary.

 

Now, I find the scary things are a whole lot less scary once we take the time to learn about them. Like how a haunted house is a whole lot less scary once you see the mechanics that go into making it. You might come out with more questions, but you’ll definitely come out seeing things differently than you did before.

 

Going Forward: Start Looking At Your Ads

 

So, this week, I want you to do something that is going to feel strange and counterintuitive – but I guarantee you isn’t – I want you to start looking at the ads you see when your on your phone. Start recognizing where they fall – Spaghetti, Low Hanging Fruit, or Sticky and begin to categorize your Sticky ads.

 

By categorizing your Sticky ads, your brain will be able to process them faster and you will begin to see more intentional ad placement for you.

 

Now, if this has made your skin crawl just a bit more than you thought, you can take this a step further by asking yourself if the Sticky ads are based on demographic information (age/race/sex/location) or if it is related to a search, an online chat, or an in-person conversation. If it is the latter, be sure to fully close out of running apps on your phone. Hitting the home button is not enough.

 

Know that the idiom of what has been seen cannot be unseen has ruled the internet for so long for a reason. The lessons to be learned are not always pleasant, but it’s best we go in eyes wide open.

Let’s Get Started: Breaking Down the Digital Divide

To begin our journey through the digital divide, we must first look at how we are using and consuming digital media. As I discussed in the previous blog, we have quite a mess on our hands – with negativity spreading rampant on social media, leading to all kinds of concerns from mental health (in the form of anxiety and depression) to real world violence – what we have is a problem.
 
Right now, our problem looks like either a large on-going math equation that has yet to be solved, or a hoarder’s house that may become condemned if it isn’t cleaned out – choose your gross.
 
And if you have the distinct pleasure of needing to use social media for work or business, that gross scale multiplies like rabbits in spring. Is it any wonder why, we as business owners, simply do not want to devote our time to this succubus?
 

And that, my friends, is where we become stuck.

 
Our personal feelings toward these platforms and media bleeds over into our professional voice, whether we realize it or not.
 
Those who are less comfortable with their own news feed, their own friends list, their own experience on social media will inherently be less comfortable in finding their voice in the same platform in a professional setting – be it a professional or business Page.
 
Leading to inconsistent posting and lack of overall awareness.
 
Which then leads to a lack of following and lack of engagement.
 
Which ultimately leads to a scarcity mindset within the digital sphere, leaving business owners “fighting” the algorithm and struggling with where and how to best invest marketing dollars.
 

It’s a vicious cycle.

 
Much like how my anxiety, when not in check, will lead to depression, which then fuels my anxiety, this issue can also seem to be cyclonic in nature – almost like a tornado of shit, destroying everything in its path. But what is a tornado other than extreme energy brought about by significant shifts in pressure?
 
I think I speak for everyone when I say that 2020 was the epitome of significant shifts in pressure, as I have yet to find anyone who isn’t suffering from pandemic fatigue in one way or another. Our energy is depleted because we’ve been so wrapped up in these shit tornadoes, that all we see around us is more of the same.
 
Exhausted seems to light of a term for the way we’re feeling, not only individually but collectively as well. We’ve worked in ways and conditions none of us ever expected. We struggle with an overarching fear because so much has changed so quickly, we’re now afraid to become “too comfortable” in our own surroundings.
 
So, we shut down. Physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, we just don’t have the energy to do anything but shut down.
 

And this is where digital can become dangerous.

 
Because an algorithm’s base function is to show you more of what you consume, to keep you coming back for more, even when your own satisfaction may be diminished, so it can “learn” more about you. The more the algorithm “knows” about you, the more “tailored” your unique experience is.
 
This becomes a dangerous area with those who are uncomfortable with the platform and sharing information as it leads into two distinct forms of extremism: Ghost-like behavior and Soapbox behavior. Whether you are engaging primarily in reactions, gifs, and avatars or treating your profile page as your own personal soapbox, you are creating a vacuous state for your algorithm.
 
As it cannot learn more about you, your experience will be much more simplified and based on known information: your gender, location, age (all of which is given to start an account) and anything that has captured your attention for ONE second or longer.

 

ONE second is all it takes and then you’re inundated with Wish ads.

 
But it’s more than just those kooky ads that make you stop and look, it’s also political and spiritual posts. It’s posts that touch our core values and beliefs. And while some are from real-live people with honest and pure intents, not all are.
 
Some are cleverly created ads meant to fool the eye, leading to more of that product or service to be seen and then purchased. While others are significantly more dangerous, especially when personal profiles and bots are involved.
 
Bots are nothing more than fake profiles. The account is set up to look like a person but isn’t. While most of us have heard, or maybe even know someone who has set up a fake account, the bot’s function is to interact with the algorithm and find other profiles to extort information from – Real profiles, from Real people.
 
Creating a chain of bots, all interacting with the algorithm as real people can spread like a virus within those who are uncomfortable with the platform because, so little is known about them as individuals. And from here, it spreads out into those networks, where even if only 10% of an individual’s friends list picks up that bot as a friend, it grows exponentially to the next network, and the next. All feeding one person’s ill intent.
 
And like the shit tornado this tends to be, this then feeds into our professional and businesses pages as rarely is the person of ill intent located in or near our own backyards. Then rather than a local awareness, our pages are now shown on a global scale and potentially outside of your sales radius.
 

And we’re back to where the vicious cycle began.

 
Stuck. Frustrated. And above all, tired. So, freakin’ tired.
 
But we must start somewhere, so let’s start with what we know. Whether tackling an algebraic equation or pile of shit, we all start with what we know, so let’s start there.
 

Look for the Good Shit.

 
This week, I want you to begin a review of your friend’s list. See who gives you the most joy when you are on and spend some time on their profile. Most people have a Top 10 that they really want to spend time with and keep in touch with.
 
Find your Top 10 and engage with them. Comment on a post, share something to their profile that is important to the two of you, or just hit them up with a message. Really make it a point to connect with them and watch your Newsfeed and notifications start to change – because it will.
 
It’s important to find the pleasure first, because what we need to do is to clean up after this shit tornado. To find the lessons that need to be learned and grow from them. We are going to grow through what we’ve gone through, but first, let’s focus on the positive shit.
 
Go spend time with those who give you happiness and communicate with them. It’ll start to feed your algorithm the good shit you want to see from the people you want to see it from.
 

You’ll begin to take away the power of the bots and they’ll naturally start to drop off.

 
And if this gets your OCD tingling, or would like to take a more definitive step toward eliminating bots from your friends list, I suggest taking the Spot The Troll quiz and reviewing your entire friend’s list to see if anyone fits the profile of a bot and then drop them like they’re hot.
 
Know that little shifts and changes make for significant long-term changes. These lines of division weren’t created overnight but the more aware we become and the more we focus on real-life connections, the more positive and beneficial the experience will be overall for everyone.
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