What’s your story?

Everywhere I go these days, those who know me ask what’s my story. They mean it casually, but for me it’s such a loaded question. What’s my story? My story is YOUR story.

I set out to spark stories full time, and it’s driving every element of my business all day long. Your story is what motivated me to leave a job that was comfortable in a place that I loved. It’s what’s driving me to focus full time on my business so that I can help small businesses and organizations focus full time on THEIRS.

Here’s My Why

As far back as high school, I understood that my ability to articulate ideas in writing was the most essential skill I needed to master. From college admissions essays to summer program applications, I attribute learning to write well as my key to doors of opportunity. It was why I studied journalism in college – not because i wanted to be on the frontlines of the news cycle – but because I wanted to hone the craft of storytelling.

Storytelling is what I did for five years straight at JUF News, a local Chicago magazine, and storytelling across all media is what I mastered for 14 years as communications director at a private high school and in my freelance work.

But here’s what I found. Digital marketing today moves at record speed, and our attention span is at an all-time low. Small businesses and organizations are so busy in the weeds of digital marketing tactics, that they’ve forgotten to focus on strategy. Most people who come to me are so busy keeping up with social media posts that have a life of only a few hours (if we’re lucky), ads to post (and A/B test!), a website that already looks dated after three years, not so mention print material –– that they’ve lost sight of the big picture. The story behind it all.

Your story is your strategy. Everything else is just a tactic to tell that story.

This realization, that so many of you need someone to remind you of your story and to support you on how to tell it across digital marketing is what drove me to launch Sparkr Marketing.

How to Spark Your Story

Sparking your story doesn’t have to be hard. But it requires time and space to think. This is why many successful brands will offer key employees a retreat together. It can be the reset button that gets everyone back to the heart of what matters. But, even if you don’t get a company trip to a resort, you can still try this exercise:

Take some time on a walk, run or find a spot in a quiet, creative space to think. Then, imagine what you would say if you were sitting among friends by a fire. (For me this is outside among mountains, but for you it might be around an indoor fireplace at a 5-star resort.)

Now, imagine telling close friends around you why your organization exists and what your place is in it. You don’t have to be feeding starving children to matter. Does your product make someone’s day easier so that they have more time? Do you help people stay healthier? Do your services make people’s homes last longer so that they can create more memories? There’s a higher purpose to everything worth doing. Reach back and remember what’s yours. This is your story.

So tell it well.

Why my competition is part of my tribe

why my competition is part of my tribe

You don’t have to know much about small businesses or nonprofit organizations to understand that a lack of competition is a formula for mediocrity. On the other hand, healthy competition – even when it can be scary – raises the bar for everyone.

I would even argue that when we 🎉 C E LE B R A T E 🎉 our competition, we lift one another up with that proverbial bar. This is why I will regularly recommend others I know in my field who do similar work as me. This can be as simple as “liking” a LinkedIn blog post of a colleague in my field.

There are so many times that I am tagged in local Facebook groups where a small business owner asks for marketing recommendations. So are other women I know in my field. And with no hesitation, I click “like” on all the posts when I see it. For me, it’s a small gesture of sisterhood. Sure, if it’s a gig that would suit me, I’ll reach out in private messages. But, whether the business owner gets back to me or another small business marketing agency in my area is ultimately not up to me anyway. So, why not root for another bright, hardworking entrepreneur I know?

I learned this lesson 15 years ago from my window installer. He had come to us after I called Diamond Windows in my area. But his business card had his own business name on it. When I questioned him, he told me that the owner of Diamond, Marty Zimmerman, had taught him everything about the industry. Marty had apparently told him that there’s enough business to go around, so why not support another person in the industry?

For me, it was a powerful lesson that stuck.

Following are 3 ways to stay focused on growing your business while still celebrating others:

  1. Know your strengths: Looking at our competition makes us see our own weaknesses in a brighter light. Try reframing this thought. When you notice strengths in your competition, think back to your own strengths that got you started in your organization in the first place. However aligned you are with similar businesses around you, there is some facet of what you offer that only you can accomplish. Focus on perfecting that area of your business. Essential to thriving among competition is the ability to identify what your organization does well and constantly work to develop that.
  2. Take ownership of what you can control: You are only the master of two aspects of your business: how hard you work and how much you know. Everything else is out of your hands. If you look around and see your competition pushing boundaries beyond you, ask yourself at the end of the day, did I work my hardest today and take steps to learn more? If the answer is no, improve tomorrow.
  3. Celebrate your competition: This third way is easier when you’re already focused on knowing your strengths and owning up to what you can control. Then, you can genuinely feel happy for those around you. Change the thought 💭 “I wish it were me” to “Next time it will be me, and I’m happy now for you.” This challenging step makes us kinder in the present and more hardworking for the future.

At the end of the day, all of us are better off for asking, what have I done today to celebrate those around me? Even when it’s our competition.

How to Get More Reviews for Your Business

how to get more reviews

Think of the last time you looked up a new business or service and decided you would use their service or product. Whether it was a pizza place, plumber or podiatrist, most likely you spent all of 10 seconds absorbing information on a site like Google, Yelp or Facebook and then knew which one you liked. 

As businesses, this means we are left to perfect that 10 second moment or we’ve already lost so many opportunities. While word of mouth still remains the most dependable source of new business for most of us, gaining new customers by creating an excellent digital introduction to our business is essential. Key to that success is reviews. 

No matter your industry, positive reviews typically don’t come naturally. It’s human nature to react when we’re annoyed but move on – albeit pleasantly surprised – when we are feeling appreciative. Rare is the customer who feels delighted and then proactively leaves you a review. 

This is why you need to ask. 

How to Ask for Reviews

If you leave your review pages up to the hands of fate, you’ll end up with a lower rating. True, this could be because your business stinks. But most of us toil in what we do because we care, and our ratings should reflect that.

Set Yourself Up for Good Reviews

If you want to receive more positive reviews, the first step you’ll have to take is ensure your review pages are set up and you’re actively monitoring them. 

If you have a brick and mortar location for your business, you’ll want to claim your page in Google. This is essential to making sure the correct address is listed for your business and that no one else claims your business for you. Once you do that, you’ll receive emails when there is a new review, and you should respond to these within 24-hours. If it’s positive, thank them! And reshare that information as a testimonial in other places. If it’s negative, acknowledge the feedback without going into too much detail or getting defense and let them know you’re addressing their concerns. Then, go ahead and fix the problem. You can even go back to the reviewer and let them know how you handled the issue, which shows the whole world that you take feedback seriously and are committed to your customers. Next stop for you, my friend, is surely tackling world peace.

When it comes to social media, don’t ignore that space. If a lot of your word of mouth business happens on Facebook or Twitter, be sure to actively check your reviews on these channels and respond. Thank them if it’s positive and publicly acknowledge them if it’s negative. Then, take the conversation over to the private messages so that you can help them sort out their issue. Once you fix the problem, you can publicly respond and let the world know. 

Does this sound like a pain? Perhaps. But consider this: customer relations has ALWAYS been a part of business. Meeting your customer where they are – which is online in increasing numbers – is an integral component of customer service today.

Following are three ways to proactively get more reviews from your clients. 

  1. Add a link to your email signature: Once you’ve claimed your Google Business page and are on top of your social media reviews and comments, go ahead and add links to these pages in your email signature. Here are instructions to find your direct link on Google. Find it on Facebook (at right) by going to your page and clicking on “Reviews” in the left bar. 
  2. Make a habit of reaching out to customers when they leave your business: Once a client leaves your business, you can follow up with an email or a text thanking them for their business and asking them to take a minute to leave an HONEST review. If you’re going to do this, don’t ask them directly for a 5-star review because that’s not authentic. You also don’t want to ask them for a review while they are still on your premises because Google can see where your reviewers are, and this will be suspicious. (Creepy, I know.) Google has been known to remove suspicious reviews. 
  3. Use a service like Get More Reviews: There are a lot of companies that will automate the process above for you at a reasonable price. You will need to add emails and cell phone numbers into the dashboard, and then the review service will reach out to them on your behalf. What I like about this service is that you’re more likely to keep up with the reviews because it’s simpler and you’re more committed by paying for it. It also offers recipients the option to write their ANGRY ALL CAPS RANT to you in a private message rather than on a public review. Many times, they will actually choose this because the goal of a negative reviewer is often just to get the owners’ attention. You’ll also be able to track a lot of reviews in one place if you own multiple locations of your business. 

Most importantly, keep doing the good business practices you started out to accomplish, and let the 5-star reviews pour in. 

Want to talk strategy for your business? Be in touch! Let’s talk.

Creating Mindful Moments Every Day

how to stay mindful

Everyone is talking about being mindful and intentional lately. In new release books, on NPR and in every other podcast, staying mindful is on everyone’s mind in our distracting digital age.

Now, there are those who naturally find quiet by being alone, who enjoy time and space to think and find their zen in yoga. And then there are those who get high on being busy, who can’t sit still for a formal dinner and are more likely to find their rhythm on a run than in downward dog.

Entrepreneurs typically fall in the latter category. Driven by passion for an idea that is our own, it’s hard to stop and take stock. But thinking is what got us here in the first place, and it’s also what ensures we keep moving in the right direction – in both our careers and in life.

How I Hope to Stay Focused

This is why on the same day that I launched Sparkr Marketing, I began my own plan to stay intentional throughout the busy days. I start in the morning by writing BE MINDFUL at the top of a page in my journal, followed by my 3-5 most important tasks for that day. Typically, this is a mix of work and family life. Then, I schedule those tasks into my calendar as if they are a meeting. And then for that one hour, I attempt to focus solely on that one task.

So far, it’s working. By the end of the day, I can look at the list, and on most days I’ve done what I set out to do. I feel less harried while I’m doing it too. I also feel less of a pull to work when I’m focused on my family and less guilty working when my kids are around.

Tell me what keeps you focused and intentional throughout your day? Share this post with a tip on what works for you.

Build Your LinkedIn Tribe

How many times have you created a GREAT post in LinkedIn only to see it go…exactly nowhere?

I’m betting that pretty much everyone has this experience on LinkedIn pretty frequently, and it’s bound to happen even more as LinkedIn continues to gain popularity. LinkedIn has over 575+ million users, with more than 260 million monthly active users. It’s also the social channel that’s enjoyed the most longevity.

But, back to you. Let’s assume you’ve created an original post or article. I’m not talking about just sharing an article that someone else wrote. This time, you’ve thought hard about what you want to share with your network and crafted something clever, relatable, funny, educational or inspiring. It’s a message you would want to read if you saw it in your own feed.

How do increase impressions and engagement for your great content?

Here’s a trick that works on LinkedIn and really on any social channel, for that matter. It’s true for your personal profile, and it works for your organization’s page as well.

Get More Engagement on Your LinkedIn Content with 3 Easy Steps

  1. In LinkedIn messages, reach out to a few friends and colleagues, who are sharing content you think would be interesting for your network. Invite them as a group to be a part of your content sharing tribe.
  2. Then, when you or a member of your group post new content, let the group know. Obviously, this only works if you are sharing quality content your group will find relevant.
  3. Any member of the group who finds the content useful can then go to one another’s profile page to proactively share that content or comment.

It’s that simple! This shortcut ensures that a few targeted people will see your content sooner than it would have shown up in their feeds. Once a few people engage with your content, LinkedIn will recognize its significance.

That’s it!

If you’re creating great content on LinkedIn and want to join my existing group, send me a message on LinkedIn.