3 Goals to Set for 2020 to Improve Your Life and Work

There’s a lot of talk this season about how to set resolutions for the New Year. Here’s why it’s worthwhile to play along: any chance to take stock of our personal lives and businesses is one we should grab. When others around us are doing it, there’s more collective energy, encouragement and enthusiasm to tap into.

The general sense of renewal that comes with January 1, especially at the start of a new decade, is one we should internalize as our own.

For me, I’m still energized by my personal new beginning that came with my rebranding of Sparkr Marketing in August. After 18 years working in communications and nearly a decade in freelance, I finally launched my own brand with big plans to scale. I partnered with a crew of talented women to support me in my dreams. With that new beginning, I took on some new daily habits that I’m still practicing four months later.

I’d say that’s a win, so I want to share this formula that’s worked for me. I’ve used this same growth formula for 20 years, since learning about it in school in Israel.

How to Choose SMART Goals

In every new beginning, I select three small goals. I make sure they’re all SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.

I choose three goals that fit into three categories of a meaningful life:

  1. A personal goal between me, myself and I
  2. A goal in my relationship with others
  3. A spiritual goal

My 3 Goals

To illustrate these three goals in practice, I will share the three goals I set on the day I launched Sparkr.

  1. My personal goal: Strength training throughout the day. I’ve been running for 20 years, so I’ve already made a habit of exercising. But now that I’m sitting or standing in place a lot of the day, I need ways to break that up. I do this by breaking my work up into blocks of time with short strength training breaks in between. I’ll do a 1-minute plank, some pushups, squats or attempt a pull up on the bar outside my office.
  2. My relationship goal: weekly coffee dates. Building a business while serving clients lends itself to some long days in solitude. If I don’t commit to scheduling a date a week with a friend or family member, I’ll just hunker down and work all day long. Because I recognize that would be completely insane, I make sure to schedule a coffee date ahead of each week.
  3. A spiritual goal: morning journaling. Every morning, I follow the same formula in a journal. I list 2-5 things I’m grateful for, without repeating anything I’ve already listed on other days. Then, I write 3-5 things I plan to focus on during the day. I schedule this in my calendar and do my best to complete each one without interruption. Then, I do an exercise recommended by Rachel Hollis to write out 10 of my dreams as if they already happened.

That’s it! Best wishes for a happy new year and new decade! Here’s to striving for big goals and achieving big dreams in 2020.

Let me know in the comments👇 what your goals are for 2020. Because committing to them publicly makes YOU more committed.

3 Content Batching Tips for Small Businesses and Inspiration to Get Started

As a busy small business owner, becoming a master at content batching is key to saving you time and promoting your business online. But first, let’s make sure you’re in the right frame of mind. Online media for small businesses can feel overwhelming, or It can feel like an opportunity. Consider this: sitting in your office or store right now, you have the opportunity to have a conversation with your exact target customer. You can build a relationship with them without ever even meeting them. If you focus on the “social” part of online marketing today, the “media” part feels like less of a burden.

Ready? Let’s do this. 🚀 Key to successful online marketing so that you stay top of mind for your target customers is showing up. Showing up means creating daily social media content and weekly website content.

In last week’s blog, I talked about three forms of content you should be creating weekly, but let’s review them briefly here.

Choose your weekly website content medium

Blog: Blogging is a great way to consistently show up for your audience weekly and to keep your content easy to consume. If you enjoy writing, blogging is an obvious choice, but even if you’re only a mediocre writer, I still say go for it. Writing is like a muscle that improves with time. And there are a lot of tips and even online content writing courses that can help you improve tremendously. With time, writing gets so much easier, so put away your high school anxiety and try out this medium if you can. 

Video: Like blogging, video takes some getting used to, but if you’re able to practice getting comfortable in front of the camera, it’s a great way to churn out content quickly. There’s a whole range of what’s acceptable in video content, and you can grow with it as you get more experienced and comfortable. Video blogging can be scrappy, with just your phone, a mic and a ring light. Or it can be as crisp as a TV episode.

With video, it’s easy to recycle that content. You can start with the video, but then add just the audio to your website as a podcast. And you can write a blog to explain what’s in your video as well. Trifecta! 

Podcast: Podcasting is a great way to show up weekly for your audience, especially if you’re comfortable talking to your audience but don’t love the idea of a video. Podcasting makes it really easy to showcase guests too because you don’t have to be in the same location to be on the show together. Guests can call in from all over the world to join you. With podcasting, it’s also really easy to create a blog post with each episode by writing some of your notes or even pulling and editing the the show transcript. Rev.com is a great tool for this job, for $1/minute, and there are others like it.

3 steps to batch your content

Once you have your content medium of choice in place, you’re ready to start batching content. Content batching is simply setting aside times where you focus on creating a bunch of content at once. This ensures you’re productive during the time you work on your online content and rescues you from ever staring at a blinking curser. I recommend content batching by implementing three steps into your routine that I use in my own business.

  1. Collect notes on the go: Whether on your phone notes or you’re kickin’ it old school on an actual notepad, start jotting down content ideas you come up with on the go to create a running list. An encounter with a customer, a quote from a book or movie or a problem you overcame in your business can all be sources of inspiration. These ideas are more likely to come to you during a workout or even in the shower. Add these content ideas to your list so you don’t forget. I’ve even found myself with an idea on the go when I didn’t have a chance to write it down, and I instead thought of an acronym or a trigger word to help me remember later.
  2. Set up a brainstorming session: Reserve a 2 hour session on your own or with your team to create several weeks’ worth of content ideas. This should be a total brain dump where you think of every possible idea you can. Whip out the post-it notes and use the whole pack. For each idea you think you might use, develop a short abstract or an outline so that creating that actual content later is easier. Try some of the ideas I list below for inspiration, including the notes you’ve already collected.
  3. Mark your calendar: Creating weekly online content means working weekly on content. And like the shoemaker’s son, you’re less likely to work on your own business when you have clients’ needs to meet. That’s why you’ll need to proactively reserve 2-3 hours each week to focus on creating your content. Since you’ve already developed a list and an abstract or outline, the time you set aside will be productive. I recommend creating content first thing in the morning, when you are sharpest. For my own business, I do this 2-3 times a week, around 6AM before anyone else needs me.

Content batching sources of inspiration for small businesses

Need help on your brainstorming session? Try some of the following sources of inspiration:

  1. The calendar, including holidays and hashtag days. Here’s a great downloadable 2020 hashtag calendar that syncs with your Google calendar.
  2. Seasonal themes: Depending on your business, focus on the seasons that affect your audience and create content themes, where you can go in depth over a few weeks or a month at a time. I’ve even done this with a B2B insurance broker, so you can for sure think of ones that will work for your industry (30 days to protect your business during cyber awareness month, anyone?).
  3. Check out what’s working for your competitors. Of course, you never want to copy your competition, but you should check out what’s working for them (and what’s not) to glean inspiration. Key to not replicating what they’re doing is to take a peak and then walk away before you dive into your own content.

Like any new habit in life or in your business, creating content takes time to get used to, but once you get going and see the chatter increase about your business because of it, you’ll never look back. Happy creating!

Let me know if this blog post was helpful for you! Leave a comment or send me a message over on your social channel of choice.

4 Questions to Ask Yourself to Spark Your Core Business Story

There are a lot of marketing services that offer small businesses quick ways to gain followers and customers. Gone are the days of buying mass lists of Facebook likes, but there are still subscriptions that promise an easy fix to gaining your target market’s trust.

In reality, it takes a lot more than an app to get your target market to know, like and trust your small business. Instead, the brands that are winning at marketing are telling a compelling story about what they do.

Brands that consistently offer a clear, concise and memorable message about their product or service stand out in a crowded online market place where everyone is screaming for our attention.

Brands famous for telling their story well

Apple was started in Steve Job’s garage and then went on to totally reimagine technology. The goal was to make technology so simple that everyone can be part of the future.

Friends in college started Warby Parker when one guy lost his glasses and couldn’t afford to replace them. They reinvented the glasses industry to make prescription eye glasses easy to produce and cheap to buy.

Nike, SoulCycle, Lululemon and so many favorite brands have stuck because users identify with their story.

Those brands that master the art of tapping into their higher purpose are the ones that really last. Take REI, for example. They sell outdoor equipment, just like so many other businesses like them. But what their customers are buying is a lifestyle of outdoor adventure. REI makes stunning documentaries about athletes that don’t even mention the store’s gear or products. On Black Friday, they actually close stores because they believe employees and customers should spend time outdoors, doing what they love on a day off work. Their social media message to #optoutside went viral.

Why storytelling is so powerful for small businesses

One vivid story is more powerful than the best PowerPoint slideshow ever created. That’s because storytelling is literally in our genes. As far back as mankind discovered fire, people have benefitted from the power of storytelling. In fact, anthropologists point to fire as igniting evolution. Not only did fire lead to a more calorie-rich diet, but communities were built around the fire at night–sticking together to tell stories (and not getting eaten by a sabertooth tiger). Masterful storytellers became leaders.

Scientists today have shown that telling stories literally connects brain waves. And anyone who ever sat around a fire at summer camp or on a camping trip doesn’t need to understand the research to intuitively understand the impact of storytelling around a fire.

4 questions to ask to spark your brand story

Now, if you’re thinking you just don’t have a compelling brand story, the good news is that you don’t have to be legendary to tell a good story. But do be consistent. Carmine Gallo offers four questions in The Storyteller’s Secret that every business owner should ask in order to get to the heart of the business story: 

  1. Why did you start your company?
  2. What does your company do? 
  3. What are you passionate about?
  4. What makes your heart sing?

This last one is the question that leads to the most compelling answer. It’s the higher purpose of why your business exists.

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 the following 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 why you launched your business, 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 and what makes your heart sing. This is your story.

Here’s my story: 

As far back as high school, I understood that my ability to articulate ideas in writing was the most essential skill 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 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 online marketing tactics, that they’ve forgotten to focus on strategy. Most people who come to me are so overwhelmed with the tactics, that they’ve lost sight of the big picture. The story behind it all.

This realization, that so many businesses need someone to the heart of their story and to support them on how to tell it across digital marketing is what drove me to launch Sparkr Marketing.

No matter what you do, there is a story buried behind why you do it. Your story is your strategy. Everything else is just a tactic to tell that story.

One simple brand statement that sums up your story

Once you’ve developed your meaningful business story, you’ll need one simple statement that sums up what you do. Every great brand story considers the purpose and dream that birthed the company, and understanding what has brought you to this point and where the company is going is a strong place to start. This should be entirely focused on how you solve your target market’s problem.

Your brand statement considers what matters to your customers and the deeper purpose of your business. It goes beyond the money you want to earn and instead is driven by values. It explains how you improve the lives of those around you.

Try this formula: I/We ___________ (action) for ___________ (target market) in order to ___________ (solve a specific problem).

In the end come up with a story that describes a problem, shows you understand it and you are the one to solve it.

For example, here’s mine: I teach small businesses DIY online marketing to improve their businesses and their lives.

The most disappointing business loss is an idea that fails to connect to its audience not because it wasn’t a good idea, but because it wasn’t packaged as a great story.

So figure out your story and tell it well.