What to do now in your business when everything’s changed

It’s been nearly two weeks since the world turned unimaginable for us.

With the initial shock and horror fading and the eventual resignation that sets in even amidst chaos comes the inevitable question: what now? It’s true for individuals, and it’s true for businesses.

While there are already millions who have lost their livelihood, there are those who stand out with the ability to pivot and emerge with some semblance of their business intact. There are even those who stand to make gains in this uncertainty.

3 content marketing recommendations to implement now during the Coronavirus economic crisis

When everything’s changed, change how you are talking about your business.

While it’s clear that nothing is certain anymore, this much I know: Coronavirus is a reset button for our lives, our habits, our families and our businesses.

If you’re one of the lucky ones still focused on business growth, be grateful. But if that means you’re moving forward and haven’t pressed pause, do it now. When everything’s changed, you risk sounding tone deaf if you’re still promoting your products or services in the same way as before.

Internal communication

You need to communicate internally how your business has been affected already, how you anticipate it will be affected and what you plan to do about it. Hope for the best but plan for the worst. Be honest with your team and stakeholders, and you will be a better leader for it.

External communication

You also need to evaluate all your external marketing content that you have automated, scheduled or planned. Check every post and ad in your social media scheduler and any automated email marketing messages you’ve set up. Your customers have changed so the way you addressed them two weeks ago no longer applies now. Ask yourself what you need to post prominently on your homepage that leads to a whole new landing page with information.

Show up for everyone who needs you.

Much like our grandparents during WWII, now’s the time for everyone to pitch in. Businesses everywhere are evaluating their product or service and figuring out how to solve people’s problems now. Coffee vendors from Starbucks to local ones like Passion House are donating coffee to healthcare workers. A tie company, recognizing that no one needs a tie when they’re hardly wearing pants these days, pivoted and is now taking orders for N95 masks. Auto mechanics are donating face masks to nursing homes.

Figure out how you can help healthcare workers or serve everyone staying at home by entertaining them or providing relief or tools they need right now. Once you determine what that is, talk about that and only that. Again, talking about any other part of your business besides what everyone needs now will be at the risk of sounding tone deaf.

Now’s the time for a project

With everyone stuck at home and scrambling in their businesses, the good news is that the bar has been lowered for the level of professionalism you need to support your target market. Everyone’s getting scrappy.

My all time favorite band, The Indigo Girls, went live on Facebook for the first time ever last week, and 60,000 fans joined. The camera was flipped the wrong way, they lost their connection a few times and restarted, and I’m not even sure they had mics. But it was their largest concert ever, and fans were delighted. As one friend said, “They were so perfectly dorky.”

Now’s the time where you can throw together a course or a Zoom class and ask people to simply pay on Venmo. Just a few weeks ago, I would have said you need to set up your secure website for purchases, promote your product and spend months creating your course on Kajabi.

Figure out what you can offer and jump on it. You’ll help people now and you’re likely to build out parts of your business for the future.

Still need an idea? I’m offering one 30 minute free brainstorming session each day for small business owners. Click here to register.

6 lessons learned in 6 months of business

This week marks six months since I officially launched Sparkr Marketing, and like a kid in my toddler years, I’m seriously excited about this half birthday.

I launched this business after nearly a decade of freelance work that became too big a side hustle to manage on the side. Armed with 18 years of marketing experience, I had big plans to help others with the knowledge I gained in a rapidly changing industry. I wasn’t sure exactly where this journey would take me, and I’m still working that out, but I’ve learned a few lessons in the last six months.

Here are a 6 marketing lessons I’d like to share:

Set up a routine:

It’s no joke that we entrepreneurs are the hardest bosses some of us ever have. Everyone says setting up a routine is essential, and this has been true for me as well. Mine starts with getting up early. The earlier I get up, the more productive the day. It’s a struggle, but I’m trying.

From there, I focus on my journal. The only reason I know the exact date I started this business is because I started a journal the same day. That journal’s been key to setting up the vision for my life as well as for each day. I talk more about my daily journaling here, but the basic idea is that I focus on gratitude, mindfulness and where I’m headed.

I then set the schedule for the rest of my day, including a solid hour before my kids get up where I work on the hardest task on my list. Key to staying focused has been turning off notifications and silencing my phone most of my day. I check in, of course, but when I’m “on the clock” for a client, I don’t want pings.

There’s a nagging temptation to never stop when it comes to my business–a sentiment I’ve heard from a lot of entrepreneurs. And while hard work is necessary to get something off the ground, setting boundaries is as well. I’m still working on switching gears when my family is home. I’m also committed to pursuing other interests, like running and guitar, no matter how packed my day.

The riches are in the niches

Cliche, I know.

But, I knew from the start that I needed to narrow down the services I offer and who I offer them to. I’ve had jobs where I had to do everything, from print to digital, by myself. And while it seems really helpful to offer a prospective client the whole kit and caboodle, instead it’s confusing. I lost one big opportunity because I put so much into the proposal that the client couldn’t wrap his head around it. He kept asking me to explain more about what I do. In hindsight I realized what he was really asking was for me to do less. He needed me to keep it simple.

I started to develop my niche by talking only about content marketing on emails, websites and social media.

Next, I narrowed down the industry I serve. The day I started focusing on healthcare marketing was the day I started getting even more prospects. Healthcare is what I’ve done the longest and like the most, so it made sense to hang my hat there. Eventually, I’ll likely narrow that down even more.

The more specific we all are about what we offer, the better we can be at doing the work, reaching more people and establishing ourselves as experts.

Commit to building my own business

So often I hear small business owners say they don’t have time to focus on marketing or building the structure of their businesses. I get it. It’s tempting to work all day on what pays today’s bills, but if you don’t schedule time to focus on building your own business, you won’t continue to have a business.

The work I do today to build Sparkr is what will ensure my business grows in the future. I schedule at least three hours into my week when I focus only on Sparkr. It helps that I’ve scheduled a Facebook Live every Thursday at 10:30AM CT (join me there!). Having to show up for the community I’m building keeps me focused on creating new content.

Start with a great virtual assistant

I heeded the advice of other entrepreneurs and hired an awesome VA early on in my business. This felt a little premature at first, but by having a VA, I was able to think of how I needed help. Now, thanks to Eryn Kushner, I’ve gotten more done each month. I recommend starting small, and then each month come up with new ways to work together.

Now before I start a task, I think first about whether I need to be the one doing it. If the answer is yes, I think about how I can make that task part of a system that someone else can eventually implement.

Also, having Eryn’s support means that I don’t panic when I consider the number of proposals I have outstanding at any given time. I can serve more prospective clients because I have my own support.

You never lose by giving away free information

A lot of what I teach in my marketing coaching, I give away for free on this blog and in my weekly Facebook Live sessions. I’ve yet to question giving away free advice. I feel grateful for what I’ve learned, and I’m so happy to help others. I have a tendency to give away so much advice during a prospect call, that the recipient ends up implementing some of it even before we work together. And if they don’t end up working with me? That’s okay too.

I’m pretty confident that the more support you offer for free, the more that will come back to you. Call it karma or kindness, but at the end of the day, you want people to realize that if you give away this much information for free, how much more value is in your paid services?!

Focus on serving others

No matter what you offer, being an entrepreneur makes it hard to separate your service or product from its source. Everywhere you go, you represent your company. I’m far from mastering being the best version of me all the time, but seeing this in practice is keeping me on my toes. I’ve had acquaintances from 30 years ago ask about my services (thanks, Facebook!), and new friends I’ve made recently have helped spread the word. It pays to be nice, back then and now.

Knowing how much of my business depends on word of mouth means I’ve gained a heightened awareness of needing to focus on serving others. Most of us launch a business in order to help people with a product or service we believe in. But it doesn’t mean it’s easy to smile and be friendly when busy, frustrated or overwhelmed. Do it anyway. The more you are exceedingly kind and focused on relationships and service of others, the better you are at doing the work.

There have been other lessons, of course, and I hope to continue learning. It’s part of what keeps me so energized. I offer my total gratitude to the clients who have bet on me, to the friends and family who have cheered me on and spread the word, and to the Facebook community of Sparks of Marketing I’m building–some of you I don’t even know. You keep me focused on my goal of helping as many people as I can.

If you’ve been watching this journey from the sidelines, join our Facebook community or email list.

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    How to get started creating content on digital marketing

    content creation

    Do you ever look at businesses similar to yours online and wonder how they have the so much time to promote themselves on social media and still run their business? Do they even do any work?! Or are they just on their phones all day creating content?

    The challenge for you is that you know that even with the best intentions of creating content to get the word out about your services, you are too busy to get started. When there is so much to do to keep up in today’s fast paced digital space, business owners can feel incredibly overwhelmed about how to start. But if you don’t get started, business owners with less experience in your field will fill that online void instead.

    “How do I get started?” is a question I get on repeat from my clients and in my Sparks of Digital Marketing Facebook group. What everyone is really asking is how do I get motivated to start?

    I get it. I was in the same position when I transitioned from my freelance business to launch Sparkr Marketing last August. All of the sudden, it wasn’t enough to put my head down and just do the work for my clients. I had a business to build and needed excellent marketing to do it.

    I came up with three tools that set me up for success to create consistent content for my own business, and I know it will work for you as well.

    3 tools to get started creating content for digital marketing

    1. Set a time. Set a weekly time in your calendar when you are going to focus on content creation. This sounds obvious and simple, but until you set up the time in your calendar, you won’t get started. Or at best, you’ll post sporadically. Set a time aside when you are at your best and be sure to turn off any distractions. It’s a little like getting in the habit of working out by simply committing to get dressed in your gear in the morning.
    2. Create Canva templates. Templates in Canva are a great way to make your social media posts look outstanding even without the help of a graphic designer. It also makes it easier to develop content because you can build off the images. Canva is free, but I recommend the Canva Pro version so you can access more stock photos and features. My Social Media Starter Kit can get you all set up for Canva. 👉Download it here
    3. Create content themes. Create content themes from the start that ensure you’re ready to be productive and thoughtful about your strategy during that hour you commit to creating content each week.

    Social media content creation themes

    Just to get you started, following are a few post themes that work well on social media. Keep in mind that social media is meant to be SOCIAL, which means that in the same way you wouldn’t go to a party and yell out to everyone about your business, you can’t shout to everyone in your social posts either. Focus on your clients and how you serve them by improving their lives. Remember that you are a person, engaging with another person.

    1. Testimonials: share what others have to say about your business
    2. Share your expertise to help your audience by providing free advice and content
    3. Ask your audience a question or get their opinion related to your business
    4. Share a relatable story about how you got where you are or what you do in your business that can inspire others
    5. Share stories about your clients or community
    6. Contests or giveaways for holidays or related to your business
    7. Let an employee takeover your channel for a day
    8. Share behind the scenes posts about how you run your business or make your products

    Ready to get started? Download my Social Media Starter Kit and get you all set up for rocking your digital content. 👉Download it here and be sure to tag me in your posts so I can celebrate you!

    How to tell your business stories and why you should

    Today when it’s easier than ever to reach your exact target audience, digital media gets more crowded every day. The brands that are winning at marketing are no longer necessarily the ones with the biggest coffers. They’re the businesses telling the most authentic, compelling story about what they do. They’re telling stories that stick.

    If you consistently offer a clear, concise and memorable message about your product or service, you’ll stand out in a crowded online marketplace where everyone else is also screaming for attention.

    A brief story

    A story from one of my healthcare clients illustrates the power of a good story. A dietary employee of a residential facility struck up a conversation with a WWII veteran and found out that he had never received the service medal he had been promised. The employee was passionate about veteran’s affairs and reached out to the local Department of Veteran Affairs. A few weeks later, this WWII Navy hero got the recognition he deserved in a ceremony that included veterans riding in on motorcycles and several local news media.

    The miracle here wasn’t that he got his medal after 73 years. It’s that the story made it into the company’s digital marketing. Why? Because stories are happening every day in healthcare businesses, but most of them are never told.

    Create a storytelling culture

    It might sound like a conundrum, but key to getting your business stories told is telling stories. At my healthcare client, we had been telling stories about patients and employees for six months before the dietary employee submitted her own story. And because she did, we were able to send out a press release before the medal ceremony. She felt empowered to submit a story because she had seen that she works for a company that values these individual stories.

    The company stories do more than just stand out in customers’ minds. They make employees feel proud of the place they work and empowered to make a difference. Working in a healthcare cafeteria no longer means just serving or cleaning. It means providing healthy food to help people heal in order to improve their lives. The people who pass through the kitchen become actual people–with real stories and an opportunity for connection.

    How do you start collecting stories? Ask for them. Many businesses, in all industries, instruct their managers to begin every shift asking the group for stories employees would like to share.

    Think you don’t have time for that or it sounds corny? Ritz-Carlton co-founder Horst Schulze doesn’t. He instructed the teams to spend 10 minutes a day collecting stories that reflect company values. The result was that reading and sharing the stories inspired other employees to create their own.

    Questions you can use to collect stories

    You can email your team periodically and ask them for stories about customer satisfaction, exceptional service. Try asking your team the following questions:

    1. Was there a time this week you were especially proud to work here?
    2. Did anything happen that you felt made a big impact in a client’s life?
    3. Did a client or a colleague give you any useful feedback this week?
    4. If you could recognize one colleague for exceptional service, who would it be and why?

    The stories you gather simply by asking for them will build your reputation and create a culture where your employees are proud to work.

    📧 Want to gather stories but don’t have the time? That’s what we do. Let’s talk!

    3 common pitfalls in website copy and how to avoid them

    When it comes to your website copy, you have only about 3-5 seconds to grab the attention of a new visitor. Of course, there are design element that are crucial in making your website optimal for users, but the content is key. Your viewers need to effortlessly understand the product or service you offer and why it is right for them.

    Whether you’re developing a new website this year or reworking your copy, there are three common mistakes small business owners make in homepage website copy. This is especially common among small businesses that offer services.

    Let’s break that down.

    Your website copy must be simple

    It’s a good idea to always assume the visitors to your site are busy, distracted and in a hurry. Because they are. Like it or not, this is the reality for most internet users today, so the onus is on the business owner to grab their attention. What is the service or product you offer? Can your viewer understand that offering without having to think about it? The second a viewer can’t understand what your service is, you’ve lost them. As in, they’ve literally gone from your site and likely won’t return.

    This might seem obvious, but businesses that offer many services can have a hard time summing up what they offer in a simple structure. But, no matter how complicated your services are, you still need one simple brand statement that sums up what you do. That simple statement should appear in big, bold letters above the fold on your site. Check out this starter kit to help you develop your simple statement.

    You can include the details of all your services in other internal pages on your website because there are of course viewers who will want all the information on what you offer. But, keep your website homepage copy really simple for all your new visitors who don’t already know, like and trust you.

    Don’t focus on yourself in your homepage copy

    Take a look at your homepage and make sure it doesn’t read like an “All about me” page. This is especially common if you offer services, like counseling or creative services. Small business owners will start out in business because they are an expert at what they offer, and then their website homepage will read more like a resume.

    Don’t get me wrong, much of this content may be important, but it doesn’t belong on your homepage. Focus instead on what you offer, how people can get it and why they should want your version of it.

    Address the problem your audience has and how you can solve it

    Website visitors typically comes to your site with a need. Your homepage should directly address the problem that they have and explain that you are the perfect business to solve it.

    You can get to the heart of this by putting yourself in your viewers’ mindset. What are the questions they commonly ask you? Where do they start out when you typically first meet them. Your homepage content should speak to them where they are at. Acknowledge the problem they have, let them know you understand it, you’ve seen this before and you can make it better.

    Now, be sure you make it really obvious to the user how they can work with you and benefit from your services. this may seem obvious, but it’s a mistake that small business owners offering services often make.

    Once you simplify your site, focus on your services and your potential audience, you will all set to capture the attention of your audience.

    How to Write a Blog Post in 1 Hour

    Writing is a little like riding a bicycle. 🚲 Bear with me here. 

    If you once knew how to write decent papers in college or documents for a job you once had, you can learn again. You’ll feel completely rusty at first, but you have to just get back on and start writing (or riding?). Take a few turns around the block, literally, to think and then sit down to put your thoughts on paper. 📝 It may not sound perfect at first, but writing is a muscle that improves with time. 

    With practice, a 500-word blog post should only take you about an hour.

    And blogging today is meant to be more informal (my English teachers would have never allowed that “and” at the beginning of this sentence), so don’t get hung up on worrying about grammar and perfect sentence structure. If your grammar is really rusty, though, check out a tool like Grammarly to help you out.

    Why you should start out writing some blog posts

    Why bother? Because only you tell your story really well. You know why you started your small business or are motivated to SHOW UP in your nonprofit. Your target market needs to hear you tell them YOUR why. Even if eventually you hire a writer, having a hand in the writing process at the beginning will set your business up for better success later. You’ll have a sense of what your audience appreciates in blogs on your website and what it takes to get them posted. Then, instead of just handing over the keys of an important asset in your business, you’ll be able to provide guidance and supervision.

    Still not convinced you have time to write? No problem. Hire us, and we’ll do it for you.

    But if you are committed to trying your hand at blogging, here is how you can master this skill in one hour. Give yourself more time at the beginning, while you’re still honing your skill.

    Step-by-step guide to write a blog post in 60 minutes

    Step 1: Before you can even get started writing a blog post, you’ll want to have your idea already formed and written up in a short abstract. You should have done this with a bunch of ideas in bulk by content batching. Read how to do that here.

    Step 2: Add a big, attention-grabbing idea at the top. You likely can pull this from your abstract as well.

    Step 3: Add a numbered or bulleted list that explains your big idea. Having your blog set up in a lists, such as tips or reasons for your big idea, are make blogs easier to read and write. Readers can scan your content better and are more likely to stay on the page if the blog looks useful at first glance.

    Step 4: Research an expert opinion that shows your point is supported by others. You can link directly to that website or article.

    Step 5: Include a call to action for your reader at the conclusion. This might be simply your contact form, a freebie you’re offering or another related blog they can read. Closing with a question for them to comment in the bottom or on social media is a great way to end.

    Step 6: Fill out the information on steps 2-5 into a more robust idea and before you know it, you’ll have a solid blog.

    Once you’ve written your blog post, walk away from it for a few hours or days and then return to edit it with fresh eyes. You’re more likely to catch any careless mistakes this way. You can also hire a proofreader at a really reasonable rate on a site like Fiverr.

    Next up I’ll be posting ways to make your content more engaging, so for now, write on. And ride on. 🚲

    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.

    Oh! And if you still don’t want to write? No problem. Hire us, and we’ll do it for you.