3 ways you can focus now on content creation

Now’s the time to focus on content.

We are seven weeks into social distance life at the time of this writing, and I can’t help but wonder what is everyone waiting for?! Yes, the world and business as we know it has changed, but it’s been nearly two months, and there is only so much time a person can kill watching Netflix.

As business leaders, it’s time to accept our new normal and figure out how to not only survive in it, but also THRIVE. There are already many businesses who have moved past fear and instead are reaching new heights of creativity. Read one example I wrote about last week.

From some industries, customers will delight in new innovations in a changed world, and those businesses at the heart of it will no doubt be better off for it. Already we can say for sure that telemedicine is here to stay, thanks to insurance companies moving quickly to make it happen in these past few weeks. And e-learning is no longer for the early adopters. My kids have teachers who are now rocking the whiteboards and breakout groups of Zoom classroom as well as anybody, when a mere two months ago they were still using overhead projectors. Sorry kids, but you may have seen the last of snow days now that every teacher just needs a device and wifi to teach math.

Build your audience while all eyes are online

But what about those of you who haven’t been able to find a way to responsibly and viably serve your customers right now? To you, I say this: now is the time to focus on content marketing and building your audience. You will never get this time back. When you’re back in the busy days of serving your market, you will wish you hadn’t squandered this opportunity. If you build up your audience now with relevant and supportive content, you will be better positioned to hit the ground running once businesses open up again.

Consider this:

💻Businesses that spent time building their online audience have been better positioned to continue serving them now that business is ONLY happening online
💯Clients who already had a solid presence online have easily leveled up and their audience has responded with encouragement and even gratitude
📈Now when everyone is consuming a lot online, there is tremendous potential for organic growth

3 ways to spend this time focusing on content creation

  1. Focus on your website copy. If you haven’t updated your website in the last 6 weeks, it’s no doubt outdated. Every business needs to prominently address how it’s responding to COVID-19. If you don’t, you risk losing business now and in the future. Once that’s in place, it’s likely your website is also overdue for a makeover. You can start with my guide to write website copy that works.
  2. Focus on your branding. Now is a great time to create a consistent style for your business with some simple Canva templates. No need to hire a whole marketing agency to get it done. Start with this Canva guide to create your designs, colors, fonts and photos.
  3. Build up your social media presence. Succeeding on social media takes time and authenticity. You’ve no doubt got the time now, so use it. Swipe my 50 content ideas to get started.

As a bonus, you know what happens when you stay busy and feel productive? Everything looks a lot more positive. Happy creating, You got this.

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

It’s only been a few 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.

Join our community

Subscribe to get our latest content by email.
    We won’t send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.
    Powered By ConvertKit

    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.

    The Digital Marketing Every Small Business Needs

    Small business marketing used to be simple. Choose a name and logo, print up some business cards and post cards to mail out and place an ad in a newspaper. But, before you long for yesteryear, consider this: today’s digital marketing is far more complex, but it comes with far more opportunity. Your small business with a small budget can reach your exact target market instantly.

    What businesses used to spend in dollars to reach their target market, you can today spend on time reaching your target market.

    Time and money, of course, are limited for small business owners, so make sure the time and money you invest in digital marketing is well spent.

    The problem you’re more likely to face today is not the cost of marketing, it’s figuring out a formula for your digital marketing and conquering the technology to get it done. Making sure you have a strong online presence is a basic element of doing business today. It’s the equivalent of an “OPEN” sign on the door of a storefront. Your job is to find out where your customers spend time online and make sure you’re spending time there with them.

    How to get started with digital marketing

    Here’s the basics of what every business needs to get started with online marketing.

    1. A functional website
    2. Weekly content updates on your website
    3. Daily social media content
    4. Email marketing

    Now, let’s break that down.

    Website basics

    A functional website means that your website is only 3-4 years old at most. Unless you work in e-commerce, most small business websites can be simple and cost effective. Keeping your site up to date with current digital marketing best practices will not only make your business look professional, but it will also save you time. The older your site is, the harder you will have to work in the backend to get the most out of it.

    You’ll also need an SEO (search engine optimization) audit and optimization. This is work you need to do on the backend of your site to make sure that your target market in your area finds you online when they are searching. It’s the technical side of how websites improve their ranking on sites like Google.

    Digital marketing content basics

    Once you have your website set up, it’s a working asset. You’ll need to regularly post new content to your site so that you drive traffic to your website, stay top of mind for your target marketing and continue to improve your search engine ranking. Content can come in the form of a blog, a podcast or videos. All of them work well, so the choice is yours. It will depend on what is easiest for you and how your audience tends to consume content. For example, if you’re trying to reach young men, videos on YouTube and then embedded on your site might make the most sense. Or if you love giving advice and chatting, a podcast might be really doable for you. What’s important is that you choose your medium and be consistent.

    Daily social media content

    Social media is the next layer of a robust digital marketing plan because this is how you can promote your content, your website and your brand story. Social media is the public marketplace of today, and like it or not, every seller needs to show up. You don’t have to focus on every channel, but figure out what your audience prefers and make sure you are there joining the conversation. Better yet, create great content to drive the conversation. Posts on each social media channel have a different lifespan and you’ll need to post regularly to stay relevant in that space. We’ll talk about each channel separately here in future blog posts.

    Email marketing

    What’s that you say? You day email marketing is dead? Think again. Consider these stats from Wordstream:

    • 80% of retail professionals indicate that email marketing is their greatest driver of customer retention
    • Email is the third most influential source of information for B2B audiences, behind only colleague recommendations and industry-specific thought leaders.

    It’s true that no one wants your email newsletter, unless you’re sending out awesome deals and great buys to customers who want it. But there are better ways to do email marketing, and we’ll talk about them in an upcoming blog post.

    Be patient

    The most important part of your digital marketing plan is to be patient. Your online presence is built brick by brick, and it’s not all or nothing. What’s great about digital marketing is that it’s easy to make changes later on as you adjust your plan or gain more wisdom. Start at the beginning and keep pushing forward. And when you have a question, send it our way. We always write back.

    Join our digital marketing group on Facebook for digital marketing tips, tricks and to find answers to all your qs.