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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    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.