Are you starting to wonder if your business will ever make money?
We have all been there. You spend all your time working on your business, marketing it, following all the advice of experts - and yet you still have tumbleweed's blowing through your bank account. Even if your main reason for running your business isn't to generate wads of cash, we all know that a healthy bank balance makes you feel good. No money coming in knocks your confidence.
I'm going to share my story, warts and all.
In 2011 I sold a PR business that I had set up five years before. I sold it for one year's turnover. It wasn't a fortune, but it was a five figure sum. Given the business was - in essence - just me, my client roster and contacts lists, it was a good figure.
Almost exactly a year ago, having had several years off, I decided to start freelancing again. I set myself up as Melissa Talago - freelance writer and marketer. My old clients gave me some copywriting work, but basically I was going nowhere fast. I knew why. I didn't have a USP or a defined target market or a clear set of products or messages. After limping along for about 4 months, I decided I needed to change things. I had a series of lightbulb moments and I came up with the idea of Campfire Communications.
I spent all of last August creating an online PR course, a new website, new packages. I started getting super active in networking groups - both online and face to face. I launched in October.
And nothing happened.
Well not nothing, I had a few clients come in, but it was slow. A trickle. I continued to promote, promote, promote. And still nothing substantial really happened. I started to feel deflated. I probably felt more deflated than the average person because I kept telling myself: 'You are meant to be good at promoting people and if you can't do it for yourself, how can you do it for others? You are a fraud.'
The negative talk track in your head when you run your own business is a bitch.
So I ignored that negative voice and kept on trucking. I also did a few brave things. I set up a couple of webinars. I set up a few face to face events. I had no idea if anyone would come along to any of them. I decided to delete the very expensive website I had paid for as it wasn't working for me and I created a brand new one by myself. And I kept on doing the promoting and marketing.
Last week I decided that as it was almost a year since I had officially started working, even though Campfire had only been running for 6 months, it was time to do my accounts. Yes. Seriously. I had not done them once in a year. I had so little money coming in that I honestly didn't feel it was necessary. However, I did have quite a lot going out that needed sorting out.
I spent a full day doing my accounts. I ended up with a graph that looked like this:
And I thought - that looks healthy. It's growing! Then I added up my earnings for March. And I realised that in a single month, I had earned enough to pay for our family holiday to Namibia that we're having later this year.
It's a though I had turned a corner. All my months of hard work promoting my business and being brave was finally paying off. I know that I can't stop now. I know I will have other bad months. I know that promotion is an ongoing thing. You have to keep on keeping on. But when you do, you will be rewarded.
Why am I sharing this with you?
Because I know how disheartening it is when you are trying everything that the experts tell you to do and nothing seems to be working. Take heart. Nothing happens instantly. For some people, what I have earned this month will be a pipe dream. For others, it will be a seriously bad month. Don't compare yourself to others. Don't lose heart. Don't give up. It takes time to grow a business. There is seldom overnight success. Success comes to those who keep believing in themselves and don't stop.
I hope that my sharing this story has inspired you in some way or at least given you the determination to keep going. Speaking of inspiration, I was invited to talk to Steve Twynham for his Be Happy radio show in which he shares inspiring stories. I was flattered he thought I was inspiring. So thank you Steve. You can listen to it here.
Leave me your comments below.
Press releases are simple (some may say old-fashioned) tools for communicating news to the press. Just google 'Are press releases dead' and see how many conflicting opinions come up. There are hundreds of articles either claiming that press releases are dead, or that they're not. The loudest of these opinion-givers tend to come from the US.
Now I used to work the USA. (I've also worked in South Africa and the UK). Press releases in America make you want to reach for a spoon and gouge out your eyeballs. They are dry, stuffed with corporate speak and invariably include the phrase that someone high up in the company is 'delighted' about something. They are almost nonsensical to read. But they form part of a company's press office and SEO strategy. It's not surprising people are claiming that they're dead, when social media demands far more interesting, immediate and shareable content than a dry stuffy press release.
But it appears that google just gave press releases a new lease of life
According to this article by Reuters, Google has changed the way it selects search results, which means that company statements can go to the top of the list of news links shown in the 'In the News' section.
According to Reuters: 'Previously, only links to stories on approved news sites such as those of newspapers and TV stations appeared in this section of the main search page.'
The Google spokesperson is quoted as saying: 'The goal of search is to get users the right answer at any one time as quickly as possible -- that may mean returning an article from an established publisher or from a smaller niche publisher or indeed it might be a press release.'
They also confirmed that they are not getting paid for putting press releases at the top of the list. This change happened back in September but hasn't really been noticed until recent high profile announcements showed press releases at the top of the 'In the news' Google listings.
What does this mean for small businesses?
While this news may upset some publishers who could lose potential readers, for small businesses, it is brilliant news. If you can create a strong press release with good content about topical issues, there is nothing stopping your news appearing at the top of the Google news listings if you post it publicly either on a wire service or your website. This doesn't mean you should stop trying to get publications to cover your news or give up working with journalists. An external site running your news will boost your credibility massively. But this is a great way for small businesses to have their 'owned' news seen.
It means press releases can and should still be part of your PR strategy.
But as far as I'm concerned, even without this Google news, I've never believed press releases were dead.
I have always written press releases the way I was taught to - inverted pyramid with the five Ws and H in the opening paragraph. More importantly, I've written them as though actual human beings were reading them. You can still give facts without fluff while using interesting language, which is where the 'traditional' press release goes wrong.
To me, press releases convey the nub of a news story effectively. Sometimes they are used verbatim (good for search engines). Sometimes they merely serve as background and as a credibility builder when pitching a story idea to a journalist.
I think in the UK at least, they are still a relevant PR tool. A few weeks ago at a Meet the Media event, I asked the journalists there whether they felt press releases still had a place. The journalists running an online, blog-style title were less keen. They wanted content they could cut, paste, tweak and share fast. It needed to be written in a blog style, not a press release style. Makes sense.
But the print newspapers, freelancers writing for nationals and radio journalists - in other words, traditional media - all agreed that press releases were still very useful if they are written well.
So to sum up: Keep writing press releases. Keep writing them well. Keep using them wisely.
Want to learn how to write your own press releases? Look at Publicity for Solopreneurs
The theme for International Women's Day 2015 was: Make it Happen. So I am going to tell you a story about how I made it happen, with advice for other women in the same situation:
Eleven years ago I worked for a global PR company. I'd spent six years with them, moving from South Africa, to Boston, to New York to London. It was an amazing experience. My career was soaring.
Then I became pregnant.
I asked if I could return to my job on a flexible or a work-from-home basis as I lived over an hour from the office. The hours in a PR company are notoriously long and late. Continuing to work the way I had been with a baby just wasn't going to be possible. I was told that there was only one option available to me: to be the client lead on the biggest account in the company. So no, working remotely or with flexible hours wasn't an option.
I was torn. I'd loved this company, but I had no family in the country to help with childcare. My husband earned more than I did so it didn't make sense for him to give up his job to look after our baby. And besides, I wanted to see this little person I had carried for nine months. While on maternity leave, I was still mulling over what I should do when I received an email that was sent to the management team (which included me). The org chart shown in the email had me written out of the company. I simply wasn't included. They had already assumed that I wouldn't be going back.
I could have sued. But I didn't. Loyalty to the company stopped me.
I realised that the only way forward was for me to work for myself. So I did. I started up as a freelance PR person, selling my time back to the same company for double the amount of money. Irony.
Then I had my second baby. When he was five months old, going through weaning, I thought I'd quit PR and try to make baby food for a living. I quickly realised that it was a red tape minefield, so I binned the idea. But while doing my research, I came across a baby food company who I felt could do a better job reaching mums. I wrote an email to the founder of the company and told her that. She invited me in to see her. I went to the meeting with my baby. No-one batted an eyelid. That would have been unthinkable in my previous job.
She hired me.
It then hit me that I could choose who I wanted to work with. I didn't have to stick with technology PR that I had done for years, working for big corporate brands who didn't care if I had a sick child to take care of. I could work for companies run by other women. People who got it, who knew what it was like to juggle.
So I set up a PR company specialising in the parenting sector. All of my clients were mothers who had spotted a gap in the baby market. We used to schedule client calls around nap times, and I used my own experiences as a mother to truly understand my clients' target markets. I absolutely loved the freedom, flexibility and control I had over my life.
But it wasn't all good. The amount of money I earned halved from my old job. There were times it was very hard, lonely and frustrating. There was no team to learn from. I was responsible for everything. But it was the only alternative that worked for me.
After five years, I sold the business. I sold something that I had created out of nothing, something that had come about as a result of a single email to a company. I didn't sell it for a fortune. It wasn't going to keep me in luxury holidays for the rest of my life. But I had created something that had a value that someone else was willing to pay for. And that is pretty cool.
Now I have set up Campfire Communications, another venture that supports women entrepreneurs. I also work with men. I don't discriminate. But most of my clients are women.
And I love that. So many women have been forced to step off the career ladder due to uncompromising workplace policies (not to mention the frustration of gender pay disparities that still exist). There have been huge leaps forward with many big businesses now trying to be more flexible in their approach. But for many women, self-employment is still the most manageable solution.
The problem is, these same women have their confidence knocked when they start up on their own. They doubt themselves even though they are eminently capable. Women often belittle what they do when asked what they do for a living. 'Oh, I just run a little business' or 'I just work for myself.' We are by nature more risk averse, more conservative, more modest.
These women suddenly have to become masters of many skills they never had to know before like marketing, IT, legal and finance. They lose the social interaction of their previous workplace. They tend to earn less - certainly in the start up phase, which can go on for several years. They see colleagues once more junior to them, now several rungs higher up the career ladder than they were. And despite feeling less confident than ever, they have to be brave and invest and put themselves out there.
It's not an easy path. And I do wish more women felt that they could be supported in their existing career rather than have to be self-employed.
That said, when I look at all of the women I work with, I think: You ladies are making it happen. You are taking ownership of your lives. You are creating your own employment, your own income, your own flexible hours based on your terms. You are incredible. You are the silent force underpinning the economy, while looking after children or parents or other responsibilities.
Do not underestimate how incredible that is. Never belittle it. Be proud. Damn proud.
So my advice this International Women's Day:
If you are a woman thinking about starting up a business, make it happen. Don't wait for it to be perfect. Stop doubting yourself. Just do it and you will be amazed at what you can achieve.
If you are a women already running a business, make it happen. Stop holding back. Stop being afraid. Afraid to invest. Afraid to put yourself out there. Afraid to try something new in case it doesn't work. Just do it and you will be amazed at what you can achieve.
And if I can help you make it happen, I will.