A year ago I wrote this blog about the things I'd learned in my first year of business. Well this week heralds my second business anniversary. So I thought I'd share my learnings from year two. It could be summed up quite simply as -
Here are my learnings:
You have to be brave
In the last year I have launched a new service called Ignite, that took me into the world of design and website building, not my core skillset. I also launched an online course that dropped kicked me so far out of my comfort zone I could scarcely remember where I used to be. And I ran my first ever weekend-long retreat, something I had zero experience in doing. I spoke in front of 30 people. I raised my prices. I said no to clients I didn't want to work with.
All of these things took guts. But the old saying of you can't make an omelette unless you crack a few eggs is true. Doing new things is scary. Putting yourself out in front of others who may judge you is scary. Creating a product that you think will work but you won't really know until you try is scary. Raising your prices and saying no - both scary. In fact there is so much to be scared about it's a wonder any businesses ever thrive.
But I've learnt that you just have to try. If you fail, you've learnt something. And if you succeed, you've succeeded. So you can't ever really fail. You'll always get something out of it.
You have to believe in yourself
I have suffered from a lack of belief and low self-esteem for as long as I can remember. But this year, I decided to start off every day doing four things (as I wrote in this post). One day I literally sent myself a post card that said: I am enough. I stuck it on my office wall and every time one of those aforementioned scary things came up and the self doubt pixies starting pounding my brain, I'd say out loud: I am enough. And you know what? Gradually I started to believe it.
We all compare ourselves to others. It is exceptionally difficult not to. At my recent Campfire Retreat we all had to say one thing that was holding us back, and so many people around that campfire all said the same thing: We're not good enough.
Well sod that. We bloody well are. This has been a major turning point for me this year and while those pesky pixies still linger, I can ignore them more easily now.
You have to constantly learn
When you work in a big company, you get sent on all sorts of professional development courses. When you work on your own, you don't. It's up to you to keep on learning. Do you know what the best way to learn is? By doing.
This year I have learnt how to create a course from start to finish, including the complicated back end membership systems and payment thingies and building the website and how to market it using sales funnels and email automation. And that's just one new product of several I have created this year. To grow, you have to be willing to learn.
You have to outsource
Now I've just said you have to learn, but you also need to outsource. Sometimes other people are just better at stuff than you are. And if there is something that is going to take you weeks and weeks to do and not do well, then outsource it. This year I outsourced design, some website building, email automation & other tech bits to a VA, and my Facebook advertising. I can do all of these things - because I've learnt how. But I know that other people can do them better and I can learn from them as I go along, while freeing up my time.
You have to make connections
I don't really like networking, entering a room of people I don't know and trying to make conversation. But it is through networking that I met the person who helped me get my retreat off the ground. It helped me meet a designer who I could team up with on my Ignite package. And it's opened up a few speaking opportunities for me. I've also really worked hard at making connections with the press for my own business. As a result, I now have a lovely roster of press coverage and contacts I can turn to when I have a story.
Sure you can stay hiding away behind your screen, but I refer you to point one above. You have to be brave. Get yourself out there. Everyone else is feeling the same way. Just be yourself, be helpful rather than salesy and people will be drawn to you. You never know who you might meet and what direction it could take your business in.
You have to invest
When you first start out you try to spend as little money as possible a) because you don't have any and b) because what you're selling isn't proven yet so it's a bigger risk. But there will come a point where you need to invest, whether that's in outsourced help; paying for a course or training or coach of some kind; in a new website or Facebook advertising or whatever.
The old adage of 'you have to spend money to make money' is kinda true. You don't have to break the bank. But think carefully about the help you need and then invest in that. Keep an eye on your profitability but be prepared to make a loss or just break even at first. Remember, not everything you gain is monetary. Often it's the experience and learning that is where the real gain lies.
You have to keep refining your offer - but keep your brand story consistent
Two years in and I'm still reshaping what it is I actually offer. It is a work in progress. It probably always will be. But what has stayed true is my commitment to my brand story - the concept of the Campfire - the sense of adventure and freedom that comes with that. I'm getting clearer and clearer on my vision and purpose. It's evolving and stretching with me.
When Steve Jobs brought out the first iphone, do you think he decided not to because in the future there would be better versions? Nope. Same goes for your business. Just start. Refine and learn as you go. Tweak it. Sculpt it. Improve it. But do it.
You have to be true to you
It is so easy to get sucked into what everyone else is doing. In the online PR world, for example, almost all of my competitors are hugely feminine in their branding. Flat lay images and inspiring desk spaces with pretty flowers abound. But I'm not a pretty, pink, flowers and high heels person. I wear boots. And jeans and I like going outdoors and cutting to the chase. But the minute you try and copy someone else's style, you lose you. And YOU are what makes your business different and valuable. So figure out who you are and stick with that.
I'm sure there is a whole bunch more I have learnt this year but these are the things that came to mind first. All of them have stretched me. But the good thing about getting stretched (as my Yogabomb friend Lou will know), is you become more flexible, stronger, lean and supple. And that's the kind of business that succeeds.
Were these lessons helpful? What lessons have you learnt? Share them with me below or pop over to my Facebook page. And if you feel you need some help to get clear on where you want to take your business, do check out my new Clarity package, Copy & Canvas Package or try my new Campfire Marketing coach-sulting package.
Onwards! Here's to year 3.
This morning I watched Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan do something extraordinary. They set out a vision: to cure, prevent or manage all diseases by 2100.
To do this, they were giving $3 billion to fund medical research over the next decade. Their three-pronged plan aims to:
As I watched, I just kept thinking: 'Wow'.
Once upon a time there was a very bright chap who decided to create a website that connected university friends. And that went on to become Facebook which now connects 1.7 billion people across the planet. And then using the money he made from that he set up an initiative with his wife to invest in improved education. And when that wasn't enough, they set out to eradicate disease. He's 32.
There's achieving success. And then there's that. It can make you feel fairly paltry in comparison.
I took a lot of learnings away from watching their Facebook Live address - like how this is a seismic shift in corporate philanthropy, and how this interconnected generation has the possibility to become ever more humane while living in an increasingly technological world. It gave me an immense amount of optimism for the type of world my own children will inherit - and made me want to remind them to finish their science homework.
But it also gave me pause for thought in terms of my own vision. When I work with clients on their brand story, I ask them what their vision is. What do they bring to the world? How is the world a better place for their being here?
And those are really big questions. Because as much as we may like to, there are very few Zuckerbergs. Most of us will have far smaller visions, a far less significant impact on the world. But that doesn't make them any less important.
It can be hard to know what your vision is. It can feel forced, as though you ought to have a big vision, rather than just doing what you do because it's what you enjoy or what you're good at. It's easy to claim to have a vision, but if you don't back it up with tangible actions, is it more of a pipe dream rather than something achievable.
I seriously doubt that when Mark Zuckerberg started out with his original idea, he had aspirations to stop all diseases within a generation. But his vision has grown as his business has.
Yours can too. But you first need to identify what your current vision is. Do you have one? Here are some questions you can answer to help you figure out what your vision is:
If you still aren't sure what your vision is, start with your values. Your values are the things that you really, truly believe in. They are the things that you rant about. The rules you live by. The stuff you do every day without thinking about because it's just part of who you are. So think about that - what do you really value? Once you know that, you'll start to get a sense of what you could change in this world. And that will give you your vision.
Here's an example using my business:
I believe that you only have on life to live and that you should be able to live it on your terms. I believe everyone deserves work life balance. I believe in entrepreneurship for everyone who desires it. I believe in honesty, over delivering, having a relaxed approach to business, in freedom.
These are my values. Which have helped me shape my vision:
To help small business owners create a business that is perfect for them.
My vision is tiny when compared to the likes of Mark Zuckerberg. But that's ok. As long as I keep delivering on my vision - and as long as you deliver on yours - collectively, we can all work towards a better world. And that's a nice thought.
It you want help figuring out your brand story, get in touch. Or take a look at my Clarity package, in which I help you get clear on issues like this.
What's your vision? Leave me a comment and tell me.
I just ran my first ever retreat!
Since starting Campfire Communications I have wanted to sit around an actual campfire with small business owners and share their stories. This weekend I did exactly that with my Campfire Storytelling Retreat. It was bloody marvellous. So I thought I'd share what I did to turn this dream into a reality - just in case you have dreams of running a retreat too.
Step 1: Have a super clear vision
I knew that I wanted to have small business owners sitting around a campfire. I knew how I wanted it to feel (relaxed, adventurous, inspiring) and what I wanted it to look like (beautiful, natural). I knew how it would make people feel (less alone, motivated, connected, happy, empowered). It was this vision that helped me plan out everything else. So get clear on your vision first.
Step 2: Get clear on who you want there
Before I started plotting what I actually wanted to include in the retreat, I got really clear on who would want to come along. In short, it was people like me. Small business owners who at times feel a bit lost or overwhelmed, who love being outdoors, who need a break from the isolation of working on their own, who want some direction and who enjoy a glass of wine and toasted marshmallows. Create an avatar of the person you imagine would come on your retreat.
Step 3: Plot out what you will offer
Once you know who is likely to come along, it is far easier to create a retreat programme that works. I simply imagined what I would want on a retreat - how much down time would I like, how much learning time, what type of content - and plotted out the itinerary based on that. I knew I needed a mix of solid learning content, with time for networking, time in nature and time to just chill out.
Step 4: Find a venue
Your venue helps to set the scene for your retreat. Take into account:
- where are your ideal clients based?
- is it easy to get to?
- does it reflect your vibe/brand feel?
- can you make it work budget-wise?
- does it have the facilities you need?
- can rooms be booked as singles (as people who don't know each other prefer to stay in their own rooms)?
My venue was dictated by step 5 - but luckily, it ticked all the boxes.
Step 5: Find someone who can help you
The thing that held me back was knowing how to make it happen logistically and finding a venue that would work. A chance meeting introduced me to someone who organises outdoor retreats. Hayley of Wild Goose has an existing relationship with a hotel that lets her set up campfires in their grounds. This meant we had a venue and she could manage all the logistical bits for me - like securing the hotel, setting up the campfire area and running the campfire activities. Plus she has the public liability insurance in case any fire related accidents take place. If you have a venue in mind, speak to them to see if they have an events manager who can help you or find an external events organiser to support you.
It's also important to have someone on site to help you during the retreat because running workshops and managing all the logistics on your own is almost impossible.
Step 6: Choose a date
This is really tricky. Obviously your venue needs to have availability, but you also need to factor in seasonality, whether it's during school holidays, whether it's a weekend or week day thing. You will never suit everyone. So choose a date that you think will work for your ideal attendees and stick with it.
Step 7: Team up and trade
I teamed up with a friend Lou Harrand who runs yoga to deliver the yoga for my retreat. In exchange, she got to attend the retreat and only had to pay for her hotel costs. I also traded with a photographer Suzanne Nichol who agreed to photograph the entire weekend in exchange for attending for free. It meant I had a professional photographer and yoga instructor for very little outlay, helping me keep costs down, while they (as small business owners) benefitted from the content and connections.
Step 8: Market it
I created a page on my website dedicated to the retreat, which painted an enticing and very clear image of what the retreat would be like. I promoted it via my social media - particularly in Facebook groups in which I knew my ideal clients could be found. I invested a small budget in Facebook ads and promoted it via my newsletter to my mailing list. Lastly, I created a press release with an angle about the pressure small business owners feel and the need to escape and connect with others - and put it out. It ran in the Yorkshire Post, Huffington Post and on Working Mums.
Step 9: Pricing and booking systems
Knowing what to charge was a challenge. I wanted it to be affordable but equally it needed to make me some money. After polling people for their thoughts, I decided to set the price just below £500. This covered the cost of their accommodation, all meals and all the content. I think it was exceptional value given the amount of content and activities that were included. This was reflected in the feedback from the attendees too. I may increase the price slightly for future retreats - but as it was my first retreat, I was happy to keep it priced lower rather than going for maximum profits and not delivering!
I looked at a number of booking systems and the bottomline is that they all charge a fee. I opted for eventbee.com as it had a flat fee per booking rather than a % fee. You can incorporate the cost of this fee into your pricing if you want to recoup some of the costs.
Step 10: Build excitement
Once people had booked onto the retreat, I sent them a hand written postcard and little gift of matches and marshmallows as a thank you and to get them into the spirit of the retreat. So think about how you can reward people who book onto your retreat and get them excited. Reinforce why they made a good decision to book.
Step 11: Create your retreat content and itinerary
You need to deliver on what your sales page offered, so take your time to create great course content. Think about what your retreat promise is - mine included learning and workshops so I had to ensure that I delivered that. Also spend time planning out the non-workshop activities, imagining how they will play out. Leave room for flexibility and downtime. People don't want every minute of their day prescribed for them. Send attendees the itinerary in advance so they know what to expect.
Step 12: Finalise all details
The week before your retreat, make sure all final details and payments have been made with the venue. Talk through the retreat programme with anyone who is helping you to ensure you're working from the same page. When I sent out the itinerary to delegates, I included a packing list, map and helpful links to make it as simple as possible for them. Print off hand outs and ensure you have any other equipment or materials ready. Consider having things like health & safety forms and photography acceptance forms ready.
Step 13: Run it!
Get to your retreat venue in advance. Make sure you familiarise yourself with where everything is and have everything set up in good time. Welcome your guests as they arrive and possibly leave an itinerary or little gift in their rooms as a surprise. Be clear about where people should meet and when. Try to stick to your itinerary and timings as much as possible to keep it on track and to ensure that people get what they pay for. But have some flexibility for things that may crop up. Be available, friendly, open and honest throughout the retreat. Be prepared to be exhausted by the end of it! Don't forget to hand out feedback forms and ask for testimonials.
Step 14: Follow up
After a retreat you will have established a deep connection with the attendees so be sure to follow up with a thank you. Create a way for them to stay in touch - whether that's through a private group, a whatsapp group or just sharing of contact details. Use their feedback to tweak future retreats and as testimonials.
That's it! It was hard work but not nearly as difficult as I'd imagined and now that I've done one, all future retreats will be much easier as I simply have to replicate and tweak what I've already done.
If you are interested in attending a future Campfire Storytelling Retreat, add your name to this list.
Feedback from the retreat'Thank you for the awe inspiring retreat. Its unique setting - outside around the campfire - empowered me to be truthful and more forward with my PR strategy. I highly recommend this to any entrepreneur.'
'It has given me a deeper insight into what I am really doing. It's connected me with my real purpose.'
'A fabulous retreat which gave me some amazing tips and ideas to grow my business as well as getting back to nature, meeting like minded people and finding my zen.'
'Fab weekend, Beautiful Setting, SO much information with knowledge to deliver! This was your 1st of many! Great investment time & money! Thank you for putting it all together! Loved it and would recommend it! Feeling invigorated and very motivated!'
'Absolutely loved it! Thanks so much for a fantastically enjoyable, useful and thought provoking weekend.'
'Bloomin brilliant you PR and brand guru .....learnt lots about how to brand and promote my business with solid strategies and even more ideas!'
And how did it make them feel?
I could not be happier with how it went. If I can do it, you can too. Don't let fear stop you. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments. Book your spot on the next one here.
You wake up. It's early. 5.30am. You should be sleeping but something nudged you from sleep to consciousness and your brain has fired straight into thinking mode. It starts with a simple, 'What do I have on today?' and within ten seconds, your mind is skipping through a field of worries, ideas and business related thoughts.
You should of course, shut your eyes, breathe deeply, focus on gratitude. But you don't. You pick up your phone or ipad and decide that there's something really important you need to check out. You head to your preferred social feed, or email, or possibly the news. You read something that triggers some insecurity or idea. Either way, this is the cattle prod that gets you leaping out of bed. You may spend the day buzzing with energy or beating yourself up with 'I'm not good enough' thoughts.
Whichever it is, your mind never stops. You are an entrepreneur.
I had one of those mornings today. Sadly, it wasn't the upbeat kind. I saw something on someone's website that was a really clever idea. But instead of feeling inspired by it, I felt less than. 'Why hadn't I thought of that?' 'Why does everyone else seem to be three steps ahead of me?' 'Am I creative at all if all of these people seem to have better ideas than me?' 'Am I even capable of having an original thought when there are so many people all trying to be original and different?' 'How do I make my mark when it feels like it's all been done before?'
And then my lovely husband brought me coffee and I told him how I was feeling. The poor man is very used to the mental rollercoaster I board every day as a solopreneur. He simply said this:
"Albert Einstein once said: 'If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.' You don't have to have all the original ideas. Just because someone else has done it doesn't mean you can't improve upon it."
And with that he left me alone with my coffee and my thoughts.
The internet has made it easier than ever to set up and run a business. The problem is, millions of other people are doing it too. It can feel as though it's all been done before and you get put off before you even get started, particularly when those other people seem to have it all sussed out and you feel like you're just starting.
If this sounds familiar, here are some tips to navigate self-sabotage and comparison-itis:
I created Campfire Communications to help other small business owners achieve their definition of success, however that may look. I help you find your brand story, write it and teach you how to share it with the world. But more importantly, I want to provide a virtual campfire you can sit around to share your thoughts, questions, highs and lows. I currently do this on my Facebook page, but I'm thinking about turning this into a membership group and would love to get your thoughts on whether this would appeal to you.
If you're able to take my short survey on this, please do. I want to create a space that works for people like you.
For now, keep going. You're doing great.