There are many scary things you will face as a small business. Here are just a few:
For today, I want to focus on the fear of communications, specifically the five fears that are probably affecting your ability to communicate and what you can do about that.
1. Fear of 'communications'
Let's start at the beginning. A lot of people actually get a glazed look when I say 'communications'. What is that? It sounds vague. You might be afraid to even lift the lid off that can of worms, preferring to stay blissfully ignorant. For others, you know it includes things like social media, blogs, newsletters, PR, webinars etc. But you don't really know what they are or how they work or which you should be doing or why. And that can result in you either doing nothing or trying to do it all and not doing a particularly good job. You might find yourself signing up to every free (or not free) course going to learn more about these things. You're desperate not to get left behind so you clutch onto every passing offer to help alleviate your fear. You can end up feeling even more fearful than before you started.
Breathe. I want to help you get over this fear of the term 'communications'.
Communications is any way in which you communicate with your target market. That could be a telephone call, at a networking event, via social media like Facebook and Twitter, through a blog or customer newsletter, or getting your story out to the media, writing articles or great web copy, or running teleseminars, webinars and hangouts. Stop thinking about it as a fancy technical term that you need to learn all about. Start thinking about it as 'talking to customers'. It doesn't matter which of the tools you choose, communications is simply about talking to your customers. Not so scary right?
2. Fear of speaking to customers
Oh. Perhaps it is still scary if you are actually scared of speaking to your customers. In which case, you need to ask yourself why you are scared. Is it because you don't feel you know enough? Are you worried they won't like what you say? Do you feel like a fraud? Are you scared of coming over like a salesy salesperson? Do you not actually know what you want to say?
Breathe. Here's how to get over this fear of talking to customers.
Start by figuring out what it is you actually do, what problem you solve for customers and who those customers are. You don't have to be an expert. You don't have to know EVERYTHING. You just have to know who you can help, why and how. Once you've got that figured out, talking to them becomes easy. Still not sure? What do you find yourself advising people all the time? When do you feel most confident talking to people? Focus on those things. Don't see customers as customers. See them as a people with a problem that you can help them with. Nothing too scary about that.
3. Fear of not knowing what to say
So you know what communications is and you know what problem you solve for which customers. But you have no idea what to actually say. Where do you start? Who will listen? Your mind is blank. This is a simple fear to overcome.
Put yourself in the shoes of your customer. What issues are they facing? Do you know how to solve that issue? Voila! You have just got your first bit of content to communicate with them. Go from there. What else are they experiencing? How else can you help? What is happening in the world that you can comment on? It's like making small talk at a party. You might start off unsure of what to say, but once the communication starts flowing, new subjects crop up. So just get started. One foot in front of the other and soon it'll be hard to shut you up.
4. Fear of getting it wrong
What if you put something out there in a blog or social media post or newsletter or press release and someone disagrees with you? What if you get the etiquette wrong? What if you really don't know how to use the technology? What if you give an opinion that is controversial and disliked? What if you don't have a fixed opinion?
Take another breath.
First of all, have a little think about just how big the wide world is, how many people are out their trying to communicate at the same time, how many Facebook and Twitter users there are, how many newsletters are sent out daily, how many magazines, newspapers and news sites there are. Now unless you do something extremely bad (think murder, racial slurs, seriously inappropriate comments) most of what you say will get lost in the ether. So if you make a few mistakes while you are starting out, trust me, no-one will know or remember. You might think, well why bother then? Because people - those customers who matter - will remember you when you consistently feed them good stuff. My point is, if you make the odd mistake in the beginning, who cares! Learn from it, even talk about how you made a mistake and what you learned from it. Be humble and human and people will understand. And remember, if someone disagrees with you, well good for you. It means you've reached someone. Enter the debate. You never know where it might lead.
Think of it this way: You know that feeling just before you jump into a swimming pool that you know is cold? You don't want to get in. You put a toe in and yank it out. You slowly creep in, one step at a time. It takes ages as you gradually adjust to the water. Eventually you're in the pool, but by then everyone else is already having cocktails at the bar. The alternate way is to just dive right in, deal with the shock but get swimming far more quickly. Just take the plunge!
5. Fear of being successful
This might seem odd. Why would anyone be afraid of success? But the truth is, success can bring more responsibility, more pressure, more commitment. Let's say you make cupcakes from your home kitchen. A local papers tries them, loves them, raves about them and before you know it you have a queue of people wanting your cupcakes. You don't know how to handle the demand and go into meltdown. So you decide it's safer not to do any of this communication malarkey in case it gets out of control.
Trust me, that is a nice problem to have. That said, growth can be scary. But remember why you set your business up in the first place. What was your motivation? Even if you only set up your business as a hobby with no intention of turning it into a major enterprise, ask yourself: why shouldn't I? Success doesn't mean having to do it all on your own. It just means you need to alter your goalposts. If your communication gives you growth, that is worthy of a high five. Embrace it. Be proud, hang on tight and keep communicating.
So my Halloween challenge to you is to get over any communications fears you may have. Still feeling fearful? Then ask questions below or jump onto my Facebook page where you are welcome to have a chat with me. Or simply give me a call. I am not scary. I can help you figure out what you should be saying, the best way to say it and help you come up with what to say. You're not in this alone. I'm here to hold your hand and make this journey less frightening.
Here are ten steps to creating a communications plan:
It's worth noting that plans do change. Particularly with social media, you need to be able to react to news and breaking events as they happen, but if you have an outline plan in place, you have a good, solid foundation to start telling your business story from day 1.
Take a look at my Campfire Marketing Coach-sulting Package if you want help creating a plan together.
Feel free to ask any questions about planning in the comments section below.
Both my husband and I work in PR. He works with global companies with huge budgets and highly qualified marketing teams. I work with small businesses and solopreneurs who aren't marketers.
Jargon and terminology makes sense in the context of my husband's work. He is talking to other communications professionals.
I, on the other hand, am talking to people like you who run book shops or B&Bs or children's swim classes. You know about books, letting rooms and getting nervous kids into a pool.
You may not know what the terms owned vs earned media mean. Why should you? You don't spend your days reading blogs and magazines on the latest communication trends. If you have the time to read trade magazines at all, you'll be reading about your industry, not the PR industry.
You know you need to promote your business. You know there is this 'social media thing' and you want to 'get into the local paper' and you've been told you need 'a blog'. But where to start? Just this week I was asked: 'but what are you meant to write about on a blog and why do I need one?' And I've been mulling that over. Because the answer is different for each company.
So when I saw this free ebook on The Business of Blogging by Stephen Waddington, I thought, perhaps I could share that with you small businesses and solopreneurs who need help understanding this blogging thing.
It's a reasonably quick read, a series of blog posts from communications experts. Feel free to read it. But I realised that for the most part, my kind of clients - people like you - aren't going to invest the time to read it. It's too much to take in. It's like eating an entire chocolate cake when all you wanted was a small sliver. There is too much communication about communication. But there are a few very important points I have extracted, which I'd love you small businesses and solopreneurs to take heed of.
Here is my translated version on why you need to blog:
Blogging is the foundation for all your other online marketing
From the ebook: 'Blogging is even more ideal now that content and brand publishing has become the price of entry for even the most basic of digital marketing efforts.' Lee Odden @leeodden
My translation: You only get 140 characters on Twitter, a few sentences on Facebook, a picture on Pinterest or Instagram. With a blog, you don't have to wait for a website to run an article about you or pay for an exorbitant ad. A blog allows you to publish your own thoughts and advice directly to your customers and prospects, those people circling your business trying to make up their minds. A blog gives you something to share on social media outlets, builds up your profile as an expert and helps you build up a relationship with your customers. It shouldn't be an after thought. It should be your thoughts shared.
Blogging helps keep your thinking fresh
From the ebook: 'Why do I blog? Because I can flesh out an idea far easier online than in practice. I can capture or share. It’s changed how I think, how I work and I’m finding doors opening that the blog has led me to.' Dan Slee, The Dan Slee Blog
From the ebook: 'The sense of having an audience, however small, keeps me thinking about new research peripheral to the work that I do from day to day; this keeps me fresh. Mat Morrison of the Magic Bean Lab
My translation: When you work on your own or with a very small team, it's easy to let your thinking get stale, your creativity stifled. You fight the everyday fires but can stop thinking about what's going on in the world of your customer. By writing a blog, it forces you to think about what you want to say. And once you start examining what you want to say, you start to discover potential problems and possible solutions. The comments and connections you make with customers via your blog broadens your thinking beyond your office walls. It's not just a way of communicating, it becomes a regular time out to examine your thinking and strategy. (Writing this blog post has got me thinking that perhaps I need to create a Blogging Basics package....)
Blogging can boost your sales
From the ebook: 'The blog has hugely surpassed our own expectations in all areas. It now underpins our social media activity, our email and search strategy, and more than a million stories are read on it every month. It also generates a very healthy profit for our business.' Chris Lake, econsultancy
My translation: for every blog that makes money, there will be thousands that don't. BUT, if you view your blog as a way of really connecting with your customers, giving them something of value, talking in their language and not just selling, selling, selling, they will be far more likely to buy. You don't have to have millions reading your blog. You just have to have the people that are interested in what you have to say - and potentially buying from you - reading your blog.
Blogging is easy if you treat it as a conversation
'Forget about SEO, audience targets, thought leadership, key word placements and other marketing-related stuff that makes most blogs that start out with those manufactured things in mind utterly sterile. Instead, concentrate entirely on what you want to say and say it - naturally, informally, as if you're in a conversation with just one or two people.' Neville Hobson @jangles
My translation: Stop overthinking blogging. Just start writing. Get your thoughts down. Be real. Talk to your customers as though they were there in language they'd understand. And it will flow.
I'd love to hear from you about your thoughts on blogging. Do you do it? Does it work for you? Do you battle to come up with content? Do you find it hard to get words down? Are you unsure of what tone of voice to use? Is it the mechanics / techy bits that trouble you? I have been blogging on a personal blog since 2008 - first on blogger, then wordpress, then self-hosted. I'm happy to chat about how you can use blogging to better serve your small business. Just get in touch or leave a comment below.
P.S. One of the best way of getting people to look at your blog, is to leave comments on their blog including your URL.
In July this year I had the idea for a new business that would help solopreneurs and small businesses tell their stories. I went camping and as I sat around the campfire watching a gorgeous dusk in the Yorkshire Dales, I realised how magical campfires are. They provide warmth, comfort, a sense of excitement, adventure. But best of all, they're the perfect place to sit and have a friendly chat, to share stories, to find out about others.
I took that feeling and thought - how can I make this a business?
I realised how many small businesses really battle to tell their stories effectively. They don't use the powerful tool that is PR. They can't see what newsworthy stories they have in their business. They can't succinctly say what they do or what makes them different. And their web copy doesn't reflect who they are. I also realised how alone so many solopreneurs feel. They want someone to talk to when they need help. They don't want to pay big monthly retainers for services they don't need.
That's when I spotted it. The opportunity was staring me in the face.
Help these businesses - these unsung heroes who are brave enough to go it alone - tell their stories.
My talents lie in spotting a story, writing effectively and giving practical no-nonsense advice.
So here we are. I have struck the match and am officially setting Campfire Communications alight!
I will regularly be sharing my thoughts, insights and news right here on this blog. You can also find shorter, more immediate opportunities over on my Facebook page and on Twitter. So do follow both of those.
For now, have a browse around my website and let me know if I can help you.
My chair is pulled up at the campfire, I've got the kettle on and marshmallows ready for roasting.