I found my purpose hiking up Mount Greylock

Path to Purpose

How my hike up Mount Greylock gave me clarity to focus on my dreams

“My route lay up a long and spacious valley called the Bellows, because the winds rush up or down it with violence in storms, sloping up to the very clouds between the principal range and a lower mountain. It seemed a road for the pilgrim to enter upon who would climb to the gates of heaven.”

–Henry David Thoreau

A few months back, I decided to build a brand new wellness venture (more on THAT later).

Running a consultancy full-time and launching a new startup is challenging. So when a very large advertising agency (a business partner) offered to buy my company, I thought, this is perfect! I won’t have to run my business–I’ll be a strategic advisor. I’d be able to focus more time on the startup (or so I thought).

I kept thinking to myself PEOPLE would be so impressed and that became a motivating factor. We’d have big press releases and my days of hibernating would be over. I somehow convinced myself that this deal was the only way to prove myself before announcing the startup. Things were in motion–I had the paperwork…the lawyers were reviewing.

On September 15, four days before my birthday, I woke up and realized I did not actually feel good about the deal.

There were too many conversations with the C.E.O. of the other company, where I had to convince him my company was worth more and I was worth more. They kept adding my personal time into the contingency without more compensation. You know how sometimes you’re on fire and radiate charisma? I wasted one of those days repeating myself over and over to him. The worst part is I had skipped a startup investor conference. Over and over I chose to spend my time trying to make this deal better for me vs. feeding my startup. But…I wanted the “glory,” the press release. The outside validation. But, did I? The deal was starting to feel like a tether to the consulting world, an anchor. Something blocking the path of my dream. Want to know what happens when you spend your days trying to convince people of your worth? You start to feel insecure.

Stepping Away to Gain Clarity

For whatever reason, I kept thinking my life was at a transition point very similar to back in 1995, after graduating UMass Amherst. I knew I was focusing on the wrong things, and felt I knew my purpose, but was too scared to pursue it 100%. It took a day off, and a long hike on Mount Greylock 24 years ago to spark a new path. That hike prompted me to go to grad school…which propelled the move to San Francisco, and my becoming an entrepreneur.

It was time for that kind of re-set, again, 23 years later.

Magic Happens on Mount Greylock

North Adams, Massachusetts is a tad less than three hours from Cambridge, MA, but a world away in terms of culture and kindness.

I chose a place at the bottom of the mountains, with suspension bridges spanning “The Beyond Place”–an Algonquin term for the Hoosic River. Yes. This is a magical part of the world, understated, with a quiet elegance, woods and rocky cliffs and wild streams.

On my actual birthday, Dalton (my dog) and I took on Mount Greylock–famed for being, the inspiration for the white whale in Moby Dick, the school for American witches and wizards (aka Ilvermorny)–if you can’t see it, you’re a muggle ;), and, of course, was an inspiration for Thoreau.

We walked 6 hours up and 4.5 hours down, an entire day of trekking, thinking, and getting clarity.

What a beautiful day, 63 degrees, crisp–the perfect Fall day, the type of day that reminds me of being a student and *knowing* you can change the world. You’re one with nature, the path opens into sunlight, and the slight breeze coasts you forward. Except…Greylock can be fickle/moody, and seems to like throwing all four seasons in the span of a hike at the mere mortals who dare to trek his surface. We experienced nasty vine-whips of wind, cold bouts of shadows and a few moments of actual…trepidation (N.B.: I dislike like 5-foot tall grass). Dalton and I were alone except for the trees and birds, and whatever animals lived beneath the surface. Overall it was peaceful and empowering.

Hiking is my Headspace App

Halfway up the path we sprawled on a rock, gulping water, bathed in a sunbeam which enveloped the trees and leaves on the ground. A red-tailed hawk circled above, and it was silent. I felt as if the entire world belonged to us, and whatever dreams we brewed.

Hiking in general is my Headspace/Calm/Yoga–I feel it is a metaphor for the journey of life. You can choose your path, but whatever way you go, it’s not supposed to be EASY, or simple, or a padded leather seat limo ride. It’s supposed to be full of twists and turns. Perhaps an unexpected stream and wet socks. Yet also, moments of pure bliss. It’s a hike, and you have to be 100% fully present the entire time.

Mount Greylock is how I got the answers I needed. When we arrived at the summit, we could see 90+ miles into budding fall foliage; mountains, rivers, streams, church steeples and red barns, a perfect, clear view. I knew what I needed to do, what my purpose was, and which path I needed to take to be aligned with it. The perfect birthday gift.

Finding the Path: What Do We Want?

Everyone has heard this saying–what would you do if you didn’t need money, and you could pursue anything you want. What is your purpose in life? The one thing that is so entirely you. The answer to that is usually closer to what you’d be happiest doing, but so many dismiss it. We operate out of fear–we think, there is no way we could earn a living doing that, or we tell ourselves it would be too difficult to change direction. There’s a Paulo Coehlo quote from “The Alchemist,” that reads, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” In my experience, this is true–it’s not woowoo or crazy–it’s when you’re aligned with your passions and your dreams and you pursue them. When people see that, they help. You find others like you, who pursue their purpose.

When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.

Paulo Coehlo

My Purpose is Wellbeing

Dalton finding his purpose on a suspension bridge.

I love pursuing wellness and all things related to wellbeing, and I’ve actually known this for a long time–it’s what fueled my last startup back in 2008, it’s what fueled me teaching Aerobics through college and in San Francisco at the YMCA. It’s what attracted me to a certain entrepreneur in SF who was always optimizing his health. It’s what has fueled me to be a lifelong vegetarian, and pursue work that gives me freedom with my schedule. Of course, it’s also why I’m building a new wellness startup.

Align Your Actions With Your Purpose

Yeah, I mean it is obvious, right? But the thing is, it wasn’t–not until I was on a rock, taking a breather on the Bellows Pipe trail on Mount Greylock. The past 3 months I worked almost fulltime on consulting clients, and spent my spare time on paperwork for the sale of my company. No significant progress had been made with my new startup idea, because I hadn’t given it any fuel. I was spending all my time feeding the wrong people, places, and pursuits. All of this was deeply misaligned with my goals, and my true passion.

When I returned from my trip, I refused the sale of my company.

I realized I could hire someone to “be me” at the consultancy and I’d be able to step back, or, I’d find the right buyer who appreciated my goals. By walking away from the deal I could focus on the startup. Walking away had an added benefit, too: by leaving behind “partners” who didn’t fully value me, I started valuing myself more. I have become more confident and more determined.

Here I want to give some credit to Z, my cousin and friend, who helped me see the truth, and realize how much time and energy I was spending on things that were not aligned with my goals.

Onwards With Purpose

My muscles were sore, even a few days after I returned from the Berkshires, and my head hurt, too. My journal was filled with Jackson-Pollocky looking scramblings. I was like a cranky 3-year old who didn’t get enough sleep, but was on the plane to Disney World. This is the what happens when you know what you must do, and you decide to pursue it.

2 weeks ago I hiked that mountain and turned down the deal…and I feel alive. I haven’t figured everything out yet–but I see a path opening up before me. Friends and helpful people are showing up to propel me forward, and I am more content and driven.

Sometimes all we need is to step back and gain some perspective, and sometimes, we need 11 hours on a mountain full of magic.

In the past 2 weeks more progress has been made on the startup than in the prior 3 months. I’ll announce THAT soon. Onwards!

James Cameron headshot

Project Launch Years of Living Dangerously Website

Years of Living Dangerously Website Launch

James Cameron headshotI’m so excited to announce my newest project launch: the Years of Living Dangerously website!

What is Years of Living Dangerously?

Years of Living Dangerously is a new Showtime series about climate change.

Years of Living Dangerously Website launch photoExecutive Producers James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jerry Weintraub teamed up to create a unique documentary series that tells the stories of people affected by events such as Superstorm Sandy, or drought in Texas–all as a result of human-caused climate change.

What I love about the series is that celebrity correspondents such as Harrison Ford and Matt Damon go to places where climate change has devastated the local economy, political environment, and public health. They interview the people behind what caused the climate change.

The series airs on Showtime officially on April 13, 2014–but, you can watch episode 1 in full on the website on April 7, 2014!


My Role On The ProjectYears of Living Dangerously Website Launch

My agency, Kusadama Enterprises, was hired to work on digital strategy, and lead the Content Strategy on this project, through Tractor Studios.

Content is king online. It is actually the foundation of any good digital strategy. Good content drives traffic to your website, keeps people on the website, and encourages them to DO what you want them to do (whether it is watch a T.V. show, book an appointment, or see you as a thought leader!).

All websites, big or small, require solid, strategic thinking about what types of content will achieve your goals.

The YEARS project hired Tractor Studios to be the web design firm, which consisted of the User Experience, Creative Direction, and Development. My friend Jamie Zirkle was head UX on the project, and Steve Huber, the President of Tractor, was leading the agency end. When Steve and Jamie realized in January that this website was a “content monster,” consisting of thousands of pieces of content, they knew they needed my agency, since I specialize in large content sites and have a Journalism background.

Harrison Ford in Last Stand for Years of Living DangerouslyContent That Works, And Why

(Why Ian Somerhalder with a Puppy Photo? Why One Solution for Climate Change?)

Kusadama Enterprises (of which I am the President), was hired to lead the Content Strategy, Content, Editorial Calendaring and Process, and SEO for the website. The content included everything from taglines, to choosing imagery, to figuring out precisely what types of scientific content would be appropriate for the topics section (where we detail about why climate change happens).

Exciting! But then…on to some hard work.

Before I start any content project, I look at the big picture. I ask, “What are the main goals of the website, and who is the audience?”

I then work closely with the client and the User Experience team to determine the exact pages needed on the site, and the exact content for each page.

For the Years of Living Dangerously website, I knew that I needed compelling content that would provide sneak previews of the show, and of the stories. I also wanted to really tell the story behind the story–including background information on all the correspondents. I wanted to make climate change solutions simple–one or two solutions rather than 100 (where people get confused), and, I wanted the science behind the stories to make sense.

Here’s a specific example of my role, and how I determined content.

We needed a page fHarrison Ford in Last Stand for Years of Living Dangerouslyor Harrison Ford, who is a correspondent for the Last Stand story.  We determined that the primary goal of this page was to explain why Harrison Ford got involved in the series. We also wanted to intrigue people and give them something extra about Harrison Ford, that they would not get from watching the T.V. show.

We achieved these goals by having an amazing quote from Harrison Ford about why he got involved, and, lots of behind the scenes photos that truly captured his personality, and the substance of why the story matters.

Digital Strategy, Content Strategy, Content Matrix, Calendaring, SEO

So with that said, here are the specific services my agency delivered:

1. Digital Strategy: First things first, I was brought into some conversations with the client regarding some overall decisions about ecommerce and advertising, social media, and the big picture. As I always do, I ask detailed questions about the goals of these requests. Then I talk about statistics and how people use websites. Often the actual numbers of people who will actually make a purchase, or share something on a website, help clients see that a good idea might simply not be worth the time and effort. Or, conversely, that it is something we should definitely pursue. I love these types of collaborative meetings with clients.

2. Content Strategy: Next, I worked closely with Jamie Zirkle on the overall architecture of the site–what pages were we creating, what was the mission statement (reason someone would come to the page), and what kinds of content needed to be on that page to achieve our goals.

Many people identify content needs in a very vague or high-level way, but my role was to not only identify the strategy behind what types of content and why, but also to get into the details. What would the headline be? Subhead? What other types of content might help people share the page on social media? What types of things might help someone become more involved or bonded with the content. How could the content tell the story behind the story?

And, most important, what content would help drive traffic to the website, and get people to stay and explore the content.

Example Content Matrix3. Content Matrix: Smaller businesses have often never heard of one of these, but they are essential for large website creation or for any ecommerce site. I personally recommend them for ANY sized website because it truly helps you organize your content.

A content matrix identifies every single possible piece of content, where it goes (what page, and where on the page), why it needs to be there, who is responsible for creating or editing the content, and who needs to approve the content and when.

It also schedules content, which is critical for a big launch. It even identifies the CTAs–the call to action links to another place on your site.

A content matrix reflects every piece of content, and ties it back to the goals you want to achieve with that content.

The content matrix for the YEARS website was more than 6,000 identified pieces of content, and ended up being 24 tabs in a a google docs spreadsheet, with more than 1,000 lines of content on some tabs. WHEW.

4. Sourcing and Calendaring: After the matrix (which was a living, working document for more than 6 weeks), myself and my counterpart on the YEARS side (client side) had daily content calls (at 7:30am pacific!) in order to go through each page needs, what content was still needed, and to edit and perfect that content.

This was fun because Maggie O’Brien, our client, who holds MANY different roles, is amazing to work with, and fun, and brilliant.

Plus, she sent me quotes of Matt Damon talking about the Red Sox (not for the site, but just because I’m from Boston and love Matt Damon). What more could you ask for?

5. Content Formatting, Editing, SEO: The last step of the process, once we got all the content, was to finalize it in wordpress, our content management system of choice. In wordpress, I edited and formatted content so that it would look beautiful, but also drive traffic through good Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Formatting your content means making it very readable to people. Headlines, subheads, and bullets all help a visitor to your site read the content (or scan it quickly).

I also conducted a one hour SEO session with the client, so that I could train her in basic SEO, to ensure that any new content, or any changes to the content, would continue to drive traffic. I can train anyone to learn basic SEO in an hour, and those tips can immediately drive you more traffic.

What Was The Best About This Project?

Harrison Ford with baby orangutan photos, Matt Damon quotes…James Cameron quotes…Joel Bach behind the scenes…endless photos of Ian Somerhalder (especially with the puppy). All of this was pretty great, and, if you’re going to be working at midnight, it’s not the worst type of content to be looking at.

I also learned a great deal about human-caused climate change. I will admit that prior to this project, I never felt a huge incentive to do something about it or learn more–partly out of lack of knowledge as to what little ol’ me could do, but also partly from what is known as “The paradox of choice.”

Too many solutions, all of which seem overwhelming. The Years project, the T.V. Show, and the website all make the solutions easy to understand. We made  a decision on the website to spotlight one partner and one solution each week, related to the episodes that were airing. All of this helps people like me embrace the fact that we really can do ONE thing, and that one thing CAN make a difference. It feels empowering, it feels like we can solve this problem.

But also, I realized climate change truly is a problem, and we have exacerbated the problem.

Challenges of This Project

This project was 400 hours, which is fairly typical for a large-scale consumer website. Normally I’d do that work over the course of 4-5 months, but, we had an unmovable deadline, the launch of the T.V. show, so my timeline was crunched to just 2 months.  That was challenging, and on top of that challenge, we had an approval and legal process for the celebrity correspondents, because they have handlers who protect their image and have to approve the context of their pictures or quotes.

I’ve done a lot of work in the pharmaceutical industry, so I’m used to approval processes and lawyers, and negotiating with anyone who is not approving content. 🙂 You simply have to “pad the time” and ensure that you work back from a strict deadline for what I call the “drop dead date.” That’s the date you tell everyone that, if you don’t have final, approved content by, you cannot launch on time. That tends to speed things up.  I also have a process where I segment out content delivery dates, so that the same types of content are being worked on at once–this is more efficient. For example, working on all the biographies at once, or all photos at once.

This can help smaller businesses as well, for example–spending one day, or one week working on the About or Team section (since everyone will have bios, why not work on them all at once?). When building an ecommerce store, for example, you could focus only on one type of product each week. I find that this type of “dividing and conquering” really works for all projects.

Importance of Process and Content Strategy

For small and large businesses alike, it is important to develop a good foundation for your content, and to understand WHY you need certain content, and what goals that content will achieve. Doing this will guarantee you will drive traffic to your site, and build some loyalty for people once there. Always think about what will intrigue a person, and what types of content they might want to share with friends and family.

Even if you only have a 5-page website, it helps to use the same process as I had for the Years of Living Dangerously website. Determine the pages of your site, the mission or goals of each page, and then determine what types of content you need for each page. I find that a spreadsheet, or content matrix, helps you organize all your content and makes the actual process of putting that content online MUCH EASIER and faster.

Check Out The Years of Living Dangerously Website!

I’m so glad my agency was hired to work on this project. It was a ton of fun even though it was hard work in a short timeframe.

Let me know what you think of the Years of Living Dangerously website, and remember, watch episode 1 for free on the site April 7, 2014!

how to take a vacation as a small business owner

5 Steps For Taking Vacations As A Small Business Owner

Taking Vacations = Critical For Your Success!

Taking vacations as small business owner might seem truly daunting. 5 simple, tried-and-true steps can ensure you, too, can take the time off you need.

I just returned from a week in Puerto Rico–a full week without a laptop, cell phone, or client meetings. I’m able to take time off (and really, truly unplug), without risking my business several times a year, and I consider taking time off the single greatest benefit of being a small business owner. The reason I can make it happen? 5 steps that I adhere to.

According to a survey by Harris Interactive, “some 61 percent of Americans plan to work on vacation each year… Among small-business owners who said they do plan to take a vacation this year, the majority—66 percent—will take only one week off all summer long. These owners take on all or most of the responsibility of running their businesses, according to Joe Robinson, a work/life coach, and worry that their businesses will suffer if they’re away from their work for an extended period of time.”

But, guess what? You can take a vacation–even if right now you think you can’t. Not only can you take time off, but you can earn money while you are on vacation, improve your health, and improve the vitality of your business as well. I understand that in today’s world it seems impossible, but it truly isn’t.

Here are the 5 steps to make it happen.

Step 1:Prioritize Time Off

The single most important step for small business owners wanting to take time off, is to prioritize it. Sounds simple, but just like anything in your business, if something isn’t on your “to-do” list, chances are, it’s not going to happen. When you tell yourself that vacations are critical for your own health, and therefore the health of your business, they become justifiable. When we make anything a priority in our life, we find the time. It’s like anything in life, whether it is exercise or getting enough sleep.

If you need some justification in order to prioritize time off, here’s a few good reasons. Time off is known to:

  • Reduce stress
  • Stave off a heart attack
  • Refresh your creativity
  • Increase productivity when you return

In an ABC News article, clinical psychologist Francine Lederer observes, “most people have better life perspective and are more motivated to achieve their goals after a vacation.”  Lederer calls the impact of breaks on mental health “profound.”

When you prioritize time off, you will naturally develop relationships with clients who appreciate your need to go away. I work hard to maintain great relationships with my clients, but I have found that working with “workaholics” doesn’t really work for me. A client that doesn’t have the same value system, and can’t appreciate how I am able to do better work for them because of my time off, isn’t a client I want to keep. I understand that when people are first starting a business, this is a luxury. But clear communication, and delivering stellar work will always help you with clients when its time to tell them you won’t be there for a week or two.

Step 2: Build “Passive Income Streams”

If you’re planning to take a vacation this holiday season, you most likely won’t have time prior to develop what I call “Passive Income Streams”. However, you can start preparing for next year’s vacation, and building an ability to take more nights, weekends, or days off throughout the year. so, what are “Passive Income Streams?” They are sources of income that continue to earn money even without your involvement, or, with minimal involvement. You have to create theses sources of income, but once you do, the “maintenance” and time required of you is minimal–and typically you can easily hire someone to manage these sources of income for you.

Here are some examples of this type of income:

  • Ebooks or Digital Content (Paid)
  • Ecommerce Store (DVDS, Products, Goods)
  • Referral and Affiliate Fees For Links/Recommendations

In January I will host a Webinar discussing how to create Passive Income Streams in more detail. As a small business owner, there will always be tasks and services that only you can perform. Yet building these sources of income allow you to make money no matter where you are or what you are doing (sleeping, kayaking, etc!), and they allow you to scale your business.

Step 3: Prepare & Delegate

Delegating to employees or part-time staff/freelancers is key to ensure things run smoothly while you are away. Even if you own a very small business, or a business that is just YOU, I always suggest hiring someone who can handle any phone calls or emails while you are away. The other key to ensuring a great vacation, is to identify all possible situations while you are gone.

I read a great article in the New York Times entitled “How To Take a Real Vacation While Running A Business” last year, and I particularly liked the advice on contingency planning. Planning for the worst-case scenarios while you are away, and having back-up plans for any possible scenario may seem pessimistic, but it can ensure you aren’t disturbed on your vacation. Having a “what if” list, with steps on precisely what to do in any situation can prevent employees or freelancers from contacting you, since they’ll have a guide as to what to do. I’ve found it best to literally list any “out of the world” situation, with a solution and steps as to what to do in order to minimize, or eliminate, any calls while away. That can be as serious as what to do if a client is threatening to fire you, or as mundane/annoying as a toilet clogging in your business.

Some small business owners are afraid to delegate to their staff, out of fear that things won’t go well and they could risk their business. Depending on the business, there’s a lot of truth to “nobody can do it like you do it.” But being clear with your clients, and setting expectations (next step), will ensure things go well.

Step 4: Set Expectations

Giving as much advanced notice prior to taking time off will help set expectations with clients, employees, and business partners. I’ve found that not only do I need to give as much notice as possible as to time off, but I need to be crystal clear with all aspects of the time off. Some helpful tips:

  • “Pad” your vacation time, by saying it starts earlier and ends later than reality. If I’m leaving at 5am on a Wednesday, I tell clients I’m gone from Tuesday at noon on. This way I won’t have any last-minute stress or requests as I’m packing, preparing, and trying to get enough sleep before an early flight! I always give myself at least half a day after I actually return to be back in the office, or see clients. This has helped me ensure I get enough sleep the day after I return, as well as prevent any scheduling disasters if my travel is delayed, bags are delayed, or anything that might cause stress the next day.
  • Work extra hard the month prior to the vacation. I don’t recommend burning yourself out before a vacation–that always leads to two or three “lost” days on the vacation, where you catch up with sleep…or fight an illness! Yet, putting in some extra night and weekend time, or opening up your hours of service a month before leaving can help clients feel catered to. Be sure to deliver great work, and go above and beyond the “call of duty”. You’ll feel better about taking the time off, and your clients will always appreciate the extra effort.
  • Let everyone know that you will not be answering your cell or checking emails unless in an emergency. This is critical, since unfortunately “vacation” to many people equates to working part of the time. I find that in order to achieve the benefits of time off, I truly have to let go of working for the whole time. That’s why delegation is key, and developing contingency plans.
  • Let clients know who is covering you while you are gone. I am always clear with clients in regard to whom is responsible for what in my absence. For example, if something truly cannot wait until I return, I recommend consultants with similar experience who can act on my behalf. I also have freelancers who can handle day-to-day tasks or answer any questions about my rates or services in the event a new client contacts me. My pilates instructor gives the names of several people he trusts while he is away–and its wonderful to know that he’s helping his clients out and ensuring we can get our pilates fix while he’s away. Some small business owners get frightened that by recommending someone else, their clients might like the new person better. I have found that clients are generally eager for your return, and impressed that you are confident enough in your abilities to recommend others in your absence.

If you run a business and have junior staff/coverage, be clear with clients regarding their skillset and years of experience. That way, you are setting the expectations for the work performed and less likely to run into a customer service issue.

You always want to give a client the option to see someone else while you are gone, since that is part of providing stellar service. Don’t leave them hanging!

Step 5: Unplug

One of the greatest ways to increase stress during a vacation is to not fully unplug. In my experience, the whole “checking in” via email or cell phone once a day adds more stress than letting go, unplugging, and truly enjoying time off. What happens if, when “checking in”, a situation comes up that you cannot resolve remotely? Guaranteed stress and frustration, that’s what. And believe in this–the second you check in, your clients and staff know that you’re available, and they will contact you, make requests of you, and have expectations of you. It sounds like a hard line, and it is. I only check my cell and email in emergency situations–and, I’ve got another secret. I have an email that is specifically only for my family, my staff or contractors to contact me if something goes wrong. That email is a complete secret to everyone else. I will check that secret email address a few times while on vacation, because I know if there is an email there, it’s serious and I need to address it.

The hardest part of unplugging can come down to ego and pride. Let’s face it, unless you are responsible for someone’s life (i.e. you are a brain or heart surgeon, a paramedic, a firefighter, etc), the chances that you truly have an emergency in your business that only you can handle, is slim to none. Realizing that the work you do is important, but not life-or-death critical, can help you take things a bit less seriously, delegate what needs to be delegated, and truly take the time away. And believing that unplugging is your key to taking care of yourself–which is the foundation of all your success as a small business owner, is such an important step.

Building Customer Loyalty: Happy Birthday Reminders

Happy Birthday Email From Uptown Pilates

Happy Birthday Email From Uptown Pilates

My birthday was two weeks ago today–it took me a few weeks to get back into the swing of things. I always take time off for my birthday as a way to relax and motivate myself for a great new year.

While I was away, I received “Happy Birthday” emails from a few of my favorite businesses, and they inspired me to do a blog post about why these types of emails are so beneficial!

I really love these type of emails as a form of communication between a business and their clients, and statistically speaking, “Happy Birthday” emails have a high open rate.

These emails can help businesses build customer loyalty, and, if paired with an incentive, can bring the business immediate revenue. One study by Marketing Sherpa noted that personalized birthday emails can have a 750% higher click through rate for product purchases!

Drive Revenue And Customer Loyalty–All In One!

While I loved the emails I received for my birthday, as a marketer, I always notice whether there is a marketing driver behind the email (aside from a nice communication with your client). Considering the click-through rate of these types of emails is so high, providing an incentive to the client is sure to drive some cash-flow into your business. What do I mean by incentives? Some good incentives include:

  • A code for a percentage off something in your ecommerce store
  • A coupon or discount for a private training session, or a class
  • A special package or yearly “birthday” series

It’s the perfect pairing for a birthday message, particularly for health, wellness, or beauty businesses. What better way to celebrate a birthday than by taking care of yourself, and doing something to help you look and feel younger? Lets face it, after a certain age, birthdays are often the source of stress and anxiety, and even some insecurity about getting older. Who wouldn’t want to do do something to help reduce stress, feel healthier, look better, or simply feel stronger and younger?

High-Motivation For Purchase

There are times in a person’s life when they are motivated to make a purchase for themselves. We will go into this more with another blog post, but one of those times is a person’s birthday. It’s a day people use to celebrate themselves, and that means, justifying giving themselves a birthday treat. All you have to do when you send your email, is to remind the person that it is their special day–and they should treat themselves. Combine that with an incentive–such as a coupon for that special treat–and you’ve got a winning combination.

The birthday emails I received from businesses did not include incentives–but I can tell you if they did I would have made a purchase, and many of your clients will do the same.

It’s  a combination of a high-motivation situation and a response to the natural emotional reaction someone experiences when a business pays attention to a person’s special day. Sending a “Happy Birthday” email is a great way to build loyalty and put a smile on your client’s face regardless of whether an incentive is attached to it. But put an incentive into the email, and you’ve got yourself a great way to drive some immediate revenue as well.

What Makes a Good “Happy Birthday Email”

The number one thing to remember is that the “Happy Birthday” email is about the client, not about you! It’s their birthday, so give them something special. Here are a few tips to remember:

  • Make Them Personal And Valuable

    The birthday email should be sent to the name of the client, and if you can set up your subject to say “Happy Birthday [name of client]” it will get a higher open rate. Make the email content beneficial to the subscriber–and give them something you don’t normally offer. For example, a true special gift or offer that someone would only receive on their birthday.

  • Make Them Relevant

    Send the birthday user something they will personally be interested in, not a “one size fits all” birthday email. I realize this is more difficult to set up, and targeting emails based on customer behavior is a more complicated process. But ideally, you have customer lists divided into a few core groups based on what people purchase, or what services they use. For example, if you have a Yoga studio, you could create just two groups–those who get private classes, and those who only take group classes. When creating your Happy Birthday emails, set up two–the private Yoga group might get an offer for a discounted private session, whereas the clients who take group classes get an offer for a free class.

  • Make Them About The Subscriber

    This is their day, not yours. Send your birthday wishes, include your gift, and that’s it.


How To Set Up Happy Birthday Emails

Happy Birthday emails are just one type of automatic email you can set up for your clients through your email marketing program (such as AWeber or Mailchimp). Anniversary responders enable you to send a specific email for someones birthday.

Step 1: Set Up a Birthday Field in Your Newsletter Service

Every email newsletter provider offers the ability to set up new custom fields. You can always call each provider to ask how to do this. In general, it is a simple process, where you add a new field, and determine whether that field is Required or Optional. I do like keeping birthday fields optional.

Here is an example of what setting this up looks like in Aweber:

Screen shot 2013-10-03 at 4.14.03 PM

Step 2. Ask Your Clients For Their Birthday

You’ll need to ask clients for their birthday. You can do this in your registration process, or you can send an email newsletter to current clients asking for their birthdays, so you can send them special gifts. When asking for birthdays, I like to include only the month and the day–not the year, and I always write copy next to the “ask” explaining why I want it, for example, to give them a special birthday code or coupon each year. This will increase the chance that your clients actually provide their birthday information to you!

Step 3: Define The Email Details

Now that you’ve set up your custom field and ensured clients can enter their birthdate, you’ll want to create the actual email which gets sent for a client’s birthday.

This is done the same way that regular email campaigns are created, with all the same options for importing or creating the campaign content:

  • import a completed HTML design
  • create the email content using one of your existing templates
  • use the template builder to design a new layout from scratch
  • send plain text emails

Since I don’t know your email program, some of these tips for setting up might not be relevant. I’ve found customer service for any of the bigger email providers excellent–just give them a call or send an email to ask for help. It should only take you half a day to set these emails up (or less), and they are very much worth the time.

Your Online Brand: 3 Things You Think You Need, But You Don’t

Online Branding ImageDo You Know What Makes a Good Online Brand?

Before you answer “Yes” to that question, I’m here to tell you that 99% of the small businesses that contact me for help think they have a great online brand…but they aren’t getting any new clients, attracting awareness, or building their business through their online efforts. So–it is really a good online brand?

What Makes a Good Online Brand

You’re going to hear different opinions on this from experts, but in my opinion, a good online brand, ultimately, brings you more of your ideal clients, and helps you grow your business.

This bears repeating…

Good Online Brands:

  • Bring you more of your ideal clients
  • Help grow your business

At the end of the day these should be your goals even if you are a non-profit, even if you say you don’t care about making money and you are in business because you love it– (who says that, though, realistically? It’s much better to do what you love and earn money from it!).

Here Are 3 Things You Think You Need (But You Really Don’t) For Your Online Brand

1. A super-expensive, agency-designed, professional website.

I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a beautiful, expensively-designed website that simply doesn’t WORK. What do I mean by work? I mean, does it:

  1. Have good SEO, so people can find you through “natural” (unpaid) search?
  2. Allow customers to book an appointment with you, know your hours, and contact you?
  3. Clearly state what makes your business different, and what you do?

Designers are going to argue with me on this, but I’m giving you the truth. Even if you are an aesthetically-driven business, and your client cares about image, I guarantee you can put together a simple, lovely, web design that works without hiring someone expensive. I’m building out tutorials that will help ANY small business owner create a lovely, simple website without paying a lot of money. Just a few months away! In the meantime, don’t stress out if your website isn’t perfect. The beautiful thing about anything online is that it can be improved!

Just remember, great looking does not mean it’s good.

  • A pretty flash site isn’t going to get as much natural search traffic.
  • A gorgeous design that doesn’t allow people to navigate easily isn’t going to get you appointments booked.
  • A site that is so complicated with how it was built, you can’t ever update the copy yourself isn’t going to help you have featured sales, or series, or sell anything new.

Some of the world’s ugliest websites make millions of dollars a month. Have you ever looked at SEO consultants’ websites? They are often hideous–but drive thousands of targeted clients in monthly. At the end of the day, you need a functional website, something that yes–conveys your brand and who you are, but most importantly, brings you the right customers, and makes it easy for those customers to book an appointment with you–or buy something from you.

But Julie, I have a salon/skincare business/aesthetically-driven business–it DOES matter!

Simply taking photos of your space and using that as the basis of your website design is going to bring that real-world experience alive, and ensure your brand integrity, your general look and feel, and capture that aesthetically-driven audience.

Remember, I am an SEO expert. What I care about with my online sites–is whether I get the right traffic, and whether those people are doing the things I’d like them to do. If I say “YES” to both of those…I can focus my efforts on other things, and not worry so much about the look and feel right away. My #1 rule for any small business I run, is I won’t pay for a design until that business is earning the cost of a professional design each week. Would spending that money upfront help me get there faster? It’s not a guarantee…but having clear navigation and good SEO is a guarantee of those two key points: growing my business, and attracting the right customers.

Remember too, that people are pretty forgiving of design–but if they can’t find the content they are looking for…they get frustrated.

2. A Totally Different “Brand” Online

Not true. You absolutely need consistency–you want to translate what a client experiences with you in person, online. That means similarity in the look and feel. It is true that online, we have more work to get clients to understand why you are the right business for them. That’s why you have to do a few things different–but your overall brand needs to be the same–your business philosophy, your messaging, and who you are stays the same.

Your online branding has a tough job. It needs to:

  1. Immediate convey what you do
  2. Why you are different from competitors
  3. How to get in touch with you

You DO have to think about your online brand from a different perspective. A client who walks by your place of business (in real life) has the advantage of seeing you, your space, your decor–all the things that contribute to your business philosophy and the type of experience a client will have when they make an appointment with you.

When someone goes to your website–they need to not only get a sense of who you are and what you do, they need to be able to book an appointment with you and find where you are. But you need to start with the real-world branding, and translate everything about you, your space, and your differentiation online.

3. You Need To Be Everywhere Online, All The Time:

I disagree with this fundamentally. What I mean by this is, having EVERY possible social media channel actively up and running with daily posts. Managing a website, an email newsletter, social media, affiliate sites, partnerships–whoa. Can any small business owner really do it all? The answer is no, or more accurately, not well for all things.

You have a choice–focus on 2-3 things you enjoy doing, and do those well…OR…try to do everything equally well. Even the world’s biggest brands can’t do everything perfectly online. They choose to focus on a few key things.

But you should claim your presence on all social media channels…
Even if you aren’t active on every social media channel, (which you simply can’t be, unless you clone yourself or have a huge team of help…and even then it’s hard)…I do recommend that you “own” the channel. In this way, you are protecting your brand and your name…as well as providing many places online where people can find you.

If the channel is not “active” (you don’t post on it), you can simply put your website url, a phone number, and a few photos as a way to ensure people can find you. I’ve seen some companies “capture” a Pinterest or Twitter account, and then do one post that says “We are not active on this social media channel–come find us [with a link to where they ARE active].” That’s a brilliant way to manage your online brand without having to constantly update that channel.

What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? What are your goals when it comes to online branding? What are the things you focus on? Let me know in the comments!






A Partnership Case Study, Healthy Juice, Fitness, Athletic Apparel, And More: Part 2

Partnership success!

Partnership success!

The Making Of a Partnership

I was so impressed with the partnership between Basic Training and Juice Shop, (read part 1 here), that I spoke with Jennifer Pattee, the owner of Basic Training to learn more about the back-story, and to get some more details on the end result. I wanted to learn what motivated Basic Training to host such a great event, and why they wanted to work with the businesses they worked with.

Multiple Brands Partnering Together

I learned that the partnership wasn’t only between Basic Training and Juice Shop–this partnership was an effort between several small businesses in Hayes Valley, a neighborhood in San Francisco. The businesses involved included:
  • Proxy SF–A temporary two-block project located in Hayes Valley, bringing together mobile businesses
  • Aether–Amazing workout clothing and gear
  • Basic Training–outdoor group fitness
  • Juice Shop–organic, hand-pressed juices

 “The phrase Francesca at Aether used to describe this event was “dipping into each other’s tribes” and that really hit me,” said Jenn Pattee.

The Story Behind The Partnership

One of the reasons behind the partnership was to promote a new outdoor, public space in Hayes Valley, San Francisco. The particular block, Hayes and Octavia, happens to deserted after a certain time. Basic Training intended to hold classes at night in this location. Juice Shop wanted to promote their new mobile juice truck–based at this location. And all the other businesses in the neighborhood wanted to welcome neighbors and new people alike to the location. Here’s a bit behind the location and the idea, in Jenn’s words:
From Jenn Pattee at Basic Training:
1. Proxy is a ghost town after 6pm on our side of the block. Nobody is there.
2. Aether’s store manager wanted people to see that they are fun, come hang out, don’t be scared.
3. We wanted to have a keg and some beers, but we can’t serve alcohol at Proxy.
4. We didn’t want to spend any money. This event cost us about $100.
5. We couldn’t play amplified music or do stuff like that to make it feel like a party.
6. We wanted Hayes Valley to get excited about Proxy.
7. We did it in 2 weeks, we didn’t have a ton of time.
8. We started the social campaign 8 days before launch.”

Results of the Partnership

  1. From Jenn Pattee: “The event was a HUGE success for all of us, even though it was small, cheap, and hard to organize we accomplished everything we set out to do.”
  2.  From Francesca at Aether, “I had a blast. People came into the store and not just to take photos. They stayed and hung out.”
  3. From JuiceShop: “It was great. It helped force us to get Narney [The guy behind the counter at the truck] ready to roll. We had a great time and people were pumped.”
  4. From Basic Training: “Everyone loved it. I got to hang out with the business owners, shopkeepers, and all their friends during the event. Finally had a chance to meet my neighboring businesses and the people who they are friends with. And, i was delighted to see our partners at this event sell what we do BETTER than we do.”

The partnership was clearly a success, since this week they’ll be yet another one in the same location, with yet another business getting involved–the Bold Italic.

Screen shot 2013-08-19 at 8.17.15 PM

Increasing Awareness Through Partnerships

“The phrase Francesca at Aether used to describe this event was “dipping into each other’s tribes” and that really hit me,” said Jenn Pattee.
That’s a perfect statement, for it summarizes the key benefit of partnerships–to increase the awareness of your business by association with similar businesses who have similar clientele. Basic Training’s clients are people who like to work out outdoors, and are generally healthy. Partnering with a healthy juice business, an athletic apparel company, and a “pop-up” outdoor gathering place is brings together like-minded clients and increases the awareness of all the businesses.

Building Client Loyalty Through Partnerships

A truly good partnership delivers value not only to all of the businesses, but to their clients as well. The clients of each business were excited to learn about other companies similar to companies they already patronize. By giving away the free class, Basic Training found new clients from Aether Apparel, Juice Shop, and residents of Hayes Valley. The class was free to current Basic Training clients as well, which encouraged everyone to share and promote the partnership, and increased the feeling of loyalty. When you give some love to your current clients, it’s a way of thanking them for supporting your business.

The Client Perspective

As someone who attended the event, I had a blast. It’s rare for me to work out anywhere but my neighborhood (the Embarcadero in San Francisco)–so hanging out in a new neighborhood and meeting new people was energizing and fun. Every person who attended the class had a fabulous time, and it was absolutely an ideal place to meet and work out.
I knew about Juice Shop, but I did not know about Aether Apparel (and now I’m excited to show up early to the next Basic Training class in this location, so I can purchase some cool exercise clothes!).
I also had never really ventured into Hayes Valley for anything other than dinner late at night. It was never on my radar for exercising outdoors. After this event, I am looking forward to the next event in this location. And of course I’ll be paying full price for my Basic Training class, buying some juice, and buying some workout clothes. I’m now a loyal client of all three businesses. And it’s not just me–several of the attendees of the class on August 9 have said the same thing.
Now that is a fabulous end result of a fabulous partnership.

A Partnership Case Study, Healthy Juice And Fitness Part 1

Basic Training Juice Shop Class Partnership

Partnerships + Your Brand–A Recipe For Success

One of my favorite brands is Basic Training–it’s personal training as well as group outdoor fitness classes here in San Francisco. I love them, I love going to the classes, and they do a fabulous job at online marketing. One of the ways they get traction, loyalty, and referrals online is through their partnerships.

Reaching More People Through Partnerships

One of the key factors in any overall marketing plan is to find ways to reach more people in the real world and online through one single effort.

Creating partnerships with brands or companies similar to yours–but not direct competitors of yours–is a smart way to attract new clients, and build loyalty among your current clients with one marketing effort. Since I like to give examples to explain things, let’s examine a case study of one of the best partnerships I’ve seen.

Partnership Case Study

Nice Overall Branding

Basic Training + Juice Shop = Healthy, Happy Clients

Jennifer Pattee, the founder of Basic Training, had a brilliant and tasty idea. Her brand is already strong, and one of their key differentiators is their “happy hour” philosophy. Working out for an hour with a group of social people (and pairing people together in teams), plus social time afterwards is a brand differentiator–this is Basic Training’s Special Sauce.

Jennifer Pattee’s idea for a partnership was to work with an organic, natural juice company in San Francisco–Juice Shop–and promote free classes, where clients would:

  • 1. Use a code on Basic Training’s Website, JUICY, to get a free class
  • 2. Meet at the new mobile juice truck for the classes
  • 3. Work out for an hour, and then get some juices back at the juice truck.

This is a brilliant idea all around. I’m going to tell you why.

Giving Your Clients More Of What They Like

The first thing that was brilliant about this partnership was the natural partnering between working out and healthy juices. Who wouldn’t want some healthy juice before and after a tough workout? Most, if not all, of Basic Training’s clients live healthy lifestyles, and that includes the outdoor fitness classes, as well as healthy food and nutrition. The likelihood that her clients would absolutely love Juice Shop was high.

Building Loyalty Among Your Current Clients

This was another brilliant move, and one that sadly, many small businesses forget.

Pay attention, and give some love, to your current clients. That means the occasional deal, special event, or something. I’ve already blogged about how frustrating it can be for current clients to see a business give discounts and deals to new clients only. It’s not really that fair, and it certainly is not a way to build loyalty.

Giving a free class to Basic Training current clients was a way to build loyalty amongst them. When clients are loyal to your business, they are more likely to talk positively about the business, and that includes sharing information about your events, classes, and deals. When people feel rewarded for their loyalty to you, they are also more likely to come back to you more often. All of this strengthens your business, because a truly loyal client is one you can count on. Most small businesses rely on repeat customers who come to you often. Anything you can do to increase the number of people who are loyal will ultimately lead to more revenue.

A Win-Win For Awareness

I already knew about Juice Shop–there is a location in my neighborhood, and I’m there a few times a week. But many of Basic Training’s clients did not know about the company. By:

  • Meeting at the Juice Shop location for a class
  • Using the code JUICY
  • Promoting the free classes online and tagging Juice Shop

Basic Training built brand awareness for Juice Shop. I guarantee Juice Shop will get more customers as a result of this partnership.  And what’s in it for Basic Training? Well, the same thing–they will get more clients as a result of the promotion. This is a win-win for both companies.

What Happened on Social Media

Sharing and Likes--Basic Training I always like to look at metrics for any campaign and partnership, and one of the ways to track success is to look at how much buzz the partnership generated. We want to look at what happens on social media–even if you don’t have a full-blown social media strategy, you should always use social media to post about any partnership, and any deal or special offer you have.

In the case of the Basic Training _ Juice Shop partnership, Basic Training was very active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The posts were liked and shared by several people, and sharing is one of the most important things a customer can do for you online.

When we talk about metrics, and whether or not something was successful, we always want to look at the following:

  1. How many people shared what you did or talked about?
  2. How many people liked it, or “engaged with it” (comments, posting)
  3. How many people actually purchase something, or attend/go


Most of the post about the partnership were very popular. Customers liked, commented on, and shared the post. Any time a customer shares your content on their timeline it helps build awareness and buzz. Each person who shares something on their Facebook timeline, for example, has now exposed your brand to several hundred new people.

The photos on Facebook (and Instagram) showed people what to expect for the free classes–where they were, the environment, and the general vibe of the area. We would be working out at Hayes and Octavia, in a new space allocated to a coffee truck, the Juice Shop truck, and outdoor activity. An urban workout–and photos of the graffiti and the surrounding space helped give people an idea of what to expect.


Twitter AttentionBasic Training promoted the space where the mobile juice truck will be–it’s part of an effort in San Francisco by ProxySF. They used @ replies to the company, and by doing this, got retweeted by THAT company, which resulted in dozens of conversations within Twitter about the partnership.

Basic Training also actively wrote back to people interested in the class–and included the @ reply to people, again, increasing overall attention and awareness. And finally, in a brilliant Twitter move, they reached out to people they thought might be interested in the class, and promoted the partnerships and the get-togethers.

Basic Training was active about the partnership for about a week prior to the first class–giving people enough time to clear their schedules and attend, and also enough time to gain some momentum on social media. The few days before the first class, they tweeted and posted more, including pictures and links back to their Website for registration. In my Branding tutorial for B2, we go into more details about how exactly a brand can master their image, awareness, and conversations online–and Basic Training is one of my examples. They truly are stellar at engaging people online.


Screen shot 2013-08-09 at 4.23.27 PM

Successful Twitter Photos–Partnerships

Do you see how many likes on this one photo? That would be 183 likes. 183 likes! That is a popular picture, and all those likes equate to more people being aware of your brand, because when they like something, it shows up in their friends feeds.

This is absolutely a best practice, and Basic Training has a fabulous Instagram channel overall. Most fitness professionals who use Instagram will find a lot of success through pictures–of the classes, your customers, of the places you work out in–because what you do is so visual. Seeing people do the actual workouts, and looking happy while doing it, is the best promotion your business can get. Plus, it gives people an idea of who else might attend the classes.

The Bottom Line–Results And Attendees

The first free class was held on a Friday night at 6pm. I attended the class and was curious to see how many people would actually show up.

Ten clients took the class, which is a good, solid number considering it was a cold and windy (typical August) Friday night. Out of the ten, 1 person was brand new, and attended after seeing all the buzz about the partnership.

What was more important, however, was the attention the class received from the neighborhood. People came up to us, and the class instructors to inquire about the class. People wanted to know what the business was, when the other classes were, and whether this was a regular class.

iPhones came out and people were actually videotaping us. Now, to be fair, seeing 10 people doing burpees and lunges in a parking lot is always going to gather some attention. And Basic Training hired a videographer to tape the class as well, and when one person is videotaping, other people will follow.

The Basic Training instructors were wearing shirts that had “Basic Training” written on them, which was another great way to build awareness for the business.

Overall, the partnership gathered attention, awareness, and attendees.

Summary–What Makes a Partnership A Good Partnership

The Basic Training + Juice Shop partnership was by all accounts, a success. The true success of any partnership needs to be measured over some time. Basic Training and Juice Shop will both see positive results from their partnership over the next few weeks, and months.

A good partnership is one that:

  1. Gives your clients some loveScreen shot 2013-08-09 at 4.23.37 PM
  2. Is a win-win for both companies, or all companies involved
  3. Gets attention and awareness on social media
  4. Gets the end results–people signing up, attending a class, buying something–anything that you’ve determined is your end goal

Consider a partnership as a way to grow your business, build loyalty among current clients, and offer something unique that helps truly differentiate your business.

Part 2

I spoke with Jennifer Pattee of Basic Training to get the behind-the-scenes details and statistics on the partnership–and it turns out it was quite a success.

Click here to view Part 2.


Has your business established successful partnerships? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

Setting Goals To Grow Your Business

3 Online Goals To Grow Your Local Small Business

Setting Goals To Achieve Online Success

Many of my small business clients have asked me to help them with a social media plan or an SEO plan. They want to dive in right away to all the “sexy” online things, and drive lots of traffic to their Website, or grow awareness of their business fast. The problem with all of this is, without the right foundation being set prior to working on an SEO or social media plan, the plan simply won’t be successful. Before any strategic plan is put into place for anything online–whether it is your Website, your social media channels, or what content is written–you need to first set goals. What are you trying to achieve online?

Setting Big Goals For Online Success

Setting Big Goals For Online Success

Guy Clapperton, author of This is Social Media, says
“Set yourself a target.
Is it about mindshare?
Is it about what you must have in a business plan 
and expected business outcome?”

A good online consultant or freelancer will not even begin work until they understand your goals and YOU should not either.  You should not write, blog, post, or sell anything online until you know your goals. And if you are paying for ads or search traffic without goals—stop doing that right now. We need to take a step back. First, define what you want to achieve online, and prioritize your goals.

Defining Goals

What are the actions people would take that would make you happy, and help grow your business? First you have to figure out what you are looking for, and then drive a strategy around it. Are you an established business looking to increase your revenue? Or are you new and looking for clients? In general, most locally-based businesses, such as yoga studios, salons, and skincare facilities, rely on a steady foundation of loyal customers. Increasing loyalty for those customers is key–and a good goal to set online. Other goals might be setting your business apart from the crowd. If there is a lot of competition in your city or town for services that you also provide, you’ll want to differentiate yourself so that clients know why they should come to you.

3 Suggested Goals For Small, Local Businesses

1.    Get Appointments: Find new customers who will book an appointment with you, and increase the number of appointments booked with current customers. A sub-set of this might be to fill last-minute cancellations.
2.    Differentiate Your Business: Knowing your special sauce and understanding what makes you different is key to developing your content, your branding, and the services you offer.
3.    Increase Loyalty: It’s hard to always be searching for new clients, and one of the best ways health and wellness businesses can grow their business is to focus on current customers coming in more often. Encouraging those clients to also recommend you to friends and family (referrals tend to be loyal clients as well) is an achievable goal online—in fact its one of the best things about social media.

I have  found that in general, these are some good online goals for small, locally-based businesses, particularly health, wellness, and beauty businesses. Once you’ve set your goals, you’ll start making a plan to achieve those goals, and you’ll want to look into your online branding, and how and where to reach your ideal audience online.

In December 2013, the B2 Small Business Boost online tutorials will be launching with in-depth training on precisely how to establish a solid online brand, and reach your target audience online. In the meantime, take this time to write down and prioritize your goals for online.

Develop your own voice instead of parroting what others say.

Small Business Wins: Having Your Own Voice

Develop your own voice instead of parroting what others say.

Develop your own voice instead of parroting what others say.

Having Your Own Voice

(Or, Why Not To Parrot Others)

Do you use social media, your blog, or  your email marketing to re-post things others have written? One of the things I wrote about in my Ebook is the importance of having your own voice. With small businesses, particularly local small businesses, it is one of the key things to differentiate you from your competition, to attract new customers, and to build loyalty with current customers.

Small businesses often will leverage someone who is a “guru” in their field, and post an article or quote from that person, on their own small business social media channels or Website, or blog. I call this “parroting” because you are essentially just saying what someone else has already said. When small businesses use social media to simply parrot what others say, or, simply post an article they like–it isn’t building your own brand. Having your own voice is critical, and it helps establish YOU as the guru, rather than someone else.

In this short blog, I will give you three quick ideas for how to have your own voice.

1. Write About What You Love:

Seriously, this is a simple one, but it is missed by so many small businesses. In fact, many small business owners try to avoid talking about the things they are passionate about because they want to appear more professional, or as if they are a larger business. Even with large businesses, having a personality and sounding “human” online is important. One of the ways you develop a relationship with your customers online, AND make writing anything online fun is to write about the things you love. That could be playing soccer, or painting, or traveling. Your customers are your customers because they like YOU as well as your services, so talk about the things that make you, you. When you write and talk about things you are passionate about, your voice–the thing that makes you unique–becomes clear.

2. Write How You Speak:

This might be the only thing I found useful when getting my masters degree in Journalism. Some people disagree with this strategy on writing; I’m a huge fan. One of the reasons small business owners post what other people write, is because they are intimated by writing, or they think they are bad writers. I guarantee you are not a bad writer. Simply write down the things you would say in a session with a client. When you have a session with a client, I’m sure you say brilliant things about what you do–whether it is skincare advice, nutrition advice, stress-reduction tips. You can use a dictation machine, so exactly what you say can be used as a blog post, or you can try video posts as a way to simply speak what you know. If you are writing, read the content allowed when you are finished–does it “sound” like you? Rewrite it until it sounds natural–as if it really is something you would just say.

3. Write What You Know:

Everyone has topics they consider themselves experts on. For me, it is online marketing and strategy, ecommerce, social media, etc. When I speak or write about those topics, it’s clear I know them well, and as a result, anything I say or write comes across clearly. It is the same for all small business owners–there are things you are simply an expert at. It could be A.R.T. if you are a pilates instructor, or it could be taking care of split ends if you run a salon. Whatever the thing, or things, that you consider yourself an expert on, are the very things you should write and speak about, online and offline. Your voice will be loud and clear because of your expertise. When we are experts in something, we don’t falter when we speak–we simply state things as facts, and that comes across as a solid and strong “voice” online.

4. Bonus Tip–If You Do Post Other People’s Writings/Articles, Tell People Why You Like It:

Curating content (which is another way of saying, posting other people’s articles on your social media channels or Website), can be a way to grow your brand, if you do it correctly. I go into much more detail about this in my Ebook, but if you do post something someone else wrote, at least tell your customers and fans why you like it, what you think about the article/blog, and what you might not like about it. In this way, you are establishing that you have an opinion about something, and you are also showing that you have your own voice.

These four things will help you develop your own voice online, and will help build your small business as a unique and special place.