April Showers – A Month in Review

Spring Flowers, April in review, month in review, business development, personal development

April Began with a Celebration of Spring

April began with what used to be my favorite holiday, Easter. I’d like to take a moment and share some deep honest thoughts about this holiday. I was born on Maundy Thursday, which recognizes the day of the Last Supper – just 3 days before Easter. Throughout my life, my mother always referred to me as her Easter baby for this reason. Since I’m one to accept love from family and friends, I always saw it as a sweet sentiment. However, we grow up. We learn things that our parents never told us and we find out that some of the things we once considered to be sweet sentiments are just empty sayings.

Rather than get into the details here, I’ll share the conclusion – my husband and I choose to not celebrate Easter. Instead, we like to celebrate the changing of the season into the spring with the “resurrection” of the plants and flowers. It feels a little more genuine to me. My parents, who stopped attending church years before I stopped, not so quietly judged me for making this choice. It could have kicked off my month with annoyance, but I decided to let it go. Now I’m working on embracing our differences. That is the theme of April – accepting the things I cannot change and changing the things that I can.

The Business is Growing and There are Growing Pains

April was the first full month of having my new part-time help working with me. It is such a challenge to find suitable support staff for a small business, so I feel fortunate to have found a smart person with a good work ethic. I chose her from the other top candidates for two main reasons: she requires less training than the youngest candidate and she is different from me while still understanding my perspective and the business purpose. She still has plenty to learn, and there is so much she wants to contribute. If we keep up our groove, then I think it will be easy for the business to make enough money for her to become a full-time employee. That’s one of my big goals for this year.

March brought in a ton of interest for consulting work. Since I knew I had additional support to make things happen, I said yes and yes and yes again. Two new marketing strategy projects ran in April and will be wrapped up in the beginning of May. We also have two more proposals that prospects sat on for a couple of weeks, and they appear to be coming to fruition in these first weeks of May.

The downside of taking on the new consulting work is that it cut into my time working on workshops, training ideas, and online courses. My next “big” event is an online workshop in collaboration with two strategic partners on May 15th. Only a couple of people are signed up and it’s largely because I have put so little effort into promoting the workshop. The upside is that my two awesome strategic partners support me in making this an evergreen online workshop that’s available through my Kajabi site. Their feedback was that it’s all equal because I’m always contributing to them with leads and ideas, so they want to return the favor.

Always Be Learning

Professional and personal development are definitely my M.O. in life. If there’s an opportunity to take in some new information that will make me stronger or better in some way, then I’m ready to take it in. With this in mind, I decided earlier this year to implement the software tools from Zoho in my business to make workflows more fluid in operations and marketing. I’ve slowly become a Zoholic (apparently that’s what fans of the platform are called). It takes time to get everything integrated, but I made a good dent in April with improvements to project management and customizing my CRM software.

history, business, future, evolution

A Few Highlights of My April

In My Business…

1. Powerful meeting with an organizational development expert.
She guided me through defining my life’s passions, big goals and dreams, clarifying my values, and turning that into an updated mission statement for the business. In this process, I faced things about myself that I should accept (both good and bad) because they make me who I am.

2. Attended a friend’s branding discussion.
I met some interesting people who may or may not turn out to be valuable connections. It was also great to reflect on his approach to branding in comparison with my concept of brand language.

3. Ended a toxic business relationship.
A new client who was expected to be an easy 2 hour gig turned into a nightmare because she is disorganized and a poor communicator. Rather than let it continue on, I finished up the first part of the agreement and closed out the project. It was frustrating to think she go through my pre-qualifying filters, but I learned that even those need improvement.

4. Visual Branding Magic.
My kick-awesome husband began supporting me with my visual branding. I shared my insights from the powerful meeting and the vision of the business with him. He was very happy to support me and contribute to the growth of my business by sharing his expertise about visual concepts. Wow! I am so damn lucky.

5. Gave a New Talk.
A professional friend invited me to her group of entrepreneurs to give a talk about marketing strategy. The title of my presentation was 6 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Marketing Plan. Since this is a topic I know so well, it was easy to rearrange my old speech and give it a fresh spin. The group really enjoyed it and gave me great feedback.

6.Completed a long-term client project.
Over the past 4 months I’ve been supervising and training this virtual assistant to know my client’s brand and know how to work best with her. Apparently, I did a good job and now she is flying from the nest. The client told me she was ready to work with just the VA. Since that was my goal, I feel really good about it.

 

In Personal Life…

  • I had a birthday – 35 years completed. Ready to live the next year with love and collaboration.
  • Awkward lunch date with an old networking friend. This was an epiphany lunch where I realized how little we have in common other than the group where we first met. And that is okay. I accept who she is and who I am as different people coexisting.
  • Dealt with my aches and pains by trying out Airrosti. It’s like sports medicine, but you don’t need to be an athlete to go see someone. They do a mixture of therapeutic massage (more like pushing into your soft tissue until the pain goes away) and teaching you exercises / stretches to prevent more pain. It’s expensive, but it is working for me.
  • Visited with my in-laws for the weekend to celebrate some birthdays. I really like my new extended family, but some of my old yucky habits still flare up. It’s rather embarrassing in retrospect. To strangers, it reads like I was raised by egotistical people who are stuck in childish ways. I’ve had to work hard to NOT be like that and learn to communicate like a normal adult. When you have toxic habits from childhood, it can take a long time to break them. Long story short, my extended family loves me anyway but I’m sure that there were moments of “what the heck?” going on in their minds. I accept that this happened and aim to continue improving myself.

 

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Building Trust in a Risk-Adverse World

I was worried about the person putting together my LLC paperwork

Every time we exchange money for a product or service, we are putting our trust in a total stranger. So how do you build trust?

  • Word of mouth and direct connections. This is how most of us get started with our first clients. we share some information, get some referrals, and the ball is rolling. The trust is based upon mutual connections.
  • Doing great work. Once you have a client, it’s all about producing a beautiful product or service. Now the trust has been extended based upon a respect for quality in what you deliver.

It’s the growth stage – the time between brand new and rolling along – that is the most difficult for so many small business owners. How do you get the new customers? Why should they trust you? Without a mutual friend or having already experienced a quality deliverable, they have no idea if you’re trustworthy to work with.

Build trust in other ways

This means showing the world that you are a trustworthy brand. Anything from testimonials to certifications and licenses will help. Or good ole’ fashion face time in the community. Knowing the person behind a company or brand is what helps to make him or her trustworthy.

I don’t trust a product or service, but I may trust the person who made that product or delivered that service. It is a risky decision each time, but we all make decisions every day. Choosing to eat at P Terry’s over Whataburger – why? Do you know for a fact that one is healthier or better than the other? Where did you get that information? Is it a trustworthy source? Most likely, you heard people talk… about food quality or ingredients or great service, or maybe all three. You put your trust in another person.

Entrepreneurs are risk takers. We’re the ones who have to build that trust with strangers. So how are you building trust with the strangers around you?

 

Making a Website

I’ve been so lucky to get so many professional referrals for so long that I have put off a lot of the basic “I’m running a business” tasks. An important, but annoying, task I finally tackled was building a website.

It’s not so much that it’s difficult to make a simple website, but it’s the creative planning and thoughtfulness that it requires. So I dedicated a weekend to putting together the bare minimum for what I need.

  1. Shopping around WordPress Themes. This bit of research included looking at features, design, and basic functionality. I ended up with a free theme that suited my needs.
  2. Connecting my domain name (BeckmannCollaborative.com) from GoDaddy to WordPress.
  3. Customizing my WordPress Theme – site name, layout options, etc.
  4. CONTENT. This is the animal I didn’t want to tackle, but decided was absolutely necessary. My final decision was to keep the content very simple – home page with intro information, an about page, blogs, contact, and partners/collaborators.

It took me about 10 hours total over 2 days, and now I have my framework for a functioning website.

Other factors to consider:

  • Contact Form. I recommend using a plugin to a email platform. Almost anything is better than the free contact forms that come with WordPress. This is important for your lead generation plans as well as developing drip content (if you so choose).
  • Blog Plan. To have a blog or not? I just about always choose to have one because I love great content and sharing stories. If you hate writing and know that you will not keep up with a blog, then don’t bother setting one up. An empty blog looks like you don’t care enough to try.
  • Images and Brand. Something I have yet to address for my own business is branding. While I have a ton of ideas about what I think it should look like, few decisions have been made. At minimum, I knew the ascetic that I wanted for my website and the kinds of images I prefer to get my point across.

Measuring Your Marketing Strategy

I understand that as a small business owner or startup founder you want all of your money to go into making the most perfect amazing product. It makes sense. However, creating something amazing is a waste if no one knows about it. Marketing is key to your success, so plan for it – both time and money.

Small Business Marketing Basics

So you own a small business and you want to tell the masses that you exist. Here are the things you most likely already know to do:

  1. TELL PEOPLE: Attend networking events and social gatherings around town, armed with business cards. Know a succinct way to explain what your business is and why it’s unique.
  2. LOOK PROFESSIONAL: Have a website. It should be easy to navigate, simple to read, and mobile-friendly. Avoid getting too fancy, especially in the early stages.
  3. BE ACCESSIBLE: Have a social media / online presence beyond your website. Depending upon your industry, this may have different levels of importance and live in different places.

It will take some time and effort for you to plan and work on marketing your business. And you may need outside help for building your website or designing business cards. Set aside money and time for these efforts.


Your First Digital Marketing Strategy

Once you are beyond the basics, you will want to start measuring and planning your marketing. This requires a little extra time and some more targeted planning. Hopefully, you have Google Analytics and Webmaster tools already plugged into your website so that you are tracking the activity.

Before You Plan, You Must Measure 

Watch a few videos on Google Analytics and how to read your reports. The areas that you should consider focusing on at first are Audience (Overview, Geo and Mobile), Acquisition (All Traffic-Channels), and Behavior (Site Content-All Pages). Make some notes to yourself about what you see in these reports. How long are visitors staying on your website? What pages are they visiting? Where are they coming from?

Google Analytics, Small Business, Digital Marketing

 

 

When you have a general idea of what your website visitors are doing, set out some goals. What do you want website visitors to do? Make a purchase, sign-up for a newsletter, fill out your contact form, call you, etc. If you do not feel totally overwhelmed by Google Analytics, then your next step is to setup a goal.

Google Analytics lets you define 4 different types of goals:

  • Destination: the user reaches a specified web page or app screen.
  • Duration: the user spends a specified minimum amount of time on your site or app.
  • Pages/Screens per session: the user views a specified minimum number of pages or screens.
  • Event: the user conducts a specified action, like viewing a video.
Social Media Engagement Matters Too

To draw a complete picture of your digital footprint, you are likely to use social media channels. The most popular of them are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and Instagram. Do not base your social channel choice on where your friends and family are most active.

Think about your customers.

  • Who are they?
  • Where would they be talking about your product?
  • What are the kinds of things they like that are similar to your product or service?

Then look at how existing followers are interacting with you on social media. 
Putting content out into the world for the sake of doing so is a poor use of your time, so look closely at the posts that get the most engagement. Make sure you have at least 1 month of activity before reviewing any reports – 3 months would be better.

  • How many people are you reaching with your content?
  • Are they interacting with your posts (likes, comments, shares)?
  • What times of day and days of the week are you posting content? Is that when your people are online?

Every 2-3 weeks, check your reports, learn from what you’re reading, and apply it to your digital presence. Make notes, look for trends, ask yourself questions.


Coming Up Next Time:
What do I do with all of these reports? How can I apply what I see to my marketing?

Tell Me a Story vs Sell Me a Product

You can shout from the hills all day long about how amazing your product or service is, but there is so much competition out there that it is difficult (even rare) for you to stand out from the crowd.

There is no meaning in a product description, but there IS in the story behind it or the company that developed said product. Our brains process information in story-like patterns and words into meanings. So when someone tells us a story, it reaches more than just the language center of our brain – it activates other senses.

Invite People to Experience Your Product Through a Story

This isn’t a “Once Upon a Time” scenario, but more of a mini-documentary or biography. Remember the VH1 show Behind the Music? That show brought so much attention to artists who were long forgotten and it triggered huge music sales. Why? Because we (the viewers) engaged on a deeper level with that musician or band, felt connected, and wanted to be part of their story somehow.

Brand Story, Marketing, Company Story, Marketing story, storytelling

Yes, there are absolutely instances of huge companies that do not tell their story in the way that I’m describing. They simply have a tagline that includes sensory words to trigger your interest. Then they repeat the phrase everywhere you go so that you can’t forget.

“Mmm Mmm Good”

Melts in your mouth, not in your hands”

“The Happiest Place on Earth”

Customers want to hear about why the company or product exists, the way the founder feels about the product, the first-ever store opening or sale made. Those small moments in time will take people from liking a quality product or service to connecting with it and becoming loyal.

 

Creating Accountability and a Routine

Now that January has come and gone, many friends have commented on the falling away of their loosely planned New Years Resolutions. To avoid this failure in myself, I made a point of attending every meetup event I could about making and keeping resolutions during January. The logic behind it was that if I could learn the 20 different ways other people are making and keeping up with their goals, then maybe I could find the ways that work best to implement them into my own life.

Part 1: What the Heck Are Your Goals?

Believe it or not, this was the hardest part for me. As everyone buzzed about losing weight, achieving a dollar goal for their business or creating a routine, I sat their blank faced. Finally, people asked me some questions that helped to guide me there. Where do you see yourself 6 months from now? What would make you happy that isn’t in your life? Why are you unhappy?  

Out of these questions, I started with 4 weekly goals and 2 long-term goals. The weekly goals include exercise, getting outdoors, being social, and creating a positive sleep routine. My long-term goals include a solo-trip to Norway and building my company to include partners.

 

Part 2: Creating Accountability

Once you have said your goals out loud to another human being (or in my case, announcing them on social media to the world), you are 80% more likely to achieve them. To push myself further, I discovered 2 methods to keep me accountable for the weekly goals – a calendar and a buddy.

Accountability, Routine, Being Accountable for goals, New Years Resolutions

My Accountability Calendar for January

Accountability Calendar (not my idea, but wish it was). Pin a plain old calendar on your wall and choose a few different colored markers – each one represents a goal. When you complete a goal, mark it on your calendar for that day. The visualization of your accomplishments is pretty powerful.

An Accountability Buddy. This is a person you check-in with about your goals. Think of it as a report you must send to the boss each week, though in this case it’s really a tool for you and your own good. My buddy and I actually have a friendly competition going. We track our goals with points each week (1 point per goal achieved). At the end of the month, the person with the most points is treated by the other to dinner, coffee, drinks, or whatever else suits.

Part 3: Set Benchmarks and Get Excited for Long-Term Goals

I actually set calendar appointments with myself for all of my goals, but it’s especially important for the long-term ones. In order for me to go to Norway for a few weeks at the end of August into September, there are a few preparations I need to make – research, set a budget, purchase plan tickets, book hotels, plan activities, and coordinate with client work. For each item, I’ve created a due date – it is on my Google Calendar with all of my meetings and tasks, as well as living in my Asana task manager under it’s  own project.

Knowing my ability to put off personal endeavors to make way for clients and work-related things, I had to set aside time to schedule myself into meetings with myself.  Otherwise, nothing would get done in time and my trip may not come to fruition. I want it to happen. I’m excited to go. And every week I remind myself about the excitement somehow – Instagram photos, Reddit threads, casual conversations with friends, etc.

Solo Trip, Norway, Accountability, Goal Setting

My Instagram Vision of Norway

 

Just Do What You Need To Do

If making a big change in your life requires some effort and creating a routine, then start somewhere… whatever place you need to. For me, I need calendars and buddies and happy reminders.

 

Your History Does Not Decide Your Future

You do.

Life pitches curve balls and we cannot always predict it. But you can be flexible and open to what the next step is for you and your business.

My Curve Ball

Walking the streets of midtown Manhattan and Astoria, Queens brings back memories – both good and bad. If you know the real New York, it’s hard not to love this city.

Because I am from New York, it’s easy to assume that my destiny was to live here, have a family here, and die here. Nope, not me. I woke up day after day feeling mundane. The city started to look dirty and uninspiring. The shouting homeless guy and constant sirens began to bother me. Opportunities to take big risks and gain life experience didn’t appear to be tangible in New York.

There was a pit in my stomach, and I was feeling completely split in half. One part of me knew the importance of having family and friends close by – my support system. But my future was filled with innovation and making a positive impact. Soon I realized that the entrepreneurs in New York face bigger challenges than those in smaller cities like Austin or Denver. After months of consideration and research, I decided that my history could not hold me back any longer. It was time to take that leap of faith that so many talk about.

history, business, future, evolution

History Does Not Need to Define Your Business

We are the innovators of tomorrow – we create the game changing ideas that will make our world different (and hopefully better). Just as you must be open and recognize your failures and growth opportunities in business, the same applies to the way you communicate with your end customer.  The ideas we share, as well as the processes, must reflect exactly the openness to change.

IDEAS

The old idea was to send all direct marketing communications through the mail. Then email showed up. And then social media and targeted digital ads. Now SMS and mobile apps are leveraged for direct marketing. Direct marketing has evolved from a “I hope they don’t throw this piece in the garbage” experience to a “we can see that the customer viewed this message and replied” engagement.  Print mailers may still be effective for your business, but SMS may also work. It’s easy to fall back on the things you know, but don’t be afraid to take a risk and try something new – it might even take a bit of a fight to make it happen.

PROCESS

Just because it worked last year, doesn’t mean it’s working this year. I know you don’t want to hear that, but it’s true. You may have always included news announcements and product updates in your blog, and that’s worked really well for the past 2 years. Now you have planned content each week that is around a specific marketing campaign. Your blog is going to start looking cluttered and become overwhelming if you’re still including all of that other stuff. It might not happen right away, but readers will be deterred by the experience. It may be time to re-evaluate the way you get different kinds of messages out to different audiences.

In business, as in life, it is important to recognize history, but one should never let it determine what the future holds. So what is holding you back?