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We’re in the home stretch of the SUCCESS 12-step challenge to you to take your business to new heights in just three months. In my first installment, I asked you to swoop in like an outsider and examine your business, to find weak spots and fix them, and to know your numbers so well that you can recite them in your sleep. I urged you to focus on one big wish, your targeted goal.
Then in my second piece, I encouraged you to think differently about your business. I asked you to zero in on your customer base to market more effectively, to create your top 50 list and reach your goals by getting rid of bad habits. You were charged with identifying what’s working for your competitors—and looking at what you can borrow from them.
I want to wrap up with specifics that have helped me in my 13 years as a small-business owner. At this stage, you’re attracting qualified prospects and asking (not hinting!) for the sale. In baseball terms, you’ve hit a double. Now it’s time to bring it (the cash, that is) home.
Step No. 9
Ramp up social media activity.
I spend about an hour a day—at different times—on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Ignoring the Big Three is akin to someone refusing to use a telephone in the 1900s.
I use an 80/20 rule. I spend 80 percent of my time serving other people: answering job-seeker questions, giving advice to a small-business owner, sharing resources that I think my followers would value. I spend the remaining 20 percent selling: Please attend this event or buy this book (or whatever I’m promoting).
The key is I’m not just “on” Facebook or “on” Twitter. I am actively engaged—making connections, sharing my expertise, answering questions. That’s what it’s all about.
If the numbers were flipped, and I spent 80 percent of my time selling, my fans, followers and friends would flee—fast. That’s true at a cocktail party, a networking event, a seminar—and it’s true online: Spend all of your time pleading with people to buy this or that, to give you their money, and watch them run for the door.
Get busy with the 80/20 method today. Use a monthly calendar to plan daily content themes. You can post questions, quotes, articles and ideas that relate to your area of expertise. Share some personal stuff, too, because you have to sell yourself before you can sell your business. If you stick with it—even just 20 minutes a day, every day, including weekends—you’ll reap benefits.
Step No. 10
Pitch the media.
When I started Women For Hire, I needed to drive attendance to my career expos. But I had no budget—zero, zilch, nada—for print or electronic advertising. Ditto for hiring someone to do public relations or marketing. I’d have to personally pitch local newspaper reporters and producers at radio and television stations.
I proposed career stories with angles that intrigued reporters and producers. Those pitches always answered the main concern that anyone in the media has when weighing a story idea: Why you, why now and what’s in it for readers or viewers?
I devised a variety of “Five Tips” segments on job searching—for new grads, for moms returning for work, for people who have been fired. I declared myself as a workplace expert—in truth, probably before I really was one. But because I had offered genuinely helpful job search tips and tactics, no one ever questioned my credentials. Within no time, I was truly an expert in this area.
Anyone in any business can do what I did. A life coach who’d like to attract new clients isn’t going to reveal that detail to a producer. Instead, because you’re in the coaching business, suggest a topic that’s highly relevant to you and to the show’s audience. With summer approaching, families are excited about their summer plans. But what if you’re single? Perhaps you offer advice for travelers to feel confident about venturing off for R&R on their own. June is wedding season, so tips on how to have a great relationship with your future mother-in-law may pique media interest.
Identify media outlets that cover your topic or industry. Read your local newspaper and figure out which reporters cover what. Clip their pieces and create a file on ones you think might be interested in you, so you’re familiar with their work and can refer to it in any pitch you make. Ditto for radio and TV folks.
Look for slow news days such as long holiday weekends when no one wants to work. Make a reporter’s life easier by handing him or her a good, helpful story and you might score.
Step No. 11
Two types of collaborations are worth your time: those that promote your business to the right people and those that make you money.
Let’s start with the promotional side. When I started Women For Hire, my challenge was getting Fortune 500 companies to spend money on my unknown brand. To establish immediate credibility, I partnered with Mademoiselle, a magazine that catered to my demographic, women in their 20s. That allowed me to tout Mademoiselle as a partner in all of my pitches.
How’d I do it? When I pitched the marketing manager, I said I’d feature large Mademoiselle posters at my event, distribute copies of the magazine and allow their advertisers to give samples to my audience. I knew that every magazine offers advertisers added bonuses, and this could be an easy one for Mademoiselle at no cost or hassle. In exchange, I also wanted a short blurb in the northeast edition of their magazine promoting my first New York event.
They said yes, and I landed a huge win. In addition to the ability to tout a well-known magazine as a sponsor and the in-book mention of my expo, I got mascara, lipstick, pantyhose, snack bars and more to distribute in gift bags to my attendees. Who doesn’t love free loot?
On the profit side: For several years, I have delivered keynote speeches at the Conferences for Women in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Texas. These one-day events draw more than 5,000 professional women. I love the energy and, even though I am not paid to speak, I reap plenty of financial benefits: I have been hired to speak at future engagements by some sponsors, and many attendees become private consulting clients.
After a few of these events, program director Laurie Dalton White and I traded best practices and war stories. White asked what more we could do together.
So last year, as I began to grow my Spark & Hustle conferences for current and aspiring entrepreneurs, we expanded her events to two days, with the first as a small-business boot camp co-branded between the Conferences for Women and Spark & Hustle. This enabled her to offer an expanded conference and allowed me to get my new brand in front of a large, well-established audience.
A win-win for us both and we had a dual goal: Inspire attendees and make money together. This wasn’t a partnership for promotion; we were partners in profit, too.
Arrangements like this are definitely worth pursuing when both parties can bring something of value to the table. You can continue to work alone, but new avenues of success may be possible only if you have a strong strategic partner.
Challenge yourself to identify three potential promotional partners and three profit partners. For example, a financial adviser can be a partner with an upscale clothing boutique to offer complimentary investment portfolio advice to shoppers. A résumé writer and an image consultant can partner on a joint, fee-based career workshop cross-marketed to both of their databases. A direct seller could host a trunk show at a yoga studio and share in profits.
Before you call or email, identify exactly what the other party could gain by working with you. You’re probably clear about how you can benefit, but are you equally focused on how this will serve your collaborator? Finally,
Step No. 12
Track your time/demand a larger return.
It’s easy to look up and realize your day is gone, with little to show for it. That’s no way to run an effective business.
Get out of that rut by tracking your time. Take three days, carry a small notebook and track every single thing you do and how long it takes. This old trick works with people who want to quit smoking and lose weight—and you’ll probably be stunned by how much time you waste every day.
That quick check-in on Facebook prompted you to visit your friend’s profile and one thing led to another—and 40 minutes later, you closed the browser. Solution: Pick a few times a day to check Facebook.
That meeting at Starbucks you agreed to as a favor for just 30 minutes meant leaving your office for the 20-minute drive, looking for a parking space for 10 minutes, and then driving back to the office for 20 minutes. Suddenly that 30-minute meeting took 90 minutes. Could you have talked by phone instead or could the person have come to you?
Celebrity event planner Marley Majcher batches her tasks. She designates certain days for all of her meetings and schedules them back-to-back. She devotes one day to just meeting new vendors out of the office. Another day has no scheduled appointments, allowing her to just focus on her business, not just the nuts and bolts of her day-to-day duties. Follow her lead and group similar activities, especially routine ones. You’ll accomplish more.
Overall, guard your time: You have to expect results from your time. It’s not a free-for-all.
If you have $5,000 to invest, you can find many places to put that money, but you’d probably aim for the biggest return. Apply the same strategy to your time. Do you spend an hour browsing the web or do you spend 60 minutes making five sales calls from which you might close a few sales? Before committing to time-suckers, ask yourself whether that time could be better spent. After a while, it’ll become a pattern and you’ll make better choices.
Business success really boils down to taking a series of small, smart, consistent, deliberate decisions to generate results you want. Changing how you spend a few hours each day is just one of those small steps.
You’ll always be working on it, and I can’t honestly say I’ve gotten it down yet. It will always require my time and talent: It’s never on autopilot. But when you’re in your zone, it gets smoother and you get better at it because you develop better habits and work patterns. You’ve got to constantly measure your results and examine small problems before they become big ones. Revisit steps where you think you can improve performance. A great life—personally and professionally—is about endless curiosity. It’s an ongoing commitment in pursuit of excellence. You’re never done.
For me, it’s all about the hustle—the decisions you make and the actions you take each and every day. We can all plot, plan and dream, but the magic comes by doing.
I start each morning by asking myself, What can I do today to make today better than yesterday? Sometimes, quite candidly, the answer is, Tory, don’t screw up like you did yesterday. But most times it’s about making a particular call, finishing something that’s incomplete, or building on an initial success. There’s power in the pounce, which is about being hungry, proactive and intentional about making things happen.
We all define success differently, so whatever it is for you, I’m confident you can achieve it—if you’re deliberate and consistent every day. Be patiently persistent. Don’t throw in the towel too quickly and never assume help is on the way: It’s up to you.
If you have a bad day, join the club: All is not lost. Don’t wait until next week or next month to start over. Tomorrow morning is a fresh start. Just pick up exactly where you are.
Join others participating in the Start Small Win Big Challenge on the SUCCESS Blog.