The 3 reasons every service-based business owner should turn down work.

reasons to turn down work

Sometimes it’s absolutely, positively, definitely ok to say no.
Photo by Andy T on Unsplash

When you’re running your own service-based business it’s tempting to say ‘yes’ to absolutely everything and everyone. And hey, your accountant would possibly just leave it at that.

But I’m going to put my Mummy hat on now and tell you that, while staying in the black is pretty damned important, it shouldn’t come at the expense of these 3 things.

Your reputation.

Just say “yes” — you can figure the details out later.

Whether you’ve been self-employed for months or decades you’re still going to find yourself in this sort of scenario now and again. A client or prospect has asked you to tackle something you’ve never done before. Shit!

What do you do now? If you’re a newbie you’re probably desperate for the cash, the experience, and the testimonial. You think you can probably figure it out with a little bit of help from dear old Google.

If you’re a veteran you’re probably champing at the bit to try something new, to take on a challenge, to push yourself.

And in the case of the veteran, it’s probably a safe enough bet. You have enough skill and experience behind you to know whether it’s a realistic ask and you’ve built up a network of mentors, associates and subcontractors whose skill sets are slightly different to yours — you know that if the shit hits the fan, you have plenty of people who’ll be able to help you deliver the goods.

But if you truly are winging it — if you’ve never even HEARD of what they’re asking you to do and you’re fairly new to the game — it’s probably not worth it.

When it comes to growing your business, reputation is EVERYTHING and just one fuck-up can cancel out years of hard work. So ignore your accountant and only take on a job if you’re almost certain you can deliver.

Your health.

What’s that quote? Something like you’re better off working 80 hours a week on your own dream than 40 hours a week on someone else’s?

Utter crap. Honestly, aren’t you sick fed up with this hustle culture we have going on? Tell me, did you really start your own business so you could wind up working 80 hours a week?

And if anyone tells you that’s just what you have to do to build a successful business they’re either:

  1. A lying workaholic
  2. Not charging enough for their own services or
  3. A lying workaholic

For most of us, working 80 hours a week is a quick route to burnout, a knackered immune system, and inferior work. So as soon as you start thinking that it’s okay ‘just this once’ to work 7 days without a break or to skip that day you’d booked off to spend time with your partner, STOP.

reasons it's ok to turn down work

Photo by Will Porada on Unsplash

It really is okay to say ‘no’ to preserve your health and to make sure you’re getting the downtime and the rest that you need.

And if your bank balance really is pushing you to say yes to absolutely every job that comes your way, have a think about raising your prices or implementing a waiting list. Decent clients who value your skills will be happy to wait a little longer, pay a little extra, or both.

Your sanity.

‘This one’s going to be trouble, I can just feel it’.

I’ve had this gut reaction a few times when a new client comes a-knocking and do you know, I’m always bloody right.

And it’s not because I’m some sort of clairvoyant — nope, it’s because every single one of them has been waving a little red flag.

You know what I’m talking about. Maybe they’re seriously low-balling you right from the start. Maybe they’re demanding an immediate response to emails. Maybe you’ve only just started and they’re already getting in there with the scope-creep. Maybe they’re just a teensy bit rude…whatever it is, it’s got ‘arsehole’ written all over it.

If you’ve already exchanged contracts with such a creature, you have my sympathies and my sincerest hopes that I’m just being a cynical old git.

But if you’re still on the fence about whether you should listen to your gut and say ‘no’ to a Red Flag client, let me reassure you that it’s okay to walk away.

You’ll free up your time to say ‘yes’ to the genuinely lovely people that are out there just waiting for you to work your magic for them and, more importantly, you’ll preserve your sanity. Because there’s nothing worse than working with someone who doesn’t respect your time, your skill or your work processes. Your work will suffer and you’ll end up so stressed that you blow the entire project fee on gin anyway.

That’s the thing about being self-employed — in the beginning, every potential new project feels like it might be the one that’ll make or break your business. It never is. And every time you reject a project because it isn’t the right fit or it isn’t the right time, you’re leaving yourself open to saying ‘yes’ to something incredible right around the corner.

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Caring for your mental health when you work from home

Is working from home a good idea if you have anxiety?

Photo by Gabriel Matula on Unsplash

“Do you think you’ll be okay working from home?” my colleague asked me when I confided that I wanted to quit my part-time job to work on my business full-time.

“What do you mean? Why wouldn’t I?”

“Well, you know, with the anxiety and all…”

Crap, I hadn’t even thought of that. I’d been too busy focusing on other questions: would I make enough money? Would I turn into a lazy git with an extra two days a week at home? Would I ever get out of my jammies again…?

I hadn’t even thought about my mental health. But my colleague had a point — working from home, alone, can be a huge shock to the system for anyone, never mind someone with mental health issues.

On the surface, working from home can seem like the perfect solution to working with your mental health struggles. Had a bad night? Have a lie in and start work an hour or two later — without a commute, you can easily work around that. Need a mental health day? No need to ask the boss, just take the day off and make the time up at the weekend/when you’re feeling better. Stressed by office politics or the daily train journey? Not any more!

Should you work from home when you have a mental illness?

Is ditching the commute the answer to good mental health?
Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash

Only it’s not that simple.

Loads of people struggle to switch off from work. When you work from home, it’s even harder. And when you’re running a business, it’s harder still. It becomes almost impossible to switch into relax mode. You inevitably find yourself checking client emails at midnight or catching up with work-related social media at the weekend. Your boundaries start to blur. Work-life balance? No chance!

And then there’s the social isolation to contend with. Because those co-workers that used to drive you crazy were actually helping your mental health (well, some of them were…). They provided you with human connection, feedback on your work; they were a springboard for your ideas.

Working from home is a big decision — hell, if you have anxiety deciding which socks to wear can be a big decision — so I’m going to share a few of the things that are helping convince me that it was the right one. Why not see if any of them will work for you too?

Don’t over-extend yourself.

Folks with anxiety are often people-pleasers. The “no” word just doesn’t come naturally. Add a generous dose of ambition or financial fear to that mix and you’ll end up with a freelancer facing burnout. Which is bad for anyone, but if you have a history of mental illness, it doesn’t matter how convinced you are that you ‘have it under control this time’, a serious bout of stress will mess with your adrenaline and cortisol production and send you spiraling.

Be meticulous when you’re planning your schedule so know how much spare time you have every week for taking on extra work. No reasonable client will expect you to start work immediately so don’t feel bad for telling them that you can’t fit them in until next week/next month. They will wait!

And don’t fall into the trap of believing that you have to do ALL THE THINGS. Yes, being active on social media is important but you don’t have to be on every platform, all the time (Andrew and Pete have a great video on this), and yes, starting a newsletter/creating an email marketing campaign/launching a webinar/writing an eBook could work wonders for your business but you don’t have to do them all right now. Or ever.

In fact, even when you do decide to tackle some of these projects, you don’t have to handle it all on your own; outsourcing to a VA, a marketing expert or a copywriter (Oh hey, I’m a copywriter! There, plug over), can help you avoid overwhelm.

The main take away: pace yourself.
Working from home when you have a mental illness

Remember to leave yourself some breathing space.
Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

Watch out for avoidance.

By quitting your job to be a work-from-home-entrepreneur, you’ve thankfully managed to escape from some of the things that were exacerbating your mental health issues. Maybe it was the packed train that always triggered a panic attack; maybe it was your boss whose specialty was gaslighting and confidence crushing. Yay, you don’t have to worry about either of those things anymore!

Which is great, as long as you don’t find yourself entrenched in a pattern of avoiding the things that make your anxiety worse. Because you know, and I know, that if you have a fear of driving, for example, the way through it is to get behind the wheel. If you have a fear of public speaking, you need to get up on that damn stage. The only way to squash the things that frighten you is to face them.

And if you want your business to be a success, you’re going to have to face some scary situations. Networking meetings where you have to pitch your services to a room full of strangers, cold calling prospective clients, asking clients for feedback on your work…

I’m not saying for a minute that you HAVE to do all of those things but being vigilant of your own behaviour and motivations could be helpful.  Yes, it’s a huge relief that you don’t have to take a crowded train every day, but never being able to take the train again? That’s maybe not a track you want to go down…

The main take away: try not to use working from home as an excuse to avoid anxiety-inducing situations.

(A wee disclaimer here — I know that if you’re in the throes of a mental health crisis, me saying ‘face your fears’ isn’t going to do a thing to help. It’s as bad as saying ‘snap out of it’ to someone with depression (please, never ever say that to someone with depression.)Take this advice only when you feel that you can cope with it, or ignore it completely as something that just applies to me. Above all, be kind to yourself and only put yourself under as much pressure as you’re able to handle.)

 

Get out of the damn house. Regularly.

I thought I was safe enough on that score: I do the school run twice a day and the dog demands plenty of walks. But while that’s enough to make sure I get dressed and leave the house every day, my world started to become smaller when I went full-time self-employed.

The four walls of my home office were beginning to feel like confinement rather than comfort.

For me the answer was karate. I now train at my kids’ dojo twice a week and as well as appreciating the hell out of the endorphin rush, I love that it allows me to be part of a community. I enjoy meeting new people, making connections and having at least two hours every week my mind can’t wander back to work (because if it does I’ll end up getting punched in the face!).

For you it might be a different kind of exercise class, it might be making the commitment to go for a long walk every single day or it might be that a co-working space is exactly what you need to avoid freelance isolation. Find something that appeals and promise yourself you’ll leave the house at least a couple of times a week, preferably more.

The main take away: no matter how introverted you are, you need human connection. Find a way to make that happen, on your own terms.
Caring for your mental health when you work from home

They look pretty chill…for now.
Photo by Thao Le Hoang on Unsplash

Set scary goals — but don’t forget to appreciate now.

If there’s one thing you’re good at when you have anxiety, it’s living in the future (when you’re not dwelling on the past, that is!). Which can be helpful when you’re building a business. After all, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re never going to figure out which steps you need to take to get there.

Problems arise when you spend all of your time focusing on your big, scary future goals.

Instead of thinking ‘woo hoo, I just scored a new client’, you think, ‘fine, but where’s the next one going to come from?’ Instead of appreciating that you crushed your income goal for the year, you start panicking that it was a fluke, you’ve peaked too soon and next year you’ll crash and burn.

You fall prey to the ‘what if’ voice in your head (I call mine Voldemort because it’s a manipulative, falsely seductive, joy-stealing creep and one of these days I’m going to figure out how to turn him to dust). Instead of enjoying the moment and the small successes as they mount up (and big successes, by the way, are nothing more than a series of small successes gathered up over time), you spend your time focusing on the future and everything that could do wrong.

So how do you overcome this?

I’ve found two ways, and they may make you roll your eyes…

Gratitude and mindfulness.

Now, I know they sound a bit out there (I’m always suspicious of anything you could label ‘woo’) but surprisingly, they’re both backed by science.

Gratitude.
how to look after your mental health when you work from home

There’s always something to be grateful for…
Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

With gratitude, it’s very much a case of ‘you find what you’re looking for’. Go through life thinking everything’s shit and people are all horrible and — boom — that’s exactly what you’ll find. You’ll see the bad stuff and the good will wash over you, unnoticed. You’ll focus on the social media posts you created that got no engagement, you’ll be swamped by awkward clients that take advantage, you’ll feel like your business is more trouble than it’s worth.

If you’re a glass half empty sort, it’ll take a bit of time to change your mindset but it can be done.

My advice is to start a gratitude practice. Every day, find 5-10 things to be grateful for and make at least a couple of them relate to your business. At first, you might have to look really freakin’ hard because a lifetime of negativity is a tough habit to break. But there’s bound to be something. Did you get a new follower on Twitter? Did a client pay their invoice without waiting for a reminder? Did you feel like utter crap but manage to put in a couple of hours at your laptop anyway?

The more you practice looking for the small victories, the more accustomed your brain will become to finding them. The theory is that, eventually, you’ll automatically start to focus on the good stuff without any effort.

And when that happens, you can look to your big, scary five-year goals with confidence and optimism because you’re super aware of the business successes you’ve already had.

Mindfulness.

Initially, I was suspicious of this one, thinking it was just another wellness fad (because self-care, y’all!) but the science behind why it works is pretty compelling. I won’t go into it all here partly because it would take far longer than I have to write, but mostly because science is not my strongest subject. Others have done it far more justice than I ever could.

The nutshell version though is that a regular mindfulness practice will help you acknowledge your thoughts and emotions without falling prey to them. It brings you back to the present moment and allows you to detach from your whirlwind of thoughts long enough for logic to penetrate (your client hasn’t emailed back because they’re in a meeting or it’s their day off — it’s not because you screwed up, sent the email to the wrong person, are a horrible failure etc etc).

I’m constantly trying to find ways to incorporate mindfulness and meditation into my daily work schedule and really do feel the benefit.

Meditation for overcoming anxiety

Get your zen on…
Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

Get started now with my current favourite guided meditation

Or this body scan meditation.

And some further reading that I’ve found helpful:

Ruby Wax: Sane New World

Mark Williams: Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World

The main takeaway: gratitude and mindfulness are not just for woo-merchants — and they can make you feel pretty peaceful. Worth a try, right?

 

Set boundaries.

This doesn’t just apply to your clients — you need to set (and stick to!) your own boundaries too.

Again, if you’re a people-pleaser, this won’t come naturally. And leaving emails unanswered can be torture if you’re an anxiety sufferer. But, I promise your client isn’t expecting a reply to their email on Sunday afternoon (and if they are, ditch them now!).

Your mental health demands that you take adequate time off from your work. That’s just good sense whether you have a mental illness or not.

Decide what time your work day finishes and then pledge not to check your emails again until you start work in the morning. Make it clear to clients that you don’t work weekends and they’ll have to wait until the next working day for a response.

And take holidays! I appreciate this can be hard, especially if you’re the main breadwinner in your family or the sole earner but it’s soooo important. Failure to take the enough time off is a recipe for mental health disaster and will ultimately have a much greater impact on your earning potential than taking a few days off when you need some R&R.

If you struggle to schedule holidays, sit down at the start of every business year and map out which weeks you’re going to take and then make sure all of your clients know about them. Hopefully they’ll have the decency not to ask anything of you during those periods and you’ll find it easier to take the time, guilt-free.

Caring for your mental health when you work from home

Beautiful Lake Garda is my top holiday spot — I feel more relaxed just looking at this…

The main take away: there are no prizes for working 60 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, no award for hustle. Take a holiday!

Seek support.

caring for your mental health when you work from home - find your tribe

Find your tribe! Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

Working for someone else can be great for people with anxiety — you have regular appraisals so you know what you’re getting right and how you can improve your performance. You have colleagues to support you when you’ve had to deal with tricky projects or impossible-to-please clients and you have a sounding board (AKA reassurance) for any new ideas you want to try out.

When you’re self-employed you have none of that. You hope that you’re doing a great job, but without regular feedback, how do you know for sure?

You may think you’ve had a great idea but without someone cheerleading you on, you give in to self-doubt and your idea fizzles out.

And those bad days that we all have? Without someone to moan to, you internalise the stress and it begins to fester.

Luckily there are a few solutions you can try:

Firstly, start listening to your clients. Their feedback is as reassuring as any appraisal. You should be asking for a testimonial after every project or encouraging every customer to leave a product review for you but even if you don’t currently do that, try listening to the things your customers aren’t saying.

If they come back to you time and again? They’re telling you that they value your work.

If they pass your name on to their friends and family? They’re telling you that you’re great at what you do.

Take note of these victories and look at it every time imposter syndrome rears its ugly, lying head.

Secondly, find yourself a business champion — someone (or several someones) who you can turn to for advice when you have a great idea or who’ll commiserate with you when you have a crap day or awful client. This could be a business buddy (my sister is mine!), a business coach, a mentor or a membership community (I belong to Atomic and it’s great for helping you feel that you’re not in this thing alone).

The important thing is that you build yourself a little business tribe that you can turn to whenever loneliness sets in.

The main take away: you’re not alone, your tribe is out there somewhere. You just have to find it.

There, doesn’t that sound like I have it all worked out?

Ha, I wish!

In truth, working your way through mental illness is a huge adventure in trial and error. As is self-employment. But if you’re thinking of taking the leap to working from home or you already are a self-employed home-worker feeling the strain, some of these might work for you. I hope they do.

I’m adding a huge disclaimer to this post. I’ve done a ton of reading on mental health, the brain-science behind mental illness, and strategies for coping, but I’m far from being an expert. The info shared here relates to my own experience and the things that work for me.

If you’re finding things hard at the moment, please, please, please, reach out to someone, preferably a qualified professional.

remember that you’re not alone, you are worthy of help and you do matter. You really, really do.

Why you should set a yearly watchword for your business.

Your word of the year: a road map for your business.

Your watchword of the year: a roadmap for your business.
Photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash

 

Entrepreneurship is one hell of a rollercoaster. Someone recently described it to me as ‘a series of “oh shits” followed by “woo hoos”, which I thought summed things up nicely.

One of the biggest “oh shits” I face when running my business as a solopreneur is decision making. I’m definitely a type A gal, assuming that A stands for anxiety, and if I’m not careful I can find myself mired in decision paralysis for weeks, or even months before deciding where and how to invest my time and money.

And I don’t think I’m alone. Running a business is hard work, especially when you’re a sole trader. Sure you can run the pros and cons of any new opportunity past your business buddies, your significant other, your cat…but no one is as invested in your company as you are.

When it comes to taking action, it’s all on you.

Which is why I find having a watchword of the year so useful.

Choose the right word and you can use it as a guide, a compass, a North Star showing you the way.

What’s your business North Star?
Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

Let me show you what I mean…

In 2018 I had two watchwords: preparation and patience.

In January, I started a post-graduate course in Translation Studies with the Open University. I was also still working at my part-time job teaching preschool children. That alone is a packed schedule, add client work to the mix and you can probably guess just how closely I resembled the proverbial headless chicken.

Various business opportunities came my way during the year that, had I said yes, would’ve left me with an overloaded schedule, compromised the quality of my work and had me reaching for the vodka before breakfast. I had to put my blog on hold, suspend my membership of Atomic (a fab group run by marketing champs Andrew and Pete), and cut back on my local networking.

It was frustrating as hell!

But I knew my watchwords. I had decided that 2018 was about preparation and patience. My study and my existing clients/projects were the priority. (Incidentally, as a strategy, it totally paid off — I’ve been able to give up the teaching gig and I passed my uni course with a Distinction and have even more fancy letters after my name — ya dancer as we say in Glasgow 😊)

 

2019 has a different watchword so I’ll need a different strategy. The new watchword is partnerships.

I know that I love working with other creatives and the driving force behind why I do what I do is the pleasure of helping other entrepreneurs hit their business goals. So ‘partnerships’ is a no-brainer.

With ‘partnerships’ as my North Star, I know that I need to focus on finding new folks to collaborate with and I want to provide you guys with a more rounded service so that I can be instrumental in helping you build your brands. It means a move away from specialising just in web copy — I don’t want to write your web content and then send you off into the big bad world alone, I want to help you create lead magnets, build your email lists, and sell even more of your juicy products and service packages. A true partnership!

So what does that look like in terms of business decisions?

  • Joining a marketing membership platform (I’ll be going back to Atomic for sure!)

  • Getting myself and my brand out there again — creating content, in-person networking and hopefully attending a few events/conferences.

  • Creating new service packages so I can offer my clients a collaborative approach, in conjunction with other creative professionals (oh look, more partnerships!)

And probably a whole bunch of stuff that I haven’t thought of yet. With my watchword at the forefront of my mind, I’ll know whether any opportunities that come along in 2019 will help or hinder my goal for the year. Which will make the decision-making process eleventy billion times easier. I hope!

Could a watchword work for you?

If you

Struggle to prioritise your marketing efforts;

Find it hard to know which opportunities to grab and which to body swerve;

Want to invest in your business but aren’t sure where to throw your cash;

Hide under your duvet, whimpering, and comfort eating Pringles whenever there’s a big decision to be made.

Setting yourself a 2019 watchword might just be the answer. And of course, before you come up with your ‘word of the year’, you need to know where you’re heading.

This is the perfect week to do it. Hopefully, you’re starting to wind down before the holidays and you’re probably beginning to reflect on everything that went right — or wrong — over the past 12 months.

Grab yourself a notebook and write down what you absolutely loved about your business this year. The stuff that made you happy dance, the stuff you couldn’t wait to share on your social feed, the stuff you want more of.

Like me, it could be about building more partnerships, or, like my 2018 self, it could be linked to an element of professional development you want to explore. It could be something like ‘connect’, where your business goals are linked to the relationships you want to build, online or off, or it could be something super cheesy like, ‘believe’, if you’ve had a particularly rough year as an entrepreneur and you’re teetering on the edge of returning to the 9-5.

I’m generally not one for ‘woo’, but I do reckon that as soon as you hit upon the right word, your gut will let you know. It will just make sense. And when you find your word, plaster that sucker everywhere — your desk planner, your calendar, your mirror, hell, stick a post-it note to your forehead if you have to.

Use that word to guide your 2019 business strategy and see where it takes you.

I’d love to know if this is something you do in your business? Share your word in the comments and how it’s shaping your 2019 strategy!

Like this? You’ll probably find this one helpful too: Top tips on how to invest in your startup.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The top 3 things you should do for your business BEFORE the Christmas holidays.

Of course, if you have one of these guys in your office I give you full permission to goof off for the whole of December. And can I come and play too?
Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

 

Are you going to end 2018 with a bang or a whimper?

I don’t know about you guys but after a few crazy months spent trying to get all of my clients’ content up to date before the Christmas holidays, my calendar is looking much calmer. Calm enough to allow the teeniest, tiniest sliver of “holiday cheer” to start filtering through.

And as work-related busyness finally becomes more manageable, my personal life is becoming crazy. I bet you know what I’m talking about…

Your kids’ school seem to want either your presence or your pennies every other day for Nativities, Christmas Jumper Days, panto trips…
Your friends all want to “catch up before Christmas” (as do you, obviously, but there’s now a weird artificial rush on social engagements as if we’re all going to drop off the face of the earth as soon as the bells ring out for 2019).
You’re hit with the realization that you’re cooking Christmas dinner for 9 people, which requires a complete looting of Sainsbury’s as well as much time spent rearranging furniture to test out where everyone will sit.

You’re definitely tempted to down tools altogether, launch yourself into a vat of mulled wine and declare yourself done for the year. Hey, I’m right there with you and I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that — choosing when to work is one of the benefits of self-employment, right?

But here’s the thing. I’ve had a bloody amazing year and I’m determined that 2019 is going to be even bigger and better. And I want the same for you too.

So instead of putting the curtain down on 2018 a bit early, let’s use the next couple of weeks to supercharge your business for next year, with my top 3 tips for ending the year on a bang rather than a whimper.
Who’s with me?

Know your numbers.

This is such a great time of year to take stock of your financial situation, particularly if your accounts run to the end of the tax year in April. After all, you still have one full quarter left to hit those sales targets. So if your projections show that you’re going to be £3,000 short come April, you know that you only need to sell two more packages at a value of £1,500 to make your target. And with 3 months to spare you have plenty of time to go out and find new clients or reach out to previous ones.

Having a handle on your current numbers will also tell you whether you can splurge on a fancy new ergonomic office chair or CPD course in the January sales. I already have my eye on a few exciting purchases!

Of course, if you’re a shoebox accounting aficionado this could turn into a hell of a job, in which case I definitely recommend a glass of something mulled while you tackle it. And once you’ve got those pesky little receipts under control, make it a New Year’s resolution to go digital with your accounts next year. Neither numbers nor tech come naturally to me (no surprises there!) but I find the Wave app particularly easy to use when it comes to keeping track of my business income and expenditure — one quick look at my dashboard tells me exactly how much profit I’ve made this year so far.

 

Fill your New Year calendar.

New Year, new prices?

If you’re planning to put your prices up, and you have some gaps in your schedule for January and February, you’ve got a great excuse to get in touch with your past clients and all of the lovely people on your list. Let them know that you’re planning a price increase in 2019 but give them the opportunity to book in with you now (for work to be completed before the end of February),

Let people know that your prices are going up in January and now’s the time to book in at your current prices. They get a New Year bargain and you start the year with a full diary and deposits in before Christmas. Everyone’s happy!

(On that note, I actually am introducing a long-overdue price increase in January. I have two slots available for web content, one in January and one in February, so hit me up now if you want to book one of those at my current rates.)

Get a jump start on your content.

Ok, I get that for loads of you, planning and (groan!) actually writing your business content is a total drag and you’d definitely rather eat a mince pie and watch Home Alone for the 3,562nd time (ya, filthy animals), but I promise you’ll thank me come January if you already have some of your 2019 content planned out before we all start dancing to Slade and eating cheese and crackers for every meal.

If you struggle for ideas, I recommend having a look at Janet Murray’s Media Diary or you can check out Daily Greatness planners, which I haven’t used personally but they come highly recommended by a fellow content pro. ‘Cos we all know the answer to better content lies in shiny new stationery!

We’re nearly there folks, the season where we can legit wear nothing but jammies or party frocks, eat chocolate for breakfast, and watch Clarence get his wings yet again. Just think how relaxed you’ll be doing all that, safe in the knowledge that your business is ready to hit the ground running in 2019.

If the idea of planning all of that delicious content your business needs to grow brings you out in a cold sweat, why not make outsourcing your business writing one of your resolutions for 2019. I’ll take your blog and social media content off your hands, filling your inbox with shiny new messages you can send out to your audience every month.
Or if want to figure out the nuts and bolts yourself I’ll be introducing new content strategy consultation packages in the first half of 2019. Email me your contact details and I’ll pop you on the waiting list.

 

Merry Christmas! Photo by Tom Rickhuss on Unsplash

 

How to survive when your business isn’t your job.

Are you crazy stressed trying to juggle a business and a day job? Here’s how to make is easier…

 

juggling a business and a day job

Calm down, Mrs, freaking out isn’t going to help.

 

Get ready for the “no s***, Sherlock statement” of the day: building a business takes time!

Sometimes way more time than you had hoped or anticipated. And what this likely means is that you’re going to be building your business around your day job — no easy feat.

When you’re just starting out, it isn’t too bad.

Excitement about your new venture has you so wired you feel as if you’ve been hooked up to a Red Bull IV. But this gets old, fast.

You wonder…

Are you ever going to be able to send off that resignation letter you drafted months ago? Can you cope with a 50+ hour week? Will the staff in your local even recognise you by the time you get the chance to have a pint with your mates?

How can you survive when your business isn’t the only job you have?

Check out the tactics that have helped me keep my sanity (well, mostly) while juggling a business and a day job.

Make time for self-care.

It’s so blinkin’ obvious but are you actually doing it? Honestly, how many times have you worked through your lunch break, skipped your workout, or reached the end of the day only to realise you haven’t even finished your first bottle of water?

I’ve done all of these, and occasionally still do when I’m swamped with work. And you know where it leaves me? With a thumping headache, zero creativity and an overwhelming desire to raid the kids’ stash of Christmas chocolates. I’m guessing you can relate?

So here’s the plan.

Breathe: it’s kind of important.

Let’s all promise ourselves that we will drink water throughout the day, we will get out for a walk in the fresh air as often as we can (hook yourself up to a podcast while you’re walking if that helps you feel less guilty), and we will cook real food, from scratch. It only takes 10 minutes to throw some soup or stew ingredients into your slow cooker in the morning before you head to work. You’re far less likely to bung a ready meal in the microwave when you get home, if you’re greeted by the smell of homemade soup, right?

Oh, and I know that evenings are probably your only chance to work on your business but I guarantee that even a 20 minute run or workout DVD will give you an extra hour’s worth of energy to get stuff done before you hit the hay.

Find ways to multi-task.

There are always ways to use your time more productively. Watch training videos or listen to podcasts while you’re cooking or ironing. Bring your laptop with you while your kids are in football training, or write notes for your next blog post and brainstorm marketing ideas while you’re on the train to work.

Okay, not what I meant when I said multitask…

Outsource what you can.

If you find that planning your editorial calendar or writing your blog content takes forever, then outsource it to someone like me. If you feel like you spend your whole life on social media, try hiring an SM expert or a VA to take care of your accounts for you. Or if it’s your finances that give you the biggest headache and take up all of your time, look into taking on a bookkeeper.

It’s might sound counter-intuitive to spend money on things you can do yourself — especially if you’re squirrelling away as much cash as possible in preparation for going full-time self-employed — but you need to consider if doing these tasks are really the best use of your time.

Getting on with your own client work might make you far more money than you would have made if you’d spent the time battling your admin.

Try working in batches.

I try not to jump from task to task. Even for a writer, I think sometimes it takes a wee while to get back into writing mode, so I try to work in batches — if I’m writing I’m writing, if I’m editing, I’m editing, if I’m translating, I’m translating.

The first task in any batch is always the hardest, but once it’s out of the way, my brain seems to be in the right mode and I can usually zip through the rest of my workload with relative ease.

Could you adopt similar practices? If you do your own writing, can you dedicate a few hours one day to sort your content for the whole month? Or set aside a spare evening to work out your social media updates for the week?

You’ll find you get much more work done that way, leaving you with more time to play with and hopefully a bit more sleep!

Figure out when you’re most productive.

If your energy or creativity are at their peak first thing in the morning, it would be worth setting your alarm an hour or so earlier. You’ll be far more productive and after a hard shift at the day job, you’ll be able to justify chilling on the sofa for a bit, having made a dent in your to-do list before you’ve even left the house.

Or, if you prefer working in the evening, try to get as many of the household chores out of the way while you’re getting ready for work so you’re not loading the washing machine when you’re at the height of your productivity.

Sacrifices are inevitable so don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

If you’re missing your Saturday morning lie in (for those of you who don’t have kids!) or you’ve missed the last three episodes of ‘Strictly’, you might need a wee reality check. Yes, these things suck, but they’re the sacrifices you have to make if you want to build a successful business.

Keep reminding yourself that it WILL be worth it in the end.

You did it! Insert cheesy success photo here.

That said, don’t spend so much time focusing on the future, that you leave yourself feeling miserable now.

Ignore the guilt: have a drink with your pals, take your kids to a movie and switch off for a while. After all, when you do eventually hit the business big-time, you want to be sure you still have people around you to toast to your success!

 

Are you juggling a growing business and a day job? I’d love to hear you top tips for how you’re managing to keep all of the balls in the air without dropping your sanity! Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

 

 

 

 

How to stop Impostor Syndrome holding you back.

how to deal with impostor syndrome

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

Is Impostor Syndrome holding you back?

How do you feel when you see those super-confident entrepreneurs at networking events? You know the ones who can just grab hold of the mic and tell the room how awesome they are. No apologies, no hesitation. They’re amazing and they know it — and I’ll bet their sales conversion rate isn’t too bad either.

I’ll bet they find it pretty easy to write their web content too.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks business owners come up against when writing their own web copy, is the inability to sell themselves. There are a few reasons that we might find this aspect of copywriting so difficult (I go into this in more detail here) but for some of you, I’m willing to bet that a sneaky little doze of Impostor syndrome might just be to blame.

Now, if there’s a way to banish that particular demon for good, please, please let me know (we’re rather good friends, Impostor Syndrome and I, although he comes to visit far less often than he used to, I’m happy to say). But, while we’re waiting for the answer, there are a few things you can do to make sure he doesn’t hang around for too long when he does pay a visit.

Make yourself a brag book.

Arrogance isn’t cool but damn, you’ve worked hard for the things you’ve achieved, so you’re allowed a few bragging rights. Think about everything you’ve accomplished in your career, the last year, the last week, whatever, and write it down. Add pictures if you have any. Any qualifications you’ve earned, courses you’ve completed, work you’re particularly proud of, relationships you’ve built, demons you’ve faced — write it all down and give yourself a shiny star sticker (okay, that’s the nursery teacher in me coming out now, but who doesn’t love stickers?).

Any time Impostor Syndrome comes knocking at your door, shove your brag book right in his horrible little face and send him packing.

Talk to your pals.

Or your Mum. But only if they’re the kind of people who’ll tell you the truth. This isn’t the time for those friends who tell you that you look good even when you know you’re looking like a troll. This is the time for the folk who call you out when you’re being a brat. When your tact-free friends tell you that you’re awesome at your job, you know you it’s the truth. Impostor syndrome won’t get a look in.

Keep your skills fresh.

There is only one occasion that you’re allowed to listen to Impostor Syndrome’s whispering. If he tells you that your skills are getting rusty and you’re not keeping up  with your industry, and you know he’s right, you need to take action.

I know running a business takes up a ridiculous amount of time (hey, I’m right there with you on that one!), but you HAVE to schedule time to work on your skills. You could set yourself a regular appointment to read key industry publications or dedicate some time to completing at least one new course each year.

By far my favourite way of upskilling, is content marketing. Every time I write a blog, whether for clients or for my own blog, I’m learning. All of the research that goes into every blog post is a fantastic way to consolidate existing knowledge and it’s a great incentive to keep abreast of industry developments. And the best thing is that I’m completing serious marketing goals while I’m keeping my skills fresh. Impostor Syndrome, be gone!

Acknowledge that we ALL suffer IMPOSTOR Syndrome.

Yeah, he pays every single one of us a visit at some time or another. Don’t for one minute think that the fact that he’s banging on your door means that you actually are an impostor. We all have those moments of shaky confidence and the suspicion that everyone in the world is doing life better than we are. They’re not.

Let’s make 2018 the year we get rid of Impostor Syndrome once and for all. Whether you’re drafting a social media post, taking centre stage at a networking event, or tackling the dreaded ‘about me’ page copy, I want you to remember that you rock. You’ve got this!

How to survive a freelance dry spell in 7 easy steps.

surviving a freelance dry spell

How to survive a freelance dry spell. (Photo by Brad Helmink on Unsplash)

 

The perks of working freelance are well-documented: working in your jammies, setting your own hours (to an extent), no more standing for hours on the train as you make your way in to the office for 9.00am.

Of course, this comes at a price. The obvious trade off is the complete lack of stability. One month you’re rolling around on a bed covered in £50 notes (okay, not quite!), the next you’re watching tumbleweed blow through your inbox and you’re asking your husband to call your mobile to check it’s still working.

I know we’re not really supposed to admit when we’re struggling but I’m not one for playing coy. I’ll happily admit that just a couple of months ago I fell victim to the dreaded ‘freelance freak-out’. I had had my busiest quarter ever and instead of enjoying the unexpected quiet spell and taking a few days to catch my breath, I started to panic. In my wee head, the busy spell was the anomaly and the quiet patch was the new ‘normal’. I started perusing job ads…

Can you relate?

If you’re currently in the midst of a quiet spell and feeling the onset of your own ‘freelance freak-out’, I want you to stop and take a breath. Assuming you still love your freelance work, this is the time to have faith and just power on through the rough patch.

Some folk turn to praying, others like manifesting and trusting in the universe. Whatever floats your boat. Me, I like action. I’ve put together 7 things you can do today to get that inbox pinging again.

1.Hit up your old clients.

Don’t forget to keep in touch with old clients. If you’ve updated your services, let them know; maybe they’ve been meaning to get in touch for another project and they just need a nudge in the right direction. Perhaps they’ve been meaning to pass your name along to someone who needs your skills but they assumed you’d be too busy to take on additional work. Maybe they’d be happy to provide you with a new testimonial that will help you close a new client you’ve been courting.

If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

2.Send out a newsletter.

People are busy and it’s so easy to fall off their radar. Sending out a newsletter packed with useful content is a great way to remind people that you’re there! Let your list know that you’re currently available and see if anyone bites.

surviving a freelance dry spell

I’m available!

3.Advertise your availability on your social media platforms.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with letting your audience know that you have immediate availability. If you’re usually booked up months in advance, there may be the odd client or two who jumps at the chance to get a project started without having to wait around for you to have a spare week in your diary.

4.Consider launching a new service or event.

Have you had the seed of an idea germinating at the back of your mind for a while? Now is the time to do something about it.

During my last quiet spell, that’s exactly what I did. Based on the conversations I’d been having at networking events, I could see that there are loads of entrepreneurs who have hit stumbling blocks with their content marketing and blogging. I realised that there was a very real need for a consultation service that helps beginner bloggers overcome these blocks. Sure enough, when I offered the service up to beta testers, I had several clients (some old, some new) jump at the chance. Quiet spell over.

Could you apply this to your own business? Could you introduce a new service or hold an event that would help out your target market? Not only will it get some pennies rolling in now, but it could be a great marketing opportunity that will pay dividends in the future too.

5.Get your butt out there.

There’s no point sitting at your desk, crying into your coffee. The best way out of a quiet spell is to get yourself out there — if clients aren’t coming to you, you’ll need to go out and find them.

Book yourself onto a networking event, sign up for a craft fair, go out and meet potential clients.

6.Cold emailing.

If you’re determined to sit at your desk, crying into your coffee, at least be productive about it. Make a list of clients you’d love to work with and send out some emails. Find out more about cold emailing here.

7.Use your contacts.

Do you know anyone in your industry who is swamped with work right now? Let them know that you’re having a tumbleweed moment (they’ll get it, they’ve been there too!) and that you’re willing and able to help them out with any overspill. It’s so important to foster these relationships; after all, there will be months when you’re the one who’s overrun with work and you’ll be able to return the favour.

surviving a freelance dry spell

Get your address book out. Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

8.Hire a sandwich board and parade the streets.

But only if you’ve tried the first 7 tips and haven’t had any luck.

Need some more tips for getting your business out there? Check out this post: https://www.clarecrossan.co.uk/low-cost-marketing-tips/

 

 

How to use social proof to boost your small business.

social proof in marketing

 

A few years ago, I read “50 Shades of Grey”

“50 Shades of Grey”!

I am a writer. I like LITERATURE. Do you know how hard it is for me to admit this?

So why did I pick up this abomination of a novel?

Everyone was talking about it. Everyone. And I wanted in on the conversation.

I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. Despite being a grown-ass woman, I didn’t want to be left out. I know, I know, I’m rolling my eyes at myself!

That’s social proof for you.

It’s powerful and if you want to grow your business, it’s time to harness that power!

What is social proof?

Social proof is marketing gold. It is a potent sales tool and if you’re not using it in the promotion of your small business, you’re missing out.

Social proof is a psychological phenomenon that influences and changes people’s behaviour.

When we see a product flying off the shelves, we assume that it must be amazing and we join the queue.
If we walk past a restaurant and see that there are only a couple of tables left, we hurry on in. If it’s that busy, the food must be outstanding, right?
When all of our friends are raving about an amazing novel, you don’t want to be the loser who doesn’t know what everyone is banging on about.

Social proof is bloody powerful. It is the sole reason I wasted an afternoon of my life reading ‘THAT book’.

Fundamentally, we are herd animals. We want nothing more than social acceptance. We bow to peer pressure and we worry that if we miss out on “The Next Big Thing”, we will be social pariahs.

However, many small business owners just don’t appreciate its importance or know how to use it effectively.

How can you use social proof to boost your business?

Social proof, when used correctly, can improve your credibility, create hype, reassure hesitant buyers and generally make you lots more money.

Here are a few easy ways that you can start incorporating social proof into your business marketing, today.

Testimonials.

I was chatting to a fellow solopreneur this afternoon and we somehow ended up talking about testimonials. She admitted that she hadn’t really thought about asking clients for testimonials or reviews before. She had no idea that she was missing a valuable source of free marketing for her business.

Client testimonials prove that your marketing isn’t just a load of unfounded hype. They show potential customers that your services ARE as brilliant as you say they are, maybe even better. They let everyone know that your products DO work. Your coaching sessions can change lives; your cupcakes really do taste amazing…

Of course, we all hesitate when it comes to asking for a testimonial. We appreciate that our customers are busy people and we don’t want to bother them. However, if you’ve done a great job for them, my guess is that they will be only too happy to write a few sentences for you, as long as you ask nicely!

And, when you do receive these testimonials, don’t forget to shout about it. Add them to your website and share them on social media.

You don’t have to be too ‘braggy’ about it. I like to share any new testimonials alongside a wee thank you to the client for taking the time to provide the feedback.

Social media endorsements.

If you’re a LinkedIn user, it is worth asking clients to add a brief testimonial to your profile or endorse you for skills. Whenever anyone is looking for someone with your particular skill set, they will be reassured that you can provide a kick-ass service and they will feel more confident in reaching out to you.

If Facebook is your social media platform of choice, offer customers an incentive to leave a review or to check-in to your location. You could add everyone who reviews or endorses you into a prize draw or offer a freebie to one lucky person who has checked in to your business in the last month.

There is something very powerful about seeing your Facebook friends reviewing a business or checking-in.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am quite particular about pizza (living in Italy has ruined me!). So, if anyone in my network sees me leave a 5* review for a pizzeria, they know it is probably worth checking out.

When I see my fitness fanatic friend check in to a local gym, I know that when I finally get off my lazy butt, that’s probably the best place to check out.

Case Studies.

Case studies work in the same way as testimonials but they allow for more detail. You can really go to town on a case study, drawing in your audience with a compelling story and making the most of any before and after pictures you may have.

My advice for using case studies is to look particularly to customers who fit your ideal customer avatar. Tell their story; highlight the problem they had when they came to you and how you helped solve the issue. Others, with similar problems, will be able to relate to the story and will be able to picture you solving their issues too.

Brand logos/celebrity endorsements.

Have you worked with any well-known brands? Are your products stocked in a high-end store? Have you sold any products to celebrities or ‘influencers’?

One aspect of social proof is that people tend to look to authority figures for guidance. If you can show that your product or service has been ‘approved’ by a well-known brand or personality, you will instantly boost your credibility and public interest in your brand.

There are loads of ways you can harness the power of social proof when marketing your business and the best thing is that most of them won’t cost you a penny.

Which one will you try first?

Now, let’s all try to forget that I told you about reading “50 Shades”…

For more posts on running a small business, please subscribe:

7 Benefits of Having a Business Blog

 

Have you started a business blog yet?

Or have you started, uploaded a couple of posts and then let it fade?

I mean, you have other stuff to do, right? You know, designing, coaching or whatever it is that your clients pay you to do…

I get it. Blogging takes time and it takes effort.

You have to set aside time to research, write and (for the love of the wee man don’t forget this bit), promote your blog posts.

Given the whole ‘time and effort’ objection to blogging, you might wonder why I made such a big deal of it in my previous post ‘How to market your business when you’re broke’. Sure, it’s free but is it really worth the hassle?

In a word, yes!

Now, if you’re happy to take my word for it, then you can go and get started right now.

If you still need a bit of convincing, I’ve listed below the most basic benefits you’ll get from starting your own business blog.

1. Improved SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)

Now, many copywriters are SEO experts—I am not. I’m not super- techy and they keep moving the damn goalposts on this one. Google changes its algorithms more often than I change my mind about my favourite Game of Thrones character.

 One thing that remains constant though, is that search engines love fresh content.

There is absolutely no point getting yourself an all-singing, all-dancing website and then letting it stagnate.

And that’s what’ll happen if you don’t keep updating your content. All of the well cared for websites, with new and exciting content will float to the top of the search pile, leaving yours to sink lower and lower into the depths.

It’s heartbreaking. Especially if you paid a fortune setting up your site in the first place!

The easiest way to introduce fresh content to your website: a blog.

2.Long-tail keywords

While we’re talking search engines, it’s worth knowing about long-tail keywords. This is something that probably deserves a post of its very own but I’m going to stick with just a simple explanation for now.

What are long-tail keywords and how are they going to help your business?

Let’s take my own business as an example. A relevant long-tail keyword might be ‘how to write a great landing page’. In search engine terms, this is going to have far less competition than the more generic ‘copywriter’ or ‘marketing copy’.

The more long-tail keywords your website contains, the more people will be able to find it —providing you are not jamming keywords in just for the sake of it. (Don’t do this! Google will recognise that you’re trying to cheat the system and will penalise you for it. Always remember you’re writing for people, not search engines).

Blog posts are a brilliant way of naturally incorporating long-tail keywords into your website.

3. Building relationships

Blogging is NOT about making sales. Increased sales will happen further down the line, but when you’re writing it’s worth remembering that the main purpose of your blog is to help your customers.

Before you even start blogging, it’s a good idea to spend some time putting together a strategy.

Consider who your customers are, what they want to know and how you can help them. What kind of topics could you cover that will improve their lives or their businesses?

Assuming you’re providing useful content and showing a bit of personality, your customers will come to know, like and trust you. When they get to the point that they’re ready to buy, they’re far more likely to come to you, the person they know, like and trust.

4. Establishing credibility

In a similar vein, by posting useful information about your industry you’re proving to your audience that you know your stuff.

Diplomas and qualifications are great but producing relevant content highlights that you are constantly honing your skills and keeping your knowledge fresh.

This shows your professionalism and your expertise —and instils confidence in your customers.

5. Getting to know your customers

When you’re blogging, invite your readers to comment on your posts. The conversations that can ensue here are a goldmine.

Are customers frequently asking the same questions? Great, there’s a topic for a new blog post or even a new page on your website.

Is there a recurring problem with one of your products? Great, now you know about it, you can fix it and tell everyone about the improvements you’ve made.

Maybe some of the comments are highlighting a particular problem that your clients are experiencing — here’s an opportunity for you develop or repackage one of your products or services.

6.Improve your industry knowledge

Not every blog post you write will require research. You are writing about your own industry after all. Some will though and when you’re researching these topics, I guarantee that you’ll improve your professional knowledge along the way. This will ultimately improve the service you’re offering your clients and help you grow your business.

7.Increased visibility

I’ve mentioned it before but it’s worth saying again:

Promote your posts!

There is no point in writing a post that no one will ever read. As soon as you’ve hit publish, promote your post on every social media account you have, including your personal ones.

It is also worth adding any new posts to your newsletter or automatically emailing any new content to your email subscribers.

This is a great way to increase your visibility and stay at the forefront of your customer’s minds.

 

I’d love to know…

If you were on the fence about starting a blog, has any of the info here changed your mind one way or the other?

Have I missed anything out?

If you’ve been blogging for a while and spotted an obvious benefit that I haven’t mentioned here, let me know!

For more posts on marketing your small business, subscribe here:

 

How to market your business when you’re broke.

Marketing tips for when your piggy bank is empty.

 

You don’t need me to tell you that marketing your fledgling business isn’t optional. No visibility, no customers, no business. No good!

However, business start up costs can be pretty intimidating and the likelihood is that, for the first few years, if not longer, you simply won’t have much of a marketing budget to play with.

Luckily there are hundreds (if not thousands) of low-cost or free marketing strategies you can play around with to get things up and running.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a to-do list the length of my arm to get through today. Rather than bombard you with ideas, I’m going to highlight the key strategies I’m focusing on at the moment:

1.Networking — in person and online

2.Using your existing contacts (you have more of them than you realise)

3.Cold emailing (how to do it without annoying people)

4.Creating valuable content

 

1.Networking

If you do nothing else to market your business, make sure you spend as much time as you can networking. Whether in person or online, this is, without a doubt, THE most effective low-cost marketing tool around.

In person

There are some amazingly effective networking groups out there that charge an arm and a leg just for joining — and that’s before you’ve shelled out for your train ticket, the event ticket and the cost of the coffee/wine/valium you’ll need to purchase to get yourself through the event.

If we look at this from the point of view of your ROI (and this IS how we need to view these things), say you pay £500 for membership, depending on what type of business you’re running, you may only need to score one or two clients, at most, to make your money back. Add to that the fact that you’re likely (hopefully) to get repeat business, word-of-mouth advertising and referrals from said clients, it probably is a worthwhile investment.

However, I’m writing this post specifically for those of you who simply don’t have £500 to spare right now.

I have to tell you — don’t panic!

Assuming you don’t live out in the sticks, there are loads of networking events out there that don’t cost a penny. And some of them are downright awesome.

As soon as you’ve finished reading this, start googling. In fact, go and have a look right now and don’t come back until you’ve registered for at least one event. It’s cool, I’ll wait…

Right, is that you sorted?

While you were doing that, I searched for “networking groups Glasgow” and this was the first result Google hit me with: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/d/scotland–glasgow/networking/

Once I’ve sorted by date, I can scroll through and see which free events I can fit into my schedule. There are a good few to choose from and I know it’s just a matter of trial and error until I find the events that suit me.

Some will be great for meeting potential clients. Some will be more useful for meeting potential collaborators. Some will provide useful tips for how to improve how I run my business. None will be a waste of time and literally all I need to pay for is my bus fare into the city.

Online

social media marketing

I’m a massive fan of networking in person, however, as an introvert and a busy mum, networking that can be done from my own living room (or from the café of a soft play centre) is worth its weight in gold.

It goes without saying that you should constantly be working on your own social media accounts, building relationships and posting useful content, but don’t neglect  the possibilities of online forums and groups.

To use Facebook as an example, there are a million and one different groups for entrepreneurs. Some are specifically for mumpreneurs (sorry, I know, I’m not a fan of the term either!), some directed at women business owners, some are aimed at specific industries or specific countries or regions.

Before you get lost down the rabbit hole, it’s best to come up with a strategy.

Realistically, it’s better to join one or two relevant groups and take the time to use them properly rather than joining every group you come across and then not having the time to actually contribute to them all. Begin by building up relationships, offering advice and providing value. Keep an eye out for people looking for the skills or products you offer and don’t be afraid to pitch your business if there is a job posting.

2.Use your contacts

Don’t be so busy trying to find new contacts that you forget about the useful contacts you already have. I can almost guarantee that you know someone who needs your skills right now.

It may be your neighbour’s sister’s dental hygienist but until you put yourself out there you’ll never know.

So make sure that when you’re updating your business Facebook status, you update your personal status too. Tell your friends and family that you’re available for work. Assuming they like you and want to throw you a bone, they’ll share your status and help you spread the word.

And don’t forget to take your business cards everywhere you go. You never know who you’ll end up speaking to at your pal’s birthday party.

3.Cold emailing

I’m the first to admit that this one fills me with dread. I can feel the sweat forming on my brow at the very thought of it but do you know what? I have heard so many small business owners swear by this that I’ve decided to give it a whirl.

Now, it’s early days for me but as far as I can make out, the key to this is not to be annoying; don’t be “salesy” and don’t try to be too clever.

Rather than plodding my way through an A-Z of business listings to find potential clients, I’m having a good think about the types of businesses I really want to work with. For example, there’s a kick-ass pizzeria not too far away that I absolutely adore. I reckon I’d be a great fit for their business, I’m a huge advocate of their product and I KNOW I could help them kill it with their marketing copy. So naturally, they’re on my list.

When it comes to actually drafting your cold emails it’s best to stick with honesty every time. Tell them why you’re contacting them — what do you think you’d be able  to help them with, why are you attracted to that business, how can you help them thrive?

Be brief, be polite and, as with all marketing copy, highlight the benefits you’re providing, rather than focusing on your business.

More on cold emailing here

Obviously emailing is free but if you wanted to push the boat out you could try sending real, actual, I can hold it in my hand, letters. Stamps aren’t as cheap as they used to be but if you really want to keep the cost down you could target local businesses and hand-deliver your letters.

Assuming you find the right businesses to contact and your sales copy is shit hot, you might find that there is more chance of your business card (don’t forget to pop one in the envelope) being filed away for future reference than an email being kept and actually found when needed.

 

4.Creating content

creating content for small businesses

Do you have a blog yet? No? Why the hell not?

Given that many of my clients hire me as a blog writer, you’d be right in saying that I’m an itty bit biased when it comes to this free marketing strategy. However, if business blogging didn’t offer a decent ROI then I wouldn’t still be in business.

Want to know more about the benefits of having a blog?

It’s vital that you come up with a strategy before you start throwing content around and hoping that some of it sticks.

The most important thing to remember is that you’re not writing for yourself, you’re writing for your audience.

Sit down and think about your audience. Who do you want to read your content? Potential customers presumably? Now, rather than think about how you can sell to them, think about how you can help them. What do they want to know? What will help them improve their businesses or their lives?

Delivering quality content in this way shows your potential customers that you know your stuff. You’ll be building up trust and relationships. So when the time is right for them to put in an order, they’ll have confidence in you and will know your product is the right option for them. It’s a win win.

Just don’t go to the trouble of writing a blog and then forgetting to promote it! As soon as you hit publish, get your content out there. Stick it on Facebook, tweet about it, print it out and stick it to every lamppost in your neighbourhood. Okay, maybe not that last one…

(Writing a blog is free but it does take time, so if you feel like it’s something you want to try but you worry you don’t have the time to do it justice or you’re not too fond of writing — I gather not everyone relishes the challenge of a blank screen the way I do — then give me a shout with what you need and I’ll check my availability.)

Which will you try first?

As I mentioned earlier there are thousands of cheap or even free marketing tactics you can try to help grow your business. I’ve focused on these today because these are the ones that have either worked well for me or that I feel compelled to try after many hours of research on the subject.

If you’ve found any others that are working particularly well for you, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!