Monday, June 25, 2012

Super-Small Me

I often give small business owners the atom analogy: They are the nucleus (and “They” can be an individual, a company, or both) and the Electrons are the scope-or outreach-of their business.  If they want their company to expand-more customers, more employees, more locations, more products- then they have to make sure their scope is ever vibrating and increasing  with ways to drive the business buzz such as social media, marketing or customer loyalty incentives.  The desired size of their business should equal the means used in attempting to connect to the general public and grow.  If your goal is to become ever larger, then a significant amount of your time/money/energy must be put toward developing and maintaining methods of reaching and wooing the public while continuously exceeding your clients’ expectations.
Does that sound exhausting?  Well, it is.  And it is often way beyond the capabilities of one person. 

What if you are one person?  One person who wants to succeed yet, for one reason or another, doesn’t have to rely solely on the income of this particular endeavor?  Perhaps you have another job, or a supportive partner who is willing to take the brunt of the wage-earning.  Perhaps you are struggling financially, but life won’t allow you to throw all your time/money/energy at your work.  Trying to keep everything in balance between personal care and family demands can be nearly unobtainable even without a job.  You may be in a season of sacrifice, when the needs of others need to come first.

So, how can you feel you are making headway, taking at least some steps to honor yourself and the product or services you offer?  Well, here are two suggestions.  Both will demand at least some time and energy, but both are pretty inexpensive, if not free.

Get yourself out there 
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: no matter how advanced our society becomes, word of mouth is still the most powerful marketing tool around.  The structure of contemporary life, from cubicles to MP3 players, encourages one to be alone almost constantly.  So get out of the cubicle (or in your case: the studio or the home office) and get out there.  And once you are out there, connect. 

What do I mean by connect?  I don’t mean going and sitting in the coffee shop; I mean engaging in conversation with others sitting around you, getting to know the staff, familiarizing yourself with the regular customers.  You never know who is there and how they may fit into your business.  For example, for a solid year and a half I went to the same café almost every day.  Though my intention was to have a space away from home to sit and work for hours, I made sure I connected with everyone who would speak with me.  As a result one of the staff members told me about her favorite café in Boston’s South End.  She encouraged me to contact the owner about setting up an exhibition of my artwork.  Not only was the show a tremendous success at the café, the café owner purchased one of my larger paintings to display permanently.  Also a woman who bought several of my smaller works introduced me to a friend of hers who owned a South End gallery.  The friend ended up being my gallery representative for a few years, booking me with several shows and events.  Remember, all this happened simply because I spoke to a barista!

But what if you aren’t a café person?  What if the idea of going somewhere and forcing yourself to talk to strangers feels awkward?  In order to market your brand (who you are, what you do, why you do it, who you do it for) you have to exude confidence.  And we lose confidence when we step out of our comfort zone.  If the issue is you are generally not that sociable, you need to overcome that obstacle and become an inviting, approachable person.  Practice with friends and family.  Take a class on improvisation or public speaking.  Do whatever it takes to learn how to project a persona of conviction and enthusiasm.   Remember, people have to buy you before they will buy your product or services.  You have to be able to get people energized and excited about who you are and what you do.

If you aren’t a café person because you are simply not the type of person who would set foot in a café, that’s a whole different matter.  In order to market yourself as genuine you have to be in places you would genuinely be in, doing things you would genuinely do.  Find groups, classes, business associations, and clubs that reflect your core values.  This is where you will find the people who will want to work with you.  You will find your targeted audience.  The customers who are going to be drawn to your product or services are in many ways going to be similar to you because your mission, your message, will resonate with them.  So when you are connecting with people who are interested in the same things you are, you are making an investment in your company.

Falling down the Rabbit Hole: Social Media

Even with the best of intentions Social Media can be an overpowering time and energy vacuum.  It takes strict focus to commit only a certain amount of time each day (or at least a few times a week) to keeping your presence fresh online.  Because of this, do careful research into any and all Social Media options.  Which ones resonate with you (remember, if they interest you, they are going to interest your audience)?  Select the ways you feel you can best reach your audience.  Along with your pledge to post new material throughout the week, put careful consideration into your material.  The best use of any type of Social Media is to make it a way-station of information: about you and your business, and the things that inspire you.  You can entice the right people by offering expert guidance with a lot of passion.  Again, your goal is to get people energized and excited about who you are and what you do.

It is worth mentioning again: put a lot of time and thought into your posts, whether they are informational videos or blogging.  Check and edit everything before posting it online.  Sites like Twitter, Google +, and Facebook can be great places to introduce your posts to the general public.  I suggest simply cutting and pasting the web address of your latest blog entry, or YouTube video, or online webinar (you get the idea) into your Twitter feed or Google +/Facebook status so that readers will have a direct way to click and view/read the link.  It also allows one to have a dynamic post, as an image will be included with the link.

Remember whether you go out into the world to meet and greet, or you introduce yourself to the world through Social Media, you always want to be the best marketing tool you can be.  Be vigilant about how you represent yourself.  In order to maximize your networking, you always have to be on the lookout for the right people and the right opportunities.  Both of these tools: getting out there in person or online, cost as little time/money/energy as you want.  You can expand your business as slightly as you wish by spending only a small amount of all three on your endeavors.  Remember, it is your atom.

Below are two recent articles about using a coffee shop as your work space (talk about cheap rent!).  I use cafes all the time for the office/studio away from home. 

A Creative Buzz

Coffee Shops Fire Up Your Creativity