You could spend all day writing blogs, posting to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and cultivating connections on LinkedIn ...
Limiting the number of areas you work on at any one time is the best thing you can do. There is a fair bit of trial and error to go through, but the key is to find marketing methods you enjoy and can commit to doing on a regular basis - and that also generate results.
As a writer, I focus on blogging and social media posts. Other people choose to make presentations and create videos. Over time I have come to focus on the following actions on behalf of Writing for Councils which have proved to be the best fit for me:
If you are just starting out, and don't yet have a clear sense of what online marketing efforts are going to be the best use of your time, you may want to work through the process outlined below.
Part One - Strategy
1. What is it you want to achieve from your online marketing? Here are some suggestions:
Part Two - Planning your approach
1. What will your approach be to content marketing? This is where you can push back against all the ‘shoulds’ and really consider what it is realistic for you to do, and what is most likely to grow your business. Here are some options to consider:
2. What are your priorities? What can fall away when you're busy, and what do you need to commit to doing on a regular basis. (In my case, getting the monthly enewsletter out in the first week of the month is top priority.)
3. When planning your content, consider:
Part Three - Choosing themes
I have found my most effective online marketing has occurred when I have focused on one subject for a sustained period of time which relates to a specific service I offer on my website. Having a theme for a series of blogs and social media posts for a period of time (at least a month) has generated the best results.
I use canva.com to create a series of themed social media posts in one go, which relate to a source document.
Amongst the general interest content I provide, I also aim to 'be bold and make an offer, once a month' with a link back to my service sales page.
The downside of this thematic approach is potentially boring the people who follow your posts or receive your newsletter who are not interested in that particular topic.
Part Four - Noting progress over the previous week or month
It’s very easy to focus on what is not yet as good as it could be, and not to appreciate your progress. It can be useful to remind yourself frequently that done is better than perfect!
Recording your wins on a weekly basis is a great way to stay motivated. This can be as simple as one new LinkedIn connection, or a post that was seen by lots of people. Noting what's working will also help you tweak your approach, so that you do more of the effective actions over time, and drop the methods which aren't yielding results.
Understanding our thinking preferences can be a light bulb moment, providing insight into why we work the way we do, and what our strengths are. This is particularly important for freelancers who move from working in a team environment to working on their own.
It can also provide clues about how to present information in a way that will engage our audience.
I have been influenced by Julie Varney, of the Business Development Company, about one of the tools she uses when working with businesses - Hermann Whole Brain Thinking. This provides insight into our own thinking style and understanding of other people’s different thinking preferences.
The four categories within this system are:
Blue – rational/factual. Likes numbers, facts, data, logic, order. Good at financial and engineering work.
Green – process oriented. Gets things done. Likes to have a plan and get on with it. Not keen on airy fairy stuff. Organised and timely. Likely to have a tidy desk and colour coded filing systems.
Red – feeling oriented. Very connected with other people and emotions. Like to express themselves. Like to know everyone is on board, engaged, in agreement, and connected. Like teaching.
Yellow – experimental. Big picture, innovative, new ideas, like to play and conceptualise. Don’t like structure.
Commonalities: Blue and Yellow favour conceptual thinking and are comfortable with risk, Blue and Green are organised and structured, Green and Red favour less risky options, Red and Yellow favour big picture thinking.
People can have one, two, three or four thinking preferences. Three percent of the population are whole brained (favour all four thinking styles equally), 30% are triple dominant (favour three thinking styles), 60% are double dominant ( favour two thinking styles) and 7% are single dominant.
Julie likes the Hermann Whole Brain model because it is strengths-based. It gives a framework for difficult conversations.
Awareness of the different thinking styles can be useful when communicating with someone – to adapt the way we speak to more closely match their thinking style, ie. whether they talk about vision (yellow), the numbers/research (blue), process (green) or who’s involved (red).
Since listening to Julie's talk, I have become increasingly aware of my predominant strength in the green area - and can see how this plays out in my work life. It helps me to see where it's helpful to partnership with others. I particularly enjoy working with 'blue' people who have indepth knowledge and high levels of skills with data and analysis, helping them to share that information in a way that makes sense to people who can benefit from their detailed knowledge.
Ever struggled to define what you do, and who your target market is? If so, you may find the book Linkedin Riches by John Nemo extremely helpful — and you'll improve your LinkedIn profile at the same time.
He recommends taking a client-focused approach rather than just talking all about yourself. It’s a good reminder that people are far more interested in how you could solve their problems rather than all the minute details about your life experience.
He says summaries should include the following information (and provides templates that make this very easy to write on pages 42-43):
I’m not going to include more details from the book here, as I don’t want to steal John Nemo’s ideas. However, I highly recommend that you check out Linkedin Riches if you think you could make better use of LinkedIn to promote your business.
I was both scared and excited when I moved into self-employment in April 2014. Here are some of the things I have learnt along the way that may be of interest to you, if you are also considering taking the leap to work as a consultant.
1. Leverage your existing strengths, experience and contacts
Is there some work you could do for a previous employer?
Some kind of retainer, even five hours a week, can be a brilliant option. It takes the pressure off the rest of your time while you’re figuring out what you want to offer and finding out if it’s a goer.
2. Value your time – don’t take on low paid work even when you have no other work
I took on some low paid employment when I was one year into my business, at a time when I didn’t have much work. I quickly came to realise my mistake, when I had no time to invest in developing my business.
I was better off being paid nothing for those hours and spending that time on learning new skills and marketing.
3. Decide on your target market (or markets)
Choose a target market of people who can afford to pay you at a rate that will mean your business (and therefore your life/work balance) is sustainable.
That doesn’t mean you can’t branch out over time into other target markets. However, when you have a reasonable level of ongoing work you’ll have a lot more fun exploring other options.
4. People buy from people they know
A lot of my work comes from existing clients. It's really important to value and prioritise work with existing clients because they already know, like and trust you.
On the other hand it's important not to be overly reliant on one or two big clients. It's worthwhile spending time and effort to actively seek out new clients. The two most effective methods for me so far have been:
A website is essential so that people can find out more about you and your services. I also highly recommend writing regular blogs to attract visitors to your website. However, these strategies are most effective as a complement to personal connections and other networking, rather than as a stand-alone solution for gaining clients.
5. Consider what strategic alliances are possible with people who have different strengths or services
One of the best things to happen in my business in 2016 was meeting up with several people who could potentially have regarded themselves as competitors, but who instead chose to take a collaborative approach.
Collaboration (through referrals, and sharing ideas) works really well with people who either have:
The awesome thing about being self-employed is expressing who you are through how you go about your business. Be on the lookout for the kind of assistance and support that is a good fit for you. There’s a lot to be said for acting on your gut response when considering what’s available.
7. Allow time for catch ups with friends and exercise
I love working at home but when I find myself constantly checking my email, I know I’ve been home alone for too long! I aim to make time for one catch up each week for a walk or a coffee … it’s not always possible, but it does provide a good work-life balance.
It’s also ideal if these people are happy to hear about your business progress, want to discuss new ideas, and believe in your future success. Catching up with other self-employed people will make you feel more normal, especially if you (like me) have been an employee for most of your working life.
Eight out of 10 people will read your headline, but only two will read the rest of your text ... it's a daunting statistic for website owners and blog writers, but here are five ways to beat the odds.
1. Make a promise in the headline and deliver on that promise in the text. The best way to do this is to write the headline first.
2. Consider using a 'how to ...' or a 'five ways to...' type of heading. Headline readers will know what they're getting so are more likely to read on.
3. Focus on the benefits of reading your article, rather than just stating the type of information provided.
4. Download the free Copyblogger ebook 'How to Write Magnetic Headlines' at http://my.copyblogger.com/login/. This 55 page document is an excellent resource - I now skim through it every time I write a headline.
You do need to register on the Copyblogger website to access this book, but you can unsubscribe if you become overwhelmed with the follow up emails. However, there are many other excellent resources available on this site for anyone interested in improving their copywriting skills.
5. Use http://coschedule.com/headline-analyzer. This is a fantastic online resource. You write in your headline and receive a score, as well as guidance on how to improve your headline. This is based on a number of factors including the type of words, the sentence type and the headline length.
It's a very quick way to see how your headline stacks up. For example, here are the headlines I tried for this blog, and the scores:
62 - Five ways to write headlines that shine
70 - Five excellent ways to improve headlines
72 - Five excellent ways to write successful headlines
70 - How to write successful headlines
74 - How to write great headlines and increase readership.
This last headline is likely to have scored highest because it includes two benefits - great headlines and increased readership. For more on this, see page 14 of 'How to Write Magnetic Headlines'.
I don't recommend slavishly sticking with the highest scoring headline, but it's a useful way to gauge whether you're on the right track. The best tests will be your blog readership numbers and the 'average session duration' statistics for your website.
What do you want people to do when they visit your website?
In the excellent book 'Inbound Marketing' the authors (Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah) advise "it's important to provide a variety of different ways for visitors to further engage - not just calling you or requesting services".
- subscribing to an email newsletter
- subscribing to a blog
- requesting a free demonstration of services or sample of products
- requesting a 30 minute expert consultation
- requesting access to a free class
- requesting a white paper or report
- requesting an e-book.
The aim is to give your website visitors helpful information to enable them to do their jobs better. This offer should stand out, be a clickable image at the top of the page, and should be on every page for which it is relevant.
I researched the Wix and Weebly options for this website, before deciding on Weebly. One of the things I have liked best about Weebly is the ability to change the look of my site over time.
If you're planning to set up a free or low cost website, it's likely that you've come across the Wix and Weebly options, which are both highly recommended in most of the reviews I've read.
Based on this research, my preference is Weebly – it is more adaptable and has a clearer price structure. It is:
However, Wix offers more templates to choose from, and they are generally considered more 'beautiful' than the Weebly ones, which have been described as 'cosy'. So if the purpose of your website is related to design, such as photography or sculpture, this is probably a better option for you.
I like the easy connection to purchasing the domain name directly from Weebly (at a cost of $38 per year), as well as the ability to have a blog, social media integration, and site analytics (to measure visitor numbers).
I particularly like the ability to upgrade a Weebly website. You could start with the free plan which only provides for five pages, which would be plenty for a brochure style site. Another advantage of Weebly over Wix, is that all the information can be transferred to a different website host in future, if required.
If you suffer from neck, shoulder or wrist strain at work, it could be well worth your while to try a standing desk. I've used one for nearly two years now, and am a complete convert.
I first suffered from Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS) more than 20 years ago, as a journalist. Our Hamilton weekly newspaper was setting up a new paper in Tauranga. We worked out of a hotel room, where I wrote stories hunched over a laptop on a bedroom cabinet.
Back in the Hamilton office I noticed numbness in my thumbs, but persisted with typing until I couldn't ignore it anymore. That led to a long period of physiotherapy, exercises, arnica and gradual return to work.
I learnt my lesson and have never had such a bad experience of OOS - or repetitive strain injury (RSI) as it was known then. That initial injury means I am still prone to the occasional bouts of it.
When I began working from home, undertaking my first urgent piece of work, I started feeling pain in my neck, shoulders and wrists.
My solution was putting my laptop on top of a small kitchen table and three file boxes - with my ergonomic mouse at a similar height. Immediately my shoulders loosened - and I haven't suffered from OOS again.
If you think a standing desk might be something that would work for you but don't want to invest in an expensive new desk before you're sure it's right for you - you may like to try putting a laptop on file boxes on a table first.
I have now treated myself to an electronic standing desk, which can be adjusted to become a sitting desk when needed. Highly recommended!
If you (like me) are a small, office-based business owner you have a whole lot less to worry about, when meeting the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.
We're still included as PCBUs (persons conducting a business or undertaking) but if you're not a high risk sector or industry:
You still have a primary duty to manage risks. This is set out in section 30 of the Act. This means eliminating risks to health and safety as far as is reasonably practicable and minimising any other risks.
If you are a sole trader working in a home office, the chances are your health and safety risks are similar to mine. As a sole trader working in a home office the potential risks are:
1. Suffering from OOS as a result of keyboard typing.
2. Ill health impacting on ability to earn income.
3. Loss of power or internet access for half a day or more, impacting on ability to work from home.
4. Loss of computer files due to computer malfunction.
5. Loss of access to home office due to flood or fire.
6. Loss or breach of client confidentiality.
It will be particularly valuable to have a health and safety plan in place if you carry out services for other businesses, including councils and central government. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 legislation, all businesses in New Zealand must ensure they are working with safe operators. If you don't have a plan or policy in place, you may risk not being selected as a contractor.
Section 36 of the Act sets out in more detail what a business owner needs to do, including providing any information, training, instruction or supervision that is necessary to protect all persons from risks to their health and safety arising from work carried out as part of your business activity.
If you employ people, you also have two related duties to engage with workers and enable them to participate in improving health and safety. You must:
The Worksafe website is an excellent source of information about the implications of the Health and Safety Act for different industries. The website also includes general information for businesses here.
You may also be interested in checking out the ACC website. ACC offers a 10% Workplace Safety Discount (WSD) for small businesses (fewer than 10 employees) who put health and safety systems in their workplaces. You can find out more here.