Business lessons over coffee
For the past few months, I've been offering "coffee hours" to individuals and small organizations who need business and marketing advice. I block off half a day each month when organizations can make a 60 minute appointment to talk to me about topics of their choosing for a small fee. I love these meetings because they allow me to interact with a broad range of individuals and organizations, many who may not have the ability to hire a consultant to help with their business challenges. The advice I give to small businesses is surprisingly similar to the advice I give large organizations. Here are the 4 most common pieces of advice I'm giving:
1. Avoid getting wrapped up in tactics if you haven't determined your goals.
Should I start using Pinterest? How often should I be tweeting? Should I spend more energy on Facebook or on email campaigns? Does it make more sense to do Google Adwords or hire a designer to create a brochure?
It's virtually impossible to answer these questions if you don't have communications goals. The goals should be clearly articulated and prioritized. It seems rather boring but having a linear path simplifies decision-making, especially if you have limited resources.
2. You don't have to do everything.
This is most obvious is the social media world. Just because a tool exists, doesn't mean you need to be using it. The temptation to adopt every tool is greater when there's lots of media buzz around the tool claiming it's the next big thing. If you haven't noticed, there is a new, big thing almost every month. Even huge companies with social media teams have difficulty keeping up! Using every tool poorly is far worse than passing up a few of the available tools. If you are the only person working on communications, you have to be selective. Stick to the tools that are best for achieving your specific goals and that you know you can execute well. Follow the path that you created!
3. But you should be doing something.
I have talked to a lot of people who are overwhelmed with the choices. They're so overwhelmed that they are crippled and end up doing nothing! If you're REALLY overwhelmed, you can start with doing 1-2 things. I even recommend choosing something that's comfortable for you so that you'll do it consistently. If you feel more comfortable blogging than Tweeting, write a blog. Even if you might reach more people through Twitter, when you're overwhelmed and stretched thin, you're probably not going to stick with it. If a blog is something you can do well and regularly, then do it! Then, you might actually be able to ease yourself into Twitter but tweeting about any new posts. Don't kill yourself trying to become active on Twitter but try dabbling in it a little once you are in a good rhythm with your blogs.
4. Consider how you might leverage other resources to help you achieve your goals.
If you have clear goals, you might even be able to recruit help. Many organizations have interns but the interns are underutilized, especially in regards to communications. You need to choose someone you trust but take time to explain what you are trying to accomplish. For instance, if your goal is to have more people attend your events, perhaps you can ask your intern to help attract attendees using Facebook. It's a confined task that is fairly specific. If they are young, they're probably proficient at Facebook and probably have ideas of how to do it.
In addition, consider what resources are available to amplify your message. Are there other organizations or members of your organization that you can ask to help? Again, it helps when you have a very specific request. "We are trying to increase our attendance at our Fall event. If we provide words and images, would you be willing to share it in your member newsletter?"
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I have found that one of the most valuable things in the marketing and communications world is other people. I've been in the industry my entire career and I teach marketing to graduate students. But, the industry is moving fast and sometimes even I have trouble keeping up. Don't be intimidated because you feel like you don't know a lot. You don't have to know everything to be effective. But, by talking to others you can accelerate your learning. These sessions have been an incredible time for me to gather more information that I know will apply to various clients. Thank you to all who have participated!