Now that a year has passed since COVID-19 first made itself known across the US, many small business owners are taking a step back to process how the virus has impacted their business models. It’s no secret that it was a challenge to transform everyday practices into ones that met government mandates and kept people safe – but now, looking back, some entrepreneurs are recognizing that the changes they’ve implemented have helped their bottom line. Here’s how.
Small businesses have upped their digital presence
One of the toughest barriers small businesses have faced over the past year has involved brick-and-mortar operations: Specifically, businesses have had to close to the public, reduce occupancy or implement changes like frequent sanitization in order to comply with state and municipal guidelines. In response to these challenges, many businesses rapidly shifted operations to the virtual realm. Companies that were previously on the fence about refreshing their landing pages or starting social media accounts finally bit the bullet; storefronts began debating their ecommerce options; and service-based businesses found “contactless” ways to help their customers. And consumers shifted, too; now that just about anything can be done online, consumers are far more comfortable doing everything from telehealth visits to finding their next home on the web. Digital presence has always been a must-have even prior to the pandemic, but today, it’s a bigger opportunity than ever.
More teams than ever are working from home
Boutique firms, small creative agencies, rapidly-growing technology companies – you name it. If they don’t have to meet customers in person, they’ve likely found a way to let their teams work from home. Not only does this provide a slew of informal benefits for employees (like improved work-life balance, enhanced disability accommodations, and time and money saved on commuting), but it also provides major cost-cutting opportunities for the business itself. Businesses that know they’ll be working remotely for an extended period of time can avoid signing leases for pricey office space, and trendy startups can pause their snack subscriptions (for now). It’s a win-win.
A lull is a clean slate in disguise
Some entrepreneurs who have found themselves in a slow period during the pandemic have used deceleration as an opportunity to reassess and refresh. Though it’s always disappointing to see business decline, it can also be a blessing; companies that were previously in nonstop scale mode might benefit from a period of reflection on what really works and what doesn’t. While not a small business, GoDaddy notoriously took 2020 as an opportunity to reinvigorate its logo and renew its commitment to corporate responsibility. Other businesses are turning a break in brick-and-mortar operations into a chance to revamp their spaces and provide exciting updates to customers once circumstances dictate it’s safe to do so.
Many small business owners are stepping outside of their comfort zones
They say diamonds are formed under pressure, and the old adage rings true for business owners who are serious about helping their ventures thrive under unusual conditions. As contactless sales and services rose in popularity throughout 2020, many businesses found themselves capable of expanding into new markets and offering more customizable shipping options. Heightened social awareness has provided a catalyst for businesses to promote racial justice and gender equity, offset carbon emissions caused by shipping and delivery services and develop transparency in their daily practices. And because people tend to shop with both their needs and values in mind, this added level of consciousness has the ability to bring in waves of new customers and clients.
The obstacles presented by COVID-19 haven’t been easy to overcome – nor are they gone from our economy and from the world at large. But if time has proven anything, it’s that small business owners are persistent, innovative, and creative. Pandemic or no pandemic, that hasn’t changed.
Books are roadmaps to personal growth, exercise tools for the mind, and even vessels that sail to adventure. For authors, books also yield another powerful purpose: establishment.
Writing a good book is one of the simplest ways to establish yourself as an expert on a topic. Your book can serve as the ultimate business card, both as a way to connect with people and build your reputation. As the owner of a self-publishing company, I am an adamant believer in the value of self-publishing. Not only does self-publishing give you have complete control of your book, but you’ll enjoy higher royalty rates as well.
The other major difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing boils down to marketing. Authors who traditionally publish are giving up around 80% of their royalties for established distribution and marketing channels. Of course, marketing is undeniably important. Even if you write the best book on your topic, it can quickly get buried in search results unless you actively promote it.
But instead of handing over most of your profits to a traditional publisher, you should just keep the rights and perform low-cost marketing strategies to get the most out of your self-published book. The following five strategies are the five book marketing tactics that’ll get you the biggest value for your content.
1. Use your book to support or enhance your personal brand
We all have a personal brand. Some people actively work to grow theirs, while others invest less time and effort. If you want your book to succeed and help establish your reputation, you need to be active. Moreover, entrepreneurs should write books that align with the topic in which they’re working in to establish expertise. For example, somebody whose platform is about leadership should write about – you guessed it – leadership.
By aligning topic with expertise, your book is working to fortify your position as a topical expert and enhance the offerings of your platform. This will lead to much more growth in terms of personal brand. To make sure your book effectively aligns with what you’re striving to become, take a step back, assess your online platform (if you don’t have a website, make one!), and see how well they overlap.
Of course, you’re not breaking a law if you write a book and use it to try to expand into a second area of expertise. Nobody said you can only be knowledgeable about one thing – but the first option is much more effective if you’re in the early stages of building a personal brand.
2. Encourage reviews
Reviews drive sales. It’s really that simple. But only an estimated 5% to 10% of shoppers actually leave reviews, so you’ll need to be intentional about gathering reviews for your book. Where should you start in your quest for reviews?
Remember that it’s against Amazon’s Terms and Conditions to have family and close friends review your book. While those might seem like the easiest customer reviews to gain, you can find better reviews from impartial and enthusiastic readers in other ways.
NetGalley is a perfect place to start. The site connects readers of influence to new books or soon-to-release books, and this can be a great way to build buzz or receive feedback and Amazon customer reviews for your work.
Another great approach is running a Goodreads giveaway to help garner Amazon customer reviews. To do this, you need to list your book on the site and claim your author profile. Then, simply establish how many copies you want to give away, select your dates and provide a short description. It’s a very simple, affordable process that can even be done with advanced reader copies (ARCs) to generate reviews before the release.
Also, consider looking up book bloggers who review books for free. While this will cost you a book and there’s no guarantee you’ll get a review, when they do leave reviews they’ll return dividends in exposure based on the sheer amount of followers many of them have. It’s a great return on investment.
There are also some reputable book reviewers, such as Kirkus Indie, that you can hire to write professional “editorial reviews,” but please do your due diligence before paying anyone for an editorial review. Keep in mind that you should never pay for customer reviews.
3. Build an email list
An email list can not only gather reviews, but it can also enable you to directly share news, info and happenings with people who care about what you have to say. There is a lot of value in this. The larger following you have, the more quickly you’ll be able to scale-up and share your ideas with a bigger audience.
But there is a rule: never sign people up for your list. Make sure they opt-in on their own. The numbers might not be as impressive that way, but at least all of your subscribers will be receive your updates based on their own interest.
The easiest way to encourage opt-ins is with a lead generation piece. In other words, give people something for free in exchange for their contact info. Better yet, you just so happen to have a book and control of the rights, so you don’t have to look far for a great lead-gen. Consider giving away a free chapter of the book in exchange for users signing up. If not, create some sort of related giveaway that will provide informational value.
Setting this up is very simple with services such as MailChimp, and the effort will grow your list without costing you a dime.
4. Don’t wait on opportunity – seize it
Opportunity doesn’t come knocking for most self-published writers unless they are really connected or have a great platform. Instead, most authors need to create their own opportunity.
One way to create opportunity is through the cold call. Sure, the thought of dialing a stranger to pitch an idea might dissuade a few people, but this is a must-do if you want your book to sell. Call anybody and everybody to spread the word about your new release. You can contact book stores, bloggers, podcasters and even the local news. If you write for a specific niche, call related people or organizations that would be interested. Offer to speak and offer to interview – help them help you. You can always cold email too, but calling is more personal and will typically lead to better results.
5. Generate supporting content
Your book will stand a lot taller if you create supporting content to help prop it up. The best form of content depends on the topic you’re writing about, but it could be anything from blog posts to webinars. If you create enough consistent content that’s relevant to your book, your platform will inevitably expand.
When creating supporting content, don’t forget to leverage social media. LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitterwill probably be your best bets for finding followers interested in your topic, but don’t be afraid to venture outside of those three. If you’re active on your platform of choice, you won’t need to boost your posts to expedite the process of growing followers and creating engagement. Posting consistently will give your content buoyancy, and eventually the followers will trickle in.
The process might be slow at first, but your invested effort will eventually compound and you’ll reap the rewards!
Many entrepreneurs are using newfound time at home to finally write down their unique ideas and stories to be published in book form. The Internet is rife with contradicting information about self-publishing and traditional book publishing, so which path should an entrepreneur – or writer in general – use for book publication?
As the owner and founder of MindStir Media, I’m confident in saying that self-publishing is the proper route in many cases. Here are three main reasons why:
1.You’re guaranteed to get your book published
With traditional publishing, you’ll generally need to find a literary agent to represent you and your work. But finding agent representation can be a long and arduous journey. I know writers who’ve spent upwards of a year or two sending out query letters and still haven’t been able to land an agent. Most traditional publishers will only look at a manuscript if it comes in through an agent, so literary agents are a valuable resource and contact when going the traditional publishing route.
The major problem with this approach is that nothing is guaranteed. You could be one of those people who spend years trying to find an agent, or you could land an agent, only to get rejected by the traditional publishers anyways.
With self-publishing, the ball is in your court. There are no literary gatekeepers holding you back. The consumer will be the final judge of your book.
2. You’ll keep control over your book
Writers don’t always consider the topic of rights when comparing self-publishing and traditional publishing. With a traditional publisher, it’s common for you to relinquish your publishing rights to that company, meaning that you’ll lose control over your publishing rights as well as any creative control. If you get to the point where an agent pitches your book to a publisher and said publisher accepts your manuscript for publication, the publisher will own the rights to your book and will ultimately have final say over the content of your published book.
Self-publishing is the complete opposite in every way. The self-publishing author keeps their publishing rights and all creative control, from the cover design to the editing and book production. In fact, you can research and select your own book designer, professional editor, printer, distributor, and more.
3. You’ll enjoy much higher royalty rates
It’s a bit of a dirty little secret in the publishing industry that traditional book deals only payout about 10% – 15% royalties to authors. Some traditional publishing advocates tend to argue that it’s worth giving up 85% to 90% royalties in exchange for superior support and distribution. But with physical bookshelf space dwindling and most consumers buying books through Amazon and other online retailers, that argument doesn’t hold much water in 2021.
An author can simply self-publish online and reach a large network of online retailers through a distributor such as Ingram. In turn, the self-published author can keep 70% t0 100% royalties. If your book sells 10,000 copies, for example, you could see tens of thousands of dollars in your bank account from those sales through self-publishing, whereas traditional publishing royalties might only reach $10,000 or less from those same 10,000 copies sold.
This is a very unique time to build a business. Brick and mortar companies are struggling and local “mom & pop” shops are closing at a record pace. Yet, there’s record growth for online service providers like Netflix, Amazon, DoorDash, and Zoom.
The one thing all of these growing companies have in common? They support the “stay-at-home” lifestyle and the “new normal” of working remotely.
Entrepreneurs can learn from an evolving global economy and the new normal of work. Here’s how some businesses did it:
Restaurants admitted they can not replace the experience of dining in their establishments. But meals-to-go, with the inclusion of cashless payments, allowed restaurateurs to have a new lifeline.
Online shopping has been around for quite some time. When the pandemic hit, the retail industry embraced the new segment of customers – mall-goers – to encourage them to buy. Online purchasing and shipping options made the transition easy for customers, and Amazon has cashed in record profits.
Reduced movie-goers spending did not stop the entertainment industry from thriving. Companies pivoted to provide streaming services for stay-at-home amusement. Theaters, on the other hand, got destroyed, for obvious reasons.
Local tourism, virtual tours, and travel-to-nowhere flights and cruises allowed travel lust individuals to experience traveling albeit limited. Personally, I think this is an incredible time to travel (by car) because not many are!
What made some businesses thrive and some permanently close? They adapted to the disruption through innovation and hard work. These two characteristics are what entrepreneurs are made of.
My own COVID adaptation
Just like every business owner, I was really worried when the lockdown was announced in March 2020. We had several clients cancel their virtual assistant services that we provided. Nevertheless, my business thrived. Since COVID, I have experienced an over 100% growth in our virtual assistant staffing agency for entrepreneurs and startups all around the world.
That’s because last year, building a “virtual team” sounded cool, but today, it’s a necessity for businesses to survive the current economic conditions.
Yes, a virtual team is the “new normal” of work. It is about time you hire one.
My secret weapon
My executive assistant Ysabelle, who is virtual, starts working for me one hour before I even wake up. This arrangement works because the first thing I do when I wake up is grab my phone off of my nightstand to check my messages. Now, Ysabelle goes through my emails and clears out all the hundreds of messages that I shouldn’t be wasting my time on. She leaves the ones that need my attention marked as “unread” with a flag.
Because I have over 100 people on my team, she knows exactly who’s responsible for certain operations in the business. So when I get an email that requires action on someone else’s part, Ysabelle sends the email to that team member and responds to the sender that we’ve got it taken care of. The sender probably thinks I sent the response – and that’s the point.
You see, I didn’t need to be in that conversation. With Ysabelle’s help, I can focus on myself and the really important activities for the day.
Why did I share this with you? I want you to understand that you can only do so much. The biggest lie is “I was about to do something but I ran out of time.” It’s simply not true. You just don’t want to be held accountable, or you don’t have adequate help so you have to prioritize what you do and don’t do each day.
If you are the only one in your business who knows everything, you are going to be a slave to your business. One of my colleagues once said, “If you don’t have an assistant, you are one.” Think about that.
Remote work is no longer a thing of the past. I don’t believe it’s going to go away. The current global crisis was a catalyst for the growing move to a virtually connected world. There is hardly anything we do in our business that can’t be done remotely, unless you physically make, or build something. Entrepreneurs who can adapt and evolve to the new “virtual workplace” and see its benefits will be able to future-proof their business as the economy moves remote.
Today, more consumers than ever are demanding that companies become transparent and take a hands-on approach to making the world a better place. They’re looking for what experts call “conscious brands,” companies that embody a higher purpose by having an intentional purpose or embracing social responsibility. Think: Tom’s Shoes or Jessica Alba‘s Honest Company.
According to a report by MWWPR, not only do 90% of consumers say they’re more likely to patronize companies that take a stand on social and public policy matters, 80% say they’ll even pay more for products from such brands.
But you don’t have to be a big name in order to transform your business into a conscious brand. Follow these three steps to make sure that your actions resonate with your ideal customers, helping you multiply your revenue and make a lasting impact.
As people become savvier, trust in marketing is growing more vital each day. It’s not enough to just offer a great product or excellent customer service. Customers want to do business with companies they like, trust and align with. Those brands that sit on the sidelines regarding important issues are coming under greater scrutiny. Meanwhile, those with the guts to take bold but strategically sound stands are being rewarded.
Follow B&J’s lead and include your views and values in your marketing. Share your beliefs, and ask your audience to take part alongside you in supporting the causes you believe in. By intentionally integrating social responsibility as part of your daily business routine, you can ensure you are doing your part in practicing social and environmental responsibility and be seen as a thought leader in your niche.
2. Take action
It’s one thing to talk about the causes you support, but it’s another thing entirely to actually do something about them. People are jaded by outdated marketing techniques, false advertising, and businesses and influencers who don’t walk the walk. While building and running a conscious business requires more intentional decision making and an uncompromising commitment to the mission for good, the reward is the creation of a movement that leads to unparalleled success and impact.
There are countless ways you can become part of the change for good: collect donations, offer scholarships, take part in activism. Use the resources you have – your voice, your business, and your community – to take action. When you weave these actions into your company culture, and it’s embodied by employees and customers alike, you create a movement. By embracing ethical business practices while creating transparency and accountability, and providing immense value, your brand will rise up over the competition.
3. Cultivate partnerships based on values
Co-branding with another company is an effective way to double the awareness around an issue, increase the impact of an effort and, ultimately, expand the visibility of both organizations. Who you partner with has a direct impact on your reputation, your brand and your potential customer’s perception of your business.
As reported in a recent Hubspot post by Sophia Bernazzani, “In 2015, Target partnered with UNICEF on a campaign called Kid Power, which committed Target to one of UNICEF’s sustainable development goals (SDGs). The retailer sold kid-friendly fitness trackers encouraging them to complete various fitness activities, which ultimately helped deliver food packets to underprivileged children around the world.”
To ensure that you’re making smart partnering decisions, choose partnerships that align with your values. If you have not yet determined your brand values, make it a top priority. The best way to do this is to follow my 3S Method. First: Source. Do a Google search of “brand value words.” Choose as many words as possible that you resonate with and feel are important. I like to put them on index cards (or you could use digital Kanban boards) to make step two easier. Second: Sort. Group the index cards with similar words. For instance, honesty, integrity, and truth would go in the same pile. Finally: Select. Choose your final words from the groups by what you feel best represents your deepest values.
Now, use these brand values as your North Star. Refer to them any time you are making decisions, such as who to partner with, who to hire, which clients to work with, and more. Doing so is sure to help you stand out amongst the noise online and attract raving fans with similar values.
Entrepreneurship is about treading new ground. It is about taking a step no one has taken before, at least not in that same way or in the same place. So it should not be surprising that much of the scholarly literature on entrepreneurship, since Richard Cantillon in the early 1700s, has focused on entrepreneurship as uncertainty bearing.
Although “bearing uncertainty” might be what entrepreneurs do in the economy from a theorist’s point of view, it is not – and should not be – the rationale for starting a business. After all, uncertainty means the outcome is unknown, which, in turn, means it could end up ugly. In other words, uncertainty is a cost – it is a burden on the entrepreneur’s shoulders. Entrepreneurs are right to attempt to avoid the uncertainty.
The fact is that theorists have it both right and wrong. Yes, entrepreneurs bear uncertainty because they are the ones getting the reward as profit and also the ones suffering the loss if things do not work out. But that uncertainty bearing characterizes entrepreneurship does not make it the point of being an entrepreneur. Rather, it is a “necessary evil.”
What successful entrepreneurs understand
Successful entrepreneurs, both in the past and present, understand the actual meaning of uncertainty. Those who already experienced success have often learned it the hard way, through experience. Those who are more likely than others to become successful have understood it in the abstract or have the right gut feeling. Regardless of which it is, past or present, they understand that uncertainty is “worth it.”
What this means is that they don’t focus on uncertainty, but accept it. Entrepreneurs choose to bear uncertainty much like someone putting in the hard work – perhaps 10,000 hours’ worth – knows that hard practice is the means to achieve success. How to endure those endless hours of seemingly never ending tedious work? Eyes on the prize.
Successful entrepreneurs recognize the prize and what it takes to get there. They realize that the only way their business can convince customers to buy from them and to beat the competition is to provide value. To the extent they are not simply lucky, successful entrepreneurs rely on a value-dominant logic: They place the end value of their efforts first and direct their efforts to maximize value.
There are three key components to the value-dominant logic that help you apply it in your business:
1. Value is the entrepreneur’s superpower
Entrepreneurs bear uncertainty because it is the only way of doing something different, something new, and bringing about value greater than everybody else has. After all, doing what someone else is already doing is not a way to set yourself apart. It is also not a way of being truly successful. To be successful, you need to develop your superpower – to figure out, focus on and deliver real value.
2. Value is subjective
It sounds strange, but it is true: Value is subjective. This does not mean value can be anything or that it is relative or that there is no such thing as real value. It just means that value is in the eyes of the beholder. The important lesson here is that you, the entrepreneur, do not determine what value is. Your job is to figure out how what you offer can be of value to others. That is what you should be focusing on, not on what you think would make your offering “better.”
3. The consumer is the ultimate valuer
Any entrepreneur, whether in B2C or B2B, should recognize that, ultimately, the consumer is king. Or, as scholars put it, the consumer is sovereign. If you are selling directly to consumers, it is obvious enough. You cannot place a sale unless consumers value your offering. But even in B2B, you cannot stay in business long unless what you contribute to the economy is of value to the final consumer. Even if your customers like what you are doing, you’re not going to sustain profitability unless the consumer of the final good likes it.
Another way of adopting the value-dominant logic is to adopt the “4 Vs” model developed by Hunter Hastings of the “Economics 4 Business” podcast. He summarizes these points for thinking like a successful entrepreneur using four value statements: value potential, understanding and assessing potential consumer subjective value; value facilitation, making it possible for them to consume; value capture, how much the firm realizes of the value facilitated by a value ecosystem that the customer orchestrates; and value agility, how well does the firm respond to changing consumer preferences and competitive propositions and how well does the firm sustain a continuous delivery of innovation to the consumer.
The point is not the terminology or model, but the lesson: that value should come first. And when you place value first and recognize that it is subjective and for the consumer, the burden of uncertainty becomes bearable. It is but a means for attaining the end. It is costly for sure, but it is a necessary cost in order to pioneer production and break new ground.
Importantly, the burden of uncertainty is justifiable because it makes it possible for you to bring about value. This point is key to being successful.
The best leaders get the most out of their teams, inspire their employees to constantly get better, and smoothly lead their businesses through difficult periods. The importance of good leadership, especially during periods of change or crisis, can’t be overestimated.
Employees who trust and respect their leader are much more likely to be committed, engaged, and happy in their jobs. Plus they’re more productive and less likely to leave.
The importance of being a great leader can be overwhelming for some in managerial and leadership roles. However, the good news is, as basketball coaching great Mike Krzyzewski says, “Leadership is an ever-evolving position.” Plus, while some leadership traits can be hard to replicate, leadership habits can be immediately implemented by anyone.
With that in mind, here are five habits of successful leaders to begin implementing today.
1. Focus on time management
Leaders have a long to-do list every day and it’s easy to get almost constantly diverted from the most important items on that list. Without good time management, leaders can find themselves constantly reacting to issues that arise and not spending enough time on the tasks that matter most.
To avoid this common problem, leaders need to be proactive about time management. Doing so will ensure that tasks don’t fall through the cracks, that you’re focused on the right priorities, that you’re modeling good habits, and that you’re meeting all commitments. While time management can be difficult, it is a habit that can be developed and internalized. Here are a few tips to help develop the habit of good time management.
Schedule your time the night before. Once the day starts, things can quickly get chaotic and it can be difficult to properly allocate time. Spend a few minutes every evening to prioritize and schedule the next day’s tasks.
Delegate whenever possible. Good time managers are able to determine which tasks require their attention and which tasks can be delegated. Delegation is essential for time management because it ensures that leaders are focused on the right tasks and strategically allocating their time.
Plan for focused periods of work time. Leaders are usually good multitaskers, as they’ve had to learn to juggle many different responsibilities. While multitasking is important, it’s not always a good thing. Difficult and demanding tasks require periods of focused concentration, so it’s important to schedule your time so that each task gets the focused attention it deserves.
Schedule the hardest tasks early in the day. It can be tempting to put off difficult projects as much as possible, but it’s best to schedule the most challenging things on your to-do list early in the day when you have the most energy and focus. Plus, getting these tasks done early ensures that they don’t serve as a distraction throughout the day.
2. Be present and transparent
One of the most important habits of strong leaders is being present, visible, and transparent with their teams. This often means simply walking around and checking in with employees. While it might seem like unproductive time, taking the time to be present with employees, in any way possible, is time well spent.
During these informal interactions, always be honest and as transparent as possible. This authenticity will build trust between you and your team. It also will lead to stronger relationships and healthy culture. Further, you’ll likely find that this time observing how your team and business runs will help you identify problems and opportunities.
Communication is regularly discussed when talking about great leaders. While communication is essential for great leadership, it’s particularly important that leaders are good listeners. The best leaders prioritize listening and ensure that they’re not just listening for content but also for context. Additionally, strong leaders listen without judgment and without trying to control the conversation.
Being a good, deep listener will not only build trust and respect but also ensures that you’re getting the information you need to make good decisions for your business.
4. Get to work early
One habit of great leaders that might seem insignificant is their commitment to getting to work early and being the first person (or one of the first people) in the office every day. Getting in early gives leaders time to organize their thoughts, handle a few mundane tasks, and respond to email before the busyness of the day begins. Additionally, it sets the tone for the team and lets them know that you’re present, committed, and working as hard as (or harder than) they are.
Being early to work is just one way that you can set the tone for your team and help build a healthy and productive culture. It’s worth noting that with so many teams working remotely now, this habit might not seem particularly important. However, even when working remotely, “getting to work early” will help to focus your day, ensure that you’re addressing any last minute changes to the day, and modeling good habits, no matter what the working situation.
5. Look for learning opportunities
The best leaders approach every day looking for something new to learn. They make learning a habit and always look for ways to gather new knowledge, information, and skills.
Learning can be formal, like participating in professional development or working with a mentor. However, it can also be informal. This includes talking to team members, asking probing questions, listening, taking notes, and observing. Throughout the course of each day, there are ample opportunities to learn. The best leaders seek out these opportunities and ensure that they’re always learning.
Great leaders get the most out of their teams and ensure that their businesses continue to grow and develop no matter what challenges they face. While being a strong leader is not easy, the good news is that there are some habits that anyone can adopt to be a better leader. Start with these five habits to become a better leader now.
For the last 20-plus years, email has become the standard form of communication for reaching out to clients. Ask any marketer for the last 10 years in particular, and they’ll say one of the top things a business should focus on is building their (email) list.
Snail mail is just too slow, and this increasingly-fast paced world makes a classic phone call unrealistic – what, are you going to call each person individually on your list? Or worse, are you going to have an automated bot interrupt their day with a phone call that is devoid of actual communication?
But now, email too is reaching a ceiling. Is your email going to their SPAM folder? Is it going to their “junk” email address that they use to sign up for all the mailing lists? Is it getting lost between an advertisement from their favorite clothing store and a digital copy of their phone bill?
I don’t think it’s time for us to throw away email entirely – especially not when it comes to communicating information to your warm audience – but if you’re really trying to maintain contact with your existing customers, you might want to try one of these increasingly popular options.
Everyone in the B2B world knows about Slack by now – and for a good reason. Slack’s no-nonsense interface is perfect for communicating with all your clients at once, or sending messages to people in specific groups by sorting them into different Channels. If you love the flexibility of list segmentation, you’ll appreciate the functionality of Slack.
I personally like using Slack as my general hub for connecting with my mastermind clients. We have different Channels for asking questions, for sharing wins, and for my team to make announcements that everyone needs to see. I’ve also created private Channels for each member to have direct access to me and my team, for scheduling calls, and sharing documents that don’t need to be shared with the whole group.
Even better? Slack can be used three ways: In your browser, in a Desktop app, or with a mobile app.
This one has its pros and cons, but it’s definitely a contender worth discussing! While most people choose to use Facebook Groups as a strategy for growing a free community of warm leads – you could just as easily use a Facebook Group as the home of your paid community.
On the plus side, a Facebook Group offers you a lot of different ways to communicate with the people inside your community. Live videos, photos, GIFs, polls, posts – your options are nearly limitless. And with Facebook giving you the ability to create modules and lessons inside Groups, you could easily sell and host an entire group program or online course inside a Facebook Group (saving you hundreds, even thousands, a year in course hosting fees using a system like Teachable or Thinkific).
Of course, the obvious downside of this option is that you have to have a Facebook account in order to join a Group, and your clients may not have a Facebook account. (Give “people leaving Facebook” a quick search – there’s a lot of movement away from the platform right now.)
Telegram and Voxer
These two apps are nearly identical in terms of functionality: They’re both messenger apps that give you the ability to send and receive voice messages in real time, like a walkie-talkie. You can use these like a classic one-to-one personal message, or you can create a group message that includes everyone on one thread.
While Voxer is more basic in its very orange UI, Telegram is going to be the prime choice for creatives and millennials who value personalization and expression.
I personally like using these kinds of apps for communicating with my top-level clients, who get more intimate, personal access to me. They love getting to hear my “off the cuff” thoughts on different things that they’re encountering in their business without having to wait for a formal group call or one-on-one session, and I love getting to share my insights in a quick, efficient way that can also benefit the other clients in this group who may have the same struggles or questions.
Instagram Close Friends
This one might be a surprising choice, but it’s growing in popularity as an alternative to Facebook Groups. You won’t be able to host a course for free on Instagram like you can with a Facebook Group, but you can still create a fun, exclusive place for your customers to stay in the loop.
I’ve seen this strategy work best for digital creators, in particular, such as podcasters or YouTubers. Using something like Patreon to collect membership fees from your audience, you can have each user fill out a quick Google form to get their Instagram handle upon signing up to get access to your exclusive content. After that, you’ll go to your Instagram Settings, tap on “Close Friends,” and from there you can hit the + to add new accounts to your Close Friends list. You don’t even have to follow an account to add them to your list!
This is a fun way to take something you’re already doing (creating content) for an audience who is already there consuming it, and monetizing it!
Ethical, confident, wise – these are among the many attributes of great leaders, and these attributes usually stem from that leader’s experiences and personal style. But there is one thing all great leaders have in common: At some point in their career, someone believed in them.
Simple as it may seem, this realization can inspire new leadership tactics in great leaders and help them turn their attention to developing their teams.
Here are three tips on how to use your own expertise to build the next generation of leaders for your organization.
1. Present opportunities to your people
When you think about your own trajectory to a position of leadership, you likely got there because you had experiences that others didn’t. It is so important to help others develop themselves, and to start you must give them opportunities to do so.
Opportunities can be presented in a number of different ways. One tactic I use is to share examples of my own experiences – experiences that might inspire new ideas or help someone develop an understanding of the similarities between situations that can help them move forward.
Guiding The UPS Store throughout a global pandemic will be a story I tell for years to come. Our network of franchise owners remained open as essential to serve their communities, a feat that inspires resilience and optimism that can carry you through those more challenging times. I also draw on my experience as a former officer in the Marine Corps to help explain tough conditions and how planning, preparation, and the ability to adapt can help you forge ahead.
Another way to nurture development is to give employees stretch projects beyond their normal day-to-day roles. Let them take the driver’s seat so that they can develop the wisdom and confidence needed to make good judgment calls.
You’ll have to find what feels right and works for your company. Keep in mind that without these opportunities, you could be leaving your employees flat-footed to do their jobs and rise as leaders, both of which impact your organization overall.
2. Recognize your own hesitancies
Know that it’s normal to feel some level of stress when handing over the reins to your team. Whether you are worried about being accountable for someone else, giving up control or becoming a micromanager, you must overcome those feelings to give employees the opportunity to expand and evolve.
Start by identifying the sources of any hesitancy you might have, and then look for solutions to overcome it. If accountability is something you are worried about, is there a way to find shared responsibility within a project? Start by clearly outlining the project goals and then ask your employees to check in with you at specific milestones. By keeping you informed and sharing regular updates, you can have confidence that the project is moving forward and in the right direction while allowing employees to develop their own leadership skills, generate new ideas and build upon new experiences.
Remember that failure is a part of the growth process, and a big proponent of helping employees develop themselves is giving them the space to learn, try, and push beyond their comfort zone. But keep playing the role of coach or adviser to help them gain the knowledge and skills to develop as leaders.
3. Extend your circle of trust
Humans are creatures of habit and that extends to leadership. Once you’ve successfully relied on members of your team to accomplish a big task or launch a new initiative, it can be tempting to go back to the same people to do it all over again. But as new projects arise, it is important to continually identify and leverage the strengths of other employees.
Ask other leaders throughout your organization to recommend people for a project. This practice helps employees gain exposure to new areas of the business, work with a different team and adapt to new team dynamics. By trusting your people to take on new roles, you help foster a culture of integrity and develop leadership skills among a broader base of people.
The best employees are adept at making sound decisions and have the ability to plan, prioritize, and solve problems. It is so important to give people the opportunity for continued professional development. Through these new opportunities, you often reveal strengths in people that you were unaware of, while at the same time, you help to scale your organization with diversity of thought and experiences that can drive your business forward.
Remember, it all started with someone believing in you. Be that person for the teams you lead.
I once listened to a podcast where the guest was said to be an expert on public speaking
“What is the single most important thing for being an amazing public speaker?” the host asked.
“Theatricality,” the guest expert said.
The guest then elaborated on how important it was to use dramatization to convey the emotional richness of what is being said on stage.
I was driving in my car when I was listening to this conversation, and as I made a left turn onto a busy city street I was struck by how adamant and confident the guest was in her answer.
But I was struck by something else as well.
This public speaking expert was wrong.
Yes, theatricality is indeed a valuable tool in one’s speaking.
I’m fond of being particularly theatrical in my own speaking, don’t get me wrong. My childhood love of Monty Python means that I’ll look for any excuse to do my terrible impression of a British accent.
But theatricality is not the most important thing.
And it’s not even necessary.
You’ll notice that, like that speaking expert, I too am being adamant and confident in my position.
But my fervor stems from the heartbreak I feel when I have conversations with those who are considering becoming public speakers but resist the possibility – because they’re introverts.
Indeed, there are many folks who see the value in putting themselves out there as speakers because of the trust and authority it’s possible to earn from giving a compelling presentation.
Speaking leads to many rewards, like the opportunity to spread the word about their expertise, and even more tangible outcomes like clients.
But they hold back from doing anything about it because they don’t think they belong on stage.
They hear someone say “theatricality” and rule themselves out because, well, they’re introverts.
The introvert’s public speaking dilemma
It’s understandable why an introvert might be reluctant to put themselves on stage. They see loud, larger-than-life speakers show up on big stages in front of thousands of people and compare themselves unfavorably.
Why would anyone want to listen to me when that guy over there is so warm and boisterous? they might ask themselves.
And when they hear of how important theatricality is, they’re pretty sure speaking is a non-starter for them.
I’ve known so many introverts who come up with some of the most brilliant insights when they’re left in the solitude they crave. These are the kinds of insights that would be a slam-dunk when matched with the gravity and authority that comes from delivering those insights to hundreds or thousands of people at a time.
I’ve had discovery calls with folks who were considering delving into the act of speaking, but are apprehensive because they’re introverts and don’t think they have the personality for it.
One particular call comes to mind, in that I spoke with a lovely man who as about as mild-mannered as anyone I’d encountered in my line of work.
He had an upcoming presentation to give at a trade conference for his industry: agricultural efficiency. It is such a niche field that it was one of the only conferences in town. But if it went well, he would not only attract some clients but would be able to better position his company as an authority in the industry.
But based on the apprehension he stated in the call, and the shy and subdued way he said it, I knew that getting up and speaking in front of others wasn’t at the top of the list of things he wanted to do in life.
Being an introvert, he was confronted with the possibility that his was not a personality suited to the task.
The larger myth among public speaking experts
This is only conjecture, of course, but I imagine if the gentleman in agricultural efficiency had instead taken advice from someone who valued theatricality above all else, he either would have shied away from even working on his presentation or, in an effort to be more theatrical, he would have looked a bit like Ben Stein from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” trying to do Shakespeare.
At least, that’s what I’ve seen happen with other introverts when they’re told to embrace bolder presentation styles.
There are numerous public speaking experts out there who agree with the person I heard on that podcast who said that theatricality is the most important quality for a speaker. Still there are others who are quite evangelical about making the speaker’s personal story their most central and therefore most important asset. Others state how it’s all about one’s presence on stage or even how much they directly engage with the audience with interactive experiences.
But once again, these assumptions are wrong.
There is a larger theme in these ideas, which is the common flaw. Those who tout these directives of basing a talk on how theatrical the speaker is, how poignant their personal story is, or how much interaction they build into their presentation are all perpetuating the idea that the speech someone gives is only as successful as the speaker’s ability to give it.
But when my mild-mannered prospective client became my actual client, we put together a presentation that he gave at the conference. As a result, several highly qualified leads asked him to come visit them about providing his company’s services.
The reason they invited him out to pitch his services wasn’t because of his theatricality, his personal story, or any sort of interactive tools.
It was because of something else.
A speaker’s most important asset
The talk we put together for my agriculture client did indeed have stories. But it also had the types of things that many speakers and experts rail against. It had charts. It had bullet points on slides instead of just pictures.
It also had a central, key takeaway that could be summed up in as little as a sentence. He was able to boil the entire presentation down to a single, light bulb moment that helped the audience to have a collective epiphany – to understand how to solve their problems with agricultural efficiency in a way that didn’t seem possible twenty minutes earlier.
Ultimately, the reason he got such warm leads from his presentation wasn’t because of the qualities he possessed as a speaker or the specific ingredients that he featured.
It was because of how empowered his audience to make positive change in relation to the problems they were facing.
In their world of agriculture and farming, they were struggling with rising costs of resources. They had to navigate what was often a complicated subsidization model with the government. They had to negotiate the increased demand for an organic classification but an expectation from the marketplace to pay similar prices to that of conventional produce.
The reason why those folks came up to him was because they believed my client could solve those problems.
It turns out that a public speaker’s most important asset isn’t their theatricality, their story, or how extroverted and boisterous they are.
It’s their capacity to help their audience to believe that change is possible.
Our return to how things once were
A number of my speaker clients have reported back that they’re doing very good (and even well-paid) work presenting virtually as we work our way through the pandemic.
There are even some folks who are once again getting invited into hybrid models of presenting wherein they’re flown to another city and are presenting to a few people live but primarily are presenting to virtual audiences as well.
But as vaccinations and herd immunity become more of a reality in the coming months, there will be a rush of activity for people to re-position themselves in an industry that has otherwise been devastated.
This means that never has it been more important to get clear on the value you can deliver, and value doesn’t come from being the most boisterous, extroverted speaker out there.
Value comes from getting clear on how your expertise can empower others to live a better life than they have since this calamity began and beyond.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re theatrical, subdued, aggressive, or heartfelt – as long as the audience member is compelled to take positive and meaningful action in response.
The value of our speech isn’t based on what we say on stage, but rather what our audience does once we’re done saying it.
Introverts will make the best speakers not when they change their personalities but when they take the insights that have grown from a lifetime of productive solitude and show their audience how these ideas can help them to live a better life.
They merely need to convince their audiences that getting from point A to point B is possible.
A speaker in crisis
A handful of years ago, I was volunteering at a children’s hospital for a program that gifts books to children and reads to them bedside. The director of the program came into our main reading room all flustered because she had a 10-minute presentation to give later that day. I understood why she was in distress; she had previously described to me how glazed over people usually looked when she presented on the program.
Plus, she was an introvert. She wanted to be there as little as her audiences did.
I took her aside and asked her if she wanted some help. She said yes.
We then spoke for only two minutes, simply rearranging a few elements of what she usually said.
When I saw her later that day and asked her how it went, she told me that, upon her starting her talk, it was so deathly quiet that, yes, you could hear the pin drop. She then described how, at the end of the presentation, while people usually just politely clapped, this time they lined up with business cards and even invited her to apply for a grant.
My supervisor didn’t become an extrovert in two minutes. And she didn’t suddenly become theatrical, either. By rearranging her talk we simply took the audience from the painful thought of children staying at a hospital to the possibility of these kids feeling minimally feeling better because of books being incorporated into their hospital stay.
And when the audience saw this change as possible, they rushed to the director with interest.
So I call on you to put aside commonly held beliefs about what it takes to be an effective speaker. It’s not theatricality, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert.
It’s showing your commitment to your audience’s ability to change and doing everything you can to show them that such a transformation is possible.