31 Confessions of a Social Media Consultant after 1 Year (almost)
We are coming up on almost one year since we have been in business. We somewhat opened doors last November with our first Ribbon cutting. After 15+ years in corporate it is amazing what a difference a year makes.
Many people have asked me recently how we grew our business and brand so fast? How did we do it? We had no rich uncles, no silver platters. Our business was built on blood sweat and tears. It was built by focusing on the customer needs always. It was built by walking the walk, not just talking the talk. We never claim to be perfect. I don't know everything and never will. I am not a guru or expert I don't even like being called a social media consultant. I often do it only because there is no better way to get folks to understand what it is I can do for their business.
I am simply a marketing chick having fun as an entrepreneur and business owner. I happened to fall into Twitter and met a few friends who helped me along the way. I am following my passions and my dreams. I never will give up and I never will look back.
When folks ask me what the secret is, I always answer that there isn't one. The best advice I can give is to simply go for it and be yourself. Either they like you or they don't!
So here are a few words of advice from a marketing nut who has been living within the DNA of social media for almost a year. Take em' or leave em. Let me know what you think. Be honest. Be real. Help others if you have the guts.
1. Listen and learn. This is one thing I did right and would do the same way again. I dove straight into the heart of social media. I wanted to understand the DNA, it's pulse. It is a necessity to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
2. Perfection is the enemy of good. I have always struggled with this but am learning to accept “good”. Fact is your business will never be perfect. Accept this and settle for good, really good if you have to. Getting a few small products launched sooner is better than launching nothing at all for 6 months. We followed our own advice on this and it paid off early.
3. Brand yourself. The biggest opportunity I missed early on was not branding myself sooner. If you would have asked me a year ago if I would now have a website with my name, “Pam Marketing Nut” on it, I seriously would have laughed at you. It was my audience that told me I needed this. Once I came out behind the FruitZoom avatar, our business took off in zoom speed.
4. Be an authentic YOU! If you are nutty, be nutty. If you're serious be serious. Let your audience see the real you. Do not mimic others. Instead be yourself. You can learn from others, do what they do but don't be them!
5. Do not let your past define you. Let go of your last mean boss. I had a couple terrible last jobs before I left corporate America. The last one was verbally abusive and told me and many other employees simply terrible things about us. His goal was to beat people down so we would work 24/7, no joke. The key is to not let your past define you. Once I came out from behind the avatar that corporate america had pushed me into hiding behind, I found a whole new world. I found my love for marketing again. It had been lost in the last 5 years of layoff threats and down economy.
6. Develop your business plan. A vision and solid business plan inclusive of goals and objectives is a necessity. It is what keeps us on track daily. We know where we are going and how we need to get there. Yes, we have to be dynamic as any business does. However, we stay true to the WHY we are in business.
7. Never settle for Status Quo! You are not in corporate America any longer. You no longer have to be a cog in the wheel. The only way you will survive on your own is if you rise above the norm. Do something different. Be the “Purple Cow” as Seth Godin would say of your niche. Put on your confidence and get-r-done!
8. Eliminate Random Acts of Marketing! We help our clients achieve a positive ROI by eliminating the Random Acts of Marketing (RAMs) and Random Acts of Social Media (RASMs) in their business. The best thing you can do for yourself as a consultant and for your clients is to stop the randomness. An integrated plan is your key to survival long term. It is the only way you will reap a positive ROI for social media that can be leveraged across multiple products, portfolios and marketing mediums. We never just sell a client social media. We sell them a set of services that will help their business. Much different than a social media band-aid as so many are selling.
9. Get ready for some client skeletons to fall out of the closet. Whooaa! This is something that took me by surprise the first few times it happened. Know you are going to hear a lot of drama. If you are a good social media consultant you will be getting into the DNA of your clients business. When you do that, the skeletons come out. We have seen people in marketing departments fired partially from what we uncover. Social media will bring out many weaknesses that existed and often times were hidden behind an email blast or website. Don't let this scare you. For the strong, it's easy to look past the drama and focus on the business needs. There is much opportunity for those who can truly help the client make hiring, organizational and process decisions.
10. Do not spend time worrying about competition. Instead focus on how you provide unique value. What can you offer your clients that is different than what others in your local area are doing? For example, my co-founder and I have a combined 30+ years experience in business including high tech, database analytics etc. We have worked Fortune 500 down to startups. We help customers integrate social media into the DNA of their business. It is our key differentiator and why we are getting in the door at some large companies. So, why should I worry about the others who can barely spell social media? I am not. I partner with them. I work with them. I help most of them. The market is big enough to put food on the table for all of us. We are seeing several of them copying our content down to specific words. I can't waste time there. The best thing I can do is focus on my business, my clients and my life.
11. Never stop learning. It is a necessity to stay on top of the news in social media. Nothing is worse than teaching a room full of students and they know more than you. This never happened to me but I have seen it happen to a few others. I know it's not possible for us to know “everything”. However, paying close attention to the top online news and trends will keep you minimally there. Living it is better.
12. Find more than one mentor. I can't stress the importance of this enough. My business would not be where it is today if I did not have mentors and coaches. Your need for coaches will evolve just as your business does. Don't feel obligated to one mentor. You are not married. It's kind of like a hair dresser but not as bad. You will need different skills as your business evolves to different stages. If you're struggling don't try to do it all on your own. Systems exist by someone who has already been there and done that. Buying a system can often save you weeks of work. I learned this the hard way as I am one who always wants to do it the right way by myself. Again, perfection is enemy of good.
13. Walk the walk. Nothing speaks better than experience. Practice what you preach.Don't expect your clients to trust your judgement when you have been working social media for 6 months and only have few followers, are not engaging and your ratio of follower to following is out the roof. You are doing your clients no good by teaching them wrong. I am seeing many consultants who are writing case studies of their results that I would be ashamed of. Take the time to learn the game and the rules of the game.
14. Content, content, content! Early in building your business focus on writing content. Create compelling blog posts on what you learn. Anything! Even if you are only 30 days into it, guaranteed there are some who are 30 days behind you and can learn from you. Focus on writing content that can help people. Create an editorial calendar. I promise you, content can help you build a loyal tribe better than anything out there. Content can work for your business when you are enjoying life at the beach.
15. Never stop giving. The weeks that I got too internally focused, the spirit of my business changed for the bad. It is important to always stay focused on helping others while meeting your objectives. If you focus on the needs of your audience it will pay off big time.
16. Some customers are liars. They will waste endless ROI cycles if you let them. It is a tough economy and many are desperate. They know they need social media and they have no money. Some are experts at meeting with an agency or two a week for a free lunch time 1:1 seminar.
17. Qualify the potential client as early as possible. Do not waste time on detailed proposals. There are many companies out there who are simply shopping multiple agencies and consultants so they can learn and implement themselves. I even had one guy who asked me to put together a comprehensive proposal. He wanted it all! I spent days on it, with lots of detail. Later I found out it was never in their budget. Yes, they took me to many free lunches. I lost $1000's in time and opportunity cost for building my biz. I should have known when they first hired me and they talked about all the SEO companies they had interviewed.
19. Don't price the deal based on promises of future work. Medium and larger size companies are just as desparate as smaller ones. Don't believe everything your client tells you. Price the project based on the contract duration. Don't price it based on a future verbal promise or hope of future work. Setting yourself to succeed requires properly budgeting and scoping each and every project. With all of the layoffs and changes in companies today, you'll be lucky if your subject matter expert and contact are still there to recommend you at the end of the project. Focus on what you can do today!
20. Don't waste time persuading a potential client to jump on social media train. There are plenty out there who want are more than ready to jump on and pay you good money to do so. The clients who say they want to do business with you, they say they want to ride the social train. Yet these are the ones who at each meeting you find yourself talking them into social media. These can be the hardest as they are usually a decent size companies who offer good brand recognition and more. Qualify them and scope the project up front. Don't let any client be a money hole so early in business. It isn't worth it. Your time is better spent on real business that will offer you a positive ROI and a solid case study.
21. Be careful of the local Chamber of Commerce. They are valuable but are the masters of free lunches to “pick your brain”. Set specific objectives for what you want to achieve with each organization you work with. Determine how you can partner with a local Chamber or two at a corporate and higher level.
22. Take a top down approach with everything. No matter who you are working with start as high in the organization as you can. If you're going to do a free “pick your brain” lunch at least do it with a decision maker.
23. Set priorities with non-profit and charity support. I believe strongly in supporting local and national non-profits and causes. However, many of them are pros at sucking your dry. Be careful you don't sign up for more than you can chew. I was guilty of signing up to help too many. Then when my biz kicked off faster than I could have ever dreamed I was over booked. Instead pick one or two causes and support them fully. Be realistic with your time. Don't forget to balance the WHY you are doing this business. If you over commit yourself you'll never reach the why!
24. Don't hire a sales rep that loves to go to “pick your brain” lunches. What you'll find is lots of educated wanna be clients who don't ever pay you anything. Worst part is you also won't have a pipeline and you probably will waste 6 months on crafting proposals for the wanna be clients who never planned to purchase in the first place. We fell for this and I take full responsibility in over delegating, over trusting sales while I was building the business. Learn from my mistakes and don't do the same!
25. Pick your networking groups wisely. Don't fall for the networking groups that require you to meet with a required number of people a week unless they are filled with your target audience. Yes, they say it's all about the networking and who they can connect you with. Your time is valuable and my advice is you're better off a big networking event where you, yourself can meet the people.
26. When you get down, get out! When you have a bad day, a bad week get out of the house! Go to a networking event. Visit a client out of the blue. Go to a local Chamber event or Ribbon Cutting. Take an afternoon off with the kids. Or simply go get a pedicure and hit the gym. Staying stuck in your virtual office for days on end will do nothing for you. Yes, social media is about relationships. However, don't lose site of the relationships you had before you started your business. Don't ever stop building offline relationships. Integration of online and offline business is key.
27. Schedule digi free time! This ties into #26 somewhat. In addition to getting out of the house, don't be stuck on your iPhone or Android all day with Hootsuite wearing out your battery. When you go to an event turn it off! This is hard for me and I still struggle with it. My husband and I have digi free weekends where we truly try to shut off. It has done my mind, business and life wonders!
28. Social media is about more than Twitter! Realize you need to learn more than Twitter and Facebook. The key is to understand your client's business, their markets and how they should engage in social media. It is not what you know and what works for you. Get in the heads of your clients customers if you want to help them. For example don't write off LinkedIn because you don't have a network built there. It could be the perfect platform for your client and you are only hurting them if you don't provide them the information objectively. This one gets me as I see it happening far too often with in house so called “social media experts”.
29. Plan A all the way. You can not look back, only forward. Build your business the best you can and never give up. Plan A does not mean you don't evolve. It does not mean you aren't objective. It simply means you will not give up. Yes, you may have to chicken scratch half the plan if the market changes or Twitter drops off the face of the earth. However, that is different than throwing it in the trash stating it will never work. Stay focused on your WHY. Why are you doing what you do? What do you want your life to look like in 1 year, 5 years?
30. It's okay to say NO! This is the hardest one for me. Being a natural giver the only word I like to say is YES. The earlier you can learn that saying no can actually help your business the better off you will be. We have learned to say no to big client deals. We have learned to say no to non-profit causes that we really having a calling to. The truth is if you are worth half the value of the paper your proposals are written on, there are loads of people wanting you to work with them. Saying true to your vision, mission and path is the only way you can succeed. If you chase the dollars only you'll never survive long term. If you have an objective to launch a set of product by a certain date and you have a client that comes along wanting to pay you enormous amounts of money, what do you do? For us, we said no as the opportunity cost was too high. The loss of building our business was exponentially higher than what the client would have paid us for the short term.
31. Partner with positive people. Surround yourself with mentors, friends, family and coaches who are positive. Life is too short to complain of what you don't have. Focus on what you do have. You have an amazing road of opportunity ahead of you. It's what you do with it that will determine your path.
What is your experience? What lessons have you learned in your business? What would you do different if you had the opportunity?