Expanding Horizons, Services, and (UH-OH) Waistlines

Somehow despite my best – okay, total lack of – effort, my waistline is 1.5 inches bigger this year than last year. Ugh.

A friend has convinced me to expand my business and begin sending letters of introduction and queries to trade publications. Hooray!

My dad got me chickens. Lots of baby chickens. The jury is still out on whether this falls into the ugh or hooray category, but it is definitely a learning experience and an expansion of my personal knowledge.

All of these things have the concept of expansion on my mind. Sometimes expanding is great, like when it means you might make more money or have more fun with your work. But other times it can be terrible. When the clutter in your junk drawer takes over the counter as well you are looking at a bad expansion. It’s not easy to know which will be good and which will be bad, either.

Clients often come to me when they are considering an expansion of some sort. They may want to expand their presence on the internet, or their services. Sometimes they just want to expand the number of brochures they have available to show prospective customers. Even though I usually want the work, sometimes I advise against the expansion.

When it comes to social media, especially, each expansion should be carefully considered. After all, time is valuable, and is the one real cost to using social media in your business. You cannot “maintain a presence” on any platform without actually spending time there. Being social cannot be automated. It would be like sending your resume to a party and saying you attended.

There are all kinds of promises to help you gain more followers, make more connections, get more likes, and on and on. Some experts promise they will teach you how to “do” social media in 10 minutes a day. It’s all true, too. You really can fairly easily get thousands of followers on Twitter, hundreds of likes on Facebook and hundreds of connections on Linkedin. The problem is, it will all be worthless unless you actually invest the time and do the work to find the right audiences on those platforms.

The same is true of a blog.

You can find all sorts of shortcuts to increase the number of people who come to your site and look, at least for a second or two, at your blog. But if they don’t care what you are writing about, they don’t interact with you, or they just plain aren’t buying what you are selling, what’s the point?

Before you decide to expand your social media use, think about why you want to, and what you hope to accomplish by doing so, and what the expansion will cost in terms of your time. If you want to make some new friends, Twitter is a great tool to do so. I’ve made several connections that became important real-life friendships using it. Some of those connections ended up generating some business, but not all of them, and that was never my end-goal in using Twitter.

Most people don’t start with a defined strategy. If you work at a big company and are launching a campaign, or a at a start-up, you might have the luxury of a clean slate on which to state goals and benchmarks and methods for reaching them. If you own a small business and have for years, it’s much more likely that you started a Facebook Page one day because it seemed like a good idea, or you tried blogging because someone told you it would help your Google rank. In other words, you are probably approaching online stuff in a piecemeal, haphazard kind of way, and each new thing getting some buzz gets a little bit of your attention. Or, maybe you are seeing results from one platform or another so you are thinking it might be good to expand those efforts.

The best thing to do is to choose one area for expansion. That way, you can measure your time investment and the results, and you are less likely to get overwhelmed. As always, the best place to start is your own web site because you own it. On other platforms, from Facebook to Tumblr to Google+ to Twitter, you are renting space and everything can be changed or gone in an instant. Even if you don’t write a regular blog, you should be spending some time driving traffic to your web site. You can comment on other posts or in forums. You can put links to other interesting and related things on your site somewhere – under a tab called “trends” or something. You can simply spend a little time each day learning howto use your web site. It’s a powerful tool!

Once you have your own backyard in order, you can move on to something else. There are lots of platforms to choose from and all of them have a different audience, and a different potential purpose. You might make learning about them your focus for a few months, then choose one to expand your presence. After you have it under control, and you know how much of your time it will take, and what kind of results to expect, you can choose the next one. Eventually you will hit a tipping point.

How do approach an expansion, either in your business or personal development? Do you study it first, or jump right in? Does ROI play any kind of role?

While I wait for your answers, I’m going to plan an expansion of my fitness activities…

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