I Will Not Market To Runners

A few months ago, I decided to train for and run in a 5k. I’ve always wanted to be able to run for miles and figured now is as good a time as any, and there’s really no reason I couldn’t or shouldn’t run.

Plus, the race I entered was the Get Your Rear in Gear 5k to promote awareness of colon cancer. Watching one family member battle that disease and also honoring the memories of two others was additional motivation to enter. It seemed like a perfect combination – support a worthy cause, give myself a goal and do something healthy in the process.

The race was last Saturday. My husband went with me because he’s sweet. He felt that someone should be there to support me during my first race and neither of my kids would go (aren’t teenagers just the awesomest?). It was a very nice gesture because a foot race is just not his kind of thing at all.

As it turned out, it wasn’t really my kind of thing, either. It was just generally uncomfortable. I didn’t quite fit in.

It’s hard to describe that vague, slightly out of place feeling. Since then, I’ve been thinking about it and realized that it’s closely related to finding perfect customers.

The idea that there are other people out in the world who share your interests and ideals is not new, but it is appealing, and there are volumes of information about it available. A Google search for “finding your tribe” brings back over 1 million results.

If you are lucky enough that the majority of your co-workers and clients are part of your “tribe,” as I am, it is jarring to find yourself smack in the middle of a different tribe. You feel a bit alien. It also reminds you that there is a whole world of other groups – not just individuals – of people out there.

When business owners think about marketing, there are two common mistakes: targeting your marketing efforts at too narrow a group or targeting your marketing efforts at too large a group.

At one time, I did some marketing for a farmer who ran a CSA. He was very concerned about the competition. He often talked about how his farm had the best CSA program in his town, growing the best produce and making sure members got more of it.

The thing that he forgot is that CSAs only account for about 1% of grocery-buyers. Why worry about your competition when you could be marketing to the other 99%?

At the other end of the spectrum, one of my clients wanted help with his email marketing efforts. He had a big list of addresses. When I questioned him about where he got all of those email addresses, he said “from trade associations that I’m a member of.” No one on his list had ever actually asked to receive his email! He had just pulled addresses from all of his memberships.

Not surprisingly, his open rate hovered between 15 – 20%.  When we talked about offering his audience the chance to opt-in or about cutting out any addresses that had never opened anything he sent, he was extremely resistant. It seemed far more important to him that people see his company name, even as they were deleting the email, than to ask their permission to send stuff.

He took the approach of marketing to everybody in the hopes that one or two who might be interested would see his stuff – almost the opposite of the farmer who was ignoring a huge, untapped audience.

Taking some time to think about who you want to do business with will help you figure out who you should be talking to when you are marketing your business.  Re-visiting the topic regularly will help you stay on track and expand your efforts – or reign them in. I will definitely not be marketing to any runners’ clubs in the near future!

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The Stones Were Right: Time is on my side!

A few months ago, I wrote a post about time and money making the argument that most people have enough of both, even though most of us don’t realize it. Then a couple of weeks ago, I read this post over on Men With Pens, reviewing a book by Laura Vanderkam called 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. I haven’t read the book, but the theme seems parallel to my idea that there really is plenty of time.

Every business owner has to learn to prioritize and that is where the panic comes in for most of us. How do you decide between sending out invoices or taking customer calls? When you have a list of tasks that all seem equally life-or-death important you can start to feel panicky. After all, if you are talking about your business you are probably talking about your livelihood.

There are about a million cliches, instruction manuals and classes that address how to manage your time better. Maybe a spreadsheet and adhering to some sort of strict regimen could help when you feel like you are drowning in stuff that must be done. But maybe just taking a step away from your situation and remembering that there is plenty of time would help too.

Almost everyday, I make a list of things I need to do that are too important to forget. Today, “pay the light bill” is on there. That’s pretty important and also typical of the kind of thing I often forget. The power board, cable company and water company have all made fortunes from my late fees and reconnection charges through the years.  But, even if I forget to pay the bill and we have to go a night without power the world won’t end. We might be uncomfortable but we won’t be homeless.

Thinking up worst-case scenarios is comforting for me because it forces me to realize that, most of the time, the worst isn’t really so bad – barring terrible things happening to people I love, of course. In day-to-day run of the mill situations involving time, money and work the worst isn’t really so bad.

For years, I regretted not being more productive nearly every evening. Then, when I decided to try and change my mindset about time and productivity in general, I started making lists of things I had accomplished each day. Sometimes I even put a dollar amount next to each accomplishment – if I pay the light bill today I’ll be saving a $50 reconnect fee.

No matter the situation, feeling rushed and pressured is not going to make it better. Just because our society encourages us to feel stressed and hurried, doesn’t mean you have to. You can refuse to jump into the rushing rapids and just stroll along the bank instead.

How do you deal with time pressures? Do you generally feel there is enough time to do what you need to do? Do you think that organization and regimen is the answer to feeling perpetually rushed? Do you complete your to-do list everyday? (My dad would tell me that having a to-do list to start with is the problem!)

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What Do I Write About? Part 2 of Non-Spammy Newsletters

Most of my clients own really small businesses, usually with fewer than 10 employees. These folks are busy! They are in charge of marketing, accounting, sales, production, customer service and anything else their businesses need. When we start talking about a newsletter or a blog, they inevitably ask, “But what would be in it? What would I (or you) write about?”

There are already about 15 billion articles regarding why content is important in existence and they are all easily accessible. However, when you are looking at your own stuff, the stuff you are mired in neck-deep day after day,it’s a little hard to know what your customers might want to know.

For example, my first-ever client builds custom furniture. He was resistant to a newsletter because he didn’t think there would be enough to say about what he does to keep people opening it month after month. He didn’t realize people would be interested in the process of building furniture, or in knowing more than “use orange oil to polish it” about how to care for their purchases, or about the different types of lumber he uses.

In fact, his customers are interested in all of that stuff. His open rate is close to 50% each month, far above the industry average of 18%. His customers also like knowing what kind of equipment he uses and why he chose his profession, and what other people have purchased from him.

The range of possible articles to include in his newsletter is huge: he can talk about trees, lumber, sustainability, his customers, functional art, his colleagues, polish and finishes, the care of wooden furniture, construction, and on and on. He just didn’t see all of that because it was day to day stuff to him.

A pitfall of having plenty of options for articles is going too far. A newsletter should be short and sweet. A few images, a few paragraphs, one or two interesting tidbits and that’s it. People are busy. They don’t have time to scroll and scroll through your newsletter.

People also have short attention spans. Even if they weren’t busy, they wouldn’t take the time to look at all of your stuff. Online, especially, distractions abound. Maybe another email hits their inbox. Maybe a link distracts them away. Maybe their kid needs attention. For whatever reason, people are not going to look at your newsletter for more than a minute or two.

Write about what you do. Provide information, entertain, and generally be useful. But what about sales? Shouldn’t there be a good old call to action? Of course there should be, but it shouldn’t be the first thing your customers see. The purpose of most newsletters is to keep people aware of your business, not to get them to buy something right now – at least not every time you send it.

If you are having a special or want to offer a fabulous discount to your subscribers or you have an overstock of something you need to sell, now, then your newsletter is a great vehicle. Just don’t do that in your first issue. Develop a relationship with your subscribers but don’t think you have to give away something with every issue.

The topic of what to write about could be a series all by itself. So much depends on industry, personality, branding and timing it is difficult to make generalizations.If you have specific questions about newsletter content that I might be able to help you with, please, leave a comment or send an email. I’d love to hear from you.

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Refocus & Get On With It

It’s easy to get off track. No matter what you are doing, even if it is something as simple as cleaning off your kitchen table, it’s easy to get sidetracked and start sorting mail or dusting knick-knacks or packing lunches for school.

In January, I set a personal goal for myself that was reasonable and attainable, and for three months I stayed right on top of it. Then, in April, I started paying attention to other things. Important things to be sure, but still not the things I had decided to focus on.

This probably happens to most people. It’s the reason so many New Years’ Resolutions are jokes by March. It’s probably also normal to feel bad about getting off course. Unproductive and unhelpful feelings of guilt impede our already faltering progress.

It’s amazing that you can continue to learn new (and important) things about yourself no matter how old you are. My most recent realization has been that I have a self-destructive streak about a mile wide.

It happens unconsiously, but when I begin to lose focus, I seem to sabotage myself. It becomes harder with every passing moment, day, week, to get back on track. Surely this is not an unusual form of self destruction?

Hopefully being aware of this pattern will help me avoid repeating it, or at least help me notice that it is happening. Rather than spend time feeling guilty I am going to use that time to refocus, figure out what went wrong, and try again.

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Looking for Happiness In Tedium

Time. I think about it constantly, and not in the there’s-not-enough-time-in-the-day way, but in the life-is-short-enjoy-it-as-much-as-you-can way. I feel a dissonance between the two ways of thinking.

On the one hand, because life is short, it’s important to do what you love, to be with your favorite people as much as possible, to enjoy good food, notice the beautiful details around you….

On the other hand, being organized and efficient is important to get all your work done everyday. Every Sunday, I scramble to make sure the family is prepared for the coming week. Each week night, I try to get as much writing work done as possible.

Sometimes it feels like life is one long list of chores to be completed.

How do you feel the joy of each day when each day is composed of a list of tedious tasks to get through? How do you stop feeling that doing laundry, working at the office, washing dishes and running errands are not life-sucking activities that detract from your general happiness? How is it possible to “enjoy the journey” instead of just anticipating the destination?

All of that sounds so negative and depressing I am tempted to delete it.

It’s not really so terrible, though. For me, having a plan helps alleviate some of the dissonance. Figuring out what is most important gave me a beginning point, and then having the epiphany That Is Not So Outlandish Or Impossible has helped, too.

I want to work at home so that there is time to have a garden, to exercise, to cook most of my own food and spend more time with my family. Having a 9-5 job has advantages, but also eats up far more than 40 hours a week. There is the hour to hour and a half of commute time daily, the time that must be spent making sure there are clean, presentable clothes ready to wear, even the time spent preparing lunches that can be carried to work.

Living near water is something I recently realized is important. I’ve always daydreamed about a little house near a river or creek, but only within the last couple of months did it occur to me there is no reason that can’t happen. My children are almost grown and will be living elsewhere within a few short years so we will need much less space.Why not save and look for a quiet place on some water?

Working toward making Smiling Tree Writing my main source of income makes for a TON of extra work. It also gets me a step closer to working at home and being able to choose where that home is without having to worry about how far the drive to work will be. The problem I have is, how do I relax and enjoy the process of building the business while working extra long hours and missing out on some of the fun stuff?

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Quiet Motivation

As I write this, there is a girl – a young woman – resting her head on my knees, watching her  favorite TV show,Criminal Minds. The fact that Criminal Minds is her favorite show is a bit of a joke, because she is easily scared.  She can only watch it when the rest of the family is watching with her and most of the lights in the house are turned on.

She is a little smelly, after a long shift at McDonald’s, where she has worked since she turned 15 and could get a job. She works at least 20 hours a week, and pays her own phone bill every month, her car insurance, buys most of her own clothes and still manages to maintain good grades – good enough that she will likely get scholarships and grants to help pay for college.

On days I don’t feel like writing or doing the many administrative tasks related to freelancing, this daughter provides inspiration for me. She is motivated and has the best attitude about work I’ve ever encountered. Of course, she is also a normal teenager who pushes the limits and talks back and gets overly emotional now and then.

When my kids were small, I sometimes worried about what they would be like when they grew up. Would they be people whose company I’d enjoy? Or who would enjoy my company? Would they have a sense of humor? Those kinds of questions occured in between diaper changes and scuffed knees and parent-teacher conferences.

They aren’t quite grown up yet, but I’m happy to say I know the answers to those questions. They have turned into people that I not only enjoy being around but that I admire. They are funny too.

I’ve known people who were motivated to work because they want to be able to provide amply for their children, and that is a worthy goal. I want to provide for my children, of course, but feel much more inspired by their solid work ethics and willingness to go over and above what is expected.

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