Shall I include a long elaborate intro or simply get straight to the point. Or maybe I’ll find a happy medium.

Being an entrepreneur is not the easiest thing in the entire world. Sure, we get to make our own hours, get to work from our bed, and get that 5 million dollar salary…Stop sign

Wait. Who am I kidding. Being an entrepreneur is hard work. That’s the bottom line. While there are perks, there are some just downright frustrating things that come with the territory. Now, brace yourself because some of these things are controversial, and many would tell you not to even mention them. But I think the world should know…

  1. When clients don’t pay or pay late. You would think this is a duh, but the amount of people who stand you up, even upon signing an airtight contract and having a delightful project completed and delivered, there are people who still don’t pay. Yet, I bet these same people expect payment from their customers or employer for a product or service rendered – and on time. Freelancers would like the same type of respect. If you can’t afford it, don’t sign the contract.
  2. Partial payment. Unless this is written in the contract partial payment is inconvenient and can be a pain in the butt. Freelancers have bills, and they’re not gonna go away simply because the client didn’t pay. Luckily, the smart or experienced freelancers learn how to work around this.
  3. Taking time to meet with you and craft proposals with no avail. Discovering the client’s needs, developing and documenting the scope of the project, determining timing, and determining cost and payment structure all takes time. The least a potential client could do is send an email, make a phone call, or heck, even hit us up on Facebook to let us know whether or not you’ll be progressing with the proposal.
  4. Clients who attempt to negotiate ridiculously low rates for services. Let me put it clearly. This gesture is insulting. It’s one thing to negotiate. It’s another to pay someone below what they’re worth. Do you realize you may be getting Fortune 500 work for ridiculously reasonable rates? That’s not being arrogant. It’s telling the truth. Entrepreneurs have worked for top-tier companies, and we’re simply trying to extend the same quality of work to smaller businesses.
  5. Accounting. Okay, I may not be speaking for all freelancers, especially those who are accountants (or business freaks like me), but keeping receipts, having an accurate and up-to-date account of all payments received, and even having an understanding of what hasn’t been paid is annoying. We’d rather be spending our time doing the things we love…like baking cupcakes.
  6. The legal side of the business. Getting licenses, filing withe government, creating contracts and all other legal stuff SUCK! But it’s a necessary evil to cover your butt.
  7. Financially investing in our business. Yes. We too have to pay for our business to run. I would love to have a non-existent marketing budget, not have to pay for my business license, get my supplies for free, and so on, but it doesn’t work like that. So we have to suck it up, and put part of our earnings toward our growth. Good thing we love what we do, otherwise this would be pure torture.
  8. Long hours. The long hours is kinda a love/hate relationship. We hate watching the time pass us by as we complete projects or work on new ideas. However, the passion, or sheer insanity mixed with Type A personality, keeps us going. Waking up the next morning with a full day ahead… Well, that can be pure torture. Coffee, anyone?

And on that note, I think I’ll end. Please, by all means, add the things you don’t like as well.

People are astounded and maybe appalled when I tell them the number of twitter accounts I have. And the fact that I tried to log on Facebook while already on Facebook is a bit embarrassing. However, the amount Social Media Certifiedof time I spent on and talking about social media is most likely why I have a career in social media today. I didn’t major in Facebook, and Twitter was not even a thought. In fact, the things closest to social networking while I was in college were chat room, AOL Instant Messenger, and Black Planet. But through a bit of personal obsession and a ton of learning, I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

Understand the foundation

Whether you love me or hate me, it looks like I’m here to stay. In case you don’t know who I am, let me introduce myself. I’m officially known as social media – and i have no idea how that happened, but when marketers, publicists, and business owners got ahold of me, I had an identity change. Frankly, the name change happened in the blink of an eye. One day I was known as social networking, and then I became social media. And while it may not seem essential to know my history, it’s imperative you know my true inner workings before believing you’ll become a social media pro.

People say “you never know where you’re going until you know from where you’ve come.” Since the foundation of social media is actually social networking, you’ll realize those who do it good have valuable interactions, good conversations, and “listen”. The basics of creating a maintaining real-life relationships offline are true to social media; just with a bigger audience.

So what makes you stand out from the crowd?

Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula. It can be different for each user. However, I do have a REAL LIFE advice that you can put into action today. It’ll take a bit of patience and trial and error, but I hope these tips put you on the road to doing social media marketing like a pro.

  1. Become obsessed with media. To become great at it, you have to immerse yourself in it. It’s like learning a second language. You can’t just read it or listen to it, you have to actually use it…and a lot. The same is true for social media. One or two times a month is not nearly enough. You have to REALLY use each site. By using the platforms, you’ll get to know what they have in common. You’ll also get a gist of what works. Start with personal accounts, operating as a person and not a business. Then once you have a better idea as to how each site works, try pages and accounts for your businesses.
  2. Read. There are a ton of articles, blog posts, and books on social media marketing. Since social media wasn’t yet a trend when I was majoring in marketing, I had to – and still – obtain knowledge the old school way; by doing and reading.
  3. Talk to people. People are the real users of social media, not businesses. Even when you’re selling to businesses, it’s a human that’s making a decision. Therefore, you want to know what makes them tick. Get to know why they use the sites, what they do when on the sites, who they follow, and why they choose to follow who they follow. Also, ask how often they’re on the sites and at what time of the day. Finally, ask why they don’t follow or stop following people or businesses. And while it’s best to talk to people within your target audience, if you’re just getting started, friends, family, and colleagues are a good starting point. (BTW…don’t forget to tap the brain of the marketing friend or other business owners who are willing to give you free advice.)
  4. Read. You will never come reach the bottom of the barrel on social media articles and blog posts. And since social media is ever-changing, reading is one of the only ways to keep up on the trends. Social Media Examiner is a great site to stay up-to-date on social media trends.
  5. Start small. Don’t take your business to each social platform at once. Instead, choose one or two platforms to get your feet wet. Then branch out if necessary. If you’re a business selling to customers, I recommend starting with Facebook and Twitter. If you’re a business selling to other businesses, I recommend LinkedIn and Twitter.
  6. Read. Be sure not only read how to “use” the social media platforms, but also take time to read about social media analytics, or metrics that help you determine how effective your methods are. These metrics can help you determine what’s working and what’s not working. Some tols even allow you to see how your competition – or even brands in which you aspire to be – are doing.
  7. Pay attention to yourself. While what you do should not be the “be all, end all” determinant for how you use social media platforms for your business, your personal use of social media will tell you a lot. Pay attention to what you like and don’t like, the things you respond to and don’t respond to, and even how much time you spend on each platform.
  8. Read. Run out of ideas of what to post? Try looking for articles on content ideas. I’m sure you’ll come across a few. Here’s an article by Copyblogger and 101 Web Content Tips, Ideas, and Resources by Nick Usborne to get you started.
  9. Pay attention to other people. If you watch close enough, people will tell you how they use social media without you even asking. For example, if you watch close enough, you can tell who has their Facebook and Twitter accounts linked, what location someone posted from, and even from what type of device they’re posting. You can also get a good idea of demographics, interests, and personalities.
  10. Read. You may realize that keeping your social media pages up-to-date can be very time consuming, thus causing this to become a backburner tactic. Don’t let the temptation settle in. There are several tools and articles out there with effective time management in mind. Before giving up, take time to learn about and make use of this advice. It can drastically change how you go about managing your social media content.
  11. Pay attention to other business. Both your competition, compliments, and even businesses that seemingly have nothing to do with your business will provide hints as to what to post, how to post, and how often. It’s no shame in my game to say that I’ve frequented the Facebook pages of Target, Disney, Meijer (regional retailer), and Walmart to get ideas. They have good ideas, and I have no problem in CASE(ing) the joint…in an oh so legal manner. (FYI…CASE = Copy and Steal Everything)
  12. Did I mention, read. Reading and talking to others will be your biggest asset to becoming a social media pro. And not only will you know what to do, you’ll be equipped to know truth from lie as well as what works and what doesn’t work for you.

People’s nagging words can be the paralysis to your purpose; to the things that you’ve had the balls to even dream about (excuse my French). But it’s true. Sometimes, when we dream big and tell others how we want to try Beautiful Image Of A Glamour Model Behind Glasssomething new, become President or maybe even do something as small as learning how to ride a bike at an older age, there are a million people who can come up with a trillion reasons why you shouldn’t do it; why it’s a bad idea. Reasons such as you’ll get hurt or you don’t fit the persona of the president or maybe even you’re not small enough or pretty enough to be a model. Tell them you want to quit your job to pursue your dream of entrepreneurship and all heck breaks loose. They don’t take the time to tap into the positive outcomes, such as conquering a fear, embracing confidence where self-esteem once took residence, or even all the new skills you’ll obtain simply by trying. And most of all, simply providing a pat on the back because you have the gumption to try.

And haters don’t come always come from the external. You may be the biggest naysayer of them all. You continue to tell yourself why you can’t do ONLY thing standing between you and those passing you by is guts.

But that’s okay. Go ahead and let others pass you by. Stay in the rut. The rut is safe. Or at least that’s what you tell yourself, which is totally contrary to what risk takers say. Their motto: “High risk, high reward.”

Let’s be real. I can’t say I’m totally a high risk person. If I was, I wouldn’t be working my comfy, full-time job as a marketing professional at one an industry leader. Instead, when I got laid off from my previous job, i would’ve stuck with my plan to do the marketing business full-time with a couple of side gigs as security. But noooo. I needed safe. Heck. I needed to pay my bills, and that was the only way I could see that happening. And so taking another full-time job, taking my talents to another organization is what I did. And everyday I question why. Why didn’t I put caution to the wind to embark upon my dream? Well, because it wasn’t time. However, a dream deferred isn’t a dream not recognized. It’s just exactly what it is…a dream deferred.

It’s now time to put the petal to the metal, not letting opportunity pass me by. Instead, it has fueled me to work harder. Invest more. And get serious – even more determined than I was before. And though this time I’m moving more slowly, I’m moving more wisely. I’m working smarter and not harder, redefining strategy, branding a more. In fact, the shift has allowed a chance to be inspired, be focused and unleash creativity.

It’s giving me time to doubt, be stretched and even encouraged. And frankly, it’s given me motive to push you to look beyond your doubts, your external and inner hater, and simply do what you do as you unleash creativity in your own, unique way.

Hey. I’m not quitting my job today, and unless you KNOW it’s right, I recommend you think long and hard before you quit yours. In fact, don’t quit. Not yet. Instead, continue to let the dream spur you, inspire you, and provide motivation until you look and exhale, satisfied in a dream realized.

Until next time,

Regina

As we know, not much in life is free. And whoever said love was free lied. That’s like saying social media is free. Everything in life comes at a cost. If currency isn’t the cost, then you better believe blood, sweat, tears, time, energy or some other type of emotional or physical output will be required. That’s just reality. So when you read this list, rejoice only momentarily. Though these are free tools, please expect to invest blood, sweat, tears, time, intellect, and a bit of frustration to make these free marketing tools worth your while.

Now that I have that out of the way, here’s my list of top tried and true free marketing tools and resources:

Blogs & Websites

WordPress.com. Whether you’re looking to produce a simple blog or a full-fledged website, WordPress is my top pick. With customizable themes (and a little design talent), you can easily create a unique website or blog that you can truly call your own. Don’t get me wrong, those in the industry often can spot a blog from a mile away. However, blogs are becoming more acceptable for use as a website. Not only are small businesses using them, well-established organizations are also using blogs to publish and house content. WordPress.com also integrates easily with top social meida sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, which makes it just that much easier to drive traffic to your blog. Finally, plug-ins, mobile apps, and other tools adds convenience while simplifying the management of your WordPress.com account. (Note: WordPress.com isn’t to be confused with WordPress.org. WordPress.org should be left to those who are more tech savy. Plus, you will incur costs as you will need to house a blog or website utilizing WordPress.org on an independent server.)

Social Media Management

HootSuite. Perfect for managing multiple social media accounts. Hootsuite integrates nicely with Facebook (including Facebook pages), Twitter, LinkedIn, and WordPress. Whether you need to post in real time or want to schedule posts, HootSuite makes it easy to do either. In addition, with a web app as well as mobile apps, Hootsuite lets you keep up with your social media accounts whether at a desk or on the go. And with Twitter notifications pushed to your cell phone, you have the option of being notified of customer engagement without the need of actually going into an account. The main areas of content I have with Hootsuite is 1) posting links and 2) posting images. For some reason, posting links seems to be fickle. You have to post it in the area with your content instead of the area that asks for a link. If you put it in the area that asks for a link, it will only post if you shorten it using the tools. Not good for me since I create custom links with bitly for future measurement. And neither links nor images seem to show the preview on the actual social media site. Since I believe previews and images increase engagement, I take the extra step to increase engagement. There is a paid option that allows more capabilities, however, if you only need lightweight management for up to five social media accounts, you’re golden.

TweetDeck. This is one of my favorite social media management tools. Frankly, TweetDeck is what got me hooked on Twitter. If you’re using Twitter from the Twitter.com website, do yourself a favor and use a different program to access Twitter. It’s so much more fun. TweetDeck was my first choice, and I haven’t gone away from it yet. (Though there was a scare before. I digress). Like HootSuite, TweetDeck is perfect for managing several social media accounts. TweetDeck is another free marketing tool that plays nicely with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I have found it a little harder to link Facebook pages to TweetDeck and I haven’t found the mobile app to be as friendly as Hootsuite. The inability to manage Facebook pages and the lack of a mobile app I like is what places HootSuite above TweetDeck in my book from a professional point of view. However, due to it’s desktop application that allows you to view multiple columns simultaneously, TweetDeck is a winner in my book. (Not only does TweetDeck allow you to show columns related to specific social media accounts, TweetDeck also can be customized to show columns including tweets related to a search term or hashtag (#) even if you don’t follow the user. This is perfect for industry research or stalking the competition. (Come on. We’ve all done it.)

Email

MailChimp. I’ve done the research. MailChimp won over Constant Contact as the preferred email tool. Here’s the scoop. MailChimp allows you to send up to 12,000 emails per month to up to 1,999 subscribers (mailchimp.com – view the details). If you’re just getting started or don’t have a massive email list, it’s a no brainer. MailChimp provides email templates, stores your email lists as well as integrates with Facebook and Twitter. Moreover, with MailChimp, you have access to important stats that help you determine the effectiveness of your email program. Here’s the caveat, I highly recommend you invest the time into choosing the right template and customizing it based on your needs. If you need to hire a designer to help with your template, please do so. And if you need to hire a consultant or content specialist/strategist to help determine the appropriate content strategy for your email program, please do so. Otherwise, you may just be spinning wheels. That’s worth the investment.

Yesware. As a plug-in on Google Chrome and Gmail, this is one of the best friends a person in direct sales could have. Not only does it allow you to create templates for sales letters, Yesware also allows you to track your emails. And it doesn’t just show you whether or not the email has been opened/viewed. Yesware also tells you the number of times the recipient opened/viewed your email as well as how long ago the email. Note: This is only free up to a certain number of tracked emails.

Research

Public Library. Remember all that work you did trying to identify your target market. From books to databases, the public libaray may have what you need to make market research a little easier. Since the tools may not be staring you in the face, do this: walk to the information desk and ask about the available small business resources. It will definitely take time to do your research and put the tools to work for you. Large organizations have access to sophisticate marketing tools and you may have that access also. Remember, my goal is to promote smarter marketing. Stop wasting time pushing messages to the wrong people and stop being in the dark as it relates to industry trends and best practices. It’s time you grow your business up with sophisticated tools that will only benefit you in the long run. #enoughsaid

Webinars, White Papers, Blogs, eNewsletters, Magazines: Okay. Organizations don’t provide free webinars (seminars via the web), white papers, blogs or newsletters simply out of the kindness of their hearts. All of these efforts are part of their marketing strategy. With a variety of goals in mind, from positioning themselves as experts and industry leaders to generating leads and awareness, organizations provide a wealth of information through these tactics. Though you may not be ready to bite on a paid service, there’s no reason you shouldn’t take advantage of the free knowledge they’re providing. Since this information can become overwhelming, be sure to only attend, download, and subscribe to items that are beneficial to your organization. And even with that you have to be sure to be conscientious of information overload. My top 5 organization to follow are: Social Media Examiner, HubSpot, Marketing Profs, AdAge, and Mashable. (Note: Certain organizations may require you to download specific software to access their information or attend their webinar. For “print” applications, the most common software needed is the Adobe PDF reader.)

Free Classes/Seminars: Your local SCORE chapter – who is part of the Small Business Administration – and other organizations may provide free offline classes and seminars. Take advantage of these. First, determine the local organizations that provide assistance to small businesses. Then make an appointment to see a rep to learn more about the organization. Ask if they provide classes, workshops or other resources. And don’t forget to visit their website often and sign up to receive their emails as this may be where they push information regarding upcoming classes, seminars or workshops as well as other useful information.

YouTube: Make this your friend and search for your topic of choice. I bet you’ll find something. Once again, organizations and consultants are looking to generate leads. They’re willing to provide information in order to establish themselves as an expert. Be cautious of the information you receive. Remember anyone can put information on YouTube, meaning that the information they give you could be as wrong as someone calling a blue wall red. So if you aren’t well-versed on the topic, be sure to run the information by someone who is. Even a well produced video could give you horrible information. Just saying. As my friend says, “you’ve been warned.”

Other – You

Your Yapper (AKA Networking). From local meetups to simply talking to a person at the local starbucks, networking is a key marketing tool. I sometimes think people get tired of hearing about my consulting business. And they probably do. But guess what? When they’re looking for a marketing consultant, I am top of mind. Goal achieved. So, toot your own horn. Even if the person you’re talking to doesn’t have a need for your product or service, they may know someone who does. Don’t count anyone out. However, do be wise about who you should spend more time vs. those who would simply benefit from a business card, warm smile, and quick overview of your offerings. And here’s what’s even better about networking – people take the time to tell you about resources you didn’t even know existed. (Shout out to my friends and family for being on top of it. They’re always sending or telling me about something that they believe I may deem valuable)

Blood, Sweat & Tears (AKA Hard Work). This is your number one free marketing tool. Either you put the time and energy into it, you pay someone to do it, or it doesn’t get done at all. It’s as simple as that. Blogs don’t write themselves, emails don’t send themselves, and you can’t benefit from the research if you don’t take the time to gather AND process it. From anxiety to hours of writing to bonafide tears, I’ve experienced it all. Like I said in a different post said, “Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it won’t cost you.” I’m a personal witness. But I can also testify to the fact that it truly is worth it.

Live, love & prosper

If anyone knows, it’s me; being an entrepreneur is hard stuff. You’re either working at home or from some virtual office where your computer is practically attached to your hip, your iPad is nearby, and your cell phone, i.e. minicomputer, is also close in the vicinity. In our virtual life, we’re over-connected, but in real life, we spend many hours disconnected from real, personal interaction.

While there are several pros related to working for oneself, these pros also have their own cons – it’s the infamous blessing and curse.

Pro: You set your own schedule.

Con: You set your own schedule. You have to be disciplined enough to find clients and get your work done. If you don’t get your work done, you don’t get paid. Period.

Pro: You’re your own boss.

Con: As someone told me, you actually have many bosses. Each of your clients becomes your boss. The only thing is that they’re only your boss for as long as you’re working together.

Pro: You don’t have to worry about annoying coworkers.

Con: You miss the personal interaction with your coworkers. These people became your family. You share laughs, tears, jokes, and even have an opportunity to brainstorm and develop brilliant ideas together.

I’ll tell you…the first and last are the two pros and cons I struggle with most. Missing my friends and the disciple to get things done without repetition. Repetition gets old, and like with any other creative, it may be one of the quickest ways to burnout and/or limited productivity. Give me my freedom, and it’s a little easier.

However, I must say, I had a great day today – and I want to share the wealth of how I did it.

To begin, I didn’t have a set schedule. I woke up, ran an errand, and then hit the gym for a workout. After that I reactivated my cable. This was HUGE! In my case, cable is what I needed to feel reconnected to the outside world…to not feel so alone. Going to Starbucks, the library, and other virtual offices just didn’t do it for me. TV is a distraction and an escape. Virtual offices feel like work. The distraction of TV makes work more pleasant.

Then I went on to client work – writing social media posts and submitting to client for approval. Though this doesn’t sound like much, anyone who manages social media knows this takes a bit of art and intuition (i.e. mind reading) to make sure you don’t have a lot of revisions to the posts after the client’s review.

Once I was done with the posts, I took a break. Yes. There was work to do, but there a break was necessary. I took a trip downtown. I discovered new destinations, took a few pics, and had a chance to take advantage of a couple of local food establishments. And the bonus is that I had am now number 2 among my friends on the Foursquare leaderboard. Woot!

Now, I’m at the library and back to work. In addition to writing this blog post, I’ve already found a couple of books related to the biz. I’ll probably do more client work as well as look for a good read for my break/free time in the future.

To sum it up, my perfect workday consisted of taking care of work while spending time catering to my emotional and physical health. Entrepreneurship and freelancing is a blessing. We’ve been entrusted with skills and discipline that not everyone has or wills to have, but if we don’t continuously take care of ourselves or our business, it can become a curse. While taking care of business, remember “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” but if no one was diligent enough to continue building, it wouldn’t be what it is today. So take time to smell the roses and take care of self – all while keep business goals and responsibilities also in mind.

Live, love, prosper.

Regina

You’re on one side of the table. Your potential customer is on the other side. Your job…the pitch.

You have this one in the bag.

You tell them all you can do, and your prospect is definitely impressed. They’re drawn in with each word. They see it – how you’ll benefit their organization.

You’re even ready for the questions and requests that come your way. “Yes, Mrs. Smith, as a matter of fact, we can do that. There would be a small increase in cost, but we definitely can work it into the package.” (It doesn’t really matter what the “it” is. You can handle it.)

Then it came in slow motion. That request that you’re not ready for. However, instead of being transparent, you confidently say, “Yes. We can do that too.”

Liar. You can’t. For one reason or another…you don’t have the time, the expertise, the technical know how, or other resources to get it done.  But you said “yes,” and now you’re stuck. And even worse, your reputation is on the line. If you aren’t able to deliver, you may be screwed.

How could you have prevented this?

Just say no. If you aren’t ready to handle the customer’s request, be honest. Tactfully, let them know you can’t deliver what they’re asking for. Even if you lose the potential customer, you’ll keep your integrity, and your organization’s reputation won’t be tainted. Remember…you’ll always be able to pitch to more clients.

He Who Over Promises & Under Delivers

Being overly ambitious results in over promising and under delivering. As stated earlier, this will result in a huge blemish on your organization’s reputation – especially if your organization is a repeat offender.

There are several options that you can take in order to avoid being one who makes promises in which you can’t deliver:

1. Say no. As stated before, if you can’t do it, just say no. This doesn’t mean you have to let the prospect walk away unfulfilled. It just means you may have to seek 3rd party assistance to get the job done.

2. Be realistic with yourself. Know what you can do and what you can’t. Make sure you’re realistic about what’s on your plate, your skills, your resources, and what the amount of time it takes to complete what’s being requested.

3. Set customer expectations. Communicate timelines and needs in advance. Then continue communicating throughout the execution. Give status updates, communicate roadblocks and definitely give your customers opportunities to provide feedback.  Remember, you are in a partnership with your customer, and great  partnerships result from effective communication.

4. Be open to constructive criticism. Maybe you think you’re delivering effectively. However, your customer base doesn’t. Give them a chance to let you know. Allow your customer to give you feedback, both while you’re in teh process of completing a project

5. Obtain necessary skills or resources. If you find you are low on time or missing a certain skill or expertise, outsource the parts of the project in which you need help. If you’re budget doesn’t allow this, it will be better to say no than to get into a pinch. ~ On the other hand, if you’re simply need to enhance skills – such as presentation skills, design, writing, etc. – get training. Consult or hire an expert or seek out the proper education to help with development.

Reach for the Stars…

We’ve all heard this – and it’s not bad in theory. We all have goals. And this is great. However, if you’re ill-prepared, you will get burned. So, before you have to stop, drop and roll, make sure you have the skills and resources necessary to prevent unwanted blazes from down yonder.

Live, love & proser,

Regina