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Forget the resolutions: 5 ways to get started on PR in 2017

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2017 is here. As the New Year begins, resolutions are being made. That includes resolutions for your small business.

But, what if you don’t believe in making resolutions? And even if you do, for some of us, they simply don’t work.

That’s OK. How about we just focus on getting it done this year? If you’ve been thinking about doing some public relations for your small business or startup, there are some simple ways to get the ball rolling.

Here are five ways you can make it happen for your small business when it comes to PR:

Continue reading Forget the resolutions: 5 ways to get started on PR in 2017

Planning for 2016? 10 Ideas for PR and Marketing

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The end of the year is almost upon us and yes, the holiday rush has set in. These next weeks will fly by even faster than the ones before them. Then, before we know it, 2016 will be here. A fresh, new year to do all the things we didn’t have a chance to do in 2015.

As we prepare for the holidays both professionally and personally, planning for the new year may be the last thing on the minds of some small business owners. If you’ve been caught up in the holiday hubbub, don’t wait to plan — start now to come up with ideas for 2016.

As you plan, when it comes to marketing and PR, don’t forget to factor these ideas into your efforts:

1) Try a press release: If you’ve never issued a press release or if it’s been a while, find a reason to issue one in the new year. Press releases help search engine optimization (SEO) and can be used in a number of ways to help market your product, service or company. Read more on five ways to use a press release here.

2) Speak to increase credibility and visibility: Speaking engagements are a great way to attract the attention of potential clients and position you as the expert. It’s important to select the appropriate venues, so do your research on local, regional and national groups, trade shows and other industry events that accept speaker proposals.

3) And the award goes to: Awards programs are fairly easy to implement and can help attract attention to your product, service or company. If you win an award, it makes great marketing material. You can tout it on your site or issue a press release and forever after be known as the “award-winning” company.

4) Reach out to local publications in your area: If you haven’t reached out to your local media, be sure to consider that in 2016. Most cities have a major daily paper, as well as smaller community newspapers and magazines that are specific to certain suburbs. You can also try local TV and radio, if your story lends itself to broadcast media.

5) Try — or amp up — your use of social media: Let’s face it. Although many small business owners and startups intend to do more when it comes to social media, it’s easy to neglect it. Here’s the thing: It’s a free way to market your business! If you’re not doing any social media, start by choosing one or two platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook. If social media is already in your marketing mix, plan to beef up your efforts in the new year.

6) Sponsor an event: Have you tried sponsoring any charitable events, perhaps in conjunction with the types of businesses you’re trying to attract as clients? Attaching your company to a benefit or charity could help attract potential clients’ interest. And, maybe more importantly, you’ll be doing something to help others, too.

7) Create an online news area: Add an online news area to your site, if you haven’t done so. This can be an area where you post press releases and news stories about your company. You can also add a downloadable “press kit” with more information on the company, such as team bios, photos, logos, product shots and other material. This makes it easy for reporters who may want to cover you to grab what they need. Read more on what to include here.

8) Create case studies: Position your company as an expert by creating case studies on your customers, including details about how they’re using your product or service, how much time or money it’s saved them, and what their future plans might be to increase usage. You can use these to pitch as stories to the media, and can also leverage them as sales materials for potential customers. Content marketing continues to be all the rage, and case studies are a perfect example of that.

9) Reach out to vertical media: Don’t overlook reaching out to industry publications and/or bloggers, selecting those publications and blogs that your potential customers are reading. They’re looking for great content in the form of contributed articles and new product announcements. Why not fill the gaps for them with your expertise?

10) Network like you mean it: While networking doesn’t necessarily fall into this category, it’s critical for all small businesses and startups. Be sure to dedicate the time to do it and select the events your potential clients attend. Get involved in an organization or two at a deeper level to really get to know people. This can truly pay off over time to keep business coming your way.

These are just a few ideas to get you started…what are your PR and marketing plans for 2016?



The small business owner’s answer to, “What should I post on social media?”

Ever wondered what you as a business owner should post on social media? If you want some great examples, look no further than this article that recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal, What Celebrities Can Teach Companies About Social Media.

It draws comparisons between how celebrities and businesses can use social media and gives real-world advice and examples as to what to post. And if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a small business owner said, “But what should I post?!”–well, you know the rest!

A couple of tips that resonated:

  • Don’t post the same thing across all social media platforms: The article talks about how the NBA posts game updates on Twitter, while on Pinterest, it’s more about their merchandise.
  • Don’t post at the same frequency on all platforms: Twitter requires more frequent posting, while the article recommends posting five times per day on Pinterest and twice on Instagram. From the article: “Social-media experts acknowledge that compared with celebrities, it’s harder for companies to conjure up interesting posts and tweets. ‘When was the last time you saw someone showing off a home-insurance policy on Instagram?’ Forrester Research quipped in a June report on social-media use.”
  • Do be sure to show up–meaning post on a consistent basis: There’s nothing worse than visiting a company on Twitter or Facebook only to see that they haven’t posted anything for months…. According to the piece, “A lot of times we see brands disappear for weeks or months at a time,” Hasti Kashfia, president of Kashfia Media and stylist to Randi Zuckerberg, sister of Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “It’s just like a normal relationship. You can’t disappear and expect that same warm fuzzy feeling within those relationships.”
  • Interact with your followers: For example, if someone tweets about your business, you should retweet, favorite and reply to say thank you.
  • Don’t be overly promotional: I’ve seen it before–because they don’t know what to post, companies will promote specials or deals on social media. This can be a turnoff to your followers. If you need inspiration, the piece suggests commenting on current events when it makes sense, or even taking advantage of “throwback Thursday” by posting old photos. “A company like Ford Motor Co., for instance, could use the occasion to post ads from the 1940s.”

Follow these tips to boost your social media efforts. You may find it’s easier than you think to find great content to post and grow your following.

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Pitching Your Startup to Reporters? Here’s What to Avoid

Today, I wanted to share media pitching tips for startups and small businesses. Not from me but directly from a journalist.

This piece from PRNewser covers a TechCrunch editor’s suggestions for pitching. While some of this should be common sense to anyone who reaches out to reporters—c’mon, no email attachments is something that should be drilled into our heads by now–and, just forget the email inviting a journalist out for coffee–some of his other suggestions may not be so obvious. For example, he talks about startup founders trying to do their own PR:

“He is concerned, first and foremost, with startup founders and app-makers who try and fail to handle their own self-promotional duties; you may be shocked to learn that many do NOT double as well-trained PR professionals.”

Yes, while they may be strong in many areas, startup founders may not be the best at media relations. In fact, there are several reasons why entrepreneurs and small business owners may not want to do their own PR (see my piece, “6 Reasons Not to Do Your Own PR”).

Another point he makes is that it’s a mistake to assume that simply because a company or product exists, that warrants media coverage. Yes, gone are the days of simply saying, “We have a startup—therefore, cover us.” And, to echo his sentiment, I recently attended a panel on pitching your startup to the media, during which reporters explained you must go deeper if you expect them to be interested in your news.

I even agree to a point with his take on press releases—which he says are “dead.” While I wouldn’t go that far (see my piece on that, “Enough with the death of the press release already”), it’s true that you need to bring something more to the table, something beyond the press release. Simply sending a press release saying, “Please cover this,” doesn’t really cut it. We need to tell a story. Yes, press releases can play a role in this, but you need to actually explain WHY this should matter to reporters and their readers. Of course, YOU think your product or service is great—you created it! But why would a reporter and his or her readers care? For example, here’s some of the advice he gave when pitching a product. Think about:

“Was it created to solve a specific problem? What is that problem and how is it solved? Does the product fit with a separate trend piece? How so, and why should this particular outlet’s readers care?”

And, tell your story succinctly. Offer data and resources, while you’re at it, to make the reporter’s job even easier. After all, isn’t our job as PR pros making it easier for reporters to cover our clients? That means providing the information they have to pay attention to, the information that will make your pitch stand out in a sea of pitches.

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In Honor of Father’s Day: How My Dad Inspired Me to be an Entrepreneur

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Today’s post is in honor of Father’s Day.

Back before being an entrepreneur was in vogue, I grew up in a household where neither parent went to work at an office every day. Both my parents were entrepreneurs, launching their own businesses.

My father was well-known in our city for having his own produce business that he ran for 40+ years. He started out selling produce door to door and eventually opened his own very successful market. The whole family, including all four of us kids, worked there. That’s where my early lessons in customer service came from (as well as my ability to add without a calculator!). In addition to working during the day at the market stocking shelves and taking care of customers, I used to love to hang out with my parents in the evenings and help with the accounting side of things, counting money and adding up checks to be deposited.

This spirit of entrepreneurship was ingrained in me without me even realizing it. Even with all the headaches that come with being one’s own boss—the technology issues, the accounting challenges, the sales and marketing outreach, the stress of trying to take a vacation—there’s just something about hanging out your own shingle. The freedom that comes with that and the pride in knowing that you are controlling your own fate are priceless. I have to thank my dad (and mom!) for teaching me these lessons. The interesting part is that I didn’t even know I was learning anything….it was just part of life at our house.

So, in honor of my dad, my first entrepreneurial inspiration, Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there. May you inspire your kids the way my dad inspired me.

Michelle and her dad, her first entrepreneurial role model.

Michelle and her dad, her first entrepreneurial role model.

Happy anniversary to me! Top 10 lessons I’ve learned in 16 years

Happy anniversary to me!

Happy anniversary to me! This April, I’m celebrating 16 years of having my own small business.

Hopefully, I’ve learned a thing or two over the years of having my own business. Today, I share the top 10 lessons I’ve learned—some silly, some serious:

10) Don’t neglect your marketing: Yes, I’m in PR/marketing, but many times, I tend to put my own marketing last. So, the last couple of years, I’ve made a concentrated effort to do a better job. Last year, my anniversary gift to myself was a new logo. This year, it’s a newly designed web site.

9) You truly can work in your PJs when you work for yourself!: Just be careful when that Skype call comes in that you’ve at least brushed your hair.

8) You can never be too connected: Make sure to build that network before you need it, so it will be there for you at all times. Because, as a self-employed person, you never know what you might need to call on your network for–help, referrals, troubleshooting, brainstorming–you learn to have your go-to resources for each of these.

7)  You wear all the hats, so be sure you’re ready for that: If you’re not a self-starter, it may not go so well. Of course, you can always hire pros to tackle the tasks you’re not so fond of. I wouldn’t trade my accountant, for example.

Creative problem solving is a must. Because you’re not surrounded by an office full of co-workers, you’ll need to be able to find solutions to a lot of your own problems—or have folks you can call on. You learn quickly how to resolve printer issues, the best way to send a package and how to cater a meeting. Believe me, it’s worth it.

6) You supply your own coffee: So buy a Keurig! (-: And join Costco/Sam’s Club to save on K-cups.

5) Be ready for the peaks—and the valleys: You can prepare for the peaks by having a list of sub-contractors at-the-ready when you need some help to handle all your client projects. You can prepare for the valleys by making sure to save some cash and not getting too sure of yourself, in that your business will definitely go through highs and lows.

4) You make your own schedule—which can be a blessing and a curse: Sure, you can take the afternoon off and have lunch with your sister or go to the school play—just make sure you plan to catch up on whatever you’ve missed by working later in the evening or on Sat. morning, for example. Don’t get so lulled into that sense of freedom to the point where you’re scrambling to meet your deadlines.

3) Clients may assume you work all hours of the day and night: Yes, this can be a hazard of working for yourself, but honestly, I’ve never found it to be a problem. And really, it’s a small price to pay for the perks of being your own boss.

More often than not, clients are respectful of your schedule. And, I truly don’t mind answering email on the weekends…I’m sort of addicted to email anyway! Just make sure to communicate when you’ll be out of the office for more than a day….most of us check messages frequently but there may be days when you really don’t want to be “on call.” If so, just let them know that. Give them a way to reach you if there’s truly an emergency, and enjoy your time off.

2) Experience matters: This is probably even more the case when you’re working on your own. When you work for yourself, you need to call on that experience often, so make sure you’ve built a solid base of work experience before flying solo.

For example, I’m steeped in a background including full-time experience at corporations, nonprofits and agencies. I’ve worked on both sides of the fence, as a reporter and as a PR practitioner. I also gained experience working at a public TV and radio station before setting sail on my own. All of this has come in handy, as I work with clients from different backgrounds and industries. It doesn’t hurt your network-building, either—you can call on your former colleagues when you need to.

1) And the number one thing I’ve learned from having my own business (drumroll, please!)….I’m so glad I made the leap because I wouldn’t trade it for anything. There’s nothing better than loving what you do and having the opportunity to do it on your own terms.

Do I have to answer to clients? Yes. Am I slave to the media? Sure, sometimes. But, at the end of the day, I decide who to work with and have the ability to approach my work according to my philosophy. And that’s pretty priceless.

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Soloists on the Rise: 6 Qualities of the Successful Solopreneur

This excellent piece by Minda Zetlin of Inc. resonated with me (9 Reasons There’s Never Been a Better Time for Solopreneurs). I’m a big fan of Zetlin’s columns and this one really struck a chord. It talks about the solopreneur (aka freelance) lifestyle and how our nation is moving in that direction.

“The self-employed will become a force to be reckoned with over the next few years, with our ranks swelling to 60 million by 2020 if Intuit’s famous prediction from 2010 holds true,” Zetlin says. Her article cites a book by Jacob Morgan, The Future of Work, which talks about how technology, marketplaces and economic trends are aligning to support the self-employed movement.

Here’s my question: Why wouldn’t EVERYONE want to be a solopreneur?

But, let’s back up. I’ve been on my own for more than 16 years now, so I may carry a bias. I wasn’t always self-employed. I held multiple “permanent” full-time jobs before I finally decided to make the leap. Some were OK, some were miserable. I knew there had to be something better.

I’d planned my escape from the corporate world in my head for years…just waiting for the right time. While I waited, I joined a group of freelancers who met monthly to discuss topics pertaining to running your own business. I talked to other soloists to find out how they handled finding clients, setting up accounting systems and organizing a home office. Most were encouraging and supportive.

When I actually launched my consulting business, I already had three clients in place, which helped immensely. From there, I never looked back. My business took off. I had to pinch myself because I couldn’t believe I was doing what I’d always dreamed of—working with great clients on my terms.

Of course, for all solopreneurs, there are ups and downs, leaner times and busier periods. But, as Zetlin points out, there are no sure things anymore. Even for those with “permanent” positions, there’s no job security. Companies downsize and they’re out.

Even so, going it alone isn’t for everyone. So what does it take to make it as a solopreneuer? Is there a “magic” formula? What qualities do you need to succeed in the freelance lifestyle?

Here are some attributes vital to success:

1) Ability to focus: You have to be able to avoid outside distractions—or at least overlook them—to focus on client work. This can be particularly tough if you work at home. But, it can be done. I’ve worked from a home office for the entire length of my consulting career. Are there distractions? Sure. But, look at it this way: If you’re in the office, people drop by your desk to chat. Or you get pulled into meetings. Or there’s a birthday party or a baby shower or you name it…. So, I’d argue that the distractions are at least equal, if not greater, working in an office.

2) Self-motivation: If you’re not a self-motivated person, you may struggle with freelancing. You have to be able to get up in the morning and have a plan of what you’re going to accomplish that day. You have to be motivated by creating success for your business. I happen to find the idea of avoiding going back to a corporate job VERY motivating! But beyond that, I’m proud of my business and the fact that I’ve been doing it as long as I have. Are there times when soloists think about going back to the corporate world? Is it tempting when someone calls you about a full-time gig? Yes–for about an hour! Then, if you’re like me, you gut will say, “Don’t do it!” You’ll think about how much you don’t miss the commute, the meetings, the politics…. That makes it’s easy to come back to how motivating working for yourself is.

3) Ability to wear all the hats: When you’re a solopreneur, YOU do it all—you land the clients, you do the work, you bill for the work, you promote your business—you wear ALL the hats. Of course, you can hire help for some of these tasks, which I recommend, but at the end of the day, the buck stops with you. If you’re not OK with that, flying solo may not be a fit.

4) A strong network: When I started out, nearly all my clients came from personal referrals. That’s shifted over the years to be more of a mix of those who’ve found me online (for example, through LinkedIn or a Google search). Even so, building a strong network before you strike out on your own is incredibly important. Not only will you look to your connections for referrals, but there are times when you’ll need to refer work to others, i.e. when it falls outside your area of expertise or when you’re just too busy.

5) Appreciation for the benefits of working on your own: I’m grateful every day that I get to work on my own, and I appreciate that I set my schedule. Not having to report in to 10 bosses when you have a personal appointment is a definite upside. And, what if there’s an event at your child’s school? Well, you can just add that to your calendar. As a colleague and fellow consultant told me early on in my consulting life, “Clients don’t have to know you’re at the school play. You’re simply ‘in a meeting.’”

6) Ability to remain calm: Freelancing requires a sense of calm, even if you hit a rough patch. Don’t panic. The wise solopreneur knows there will be ups and downs…and plans for those times by socking away some reserves when the work is flowing. If you run into a snag, you can’t just walk away. Stay calm, go to your network to remind them you’re on the lookout for projects, and soon, the work will come. You have to believe in yourself and your ability to ride out the rocky times.

There’s no feeling of freedom or fulfillment like freelancing. Professionally, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Yes, you need all those work experiences that may have come before to prepare for being on your own and to help you appreciate the solopreneur lifestyle. But once you get a taste of freedom, trust me—you’ll never turn back.

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