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Yes, You Need A Website For Your Small Business

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I was doing some research recently when I came across an article that said nearly half of small businesses don’t have a website. You read that right, nearly HALF. 45 percent is the number quoted in the article, which by the way was titled, “You’ll be shocked to learn how many small businesses still don’t have a website.” And yes, I was shocked.

I’ve seen research like this before, and on one hand, it isn’t hard to believe. Small business owners are strapped for time and funds–I get it. They’re overwhelmed by the demands placed on them, including not only sales but marketing, operations, business development, HR and the list goes on.

On the other hand, how can a small business NOT have a site? It is simply a must for any business today. Even if you’re not selling anything online, a site is the hub of all digital marketing activity—social media, content marketing, PR, advertising and SEO. Where is the first place many will go when they look for a product or service? Online. If you’re not there, they may not bother to seek you out–and go elsewhere.

Continue reading Yes, You Need A Website For Your Small Business

It All Started with a Flying Machine

As I celebrate 18 years of Garrett Public Relations, I’ve been thinking back to my very first client.

When I launched my business, I was in the Bay Area—one of THE places for entrepreneurs with great, if sometimes crazy, ideas.

As I was preparing to leave my day job to go full-time as a solopreneur, I was fortunate to be introduced to one of these entrepreneurs, an inventor. What had he invented? A flying machine. For real. It was called SoloTrek and was a vertical take-off and landing aircraft based on ducted fan technology. (The two-person model, the DuoTrek, resembled the flying car that’s been in the news this week.)

Continue reading It All Started with a Flying Machine

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

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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Celebrating Independence Day as an Independent!

Happy Independence Day!

To me, this holiday has a dual meaning. Yes, like many other Americans, I celebrate the 4th by attending a parade, having a picnic and enjoying fireworks with my family. But, this holiday is also a time to celebrate my independence as a businessperson.

More than 16 years ago, I “liberated” myself from the day-to-day grind of working for someone else…and started doing it MY way. When I launched my consulting practice, I believed I could:
• Find companies who needed my help
• Provide excellent counsel and execution to bring results
• Offer them services at a reasonable price
• And do it all on MY terms

What has this meant for me? Well, it’s changed my life in a number of ways:

  • I now work on a schedule that fits not only my clients’ needs, but MY needs. Sometimes, that means getting up early, staying up late or working weekends. But it’s done on MY terms. I was doing this when I worked for someone else, but it no longer feels like a sacrifice, because it stems from my passion and commitment to my clients, to what I do and to making my business successful. It’s a completely different feeling when you’re so closely invested in the success (or failure) of not only your client’s businesses, but of your business.
  • I also enjoy the collaboration with other independents. I love meeting and connecting with other consultants and then being able to offer my clients resources for the kinds of projects I don’t do (and no, I don’t try to do it all…there’s plenty of work to go around for all of us!).
  • And, I believe I’m more productive on my own. Without the meetings, the commute and the office politics, I can actually get more done. I believe that doing the actual work to get results is more enjoyable—and really what serving clients is all about. I can work anytime, anywhere productively. The whole telecommuting movement is something I tried to get my managers to agree to years ago…without much success. For some reason, they just didn’t believe that employees could work productively outside the office. After 16 years of working on my own from wherever I want, I think I’ve proven my point.
  • Not to mention the wonderful clients I get to work with. I think I’m extremely lucky to get to work with smart, talented (did I mention very nice?!) people. It’s a pleasure to work with my clients because they truly trust me and are a joy to serve.
  • Then, of course, there’s the personal pride I feel in helping my clients succeed. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of getting a media “hit” for a client or knowing they have new prospects or sales because of PR initiatives we undertook. It’s a true “high” that I still get whenever this happens.

So this 4th of July, I celebrate my freedom and the ability to do the work I love for clients I’m committed to serving. Happy Independence Day to all!

 

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.

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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Celebrating 15 Years of Bliss!

When I set own to start my own public relations consulting business 15 years ago, I didn’t really know what to expect. My first solo venture was both exciting and terrifying…I’d laid the foundation for months, even years, prior to hanging out my shingle. I’d talked to other solopreneurs about how to set up an office, organize financials and even find clients. Everything was in place. But, the big question was, would they come? 

Even before opening my doors, I managed to line up two clients who were there the moment I stepped out on my own. I was also fortunate that the agency I’d been working with hired me back to work on an account. The thing I’d worried most about became less of a worry, as I focused on delivering great service to my clients at reasonable rates. 

15 years later, I’m proud to say that’s still my focus. Over the years, I’ve successfully worked with companies large and small to provide them with results-based solutions to their PR challenges. The more I get out to speak about PR, the more I understand that people need help. It need not be over-priced, but it does need to deliver results. People are looking for someone they can partner with to accomplish their objectives, someone who can show them the value PR can add to their marketing outreach. 

Going solo isn’t for everyone–but it certainly was a great choice for me.