As a small business owner concisely describing what you offer and exactly what you do can be difficult. For small businesses, it is crucial that your customers understand what products or services they can buy from you. To come out top it is also key that they understand a bit about who you are, what your motivations are - and why you are different to the competition.
Some service-based businesses like marketing, admin support or event planning - can be a bit hazy in terms of what services are actually on offer. While for others it is pretty obvious; for example, if you sell fruit and veg - you sell fruit and veg - simple right? But what if its all organic and you only stock in-season produce from farmers in a 15 mile radius. And what if you also offer a catering service for events and a reduced rate for local restaurants and cafes? All of a sudden its not just fruit and veg. There’s a lot you need to tell people about - and thats when it can become confusing.
If you are a small business owner, you might be familiar with the sense of panic that can start to build when you think about how many things you want to shout about to your potential customers. It can be a challenge to communicate clearly what you offer when you are so close to your business, that might be growing quicker than you can think about how to pick it all apart and define it.
Today’s consumers are savvy and VERY knowledgable. They research, they look for recommendations and they make deliberate choices based on a multitude of factors. So how do you sum up your products or services, when you know what you do so well, yet can’t seem to find the words? In my opinion (obviously…) seeking professional marketing help is the way to solidify your brand, your vision and values, what you stand for and what you offer - and communicate that effectively.
But it is also important to do some of this yourself - seeing as you are your business - who better than to sum up in two minutes everything about why you are the best?
Follow these three tips to get some clarity around what you have to offer:
1) Get someone to tell you - Ask a few people who know you and your business to describe what you do in one sentence. Make sure they know about what you do, but are not so close (like a partner, best friend, family member) they could have clouded vision or a bigger insight than most. You’ll most certainly be surprised by what they say. Do they sum it up nicely? Or are they confused or missing the point? This is some indication of how you are appearing to your target audiences.
2) Get sticky - get some post it notes and write every product / service / offer you provide on a different one. So ‘sell local organic fruit’ is one, ‘provide a full and fresh event catering service' is another… Soon you’ll have a LOT of post it notes explaining what you do. Take some more notes and write down each one of your customer groups on a separate one. Stick these on a wall, then arrange all your other notes grouping them together around the relevant customer group. You should end up with a map - demonstrating who your customers are and what you have to offer them.
3) Get wordy - You can now focus on producing some key messages for your business. The act of writing key messages can really help polarise exactly what you stand for and offer. Key messages are a set of sentences / paragraphs / phrases that are used consistently to describe your business and its products and services. Depending on what you provide you could need any number of messages. But aim for:
You might find it easier to write the product messages before the overarching one.
And there you go. You have a two sentence synopsis of your business, a set of consistent and coherent messages about what you offer and a hopefully a clearer sense of who you are, what you offer and why you are unique.
What is a cliché?
A cliché arises when a phrase is used so often it loses its meaning. Even worse, some long-standing phrases gain the slightly tragic sounding title of ‘thought-terminating cliché’. Whilst a run of the mill (oh dear) cliché is a phrase that has become irritating, over-used and somewhat meaningless - a thought-terminating one is so ingrained in our culture and way of communicating it literally blocks any creative or intelligent thought as soon as it enters the mind of the audience.
Why should I care, I'm not a writer?
If you write in any capacity for work, maybe you are putting together a presentation or producing a report - you know this feeling. You know what you want to say (I could say ‘its on the tip of your tongue’ but I wouldn’t use such a banal phrase) but all brain power somehow grinds to a halt as this large, lumbering phrase that you know as well as the back of your hand (I’ll stop now) gets in the way.
They're not that terrible are they?
Why are clichés so bad? I mean, their origin is interesting and says a lot about the culture they come from. However, if the brain stopping effect is not enough to convince you to try and avoid them, then consider the drain on the message you are trying to convey. We all know clichés so well that they really don’t register when we read them - they vaguely pass somewhere between your audiences hairline and eyebrows, sprinkling a tiny dust of meaning as they go, which is quickly brushed away - and forgotten. If you are trying to convince anyone of anything - don’t use a cliché.
Think about core of what you want to say - the chances are if you use a cliché you will miss out some key information that would actually communicate your message much more effectively.
How can I avoid them?
Say you are giving a presentation to staff about your experience with a new product and you really, really don’t want them to buy it. You know the sales staff are going to call and they are hard to get rid of. You know it sounds like a great deal and its very tempting. You just want to tell them to avoid it like the plague. What a perfect way to explain how bad this product is right? Wrong - your audience won’t hear you.
Think about the key word in the phrase you are trying to communicate. Take it right out of the cliché, pick up a thesaurus and look it up. (If you don’t have a thesaurus you can use online versions). So in this example look up avoid. Find another word or phrase that works better. Say…. ‘keep away’ - then look up this phrase or word and find another one - maybe ‘resist’. By this point you are seeing lots of other options and the power of the original cliché is diminished.
‘The sales pitch is strong and I bought this product in good faith - it appeared excellent value and looked like it would solve my storage problem; however it caused a fatal error within my PC. Resist buying this if you value your hard drive!’
Happy New Year! I've come up with three New Year’s Resolutions as we embark on the first few days of 2017. I often don’t bother with resolutions but find goals / schedules / plans in all aspects of life a very useful thing as a self-employed person. So here are three goals for me and my family this year.
G R O W T H
2016 was a major year for me, launching Cram Communication and working for myself for the first time. 2017 has started off with a major bang in the shape of a brand new client whom I am over the moon to be working with. In the last nine months, a lot of my solo stuff has been about content creation and copywriting with a bit of marketing thrown in. This is set to change in 2017 and my goal is to use my marketing experience with clients much more. With ten years of experience executing national marketing campaigns, locally targeted campaigns (ideal for small / local businesses), digital marketing, social media management, material production, brand management and event planning - I’m very excited to put these skills into practice with many more new clients this year.
Keep on jumping about in a room full of other adults
Oh so cliched, but I’m going to keep on with keeping fit. Love the buzz after exercise and love food and wine too much not to do it. Enough said.
Outside play (almost) every day*
My boys love playing outside, but in the dark and cold of the West of Scotland winter I’m definitely guilty of encouraging TV / trashing a room indoors rather than faffing with coats and boots to get them out. This year, I’m going to remind myself of this catchy mantra and spend the five minutes (read: half an hour) it takes to get their shoes on and get them out in the fresh air. They don’t seem to sleep any better because of it, contrary to what is bandied about to new parents, but they do get a lot out of it and I get to keep inside tidier - wins all round.
*I’m considering trademarking this phrase and building a huge outside version of a softplay somewhere in Scotland to make my fortune. Am not great with kids though (yes, I know I have my own) so should maybe stick to the marketing.
What do you think of New Year's Resolutions? Do they set us up to fail, or give an opportunity to set new goals and ambitions?
This post is also features on Selfish Mother and Honest Mum's Brilliant Blog Posts.
Careers and kids - no denying it is a huge learning curve. After my first son, I returned to my marketing manager job part-time and struggled with not being in the office every day. I was lucky to have a fantastic job-share partner and work in an environment that supported part time working - but it still came with a stigma. Having to make meetings at one end of the week and manage a team who were in different days to me was do-able, but not quite what I hoped for. And just to make sure I definitely couldn’t be happy, I really enjoyed my two days off with Noah, so full-time work wasn’t an option I wanted to take.
In September 2014 I dabbled in a bit of freelance copywriting and really enjoyed it. Fast forward two years and I was off on maternity leave again with my second son. Having built up a bit of a portfolio I tussled with the idea of not returning to work and going ‘full-time freelance’. After much deliberation I took the plunge in May this year.
Six months on and I couldn’t be happier with the decision I made - but its not been easy. Here are 8 things I’ve learned so far which might ring true if you are also a freelancer / parent / human being:
1. You will repeatedly at various intervals think you’ve made a huge mistake - don’t worry you (probably) haven’t
I’ve had several WTF am I doing moments, when finishing a project up with nothing on the horizon I start to frantically think about having to get a ‘real’ job, and go into a frenzied panic about changing nursery hours and having to sign up to S1jobs. In my experience this panic is resolved when three projects land on my desk at the same time - one with a deadline of the next day. The rise and fall of work, busy and quiet times - is something that happens in most workplaces - you just feel it a bit more dramatically when working for yourself. Use the quiet times to plan, look for new business and indulge in some CPD. Or, you know, look after kids who will inevitably get sick and just be grateful you didn’t also have a deadline looming.
2. Calm the f•ck down
Its unlikely you are going to become overrun with work in the first couple of months of going out on your own. I started freelancing with very limited childcare which I'm increasing as the business grows.
I’ve found it important not to feel rushed - especially with young children in the mix. The temptation to panic, to think ‘if I don’t get this done right now…’ is counterproductive. Trust that as long as you are going in the right direction, slow and steady growth is a sustained one. This is something I struggle with regularly and have to remind myself that writing a new idea down on my to do list means I WILL get to it - just maybe not this week.
3. Big up your flaws
What a good mantra for all aspects of life. Having two kids under 4 makes working (or doing anything actually) more difficult than when you have no dependants begging you for Pom Bears etc. Thankfully, I am a mere one of millions of mums trying to make #workthatworks and introduce #flexappeal into their working lives. So if you are one too, jump on that bandwagon. The spotlight is getting dragged towards the fact that women who have kids often return to work in lower grade positions, lose out on potential promotions and so on - so there’s no better time to hashtag the sh*t out of the #mumboss social media madness and celebrate that you are able to do work as well as keep alive small humans.
4. Pick your space and time
I wrote this blog at my dining room table because no one was in. And I like to hot desk between here and my office - it makes me feel like Cram Communication is going regional. In my experience it is so important, no matter what business you are in, to have a dedicated physical place for work. Even if your work, as mine does, means you can take the laptop to a cafe, there will be times when you need to work at home and it really can’t be on the sofa while Paw Patrol is on.
My office is very small, has the laundry in it too and still has nursery art work on the wall. But it has four plants (more than anywhere else in the house), a lovely desk from Ikea, candles and a shut-able door. The end.
Working freelance whilst balancing kids tends to also mean grafting in the evenings and at weekends is required. I personally prefer working early in the morning and late into the night to preserve the weekend for the family - I didn’t start this journey to work every Saturday and Sunday and never see my husband - so whilst weekend work is an essential, I exhaust all other avenues (6am starts - midnight finishes) first.
5. Instasham and other dangerous pastimes
Eeek! Social media is amazing. It inspires, supports, makes you laugh, makes you cry… It is also an amazingly easy way to waste time. I do marketing, so therefore have to do social media, for myself and many businesses. Its potential is amazing, but for the regular online socialiser it can as we all know; produce feelings of inadequacy, panic, stress, failure… This is easily magnified if you work solo. On the one hand you can communicate with hundreds of others just like you - on the other you can compare yourself with others too.
My advice is just get a grip of it. Enjoy it for what it is - a quick scroll through pictures of people’s lovely homes and cute kids, or links to funny videos and interesting articles. You have to have self discipline here so simply do not worry about what others are doing, how many followers you have, how many likes you get…. Enjoy it and use it for the best for your business then shut it down and concentrate on the real work.
6. Find your tribe (make sure they’re not the scalping kind)*
It's so important as a freelancer to have support - for childcare and also for your mental health. Your best friends will be there to build you up, praise everything you’re doing (even if its not that great) and encourage you - they are priceless so never forget where you left them last. Your family will do the same and also if you are lucky enough, be able to help out with the kids if you need it. Build up good relationships with your kids’ nurseries or childminder - you never know when you might need to beg for a wee extra afternoon one week. Find support in other mums and freelancers just like you that you didn’t even know existed - go to networking events, reach out and be sociable. These are your replacement colleagues - except you kind of get to pick them - its a win win!
*Note if you have kids they are most definitely not in this camp. They are out to destroy you, my one year old is undertaking a serious campaign just now and regularly de-networks my printer meaning I have to undergo long involved ‘printer set-ups’ whenever I want to use it. ‘He won't break me’ Repeat x 10.
7. Become that annoying person
I’ve never been great at ‘showing off’ - I think its a north east Scotland thing, nobody wants to be seen to be loving themselves too much. Well I’ve tried to beat that out of myself, because as a freelancer you have to be your own biggest fan and shout about your achievements when you can.
When I started copywriting on the side, I concentrated on building up a bit of a portfolio of my own work and decided not to include any projects or work I’d undertaken in my ten years as an employed marketer as I wanted to do this solely on my own merit. To be honest, I’m not sure if that was right decision, I’d say it makes it harder to look impressive from the get-go but avoids faff and long term makes sense. Portfolio is important and it does feel good to look at what I’ve achieved under my name only - but its not everything; experience and quality output are key.
8. Shut up and enjoy it
As we all know, nothing is perfect. The pay off of working freelance as a mum of young children is whilst you might need to work late on a Tuesday night, you get to walk your kids home from nursery the next day. Having three weeks of full on work might follow two quiet weeks Spending a pre-nursery morning watching movies is followed by two hours of MEGA FOCUS to progress a job.
For me this is now; the kids won’t always be this young, so I’m embracing every second of the opportunities I’m working for - late nights, early mornings, extra Paw Patrol viewing time and all.