Go big by being small

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Yesterday, two people - a prospecting employee and a prospective client - asked me about my plans to scale Full Steam.

I won’t go into each conversation here, but I’ll sum them up by saying that I’m looking to go deep rather than scale up. For now, the question isn’t “How can I get more clients?” but “How can I give my clients more?” by establishing strategies and processes that aren’t reliant on limited resources - time and energy - to be successful.

Providing an increase in value is important to prevent dilution of service as expansion happens while at the same time being awesome for clients because they get more than what they pay for.

From a “selfish” business perspective, it also builds brand and reputation equity that sets the stage for possible expansion later. Having 10 happy businesses and nonprofits is something I can work with - having 20 that are kinda-sorta-satisfied-but-also-slightly disappointed isn’t.

There is definitely merit is seizing every opportunity, hustle, etc. But I’ve also seen from the creation of Full Steam that there is just as much value in being patient and giving yourself time to learn, evaluate, and selectively choose.

FEED ME

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One of the biggest challenges for small businesses trying to carve out their plot in the social media landscape is how difficult consistent posting can be. 

People, IT IS HARD, especially if you're operating under the belief that the content you put out into the world should be awesome, human, and do more than just sell something. Social media has an insatiable lust for new and great content, and this need to constantly feed the content machine is what has made Full Steam a thing. Most of my clients have no problem posting to social media, and some of them even do a GREAT job without me.  

But because they're also busy operating the business, posting great content that positions their organization well EVERY SINGLE DAY ALL YEAR LONG isn't something they can, want, or afford to do.

If you need to undertake this quest for consistent content alone, one of the strategies that may help is thinking about your feed in two layers.

Layer 1: Content that isn't time-dependent. This stuff can be posted any time of day, any day of the week, any time of the year. 

Layer 2: Moment-to-moment content. This is the fun, spontaneous stuff that helps add realism and authenticity to your feed - especially if you're a small, local business.

Layer 1 is great because you can sit down to create and schedule content far in advance, checking the box of having new content going up every day. Apart from engaging with followers on the post, you can "set it and forget it", and in theory, you could over the course of a couple days, create and schedule content to go up every day for the next year. (I don't suggest that length of time given the changing nature of businesses, but you could.) 

Layer 2 happens on the fly - you're traveling somewhere for work, receiving a shipment, being goofy at your desk. The content from Layer 1 is doing most of the marketing work for your business, so the fact that this content is more casual, informal, and indirectly about your business makes to manageable AND helps signal to your following that you're a real person doing the work and interacting with the world.  


Ice Ice Baby

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Whenever your business makes a post on social media, it's immediately taken captive by an algorithm that determines who and how many people see it. 

Have a following of five thousand? Somewhere around one thousand of those followers will actually see that post over the course of a day or two. While one thousand isn't "no one", it's not five thousand. 

So how do you reach the other four thousand people who won't even know that post exists?

If you have the budget, the answer is "money". Money takes the pin out of the floodgates, and how wide the gates open depends on how much money is being pushed towards the post. The efficiency of that money is determined by how enthusiastic the audience is combined with the accuracy of the ad targeting. 

Lots of money + fanatic audience + great content + good ad targeting = you can change the world. 

But what if you don't have any money for ads, a small/developing audience, and pretty OK content?

Step 1: Post great content. If you can't be great, try to be different. What exactly that is depends on what your business is, who your audience is, and what they're looking for. Hint: "Great" content doesn't have to mean lengthy, IMMA GONNA BLOW YOUR MIND-style blog posts, or leg-trembling, toe-curling video content. But it does have to contribute positively to people's lives in some way - think educate, inspire, or entertain - AND it has to fit the audience. If you love photography but your audience froths at the mouth every time you post a meme, give the people memes.

Engagement with content determines how many people see it, and if the Algorithm sees high, consistent engagement with the post from multiple networks of people, it will push it to more people. Your best chance at harnessing this  is by posting great content that your audience wants.

Step 2: STOP. Grow your audience through likes, comments, DMs, emails, etc. BUT ONLY target the kinds of people you want to be in your audience. Stop trying to cast "make everyone your audience". You want people who will engage with your content through likes, shares, and comments. If you try to grab EVERYONE, you're going to rake up a lot of lazy, lurking accounts who will follow you but never interact, hurting your engagement rate and making it harder for people to see what you post. 

Step 3: Collaborate... feature other people, accounts and organizations on your feed. A fun testimonial is not only good for your business, but whomever is featured in that testimonial is going to point people to it - at the very least you'll attract family and friends of that person to a moment you gave someone they knew a public spotlight for being awesome. This is what good humans do, and it gives you an opportunity to interact with already-development audiences and connections as well.

Step 4: ...and listen. Followers will indicate what direction they want/need you to go through interactions. The kind of content people are looking might align with the kind of content you think they want OR it might be a complete surprise. Had a mini-blog post that was a home run? Make them a regular part of your content calendar to see if you just got lucky or if it's the yellow brick road.

If you don't have the budget, don't make it about money

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Content marketing is when a business publishes things that don't explicitly try to sell its products or services, and is a critical part of the life of a small business on social media.

At the foundational level, people aren't on social media to be sold to, and if you're not convinced, say "I joined Instagram to be able to look at things I can buy". It feels like a lie. Yes, social media can build a brand and increase revenue, but before all of that, people are on social media because they see it as a way to make connections.

Some of those connections are educational - they want to know more, learn how to do something, or learn how to do something better. Some of those connections are inspirational - they follow people who are operating at a high level of achievement or cruising for the dopamine hit of a well-timed inspirational post. Some of those connections are for entertainment - they want to laugh or be emotionally moved.

While big businesses can propel their marketing with money, for small businesses without a huge advertising budget, content marketing is the only way to successfully exist on social media. It gives people the connection they're looking for.

Whether it's a blog post that teaches me why I shouldn't wear socks with sandals, a Instagram Live video talking about supporting other women who are entrepreneurs, or a funny meme, consistent connection-focused content reaches out to people and says that the business is about more than taking people's money and is willing to be human before it starts trying to sell something.

the size of your brand determines the "yes" or the "no"

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Consumers Energy just asked every residential customer in Michigan to turn their thermostats down to 65 degrees - they can’t pump natural gas out of the ground fast enough due to the cold.

Since then, many people have gone to their thermostats and turned them down to 65. But many other people have blown a collective gasket that an energy company would make such a demand.

HOW DARE THEY, says the internet.

Sure, this uproar is partly due to people’s love of internet-based acts of anger and defiance, but the other part is a lesson for business owners: your brand determines your ability to ask things of people.

How could Fyre Festival convince so many people that what they were offering was legit while an energy company can’t convince people that if they don’t turn their thermostats down a few degrees there’s a chance a majority of an ENTIRE STATE could go without ANY HEAT in -40 degree weather?

It’s marketing, it’s brand, it’s reputation. Fyre created a brand that supported their ability to make outrageous requests of people without any evidence to support they could follow through...people said yes.

For years, Consumers Energy has been plagued by poor customer service, accusations of price gouging, mishandling of bills, purposefully misreading meters, charging people for an entire’s years worth of utilities in a single month, etc.

So when they make a request - and in this case, a relatively small one - people refuse because the company doesn’t have a brand that convinces people they should say yes.

On a smaller scale, when a small business asks a potential customer to buy something, to like its page, to share it with friends, to come to an event, to enter a giveaway- those are requests whose success depends on brand.

Do people trust you? Do their friends trust you? Do they like you? Do you look legit? Do you look happy/authentic/professional/helpful?

Many times, a “yes” or “no” answer doesn’t depend on the size of question, but rather who’s asking.