Closing the Loop

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When Full Steam first started, I only took pictures and video for businesses. Those files would go into a folder, that folder would be sent to the business, and it would be their job to post to social media.

After working with a client for a couple months, I hadn't seen any of the pictures I had taken or the videos I had done posted. Ever. I assumed he didn't like the work, and so I picked up the phone called him, thinking I was starting the conversation that would get me fired.

"Hey, this is Phil," I said. "Oh hey, Phil, how's it going?" he said.

"Things are good. I'm just calling to see what you think about the pictures and videos I've been sending - I haven't seen any of them posted yet and I want to make sure you're getting what you need."

"I love your stuff, but I didn't have time to post a couple pictures a week before you started, and now I have have HUNDREDS. It seems stupid, but going into the folder, downloading the picture, and then posting is just another thing for me to think about, so I don't do it."

And that's the conversation Full Steam became Full Steam.

Before that phone call, I was trying to solve a little problem - businesses need photography and videography for social media. After that conversation, I decided to solve a bigger problem - business owners need someone to take something off their plate, giving them one less thing to think about.

Today, Full Steam closes the loop on content marketing by providing photography, videography, and copywriting to businesses AND posts every piece of content to every social media platform they're on for them. It closes the loop and solves a problem.

For business owners, it helps them focus on only the work they can do, and keeps a consistent stream of marketing in front of people without any additional work on their end.

For nonprofits, it gets the story of their work and the people they help out into the world, providing proof that they're making a difference.

For cities, it helps create an attachment to place and a feeling of engaged momentum.

I eventually stopped working for that client, but I did walk away with a better understanding on how to *ahem* move full steam ahead.

It begins

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In 2014, I had left teaching and needed a job while I figured out my next move.

After a series of events too long to go into here, a job came courtesy of my brother, Matt, and his new-at-the-time business Mule Resophonic Guitars. I had given him a place to start Mule in the form of an inappropriately-small closet in my garage and his business was exploding. Staring at a two-year wait list, he needed an extra set of hands. Despite my only experience being 5th-grade level arts and crafts, he hired me anyway.

Mule moved to Saginaw and we spent a year in a cold, dark, and moldy basement trying to figure out how to be one of few people in the world making steel guitars by hand.

Fast forward two more years and 400 guitars and I had a job that taught me about running a business, building relationships and about the power of story. It gave me a safety net where I could test the idea of Full Steam and then eventually turn it into a full-time operation. Today, when I'm having a conversation about business, I will almost always hear myself saying something Matt say and kick myself for becoming my brother (which isn't completely bad, but I will fight it nonetheless).

The move into Full Steam HQ begins this week and to fill the space, I've started the task of collecting something from everyone who has helped Full Steam become "a thing". It's an impossible but necessary thing to do.

Impossible because of the massive amount of people who have directly or indirectly helped me along the way. But among all those people, it would be hard to overstate the importance Matt and Mule has had in the life of Full Steam.

Working for Matt gave me the support, experience and space to start building my own business, and so Matt and I built the desk I'll use at Full Steam HQ out of maple neck blanks used for the guitars at Mule.

#thisonesforyou
#fullsteamhq

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.