Jessica Wicks

This one is for my fellow social media wallflowers

Jan
09

It’s funny. For years, I ran social media accounts for different clients without a problem. Yet when it comes to publishing something on my personal brand accounts, I freeze up. When I don’t have the veil of a brand in front of me, I usually end up deleting whatever I had drafted and forgetting the whole thing. I think it has something to do with the permanence of our digital era.

Traditionally, publishing content took months – even years – from conception to public consumption. Artists and writers would compose outlines, draft, sketch, revise and share with a close circle of trusted advisors, all the while making incremental changes and improvements to whatever it was they were planning to share. If you were to try that on social media, not only would your message likely be outdated by the time it was shared, but you would also sound impersonal which kind of defeats the purpose of this whole thing. People go on to social media to interact in a casual way. There is this pull between crafting a unique message and sharing thoughts as they happen, and I guess I normally fall somewhere in between. Unable to commit to either.

I know I’m not alone. There are other silent participants in online circles, following the updates of the people around them. Noticing the connections between different interactions. Wanting to be a part of it all, but just not able to step out of the shadows.

I worry about how what I write or say will change the way people think about me. Because truthfully, it will.

There’s definitely a component of perfectionism in this whole thing. If it’s not perfect, I can’t put it out there. But if it’s not authentic, I can’t put it out there either.

I think for most of us, the problem isn’t just online. I’m actually one of those weird introverts who puts on a pretty good extroverted mask when in group settings or when speaking in public, but then needs to go sit in a quiet room alone for three days after. OK, that’s a bit dramatic. I’m fully functional for those three days, but I prefer as much time alone in my own head as I can get.

Most of my social media posts are photos of other people, things I’ve noticed out in the world, or something someone else said. They are not of me, something I’ve created in this world, and not something I want to say. When I look at this legacy I’m sharing with the people who want to know me – my friends and family, colleagues, clients – it’s bland and TOTALLY. NOT. ME.

And you know what? I have something worth sharing with the world – or at least the people in the world who are interested in getting to know me. So do you. And the more we flex those sharing muscles, the stronger they will become.

I challenge myself (and the rest of you) to walk up to that group of strangers having a conversation and to contribute something to it. Don’t delete it. Don’t show up to the party, then hang out in the dark corner. Don’t sit on the sidelines of your life, watching the rest of the world live theirs.

Are you a social media wallflower, too? Let me know I’m not alone by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and posting in the comments.

How to plan your marketing campaigns for the new year

Dec
12

One of the most important things you can do to prepare your business for a new year is to plan your promotional calendar. When it comes to marketing, there are ongoing activities and short-term activities. Today, we’re focusing on the short-term promotions.

What are you selling?

The first thing to decide when building out your promotional strategy is what it is you want to sell. This might be individual products and services, or it might be larger groups of what your business sells. Of course, we’re not going to promote every single item or service you offer, but you should have a good idea of what your top sellers are. What items would you like to sell more of? Are planning to introduce a new product or service this year?

What problems do you solve?

What are the problems that your products and services solve? When are your customers facing them or noticing them the most? Some problems may be concrete like needing winter tires, while others may be psychological like providing comfort or the feeling of safety.

This pretty much falls under the ‘who are you selling to’ category. Remember that you likely have multiple customer segments with different needs and expectations.

Are there any seasonal tie-ins?

If your business is naturally seasonal, this part might seem obvious but I challenge you to think outside the box. A ski resort, for example, often sells early bird passes in the early summer even though they operate in the winter.

Your promotion may tie-in to one of the four seasons. Official holidays, such as Christmas, Labour Day, etc., are another great tie-in option. Restaurants campaign for holidays such as Valentine’s day or Mother’s day every year.

Annual events such as back-to-school, tax season. spring cleaning, ect., are also times when people are looking to solve a problem. List out any special dates you can think of, then try to decide if there are any logical connections between what you sell and what your customers are doing at those times of the year.

If you have products or services that don’t tie-in to any events, you may choose to create your own annual sale. You can also schedule the item in to be promoted during a blank space in your campaign calendar.

How big is the decision being made?

The length of each of your promotions will depend on how much time your customer needs to make a decision. Is your customer is aware of their problem and looking for a solution? If so, you probably just need to give them enough time to compare your offer to others. If you are informing your customers of a new problem, they will need more time to decide whether or not they need your solution.

Some of your campaigns may be a few days or a week, while others may be a month or longer.

How will you create urgency?

If people know they can buy something from you at any time, they will be more likely to put it off. Creating urgency is one of the ways that you can influence your customers to buy now. Generally, it is created by some type of scarcity.

Scarcity can come in the form of a limited time offer or a limited number of items available. Not all promotions will require this sort of incentive, and you have to be careful of damaging your brand with too many discounts, but it is an effective way to build urgency.

Pulling it all together

With the information from the questions above, you should be able to pull together a simple promotional calendar for 2017. You should know what you’re selling, who you’re selling it to and why they’re buying it, when you’re promoting it, how long you are promoting it for, and if/how you will be creating a sense of urgency.

Remember that you don’t want to overlap any of your campaigns or exhaust your audience by always selling to them. Narrow your campaign calendar down to the number of promotions that you can put the time and resources into promoting and advertising.

Using your promotional calendar

Don’t let your promotional calendar sit around collecting dust on your computer hard drive. Add the campaigns to your computer calendar and print them out in a physical calendar. Be sure to schedule some prep time to create content or book any advertisements.

You can build out the rest of your content strategy, social media strategy and newsletter strategy around your planned promotional campaigns. Use the content you create for those channels to prep your audience and support your sales activities.

Your up-front planning for the promotional calendar sets the stage for the rest of your marketing efforts next year. Knowing what you’re going to sell and when will put you ahead of most small businesses in the marketing department.

Starting small is the only option

Oct
24

List building is a widely talked about topic in the online marketing world. Amidst conversations about the six-digit lists that the digital giants have, us mere mortals can’t help but feel ashamed of our small (or non-existent) lists.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. It’s something that you and I have in common, and I hope it will help you move past any list building shame that’s holding you back from sharing your knowledge with the world.

Are you ready?

When I started my facebook page, I had zero likes.

When I created my website, I had zero visitors.

When I first began offering services, I had zero clients.

When I launched my email newsletter, I had zero subscribers.

Want to know something else? I started out the exact same way that everyone else did.

Everyone starts at zero.

You’re probably thinking: hello, captain obvious.

Rationally, we already know that everyone starts at zero. Unless you are the child of a celebrity, you’re probably starting with a pretty small list. Sure, your mother or best friend might subscribe right away, but in terms of people you actually want to build your community around? Zero. Zip. Zilch.

Yet emotionally, starting at zero makes you feel vulnerable – especially in the online space where the number of likes, followers, and comments you have is visible to the world.

One thing you have to remember to move past the insecurities is that unless you put yourself out there, that feeling is never going to change.

When I realized that, I finally took the plunge and hit publish on my Facebook page. I began sharing my blog posts on websites other than my own and interacting in online groups and communities, helping any way I could.

See, I had been feeling ashamed for years. Here I am, someone who has been working within the marketing world for seven years, and my list size is nearly non-existent. Who am I to tell anyone how to grow their community when I have just 17 Facebook page likes? My only newsletter subscriber? Myself. Trust me, it’s hard to put time and energy into creating content that no one will ever read.

I am qualified, of course. I’ve lead teams to build multiple four- and five-figure communities for my clients. I have a degree and graduate certificate. Maybe more importantly, I am passionate about continually learning. I just never wanted to publicize my teensy tiny numbers until they grew, but they couldn’t grow until I took the leap and put myself out there.

The one thing that you and I have in common with the biggest names on the internet is that we all start small.

List size isn’t everything.

OK, truth is, the size of your list does matter. It’s just not all that matters. The type of people on your list and how you interact with them count for a whole lot more.

When I was just getting started as a freelancer (in the early days of businesses using social media), I helped a client build a large online following. The numbers were good and the sales weren’t bad either. You know what was terrible? Community engagement. Customer loyalty. Sure we had built up a big list of people to sell to, but they weren’t sharing us with their friends or commenting on posts. You can bet that they would still shop around whenever they needed a product that we were selling.

As a result, there was no momentum to the list growth. If the client wanted to keep growing, they needed to keep paying more and more. Sounds great for me as the marketer, right? But the truth is, my team was bored and frustrated. I had done what I was hired to do, but knowing what I do now I wish I could go back and tackle that project differently.

I’ll take slow and steady growth over a flash in the pan any day.

When you’re focused on list building alone, you miss the importance of finding the right people and converting them into evangelists. What does that mean exactly? It means I’d rather have a small community of people who actually care about the content I’m putting out (and that I can learn from in return) than a bloated list of people who send my emails straight to the trash or hit unfollow when they see my posts on Facebook.

Does this mean you shouldn’t bother trying to grow your tribe? Heck no. Marketing is a numbers game, and part of being able to grow your business (and help people solve their problems) is having more people know, like and trust you. More people who love what you do translates into more referrals, higher conversions, and better sales.

The trick is to actually connect with your followers in some way.

A small list is an opportunity.

THIS is your chance. A small list gives you the opportunity to really get to know each person in your community – what problems they face, where they look for solutions – as they get to know you. Once it grows, it’s hard to get that same level of intimacy and provide the same attention.

You know what happens when you nurture those first few people? They continue to show up, and they help you nurture the newcomers as your tribe grows.

Join my list.

I’m not desperate to grow my list. In fact, I don’t even want you to join me if you care more about making money than running a rewarding, sustainable business.

If, however, you are a small- to mid-sized business owner who is looking to improve your marketing by actually rolling up your sleeves and doing some work – please consider joining me in one of the following ways:

 

Finding and using free stock photos

Oct
17

Why should you use free stock photos?

If you do any type of content creation for your business (and you should), you probably need some imagery. Whether it’s a blog post, social media, or even an advertisement, images get people’s attention. They also cost money – as they should. Photographers can’t pay the bills with your gratitude.

Yet the cost of purchasing images multiple times a week would be pretty prohibitive for most businesses.

After all, the content you are taking the time to write and publish is giving away your knowledge for free. Luckily, there are many websites out there where photographers are giving away their goods for free as well.

Of course, there are some different rules depending on what type of license the photos have. It’s always best to read the license page on the website or the agreement for each specific photo. Generally, I like to look for photos with the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license so that I have a lot of freedom to use the image however I need to, and reuse it in the future if I wish.

At the time of writing, each of the websites I list is free for personal use – although there are a few with some specific rules (e.g. don’t take their photos and sell them on your site). I would like to think these rules are common-sense, but we obviously have copyright laws for a reason.

Here are my current favourite free stock photo sites:

(Feel free to bookmark this page for easy reference)

Choosing free stock photos

Now, knowing what sites to look on is not enough. Actually finding free stock photos that will complement your content is a whole different ball game. There are significantly less to choose from compared to paid, and it can take a little creativity. I usually try to think of a handful of visuals that might suit a specific need.

As an example, I’ll use a blog post about quitting your day job.

It would be unlikely that you’ll find a photo of someone handing in a resignation letter on a free stock photo site. You might need to get a little more conceptual with what the underlying concept of quitting a job might represent. Going to work for yourself might mean freedom, making space, or represent a journey in your life. Or we could go a little more literal and look for photos that represent work – an office, work suit, desk, etc.

You might search for words like freedom, sky, office, home office, suit, desk, quit, journey, work, coffee shop.

Editing the photos

Once you’ve found the photo of your choice, you may want to edit or brand it. For instance, my blog photos are always covered with a layer of transparent colour and a title of the post using a font from my brand. Editing also has the added benefit of making your free stock photo look at least a little more custom. It’s a bit embarrassing when you realize that you’ve used the exact same image as another blog in your industry.

I do this using Photoshop because I’ve used the program for over 15 years now (yikes!). For clients who just want to create a simple template they can use over and over, I suggest Canva for editing your photos. You can use an existing design style or customize it to better suit your needs.

Leave a comment if you know other quality free stock photography websites and I will add them to the list.

P.S. I am planning to write a counterpoint article about when and why you should use custom or paid stock photography. I will link to that post here once it is published.

To Schedule or Not to Schedule

Jun
29

When blogging and tweeting, there’s a divide between pro-schedulers and anti-schedulers. The argument is simple to understand for each:

Pro-schedulers
Having the ability to write multiple posts in a single day and provide them to people on a regular schedule can help a writer maintain consistency and still take days off.

Anti-schedulers
Blogging and tweeting are about expressing ideas and sharing content in real time. The beauty of following a blog or micro-blog is seeing subtle changes in opinion and watching someone explore the world or industry they write about.

But why not do both? In my opinion, this is the strongest way to approach your followers. You might choose to regularly schedule your posts to maintain consistency plus write when something really gets your attention and you just have to share. One marketing blog I follow regularly is sent out every day, but on occasion, there is a second post delivered at a different time. While I love those insightful regular posts, on those other occasions I know that the post was inspired by something in the real world and shared with an enthusiasm that I can’t ignore.

The regular posts keep me hooked and keep me in touch, which is a benefit that should not be ignored.  But I read those second posts much more regularly than I read the scheduled ones because they come from a different place within the writer that I just know will be worth my time.