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Apprentices – super heroes or super cheap resources?
We all know the idiom, “you win some, you lose some.” Well in recent months, this has really started to resonate with me.
When you start up in business, you know not everyone is your client and expect when you pitch or tender for work, that you will not always be successful on every occasion. However, with this in mind, nothing prepares you for how it feels when you’ve done all the hard work, attended various meetings, written and submitted a proposal, had many conversations with the client and answered lots of their questions, only to be usurped by an apprentice. Yes you heard it right. Time to forget the value of your experience and knowledge, the client wants to throw it all away on an unknown quantity!
Something in the water?
I thought that this was an unusual decision, after all the client has the right to work with whoever they want to, but having shared this story with a colleague, who also runs their own business, she was also preparing herself to hand over one of her marketing accounts to an apprentice too. So what am I missing?
Are apprentices the unsung heroes of marketing? Are they sufficiently experienced and skilled to understand the business world and take on a new specialism? And how long will it take them to get up to speed and be of actual use. Or as I feel the need to point out, is it easier to have someone on the inside, rather than outsourcing the work, so you can remain firmly in control?
Apprenticeships are fab!
I’m not knocking apprenticeships. They are amazing programmes designed to help people gain vital skills on the job, plus if the latest research is anything to go by, more than 8 out of 10 customers prefer to buy from companies which employ apprentices.
But an apprentice is a raw talent which needs to be moulded into someone who can really contribute to the future success of your business; you need to invest in them, not only financially but resource-wise too. Plus they tend to be young and very naïve about the commercial world, so there is an element of nurturing that needs to happen as well. Plus, you can’t expect an apprentice to run before they can walk, so I would expect it to be many months before they are paying for themselves!
What’s wrong with outsourcing?
So with all this in mind, why are businesses who are trying to make it to the next level in business, whether that’s accelerate growth or development, wanting to make their lives more difficult and bog themselves down with training etc. rather than outsourcing to well- established, proven organisations who not only bring objectively, but instant efficiency too?
Money, money money!
I think that the answer may well be solely down to money and the notion that you can make significant savings over time. Or perhaps it’s just to do with the fact that some businesses are not as strategic as they would like to appear and have lost sight of the advantages that someone who is fully trained and immersed in their subject can instantly provide. Whatever the reasons, I wish them luck. I only hope they find someone who is interested in social media and has the maturity, creativity, tenacity and enthusiasm to make it work for them. Because surprise surprise, it’s not something you can pick up quickly having done a course or read a book!
Starting the year with a bang
OK – so the festive shenanigans are finally over and you're back at your desk for the start of another year. If you're anything like me, you will have enjoyed a relaxing break, but are now keen to get your business flying in 2019. So what are you going to do now, and/or over the coming weeks, to make sure that you reach the dizzying heights of success that you so richly deserve?
It all starts with a plan. If you don't have one, how will you know when you get there? And if you already have a plan, then January is the perfect time to revisit it and make any amends or additions necessary. Your plan should to be organic and flexible and you need to be quick to adapt and make any changes, so your business remains efficient and profitable.
When it comes to planning frequency is key!
Business planning is vital if you want a healthy, growing business. It enables you to take stock of what's happening and helps you set new directions or adjust old goals. But remember it's not a one-off annual event. Given the accelerated rate of change happening when it comes to the overall economic climate, and of course not forgetting your local and regional marketplaces, you need to commit to do it on a frequent basis.
Undertaking business planning on a regular basis will help you to avoid costly mistakes, stay on track and feel more focused. And don't forget to be realistic when it comes to setting or tweaking goals - they have to be achievable otherwise you'll feel deflated and on the back foot from the start. Plus remember to monitor and measure everything you do, so you know what works and what doesn't. And watch the pennies also, as it's no good overspending on one area of your business, if you can't see other areas balancing things up nicely in the short to medium term!
Give it time!
Most people start the New Year with lots of ideas or initiatives about what they are going to do. This is great as long as the enthusiasm levels don't dip after a couple of months. I often find in my area of business that people try social media or other forms of marketing for a few months and when it doesn't deliver the earth in 12 weeks, they get bored and turn it off. Social media, like all other marketing channels, needs to be used consistently, updated regularly and often undertaken for between 9 and 18 months for the results to properly show and you to feel justly rewarded for your efforts.
So my advice is simple. Sit down with a piece of paper and plan what 2019 looks like for you and your business. Do some research into your product/service area looking for trends, new tactics or clever business techniques. Check in with your clients, follow up with prospects and make contact with your business referrers. Then look at what time you have available to work on your business, rather than it in, and set it aside in your calendar and commit to going something to help your business development and planning every day or every week.
Personally I do half an hour a day of self-promotional activities (social media updates, blogs, client/prospect calls) plus networking and attendance at other business events. Then set some goals, whether it's turnover, number of clients or profitability, make sure they are clear and easy to follow. Finally, make a start, don't be one of those people who talk a good story, but never really deliver anything. In the words of Nike, "just do it". Make some noise now and in 12 months' time your future self will thank you for your commitment and unwavering belief in you and your business success.
How visible are you?
We've all heard the adage; "you've got to be in it to win it". Well now more than ever before, if you want you and your business to succeed, you need to make sure that your target audience:
- Know who you are
- Understand what you do
- Have an opportunity to engage with you either digitally or in person.
Essentially when it comes down to it, for your business to develop and grow, you need to be completely visible!
Just do it!
What do I mean by being visible? I am referring here to making sure that you are proactively doing things. So in accordance with Nike's strapline, you should "just do it". For business success you need to promote yourself, your business, meet new people, inspire confidence and trust and of course get the conversation started, not tomorrow, not next week...now!
This might involves writing blogs and uploading them to your website, making helpful videos and posting them, updating your social media channels, plus commenting and/or sharing other people's content too. And this activity should not just be restricted to the online world either. You need to leave your home/office occasionally to interact with real people at either networking groups, events, meetings, or just to enjoy a one-to-one over coffee with a business colleague.
Relevant and up-to-date
And as everything in this life is now fast-moving and at times chaotic, you need to make sure that you are doing things in a regular and consistent manner. Furthermore, once you have done something like updated your LinkedIn profile or completed an online directory listing, you should be revisiting it frequently to make sure that it is still up-to-date, especially your contact information. If you have some engaging photos use them and try to stay relevant and interesting so you can stand out from the crowd.
But perhaps most important of all, don't forget to check everything, including proofreading, before you click upload, share or post. I've lost count of the number of updates I've read recently where there have been grammatical or spelling mistakes. It's a real turn off for me and most probably countless others. Because let's face it, if you can't get your own promotion done correctly, you will not exactly inspire others to use your services.
Change is good
With technology constantly changing, it's your responsibility to take charge of your profiles so that they appear fresh and engaging. Just recently, and following a very interesting training session, I have made some tweaks to my own LinkedIn profile to ensure it continues to work hard for my business.
So my challenge to you is this, when did you last look at your social media profiles and make any tweaks? And if what's holding you back is time, then look to outsource it. Having an active presence whether it's social media, website or in person will increase your conversion rates over time. And that's a fact!
Did you abandon your social media over the summer?
It's tempting isn't it? When the sun shines brightly and the kids break up for their summer break and businesses seem less active than usual, what's the harm in stopping doing something like your social media for a month or so? It won't make a big difference will it?
Don't encourage customers to go elsewhere!
Whilst I agree it's good to spend some time away from your usual routine, it can actually be harmful for your business to stop doing something completely. I mean we've all been to the gym or exercise classes religiously then given it all up and then tried to go back – how hard was that? Your muscles ache and what was easy to achieve previously, seems just that little bit more difficult.
It's the same with your marketing. If you lose consistency, you run the risk of your audience having forgotten about you and they might even find someone else because they aren't being regularly reminded about your business and its services.
Regularity, relevance and consistency
You need to remember that marketing, and social media as one of its many channels, relies on regular, consistent and relevant messaging for ongoing success. Let me share with you an example.
A business colleague that I know heard really good things about social media (mostly from me) and the fantastic results that his competitors received from using it. He set up his own profiles and for three months he focused on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn getting some good engagement and business leads. But then he slowed down his efforts before stopping completely. Several months later he categorically told me that "social media doesn't work for me or my business!" Despite my best advice, he refused to consider returning to it.
Well, when you dabble in your marketing, you're right! It won't work. Not because that marketing channel isn't suited to your business, but usually because you didn't maintain it for long enough. The businesses that produce the best results (in terms of generating both leads and sales) are those that are consistent in their marketing. They've regularly been sending clear, consistent messages to potential clients. Not just for weeks or months, but for years. And it helps also to have a realistic strategy or plan in place too, otherwise how will you know if you've achieved what you wanted to?!
You have a choice!
So what's the solution? In my experience if you do want some time away from social media then there are three options for you to consider.
The beauty of social media is that you can schedule updates and comments in advance, which means you don't have to always be around. I admit it's not entirely foolpoof, but you can have a quick daily check on progress if needs be.
Run a campaign or competition with a suitable end date, so that it takes care of itself for a set period of time. When that time is up, you can review/process the results and resume your complete focus.
If 1 and 2 still seem like too much of a commitment, then you can always choose to outsource your social media management to a reputable company. This way you know that the work is being done in a professional and targeted way.