Digital Marketing can be a challenge for a small business. PR can be a challenge for a small business, too. But what happens when PR and Marketing are your business, and you're always running out of time to tend your own patch?
These were just three of the questions crowding my head when I agreed to take part in a goal-setting session with a group of other small business owning women and digital entrepreneurs. I agreed to take part because this year has required extra focus and longer hours, for many months there has just not been enough time, energy or creative inspiration to do for my business what I do for my clients. I needed a push and I knew I’d get it from this tribe of strong women whom I admire immensely.
So, during our morning meeting and temporarily uplifted by a caffeine injection (rare for me as I am almost 100% decaff these days), I found myself responding to a story about undertaking a daily blog challenge. I knew that a daily commitment would beat me, but I raised the possibility that I could manage 50 per cent. I knew this challenge was mine.
I had intended to use the session to motivate myself to strategise my own social media or email marketing, but instead I found myself going right to the heart of my business and making that my challenge: the words. The challenge was to commit myself to writing for myself, not the businesses I work with, no less than 15 times in the month of November. And, slightly shakily, I embraced it.
And now, on the last day of the month and with no less than 3 posts prepped for the month ahead, I'm going to share the insights that I learned along the way.
Good habits start somewhere
As I say to my clients in charge of writing their own blogs: writing is habit forming. The more you do it, the more it's on your mind... and the more you love it. And sometimes, the days you really don't want to do it are the days that give you the best results.
I've found that my own preferred writing time for my own agency is not the time I earmark for client writing. I am a morning person, annoyingly delighted at 6am starts and I love nothing more than a quiet coffee and a blank page before dawn. When I am writing for businesses then this is the time I choose. But I learnt very quickly that if I used this time to write for 'me' then it wouldn't work. Guilt would distract me and distraction would become procrastination and that would take away from any of the joy of the resultant words and a freshly finished blog.
So, here I am. 18:35 and I am writing the piece I agreed to write this morning. It's been a busy day, but writing just before I close the office is a good time to rebalance my focus and draw a line between work and home. Which brings me to my next point...
Timing is everything
If time waits for no man, then a long deadline is sure to delay your start. I no longer set deadlines for myself or allow 'a few hours' to write a piece. It just doesn't work because when the end is too far away I allow myself to take a detour – and a simple task eats up all my time.
I am no longer allowing hours, I set myself small chunks of time and if I don't finish I go back to it later. I have also learned that a 7pm deadline that coincides with dinner being ready is a sure-fire motivator. My husband is an ace cook, but I am no fan of reheated food... so to eat fresh food on time is my own personal motivator. It might not be yours, but it won't take you long to figure out what will motivate you if you give yourself a set time to work within and deliver by.
Content plans are dull
There. I said it. And I can't believe that after many years working with content plans for businesses of all sizes, when it came to writing to my own plan I just couldn't do it. I enjoyed the planning process and was very excited about ways to make the content come alive. But when I tried to make a start – the words just didn't flow...Every time I looked at the plan I procrastinated, I sighed, read the news or made a coffee. In short – I rebelled.
This makes me wonder how many of my clients feel like this. And if it is the reason why, for those who manage their writing in-house, the copy always lands in my inbox at the very last minute of the allowable deadline. And sometimes even the day after. Did the protestation of workloads and business priorities mask the real reason – that the poor content marketer was simply bored at the thought of writing to script? Either way, I'll be making some changes to this process here.
I love writing
And this is the heart of it all for me – I feel very lucky to have had two careers that bind together my love of words. I worked hard and against all the odds to secure a place to study at LCP and then to stay employed as a journalist and production editor through some truly tricky years for the publishing industry. And years later, when I needed to work more flexibly around the needs of my family, I moved from journalism to digital PR and marketing so words remain very much at the heart of my business.
But in the day-to-day work of writing for clients, managing my workload and all the hidden chores that come with being a small business owner, for a time there I forgot about what drove me to do this in the first place. And I think that might be true for many small businesses. I also realised that writing almost daily was freeing up my creativity in other areas – and that everyone was benefiting. Especially my clients.
So this month I have upped the hours that Claire, my Virtual Assistant, works with me and brought in Dan to work alongside me on a critical brand voice project. And I've handed over more of the content ideation process to Kurt, who is my associate designer. On all counts, the rewards have been phenomenal and although we are not all in the same space, together we have all put out some really good work this month. They are all awesome and I am so lucky to have them all on board.
And by taking myself back to my own core of writing meaningful words, I gained something that I could not have imagined 30 days ago: the associates who work with me became my team and I forgot how much I love to be part of a team.
Editing is key
Each post I write has several sentences that don't make the final cut, but one of my favourite tasks is writing the headlines and crossheads (subheadings for anyone who doesn't know copy-sub words). And looking back at my November posts I'm the first to admit that it isn't all my finest effort and that some of the edits were heavy – but just making a start was part of the challenge. I know that a desire to produce my best work every time I started a new page was making great the enemy of good. Or even good enough. So now and for every blog henceforth I will remember that for every word that is written, the best finish is to pause... take a break... read through and edit before publish. It really does make a difference.
Blogging (nearly) daily has been a challenge but I am so happy with the result that I think I'll carry on. And I'm grateful for the way it has allowed me to see the task in hand from the perspective of the businesses I work with. Writing meaningful, good quality, original content about YOUR business is hard. But as I have always said it's so worth it – and now I really know why.
To see where it all started, this is my first challenge post from 4th November here.