Seven Hills Communications
Small Business Marketing & Public Relations


Small Business Marketing & PR Advice

Improving Your Email Marketing Through Competitive Analysis

Email marketing remains one of the most effective ways that companies can get the word out about their products and convert prospects into sales, nurture current customers and create repeat business. But it can be time consuming to figure out the best way to market to your audience. For small businesses especially, A/B testing can be almost a useless endeavor because it requires a big list to be accurate.

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So how do you make improvements to your emails when your list isn’t huge or doesn’t have a long history? Beyond the obvious action of keeping an eye on the statistics that you’re seeing with each email and noting any jumps or dips, we love to do a competitive email analysis to get the lay of the land and spark new ideas for email.

A competitive analysis is just what it sounds like: you’re looking at the marketing materials (in this case emails) of companies playing in the same space as you and seeing what ideas you can glean from them. Because many companies have long-term email funnels, an analysis can take awhile. Here’s how to develop, organize and track competitor email programs to figure out how you can improve yours.

Step 1: Create an email dumping ground

To stay organized, create a dumping ground for all these emails. We like to set up a separate GMail address that is just for subscribing to competitor marketing materials. This keeps them from clogging up our inboxes while also allowing multiple people to access and search the emails when they want to check them out.

Step 2: Create your list of competitors

For some companies, this is obvious but for others - particularly those who don’t have direct competitors in their space - it can be a little trickier. Think about who is speaking to the same audience as you with similar messaging. Even if they’re not selling the exact same product, there may be some overlap and will certainly reveal useful information. Consider the following categories:

  • Large national competitors: You can assume these companies are well funded and have larger lists, so they may have done a lot of the research for you already. Paying attention to their CTAs, offers, frequency, etc. could give you lots of free insight.

  • Competitors in your market: For obvious reasons.

  • Competitors in other markets: If you’re a local or regional company, see what companies in other regions are doing. These companies may be at the same scale as you, but have other insights or ideas.

  • Fringe competitors: These may be companies fighting for a similar market share or audience but without a product that’s directly competing. (A great example of this might be a meal kit company vs. a grocery delivery company or a CSA. The products are different but they are solving a similar problem for the consumer.) See how they’re positioning their product.

Step 3: Start signing up for lists

Take your list and explore the websites for your competitors. Sign up for their email lists and/or for accounts on their sites to see what happens afterwards. Sit back and allow the emails to flow in.

Step 4: Create a tracking spreadsheet

What you’re tracking will depend on what you’re most interested in. Are you looking to see what offers companies are making? What their value proposition is? Email frequency? Style, graphics? Create a spreadsheet to track this information, so each time you’re going into your shared inbox you’re able to input the data and look back on it later.

One example we recently did for a client was tracking the intro offers of competitors. We created a spreadsheet with the competitor’s name, the offer description, whether it was an intro offer or a one time/flash sale type offer and how long after signup it was offered, as well as when it expired. This gave the client a better grasp on what their prospects and customers were seeing as they researched the product with competitors.

Step 5: Create action items to test

It’s important to note that just because something’s working for another company, it doesn’t mean it will work for you. Compile a list of ideas from your research and test them one by one - or just implement them if you fall in love with them. Just reading the emails may bring to mind creative brainstorms that you’d never considered. Keep the action items organized and continue to track the email marketing to mine fresh ideas.

How to Come Up with PR Angles for Your Business
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One of the first things I do when I'm talking to a new or potential client is start brainstorming all of the angles that the media or influencers might be interested in about them. I often tell clients that kick-off meetings bring out the journalist in me as I essentially interview them about anything and everything that could be of interest and tie back into their brand, mission or ability to differentiate. In a world that's increasingly driven by consumers voting with their dollars, facts or storylines that the client isn't even thinking about can often be the most compelling, both in terms of getting press attention and in terms of connecting potential customers or users with the brand.

I also find that thinking through these pitch angles can help us make recommendations to the client around the copy that should be on their website, in email sequences, and more. Thinking about how you're going to pitch yourself to target media helps you hone in on your audience and messaging, so even if you're not planning to start the media outreach process now, it's a worthwhile exercise.

To start, here are a few prompts to get you brainstorming potential angles:

Your Background

So many people come to entrepreneurship via unexpected paths, and these backgrounds can make for wonderful stories. They can also help you fit into stories that are more generally appealing. For example, CPAs who start creative endeavors, or parents who start businesses with their kids (I have had three such companies come through my doors lately!), can make for compelling narratives. 

Look at the national landscape of news and see if there's anything you fit into. Tie into national conversations when you can, hot topics like immigration, The American Dream, work/life balance and working parenthood, etc. If your story can be part of a larger narrative, you have a better chance of being picked up.

Your Purpose, Your "Why"

Entrepreneurship is no joke, and most business owners have a more compelling reason for starting their companies than they just woke up one day and decided to do it. Whether it was a big hole in the market or a personal thing they were searching for and couldn't find, or the intrinsic motivation to become their own boss, or an even more profound and far reaching rationale, your purpose and reason for getting up in the morning and working so hard are important parts of your story.

How You're Transforming The Market You're In

Most likely as an entrepreneur, you saw a problem and wanted to solve it. Think about the issues in your market and how you're transforming them, whether you're building a better mousetrap, introducing a totally new idea, bringing choice to a landscape where none previously existed, making a solution more affordable, etc. Framing things to the media in a problem/solution context is helpful in garnering coverage. Anytime you're new and different, and especially if you have the potential to change a market, people want to know more.

The Things You Know Better Than Anyone Else

Pitching yourself as an expert can be a great way to get coverage because you're providing reporters with a source and expertise as opposed to asking them to just write about a product (a harder sell). Sit down and think about all the things you know better than anyone else about your industry or market and develop pitches around those. See something starting to trend or happen that you can alert reporters who cover your beat about? Have a commentary or counterpoint to something you've seen? Think that reporters are missing something that you can provide expert advice on? These are great opportunities for pitching.

How You're Different

It's almost essential for a company to have major differentiators from its competition to get media coverage based purely on the product or service. Think hard about how you're different and what that means for your audience. Are you making something affordable or accessible for the first time? Providing a first-of-its-kind service? Going against the grain of what is typical in the industry? Is yours just prettier, higher quality, more effective or solving a common issue that people have with similar products? Whatever it is that differentiates you can help lead to pitches around flaws in the marketplace, consumer needs and your product.

How to Prepare Your Business for a PR Campaign

Getting amazing press for your company is an invaluable way to improve your brand awareness, increase sales and drive traffic. But before you embark on a PR campaign, you need to make sure your business is ready.

If you’re a Shark Tank fan, you’ve probably visited the site of a featured company the night the show aired, only to be completely unable to access it. The Red Dress Boutique is one company that experienced this incredibly stressful situation - 18 hours of their site being down on their first Shark Tank appearance. Of course, this is an extreme example, but it reminds us all of what’s at stake if we aren’t ready for a press hit when it happens.

As a PR consultant to small businesses and startups, getting their business in shape for press hits is often part of my job, before I ever start media outreach. You often only get one shot at a publication, so you don’t want to waste it. Thinking about starting a PR campaign? Here are a few ways to get your business prepared for media coverage.

Prepare yourself for PR to work
What do you want readers, listeners or viewers to do when they’re exposed to your brand? For most companies, driving traffic to a website or into a retail location is the #1 goal. But you’d be surprised at how many companies don’t think through what will happen when they get some good press.

Make sure that your location or site is prepared to handle whatever increased traffic will result from a media hit.If you’re promoting a grand opening or event at a brick and mortar, be sure you’re staffed sufficiently. Driving traffic online? Make sure your site is working well, loading fast and that there aren’t any broken links or missing contact information. If you’re promoting a particular product, make sure you have the stock to meet increased demand. The amount of prep you’ll need to do depends on the size of the hit, but always be prepared.

Set up a way to capture prospects
If you’re driving people to your website, you’ll want to ensure there’s a way to capture their information if they don’t buy right away. A pop-up with a discount offer or incentive to join your mailing list is a great way to achieve this. If you’re bringing people in-store, you’ll still want to get them on your list so having an incentive for them to leave their information is a great idea.

Be ready to nurture prospects and new customers
If you’ve been considering an email nurturing campaign, now’s the time to implement it. The only thing worse with getting twice-daily spammy emails from a company is signing up for their list and never hearing from them again. Have a plan in place to nurture any new customers, clients or prospects that come your way, whether that’s with an informational email series, discount offer or other regular communications. This is a captive crowd and it’s a perfect opportunity to introduce them to your brand.

Plan additional media outreach or targeted advertising
Have you ever noticed that you’ll hear about a company, and suddenly they’re EVERYWHERE? It’s not by accident. Don’t just rely on a single media hit. Create a campaign. Continue your media outreach to garner additional hits in complementary outlets. Target a Facebook ad campaign linking to your media hits by geography. Perhaps plan a mailer or other ad spend to follow up on your PR campaign, if budget allows.

Leverage your media hits
Include the logos and links to any hits on your website as social proof - what someone else says about you is much more valuable than anything you say about yourself, and when that info comes from a trusted media source, more the better. Be sure to be ready to add these hits to your site and share and promote on social media or printed collateral to get even more mileage out of them.

Whether you’re doing proactive media outreach or just luck out with media interest in your company and brand, being prepared to leverage and capitalize on earned media is essential. Media hits provide an invaluable opportunity to promote your brand, but it’s up to you to take the right steps to make it happen.

How to Vet a PR Agency or Consultant for Your Small Business
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Hiring is one of the most important things for any business to get right. And when you're hiring an outside consultant, like a PR team, it can get even more tricky. Since we work with lots of small businesses, we also work with a lot of clients whose first time it is hiring out PR, who might be unsure or nervous about how it works and who--perhaps most importantly--have no idea what to look for.

You've probably heard the phrase, "An educated customer is our best customer," popularized by off-price clothing brand Syms but loved by me. One of the first things I do when meeting with a new client or prospect, particularly one who hasn't worked with an agency or consultant before, is give them some background. What we do, what we don't do and generally how we do it. Then, I listen to what they need, give them some ideas, tell them how the proposal process will work, give them a proposal and, if they accept, we're off and running. Having a customer who understands what they're looking for and how to vet me properly is key to getting from the proposal to the "working together" stage, but for many small business owners, my team is one of the first outside hires or consultants they bring on. So, here's my guide to determining whether a PR consultant or agency is a good fit for your business.

Meet Them
There's no better way to get a read on someone than face-to-face, or at the very least, Skype-to-Skype. Get on the phone or in a room with any consultants you're considering hiring as quickly as you can in the process. You'll get a lot about how they work based on the questions they ask, the authority and confidence in their voice and their style of wrapping up the call. You'll also get a sense of their generosity. While consultants can't give it away for free, I expect that anyone meeting with me would walk away with some new and different ideas--that's just part of my "audition."

Be Up Front About Budget
No one likes to talk about money, and it doesn't need to come up right away. But at some point early on in the conversation, you should be asking the PR agency or consultant about their packages and pricing options so you can see if you're in alignment. And while you're at it, be up front about your budget with them so that you can make sure there's a mutual fit.

Ask About Other Clients & Check References
Ask your potential consultant or agency about other clients they've worked with and successes they have had. Allowing the person to talk about concrete successes gives them the opportunity to showcase their skills and you the opportunity to think about whether that's a good fit for you.

Obtain some references and check them. You'll not only find out about the consultant's capabilities; you'll also gain valuable insight into their process and the way they work. Even if the reference is glowing, dig into the process and communication that the client has with the consultant. Does it sound like something you'd want?

Ask About Media Relationships & Processes
The relationships that a PR person has with the media are important, but they're not the end-all be-all of PR. Ask them about their relationships, how they leverage them and how they forge new ones if your product is outside a space they're familiar with. They need to have a good answer about how they work with and introduce themselves to new media.

Be Aware of Contract Terms
Since starting up in 2010, we've always offered contracts with 30-day out clauses, because it has always seemed to me that businesses need the flexibility to make changes on relatively short notice. Being small and lean, this works for us--but there are lots of larger agencies that require 60 or even 90 day notice to leave. Pay attention to this. Also pay attention to payment terms.

Understand the Scope of The Proposal
We did away with hourly estimates in proposals long ago because we felt they pretty much told the client... nothing. So, we started giving a pretty specific scope around what a client could expect from us based on budget and goals. Make sure you understand the scope of your proposal, what happens if you make a change to scope and what the situation is if you go over the number of hours included (if that's how they measure). 

Be Clear About Your Objectives
When meeting with a prospective client, the first thing I ask about is what they've been doing, what's been working for them and what they're looking to do with future PR initiatives. PR strategy can vary greatly based on your objectives... a company looking to get funding might undertake a different set of targets and messaging than one who is looking to increase consumer brand awareness or position themselves as experts. If you're not clear on what you want, I can guarantee you, you'll be disappointed in your engagement with a PR consultant. While they can offer their opinion, their job is to use earned media to meet your objectives--not set them. Being vague with them handicaps them and sets you up for disappointment when your goals aren't met.

It all boils down to an open and honest relationship, right from the first meeting, that puts you and any potential consultant right on the same page and aligns you for success. But most importantly, trust your gut. As a consultant who's hired other consultants to work on my business, I can say that is consistently the most accurate detector of good or bad fit, so don't forget to check in with it!


Kristen Elworthy
How to Write Great Contributed Content

Contributed content can be a great avenue for brand awareness, establishing expertise or getting out a point of view or mission to a larger audience. What is contributed content? Simply, it's content that's written by a non-journalist (that'd be you!) and published somewhere other than the person's own platform. It differs from, say, a freelance article in that it has a definite opinion and POV and typically isn't held to the same journalistic standards of neutrality.

Some of the most prestigious outlets--particularly online--accept contributed content. Great examples include Entrepreneur, Inc., Business Insider and the Harvard Business Review. For many smaller companies, local papers are often looking for columnists. This can be a great way to establish expertise within your community. Each outlet has different guidelines for accepting pieces, from asking for a short pitch to asking for an entire complete piece to consider - and some are looking for regular contributions while others are OK with one-offs. Some have you go through a full editing process while others allow you to essentially self-publish.

We'll cover a bit more around how to find the best outlets for contributed content and how to weigh whether it's worth writing a contributed piece, but today we're getting down to basics: how to write a great contributed piece. As a consultant, I review and edit a lot of contributed client pieces to make sure they're best representing the client and providing something great to the outlet--something they'll want more of. Here's what I look for:

No Press Releases or Overly Promotional Content

While promotion is certainly a large motivator for providing contributed content, overly promotional or press release style content likely won't ever get by an editor--and even if it does, readers won't buy it. Instead, write something entertaining, useful, helpful, smart or funny. Let the promotion come naturally, in a short bio paragraph or link back within the piece that people won't be able to resist clicking on because it's just so good.

Perfect Spelling and Grammar

I try to hold contributed content up to the same standards that editors at my old newspaper jobs would have. Spelling and grammar errors will cause you to lose credibility as a contributor with the publication as well as with the readers. I highly recommend having someone you can trust to look over any contributed content you submit.

Useful, Organized and Succinct Content

Part of the trouble with contributed content is it typically is not coming from a professional writer. For many, writing doesn't come naturally. The best thing you can do is create an organized and succinct article, and if that doesn't flow from your fingers (it doesn't for most of us!) start with an outline and bullet points. Fill in the info from there and make sure it all makes sense before submitting it for publication. If the reader doesn't understand what they're reading, your work will be lost as they click tot he next article.

An Interesting POV

The proliferation of content from every corner of the universe also means that your topic of interest has likely been covered before. So what can you say or what perspective can you bring that's different? For example, if I see one more article about how the most successful people wake up before 5 AM, I will lose my mind. If a client suggested submitting that, I'd suggest brainstorming other ideas. For example, how to maintain energy levels when you wake up early, how to work in the fringe hours of the day, what to do if you're NOT a morning person (can you still be an executive power house if your best work is done at 1 am?).

Bring fresh content or an interesting POV to an overdone topic whenever you can. While overdone stories are obviously working well in terms of getting eyeballs, readers will space out quickly if you're simply providing info they've already heard.


It can't be overt, but we always make sure that the brand messaging is on point in a contributed piece. This means that the writing is consistent with your values as a brand. It means that the bio paragraph includes a relevant and interesting tidbit that relates back to the article and includes a link back to the site. It means that, while you're not doing a sales pitch, you're also not shooting yourself in the foot.

A Second Set of Eyes

If you work with a marketing or PR consultant or agency, absolutely have them review your contribute piece before you submit it. Barring that, have a trusted third-party to give your piece a read to ensure that there aren't any glaring errors, and to hopefully give you feedback in the other areas touched upon in this post.

Look for more info on contributed content, including how to decide whether a contributed piece is worth writing and where to find placements, coming soon on the blog!

Kristen Elworthy
How to Give a Great Phone Interview

When clients hire us for PR, their main goal is to get coverage of themselves or their brand in target outlets. For a lot of people, they think our job is to reach out to media and get a placement. True. But there's one step that typically comes between our pitch and the coverage: the interview. And that's something that we can't (usually) do for the client, so our job is to do the next best thing and prepare them to give an interview that gets their brand across, gives the reporter information so that they have an interesting story to pursue and include the client in the story, and feel good about the piece that results.

While we put together a custom media prep for most major interviews that our clients do, there are a lot of tips that can help you do a great interview. Today, we're starting with the most common interview you'll have to do: a phone interview with a reporter, which can range from a quick 15-minute chat to an hour or more of in-depth profiling. Next, we'll talk about TV interviews, which have a slightly different strategy. Here are our top tips for acing your next phone interview with a reporter:

Do Your Research

Your first step should be to check out what the writer or reporter has written in the past. Read his or her past few articles and scan through for any that take a similar angle to what you've pitched for yourself. Simply by doing this, you can get a sense of what the writer is most interested in or his or her style when interviewing. You can quickly sense whether the writer is more surface or in-depth. Check out how long the pieces are and how much space is given to quotes; this will help you understand how to-the-point you need to be with your answers. Fewer quotes, shorter story = make sure every word you say counts. If a little longer and more in-depth, you can get a bit more personal with your answers.

Create Talking Points... and Write Them Down

Prior to the interview, jot down a few talking points that you want to be sure you're covering in the interview. You're talking about something you're familiar with, so a note or two should suffice. The purpose of writing it down is to have something to reference if you're at a loss or the interview is winding down and you want to be sure you've gotten everything in.

... But Just a Few

Three or four talking points will do ya. Don't overdo it - the point of talking points is to give yourself a short, simple message to get across. This is also a great exercise in honing in on your message and what's most important to communicate. If you're working with a PR pro, they'll help you distill these.

Don't Be Afraid to Not Give an Answer

Don't give an answer if you're not sure of it. If you expect the interview will have lots of facts and figures, memorize those or have them available to you to ensure accuracy. If you're asked something you don't know, it's OK to tell the reporter you'll follow up with the right answer. (Just be sure to get their deadline so you get them the info on time!) 

If there's a question you simply don't want to answer at all, you have two options. First, you can pivot if the question is tangentially related to something else you'd like to discuss. Common phrases you'll hear in a pivot are things like, "That's an interesting question, and it brings up..." or "A lot of people focus on that, but in fact, the important thing is..."

The second option is to be straightforward and tell the reporter that's not a question you're comfortable answering or at liberty to discuss. For example, if someone were to ask you a question about personal income as a business owner, a good answer might be, "I don't share my personal financial information. I can tell you the company has experienced year over year growth of 20%."

Understand What "Off the Record" Means

A lot of inexperienced interviewers aren't sure what "off the record" really means. So they'll say, "This is off the record, but..." There are a few things to remember about "off the record." The first is, essentially, it means nothing. Ethically, if a journalist agrees to it, then they shouldn't publish what you said. Practically and technically, the only thing stopping them is their relationship with you and their not wanting to burn a bridge, so you need to remember that when deciding what to share in any way.

I always remind clients that if you'd be mortified to see it in print, DON'T SAY IT. Ever. Unethical behavior aside, mistakes and miscommunications happen all the time.

The second reminder is that the reporter has to agree to go off the record with you. The proper way to do this is to ask, "Can we go off the record for a moment here?" When the reporter says, "Sure," then you can go ahead and continue.

Follow Up After the Interview

As a PR pro, it's our job to follow up post-interview. This is usually a time when we remind the reporter of the client's website or other brand information, send a few additional stats or talking points if they weren't shared in the interview and provide any other follow up info, as well as find out when the story will run.

If you've been interviewed, you should perform the same follow up to ensure the reporter has everything they need. If you promised them anything during the interview, like a photo, be sure to get that to them before their deadline.

Don't Bait & Switch - Be a Good Interview

If your pitch has opened the door to an interview, then make it a good one. Don't bait the reporter with a promise of a juicy story and then try to turn into a commercial for your brand once you get on the phone. Understand that the job of a reporter is to get a good story-not to promote your brand-and the more that you can help them do so, the better your relationship with the reporter will be going forward.

Prioritizing by Context

As a PR pro, I am constantly consuming media as well as journalists' request, and it never ceases to amaze me how much is still being written on work/life balance. It seems to be the never ending quest we're all on. We pack our days full and then at the end feel off-kilter. I'm not a huge believer in day-to-day balance (to me, that's just punishing yourself every 24 hours for getting it wrong), but I do think that having an overall sense of balance over time is important. It was coming to terms with that fact that's allowed me to figure out the best way to manage my day is CONTEXT. It's sort of a combination of block scheduling and being present, and it requires you understand your strengths, weaknesses and limitations in any part of the day, but ever since I've become conscious of doing this, I've found that I end the days feeling more accomplished, less rushed and like I hit on my personal and professional priorities for the day.

Like lots of working parents, my day is a constant running to-do list. I often get made fun of for my lists, my schedule blocking and my focus on efficiency around my house (all of that can be found here), but the foundation for it all is the context of my day. I prioritize my day by context intuitively, but if it doesn't come naturally to you, it's pretty simple to do, and it'll really up your efficiency game. When you're thinking about your day (and I highly recommend doing this the night BEFORE to get it out of your head!), block it off into the things you cannot control - what your particular situation will be at any point in the day. 

Then, take your to-do list and figure out how it all fits in. What are you going to be best at doing at any one time? Here's an example for you of a typical day for me:

5 AM - Wake up and work out
My body hates working out once it's fully awake so I trick it by doing it early. Bonus: my kids are early risers so this time is usually spent watching Daniel Tiger anyways. Might as well let my husband do that while I get my workout on!

6:30 AM -8:30 AM - Get everyone dressed, fed and out the door for school
Here's where context comes in. I try not to do any work during these hours--not even checking email--because in the end, it slows me down and I'm not fully focused. What I do get done during this time is small household chores: laundry gets thrown in, bedrooms get straightened, blankets get folded, dishwasher gets loaded as I move about the house. That way those things don't nag during worktime and they fit into the flow or context of "getting ready."

8:30 AM - 3 PM - Work
Even within the workday, I contextualize. I try to hit my hardest tasks in the morning so they're out of the way and I'm "rewarded" by taking it easier when the hard stuff's out of the way. If I have meetings to drive to, I use the context of the car to return calls or listen to podcasts. Things I NEVER do in the work context: work out, watch TV, grocery shop, do chores. It's work - not free time - so I try to keep disciplined.

3 PM - 7:30 PM - Family Time
Once we reach pickup time, I'm in mom mode again. I consider late afternoon post-pickup the perfect time to run errands like going to the grocery store or doing a return at a store--things that I find pretty easy to do with my kids. I cook, I straighten, I do light work things to wrap up the day but make sure anything that requires concentration is done by then.

7:30 pm - 11 PM - Relaxing and Light Work
Context returns here. I tend to spend this time relaxing and sometimes doing light work. I specifically leave simple work tasks that don't require tons of brainpower for this time, because it's a time I use to catch up with my husband or watch TV. So, for example, I'll invoice or research or build media lists during this time. I won't write the copy for an entire website--my brain's too fried. Because I know this about the context of my day, I know which priorities on my to-do list can and cannot wait. I also can't do much housework at this point in the day, so I'll save something I can do in front of the TV, like folding laundry, for the evening.

Not every day is the same for me, of course, but I find that knowing myself and the context of the situation--what I can and can't accomplish based on what else is happening--is instrumental in helping me be as efficient as possible, being less frustrated by the circumstances around me and doing my very best work. So try it: sit down and figure out what's going on tomorrow, what makes most sense to do during each part of your day, and if it ups your efficiency.

The Art & Science of Timing a Pitch

In a meeting with a potential client a few weeks ago, the topic of an article that your company should have been in--but wasn't--came up. This is a cringe-worthy moment that has happened to pretty much every PR person. The fact is, no matter how much we try to work our contacts and pitch our clients, there are lots of reporters working on lots of stories--unbeknownst to us.

However, there's a special art and science we combine to increase our chances of getting featured in a relevant story, and this special combination is the reason that many companies hire a PR person, when it comes down to it. 

The science piece is in consistency. This means coming up with relevant, creative angles to consistently pitch to the right reporters, writers and producers working at outlets that serve your target demographic. While targets will not pick up on every pitch, by virtue of being in touch with them regularly with good ideas, we're keeping your company top of mind and helping to cement the brand and its messaging so when a relevant story does come up, we have a better chance of being part of it.

The art piece is the way we identify reporters and producers that are relevant to the client, and how we time our pitches. We look for people who, as we call it, are covering around the subject, but haven't covered the topic yet. If someone's already covered your topic, they're likely not doing another story on it anytime soon, if ever (with the exception of breaking or developing news that is covered excessively). Here, our job is to get you in front of the reporter with how you can fit into future stories--pitching other relevant angels and introducing your brand so you're not left out again.

But the magic really comes when we can find someone who's writing around a pitch topic we're working - someone who'd clearly be interested in it, but hasn't covered it yet. That's what we, as PR people, spend our days figuring out and it's the reason most people outsource their PR work. That timing - coming in with a fresh idea just as a writer is thinking about a topic - isn't an accident. It's the result of studying and following the right people to get in touch at just the right time.

The tricky part of PR is the inability to guarantee results. Those of us who have been doing this awhile can pretty quickly get a sense of a good story, of something that's going to fly with the media versus something that won't - we can guess. But the real work comes in tracking down, identifying and timing these pitches. If you're DIY'ing your PR efforts, we suggest you spend extra time tracking the outlets and writers who are most interesting to you and ensuring that you're keeping on top of what they're working on and when an opportunity might open up.

Staying Productive When You're Your Own Boss

I've had the privilege of being "my own boss" for nearly seven years now, working with clients in a variety of industries but working as an independent consultant or, today, small consultancy. I often hear, "You're so lucky you take any day off you want," from people, and that's sort of true. I feel really fortunate that in the end, I have control of my schedule. But in actuality, I have clients to answer to (as any business has the end user to answer to!) and there's not a big system in place to replace me if I'm out for a day or week.

In the end, whether you're working from home, your office or a shop, if you're a small business owner you are, on some level, working off your own drive and self-motivation. Yes, you can have flexible hours, but that work has to get done at some point, so you need to figure out when. Sure, you can decide on Tuesday that you'd rather Netflix and Chill but whatever you were planning to do then will still be undone on Wednesday. 

And ever since becoming a mom four years ago, I have become extremely focused about squeezing out every hour of productivity from my workdays possible, largely so I can spend more quality time with my children and be present for them during that time. To that end, I've come up with some strategies for business owners (or anyone really) who is looking for ways to amp up productivity that I truly believe allow me to get more work done in a single day than I once could do in two. Here's how I do it.

Take the Overwhelm Out of It

I've worked with dozens of small business owners, nonprofits and startups over the years. In most cases, these are people who are wearing a lot of hats and no matter how cool, calm and confident they are, there's a sense of overwhelm at times. My first productivity tip: being overwhelmed is a waste of your energy.

Whenever I'm feeling like there's way too much going on and I'm getting scattered, whether it's work, kids' schedules or trying to pull together a holiday dinner, I create a plan of action. That's my strategy for taking back the power of the situation. If that's what works for you, do it. Other ways to become less overwhelmed are: take a long look at your tasks and see what deadlines or timelines can be moved around; outsource something (cleaning, babysitting, virtual assistant work, anything); remove the things that aren't essential (there's always something); or go for a run (sometimes a mindset shift is all you need to tackle what otherwise seemed overwhelming).

Make Lists

I am the Queen of Lists, and I take plenty of ribbing for it, but it works for me. Ever since my first "real" post-college job, I've made it a habit of making a list each day as I finish work of what needs to be tackled the next day. This serves me well in three ways.

First, it enables me to take a quick run through what my tasks are for the day and upcoming days to ensure that nothing fell through the cracks so I don't walk in the next day to a missed deadline (nightmare!). 

Secondly, it allows me to walk away from the office and not think too much about work for the evening or my time off. I know that I've squared everything away and I have a plan of attack when I return.

Thirdly, it lets me walk into work the following morning ready to go. I don't need to spend a lot of time floundering around figuring out what I need to start with; I can jump right in.

I also make lists for personal stuff, chores, errands, stuff the kids need to have done. I usually work off a paper list for the day's tasks and electronic lists (via Asana for work and Google Calendar for calls and kids' appointments) for a full list of everything today and in the future. 

Block Schedule

I don't do this every day, but on days where the list is huge or certain projects are going to need to take up huge amounts of time, I create blocks in my day and assign projects or tasks to each one. This not only allows me to ensure that everything actually has time and space to get done, but it also gets me really focused to the task at hand. If I know I have allotted an hour or two hours to do something, I focus on hitting that deadline and am less likely to check Facebook or get otherwise distracted.

Focus on the Task at Hand

Like everyone else, I'm better at being present and focused on what's going on in the moment some days more than others. But overall, I really try to do the thing I'm supposed to be doing at the time I'm supposed to be doing it. At Sky Zone with my kids? I won't take a work call (though I do admittedly keep a general eye on emails.) Deep in a workday and heading to the kitchen for coffee? I'll rinse my mug but ignore that sink full of dishes that can be done while I'm cleaning up after dinner later on.

This sounds simple but a lot of people really struggle with it (I hear it all the time around working from home and avoiding housework!). And it does truly benefit not only your work productivity but also your ability to enjoy your downtime.

Group Like Tasks

There's nothing I love more than getting into the zone or on a roll. While we have clients across a variety of industries, we do many of the same tasks for each of them - ex., pitching the media, copywriting, social media management and the like. When it comes to work, I'll batch like tasks - either focusing on one client for a block or one function (e.g., updating everyone's social profiles or Facebook ads, or pitching the media for a number of clients) for an extended period of time. This allows me to get into the zone and not waste time switching my brain on and off the task at hand.

While I love my system, I am always on the hunt for new tips. Leave your best productivity tactic in the comments!


We're the first to admit that good design work cannot be rushed. Hiring a great designer for your logo, branding, website or other brand elements not only provides you with a more professional image, it can save you a lot of time and frustration. But in a time when we are pumping out tons of content on a daily basis, much of which has visual elements, we can't rely on a designer for everything we need. Every day, we find ourselves designing things like:

  • Social media graphics (Instagram, Facebook and more)
  • Email graphics or headers
  • Infographics
  • Coupons and flyers
  • Business cards

This type of design is so prevalent for small business owners, social media managers and marketing managers that we thought it was the perfect time to share some of our favorite tips, tricks and resources for getting good design done quickly and easily.

his "design for dummies" tool is by far our most frequently used designing resource. With both free and paid versions, Canva provides templates that take all the guesswork out of sizing your finished products for particular platforms or uses and allows you to export both web-ready and high-quality print ready end products. While lots of elements are free, we love the built-in affordable stock photography ($1 a pop) and upgraded templates that allow you to get nice-looking typography and image matches without a lot of design knowledge. (We used a ready-made template for the graphic at the top of this post, for example.) Also love that with an upgraded (yet still affordable) version, you can save images into different folders for quick access.

While less robust than Canva, we like PicMonkey for the specific task of simply stitching photos together. We use this all the time when we need a collage-type image for an email, Facebook header or the like. PicMonkey also has editing capabilities that are a bit more basic than Canva but still fun and easy to use.

Working with clients, we work with a whole bunch of different brand guidelines, and these include the specific brand colors. Colors are often delivered to us in RGB or CMYK configurations, where we need to often enter HEX (#XXXX) for colors in different web photo editing systems. We've found RGB to HEX to be the easiest way to get the conversion done quickly and easily.

Quick Brand Reference Sheets in Dropbox
Being organized is just as important with design and photo editing as it is for any other element of your business. There's nothing worse than constantly searching for your color values or just the right logo. That's why we like having a quick reference sheet for each brand. Organize everything into one online folder (shared on Dropbox if you're working with a team.) Include a quick reference sheet with color values and any notes about logo use, clearly labeled logos and any stock photos you use frequently.

Stock photos can get pricey and we all know that proper licensing is essential for image usage. We use Kozzi for stock photos to grab pics for around $1 each. Their library is well-stocked enough and easily searchable to make it an affordable alternative to expensive stock photo sites, especially for day-to-day design work.

So, don't let the day-to-day design work get you down - there's no reason to put out bad design with so many great, low-cost and free resources available. If you use others, we'd love to hear from you!



Hi everyone! Kristen here with an email that made my day, both because it made my life easier and because it gives me a chance to talk about really, really smart email marketing!

My daughter turned 4 last weekend, and coming up this weekend, she's got a birthday party featuring all her preschool friends. Having regained my sense of sanity since hosting this zoo/party last year, this year I decided to outsource and she'll be bouncing off the walls, quite literally, with 25 friends at an inflatable playground. I am already happy with this company as I have been assured that I basically just need to place appropriate food orders and show up, music to any mom's ears. 

But Monday morning as I sat down at my desk to map out my week, I threw in a few party to-do's. Order the cake. Order the pizza. Order the goody bag stuff off Amazon. Maybe 30 minutes of actual work, but I gave a little sigh as I added it onto the growing list. Around lunchtime, I opened up my personal emails and I found THIS.

Now, I was fully aware that this party venue offers pizza and cake and balloons and goody bags and all the things that you need to order on top of just booking a party... but I figured, I'll just call the pizza place I like, and pick up a cake on the way to the party that I order a few days in advance, and go to the party store to pick out balloons... you get the gist.

And then, I got this email. And it was all mapped out for me: balloons, pizza, goody bags, even the option for characters to visit the party. And, it was delivered on Monday morning, right when I was getting my to-do list together, but before I'd had the chance to actually do anything. Perfect. Timing. I know that they'll be calling me later this week to confirm party details and when they do, I'll just order everything. Done.

And THAT is how you do effective email marketing. I'm already a customer, of course, but they probably just increased my spend with them by 60% with a single, well-timed email. Genius. Here are three takeaways from my bouncy party email marketing experience:

1. Don't forget your old friends.
While Cowabunga's is, I'm sure, focused on continuing to book parties with new customers, they were so smart to invest in creating this funnel for customers who've already booked. It cost them practically nothing to market to me once the email is created. I'm already in their space, so there's no additional overhead--just profit.

2. Timing is everything.
Whenever we put together an email for a client, we try to get into the minds of the target audience to figure out when they'll need that information. Of course, over time, you can inform some of this with data from your email marketing system - when you get the best opens, etc. But a lot of it is just logic. If you know a parent is planning a party for the weekend, you know the week before is going to be filled with random errands. Send the email before they start them. Put yourself in the audience's shoes and decide when they'd need this info in order to act on it.

3.  Include a Call to Action.
OK, Cowabunga's, there's one thing you got wrong. How do I redeem these coupons? Where's the phone number or link to an online order form? I scanned the email several times without any success, which means I'll have to look them up to give them a call. Don't make your customers do that. Include a clear call to action, like "Call us at 555-555-5555 to place your order!" or "Click here to place your order" so that the customer can act immediately. (Quick update: The day after I received the email, Cowabunga's called me to confirm my details and see if I wanted to add anything to the order, and that's when I chose the add-on's. Still, it would have been good to have a way to be proactive if I so chose!)

Admittedly, an inflatables playground is the last place I expected to get a great marketing lesson this week, but often these great examples come from really unexpected places. This is the perfect reminder that you don't need to spend a ton or even work that hard if you set up smart, automated marketing systems to generate and nurture your leads. If you've got any email marketing examples that have really impressed you lately, I encourage you to post them in the comments!


As a business owner, what's the point of blogging? While there can be multiple objectives, like branding or having a place to showcase projects or news, the main objective for most companies in their blogging programs is inbound marketing. In other words, capturing people who are searching on the terms that describe your product or service and getting them to read your post and, hopefully, take the next step - whether that's following you on your social networks, signing up for your email newsletter, contacting you about a project or simply buying something from your site.

Writing great blog content is hard, but not insurmountable... but a lot of business owners get stuck when it comes to figuring out how to get (the right) people to read their blogs. We've worked in a variety of blog and content programs for clients, and over the years we've developed some tried and true methods for driving qualified traffic to blog posts. Today, we're dishing them with you.

Paid Social Media Marketing
Recently, we were able to quadruple a client's website traffic over the course of a month by utilizing a super relevant, content-heavy post and a single Facebook ad of $10 per day, targeted very specifically to those who'd be interested in both the post and the client's product. 

Paying to promote your blog posts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and now even Pinterest can pay off big in terms of traffic, and best of all is the fact that all these networks cost very little to test. You'll want to ensure that the content you're pushing is relevant and interesting, and preferably not super promotional. When choosing a network, think about where your audience resided. LinkedIn is best for B2B where Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are more B2C. Pinterest has been known to perform particularly well for topics like weddings, home decor and food, so doing a little research on where people interested in your content hang out is a good first step.

Bonus Tip: Before investing in social ads, be sure that your page is optimized to capture leads. Content marketing is a top-of-the-funnel tactic, so you'll want to give readers the opportunity to engage with your company further through your email newsletter, social channels, special offers for handing over their email address or other lead captures. You'll know your funnel is working if your bounce rate (people who leave after viewing a single page) is well; if it's high, you'll want to rethink what you're putting out there.

Email Marketing
We have a client for whom we create a monthly summary of the blog posts, using catchy headlines, prioritizing by interest or relevance and summarizing each post in a few sentences with the opportunity to click through. This helps us establish the clients as experts in their fields in the eyes of their clients as well as leads directly to new sales in some cases, where clients reply to the email looking for more information. 

While posts are promoted throughout the month on social networks, this gives us a chance to reach the entire database. Open rates for this email are often higher than more promotional emails, as are click-throughs.

Re-posting on LinkedIn or Medium
Depending on your goals for your blog, reposting the content on a channel like LinkedIn or Medium can be a great ways to get your message across for more people. The one drawback to posting on another, highly-ranked site like these is that those posts may pop up in a Google search more highly ranked than the original post. However, if your goal is less about SEO and more about trying to get your content read and out there, this is a great way to repurpose it across platforms. 

Food for Thought: In some cases, such as establishing yourself as a thought leader or expert, focusing on platforms like LinkedIn or Medium rather than a personal or business blog can be a smart move.

Guest Posting
Guest posting isn't as effective a medium as it once was in terms of SEO, but in terms of getting your own content in front of a variety of new audiences, it can be a great opportunity. Guest post opportunities abound, from larger, more traditional media like Entrepreneur to smaller blogs, like those of partners or colleagues in your industry.

By guest posting, you take your own content and get it in front of a fresh audience, just by virtue of posting in a new place. Guest posts usually feature a link back to your site, bio and social handles to give interested readers a way to follow you directly if they like what you've written, so be sure to put your best stuff forth for these guest posts.

Utilizing Video
It's probably not news to you that video content is king for social networks like Facebook, but maybe you haven't thought about how to use it to drive traffic to your content. Consider creating supplemental video or Facebook Live broadcasts that relate to the content you're posting on your blog. Link directly to it and utilize the fact that video is ranking organically high to help get low- or no-cost eyeballs on your blog content.

Productivity Tools for SMBs.png

As small business owners who work with many small and medium-sized businesses, startups, and non-profits, we love us a good online tool. When you don't have a big IT department, spending time installing tools or dealing with glitches is a killer. That's why we like to keep it in the cloud with these easy-to-use online tools for productivity, scheduling and basic functionalities that have been pretty life-changing for us. They not only save us time, they make us better at our job. 

Working with a variety of clients every month, it would be nearly impossible to keep our heads on straight about what needed to be done when without structure, and that's what many of these tools are about. They also help us meet our goals for clients, which typically involves spreading their message and story as wide as possible to help brand awareness, sales or any number of other macro and micro goals.

So without further ado, here's a list of the tools we just can't live without! 

Canva for Making Things Pretty, Oh-So-Pretty
We've discussed our love for this online design tool on the blog before. We are NOT designers, but we love that Canva has made it easy for us to create professional, beautiful graphics for our clients when it comes to social posts, the occasional infographic and the like. While we leave the big stuff (websites, branding, etc.) to the professional designers, Canva has really amped up our game in terms of the look and feel of our clients' social presences and allowed us - just for a moment! - to feel like we are designer extraordinaires.

Google Alerts for Keeping an Eye on the Marketplace
You have a Google Alert set up for your business name, right? How about your competitors or other essential keywords or terms? If you don't have the budget for a fancy media monitoring service - and in most cases, that's totally not necessary! - Google Alerts are THE way to go. You can't beat listening to the media through alerts automatically delivered to your inbox every day or in real time. Google Alerts are a great way to develop a list of reporters covering your beat, check up on your industry, listen to what others are saying about you and make sure you know the moves of your competitors.

Asana for Ensuring We Never Miss a Beat
As busy Type-A kinda people, we worship at the altar of Asana. If it's not in Asana, it doesn't exist. The FREE version of this system is plenty robust, allowing you to set up projects, tasks, due dates, recurring tasks, assign things, get a holistic view of every project and even add notes and files to a to-do. But what we love most is that it's simple to use, which means you don't spend a lot of time managing your to-do list (a false sense of productivity if there ever was one!).

Buffer for Keeping Social On Track
There are lots of great social scheduling tools out there, and each of them have their own set of pros and cons -- many are great for one industry, terrible for another. (We strongly suggest you try a few out before committing.) But we've got to give a shout-out to a new fave, Buffer. Buffer makes it super easy to see what's happening across your networks and saves tons of time by optimizing your posts for the best time of day, showing you what's performing well, who's engaging and allowing you to re-post in a single click, and having a kick-ass plug-in that allows you to grab content across the web. Their customer service is also to-die-for, with some of the fastest response time, most manageable explanations and positive attitudes we've witnessed.

Dropbox for Keeping Us Sane, Organized & Spill-Proof
If you live in a world where you fear spilling coffee on your computer, you've got to just move your files to Dropbox. While we (like any responsible business owners) have file backup on our computers, we also do  most of our work out of Dropbox so that we can collaborate and be working off the same info. The added benefit is being able to access work files from anywhere and not stressing about that inevitable soak-down our computer is going to get - as long as we can get to an Internet connection, we'll still have our files while we figure it out.

PressRush, Anewstip, Twitter Lists & HootSuite for Monitoring Conversations
There are a million ways to monitor the conversations happening on social, which are often very different from those happening in the media. We like to do a combination of different techniques. The first and easiest thing to do is to set up some private lists in Twitter to pare down the people you're following into specific categories (ex., mom blogs, Boston media, TV reporters, influencers, power users). That way, when you have something to say, you can quickly look at the conversations going on in the relevant user groups.

HootSuite allows you to do a similar thing, but provides the opportunity to also create monitoring of keywords and hashtags, so you can scroll through conversations with ease. (Pro tip, you can also monitor your Twitter lists in HootSuite.) You can do a lot with HootSuite's free plan.

And we utilize PressRush and Anewstip often to search journalist conversations on social media, particularly Twitter, or check out who's been writing on a particular topic lately. Both have great free versions and are super simple to use - we encourage you to check them out.


There is so much media out in the world right now that it can be completely overwhelming to figure out how to find the right reporters, writers or producers to cover your company. Public relations is a delicate balance: you need to find an outlet and a writer that reaches your target audience AND who feels you have something interesting enough to say that you make sense to write about.
When we start working with a new client, the first thing we do is research. We Google, search Twitter and use our media database to find reporters who we think are likely to cover our clients, see what they’ve written in the past and create a media list that includes their contact information, notes about prior coverage and our communications record with them. After doing this process for dozens of clients, here are our top 5 tips for finding reporters to cover your company.
1. Determine Who’s Covering Your Beat
If you haven’t gone to journalism school or aren’t a news geek, you may not realize that most reporters and producers cover a specific beat. This can be a geographical beat (very common for smaller newspapers, for example) or a topical beat (tech, startups, food, etc.). Once you understand this, it becomes easier to spot patterns in coverage and determine which reporters are consistently producing content on topic areas that align with your organization.
A few things to keep in mind:

  • Beats can go from general to specific. We like to note any particular quirks in a writer’s beat when we notice them, like specific categories they cover frequently or weekly columns, for example.
  • It’s often easy to find a reporter’s beat in their official bio or Twitter bio. They usually spell out their interests, so don’t overthink it.
  • The reporter’s beat should lead the style and content of your pitch. For most of our clients, we are pitching reporters working more than one beat – for example, entrepreneurship AND food – but we make sure to give the reporter the relevant info, not just a boilerplate pitch. What would they care about?

2. Check Out Who Competitors are Interacting with on Social
Aside from just finding writers who are clearly working relevant beats, another great way to source fresh reporters is to check out your competitors’ social media accounts. What reporters or media outlets are they following, who’s following them, and who are they interacting with?
This is a huge tip-off to who might be likely to cover your industry in the near or distant future, and you should get acquainted with relevant reporters before the story happens and you’re no a part of it.
3. Search for Stories That Are Similar – But Not the Same – As Yours
Pitching a reporter on a story they’ve already done is tempting. If they covered a competitor, why wouldn’t they want to cover you? But the fact of the matter is that most reporters will cover a topic once – after that, you need a fresh spin on the matter to gain coverage.
Instead of looking for stories that you “could have been” a part of, try seeking out stories that cover topics tangentially related to what your company does or the messaging you’re looking to put out. For example, if you’re pitching a summer angle on a food trend, you don’t want to pitch reporters who’ve already written that story. But finding writers who have covered seasonal food trends or summer farmer’s markets gives you an entrée into the pitch and a way to provide a new angle or value.
4. Keep Tabs on Twitter
Twitter is extremely helpful for media list research. Follow the reporters, writers and producers on your media list and create a filter to check out their tweets in an individual feed (using social media management tools) so you can keep up on their interests. Create separate categories of hashtags and keywords that are relevant to your business and keep tabs on that to ensure you’re not missing any topical reporter queries.
You can also use Twitter to research the right contacts if you already have a target outlet in mind. For example, searching “New York Times parenting reporter” or “WCVB assignment editor” may lead you to the Twitter handle of the right person.
5. Be Helpful
Once you’ve curated your media list, find ways to be helpful to them and develop relationships. On occasion, this may have no immediate benefit to you. Perhaps you’ve received interesting stats that are relevant to their beat, come across an infographic or met an expert that would make a great source for an upcoming story. See a story you’d like to have been included in? Introduce yourself to the reporter and provide value-added info – not to convince them to add you or rewrite the story (not gonna happen) but to help them in the future.


We manage lots of blogs and social media accounts for clients, and there is one huge key for ensuring that everything gets done on schedule and with the right focus: editorial calendars. If you're just starting to blog or schedule social media for your business, or you feel you've had a hard time being consistent with your blogging or social media posting, an editorial calendar is key to your success.

What is an Editorial Calendar?
In its most basic form, an editorial calendar is simply a list of the topics you'll be covering and the dates you'll be covering them. It can be as detailed or as high-level as works for you. We like to keep our calendars in Excel spreadsheets (more on what we track later!) but you could also simply enter them into your Google Calendar, your to-do list software, keep them on a whiteboard or in a Word document - whatever works for you.

The key is that you are planning out your content in advance. Whether it's a week, a month or a year, this planning process is the key to successful and consistent content.

Why Keep an Editorial Calendar?
We wouldn't dream of creating content without an editorial calendar. Here's why:

  1. It keeps you organized. An ed cal means that topics or important milestones (ex., a holiday that ties into your product or service) aren't forgotten, and that your deadlines are set forth.
  2. It staves off writer's block. If you haven't been consistent about writing blog or social content, we'd be willing to bet that the main reason is you dread sitting down at the computer and figuring out what to write about. By having that set up for you in advance, you simply have to sit down and create content - much less intimidating!
  3. It saves time. Like anything else, batching is key here. If you sit down and plan out a month or two of content at a time while you're in the right mindset, the process will go much more quickly than if you try to spend 20 minutes every day or week trying to do the same thing. At some point, you simply get into the flow.
  4. It allows you to outsource. If you are planning to outsource any of your content, having a solid editorial calendar helps you do that easily while still maintaining control over the content.

What Should Your Editorial Calendar Look Like?
Like anything else in life, you've got to make this work for you. We're sharing our editorial calendar strategy here, but if this is too detailed - or not detailed enough! - for you, or you'd prefer having your ed cal in something other than a spreadsheet, make this work for you. The important part is having a process. Here's how we do it for both blogging and social:

Blog Editorial Calendar
For a blog editorial calendar, we use a spreadsheet with the following details:

  • Posting date (the date the blog will go live)
  • Deadline date (the date by which the content needs to be complete for approval by the relevant parties)
  • Topic (we use general topic tags here so we can be sure we are diversifying content)
  • Title (we plan out the blog title - like "5 Ways to Increase Your Facebook Followers")
  • Keywords (we often include keywords that will double as the tags for the post)
  • Category (if the client is using Categories on the blog, we may also include the categories that will be tagged)
  • Notes (this is the place we put miscellaneous details on the topic that we need to remember)

Social Media Editorial Calendar
For a social ed cal, we are less detailed on each item because the content is shorter, but still recording as much helpful info as possible to get the posts batched quickly. (And when we are done with the ed cal in the spreadsheet, we simply copy/paste the posts into our social scheduling system like HootSuite.)

  • Post Date
  • Post Day of Week
  • Topic (ex., "Tip Tuesday" or "Taco Tuesday" if it's a food client, "Promo" or "Shared Content")
  • Content (the actual copy we're posting)
  • Image (if applicable - we include the file name of the image so we can find it quickly. We store all our social files in a specific folder for fast posting and we get these done during the editorial process)
  • Notes (again, if there's anything we need to remember when posting, like "tag XYZ on Facebook")

How to Use Your Editorial Calendar
Once you've set up your calendars, using them is simple. First, you've got to be consistent about batching your content. Whether you do it weekly, monthly, quarterly or even yearly, you need to set that task in your calendar and sit down to do it.

Then, you've got to set your deadlines (whether that is scheduling social or writing blog content) into your to do manager or calendar so that you follow through with the tasks on your editorial calendar.

And finally, you've just got to do it. You'll have your content mapped out for you, and now's the time to just get that content done. Give it a try and let us know how it works - does creating an editorial calendar help you get more done when it comes to content?


Hi everyone, Kristen here to talk a little bit about the early says of SHC. (Not called SHC back then, just called "Kristen Elworthy, girl with a plan.") We work with lots of new business owners or small business owners and we talk to a lot of people who want to own their own business or work for themselves some day, and one thing people always ask is how we got started. I think that's one of the hardest humps to get over when you work for yourself: getting the first client. The first person who will pay you to do whatever it is you do, not through a company you work for, but as yourself.

And to everyone who asks, I always say that it's a little easier than it sounds and less intimidating too. Assuming you have the skills, getting your first client just takes some patience, endurance and HUSTLE. Eventually, your business will get to a point where you'll get referrals or you'll network and learn to listen for when someone really needs your product or services, but at first, I say, go for the low-hanging fruit. Go out and find people or companies who are already looking for help. 

How'd I get my first client--my first few, in fact? Craig's List job postings. I found some writing gigs on Craig's List and one of them--as the client learned more about me and my background--quickly stepped up into a PR gig and a regular retainer client. (They remain an SHC client today, more than 5 years later!) At another, I went into what was basically a cattle call for a full-time marketing person and explained to them how I could do what they needed at a higher level, for less money because I wouldn't be full-time. 

Applying to gigs or jobs at first and then working those relationships to turn them into retainer clients helped me learn what the pain points of my client base would be. I was also able to hone my pitch around the value I added as a consultant as opposed to a full-time employee. Some of the postings were looking for FT and I really got a chance to explore how some or all of that work could be done in a consultant capacity. 

Getting your first client or two by looking at job listings may seem counterintuitive. Um, aren't you trying to get OUT of that full-time job in an office working for other people thing? Well, no! A few reasons this works so well:

1. If you think you won't be working for someone anymore, then think again! As I always like to remind people when they envy the "flexibility" that comes with your own business - someone is paying the bills, right? No matter what you do, that person/people have expectations of you!

2. You can find your niche. I found mine - helping smaller and mid-size businesses, startups and nonprofits - because I found that I was nimble and able to work in a way similar to an employee while functioning as a consultant. That was a major part of my pitch and it still is. Smaller companies need that flexibility, and bigger agencies can't always provide it to them.

3. You get used to rejection. Listen, it happens. It's kind of like dating. You're not going to be the right fit for everyone and doing this type of outreach and pitching helps you get used to learning what the best fit is for you and not letting it get you down when sometimes the client doesn't choose you!

A lot of people build up this idea of getting their first client into a big, scary event with lots of awkward networking nights or sales pitches. It's true - those are really legit ways to get clients, actually! - but in fact, looking for people who are looking for your skills already is a fantastic way of warming up, learning your sales pitch and figuring out what makes you unique when you first start. Eventually, business development will become second nature, but to start, it's great to have a built-in reason to call or email a customer.

So that's it - my one hack for getting over the hump of the first client when you go out on your own: the job listings!

PS - After a couple of years of solo consulting, I grew, SHC became official - and then business development started taking on an official strategy that included lots of networking, blind introductions and even more HUSTLE to get us where we are today and continue to grow to. The tactic above? A hack, not a strategy, but it's a great way to get started!

We'd love to know - how did YOU get your first client or customer? Was it easier or harder than you thought? Let us know in the comments!


So often at Seven Hills, we have clients who come to us because they see a story and say, “I should have been in there!” It’s inevitable–and it happens to almost everyone. Lots of people think of PR as a way to bring story ideas to reporters–and that’s part of it. But just as important is making sure that your company or brand is mentioned when it’s appropriate in other stories.

Let’s face facts: in order to ensure that you appeared in every relevant story would mean you’d need to have a psychic hotline directly to reporters on your beat. Not happening. But while it’s impossible to know everything every reporter is considering reporting about, we here at SHC follow a few principles to help maximize our clients’ chances of appearing in relevant stories.

  • Knowledge of the landscape: The first thing you need to do is get a read on the media landscape for your industry (who writes about you) and monitor it. Set up Google alerts, put stuff in your reader, follow people on Twitter and ensure that you’re paying attention to what people are writing about so you can react when you need to.
  • Introductions: We very often will do basic introductions of new clients to the reporters on their relevant beat when we first take them on or when there’s a relevant news event happening. We’re not always pitching a story: we’re just letting them know that if and when they’re writing on the topic, they should keep us in mind. This helps avoid those, “Why weren’t we in that story?” moments later on. Most times, you’re not there because the reporter doesn’t even know you exist!
  • Joining listservs and monitoring social media: Everyone responsible for pitching media should be subscribing to HARO, probably the most popular place for journalists to put out calls for sources (and free!). You can also email relevant reporters and ask them to be added to their lists. Not all of them do this but many beat reporters will add good potential sources to blasts they send looking for sources on particular stories. Follow beat reporters on Twitter and keep tabs on relevant hashtags and search terms – reporters will often seek sources via social media.
  • Following up after a miss: Got one of those stories you “should have” been in? Be sure to follow up with the reporter and introduce yourself. They won’t write the same story again, but if they’ve written on a topic once, chances are they’ll revisit in the future and it’s important to be top of mind.
  • Shaping the message after an interview: When you finally do score that interview, part of the job of a good PR consultant is to do the relevant prep, arming you with the right messaging points, AND the relevant follow-ups, driving that messaging home with the reporter after an interview (when it’s not live of course). Getting across the right message is a large part of the value of appearing in a story. You can’t guarantee what a reporter will use, but with the right prep and good, relevant messaging you’re a big part of the way there!

We want to hear from you: what was that cringeworthy time that you realized you had missed out on a big press opportunity?


Today's post is a little bit different - we're going to leave the tips and tricks for getting your small business message across and focus on you for a minute. Because, as it turns out, we're also small business owners (like you) and (like you) we have a lot of challenges that are unrelated to business. In fact, ( you!), work challenges are often the easiest to navigate.

When you're running a business of any size, there are a lot of demands on your time. While lots of people will envy the flexibility you have (and rightly so!) in "not answering to a boss," you're still answering to someone in order to keep your business afloat. And when you can (theoretically) take a vacation at any time, this vacation can also be interrupted at any time as you remain just a little bit plugged in to be sure everything's running smoothly.

All this is to say, that it can sometimes be tough to take care of yourself when you're running a business. And (like you!) we are more than just business owners. We're moms, spouses, friends, we have hobbies and interests and other things that take up our time. But after getting sick a couple of times this winter, I personally made a resolution to take better care of myself. With two small kids and a company and clients to take care of, it wasn't like I was making weekly spa appointments. But, I was able to implement a few small changes - and I feel better already! Thought it was worth sharing them today because these are small steps any business owner (or busy person in general!) can take that aren't going to put a big dent in your time or budget but will give you a big boost on how you feel.

Drinking Water
I know, it's so obvious it shouldn't even be on this list. Except it's not. I found myself running around downing coffee, handing over my cups of water to my kids and never refilling for myself - you know the drill. So I did two things: (1) I bought a really pretty and (this is key!) easy to clean water bottle that I keep filled at all times, and (2) I went out and stocked up on seltzer and herbal teas. Because even when I don't feel like drinking straight water, I almost always am up for one of these. I try to have something hydrating with me at all times, and I feel 100% better throughout the day.

Building a Library of 30-Minute, At-Home Workouts
Like many people, I feel a ton better when I move. Winters in New England are way too cold to get a walk or even a run in (for me, anyways!) and I hate wasting time driving to and from the gym. I also like to work out at about 5 am, before the day gets ahead of me. So I've built a great library of workouts that are about 30 minutes or so, suit a variety of my moods and can be done in my living room. These range from tabata, AMRAP and bodyweight workouts that I have bookmarked on my browser to a Daily Burn subscription to T25 DVDs. I pick my workout the night before, lay out workout clothes and just get it done with the alarm goes off.

Taking Care of My Skin
Maybe it's winter, maybe it's age - but I think all of us have times when our skin does not look so great. I was stumbling into bed after using a makeup wipe every night and it just wasn't cutting it. Like many things, accessibility was key here, so I added super hydrating lip balms to the pocket of all my jackets, put a night cream that had been sitting in the drawer on top of the counter, and started doing a skin regimen right after the kids went to bed (ensuring that it didn't get tossed aside at 11 pm when I was too tired).

Everyone's outsourcing needs are different, whether they are business or personal related. House cleaners, babysitters, landscapers, freelancers, virtual assistants - they're all options. I made a list of the things that were my biggest time sucks AND that I disliked doing and figured out ways to outsource those. It's removed stressed and freed up time for what I want (or need) to get done each week.

Cutting Down on Evening Work Time
We all do it. Every single one of us sits in front of that episode of Scandal answering emails or building spreadsheets or invoicing. Personally, I then find I have no idea what happened on Scandal, or what my husband just asked me... and also my eyes are burning from too much computer time. So I reworked my week with the goal of only working more than 30 minutes at night once or twice a week. (I found that cutting myself off completely was actually stressful, so a quick email check-in and list for the following day is the routine most nights.)

Giving Up the Guilt
My kids did not have handmade Valentine's Day cards. Sometimes on Saturday I need to go to Starbucks to concentrate on work for two hours instead of to the bouncy house place. Sometimes I have to take a day off because I (or someone else) is sick or because Disney on Ice is in town. All of these might have sent me into a guilt spiral a month ago, but as it turns out, waking up every day and taking the best care you can of your family and your clients means everyone is happy with you, whether there's glitter on the Valentine's Day cards or you bought them at Walgreens.

Writing All This Down
Probably the most important component of sticking to this for the past month or so has been writing all of this down for myself and checking in with myself frequently to make sure I'm actually doing it. It's not perfect, it's not 100%, but it's a lot better than forgetting to take care of yourself when you get too busy, and it's simple to do. 

Take Care!
- Kristen