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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.

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!

QUICKIE DESIGN HACKS FOR NON-DESIGNERS

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.

Canva
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.

PicMonkey
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.

RGB to HEX
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.

Kozzi
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!

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MY ONE HACK FOR GETTING YOUR FIRST CLIENT

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!

SELF-CARE FOR ENTREPRENEURS (AND OTHER BUSY PEOPLE)

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, (probably...like 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).

Outsourcing
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