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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.

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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LIFE-CHANGING ONLINE TOOLS TO SAVE TIME & BE BETTER AT YOUR JOB
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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.

EDITORIAL CALENDARS FOR BLOGS & SOCIAL MEDIA

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?

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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!