Seven Hills Communications
Small Business Marketing & Public Relations


Small Business Marketing & PR Advice

Posts tagged entrepreneurship
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.


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!