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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 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.

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!

5 WAYS TO GET YOUR BLOG POSTS READ

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.

PR TIPS: 5 WAYS TO FIND REPORTERS TO COVER YOUR COMPANY

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.

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!