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Author Archives: Stephanie Shirley

About Stephanie Shirley

Stephanie Shirley is the owner of Bennis Public Relations, Inc. A graduate of Penn State University, Stephanie holds degrees in Public Relations and Advertising and Communications, Arts and Science. Together, these degrees have adequately prepared her for a career in communications, but there is no degree that could have prepared Stephanie for the unpaved path of an entrepreneur. Stephanie’s journey toward business ownership is a true reminder that often we do not choose the path, the path chooses us. Read more about her at http://www.bennisinc.com.

At the Intersection of Passion and Purpose

10494784_10202231742782727_9108465356469470019_nOver the last two years, I’ve taken my casual relationship with running and turned it into something more dedicated and committed. I feel stronger than I ever have in my life as I embrace this newfound passion for pushing my limits and accomplishing what I had always deemed “too hard” or “too uncomfortable.”

My passion for running and fitness couldn’t have peaked at a less expected time in my life. For 9 months of the past two years, I spent pregnant with my first son. And for another 13 months, I spent recovering postpartum and juggling the schedule of a breastfeeding, cloth diapering, baby food making, Hybrid Mom. Though I had what could have been a laundry list of excuses to skip workouts, I found myself looking forward to this sacred time in my day where I could refocus and reprioritize even during life’s most challenging moments.

Fitness had always been a part of my life, but what has made this new chapter so different is that instead of working out because I hated my body, I was doing it because I loved my body. A run wasn’t something I drudged through just to check off my to-do list for the day. It was personal time that I savored for as long as I could, throwing on extra miles and pushing myself to run faster to make the most of my time pounding the pavement. I was starting to see amazing results, running consistently under 7:30 min/miles for runs of 8+ miles and feeling like I had barely tapped into my potential.

Then, just as it does every year, fall turned into winter and the bitter, icy conditions forced my outdoor running into hibernation. At first I missed it like a best friend that moved away. Then I went stir crazy. I was stuck in the house with my infant son all day with no desirable way for us both to burn off some energy. My husband was in tune to my frustration and how much my lack of physical fitness affected my mood. At first, he hinted and then strongly suggested I try at least ONE class at CrossFit Pneuma, a CrossFit gym located merely steps from where we live. It took several months (and several miserably cold road runs) to convince me that I needed another outlet to fuel my passion during the “off months.”

My first class took half the time of what I would spend running, yet I was out of breath, sore and unable to do even one more burpee (wasn’t that evil to start me off with those?). So THIS was High Intensity Interval Training?! For the past 8 months, my passion for both CrossFit and running have progressed as steadily as my performance. I’ve completed both crazy and impressive workouts and am no longer intimated by a barbell (I have the calluses on my hands to prove it). Even with the much anticipated return of warmer weather, I couldn’t imagine leaving the CrossFit community now. Running fuels my independent athleticism while CrossFit provides the element of teamwork that pushes me further than I ever would on my own.

This is only the back story of my personal passion that now leads me to a big decision I have made in the past several weeks. Staying in shape has made me a happier mother and wife and a harder working entrepreneur, but I still felt as though it was lacking an element of purpose considering all the time and effort I put into this passion on a daily basis. Do I have anything to show for it greater than myself? I struggled with this question.

Then an answer presented itself – and I now stand at the intersection of passion and purpose.

Photo from last year's GORUCK Challenge

Photo from last year’s GORUCK Challenge

On Saturday, August 9, right about the time the sunrises, I will join a small team of fellow inspired athletes as we partake in a GORUCK challenge. We will endure 5+ hours of PT under the direction of an experienced Special Operations Cadre as we complete “missions” across Pennsylvania’s capital city. We will walk 7-10 miles while carrying things like boulders, cement parking curbs and telephone poles. We will get wet, muddy, sandy and maybe even a little bloody. And we will do it all while wearing a backpack full of bricks. This is not a race – it’s about teamwork. It’s not about facing the limitations of what you can’t do – it’s about pushing through them to discover what you can.

Photo from last year's GORUCK Challenge

Photo from last year’s GORUCK Challenge

This event is a vehicle for me to take my passion for fitness and pair it with a purpose much greater than myself. Starting now and through the challenge, I will be fundraising for Uplifting Athletes, a national nonprofit that raises money for rare disease research. Read more about my very personal connection to this cause on my fundraising page.

Asking for donations (even for charitable giving) isn’t something I’m comfortable with. I’m not used to not being in complete control of reaching my goals. Usually, it’s solely my hard work and efforts that earn me the prize, but for this challenge, I’m relying on you, my family, friends and acquaintances to get me to the $1,000 mark. This is all the more reason why it’s so important for me to take on this challenge. It will push me outside my comfort zone physically, mentally and emotionally. And most importantly, it will prove that my passion can have a greater purpose.

Photo from last year's GORUCK Challenge

Photo from last year’s GORUCK Challenge

Please take a moment to visit my fundraising page. Any donation would be a generous show of support for this challenging adventure and for the rare disease community. If you’re unable to donate, consider simply reading more about the mission of Uplifting Athletes so that you might be inspired to find a way to uplift someone around you who is fighting their own battle.

Together…WE ARE…Stronger!

-Stephanie

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2014 in Life

 

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5 Ways to Build Your Personal Brand

personal brand

Whether you’re the business owner or the intern, building a personal brand is a powerful way for employees at all levels to increase their credibility and showcase their expertise. Everyday people have become celebrities all because of how they positioned their personal brand on social media and beyond.

We each have the ability and access to all the tools we need to start building our own brand today – and it’s quite simple! Here are five essential steps for building a strong and influential personal brand.

1. Define your area expertise

First and foremost you have to be able to clearly define your personal brand. Otherwise, how can you expect anyone else to? A powerful component of your personal brand is your area of expertise. Don’t be intimidated by the word “expert.” This doesn’t mean you need to be the most knowledgeable person in the world on a subject. Rather, you simply need to identify a subject that you know a lot about and for which you have passion.

2. Adopt a tagline

Once you know the personal brand you want to build for yourself, the next step is to clearly communicate it to the world. Just as a business adopts a tagline, so should you. Having a personal tagline might sound cheesy – and it can be – but only if you choose a cheesy tagline. If the personal brand you want to create for yourself is more professional and serious, there are endless options for a tagline that will also reflect this tone.

Once you’ve established a tagline, put it to use! Incorporate it into your personal website, blog, business cards and email signature. Use it when introducing yourself at networking events or in business meetings to quickly and clearly communicate who you are. A tagline will help keep your brand consistent and make it memorable.

3. Embody your brand from head to toe

While you may get caught up in building your personal brand on your website, blog and social media, don’t forget about the most valuable brand-building asset you have with you at all times – you! Your clothes, hair and accessories all impact the image you give off to the world and this should remain consistent with your brand.

If you want to be viewed as a respected professional, you need to present yourself as one. Give careful thought to your attire before heading out to a client meeting or networking function. Whether you do this or not, I promise you people will notice either way.

4. Create opportunities for other people to experience your brand

You can create an awesome brand for yourself, but if you don’t allow others the opportunity to experience and interact with it, it will have little impact. Just as a business puts great effort into promoting their brand, you should put effort into promoting yours too.

For a personal brand, this does not require the same tactics that businesses use. Not many of us have the budget (or confidence) to put ourselves on a billboard! Instead, maximize your online presence by creating a personal website, starting a blog and maintaining a strong social media presence. These are all great ways to showcase your area of expertise and give your network an intimate experience with your personal brand. In addition to the virtual world, get out in the real world too! Take advantage of speaking engagements, networking functions and other social events to get out in your local business community and represent your personal brand.

5. Be consistent

If you do nothing else when building your personal brand, be consistent! Think of any business that has built a successful brand; they do not waver from the core values it represents. All of their internal and external communications center on strengthening it. You should embrace this same level of consistency when shaping your own brand.

With every new business opportunity, consider whether or not it aligns with your brand. If not, it’s likely not in your best interest to pursue it. Your brand represents your morals, values and character. If your actions don’t align with the image you’re trying to create for yourself, you will never achieve a strong and influential brand. Instead, keep your personal tagline top of mind and use it to guide the way you present yourself to the world – in person, online and everywhere in between!

What steps have you taken to build your personal brand? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below!

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2014 in Business & Success

 

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10 Things to Remember When Planning a Professional Event

corporate event planning

Throughout my career, I’ve played the role of “event planner” more times than I can count. Fundraisers, golf outings, press events, clay shoots, meet and greets, prayer breakfasts, networking mixers, seminars and conferences are just some of the various types of events I’ve helped to plan. For each one there’s been a different venue, audience, menu, setup and marketing strategy. It’s been a whirlwind!

This experience has helped me to create quite the “tool box” of tips and tricks for successful event planning that can only be gained from my own trial and error. Oh and there have been many errors! Now I have professional events down to a work of art. I can anticipate the unexpected and I come prepared to address every odd request you can imagine. To help you do the same, here are 10 things to always, always remember when planning a professional event.

1. Be overly specific, assume nothing

I have many real life examples of event planning follies where I assumed something simple – like there would be a chair at the registration table – only to be left scrambling at the last minute over silly details. I’ve since learned to assume nothing and specify everything. When I’m in the event planning role, I can’t afford to be torn away from more important tasks to handle these types of mishaps. I work closely with the venue to specify the essential details (without being condescending, of course). Even if I risk looking a little too Type A, it’s a small price to pay for a well-executed event and a happy client.

2. Don’t be literal with the headcount

While I advise to be very specific with the event details, I don’t advise to be specific with the headcount. Inevitably people who have RSVPed will not show up and others who did not RSVP will. It’s the ebb and flow of event planning and somehow it all works out. What I’ve learned is that so much money is wasted on overestimating headcount. Instead, I underestimate the guaranteed count by at least 5 (if not 10) people. At the event, the venue can always pull out a little more food (for which they will also charge you). And at least you know you are paying for exactly what’s being consumed, which can be a cost savings of a couple hundred dollars!

3. Anticipate people arriving early (and staying late)

When I’m running logistics for an event, I always arrive at least an hour in advance to set-up, troubleshoot and acclimate myself with the venue and staff. I also do this because I know that a handful of early birds will arrive a half hour early as well. I hate to be caught still setting up (though it would totally be understandable), so instead I beat them at their own game! I also anticipate another group staying past the end of the event to eat and chat until the staff starts vacuuming over their feet. This means I, too, also stay late to ensure a professionally executed event from start to finish.

4. Bring a “tool kit”

You will always have a need for scissors, tape, extra name tags and pens. I can’t emphasize enough how often this has saved me the time of having to ask the venue to search and bring these items to me and how it also helps me to look extra professional and prepared. Slip these items in your laptop bag, and even if you don’t need them, you’ll have the peace of mind that you’re one step ahead.

5. Be accessible

When planning an event, you will need to be accessible and on your feet to address any issues as they arise. Maybe it’s someone at registration who said they paid, but their name isn’t on the list. Or maybe a side dish needs refreshed at the buffet that a server hasn’t yet noticed. I’m all eyes, all ears – and always on my feet at events.

6. Call upon helping hands

In order to pull off tip #5 of always being accessible, you need a competent team of helpers to assist you with being in multiple places at once. When I’m putting out the big fires, I rely on others to manage the registration table and greet guests. What this also means is that I have to prepare easy to manage lists and clearly explain the process to my helpers to ensure they know what to do even when I’m not around.

7. Keep people comfortable

People with full plates and full glasses are happy people. For the most part, people won’t remember the venue or the color of the table linens, but they will remember if they were well fed. Don’t skimp on food or drink and make sure that it is out before guests arrive and is left out even after the event ends, in case people choose to mingle after hours. Also, be sure your menu matches your ticket price. If people are paying a couple hundred dollars to attend a fundraiser, don’t give them chips, pretzels and a cash bar. Show them a good time! I promise you, this is always money well spent.

8. Strategically time your (brief) remarks

Hosting an event and not taking a moment to address the crowd is a really wasted opportunity. You may not be the most confident public speaker, but you can at least put together a few sentences especially if it means promoting the purpose of the event. Timing is everything to ensure people are paying attention. Plan to take the mic (and do use a mic) about halfway through the event. This will catch both latecomers and early-departers. Your remarks also give the event closure. If people need to take off early, they can feel like they have at least stayed for the most important part of the event.

9. Take advantage of the opportunity to market your services or future events

Use your remarks and printed promotional materials to market your services or future events. Give people something (verbally and physically) to take away from the event. You’re footing the bill after all, the least you can do is gain some promotional value from it! If this is an annual event, have a date set for next year’s event and promote it. If the event is not annual, give people some other call to action like a special discount on services if they purchase that day. If nothing else, at least invite them to visit your website and connect with you on social media.

10. Remember, it’s not about you!

It’s your event, but it’s not really about you. It’s about your guests. They are the ones either paying to be there or offering themselves as your captive audience for a few hours. Respect their time and make each guest feel special by greeting them, even if only briefly. Also keep your guests in mind when selecting a venue and food choices. Some restaurant off the beaten path may by a stone’s throw from your home, but it’s a trek for your guests. And just because you like a menu of red meat and potatoes, be thoughtful about your guests who may prefer some variety.

To boil down this entire list of corporate event planning advice, I simply urge you to be hospitable and genuine. Put the extra thought into the details to make this a pleasant experience for your guests so that they remember you for hosting a fun event, not wasting their time. Both extremes leave a lasting impression and you have the power to choose the outcome!

What other things would you add to this list? Share your event experiences (good and bad) by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2014 in Life

 

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When an Introvert Takes a Family Vacation

bennis beach family vacation

The last week of June, we took a lovely family vacation to North Carolina where we enjoyed a week of fun in the sun with my parents, two sisters, their husbands and two toddlers. It was a full house! I wouldn’t trade these memories for anything in the world. However, this week was a reminder to me that I am, indeed, an introvert.

I wrote about this realization some time ago and many people who know me still find it difficult to believe that I’m not an extrovert. While my friendly personality and passion for external communications may be misleading, I am an most certainly and “I.” And when I spend a long period of time around a large group of people, like during my family vacation, I realize just how uniquely challenging this personality type can be.

The first challenge was finding alone time to recharge. As an introvert, I gain energy from being alone. In a single beach house with eight adults and two toddlers, alone time might have been the only luxury this fabulous vacation lacked. The beach was private and during the day the house was mostly empty, but the real challenge was my own internal conflict between wanting to spend every moment with family and needing to recharge with some solo time.

This relates to my second challenge of feeling guilty for not having the same desire to be as active and involved as everyone else. My husband, the living definition of extrovert, enjoyed every beach activity imaginable. From morning runs to afternoon kayaking to evening walks, he never seemed to lose energy and was always open to an invitation to do more. I still took part in many of these activities, but mostly because I felt like I should in order to fully enjoy the vacation.

The truth is everyone is allowed to make their vacation into whatever they want. No one was forcing me to live at high speed, except for me. It was a self-inflicted pressure based upon my assumption that my wants and needs should be the same as everyone else’s. Lesson learned!

The final challenge I faced was once we were finally home. Not only am I an introvert, but I am also very Type A. I savored every moment of unpacking and getting things back to their clean and organized state. After that long day of travel and an even longer week spent with so many others, I was exhausted! I needed a vacation after vacation. While most people are sad to return home (and don’t get me wrong, I still was), I was equally as happy to return to the comfort of my daily routine and highly-prioritized alone time.

Maybe the biggest struggle of all for any introvert is dispelling the misconception that our need for alone time means we don’t like spending time with the ones we love or doing the things we love. Not at all. We simply require more downtown to recharge.

As I sit here writing this reflection alone and with a fully charged inner battery, I couldn’t be more grateful for my week with family  – because it doesn’t happen nearly enough! While this ever-growing family vacation pushed me outside my comfort zone, the reward was memories that I will cherish for a lifetime. Take a look…

bennis beach family vacation

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bennis beach family vacation

Whether you consider yourself to be an introvert or extrovert, what are your biggest challenges or discomforts when it comes to taking a vacation? Share your thoughts by commenting below!

 

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2014 in Life

 

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Are You Making this Deadly Marketing Mistake?

danger sign

As business owners, we’re faced with some tough decisions. In order to make ends meet we sometimes have to tighten our budget and cut out the non-essentials. What any experienced business owner will tell you is that there are certain areas of a budget that should never make their way to the chopping block – marketing being one of them.

One of the most deadly marketing mistakes you can make is to halt your efforts in an attempt to save money. Scores of great strategies have been pulled before they have begun to payoff. That’s right; you invest all this time and money into creating and implementing a marketing plan, but pull the plug before things really get going. While this may save you a few bucks right now, it will most certainly hurt your bottom line in the long run.

Here are four ways you can avoid making this deadly marketing mistake.

1. When times are tough, don’t cut your marketing.

Every business will experience its ups and downs, its busy seasons and off seasons and its times of feast and famine. One of the worst things you can do when times are tough is to cut out your marketing or public relations efforts. After you’ve spent months engaging your audience, to completely go silent would undo all of your work up until this point. Whether you can see it or not, they are there and they are listening.

Instead, you may need to narrow down your tactics to those with the greatest ROI to adhere to a tighter budget, but you should never hit the big, red stop button. After all, it’s your marketing, public relations and advertising efforts that are going to help pull in more business which is the one thing you desperately need during a dry spell.

2. Set reasonable expectations for results.

Another reason businesses panic and pull the plug on their marketing efforts is because they don’t think they’re getting results. This is a deadly mistake because in reality you likely are achieving results, they just might not be the silver bullet you were expecting.

Set reasonable expectations. Learn to embrace the necessary slow burn of business growth that directly applies to your marketing efforts. You should value the consistency and quality of your results, not the sheer speed and quantity.

3. Measure progress in all forms.

Progress is not always obvious. Be open to looking for it in unexpected places or for it to produce different results than what you might have anticipated.

For example, your Facebook posts may not be getting more then 2-3 likes, but your analytics show that several hundred people have seen the content. You can also see from your blog’s stats that 20+ people a day are being pushed to your blog from Facebook. Those are some valuable results! When you do your research you might find that you’re achieving a whole lot more than what Facebook likes could tell you alone. This is all the more reason to stay consistent with implementing your marketing tactics.

4. Repeat your winners.

Don’t be afraid of repetition. Again, don’t be afraid of repetition. Sure, we always want to be coming up with new ideas and strategies to catch our audience’s attention, but don’t shy away from repeating something you know works for you.

Advertising guru, David Ogilvy believed repetition was an essential part of growing your readership. He felt that you should repeat yourself up to five times to see the full benefits of your messaging. People don’t always catch things on the first pass (Can you name the product the last commercial you saw was trying to sell you?) and repetition is an essential way to ensure consistent and clear messaging.

The importance of repetition is all the more reason to maintain balance with your marketing and public relations tactics. If you started a monthly newsletter or a bi-weekly blog, your audience will come to expect to hear from you at these intervals. When a month or two goes by without you “touching base,” you will quickly fall out of sight and out of mind. Stay top of mind by staying consistent with both your messaging and your strategy – and avoid making this deadly mistake!

Where have you seen this deadly marketing mistake being made? Share your examples by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2014 in Business & Success

 

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The One Question Every Successful Entrepreneur Must Be Able to Answer

top three priorities

One of my favorite shows currently on TV right now is Shark Tank. It feeds my entrepreneurial spirit and ignites a lot of creative (and sometimes cooky) ideas that I could only wish to have the opportunity to present to this impressive audience of venture capitalists.

All that aside, the reason I really love watching this show is because of the pearls of wisdom these experienced entrepreneurs spout off that have inspired quite a few blog posts – this week being no exception. On an episode from a few weeks back, it was Barbara Corcoran who said “Never have I ever met a successful entrepreneur who is unable to answer this one question.”  The question?

“Tomorrow when you wake up and go into the office, what are your top three priorities?”

This question is deceivingly simple. Try answering it off the top of your head right now. When I tried to do the same, I knew I had the answers, but when put on the spot, I found it hard to quickly put these key priorities into succinct bullet points. This doesn’t mean I’m doomed to fail as an entrepreneur, but it did make me want to sit down and put some thought into my top three priorities right now. Should I ever “bump” into Barbara Corcoran, this would be my answer to her question:

1. Continue to build quality relationships with my existing clients

In the pursuit of new clients, I never want to take for granted the awesome ones I currently have. I’ve already put the effort into earning their business, building a relationship with them and becoming efficient at the tasks I do for them month after month. It is a valuable use of my time to keep these existing clients happy and on board because trying to replace them is far more costly.

2. Selectively target new clients

Once I devote the time to keeping my current clients engaged, I need to continually fill my pipeline with ideal prospective clients. I’m lucky to be in a position where I can be selective with the new clients I choose to take on. I know the size, industry and vision of companies I best serve and these are the ones in which I’ll devote my time to pursuing. Smaller clients or ones that don’t quite align with my services may still find me, and I’m happy to see how I can help, but they are not the ones that I will actively put my resources into pursuing.

3. Find ways to automate my tasks and become more efficient with my time

I’m a consultant and sole proprietor by design. This means I must carefully guard my time and find ways to be extremely efficient as I take on additional clients if I want to continue to enjoy the benefits of the 80/20 Principle. It is my goal to find ways to automate my tasks or become more efficient at completing them so that as I take on new clients, I’m not working more, I’m simply filling the bandwidth my efficiency has opened up.

Whatever your top three priorities are right now says a lot of about the current state of your business/career and your entrepreneurial style. Maybe they even point out some areas where you need to refocus. They should address your immediate needs, but also plan for future growth and strategic change. Having your top three priorities locked and loaded serves a purpose far greater than simply impressing someone who asks. They give you that laser focus each and every day that is at the core of every successful entrepreneur.

Are you able to easily answer this question? Share your personal top three priorities by commenting below!

 

 

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Are You Making the Biggest Social Media Mistake?

#fail

These days, everyone is on social media. But really though. There are fan pages for cats, Twitter profiles for cartoons and Instagram accounts devoted solely to food. It’s no wonder every business wants to also have a presence on these platforms because it’s where they can reach their targeted audience with interactive content that sparks discussion and builds brand loyalty.

With everyone diving in head first, this also provides a prime opportunity for a lot of mistakes. For the most part, these are minor errors or forgivable social infractions, but sometimes these mistakes can prove to be much worse – even deadly – for business. So what is the single biggest mistake businesses make with social media? It’s NOT having it be part of a bigger communications strategy.

The danger of a disconnected social media strategy

The most effective social media cannot be done in a vacuum. Nor can it be your only effort to communicate with your target audience. The danger is two-fold. First, you risk presenting a completely different voice on social media, one that does not resonate with the rest of your brand. Second, you turn off the power to all other means of communications that could help to amplify your social media efforts.

If you pique someone’s interest with a great Facebook post, only to send them to an outdated website that makes you look inexperienced or unprofessional, even the best social media efforts in the world won’t close the sale.

How to avoid this mistake

Luckily this is an easy problem to fix. It begins with identifying the missed communications opportunities outside of social media and paying special attention to the brand you want to create so that all efforts work in unison to achieve this end result. Knowing what to do is the easy part, but actually making the time to do it is where the problem most often lies. It can be overwhelming, especially to business owners who don’t consider themselves to be communications-savvy.

It’s good to keep in mind that outsourcing is always an option and the number of firms and consultants who offer these services are ever-growing. But proceed with caution. If you’re thinking about working with a person or company that only does social media, you may want to rethink this decision. It’s okay to be specialized or particularly experienced in a certain niche, but when it comes to your business communications, everything needs to flow together. The various ways in which you communicate with your target audience need to complement one another.

Instead look for a firm or consultant who offers multi-faceted communications strategies that go beyond just social media. You want someone who can also create content for your website, blog, e-newsletter and other promotional materials. This is the best way to ensure that the voice and messaging will stay consistent.

Steps you can take today

One. List your other current communication efforts. Do you have any? Maybe there’s a brochure or business card you hand out, but it’s badly outdated. Maybe you have a website that you push your targeted audience to visit, but it’s a static web page with cheesy clip art and bright fonts. Take a critical look at ALL the messages you’re sending out in various ways. How are people finding you and what is this saying about your business?

Two. Note the areas that need some TLC. So you have social media down to an art – after all, it is kind of fun. Now, turn your attention to the messaging on your website, blog, promotional materials and e-newsletters. How can they benefit from some of the modern messaging you’re putting out on social media? Create a vision for how they can better engage your audience, just like you’re doing on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, etc.

Three. Dedicate time in your schedule to tackle some of these tasks in order of priority. If you know you simply don’t have the time, allocate this work to an employee or hire a communications consultant to help you keep things moving forward. While you’ll need to invest in their time, if they allow you to keep doing what you do best while they improve your comprehensive communications strategy – that is a worthy investment!

Where have you seen the biggest social media mistake being made? Join in the discussion by commenting below!

 

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Take Back Your Time: How to stop wasting your day in meetings

man in gray suit holding big clock covering his face

Back when I worked the life of a 9-5er, meetings were a staple of my daily schedule. Short, long, painfully boring or engaging, these meetings would get tacked on my calendar until some workdays were almost entirely spent in a boardroom. Sometimes I played an active role, while other times my boss simply wanted me to “sit in” on the meeting – to help keep him awake or me from being productive, I’m assuming.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly see the value of an efficiently run meeting; however, they should not take up the majority of your workday. The more time we spend in meetings, the less time we have for making actual progress.

As an entrepreneur, I’m fully in control of my schedule which has made me highly protective of my time. I don’t give just anyone access to it. I get requests to “meet-up” all the time and the majority offer nothing mutually beneficial. To help me more easily identify and pre-qualify meetings of value, I’ve developed a strategy that everyone should want to implement.

Before you accept one more invitation to yet another coffee meeting, first ask yourself these four questions to assess whether or not this is something deserving of a chunk of your valuable work day.

Does the conversation necessitate a meeting?

So often people will think they need a meeting, when really the conversation can be just as adequately completed over the phone or email. I get it. Some people are social butterflies and who doesn’t want to get out of the office now and then? But don’t use other people’s workday as a way to waste your own.

When someone first requests the chance to sit down and talk, dig a little deeper. Ask yourself (or even them directly) whether what they’re asking for has to be addressed in person. It may take several weeks to find a time to meet, while a phone call or email response can be fit in that day.

Is it mutually beneficial?

It’s okay to be selfish with your time. After all, you’re only given so much in your life and I promise you that on your death bead you won’t regret all those hours you didn’t spend in meetings.

Before you agree to meet with someone, be sure that the purpose of your time together is going to be equally beneficial to you both. Maybe they want to sell you something – and that’s fine. So long as it’s something you or your clients can truly use. Or if they say they just want to tell you more about their business, be sure that you’ll get time to talk about yours as well.

Is the location and time convenient for you?

At the root of why in-person meetings are often so inefficient is the time spent getting there and back. Unlike a phone call or email, you actually have to spend a considerable amount of time in transit  – and getting showered and dressed to look presentable.

If you decide that you’re going to make time for a meeting, make it convenient for YOU! Take control of suggesting the dates, times and especially the location. Early in my career, I would make the mistake of giving the other person free choice of the these things and would wind up traveling a half hour to an obscure coffee shop at a time that was utterly inconvenient with the rest of my day’s schedule. If they’re requesting the meeting, they should also be willing to accommodate you.

Could it grow your bottom line?

Back to the point of being selfish with your time, it’s not greedy to first question whether or not this meeting will grow your bottom line. It’s smart and it’s what every other successful professional is thinking as well – especially the one requesting the meeting with you. Of course there’s something in it for them, make sure there’s something in it for you as well!

Ask yourself if this meeting holds a direct or indirect potential to grow your bottom line. I stress to think indirectly here. Not everyone is going to deliver a hot lead in the first meeting; it can take months or years. But think about their connections, experience and influence. If they might be able to use any of these things to help you in the future, it’s worth building a relationship with them now.

Did they earn it?

Finally, make them earn that meeting! For me, I always appreciate sincerity and creativity. Mass messages or an email template that doesn’t even personalize the content with my first name will quickly get deleted without a reply. In contract, a personal message referencing something unique to me or my business lets me know that they did their homework and inspires me to do the same.

I’ve also seen some pretty clever “outside-the-box” techniques for requesting a meeting that have won me over. A hand written letter really stands out in the age of e-blasts. Also, it never goes unnoticed to reference a recent news article about the person’s business or a blog post they wrote that shows you’ve taken a careful interest in their work. The possibilities are endless!

Meetings are a part of building a business, but they can also become a distraction that prevents you from making progress. A request for a meeting doesn’t always have to be granted. Remember that you are the only person looking out for your own time and this is all the more reason to be strategic with how you spend it.

How do you prevent overloading your schedule with meetings? Share your tips and tricks by commenting below.

 
 

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The Easiest Way to Find Your Passion

Live-with-Passion

What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a question we have all been asked at least once in our lives by a teacher, guidance counselor or parent trying to steer us in the right direction of a fulfilling career. Can you recall how you answered? I’m willing to wager that a vast majority of us never became what we thought we wanted to be when we were young, but don’t take this to mean you’ve failed your childhood self.

This question was never going to help you find your dream career or perfect job, because it doesn’t ask the only thing that really matters. What gets you excited?

The easiest way to find your passion is to identify what excites you. What energizes your soul? What puts that spark in your eye? What would you choose to do every day, again and again, for the next 100 years? This is what excites you, this is where your passion lies and this should become (at least part of) your career.

There may be some ideas swimming around in your head right now, but before you storm in your boss’s office with your two-week notice, let’s cover just a few more important details about turning your passion into a career.

Why excitement matters

It doesn’t take too much searching to find someone who has chosen a particular career path because it’s easy, stable or lucrative. While these aren’t necessarily bad characteristics of any job, without it also involving your passion, you will spend the majority of your life deferring your happiness to the weekends or retirement.

Excitement and passion for your job also helps you to excel in your field. When you love what you do, you take pride in your work and strive to be better at it each and every day. A job should do more than provide a pay check, it should provide a stage for you to showcase your best talents to the world. Pursuing a career that excites you will ensure you look back on your life’s work with satisfaction.

Understanding what really excites you        

If you’re asked “What excites you?” you might answer “Sports.” But we have to dig deeper. Simply saying “sports” is too broad of answer that doesn’t give us a clear indication as to what exactly about sports excites you. There are countless options.  Is it the element of competition, the energy of the crowd or the impressive athletic performance that you enjoy the most?

To better pinpoint your passion, we must peel away the layers of your initial answer by asking “Why?” at least five more times. For every answer, turn it into a question and ask yourself again. If you initially answered, “I like sports because of the element of competition.” Then ask, “Why do you like the element of competition?” This may seem redundant, but you’ll be surprised as to how it identifies what really excites you.

Turning excitement into a career

Once you have a narrow focus on your true passion, you will find that there are many career options that will allow you to tap into your passion on a daily basis. You may also be surprised with how different each option is. For me, it was foremost my passion for creative writing. The communications field obviously provided an opportunity to utilize this passion, but so did political campaigns, speech writing, website design and advertising agencies, to name just a few.

It’s important to think beyond the literal interpretation of your passion. Sure, you may be passionate about eating baked goods, but you have more options than becoming a baker. This love for food can also be turned into a passionate career as a food blogger, marketing director within a snack food company, food photographer or graphic/web designer that specializes in web sites for bakeries. Get creative and keep an open mind! A job will still involve work (sorry, there’s no way around that) but when it taps into your passion, even the work will become a labor of love.

If we want to reverse the dangerous trend of seeking careers solely for security and stability, we need to stop asking “What do you want to do?” or “What do you want to be?” And instead start asking, “What gets you excited?”  This is the easiest way to pinpoint your passion and ensure a life’s journey filled with fulfillment and joy.

Where does your passion lie? Share your own search for inspiration in the comments below!

 

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Why Your Facebook Page Isn’t Getting Likes and Why It Doesn’t Matter

facebook dislike imageIf you’ve noticed that your business’s Facebook fan page is at an all time low for views and interactions, you are not alone. In fact, 94 to 98 percent of your page’s postings will never see the light of the newsfeed unless you pay to sponsor or promote them. Even before the recent change in Facebook’s relevance algorithms, only about 16 percent of brand posts were allowed in user feeds. Now it’s more like six percent (and for big brands it’s about two percent). I’m kidding, right? No, this isn’t some depressing joke; instead it’s the hard-hitting reality that if people are willing to pay for promotion, companies will gladly create more and more ways to profit from it.

Facebook has found a way to monetize business fan pages and they didn’t grow to be a multi-billion dollar company for passing up such opportunities. Just as social media continues to get smarter, so must we. Sure we can just beef up our advertising budget, or we can refocus the value we’re gaining by having a Facebook business fan page. And there is still value to be gained! Here are four reasons why you should continue to maintain your social media presence even when your likes and comments may urge you to do otherwise.

1. You’re still reaching people

Yeah that little number that appears at the bottom of every post may feel like it is silently mocking your social media efforts. But so long as that number is greater than zero, you’ve still reached more people than you would have by not posting any content at all.

More importantly, these people you do reach are ones who have found your content organically. You didn’t pay to have it forced upon someone who might become annoyed with being subjected to advertisements. No, these are people who have personally chosen to like your page, follow your content and stop scrolling through their newsfeed long enough to have Facebook register it as a view. And this data is invaluable. As dismally small as that “real” number of views may be, it’s what your raw, unpaid efforts earned and a good indication of where you realistically stand with your audience and within the market.

2. It creates a professional presence

For many of my clients, a social media strategy is to foremost create a professional presence. We’re not necessarily counting likes, comments or shares; we’re looking at the big picture. We want their information to be accurate, updated and to align with their overall communications strategy. We also want to have content posted with enough frequency and consistency that anyone who visits their social media profiles to “check them out” further will get the impression that they’re on top of their game. Finally, I recommend using social media profiles to position a person or a business as an expert in their field. Continue to provide free, valuable information that people will find useful and your real fans will “like” you for this!

3. You never know how people will find you

Another reason to keep a professional presence on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest and Instagram is because you never know how people will stumble upon your business and these social media platforms are a powerful form of SEO. My WordPress blog is sometimes still the first thing people are directed to before my website – and so long as they’re finding me, I’m okay with however that happens.

This is all the more reason to keep my social media updated with enough consistency that visitors know it’s alive and active. Even a fresh post just once a week is enough to let a potential customer know that this isn’t an abandoned account. Most importantly, active social media accounts (regardless of likes and comments) show people you pay attention to detail, follow through with responsibilities and are accessible – all positive qualities for every business to showcase.

4. It’s fresh content

You can never produce enough fresh, quality content. It can always be repurposed! Much of your social media can be fueled by a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly blog. Simply take snippets of this content to create multiple social media posts over the course of a weel. Not only does this make blog writing an even more valuable use of your time, it also helps to further promote your blog and website by linking back to them. Fueling the content on your social media shouldn’t be re-inventing the wheel. A good communications strategy is all about creating a consistent message; so repurpose and reuse your content in every facet of your business.

How have you refocused the value of your business’s Facebook fan page? Let’s get a discussion going!

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2014 in Social Media, Technology

 
 
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