When starting your small business empire, what were some of the obstacles that you faced?
One of the biggest obstacles I faced was the timing when I wrote my book Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months. It was due to my publisher on September 1, 2008, because it was slated to come out early 2009 but shortly after I turned in my book, the market crashed. My publisher called to thank me for being one of the few authors to turn my book in on time, but said, in another breath, “We don’t think anyone’s thinking about entrepreneurship right now, so we’re going to postpone the release of your book until March 2010." It was devastating because we were planning a national book tour.
Luckily, I had already hired a publicist for the launch, and her advice was that we go ahead and publicize the book like it was going to come out on time anyway; and to do it we were going to use social media -- which was just getting hot. My publicist really pushed Twitter, which was new to me. Once I was ready to start my Twitter campaign, I found out my name was already taken, so I had a challenge to differentiate myself from the others. The idea came up to use a nickname, and that’s how I started “SmallBizLady.” It turned out to be the best brand opportunity as by becoming “SmallBizLady”, I immediately became a brand that opened up new areas for my business.
You are very active on social media, utilizing almost every popular platform today. Do you have a favorite platform that you use or find most helpful?
I love Twitter! I’m a Twitter “Diva” without a doubt. It moves fast and demands that you be brief. As James Brown said, “You have to hit it and quit it” on Twitter. If you want to be re-tweeted, you better have your message to 120 characters. You get immediate feedback and you can see what your competitors and your customers are saying.
In addition to social media, what has been your marketing strategy to becoming the “SmallBizLady?”
Blogging has got to be the best thing that any small business owner can do. My blog has brought every opportunity to me including speaking or writing for major publications. If you write a good blog, publish consistently, and have a very specific point of view, it will lead a clear path to your door. I’m proof of that. It’s been the secret sauce for me when it comes to marketing.
You have presented some very popular webinars for SCORE and you have been a part of numerous television interviews throughout your career. Can you speak to the importance and power of clear speaking and presentation skills?
I think presentation skills are everything. You are selling yourself as much as you are selling your product or service. If you come across as inarticulate or give the impression that you aren’t clear of thought, you aren’t going to get very far. When I first started to become “SmallBizLady” there wasn’t professional training geared toward public speaking. I joined the National Speaker’s Association, went to their national conference, went to their local chapter, and even hired a coach to help me organize my original stories and content. If you’re really trying to position yourself as an authority figure in your industry, it’s worth getting professional training. It makes a big difference.
You’ve written numerous books, you're a regular columnist for The Huffington Post, and you wrote for the New York Times for three years. Can you talk about the importance of clear and concise writing?
I think writing is like anything else: the more you do it, the better you get at it. I have a journalism degree from Virginia Tech, and I have wanted to be a professional writer since I was in the 8th grade. Writing has always been sort of my magical power, and it’s very much a part of my business. That said, I think the cool thing now is that you can get into podcasts, post pictures, and create videos. You want to find something that you do enjoy and that you are good at and figure out how it adds value. You don’t want to be a “me too” brand because everyone else is doing it. You’ve got to give people something unique.
You have advised some very high profile clients as well as businesses just looking to break even in their first two years. What is the most common piece of advice you find yourself providing?
The two most common questions that I’m asked are: “How do I attract new customers?” and “How do I manage my brand online?”
In terms of “how do you get new customers,” I think that’s actually the wrong question. I talk to business owners about keeping the customers they already have. Too many people focus on chasing new customers when, in fact, the first sale that you make from a new customer is always the most expensive. If you focus on a customer that has already given you money that is the best sale that you can get - - and it’s also the easiest!
When it comes to social media, the biggest mistake I see is that too many people will spread themselves too thin. You need to pick one or two social media sites where your customers spend the most time. You certainly want to claim your social media handles on every platform, but that doesn’t mean you have to be super active on them all day, every day. And, if you are still having trouble, you can build a very powerful brand just by sharing content. Everything you share should be helpful, though. Make sure you are learning about people and listening carefully to them. Develop a relationship so that they miss you when you’re not there. Also, mind your audience and the platform you are using. Audiences on Facebook don’t like to be talked to in the same way that you would interact with an audience on Twitter.
Lastly, promote yourself with care. No one wants to be sold to. Share content with a 4-1 ratio of your own. “Be sweet and re-tweet.” That’s how I built my brand, and it was done without a computer program designed to get followers. I got each of my followers one person at a time, the old fashioned way, and that’s what you should be doing.
Like most business owners, you appear to be incredibly busy. How do you manage your time to ensure you are doing everything you can to perform at your best?
Well, I have a team of eight wonderful people that work with me. I’m not a one woman band. We have staff calls every Monday to make sure everyone is on the same page, and we also schedule content a month in advance. What I don’t do is write something at the last minute. Everything goes through a process to make sure that nothing gets too stressful. I travel a lot, and my business has to run even when I’m not here. We stay ahead of things and it allows us to put out the best content possible.
What do you do to relax and remove yourself from the daily pressures and stress that can come from being a business owner?
I’m a divorced single mom. I have an amazing nine year old son and I’m involved in all of his activities, but I also believe in self-care. I work out, eat right, and my guilty pleasure is deep-tissue massages. I also love to garden and when the weather is nice, I love to travel.
As you know, SCORE encourages business owners to connect with a mentor. Could you tell us about a mentor or mentors who have influenced you?
I believe in mentorship and that’s something I love so much about SCORE and why I recommend so many entrepreneurs to SCORE for help either face-to-face or online. For my life, I’ve always had a team of mentors. Some mentors are there for me for marketing while others are there for just emotional support and encouragement. I’ve always had two or three mentors at any point in time, and there are also some that I check in with once a year.
One particular mentor that I’d like to mention is a wonderful man by the name of Morris Anderson, one of my former clients, who just took a liking to me, and when he retired, he kept in touch and helped me with How To Become Your Own Boss, reading it line by line, giving suggestions. He’s also a wonderful Dad and Granddad, and he would give me advice about my son, and he’s always been the “chairman” of my fan club. He’s been a mentor and friend for over 10 years.
Is there anything you would like to share with our readers about what you are currently working on?
I’m really excited about BeginMyBiz.com, an 8-part series that I give out free to people. I also have a lot of eBooks that can be downloaded. And I just love giving people as many free resources as possible.
I always say that anyone can start a business, but not everyone can stay in business. My continuing mission is to end small business failure. I’m always trying to figure out how to give people tools and advice to help entrepreneurs reach their dreams.
Get interviews like this delivered to your inbox. Subscribe now to receive SCORE ExpertAnswers every month by email!