Communication: What to say and how (and where) to say it

One of the very first things people complain about when they try to create a fresh online presence is that they have no idea what to say or where to say it. 

Here’s what you need to know.

Talk about more than just the things you offer. Talk about what makes you you. No one hires anyone online because of what they can do. You get hired online because of who you are and the relationships you create – which are forged through genuine connection. Plenty of people do what you do. Don’t worry about competition. Worry about differentiation. The good news is that all you have to do to differentiate yourself is show up. Be honest. Be helpful. Be who you are.

“Create the kind of connection you have in-person by telling your personal stories. You absolutely don’t have to air your dirty laundry — and, in fact, the smaller stories are the better ones. Tell us about making breakfast this morning, or something that your family member did that made you laugh, or how the light in the evening reminded you of when you were a kid at your grandma’s. These very small stories will make your clients feel connected to you even when they’re just reading your words or watching a video.” – Marsha Shandur, Storytelling Sales and Communication Coach at Yes Yes Marsha

“Having a genuine social presence is so important! Not just posting regularly, but creating real connections with other business owners and potential clients. Provide value first and avoid being salesy!” – Cara Decker, Check It Off Virtual Consulting

Educate. Inspire. Entertain. Pick two. Let this guide your content. If you can’t do at least two of the three, then keep your mouth shut because you’re just adding to the noise. Saying something is most definitely NOT better than saying nothing. So do what you can. Don’t try to suddenly be everywhere for everyone.

Pick ONE platform based on your skills, goals and audience and go after it. Your ability to focus, be consistent and be patient will often determine your success. In the beginning, 9 out of every 10 pieces of content you create should be highly optimized for discoverability. Low-budget dynamic Facebook ads are your friend. Find ways to continually surpriseth and delighteth your audience for yeah verily they shall share thy content and greatly reduce thy distribution costs.

Productivity bonus:: Remember that money buys pizza and guitars. So make money.” – Mike Richeson, Videographer + Digital Storyteller at MikeRicheson.com

Reach out boldly and often. It is shocking how easy it actually is to connect with people online. Even when they’re way bigger or more successful than you. Reaching out can open doors. Peers, Idols. Potential clients. Just say hello. If you think their work is great, say so. If you want to work with someone, say so. People are hungry for connection and everyone loves a genuine compliment.

“I like to use virtual coffee chats to network and build business. I’ve been doing it for years and I now think they will become far more common and important (I can attest to this given the insane spike of traffic my blog post on the subject has gotten in the last week or so).” – Becky Mollencamp, Mindset Coach

Produce content that matters. Yes, you DO need to be getting yourself out there. And yes, that might mean blogging or writing or podcasting or IGTV or the like. But none of it matters if the content is empty. The only way to make your voice matter is to make your voice matter. The internet most definitely does NOT need more empty fluff and putting out crap will ALWAYS be a total waste of time you do not have.

Know your audience. Know yourself. Prioritize your bottom line over photos of your cat. Whenever you speak up publicly from here forward, you are representing your business and your work. That means you should take a few hours and clean up your personal social media footprint. Check your security settings. Think hard on sharing photos of your family. Contemplate pulling anything that might seem antithetical to your professional work, or that could endanger your ability to connect with others or deliver on your promises. You no longer have only-personal social media accounts because now, your biggest advocates for your work will be your personal network. They need to understand who you are now, what you offer, and how totally excellent you are at it. Nothing more.

Productivity + Tech: How to get shit done when all structure goes out the window

Everyone will find their own path to productivity, and tech is a monster-sized topic all on it’s own. So we are not going to try to be comprehensive here. Instead, we’ve stripped this down to the TOP tips that the largest number of people will find useful. 

When it comes to your website, choose the option that makes you look the most like you have your shit together in comparison with your peers. You don’t have to have the BEST website or the BEST branding. But it needs to be at least a step or two above your competition online or off. You need to look at who does something similar to you successfully online. If you want to play in their orbit, your site needs to look as good as theirs. A dated design might fly on main street, but it WON’T fly online. Not anymore. It’s too easy to get a nice site these days for very little $. Your potential customers know this. If you’re gonna DIY it, less is more. Keep it clean and basic and you have a way lower chance of making it look amateur-ish.

“I’m a digital strategist and tech nerd and my biggest tip to getting online is to keep it simple. People want to hear from you and connect with you and right now I’m loving watching businesses do this via FB or IG Live.”  – Sandy Sidhu, Sandy Sidhu Media 

For conferencing, use Zoom. Use it because it works. It works better than its competition. It’s fast, reliable, simple, and inexpensive. Don’t bang your head against a wall trying out different options. Everyone uses Zoom. So just take our word for it, ok?

Google is easier than Dropbox for most things. Google Drive is a magical wonderland for collaborating on writing, presentations, and spreadsheets, sharing info and files. If you need to do anything of the sort, use Google. They rarely change things and when they do, it generally makes it better. The same can’t be said for Dropbox. Ask any online marketer and they will have a story about spending an entire day untangling a Dropbox “upgrade”.

“Staying productive while working from home (15+ years experience): make a schedule and stick to it as best you can. Use a timer (check out the Pomodoro method) and focus music to stay on track. And wear shoes (for some reason I am more productive when I put on shoes).” – Gretchen Ozee Cawthon, Left Right Labs

“Turn off all notifications. Everything. You can create a VIP list for those *few* people you absolutely need to pay attention to right away, and those will be the only notifications that get through. Otherwise, you need to set your own schedule and only check email & other messages at a designated time. Don’t let incoming messages pull you 10 different ways or distract you from what you have set as your most important goal or project in that time block. Turn the notifications off.” – Naomi Peters, The Bacana Plan

“Get Voxer – Think of it like a walkie-talkie, only you can listen to your messages later and at double speed. Use Voxer to turn your smartphone into a productivity machine by relaying messages the way you intend to, instead of having the context questioned in an email. This will save you hours in calls every week.” – Dusti Arab, The Reinvention Co.

“Four amazing tips:

One. 4 hours of focus beats 8 hours of half-a*sed. I love clickup (their free version is very generous!) for project management, but also couldn’t live without my key to-dos on it that I can crumple once done! 

Two. Video meetings are not scary. Even if you sell physical products there’s probably a way of creating a related digital offering – get brainstorming! 

Three. Self care is important, you need to stay sane – try to get some fresh air (if possible) and some me-time daily, eat well, drink enough water. If everything’s gone quiet, use downtime to work on your business and brand, your strategic foundations, to get clarity for the way forward.

Four. Also: stop comparing yourself to others. Cut yourself some slack, you’re enough.”

– Solveig Petch, Petchy

Get a project management tool. Keeping track of stuff online can get complicated, fast. You’ll find yourself starting a lot of different projects all at once. You’ll be taking on clients in a new capacity. You’ll be creating things that have LOTS of moving parts. You’re gonna need a way to keep it all straight. If you’re a visual person, use Trello. It’s organized like visual cards and it’s inexpensive. If you’re collaborating with others, I suggest Asana. It’s way more robust, but also a little more complicated. 

Get an online scheduler. If you’re a coach, check out SatoriApp. If you do just about anything else, check out Acuity. 

Figure out how to get paid. Paypal and Stripe are the easiest. But neither makes bookkeeping easy. Freshbooks is pretty great for invoicing + bookkeeping for most service providers. If you deal with a lot of suppliers and/or are paying a lot of other service providers, you might want to look at Quickbooks. It’s complicated as shit, but WAY more robust than anything else out there. If you have a lot of bookkeeping and assets and the like, your accountant will like it best.  Note: You’re going to hate the credit card fees. Just suck it up and pay them. It’s part of the cost of doing business and you can write them off later.

Lean in to a weird schedule. A million new things will affect your time now. Kids. Stress. Exhaustion. Time zones. Don’t try to keep a regular 9-5. Your clients might be on the other side of the planet and may need you to be available at odd times. This means you might find yourself needing a nap at 11am. Or feeling unmotivated at 2:30. Or feeling super creative at 10pm. Lean in to what feels right. Take notes for a week or two on what you’re best at and when. Build your schedule around that. Also, don’t try to do too much. Working independently under tremendous stress is WAY more exhausting than you think it will be. Go easy on yourself. 

Credibility: How to build trust bonkers-fast

Credibility online is not the same thing as credibility in-person. When your work is in an office, your presence in and of itself builds trust between you and your customer or client. Our culture is wired to trust those we are paying when we’re in an office or store setting. But when you’re on the phone with a total stranger, it’s a LOT harder to gain the trust you need to actually deliver on your promises. These are my top tips for making this happen as quickly as possible.

Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. And I don’t just mean having your knowledge ducks in a row. I mean that when you embark on a new engagement with a client virtually, it’s critical that you prep THEM for what to expect:

1. Spend the first 15 minutes of your first meeting on housekeeping. Identify and address any and all things that might cause hiccups. From how they should communicate with you to setting expectations for the work itself to how long it typically takes you to reply to email. It’s the little things that can fuck up a client relationship. Failure to anticipate their needs erodes trust. 

2. Create a Working With You Guide of some kind. It can be simple. Just a page of bullet points essentially going over things like office hours, etc… or it can be a casual recap of your contract terms. It should strike a hopeful and enthusiastic tone that sets the stage for trusting one another. Be careful not to finger-wag or seem condescending. You want them to be excited that you have your shit together, not annoyed that they are being talked down to. If you don’t anticipate an ongoing relationship with the person, a simple info page on your website that sets expectations can be enough here. The main point is that your business should always be seen as putting the needs and desires of whomever you serve FIRST.

Frame and hold VERY clear boundaries. Our natural tendency is to help help help. To be available and present and always quick to respond. And while this may be appropriate for your field, it also may not be. Ask yourself whether connecting immediately is the right thing for your people. Sometimes empowering people to look for their own solutions can be the right thing for both parties. Know what works for you AND for them and say no if you need to. When you work virtually, you teach people how to treat you by how you treat them. 

“Online meetings are much more like in-person meetings than you might think — and just like in online meetings, if you’re comfortable in your own skin and confident in what you’re sharing, that will be apparent. Technology glitches happen, well-tempered self-confidence will ride over most of that. That said, know what your weak point is and have a backup. My power cuts out pretty frequently especially in the rainy season (I live in Mexico), but my internet runs on solar. So I got a small portable battery called a JackBox and keep it ready in case the power cuts out. It’s been huge for my confidence and peace of mind.” – Abigail Rose Clarke, The Embodied Life Method

Be a human. People want you to lead them, but they also want you to be a person. Why? Because it gives them permission to also be a person. You don’t have to be perfect. You have to be confident that you WILL fuck up. Know where your shortcomings are and warn your clients ahead of time. For example, I am dreadful about replying to clients between calls. I have a whole elaborate communication and notification system to limit my ability to miss things and yet, I still do. I tell people this on my first call with them. I tell them that I don’t miss much, but often miss this. I tell them that if there is one place I might fall down, it’s around this. They say thanks and then no one gets annoyed when I do the exact thing I told them I probably would.

“One of the things I think is super important in running an online business is to bring PERSONALITY to your online presence. When you work with people in person, they get to know you naturally. But online, you have to actively try to share those parts of you that make you unique, and make you a human. People like interacting with people, not with tips or knowledge or facts or products. Your personality is the super important conduit for your services or products, and you have to make sure you are sharing that with your audience to create emotional connections and make more authentic, memorable sales.” – Megan Smith Lansing Creative, I offer illustration and pattern design to help businesses build their brand personality online

Show up. If there is one magic secret to making it online, it would be that those who keep showing up win. It really is that simple. Just. Keep. Showing. Up. At some point the universe will suddenly deem you worthy of people noticing you. The more you show up, the faster this happens. So get as visible as you can be. Know your story. Know what you stand for. And then say it over. And over. And over. 

                           …..And over.

Selling:

Selling online (or from a distance) is a little different than selling in-person. Partially because of that credibility thing we just talked about. When you’re in-person, your surroundings help you build trust. When someone walks up to your office door or into your shop, there is already a consent-based relationship. But when you sell over the phone, it’s stickier. More complex. It requires a few more steps.

Get consent. When you sell over the phone or over the internet, the first thing you have to do is tell people what they’re in for. Tell them you’re going to answer their questions and then also tell them you’re going to make on offer. 

“For selling from afar, get creative and imagine as if you are still selling to one person face-to-face. Go live and focus on a few items to talk about, showcase items that go well together or solve a “problem.” Offer virtual private shopping. Collaborate with others to broaden your reach.” – Erika Tebbens, Erika Tebbens Consulting, Sales and Marketing Coach for Womxn

Focus more on value than on saleability. Creating and selling something that people REALLY need should be your top priority. Provide serious value and people will tell their friends. And when you sell virtually, telling their friends is basically the holy grail. Literally nothing else matters. 

“Start by offering a freebie to get people into your digital ecosystem. Then, work quickly up to selling your brains. Offer an online course or series that answers the question you’re asked most often. While you’re selling from afar, you can direct people to that resource when questions arise.” – Kimberly Crossland, The Focus-Driven Biz

Sell first. Create new things second. One thing that’s hard for EVERYONE is the realization that you have to stay the course with things. Your tendency will be to pivot immediately when something doesn’t fly. Creating new things, trying new things, doing doing doing. More more more. But as long as you already HAVE something to sell, look for new ways to reach new clients or customers before assuming that the thing you’re selling isn’t viable.

“I’m a digital marketing strategist and coach and my biggest tip is to think outside the box. Think about the need you normally fill and then figure out a creative way to help people get it even online. E.g. a branding photographer friend of mine is building a mini course on how to take your own branding photos with your phone – perfect for cooped up entrepreneurs!”  – Yael Bendahan, Yaelbendahan.com 

Follow up and make friends! Selling is never a straight line. I have clients who hung out in my orbit for YEARS before hiring me. They became friends because we regard each other as human beings. Look at new connections more as new relationships, and not new prospects. Even if that person might not be a fit for you, careful, respectful interaction means they might have a referral or two for you. Stay in touch. Follow up. Promote them. Connect with kindness. Selling will happen all by itself when you’re not being a jerk.

“Getting/selling online is complicated but easy, just take it one step at a time! One of my favorite tools is an international shipping service called Chit Chats that allows me (a Canadian) to take advantage of USPS rates, and provides a much better shipping service than Canada Post provides! It’s revolutionized my online shipping game! But I highly recommend getting your start small, especially if you’re selling a physical product. Get something out there, and go step by step to make it work and start selling – then scale! Add more products, offer to a wider audience, really pump up the marketing! Etsy, for me and my products, was a great way to get started!” – Erica Noordermeer Mini Escape Goat

Something is not better than nothing. LOTS of people will disagree with me on this. But putting something out that isn’t useful or ready or complete CAN fuck with your ability to make a living. Focus your energy and do the very best you can with the resources you have. Be useful above all. And don’t put out garbage. I guarantee you’ll pay for it later.

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