4 Quick Tips for Managing Client Expectations

One of the scariest and most challenging things about going from having an office job to running your own business is that you essentially go from having one boss, to having lots of mini-bosses. This means more deadlines, more phone calls and emails, more meetings... you name it, there's more of it. This also means that instead of one boss to keep happy, you now have three, or six, or sixteen, or sixty-six bosses to manage.

I'll be honest with you: if you run a client-facing business then there is a 100% guarantee that you will eventually have to deal with a tricky client situation (if you haven't already.) I can say this confidently because people are fickle and miscommunications happen.

So how can you manage your client's expectations? I'm glad you asked:


1. Keep your contracts clear

I cannot stress this enough. Don't just blindly sign, or skim over, an agreement between yourself and a new client. Contracts help keep you safe and can be instrumental to resolving disputes, clarifying issues, and other really important stuff.

In my experience I find that it's easiest to provide my clients with a contract for them to review, since I know the deliverable specifics that I need to include. It also means that I get to set the tone moving forward, and it's up to the client to make any revisions to my proposed contract, which is easier for me.

Thoroughly read through each and every client agreement and make sure that it clearly identifies the following:

  • Your deliverables (monthly, per-project, or otherwise)
  • Client deliverables (eg: are you waiting on information each month to create a newsletter?)
  • Deliverable specifics
  • Deliverable timelines, if necessary
  • Payment schedules (eg: will you be paid monthly, as specific milestones are met, etc)

it's okay to go back and forth on a contract with a client. Remember: this is a negotiation, and it's better to hammer out specifics up-front so that there's no confusion about what your role is, and what you need to do for them so that you're all on the same page.

2. Under-promise and over-deliver

I'm not saying that you shouldn't go above and beyond for your clients, but giving yourself buffer room and quoting longer deadlines than you actually need can be an absolute lifesaver during busy times, or when complications arise with a project you're working on and revisions need to be done.

Not only does buffer room help you stay within a proposed timeline, but if you finish the project earlier than you quoted your clients will be over the moon for you.

3. On-board like a boss

On-boarding is critical to bringing on new clients seamlessly and make them aware of what to expect from you.

One of the things that I do to help manage client expectations is to provide a document that outlines my on-boarding process from start to finish. This document outlines the following:

  • What they can expect to discuss at our each meeting/phone call
  • What I need from them (eg: fill out the Brand Audit Worksheet)
  • What I'll do post-meeting (eg: prepare a quote, send a contract, etc)
  • Tasks, broken down by:
    • Daily tasks
    • Weekly tasks
    • Monthly tasks

This is an approximation, as each client I work with is slightly different, but it's general enough that they know what to expect from me.

4. Set boundaries and keep them

Even if you work for yourself, keeping regular office hours is an easy way to manage client expectations. Let them know that you're at your desk from 8am - 4pm Monday - Friday (or whatever works for you) so they don't get upset that you didn't reply at 11pm on a Sunday.

I can't stress this enough: if you don't set boundaries your clients will dictate your life. Having regular office hours works for me, and I've been working towards only checking my email twice a day (it's harder than it sounds!) so that I can focus on doing work for my clients instead of spending all day replying to emails.

If you have a client that loves to get in touch after-hours (and some do) then let them know that you'll do your best to address their concern the next chance you have. This obviously doesn't apply to emergency situations, but day-to-day your clients should understand that you have a life outside of your work and should be understanding if you aren't available right that second.

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Taking the time to set up a system that your clients can understand, and managing their expectations from the start is the easiest and best way to take care them and ensure that you have a positive, productive professional relationship for years to come.

Do you have any systems in place to keep your clients happy? Tell me in the comments!


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How to Create Facebook Ads That Actually Get Results

Facebook is the world's largest social network with more than 1 billion worldwide users, and it's an important social network for businesses to be able to connect with their audiences and share their content.

However, recent changes to Facebook's "timeline" feature presents a challenging problem: many businesses depend on Facebook to connect with their audiences and Facebook's organic reach has been steadily declining. In fact, the company recently announced that it would be curating users' timelines to show even less content from Pages (the business equivalent of a Profile) than ever before.

Shock! Panic! Is this the end of Facebook for businesses?!

Well... no, not really. All it means is that we have to start changing our tactics to meet the shifting demands of the social network, which means spending more time to reach the same number of people that we once (easily) reached for free.

Is Facebook still worth it?

For businesses with Facebook Pages this news may leave you feeling frustrated; after all, now you'll reach fewer people when you publish new content than you did previously. However, it's important to note that users who regularly engage with your posts by liking, commenting, and sharing (aka your "hardcore fans") will still see your content on their timeline on a regular basis.

While this shift in timeline content may feel discouraging, it's important to note that Facebook's users continue to increase every year, which means that it's still a growing and powerful network that deserves your time and attention.

With this in mind, there are basically two things you can do to increase visibility:

Encourage users to share your content

I recommend this to everyone I work with; getting users to share your content is an easy (and free!) way to reach a wider audience and encourage people to like and engage with your page. Contests, promotions, and timely, informational content are all ripe for sharing, but creating this content takes time and isn't all that reliable, because it's difficult to predict exactly what will resonate and get shared, and what won't.

So while I work this kind of content into every content calendar I manage, I strongly encourage my clients to consider...

Paid Facebook Advertising

Facebook's page advertising platform is incredibly powerful, and one of the reasons that I love it is that you can reach a large targeted audience on a daily basis very easily.

Let's say for example you want to promote your restaurant's newest dinner feature. You can use Facebook's Ad Manager to target people in your city with upcoming birthdays and anniversaries who like steak, wine, locally-sourced food, and earn an average annual household income of between $75,000 - $100,00.

Facebook Ads allow you to target exactly the kinds of users you want to see your ad, meaning you get you a direct connection with the kinds of people you want to be coming into your restaurant.

This is the biggest benefit from Facebook advertising: instead of creating a one-size-fits-all ad and hoping that it works, you can target users who live in a specific area, or who have already expressed interest in similar products or services to the ones you're selling.

While many people may still feel frustrated with online advertising, they'll still stop and click on a link if it interests them enough.

Getting started

Every business is unique, and their audiences are unique and will respond differently to different messaging and images, and part of effectively using Facebook Ads is simply making the investment and experimenting with different ads to see which ones will resonate best with your target audience.

With that in mind, here are a few things to remember as you start wading into the big, wide (or small and targeted) world of Facebook Advertising:

  • Do your research. If you don't know how to create a buyer persona for your business then check out this post on the subject, then get to making those ads. Otherwise, you won't have any idea who you should be targeting, and you'll waste valuable dollars figuring it out.
  • Be patient. As I said, generating the kind of long-term sales and click-through rates that most businesses are looking for takes time. Some campaigns will perform wonderfully; some may flop completely, but it's staying committed to it and learning as you go that will generate real results.
  • Test extensively. There are lots of ways to reach the same groups of people: where they work, where they went to school, what their interests are, which Pages they like, etc. Experiment with targeting different interests and see what happens!
  • Change up your images. I rarely run a Facebook Ad campaign with fewer than three photos because I like being able to compare and see which kinds of images did better. Not only does this help me understand which images resonated better with people, but it also helps me know which images not to use the next time around.

One last thing...

It's important to remember that a single Facebook Ad won't produce brilliant results overnight. Like social media, blogging, or any other form of advertising (online or otherwise) these things take time. It's a much better long-term business strategy to allocate a monthly "ad spend" budget, and cycle through and try different kinds of ads to see what works.

However, if you can tap into your audience's needs and interests then Facebook Advertising is one of the most powerful weapons in your marketing arsenal, so why not give it a try? (and if you need a hand, drop me a line - I'm happy to help!)

Do you have any tips for Facebook Advertising? Tell me in the comments!


Reflections on 365+ Days of Business Ownership

A few weeks ago I passed a significant personal and professional milestone:

June 30th, 2016 was my one-year anniversary as a full-time business owner.

The past 365+ days have been an incredible journey; I've learned a lot, made mistakes, discovered a lot about myself and my life has changed in so many ways that it felt appropriate to share some of the things I've learned this past year with all of you:


It's okay to not be a "good employee"

I'll be honest with you: I used to get depressed when I thought about my career. Even after going to university and working roles that were actually in my field (instead of being an accountant, oh my god) I'd still hadn't found a job that did it for me. I'd think of all those years ahead of me, likely spent in dull offices, trying to find a position or organization that hopefully wouldn't bore me to tears after six months and it was so depressing.

I also had a lot of anxiety around being a "good employee." I didn't like sitting at a desk for a pre-determined amount of hours, asking for permission to take an extended lunch or book an appointment, taking a vacation, or playing office politics (ugh). I'm also not afraid to stand up for myself and point out when I think something unfair or just plain wrong, which doesn't bode well in the world of 9-5's.

So what feels different? The biggest thing is that while I'm beholden to my clients, and I technically have more "bosses" now than I did before, we have a mutually respectful relationship which can be hard to find in the office world.

I'm honest with my clients, and they rely on me to create the right content and steer them in the right direction, which results in a level of respect and collaboration that I was never able to enjoy when I worked for someone else.

Your value isn't just tied up in your qualifications

Before I went to university the advice everyone gave me was "you have to go to university! You'll never be able to get a decent job if you don't go to university!" So that's what I did. I spent three years at the University of Winnipeg earning my Bachelor of Arts, and you know what? Not one of my clients has ever asked me about my formal education.

To be clear: I am in no way saying that getting an education isn't worth it. University was an amazing experience, and I learned a lot, but when it comes to running a service-based business my experience has been that it's more important to be able to demonstrate your value and your skills than it is to have a piece of paper that declares it for you.

Instead, people look at my website, blog, social feeds, and where I've been published or asked to speak to see examples of my knowledge.

You can say no to things that you don't want

One of the most empowering things that I've learned in this past year is to say "no" when something doesn't make me feel good. I don't take on projects that I don't want, and I don't work with clients that I don't like.

This is incredibly hard to do; we're conditioned to believe that every opportunity that comes our way may be the last, and especially when you're new to being a solo business owner it's hard not to think "if I don't take this, will I regret it? Why am I turning down money? Who in their right mind turns down money?!"

Except money isn't the key to happiness. Instead of chasing money, I chase value. I've turned down opportunities that could have resulted in a nice boost to my bank account, but which would have made me miserable, and I don't regret them at all. Instead, I focus my energy on finding opportunities and work that are more suited to my tastes and personality, and it feels amazing.

Irregular income takes some getting used to

Before I started working for myself I would say things like "I could never go from biweekly payments, it's so scary!" and you know what? It is, and it takes some getting used to.

Being paid on a monthly or irregular basis means that I have to pay more attention to my bank balance than I did before, but since I was planning to leave my 9-5 I spent a few months building up a nest egg which rolls over from month to month. That way I know that I have enough to cover my living expenses for a few months if a bunch of work dried up at once.

However, I think that this is worth mentioning: even though I get paid irregularly, diversifying my income feels more secure than a single job ever did. When I worked for someone else if I lost my job 100% of my income was gone, but now if I lose a client I just hustle a bit harder and find another one to replace that dip in my income.

Also, as I said above since all of my earning potential is wrapped up in how hard I work it often means that I make double or triple one month what I made the previous one.


The freedom of managing your life is the most worthwhile thing

This is the single biggest takeaway that I can share with you.

I grew up believing that my work was just a means to an end; that I shouldn't expect to like my job or my work and that sitting at a desk doing uninspiring things for 40 hours a week was all I could ever hope for out of my life. This is such utter bullshit, you guys.

I've enjoyed a year of having the freedom to choose the work I want; to take an afternoon off to go shopping with a friend; to work on a Sunday or during the evening; to take a 3-week vacation to Central America and to work on the road.

I do what I want and am building my ideal life on my terms, and I get to grow something amazing and completely my own all from scratch. The work I do is fun and rewarding, and most importantly it makes my clients feel good, too.

Personal takeaways from 365+ days

I used to feel trapped by my life.

I didn't know what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go professionally, and I felt shackled to a corporate work and life that I resented and which, frankly, wasn't a good fit for me. It wasn't until I started building my client list and hanging out with other creatives and entrepreneurs that I realized that doing the thing that you love for a living is the key to being truly happy all the time.

The past 365+ days have been an exercise in un-learning a lot of things that I thought I knew about my value as a person and a creative professional. I've also learned so much about myself and have developed such a deep appreciation for my life that I can barely put it into words. It's been an exciting, challenging, and rewarding experience that I wouldn't trade for anything.

Thank you to my fantastic partner John, my incredible and supportive friends, and to my clients who do me the honour of working with me.

Alyson


How to Use Twitter to Create Connections & Grow Your Business

Earlier this week I got together for a mini-tweetup or sorts with some local ladies that I know through a Twitter chat that I participate in. We had some lunch, enjoyed some laughs, and got to know each other a little better.

That experience got me thinking about the value of Twitter as a social network, and how easy it can be for people to find each other, create connections, and even grow their businesses.

As many of you know, Twitter is my favourite social network and I believe that the community I found online helped shape me into who I am today.

With that in mind, I wanted to share some benefits that I believe Twitter can have for you and your business, so let's get started:


Interact with real people

One of the biggest objections I hear to Twitter is "I'll never meet real people! It's just brands and businesses!"

Not so, young social media Padawans. Not so.

One of my favourite stories to tell about social media was how I met my good friend Colin. I was pretty green to Twitter (circa 2009 or 2010) and I tweeted out something like "are there any meetups for creative types in #Winnipeg?" Colin tweeted at me, we proceeded to meet up at the next Secret Handshake meetup, and we've been friends ever since.

I talk about this a little bit more in my post How Social Media and Blogging Helped Me Discover Who I Am, but it's worth repeating here that Twitter is an excellent conversation tool because it democratizes your feed.

Currently Twitter's timeline is largely comprised of people you follow and you see their tweets in chronological order, allowing you to tweet at basically anyone you want, anytime. This means that you can connect with a celebrity, talk to a brand, or just reach out and start chatting with other people from your hometown, and you're all on the same playing field.

Create genuine, real-life connections

One of the secrets to using Twitter isn't to just tweet and expect people to find you. Sure, replying and RT'ing is a lovely way to let people know that you're out there, but finding twitter and participating in Twitter chats is one of the fastest ways to start seeing connections grow.

Essentially a Twitter chat is a chat hosted on Twitter which uses a chat-specific hashtag (this thing: #) to help users identify and respond to one another. Twitter chats tend to be grouped around themes or topics and can range from chats about beer, to parenting, to disability rights, and more!

One of my favourite weekly chats is #wecmchat, which is hosted by the Women's Enterprise Centre of Manitoba, and focuses on fostering discussion about business ownership and being a woman in business. I've met lots of local lady business owners in the year or so that I've been participating in the chat, and some of us even got together to grab lunch at a burger joint just outside the city:


What's great about this chat is that I've met other like-minded people (my "tribe") and have formed connections with them that may not have existed otherwise, and gotten to know them in ways that I may not have if we'd only run into each other face-to-face.

This is the power of Twitter chats: to be able to get to know other people with similar interests, goals, and beliefs in informal and regularly scheduled times.

Grow your business

Twitter can absolutely convert those conversations to paying customers, but you have to put in the effort. Twitter doesn't have a quick ROI, so don't expect to go from 4 followers to 4,000 overnight unless you bought them from somewhere, which is a whole other topic in and of itself.

That being said, Twitter's power lies in its ability to let a business act like a human being. Unlike on Facebook, where business pages can't interact with personal profiles, businesses can Tweet to personal accounts. For example, if you tweet out "today is my birthday!" your local pizza place may tweet back "happy birthday @yournanehere!"

By engaging in conversation with other users businesses can use Twitter as a way to remind people that their business is there, and to create feelings of familiarity and trust as they engage in casual, positive, and non-salesy conversation.*

(*This is super important! While it's okay to tweet out about sales, special promos, and the like, it's bad Twitter etiquette to tweet anything prompting people to buy from you.)

While Twitter may have a slower ROI, it can absolutely land you clients. I can say this with absolute certainty because I've met clients who have followed me on Twitter and decided to use my services as a result. The more time you invest in talking to others and building connections on Twitter, the better your results will be.

More questions?

If you're still totally baffled by Twitter check out my Twitter Crash Course post series. I'll walk you through setting up an account, to connecting with your first followers, understanding your analytics and more!

Click here to view the project index

When it comes to any social network the most important thing to remember is this: everyone else is there to make connections, just like you. So jump right in and start tweeting!

Do you have any questions about Twitter? Tweet at me or ask me in the comments!


How to Pull Yourself Out of a Creative Slump

Let's face it: even those of us who run our own businesses doing what we love for a living there are days where we feel more lukewarm than red-hot about it. It's normal! Not every day has to result in bubbly feelings, 110% productivity, and heaps of creative new ideas to jot down.

But what do you do when that dip in productivity becomes a lull... and then the norm?

This totally happened to me recently.

Don't get me wrong: my dedication to my clients hadn't faded, but my creative side - the side that feels like it shows when I write, for example - seemed to be taking a backseat to everything else that was going on in my life.

This is totally normal. It's normal for creative people to go through a dip in productivity, or a drought, but when you depend on your creativity to make a living there's a unique sort of pressure to get yourself together and get producing again.

With that in mind I wanted to share some of the steps I've taken to "get my groove back" so to speak, because you never know when a creative dry spell may occur:


1. Acknowledge there's an issue

This is the worst. When you're in a creative slump it's easy to brush it off and say "I just don't feel like it right now!" or "I'll just get to it later" but you've got to be honest with yourself or you'll never snap out of it. You need to take a long, hard look at your screen (or canvas, or whatever) and admit: I haven't been working as hard at my craft as I usually do, and I need to snap out of it.

It's normal to feel guilty here; just let yourself feel bad for a few minutes... then let it go! The easiest way to make those guilty feelings go away is to do the thing that's making you feel bad, right?

2. Do it even if it sucks

The biggest hurdle to overcoming your creative slump is just sitting down to do the damn thing and not getting overwhelmed to the point where you're too in your head to produce anything of value. So what should you do instead? Sit down and create something of no value.

If you're a writer like me, do some free writing and experiment with different ideas, word combinations, and see what emerges; if you paint, just paint some stuff and let go of the expectation that it has to be your next masterpiece; you get the idea. Getting back into the habit of doing your craft will help you get back to feeling comfortable with it instead of intimidated and anxious.

3. Get active

When my anxiety flares up or I get super busy I'm the worst for letting my trips to the gym fall by the wayside. I try to go 2-3 times a week and I notice a definite slump in my mood, sleep, and creativity levels when I'm not exercising regularly. Recently I "scheduled" GAINZ time into my calendar Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings; that way it's just scheduled into my workday.

On days when I can't make it in the morning I try to go in the afternoon, but if all else fails I make a point to go for a walk, ride my bike somewhere, or do yoga at home (I'v also started doing this 10-minute yoga flow video in the afternoons to clear my head - it works, I swear!)

4. Read

Like I said, I've been struggling with a creative slump recently and when I sat down at my laptop today I hadn't intended to write blog post. I've been struggling to write consistently recently, but I still spend a lot of time online reading articles about a wide variety of topics because 1. I'm a voracious reader and 2. I have to in order to stay on top of my game professionally.

In any case, a few days ago John showed me a terrific series of posts on Derek Sivers' blog, one of which is called How to Be Useful to Others. One of the points goes as follows:

3. Share strong opinions.
Strong opinions are very useful to others.
Those who were undecided or ambivalent can just adopt your stance.
But those who disagree can solidify their stance by arguing against yours.
Even if you invent an opinion for the sole sake of argument, boldly sharing a strong opinion is very useful to others.

While it didn't really strike me at the time, those statements have been gnawing at me for a few days and were one of the things that inspired me to sit down and start trying to work past my writer's block. However, you can read whatever inspires you in order to get your spark back: novels, autobiographies of people you admire, or even some articles on Hacker News - whatever leaves you feeling inspred is stuff you should actively be seeking out and reading (or re-reading).

5. Write it out

Sometimes when I find myself struggling to put my thoughts to paper I do "free writing" session. Free writing is a technique where you literally just write whatever comes to mind without stopping to correct spelling, grammar, or focusing on a specific topic.

After reading the aforementioned Derek Sivers article I started typing... and oddly enough the bare bones for this post started to emerge. I wrote about feeling anxious about not writing as much, and as the words appeared on my screen I realized that I was stuck in a cycle of guilt over not creating which was actually stopping me from doing it.

I find this technique is especially helpful before I start writing something a bit more technical (like one of these blog posts) because it really clears out whatever's floating around in your head. Often whenever I find that I'm stuck on an idea or problem a little free writing clears out that mental clutter in no time!


6. Watch & be inspired

I don't usually work with the TV on, but sometimes when I need a little creative background noise (like right now) I'll pop the TV on in the background and half-watch while I work on something. I find that it's best to put on something a bit soothing or slower-paced because watching stuff like action movies can be distracting (hint: don't try to focus on your craft while watching Deadpool).

One of my favourite shows is Chef's Table (it's available on Netflix - go binge-watch it when you're done reading this post!) because not only is it beautifully framed and shot, it also interviews highly creative people who have completely dedicated themselves to their craft and it's pretty impossible to not feel inspired while watching it.

Do you have any tips for getting that creative spark back? Tweet at me or tell me in the comments!


4 Tricky Social Media Challenges & How to Solve Them

Let's face it: social media is challenging, and most people feel totally overwhelmed when they first sign up for a social network without any prior knowledge of how to use it.

This is totally normal, but unfortunately it's the reason that many people sign up for social networks, spend a little bit of time trying to get to know them... and then promptly abandon them when they encounter a challenge (like getting new followers, or having authentic conversations) that they don't know how to overcome.

Stop the madness! While social media can certainly be complicated and feel challenging (trust me, I know) it's not rocket science, and with that in mind I wanted to cover four of the biggest, trickiest challenges that people ask me about on a regular basis.

Let’s jump in!


Challenge #1: Creating an authentic connection

One of the things that people seem to struggle with the most when it comes to interacting on social media is authentic interactions. An "authentic interaction" is when a person or brand takes the time to get to know their audience on a personal level by interacting with them in a natural, non-salesy way, and is an important part of building feelings or trust and familiarity online.

How to solve it

The easiest way to create an authentic connection online is to be legitimately interested in other people, and to engage with them in a variety of positive ways. These can include:

  • Asking questions
  • Sharing links to articles and blog posts
  • Responding to posts, tweets and comments
  • Offering advice or a solution to someone's problem

One of my favourite ways to engage with other people is to find relevant Twitter chats and participate regularly. Never participated in a Twitter chat? Don't worry, I have a whole series called the Twitter Crash Course to get you started.

Challenge #2: Developing a social media strategy

Most people are on social networks without much of a plan, but when you make the decision to start investing the time and energy into growing your audience, it's time to sit down and start planning how to do it.

How to solve it

There are lots of things that you can do to pave your path to social media success, but a few of the most basic ones you ought to have figured out before diving in are:

  • Why you're on social media. Don't just say "because everyone else is"! Legitimately ask yourself why you want to invest your time growing an online audience and let those goals guide your actions.
  • How you're going to achieve those goals. Maybe you'll put together a kickass paid advertising campaign, maybe you'll start sharing hilarious cat videos, whatever the case may be.
  • How will you measure success? There are lots of ways you can measure success: number of page views, tweets, responds etc over a specific period of time, etc. What matters is that you keep records (I do mine on a monthly basis) to track your progress.

Challenge #3: Creating engaging, quality content

If you think that consistently coming up with good, consistent content for your social media feeds and blog is challenging and time-consuming... well, you're right. In fact, it's exactly why people like me exist: because most people simply don't have the time to create, update, curate, monitor, respond, and schedule content across multiple social media profiles.

But if you're not ready to invest in someone else handling your content for you, it can feel like an overwhelming amount of work, and is often something that leads to people avoiding or abandoning their social profiles entirely.

How to solve it

One of my favourite ways to suss out high-quality content ideas is to use a great tool called Buzzsumo, which allows you to punch in topics or websites and see the most popular posts about those topics. You can also try finding relevant Twitter chats and paying attention to what people discussing your industry or products are asking, or searching forum websites for questions and discussion threads.

When posting articles, make sure to use eye-catching images whenever possible; if you're sharing a link an image from the page will usually auto-generate (it's usually fine to just use these instead of your own), but if you're posting links to your own blog posts and content, take the time to create a unique and original image to go along with it.

Challenge #4: Getting the word out about your content

Unfortunately setting up a blog and social feeds doesn't necessarily mean that people will immediately flock to you (I wish it were that easy!) - you'll have to hustle your content in order for people to know that it's there. No matter how great your content may be, if you aren't promoting it then nobody is likely to find it.

How to solve it

The trick to getting your content out there is to be proactive in sharing it and encouraging other people to share it, as well. Try and identify people who would benefit from seeing your content and make a point to share it with them. There are a few ways that you can accomplish this:

  • Share your blog or website updates on social media.
  • Reach out to influencers in your industry (in a nice, non-sleazy way) and ask them to share it or work with you to promote your content.
  • Tag people you mention in your post. For example, last year I wrote a post about the Winnipeg Folk Festival and tagged them in the tweet, which they retweeted and subsequently earned me a lot of traffic.
  • Post links to your content on relevant Facebook or LinkedIn groups, Pinterest groups, and forum websites like Reddit and HackerNews (be sure to mind the posting rules on these sites!)
  • Repost your content on Medium.com, and reach out to publications to see if they would be interested in republishing your work.

There you have it! Four steps to social media success and overcoming some of the trickiest obstacles that people face when they first start wading out into the big, wide world of social networks.

Do you have any social media challenges you struggle to deal with, or tips for overcoming some of these tricky issues? Tell me in the comments or tweet at me!


How Social Media & Blogging Helped Me Discover Who I Am

**Trigger warning** For some of you who come from abusive relationships, some of the content in this post may act as a trigger. Please read responsibly.

The other day Meg Athavale of LUMO shared a terrific article on Facebook called "The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship" and one of the sections of the article really stood out for me:

Rather than showing vulnerability, business leaders have practiced what social psychiatrists call impression management--also known as "fake it till you make it."

This really struck a chord with me because as someone who makes their living online, keeping my personal brand as authentic as possible is one of my biggest priorities. Sure, I may not blog or tweet about every tough therapy session or anxiety that pops up, but as a business owner with an audience I believe that I have a responsibility to be transparent about the challenges in my life as well as my successes. I am a human being, after all.

With that in mind, I wanted to discuss the struggle that I've faced with reconciling my "authentic self" (aka, the one you see here, on social media, and in person) with the person that I was raised to believe that I was.



Some backstory

For those of you who don't know me personally, I haven't spoken to my parents or the majority of my family since early 2015 (you can read more about that here). Recently my brother had a baby, and I had to make the decision to not reach out or be involved. This wasn't a decision that I made lightly, but it was the right one for me and my mental health, and I stand by it.

This decision prompted my mother to leave a comment on my blog. Some of her statements (minus the attempts at gaslighting) included:

  • For some reason Alyson, which I have to confess, escapes me, you seem to be under the impression that you are far superior to the rest of us.
  • Maybe because you are a, 'writer', and can use, 'big', words, you think it gives you an advantage that we don't have.
  • I think you need to get down off that pedestal you've erected for yourself and get rid of your overblown ego.
  • You are so focused on living up to your superficial, 'queen of the Internet', alter ego, that you no longer know how to be a decent human being.
  • Could it be that there is a wee bit of human in you after all?

The reason that I'm sharing these personal details is because I don't believe that vague descriptions adequately convey the narrative I grew up with. The comments you see above (which thankfully aren't a part of my life anymore beyond being a very helpful example for the sake of this article) were the things that were told to me on a daily basis.

Needless to say I entered adulthood as a pretty unhappy, insecure, and confused individual.

Discovering myself online

When I first started blogging back in 2003 I couldn't have predicted the multitude of ways that it would eventually come to change my life. I've always gravitated towards writing as my favourite form of self-expression, and blogging has always seemed like a natural and easy way to do it.

My blog is a reflection of who I am and the things that I feel are valuable and important to share, and from day one it caused issues between myself and my family. As illustrated in my mother's comments above, my ability to articulate and share my thoughts, and my willingness to do so, was seen as attempts at being superior and were frequently thwarted with threats of getting "cut out" of the family.

Despite this resistance from my home life I soon realized that I had found a community of like-minded individuals who wrote, shared, and published with the same authenticity that I wanted to be doing. In the late 2000's I started reading Raymi the Minx, the busblog, oceanaria, and a plethora of now-defunct but wonderful blogs who inspired me to be myself, no matter what. I'd always grown up believing that "nobody cared" about my thoughts or feelings, and the blogging community taught me that it wasn't true.

Around 2009 I also began discovering social networks. In particular I gravitated towards Twitter, which helped me express myself and connect with people whom I likely wouldn't have met otherwise. I doubt that I would have met Stef, Colin, Adrian, LJT, Kevin, and a variety of other wonderful people whom I now count among my dearest friends if it hadn't been for Twitter, and being active on this social network helped me expand my reach and connect with colleagues, clients, and a support system that I had never imagined was possible.

Around 2011 my active presence online as well as my obsession with internet culture and memes led to some of my Twitter followers (jokingly) dubbing me the "Queen of the Internet". As odd as it sounds, this nickname, however in jest, helped me start to develop a confidence that I had never experienced before. Suddenly people were turning to me to ask questions about social media and blogging on a regular basis. I started speaking at Red River College's Creative Communications program, at the MBlog conference, and my work was published in the local paper.

Contrasting these successes against the person that I had always believed myself to be (the selfish, superficial person who didn't care about anyone but herself) became harder and harder. Not only were my friends, colleagues, and peers informing a narrative which challenged my previous thoughts and feelings about myself, but I was starting to slowly stop believing those things, as well.

The catalyst

In retrospect the biggest change in perspective came when I published my post Living with the Mean Reds, which detailed how it felt to live with anxiety and feelings of low self-worth every day. At the time I was terrified of hitting "publish", and I was overwhelmed and surprised at the outpouring of support and kind words that I received as a result.

Social media and blogging provided me with a supportive community where over time I was able to learn to shed the negative self-image that I'd grown up believing. By having a space that was completely free from my family's influence I was able to start growing, learning, and not being so afraid all the damn time. I started a business, I started therapy, and I started investing my time and energy into the things that really mattered instead of indulging in drama because I felt obligated to participate


Support from these communities help me finally realize that refusing to make room for the negative things in my life doesn't make me a bad person. It means I have a deep enough understanding of my needs to make hard (and sometimes unpopular) decisions.

Why does this matter?

Social media and blogging are extremely powerful tools which can connect us with people all over the world. They allow us to find communities and support systems online we can start to explore parts of ourselves that scare us, or that we don't feel we can express to the people in our day-to-day lives.

By finding ways to express myself online I was able to discover things about myself, make connections, and find opportunities that simply wouldn't have been available to me otherwise. The encouragement I received from my followers, readers, friends, and my very supportive partner led me to where I am today, and though I'm not perfect I'm working hard at building the life I want and deserve.

Sharing this stuff isn't easy. It's doesn't feel great to admit that my mother is the way that she is, or that my family doesn't understand who I am, but it's the reality that I'm in and I'm thankful to be able to have a platform through which I can share these thoughts and experiences as I work through them.

Through blogging and on social media I was able to find a place for myself and connect with communities of supportive and like-minded individuals who helped me start making a place for myself in the real world and, most importantly, in my own eyes.

Most of the bloggers I've followed over the years don't know how much they helped me, and there's a good chance that if my words help someone that I may never know, either. But if reading about the challenges that I've faced helps someone else seek out the supports they need to start healing and being happy, then that matters a great deal, and I'm happy to share my stories and be a part of that process and thankful to be able to help.

As always, thanks for reading, and thanks for being here with me while I figure this stuff out.

(If anything I've described in this post re: family expectations, relationships, or narratives imposed upon you by your family sounds familiar, I strongly encourage you to check out /r/raisedbynarcissists, a wonderfully supportive Reddit community that has helped me a lot.)


6 Ways Your Small Business Can Save Money

Recently I received a phone call from my alma mater asking for donations to their Faculty of Arts, where I studied when I received my BA. She asked me for $5 a month, or "the cost of a single Starbucks coffee" (well played, University of Winnipeg, well played).

I'll be honest with you: I declined to give back to the university for the time being. My business is still in it's infancy, and saving money is pretty important to me right now. However, this conversation got me thinking about the ways I work to keep costs low for myself during this stage (even if that means saving that $5 a month), and I thought I'd share some of the things I've learned:


One of the most interesting assumptions that people have started to make about me since I began running my business is that this is the lifestyle I lead:


This is, much to my chagrin, not how I live my life. In fact, it's a little more like this:


Don't get me wrong, I'm doing just fine financially, but I'm not baller status quite yet. As a result, here are some of the areas where I cut costs or try not to indulge in order to keep my business expenses low:

Buying or renting space you don't need yet

One of the easiest ways to save a few hundred dollars a month (minimum!) is to avoid buying a brick-and-mortar store or renting office space for as long as you can. This, in my opinion, is the single biggest benefit to working from home.

Sure, there are benefits to an office or renting a desk in a co-working space, such as access to a board room, printing area, etc, but unless your business has grown to the point where you need those things on a consistent basis, having client meetings in coffee shops should be fine for now.

Spending on expedited shipping

Unless it's a business emergency (ie: your business will shut down without this parcel/package) you can wait the extra day or two.

Additionally, if the shipping charges for a particular item are outrageous, ask yourself: do you really need that beautiful embossed day planner that badly? Odds are, you probably don't.

Custom website design

I get it: you want to build a website that stands out from your competitor's. You want something that is completely yours, and is an accurate online representation of your business and your values.

However, what's more important is simply having a website, rather than worrying about whether or not it's built custom from scratch. Many people choose to work with existing Wordpress or Squarespace templates, which are easy to alter and personalize without the investment in a custom designed site.

Unnecessary advertising

I'm a firm believer that the best thing a person or business can do for themselves is to start to build a positive reputation for themselves online. What's great about this is that social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest (the biggest and most popular ones for businesses) are all free to join.

This means that if you do hustle a little bit (or hire someone like me #ShamelessPlug) you can start to build a name for yourself and your services without having to invest in paid advertising just yet.

Not only does putting off doing paid advertising beneficial because it keeps costs low, but people will appreciate that you're connecting with them on a real, human level, and not just sending a barrage of ads their way.

Office supplies you don't need

Confession: I LOVE going to stationery stores. Every time I step into Tiny Feast here in Winnipeg my heart starts going pitter-pat and I start imagining how charming my desk would be with all those fountain pens, notebooks, staplers... you get the drift.

As much as I would love to take everything from Tiny Feast home with me, I have to ask myself: how often do I use a stapler (never), how often do I use paperclips (also never), do I really need a handmade mug to store my pens (not at all)... you get my drift.

As tempting as it may seem to try and pimp out your desk with heaps of Pinterest-worthy goodies, resist the temptation for now. You can always indulge in that gorgeous cork-top desk in the future.

Subscriptions for software you don't need

This one always gets me. I pay for a few subscriptions to various content scheduling and monitoring services (HootSuite, Buffer, etc) and it sucks to pay the monthly fees... but without them I would go absolutely bonkers and not be able to manage my shit. So, for me they are a necessary evil.

However, unless you're in the digital marketing business odds are you can avoid a lot of these monthly expenses by using free software to do what you need. Some great options are:

It may seem tempting to invest in expensive software, or to buy a bunch pf products up-front "just in case" but if you aren't using the tool on a daily basis, and if it isn't something that your business can live without (eg: I would be utterly lost without Buffer, for example) then consider sticking with the free version, or finding a free alternative until the time comes when you either a) need the service enough that you should pay for it or b) you can afford to invest in it.

Do you have any money-saving tips for small businesses? Is there something that you wish you had learned when you were starting out? Tweet at me or tell me in the comments!


How to Create Buyer Personas That Work for Your Business

Let me tell you a dirty secret: I hated building buyer personas when I was taking my business courses in university. I thought they were useless, frivolous, and something that marketing agencies could charge exorbitant fees to their customers to develop.

Then, as it so often happens in the world of Being an Adult, I started running my own business and learned that I was totally wrong.

In fact, understanding and developing buyer personas was, in fact an integral part of understanding a businesses' target audience, and how best to communicate with them.

As I so often say when it comes to advice I dole out on this blog: do as I say, not as I've done. Learn from my mistakes; understand what a buyer persona is and how it benefits your business, and use it to the best of your abilities.

Not sure what a buyer persona is, or how it can help your business? No worries, I've got you covered:


What are buyer personas & what do they do?

At it's core, a buyer persona is essentially a portrait of your ideal customer.

In terms of content marketing strategy, having a comprehensive buyer persona helps businesses (or people like me!) deliver content which is timely, informative, and that your audience actually want to see and consume.

Different people respond differently to various kinda of images, messaging, and communication, and it's important to take these perspectives into consideration while figuring out how to best serve your customers.

For example, a 20-year-old Snapchat user who is starting university and has very little disposable income will have respond to different messages, and will have different motivations, goals, and purchasing power than a 45-year-old father of two who is a CEO at his company and has lots of disposable income. Now, your business may not be trying to appeal to both of these extremes, but what this is meant to illustrate is that you need to know who your ideal buyers are, why they should care about your business, and (more importantly) how your product or service can appeal to them or make their lives easier.

How can you build buyer personas that really work?

The key to building effective buyer personas is that you have to make a bunch of them. This may feel like tedious work (my university-era self would agree) but creating a few personas can help you develop well-rounded ideas about the kinds of people you want to communicate with, and who you think are the ones who would be interested in buying what you have to offer.

You don't have to get super specific, but identifying the following areas are generally pretty useful:

Basic info

  • Name. This isn't technically necessary, but I like naming my buyer personas. I find it helps with keeping track of who they are, and makes them feel a bit more "real".
  • Job title. Are they CEOs? Mid-level management? Students working at Starbucks? Like I said earlier, where they are in their professional life will influence their purchasing power.
  • Details about their job title or role. These flesh out their day-to-day motivations at work and help inform what they may be looking for professionally.

General demographics

  • Age. Different generations and age brackets have different motivations and priorities, and it's important to identify what they are in order to figure out what they want.
  • Gender. Are you marketing your products to men, women, both, or otherwise?
  • Location. Where your ideal customers are can make a huge difference on how you craft your message to them.
  • Salary. Lots of people are afraid to talk about money and finances, but let's be honest: how much your buyers have to spend influences whether or not they have monty to buy your products or services.
  • Education. People's level of education shapes a variety of areas such as their level of employment, salary, interests, and much more.
  • Family. Are they single? Married? Do they have 2.5 kids? Are they close with their extended family? Their ties to their families and those obligations will influence their purchasing power.

Values & objections

  • Values. What are the things that your buyers believe to be important or valuable? Eg: buying local; investing in secondhand or slow fashion; or driving an expensive BMW.
  • Objections. What are some objections that could come up during the sales process? Eg: your product is too expensive; too niche; too complicated for a layman to see any value, etc.


(do your buyers shop like Kanye or like Macklemore?)

Extras

This area can change a bit depending on what your business sells, but generally some other areas which can help build an accurate buyer profile are:

  • Computer literacy. Do your buyers go mining for Bitcoins, or do they struggle to find the Any Key?
  • News sources. Your customers' values will likely be different depending on whether they get their news from Fox News or Al-Jazeera.
  • Hobbies. How your customers spend their free time can help you understand more about their motivations and values.
  • Interviews and real-life examples. If you already have an existing customer base, take a look at your reviews and customer service experiences. How do people talk to your team, or speak about your business?

Sussing this information out

Figuring out all this information by yourself may seem like an impossible task, but it isn't! There are actually a variety of ways that you can find the information you need to build a series of effective buyer personas, which are:

  • Asking your team and colleagues. As I said earlier, if your business is already customer-facing you can speak to team members who interact with your customers to build complete profiles.
  • Check your website stats. This should be obvious, but if not some things to look for are: keywords people used to find your website, where your visitors came from, and the actions they took while they were on your page. If your website doesn't have Google Analytics installed, back the hell up and install it before coming back to this article. Your analytics tool is one of the best tools at your disposal for understanding customer behaviour.
  • Use social media. Look for services or products similar to your own and spend some time analyzing the discussions happening on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and on blogs. People are more likely to share negative experiences than positive ones online, which can provide you with important insight into the areas where your buyers feel your industry could be doing better.

Why does this process matter?

This may seem like a lot of work (and trust me, it is!) but taking the time to investigate and research your potential customers and to create well-rounded buyer personas can go a long way towards helping you understand your businesses' strengths and weaknesses. Spending time on this process helps your business provide a better experience for your customers.

Still want a little more help creating an effective buyer persona? Check out these free buyer persona templates from HubSpot. They're what I use day-to-day, and I'm sure you'll find them to be invaluable, as well!

How do you create buyer personas for your business? Do you have anything to add to what I've outlined in this post? Tweet at me or tell me in the comments!


A Guide to Working Your Side Hustle While Keeping Your Day Job

Let's face it: there's nothing worse than feeling like you're stuck in your job.

I'll be honest with you: I was pretty unhappy at my old office job, and the biggest thing that kept me going there day after day was knowing that I could go home and work on my business.

Knowing that I could go home and pour my energy into something personal that mattered to me kept me going on a lot of days when I wanted to throw in the towel.

However, whether you're building your biz on the side, hustling your freelance gig, or working on other creative projects, it can still be tough to be able to put the effort in when you spend the bulk of your peak productivity hours at the office.

If you're serious about accomplishing your goals outside of your 9-5 then it's time to start planning, getting organized, and taking steps to make the most of your out of office hours.

Luckily, I just went through this experience, which is why I'm here to help:


Figure out how much time you have (and be honest!)

So we already know that you have -40 hours a week to work on your side project, but it's also important to factor in other important areas of your life that can't be avoided and take up your time. Some of these can include:

  • Commuting to and from work
  • Going to the gym/general fitness
  • Preparing and eating meals
  • Socializing
  • Sleep

The easiest way to figure out how much time you really have is to map it out so you can get an accurate look at how much time you really have, and how much time you can realistically spend each week.

I know that a few hours here or there may not look like a lot, but don't get discouraged! Make every hour count.

Plan, plan, plan!

Your time is limited, and if you're working on a particularly large goal, or something with lots of steps to complete it can feel like an impossible task to fit it all into your after-work hours. Don't sweat it, baby, it can be done! It just takes a little planning and preparedness.

The first thing you need to do is figure out what your goals are. They can be as vague or as specific as you'd like, but the most specific you can be, the better.

Some examples are:

  • Write and publish an ebook
  • Redesign and launch your website
  • Put together an e-course or workshop
  • Hustle your side business and grow your client base

These are all top-level goals: they're the end result, but to get there will take lots of smaller, much more manageable steps. What I used to do was sit down on a weekly or bi-weekly basis and figure out what I wanted to work on that week, and focused my attention on competing those tasks.

Prioritize and re-assess often

Once your top-level goals are in place and you've mapped out how and when you'll be taking steps to get there, it's time to prioritize your time. When you're doing lots of stuff and living a busy life it can feel hard to know what to start with (believe me!) so I find it's helpful to determine what "priority" tasks are. This is what mine look like:

  • Client work and tasks that generate income
  • Time-sensitive tasks, or tasks on a schedule (my newsletter, for example)
  • Work that needs to be sent to someone else so they can move forward on their end
  • To-dos on my business development goal list

It's important to take this seriously! It's way too easy to get wrapped up in small details, or to waste your time on something that doesn't really matter. Remember: your after-hours time is at a premium, so treat it that way.

Schedule similar tasks together

After a long day at the office it may feel like it makes more sense to say, write a blog post one night and draft your newsletter the next, but practicing "batch scheduling" can help you optimize your time and get more done.

"Batch scheduling" is exactly what it sounds like: grouping similar tasks together to optimize your time. This is especially important when doing tasks which require you to get into a "flow" such as writing or other creative pursuits. It takes time to get in and out of flow, so it makes more sense to group similar tasks together so you can stay in that mindset as you move from one task to the next.

It's also important to try and schedule your after-work work on nights when you aren't feeling mentally worn-down. You probably won't feel like sitting down and working on your financials after a busy day of meetings at the office, for example, so try to schedule mentally taxing tasks on days when your 9-5 is more low-key, and vice-versa.

Take time off


When you're hustling on the side of your 9-5 it's really easy to fall into the habit of working 24-7 (trust me on this one, I know it all too well) but if you don't schedule in time to rest and recharge your batteries you will burn out. Not only will your side projects begin to see the strain, but your productivity at your 9-5 will begin to slip as well, and that's not good!

With this in mind, schedule time to catch up on the latest Game of Thrones, go for a hike with your friends, or basically do something that isn't working on your side project when you're not at work.

Taking the time to look after yourself ensures that you'll have the steam to keep firing on all cylinders, both at your 9-5 and at your side gig, for a long time.

Do you have any tips for working on your side hustle while keeping a day job? I'd love to hear them!


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