Write Better Instagram Captions in 5 Minutes or Less
- by Alyson Shane
Instagram is a visual social network by design, which means it's essential to focus on creating and finding eye-catching visuals to help your account stand out from the crowd... but what about the captions?
Many people don't realize this, but captions are one of the best tools at your disposal to help convey your message. Taking the time to write engaging, personal captions which express who you are (business or personal) and your reason for posting can go a long way towards helping keep your Followers engaged.
Luckily, sprucing up your Instagram caption game is as easy as can be! Let's take a quick look at how you can write a better Instagram caption in five minutes or less:
Use Your Instagram Captions to Sound Authentic
Before posting anything on Instagram, ask yourself: why should my Followers care about what I'm sharing? What sets my post apart from other, similar, content on this social network?
Some other things to ask when crafting your Instagram caption are:
- Does it tell a story?
- Does it help my Followers learn more about me?
- Does it sound personal and authentic?
Let's use this photo of some lovely items I picked up from one of my favourite local shops, Public General Store to illustrate an example of what I mean.
Which of these two captions inspires you to take action?
Got some new stuff from @shop_public today. Check them out!
Yesterday I braved the cold to pick up some treats from my favourite new local shop, @shop_public. The dried lavender makes the house smell amazing, and I can't wait to relax with this vegan, handmade bath bomb from @blackflorawpg after a good skate. Make sure to check them out the next time you're in #WestBroadway!
See what I mean? Now my Followers know where I got the items, the reasons why I like them (local, handmade, vegan, etc), and have a personal recommendation to go check them out for themselves.
How does this example apply to my business? I hear you asking. Here's how:
Consumers demand more authenticity and personality from the brands and businesses that they interact with, the more "human" they want those interactions to feel. By using longer sentences and slang in the caption above it sounds more like... well, me.
I'm a person, and that's how I speak, so it makes sense that a brand wishing to emulate a "human" style would want to adopt a similar tone.
Use Your Instagram Captions to Tell a Story
Gone are the days when a brand could throw up an image and assume that consumers would buy based on the image, alone. Buyers in our modern economy are interested in how products and brands make them feel, and there's nothing that makes people feel good like being part of a story.
With this in mind, ask yourself: how can I wrap my products and posts in a story that will interest my Followers?
(Don't worry: if you're stuck here are a few suggestions to get the wheels in your head turning):
- Share a story about something that happened recently
- Mention specific customers, employees in your caption
- Get personal - share a success or struggle which relates to your image
- Share your favourites (places, people, food, products, etc)
- Talk about upcoming plans, dreams, and events
- Quote books, speakers, or people who inspire you and helped shape your brand
Use Your Instagram Captions As a Call-to-Action
Now that you've hooked your Followers with an interesting, authentic caption it's time to guide them to what you want them to do next. 70% of small businesses don't use a call-to-action in their marketing copy, which means doing so can give you a competitive advantage.
Stumped for a few effective call-to-action examples? I've got you covered:
- Check out the link in our profile for details
- Looking for more decor inspiration? Check out the link in our bio
- Tag a friend who...
- Share your experience/memory with us by tagging us in your photo!
- Leave a comment and tell us what you think
Encouraging your Followers to talk to you, share their stories, and get your brand involved will help with those feelings of engagement and participation in your brand's "story". Not sure how to tell your brand's story? Here's a comprehensive how-to on marketing your brand through storytelling.
Do you have any favourite tips on Instagram caption etiquette? Tweet at me or tell me in the comments!
Debunking 3 Popular Social Media Myths
- by Alyson Shane
When it comes to social media, there's a wealth of information out there. A quick Google search for "social media tips" comes up with over 166,000,000 results. That's a lot of information!
Especially when you're first starting out, it may seem like there are so many "dos" and "don'ts" in terms of building an effective social media strategy, but while there are lots of great tips out there... I'm sorry to say that there are also a few myths which need to be debunked and removed from our collective memory.
What kinds of myths am I talking about? Let's take a look:
Myth 1: There's only one "right" time to post
This myth continues to exist because it's a well-intentioned one. Of course you want to post your content at times when your audience will be most likely to see it, right?
This is absolutely true, but what you need to keep in mind before you start pre-scheduling your content to go out every Tuesday at 4:45pm is this: do you know that that's when the majority of your target audience will be online?
This might be easy to figure out if your target audience happen to live in the same city as your business (if you're a local restaurant, for example) but if you're trying to reach a wider audience, and one which may even be in a different time zone than you are (say, if you're an international chain of restaurants) then you need to spend a little more time thinking about when they'll be online.
Myth 2: Your business needs to be on every social network
Often, one of the first things that a new client will ask me is: do I need to be on every social network?
The short answer, and the one I always give them is: no.
While it may seem like a good idea to get your name on as many social networks as possible, what you need to consider is the quality of the conversations and content that you can have on each network, not the quantity of them available for you to use.
it's also important to think about the kinds of people you want to reach, and where they spend most of their time online*. According to SmartInsights, 57% of Snapchat users are 16-24, whereas only 25% of the same demographic are regular Facebook users, and a paltry 29% are on G+.
So if your business is trying to target young people, Facebook and G+ may not be the best place to focus the majority of your marketing efforts.
Take the time to think about where your target audience are spending their time, and how your business can establish a presence on those social platforms. Otherwise, you'll just be wasting your time trying to connect with customers and clients who aren't interested in what you have to say or offer them.
Myth 3: You need to blog every day
Blogging is one of the most valuable tools at your businesses' disposal: it allows you to explain, in as much detail as you'd like, what your brand values are, what you offer your customers or clients, and your thoughts and insights in your industry, which can be helpful to your readers.
However, posting multiple times a day, or even multiple times a week, can actually damage your readership and reduce the flow of traffic to your blog.
Why does this happen? In a way, it's twofold: firstly, scarcity creates value. If your followers see that you're posting multiple blog posts every single day, then it's pretty likely that they will stop clicking through to read them because you're inundating them with information.
Secondly, people know that good content takes time to write, and if you're churning out blog posts faster than your readers can hit 'refresh', then it's pretty likely that the quality of the things you're saying isn't as high as it could be.
Instead of trying to post every day, aim for 2-3 posts a month of well-researched, well-documented content that will really help meet your readers' needs.
Did I miss any myths that need to be debunked? Tweet at me or tell me in the comments!
4 Quick Tips for Managing Client Expectations
- by Alyson Shane
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.
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!
How to Create Facebook Ads That Actually Get Results
- by Alyson Shane
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.
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!
How to Use Twitter to Create Connections & Grow Your Business
- by Alyson Shane
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.
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
- by Alyson Shane
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!)
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
- by Alyson Shane
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!
A Guide to Working Your Side Hustle While Keeping Your Day Job
- by Alyson Shane
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
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!
Being a Small Business Owner: 5 Things You Need to Know
- by Alyson Shane
Today I did a "big kid" business owner task and complied all of my information to send to my accountant for tax time. It was stressful, a little bit chaotic, but ultimately felt good to be done and over with.
The reason it took me so long (and caused me more than a little anxiety) is because when I started my business a year and a half ago I didn't expect it to scale so quickly, and as a result I kind of floundered through the first few months of it without real systems in place to help me stay organized.
Now, boy do I know better.
Largely what I know has come through trial and error, but I've also had some great discussions with friends, colleagues, and mentors who have helped me figure this stuff out and get on the right track. And, since sharing is caring, I figured I'd share a list of 5 of the most important thins I've learned with you:
1. Every day is unpredictable
This is probably the biggest understatement of the century! I do my best to be as organized as possible and use checklists and planners, but sometimes a client throws a curveball my way which eats up my entire day.
As a result, I've had to learn to be a lot more flexible. Not just with my time, but with my expectations of what I planned to accomplish during that time. Clients will often send pressing need-to-handle emails moments before they actually need something, or someone will call me while I'm in the middle of writing an in-depth piece, or any variety of things. Whatever the case, be prepared for the unexpected.
2. Developing your systems early on is a lifesaver
Believe me, you'll thank yourself later. Like I mentioned at the top of this post, when I first started freelancing I didn't give much thought to how my folders were organized, where my invoices went, how I tracked my time... you get the drift.
Do as I say, not as I do. Here are some tips to develop strong systems:
- Pick a file structure and stick to it. Be consistent in your folders and sub-folders!
- Use invoice numbers to keep track of your invoices, and use a spreadsheet to track what's outstanding and what has been paid (I recently started doing this thanks to a conversation with my friend Elise and it's a lifesaver)
- Track your time. I use Toggl to keep track of everything I'm doing, and review my logs often to figure out what I'm spending the most amount of time on.
- Use the heck out of your calendar.
3. You'll think about work constantly
When you own something and you're trying to build it, it's almost always on your mind, and that's totally okay!
In fact, it's probably the thing that is going to make you successful and keep your business from going under, because if you're always thinking about it, then you're more likely to come up with new ideas, systems to streamline your processes, and ways to hustle your product or services.
I'll be honest: if you're the kind of person who wants punch the clock and then forget about everything you did Monday to Friday, then this isn't the lifestyle for you.
4. You'll always have stuff to do
This can actually feel overwhelming from time to time, because even when I've checked off all of my client "to dos" there's still a long (looooong) laundry list of things that I need to take care of to make sure my business is running smoothly. This could be anything from developing new products, to researching a new social trend, to filling up my content calendar... there's never a dull moment.
There are definitely times when this can feel overwhelming, but that's totally normal! Just take a deep breath, grab a glass of wine (or whiskey), pump some music and push though the first few items on your to-do list. Trust me, once you've checked a few off you will feel a million timed better.
5. You'll feel guilty when you "switch off"
(but do it anyway)
It's important to have rest days and days where your eyes aren't glued to your computer screen, or you don't set foot in your store (if you have a brick-and-mortar business) because - trust me on this - you will burn out, honey. Even if you can't entirely unplug, set aside a few hours of "me time" and take a bath, hit the gym, grab a greasy burger with your besties... whatever you need to do to unwind and recharge your batteries.
When I was on vacation in Central America for three weeks I definitely had bouts of "oh my god, will my business be there when I get back?!" but you know what? Being away from the day-to-day tasks helped me come up with some really terrific ideas, and when I came back I felt 100% refreshed and ready to dive headlong into things. I highly recommend vacations, even short ones, specifically for this purpose.
The truth of the matter is that there are a million other things you "need to know" about running a small business (which I'm sure I'll get around to blogging about at some point!) but what it really boils down to is that it's a crazy, intense, rollercoaster of fun, stress, and good vibes.
All my luck to you in your small biz adventure!
Want more posts like this? Tell me what you'd like me to blog about next on Twitter, via email, or in the comments!
How to Get Your Start as a Digital Marketer
- by Alyson Shane
A few weeks ago, while travelling around Central America, I received a comment on my Instagram which I wanted to take the chance to respond to here on the blog. Here's the question:
How did you get started doing social media marketing? I am interested in this but have no current knowledge of marketing.
Instagram isn't the best way to answer a questions like this in an in-depth way and I've been chomping at the bit to get home and write a longer, more detailed response because I wish someone had told me all of this stuff back when I was trying to figure out what I want to do.
Not only because it's great to hear what other people did to get to where they are in life, but also because being a digital marketer isn't really something that anyone worth their salt can just start doing successfully. That's because there's a lot of ongoing effort that goes into crafting a personal brand that people (freelance clients or future employers) will feel comfortable handing their social profiles over to.
So without further ado, here we go:
Build your personal brand
Your "personal brand" is exactly what it sounds like: it's the image of yourself that you project out into the world through your words, your actions, and your behaviour.
What's beautiful about the internet is that you can craft your personal brand to reflect whatever parts of yourself you'd like to accentuate.
This takes time. People aren't going to start recognizing your name overnight, and
The more time you spend working on and crafting your personal brand, the stronger your image will be and the sooner opportunities will start coming your way based on people's perceptions of you. Your audience will see you as a sincere, intelligent person and will be breaking down the door to work with you. I wrote more about personal branding here.
Build a badass website
I've said this before, but your website should be the centre of everything you do online; all of your social media feeds should attempt to drive traffic back to your website, and it should clearly and succinctly explain to people who you are, what you do, and what you're about.
Make your website as easy to navigate as possible. Try to aim for a slick, clean layout without a lot of clutter, and try to use bright, eye-catching photos. Personally I prefer websites with a white background and dark font, because it's easier to read and looks cleaner, but do what works for you.
I've been blogging since 2003, and the latest iteration of my blog (what you're reading right now) has been active since 2009. In that time I've transitioned from being a "lifestyle blogger" to someone who, largely, writes about their profession, but what matters is that I've been publishing content online for a long time.
Regardless of the topic, maintaining a blog for an extended period of time looks great professionally. Here's why:
- It's the best way for you to showcase who you really are in more than 140 characters.
- It shows that you can commit to an ongoing project (blogging).
- It demonstrates your writing skills.
Blogging has helped me establish myself as someone who understands their industry, is a strong writer, and has allowed me to expand my audience. My blog has allowed me to speak at MBlog, get published in the Winnipeg Free Press, and even to get featured on ShawTV as one of Winnipeg's Hottest Bloggers. When I was applying for jobs all of my employers checked out my blog, and it's the first place most of my clients find me nowadays.
But... what if you hate writing?
I get asked this question a lot, and to be honest I never really know how to respond to it. In my view, people who are interested in social media enough that they want to do it professionally should have a deep interest in how we communicate online and how we use persuasive language (aka rhetoric).
Because let's be serious: someone in my position spends most of their days writing in one form or another. Maybe it's website copy, maybe it's scheduling tweets, maybe it's writing a blog post or a newsletter, but either way all day every day, we're
If you don't like writing and understanding the nitty-gritty of how we communicate with each other... maybe this isn't the profession for you.
Having a social media presence
I can't stress this one enough.
If you are genuinely serious about pursuing a career as a social media manager or digital marketer, you need to jump into social media feet-first and do your best to maintain an active presence on platforms which will help you get a bit more well-known. I prefer Twitter for this purpose, personally, but if you don't have at least a Facebook profile, Twitter presence, and Instagram account, it's unlikely that prospective clients will take you seriously.
This is because how well you manage your own accounts gives people an insight into the kind of person that you are (are you nice online, for example), demonstrates that you know your way around at least a few of the major communication platforms, and shoes that you're relevant because you update them all regularly.
Oh, right: update them all regularly. This is key. Nobody is going to take someone who sells their services managing and understanding social media platforms seriously if their last tweet was from 2014.
Not just that, but social media is the easiest way to share that blog content that we talked about earlier. Cross-promoting yourself across a variety of social networks is one of the easiest ways to get noticed by a potential employer or client.
Show up to local Meetups
This expands a bit on the earlier point about building your personal brand: while connecting online is great, it's important to turn those digital connections into real, face-to-face ones, and the easiest way to do that is to show up to things.
If you're in Winnipeg, there are plenty of opportunities to connect and get known. Some of them are:
- Winnipeg Social Media & Technology Group
- BANG! Business and Networking Group
- I Love Marketing Winnipeg
- Secret Handshake (I'm usually at this one - say hi to me if you see me there!)
Not in Winnipeg? Check out Meetup.com for local social media-related gatherings near you!
Let your passions drive you
I believe that being passionate about what you do is the single most important asset in this equation.
While I make my living as a digital marketer, I actually identify as a writer. That's it. I love to write, and am obsessed by rhetoric (aka persuasive language) and the ever-evolving nature of social media, so applying what I love to do (writing) to something that interests me (communication/social media) just made sense.
If you aren't passionate about what you do, then you won't take the time to explore it and understand it, and part of being an effective digital marketer is keeping up with the ever-changing trends in your industry. Not just that, but if the idea of developing marketing plans for Instagram, or spending your days monitoring @ mentions on Twitter doesn't make your heart go pitter-pat, then you may want to rethink your career choice.
A lot of this comes down to perspective, too: like I said, I identify as a writer above all else, and managing social media profiles, developing copy for marketing strategies, and keeping up-to-date on how to effectively communicate on each platform (to hashtag, or not to hashtag? That is the question!) is just another way to sharpen my writer's chops.
So, figure out what you love the most about social media and make that your focus.
Hopefully that helps, Brittany! Good luck to you on your career journey!
Do you have any questions for me about being a business owner, digital marketing, social media, or anything I mentioned in this post? Ask me in the comments or drop me a line - I'm always happy to hear from you!