4 Steps for Creating an Online Path to Purchase

I originally wrote this article for Entrepreneur. It was published on Entrepreneur.com on September 14, 2016.

We all know the importance of digital marketing. Since people now access most information online and through applications, this is the most influential way to reach new consumers. 

Despite it's importance, some of us have trouble understanding how social media impacts the bottom line. 

Getting your brand out there to gain awareness and mind share is great, but you're missing out on a greater opportunity to boost sales if you don't have an easily actionable path to purchase. Below are four steps for how to convert those social media followers, engagements, and impressions into sales.

1. Let people know you exist, organically. 

First, people need to discover you. There are several strategies to increase brand awareness online, including banner ads and sponsored posts on social media channels. 

Paid ads are appealing because they can be super targeted, but unfortunately, people naturally tune out paid ads. How annoyed do you get when sponsored Instagram posts clutter your feed? Or when pop-up ads are keeping you from reading an article on a website? This most likely frustrates your target consumer as well, and could leave them with a negative sentiment, causing them to block, report or unsubscribe.

Action point: Reach your target organically through strategic partnerships. Find influential people and/or brands that are like-minded and aesthetically similar to your brand to collaborate with. The right partnership will increase your awareness and following and grow your consumer base . 

2. Inspire your followers. 

Produce high-quality content that will inspire your followers to buy your product. What is the purpose? How is it used? What value does it bring? 

If the content is good, you'll create a positive sentiment with your audience and they'll "like," comment and share with their friends. 

Action point: Produce spectacular content that creates connections with your followers. Make them need your product. Influence them to share their discovery of your brand with their friends. 

3. Create depth through your website.

Social media is not a replacement for your website. If your business objective is solely to increase awareness online, then sure, having a social-only presence will do the trick. But, having a user-friendly website is the key to turning your fans into paying customers. 

Where do you expect your fans to find out more about your brand? All of this info could be scattered across all of your social channels, but it will become frustrating for your potential customers when they're looking for something specific (where to buy, recipes, job openings).

Your website is the centralized location for all of the info about your brand, where your followers can keep engaging. 

Action point: Make it easy for people to find out more about your product/service. If you don't have a website already, find a solution now. All of your social channels should have links to your website. Your website should have a contact form (services), or a store locator/ ecommerce site (product). 

4. Create a call to action.

At this time, your followers are two clicks away from becoming a customer.  

Let them know how easily they can buy your product, or sign up for your service, by creating a call to action in a social media post. These people who discovered you on social media may not know you have a news letter, or recipes on your website or an ecommerce store. Remind them.

For most businesses, the call to action be something along the lines of: "click the link in our profile to buy" or "sign up on our website now."

Action point: Direct your followers to your website or ecommerce store in a social media post. Close the deal.

13 Lessons From My 13 Months of Self-Employment

Last week, I celebrated my first self-employment anniversary. It’s been pretty magical to be my own boss and to do the work I love everyday. This journey hasn’t been easy, but it’s been incredibly rewarding.

If anyone tells me they’re thinking of quitting their job to pursue their own business/passion, I’ll be the first one to say “DO IT!”. I believe anyone can create their perfect job and lifestyle if they want to, but I realize it may not be for everyone.

Below are 13 things I’ve learned from my 13 months of self-employment. If you’re thinking about taking the leap, I hope these lessons help you on your journey.

1.     It’s not as easy as it looks.

When I tell most people that I work for myself, I often get the response: “luckyyy”. It’s true, I am fortunate to be able to do the work that I love and be able to support myself. But, it doesn’t come easy.

If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. And in order to get work, I need to put proposals together, write articles, go to networking events, etc. There’s a lot of “behind-the-scenes” work that goes into business development. The hustle never ends!

2.     It can be lonely.

 The one thing I miss about working in an office is the people. I miss having desk buddies to chat with and bounce ideas off of. When you’re working from home, or even coffee shops filled with people, you’re on your own, focusing on your work.

 I’m lucky to have some freelance friends with similar schedules to meet up with for lunch or a work-out. Without them and my roommates (my boyfriend and cat) I think I'd go crazy!

3.     Get used to earning an irregular income.

 Even though I have some brands on retainer and work with them on a consistent basis, there is seasonality in my work, and I’m a lot busier during certain times of the year than others. Sometimes I don’t earn much one month, and the next month I’ll earn double. It all seems to even out (which I try to remind myself during the slower months), but if you can’t live without that bi-weekly paycheck, self-employment may not be for you.

4.     “Be patient.”

This is what my dad told me when I was frustrated with business development. As the owner of a successful consulting company, he told me that it took 7 years to have new clients reaching out to him on a regular basis, whereas in previous years he’s hired business development people and flew all over the country to secure new business.

Success doesn’t happen overnight, or in one year. It takes time to build your portfolio and grow your client base. Be patient and stay confident- there’s more than enough work to go around!  

5. Health over everything else. 

When I first started my company, I was HUNGRY. I was hustling to get my website up and running, and to secure some new clients. I was equally excited as I was stressed out, which happens to be the recipe for insomnia.

I don’t know about you guys, but when I don’t get enough sleep, I develop colds pretty easily. I got sick from lack of sleep, and instead of resting up to get better, I kept working. I ended up having that cold for 3 weeks, which really set me back. It’s difficult to do good work when you’re sick, so take the time to rest up and take care of yourself before diving back into work. 

6.     Hire help when you need it.

 When your business is your baby, it’s hard to let other people in at first. I’d think, “if I want it done right, I need to do it myself”. But if your business is growing, there comes a time where you need to bring people in to help you get work done.

I’ve really enjoyed working with my interns and hiring other freelancers to work on projects with me. Even though I could do this work myself, I’ve learned that my time is better spent focusing on strategy and new business, rather than the day-to-day needs.

 7.     Take your schedule seriously.

One of the things I love most about working for myself is having the ability to have a flexible schedule. And no, this doesn’t mean that I’m sleeping in and having champagne brunches everyday. I love the flexibility so I can take breaks when I need them. Instead of forcing myself to get creative, I can step out to soak up inspiration.

Despite the flexibility to change your schedule, it’s important to take it seriously.  If you have a deadline, make sure you carve out the right amount of time in your schedule to meet that deadline. If your client wants to extend your call for another half hour and you have another assignment to work on that day, tell them that you need to schedule some time another day. If you’re on vacation, try your hardest to stay offline the majority of the time (your mind & body need breaks!).

8.    Invest in technology that drives efficiency.

 When I started my business, I had an old MacBook that was painfully slow and had a battery that only lasted an hour. It took forever to get anything done. Even though I was pre-revenue, I splurged on a new MacBook, which was the best decision ever. Everything opens, uploads, and sends faster- the time saved really adds up!

9.     Save your money.

Taxes, man. I had an idea of how much money I had to save just to enjoy the benefits of our wonderful country, but, you always need a cushion. I read several articles about how much you need to pay in taxes before incorporating my business, but it ended up being more than what I read. Now I set aside 50% of everything I earn just for taxes.

 10.  Know your value.

I started out working on big brands with big budgets, so when I sent them proposals they wouldn’t flinch. When I started meeting with smaller brands, I knew they wouldn't have similar budgets, so I’d lower my rates so I could get the job.

I found that when I do lower my rates, I’m not as motivated to do good work because I don’t believe I’m getting paid enough, and when I am charged what I’m worth, I’m super excited, and I feel good about myself! If a client can’t pay you what you’re worth, it’s better to politely decline and move on.  

11.   Help others when you can. 

The reciprocity principle, one of the basic laws of social psychology, states that people tend to give back the kind of treatment they received from another. In other words, if someone does a favor for you, you feel obligated to return the favor.

After I helped a friend get a job, she introduced me to someone, which led me to new business. We both benefitted from helping each other out, so if you have the flexibility to help someone when they ask, it’s worth it!

12.  Treat yo’self.

When I have a new project, get hired by a new client, or write for a new publication, I’ve always taken the time to celebrate my accomplishments. Whether it’s “me-time” at the spa, or a glass of wine with friends, I found that celebrating accomplishments (big & small) fills my mind and body with positivity and overall good vibes. After all, being happy is what this journey is all about!

13.  Be thankful.

On days that aren’t going so well, I always think about what I’m thankful for—it automatically changes my mindset from negative to positive. Gratitude makes me more optimistic and confident, which makes me preform better.

 To my friends, family, and of course, my clients: thank you for your support. You’ve helped me create my perfect job.

 

 

Why Converting to Instagram Business is Not a Winning Brand Strategy

I originally wrote this article for Entrepreneur. It was published on Entrepreneur.com on Sept. 2nd, 2016. 

It was a marketer’s dream come true when Instagram announced the launch of its tools for businesses. (Analytics and insights built into the app? Yes, please.)

But before rushing to create a business profile for your brand, let’s examine a similar journey taken by Instagram’s parent company, Facebook.

Ten years ago, Facebook introduced “pages", which allowed organizations (and celebrities, pets, food groups) to make public profiles to interact with their fans on the platform. It was a great way for brands to engage with existing fans to cultivate advocacy. In 2007, over 10,000 businesses were taking advantage of Facebook pages. At the time, a page was a page- there was no way to differentiate a business page from a personal one. 

Facebook then started rolling out “business pages", and over the next several years attracted marketers to convert to business with in-depth analytics, insights, and advertising. In 2014, Facebook announced an update to the News Feed --  a change to the algorithm that would limit the reach of business pages, and populate feeds so users “see more of what they want”. (Sounds familiar to the news Instagram recently shared with us, right?)

This change ultimately forced Facebook page owners pay to have their content seen as sponsored posts, even by the existing fans who follow the page. Although Facebook positioned this as a way to de-clutter the News Feed as way to create a better experience for the users, we now know that this change was implemented so Facebook could monetize. They saw the value the platform brought to brands, and seized the business opportunity. Free ride over. 

If we knew that Facebook would make pages' organic reach nonexistent back in 2007, we wouldn’t have wasted our time and money building a fan base for a page that won’t be seen. We would have gotten more creative with our digital marketing strategies and put our effort into building an active community another way. In other words, we would have been better off without "business pages.”

At the end of the day, Facebook is a business and their apps are evolving (for good, or ill) to reach their business objectives. We now know what Facebook is capable of and can predict where their protégé Instagram is headed, so we can use this information to limit the impact these new changes may have on our brands. 

For these three reasons, brands that do not convert to Instagram business profiles will stay ahead of the curve.

1. You’ll maintain your organic reach.

The value of organic reach and engagement is priceless when it comes to building a brand. When your followers are organically engaging with your content, you’ve earned your their interest, and they want to be associated with your brand. 

What will happen when your organic reach is limited? You’ll have fewer impressions, and get fewer engagements, which leads to fewer conversions, and ultimately, fewer sales. 

Of course, you could pay for promoted posts, but constantly paying for ads isn’t sustainable. Even if you’re an established brand with a multi-million dollar advertising budget, you need those organic impressions to stay top of mind with your followers. 

2. You’ll avoid being labeled as “sponsored.” 

When you search for something on Google, what link to do you click on first? 

If you’re anything like me, you naturally scroll past the sponsored results and click on the first link that’s not an ad. If your target consumer is anything like me, (a social, well-connected millennial), he or she most likely scrolls past the sponsored results as well.

Same goes for Instagram. Once we see “sponsored” above the photo, we'll scroll right past it. Not because it’s bad content, we just don’t like being advertised to. We want real content from the accounts we choose to follow, not ones that are forced on us. 

If you convert to business and need to reach your fans with Instagram ads, you’ll be labeled as "sponsored" and your targeted group may just scroll past your post. Or worse, they may find your ads annoying or irrelevant and block your account.

3. Your ability to act human.

I believe lifestyle brands that create the least amount of friction will win, i.e. brands that naturally fit into people’s lives will win. In order to do this, brands must act human.

Social media was built for humans, not robots. It was built so people can inspire, share and build relationships. The brands that perform the best on Instagram create an emotional connection with their followers -- one that triggers a human feeling. 

Advertising on Instagram (or any other social channel) is not something an average person would do, so when we see brands advertising on Instagram, it removes the human factor from those brands. 

People want to believe that a really awesome person who is similar to them (or someone they aspire to be) is behind these brands. When we see a sponsored post from a brand, the robotic features of automatic posting arise, and the human features of transparency and authenticity are lost. 

As marketers and business owners, our best bet is to keep our Instagram accounts as-is to maintain our organic reach. As long as we keep putting out relevant and inspiring content and engage with our fans in an authentic matter, we’ll come out on top.

4 Ways to Work With Instagram's New Algorithm to Build Your Brand

Last week, Instagram launched a new algorithm for its news feed.

Instead of being in chronological order, the photos and videos in your feed are now “based on the likelihood you'll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post.”

When I initially heard the news, my first thoughts were, “Oh no, not again.”

We recently went through the same thing with Facebook. If you don't remember, there was once a time when we saw posts from all our friends and we pages “like.” Now, we only see posts from our friends we engage with and brands who pay for their posts to be sponsored.

The Facebook news feed algorithm changed so Facebook could monetize. And although Instagram claims the algorithm is in place so people see the posts they care about most, we all know this change is in place so it can make money.

The beautiful thing about Instagram is (at this time) there is no way to differentiate a business Instagram account from a personal account, meaning they cannot screw brands over like they did with Facebook.

So what does this mean for small businesses on Instagram?

For good or ill, the app is evolving, so the way brands behave on the platform need to evolve, as well. Most small businesses don’t have the cash to drop big bucks on Instagram ads. Below are tips to minimize the effects of Instagram's new algorithm and keep a strong, organic reach:

1. Create Killer Content

Highly relevant and aesthetically pleasing content has always been a key part of the formula for success on the visual platform, but brands have been able to get by with mediocre content and low engagement. If a low-quality product shot was posted, they still had the eyes of hundreds or thousands of followers. They have never been penalized, until now.

The more people engage with your content through likes and comments, the more likely your post will show up at the top of their feed. So, to prevent your posts from being buried under dozens of other posts (or not being seen at all), you need to consistently produce high-quality content that makes people want to like, comment and share your photos and videos.

2. Influence Engagement

How do you influence followers to engage with your brand?

I recently read Dr. Robert Cialdini'sInfluence,” where he dives into the psychology of what influences people and why. A few principles apply to content marketing and can help us understand what we need to do to trigger engagement with fans.

The Reciprocity Principle: People tend to return favors. If someone does a favor for you, you feel obligated to return the favor.

Social Media Implication: Like and comment on other's photos, and they'll do the same. Follow someone, and they'll follow you back.

The Likeness Principle: People tend to be influenced by those they like and are similar to. We naturally like people who have the same interests as us, dress like us and talk like us.

Social Media Implication: Be HUMAN. Your followers are human; act like one, not a billboard. Use the same hashtags, geo-tag the same places, talk about the same holidays and events, while keeping a strong brand identity and personality.

The Authority Principle: People tend to obey authority figures.

Social Media Implication: Show your fans how your brand is credible so they're interested in what you have to say.

3. Build A Community

If the order of the news feed is now based on “your relationship with the person posting,” you need to have relationships with as many of your followers as possible, building a community of engaged fans. How do you build relationships with a bunch of people online?

One way brands are creating communities on Instagram is creating hashtags that followers are encouraged to use when posting their own photos or videos. This is by no means an easy task. Having people engage with your content is one thing, but getting people to endorse your brand on their feed can be challenging.

The brands who have mastered this are the ones with massive followings, and their fans are incentivized to use the brand hashtag and tag the brand for a chance to be featured on the feed and become “Insta famous.”

Smaller brands need to get creative. Why should they use your hashtag and tag you? Maybe they'll have a chance to win something if they do. Maybe there's a charitable donation tied to each use of the hashtag. Whatever the reason, value needs to be brought to the follower.

4. Have A Strategy

This may seem like a no-brainer, but several brands don't have a social media strategy. Some brands create Instagram accounts because they know it's a popular channel, and they know their brand should be there.

With this new algorithm, you are competing to have your content seen. If you don't have a clear strategy to win the eyes and hearts of your target audience, it'll be a waste of time and money.

Originally written for Elite Daily

7 Tips for Building Your Personal Brand on Social Media

My friend recently asked me how to "market" herself as an expert in a certain space to reach a new consumer base outside of her current circle. Of course, she has the option of putting some money into PR to get some publicity for herself, but because I eat/sleep/breathe digital, I suggested she use social media to grow her brand. Not only is it FREE, but you can easily reach new audiences and create a spectacular image for yourself. 

These are some of my tips for building your personal brand on social media- all of which can be applied to businesses as well. 

1. Have a sharp profile picture. If you want to be perceived as an expert, you need to look LEGIT. If you have a blurry selfie as your photo/avatar, people may question if your credibility.

2. Keep your "about" section short and sweet. No need to make this complicated with lots of romance language. Make it easy for people to find out what you're about and how they can reach you. 1 sentence about you, along with your email address and website is sufficient.  

3. Post content that is aligned with your goal. If you want to be known as an pastry expert, the majority of your posts should be about all things pastries. If you're all over the place, it may confuse people to what you're all about. 

4. Only post QUALITY content. Quality over quantity, people. Yes, you want to keep your channels up to date, but if you start posting poorly designed or written content, you could be perceived as sloppy and cheap. You could loose followers/fans/customers! Just don't do it. 

5. Be consistent. You should have a consistent look and voice to all of your posts. Similarly to #3 above, if you're all over the place with your photo filters and way your captions are written, it will confuse people. 

6. Keep your fans engaged. You're nothing without your fans. If they comment on a post, don't ignore them! If they took the time to tell you how awesome you are, the least you can do is acknowledge them. Over time, you'll build relationships with these fans, who will then become your biggest advocates and supporters. 

7. Look for strategic partnerships. Developing partnerships with like-minded people or businesses can improve your image (by association), and if they have a large following, increase your awareness and boost your following.

It's OK To Start a Business Without a Clear Vision

It's funny to look back at the initial business plan I wrote 5 months ago, when I first started my consulting business. I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do, how I wanted to do it, WHY I was doing it, and the goals I wanted to reach. It all changed once I dove in and starting experiencing the world of entrepreneurship.

When I first quit my job in corporate marketing, I had very little work lined up. I cold emailed several brand managers trying to get business, and didn't have much luck. 

I had to get the bills paid, so I started taking on projects that I wasn't planning on focusing on. As it turned out, I really enjoyed that work and was really good at it, so I continued to take on more projects like that. 

Within the first month, my business was evolving. 

One service my business provided turned into half a dozen within 3 months. Within 4 months I had so much work that I hired an intern. My business grew rapidly because I didn't let my original vision restrict me. I was doing work I was passionate about, and was making money, that's all that mattered. 

Several other companies' visions have changed over time, as well.

For example, Microsoft's original vision statement was "A personal computer in every home running Microsoft software." They achieved that, and didn't stop there. Now they're in the business of selling computers, tablets, phones, and hardware. Their business evolved, as did their vision.

Don't get me wrong- a clear vision is very important in running a successful business. Your vision can help you stay focused, make decisions, and ultimately reach your goals. But when you're starting out, like in my case, you may not know what you're really capable of until you start working towards your initial goals. 

Bottom line is this: it's OK to start a business with no clear vision- it'll naturally evolve over time. Just remember to stay true to yourself (i.e. WHY you're doing it), and you'll succeed. 

Why We're Addicted to Instagram

How many minutes a day do you spend on Instagram? 10? 20? 30? Yesterday I kept track and spent a total of 43 minutes scrolling through my feed. Apparently, the average Instagram user only spends 21 minutes a day on the app. I guess 2x the average could classify me as an Insta-addict. 

Sure, all social media platforms can be addicting. As human beings, we naturally like to gossip, "creep" on people, and show the world what we're doing and awesome we are. But, as I spent 43 minutes on Instagram yesterday, I only spent 8 minutes on Snapchat and 7 on Facebook. Instagram is just on another level for me!

After looking deeper into my Instagram obsession, I discovered a few things that may explain my (and your!) addition to the photo sharing platform. 

1. Anyone can be a photographer. As long as you have a smart phone, you're a photographer on Instagram. And with all of the handy dandy editing apps out there, it's easy to make your photos beautiful. No fancy cameras needed!

2. It's ALL visual. Did you know that 90% of the information transmitted to the brain is visual? We naturally process visuals 60,000X faster than text! Visuals are easier for us to digest, therefore, we can see A LOT more of them, and stay on Instagram longer! 

3. Self promotion. And I'm not talking about "selfies". Nowadays, everyone has a website, blog, or business, and is trying to build their brand. Everyone is on the quest to become "Insta-famous" by using several hashtags with the hopes of getting re-grammed by an account with a large following. And get this- it works!

4. It builds communities. With easily searchable hashtags, handles, and locations, it's easy to find people with similar interests to connect with online. People will meet on the app from using the same hashtag, and develop relationships in real life!

Instagram is so much more than a photo sharing platform. It's a key tool I use to grow my clients' businesses, it's where I find people and brands to collaborate with, and it's where some of my friendships have originated. I just hope that my feed doesn't start getting (more) congested by Instagram Ads...