The Endless Interview

When you’re a job-seeker, landing an interview is an exciting part of life.  It’s the phone call or email that you’ve been waiting for.  It’s that spot on the calendar that you’ve been waiting to fill.  It’s that half vacation day for which you cannot think of a better use.

It’s a definitive moment in time that you get to look forward to.  Ideally, you also spend time preparing for it, doing your research, learning about those with whom you’ll be speaking, and self-interviewing so you can avoid any possible downfalls.

That is what happens when you’re job-seeker.

So what happens when you’re on the other side of the coin?  What is life like when you’re a business owner?

The short answer is that you’re in one endless interview.

Winter Road

Hopefully, if you own your own business, you’re doing something that you love to do.  If not, then we need to start there before we go any further in this conversation!  The reason being?  Owning your own business is tough.  It’s strange hours, it’s struggling, and ultimately, it’s one endless interview.

That’s not to say that The Endless Interview is a bad thing.  Quite the contrary!  It’s great to go into business for yourself, and it’s the perfect position for you to be amazing at whatever it is you do.  For me?  I love words!  I love local businesses.  And I can’t think of one single better way to combine the two than to write web content and business blogs for Denver area businesses (of course, I’ll happily look outside of the walls of Denver County if someone is in need of my services.)

Recently, I’ve been talking about What’s in Your Words? to random folks and local businesses.  I love what I do, and I do it well, so why not talk about it?  (Plus, those pesky bills seem to keep coming back every month.  They’re like Gremlins — if you feed them after midnight they multiply faster than you can extinguish them)… I digress.

I’ve had some interesting questions asked of me lately, and I’ve had some regularly reoccurring questions come up.  As such, I did a little thinking about my own endless interview, and my business as it relates to small businesses in general.  Here’s where my thinking led:

  • “Why do you like to write for other businesses?”

Valid enough question!  Why does anyone want to do any chosen career?  For me, I’ve always been a giver.  There was a time when I volunteered thirty hours a week in addition to working a full-time and a part-time job.  It’s safe to say, I was really good at being busy.  Volunteering, unfortunately, didn’t really pay the bills.  Combining writing, which I love, and local businesses, which I adamantly support just makes sense!

As it relates to any company, why do you do what you do?  It’s probably the first question you’re likely to get asked in your endless interview, so perhaps it’s the most imperative answer to practice.  Nobody wants to work with a company that isn’t passionate about what they do, so be ready to sell yourself as soon as a curious inquiry comes your way.

If you’ve never really thought about it, that’s okay.  You might be surprised at how many obvious interview questions are never, ever practiced by the interviewee because they’re, well, too obvious!  Now that you are thinking about it, jot down some of the reasons that you do what you do, and really delve into the psychology that made you branch out into your own business.

  • “How do you get the material that you write?”

Before I proceed with this answer, allow me to clarify.  I don’t plagiarize.  I don’t believe in producing anything except unique, well-written, well-researched content that my clients can proudly post to their sites.  That said, I absolutely do research links, other blogs, and specifically, other companies within the same industries as my clients.

I never thought this was strange.  In fact, I’m not sure if it’s the fact that my degree, among other subjects, is in Marketing, or if it just seems natural, but doesn’t every business do a certain amount of market analysis to ensure the success of their own business?  I ask because I once met with a new client, and when I informed this person that I would be reviewing the websites of the competition, it wasn’t well received.  It made me wonder… was it my delivery of my answer?  Or was my answer itself off-putting?

The amazing thing about what I do is that I get to learn a little bit about a whole lot of stuff.  I love it!  I learn from the experts in each field, and I get take-aways that allow me to write content to the best of my abilities.  One of the great parts about my research in reviewing competitors’ sites is that I often get to learn more about the industry itself while I can explore exactly how not to convey the messages.  Keep in mind, having competition means you can learn how to do better what “the other guys” do poorly.  For me, that includes words, so it’s nothing to be afraid of when I tell you I’ll be looking at others’ sites.  Rather, it’s something to embrace!

After all, what sets you apart from those competitors?  Words and web content aside, you’re better at what you do for a reason.  If you don’t take a moment to compare yourself to the other guy that’s up for the same job, you can’t highlight what makes you more worth the investment!  How will you rule the world if you don’t know how to be better than the other guy?

Pinky & The Brain

  • “How long are you planning on being a writer?”

This one, in particular, is always interesting to me.  I never really know how to answer it, and I’m never sure if the answer that I give suffices the inquiry of the person that asked.  So far, I haven’t yet met a client that has a finite business plan and a day on which their calendar says, “This is the day we will close the doors.”  As long as there are amazing local businesses, and as long as my fantastic neighbors are supporting them, I will continue to write for them.

How long do you plan on being in the business that you’re in?  It’s a bit of a strange question, but every time I’m asked, it makes me evaluate my thought processes!

 

If you’re a small business, please share your most frequently asked questions with me!  Whether they’re industry-specific, super uncommon, or totally obvious, I’d love to hear what’s asked of you!  Please share your FAQs or answers to the above questions in the comment box below or post your note to my What’s in Your Words? Facebook page!

Why Don’t You Like Me??

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Okay, I get it.  It sounds a little dramatic, right?  Well, if you’re a small business, finding ways to make people like you is dramatic.  Whether we’re talking about that all-important “like” button or just finding ways to get the word out and let people know that you have a viable, meaningful product or service is your life.  And let’s face it: life is dramatic.

As a Denverite, I put small businesses highest on my list.  I try to go to the little man first, then work my way up the food chain on a need-be basis.  One of the many great things about my fair city is that tons of my neighbors think just like me.  As a content writer in Denver, I often see the struggle of small businesses trying to make their way in the world while keeping up with the likes and the don’t likes and the shares and deletes.

In my opinion, this hamster wheel of a struggle is exactly why small businesses should partner with other small businesses and embrace their local nature, rather than closing their eyes and pretending like it doesn’t exist.

So let’s take this question back to where it all began.  Let’s head back to the playground at recess and get back to the basis of the very question, “Why don’t you like me?”

Picture this:  A little girl passes a little boy a tiny folded scrap of paper on her friend’s behalf.  On this scrap read the words:  “Do you like me?  Circle yes or no”.

Why is it, that as children, we understood marketing in its simplest, barest form, but the older and more educated we become, the harder it becomes to ‘get it’?

Not following the analogy?  It’s really quite parallel if you look at some key marketing principles that small businesses (or any business) should take into consideration.

  • Networking.  So you’re not on a playground, but it doesn’t mean that some of the same principles don’t apply.  While the little girl in our scrap paper scenario networked with her playground playmate, your job as a small business owner is to find your own playground allies that will help you put your word out there.

Networking is a very vague description for a very huge world these days, so if you’re just starting out in the process, keep in mind that every step you take is a step towards your success.  Of course, you’ll need a Facebook page for your business.  As much as you may want to run from it, it’s here to stay, and it’s the single easiest way to get yourself in front of your potential suitors.  LinkedIn is another (often missed) opportunity.  First and foremost, you want to be able to market yourself and, of course, your business.  But one of the places that people often overlook are the groups on LinkedIn.  Here, you’ll find people that can give you advice and help you meet people that might need you (and help you meet people that you might need).  Unless you’re the stinky kid in class, somebody will want to play with you.  And if you are the stinky kid, then we’ve already discovered why people don’t like you!

  • Outsourcing. Our example girl, albeit shy, was smart with her decision to outsource.  She’s probably gorgeous and brilliant, but she lacked the skills to put herself in front of her potential suitor without a little help.  This translates well into the business world because everybody that’s great at what they do needs help doing everything else.  That’s what makes us great!  Hair stylists need plumbers and plumbers need dog walkers and dog walkers need content writers.  The circle continues indefinitely.  Concentrating on being the best at what you do comes alive when you’re willing to outsource what you’re not designed to do.

For small businesses that hear SEO this and SEO that, the idea of social media and online marketing can be insanely overwhelming.  Outsourcing the job of writing your web and email content can take a huge weight off of your shoulders and allow you to put your best face forward to your consumers.

  • A Clear Message.  Our little girl Jane, as I’ve now named her, may not have been so great at telling her potential suitor how she felt and getting her message out there, but with her networking skills and her ultimate decision to outsource those skills that she lacked, her message was clear.

Businesses with confusing messages are immediately turning away people that could otherwise love their products and services forever.  Keep in mind that so many people these days are checking their Facebook and email from their phones and tablets while they’re on the go.  Steer clear of flashy images (as in, the ones that require Flash downloads, in particular).  Remember that you have a quick second to grab someone’s attention, and then it’s lost forever if you didn’t nail it, so keep you message short and only offer as much information as necessary.  People are more likely to eat small bits over time than one giant bite in one sitting.  You’ll also want to make sure that people know who you are.  If you’re a salon that’s marketing car parts in the waiting area, this isn’t a clear message.  The same rules apply when you’re trying to get “likes” (or just get people to like you).

  • Key Words.  It was a simple message:  “Do you like me?  Circle yes or no.”  Our little boy John (the name he’s now acquired) didn’t have to guess what she was asking.  He didn’t have to go through 17 different sticky notes and pieces of scrap paper to get to the actual message.

Small companies need to think big when it comes to key words.  Minimalize extra fluff and keep straight to the point.  If you’re a content writer in Denver, showcase the words “Denver content writer” (hint, hint) in your content.  If you’re a salon in Littleton, make sure you have the address on your site.  Google likes to find you, and if it can’t find you, it can’t send people your way.  If you specialize in aerial photography in Colorado, make sure you showcase those keywords in your content.

  • An Intentionally Targeted Audience.  Jane wanted John.  She knew that, and she went after him.  Granted, in our playground scenario, the world is very simple.  In the real world, it may be a little bit harder to discern, but it’s not impossible.  One thing that I tell my clients is to make a list.  Who are your current customers?  Why do they like you?  How did they find you?  What similar (but different) market is out there that would relate to your current customers?  When you do a little reverse engineering, you’ll discover a lot about your current target market, and you’ll be able to narrow down a strategy to broaden your focus.

  • A Call to Action.  As simple as it may sound, it’s not that obvious to your readers.  Yes, you know you want them to ‘like’ you or share your post or leave feedback on your Facebook page.  You’re fully aware that that’s what you want.  However, if you don’t tell your readers that that’s what you’re looking for with a clear call to action, the chances that you’ll see the results you’re looking for aren’t high.  “Do you like me?  Circle yes or no.”  There was a clear question and a very, very clear call to action.  It doesn’t take a ton of words to get the point across and direct your reader to perform next steps.

Not too long ago, I sent an SVP an email from a person that I worked very closely with at a partner company.  The email expressed a unique humor and described how this person had embraced the incredibly special culture at the SVP’s company.  I never heard back, and I assumed she was just really busy and had probably not read it.  Several weeks later I was in a meeting with her and several colleagues and superiors.  She asked me to tell them about the email.  When I expressed surprise that she had seen it she informed me that she reads each and every email she receives.  It didn’t have a call to action, so she deleted it when she was finished reading it.  It was an incredibly impactful lesson for me.

  • A Resolution.  It’s not likely that we’ll see little Jane ask little Johnny why he doesn’t like her if he circles ‘no’.  I get that.  However, as the owner of your own company, you do have the power to follow up on unanticipated results and you should follow up on unanticipated results.  Social media is where relationships will most likely begin (and can very quickly end).  As one of the most relationship-oriented people that you’ll ever meet (or at least read), I find it extremely difficult to understand how small business owners don’t take every advantage of getting to know their audience and potential customers.

A client of mine once got a terrible review on Yelp!  I suggested that they follow up with that person.  Can you offer a discount on something?  Can you offer to meet them personally next time they come in?  Can you apologize on the site for their experience and promise it won’t happen again?  They thought I was crazy.  “What’s done is done.”  What’s done is done is only true if you’re willing to throw in the towel.  While you most certainly don’t want to give away the store, a simple “I’m sorry for your experience” can bring an amazing amount of resolution to both the person that had the negative experience as well as those eyes that are watching for your reaction online.  People know that people are human.  Some people use the Internet to bitch and some have valid complaints.  Viewers of these comments generally know the difference, and when a small company is big enough to step up and own a fault, it can mean big rewards in the long run.

When the little guy teams up with his neighbors, he becomes a member of something greater than himself.  If you’re a small business owner that’s trying to navigate the worlds of social media, befriending your potential consumers, and still staying amazing at whatever you do, keep in mind that there are folks out there that would love to wear the jersey of Team Local.  You don’t have to be in this alone.  In fact, if you like me, circle yes by “liking” me and contact me if I can help you with your words!

Small Business, Big Nerve

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The world can be a scary place. Anyone who has ventured out into the Real World to start a business on their own will likely attest, it takes big brawn and nerves of steel to set aside all of your comforts and safety nets and really jump into the unknown to chase a dream.

So hold take a breath, hold your nose, and jump!

In 2013, we’re starting to see a resurgence of economic growth. Wallets are waking up, and so are peoples’ spirits. With new growth comes a renewed energy to venture into the unknown and try something new.

What should you keep in mind when you’re considering a walk into the Wealth Wilderness? Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Choose something that you love. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that jumping ship into the Great Unknown in favor of something that you’re just lukewarm about doesn’t make sense. You’ll be putting a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears (as well as many, many hours) into your new endeavor. If you’re heart isn’t into it from the very beginning, you’ll never be successful. I may sound obvious, but often times, people just don’t realize that the formula to success is a combination of passion and hard work. Without each of these, the equation doesn’t work out properly.
  • Network! Your kids’ best friends’ parents, that guy you always manage to end up next to at the grocery store, the people that run the little pet food shop that you and Fido always go to… they’re all potential customers, and they all have some potentially great advice waiting to be tapped. Other resources that you’ll need to be sure to tap into? Take a look at the LinkedIn organizations that are either in your community or in your industry; the folks in these groups can offer you an invaluable look at things that can make you successful.
  • Embrace the inevitable. Facebook and Twitter are here to stay, and no matter your age, industry, or social media skills, you’ll need to learn to link up with the world of cyberspace.
  • Be open to feedback. Even Einstein had critics, and Bill Gates and Steve Jobs certainly didn’t become who they became over night. The truth is, if you could be that amazing without any help or constructive criticism, you’d already be there. We all need a little help along the way in life, and every word, no matter how big or small, will help form the new you. Even if you hear super nasty things, at least you’ll learn something about how NOT to talk to someone when a person comes to you for business advice in a few years!
  • Do your research. Chances are, no matter what you do, you must be pretty darned good at it or you wouldn’t be considering doing it for a living. Be it vacuum cleaner repair or piano lesson teaching, you’re an expert in your field, and you probably know almost everything there is to know about your subject. But the subject of owning your own business is a completely separate world.
  • Leverage your resources. While you’re amazing at what you do, try to remember that you don’t have to do everything; other people are amazing at what they do, too, and together, this makes the world go ’round. Not sure how to do your books? That’s why we have accountants! Know you need great content on your website but hate writing? That’s why we have great content writers!

Finally — HAVE FUN! The world is full of unknowns, and some people aren’t willing to explore what’s out there, thus leaving the world almost as unknown as it was when they got there. Be proud of yourself for being willing to venture out and try something new, and take a picture along the way!  You’ll want to remember this moment years from now when you look back at the beginnings of your successful small business that you built with big nerve!

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