The internet has changed the way we think, socialise and interact, do business, canvas opinions, shop, give and seek referrals. It’s irrevocably changed our work patterns and, consequently our lifestyle.
As someone who makes their living in online marketing for the last nine years and has been teaching social media marketing since 2010, it may seem strange of me to suggest that the internet is a threat to your business. But it is.
Expectations on business have changed. People expect to find information quickly and easily; a website is no longer a “nice to have”. Even my local fish and chippery has a website now. Businesses without any social media presence are viewed as either oddball or backward.
Once on your site, people are impatient, expecting quick page load times, easily viewable on a mobile device, and easy to navigate.
In pre-internet days, businesses weren’t scrutinised as closely as they are now. Not only were they able to get away with serving an average product, they were in the business of selling, only.
Post-internet, business is now a 24/7 marketing game. And average is no longer good enough. I can write a review on Urban Spoon via my smartphone on a restaurant’s thoughtless service before I’ve received the bill.
Businesses must step up to scrutiny and cultivate relationships to encourage positive feedback in order to balance unavoidable bad feedback just to maintain a neutral position.
Social media and content marketing needs personal details to make it work. Content marketing does not talk only of your latest class, discount or upcoming event. The same way the self-obsessed bore at a party quickly finds themselves alone, a business which only talks about itself is ignored.
Some personal detail is necessary to make social media social. Exactly how much you reveal is a question only you can answer.
Google has brought your competitors closer. A few clicks reveals all competitors within your area. This is not a problematic if you’re adept at defining your unique difference but it’s definitely a threat to your ability to work efficiently as it increases the likelihood that you’ll be comparing your business unfavourably with your (highly visible) competitors.
Wrestling with comparisons
Updating your social media channels, both personally and professionally, can leave you feeling strung out. Since the advent of Facebook, psychologists are reporting greater-than-ever numbers of people with social anxiety or depression fuelled by social media (see here, here, and here.)
The business owner is just as privy to comparisons, if not more so, because we can fool ourselves into believing we’re “researching” or “educating” ourselves when we’re in the death grips of inadequacy, overwhelm and despair caused by comparing our businesses to others.
Shrinking attention spans
Since we’re so close to an immense amount of information and analysis, with links, banners and pop-ups, it’s increasingly difficult to hold people’s attention. Business owners want to draw their web visitor’s attention to all their different offerings and goings-on but, in so doing, succeed only in overwhelming people.
Your website visitors have a hundred different things competing for their attention when on the internet. Your business is just one of those things. You need insight, intelligence, sensitivity, smart design, and the powers of Houdini to keep – and hold – people’s attention.
Further, you need to keep your own attention on the game when doing online marketing. Any online time is an opportunity to click, click, click, with little to show for it.
Heavy social media users, particularly young women in their 20s (coincidentally, a segment which make up a lot of new yoga students), suffer from fear of missing out (commonly referred to as FOMO). While such a concept is easy to ridicule, sufferers face very real negative consequences, most notably, anxiety and depression.
If you’ve been in business since pre-internet or early-internet days, you may have noticed your client base is far less stable. This is typical of too many choices, comparisons of different business offerings, and FOMO.
People are increasingly reluctant to commit to anything and, particularly in big cities where they have more on offer, typically wait until the last minute so they don’t miss anything better that pops up. In short, people are more fickle.
For the small business owner, FOMO is disastrous. Full blown FOMO means you’re constantly changing tact, your strategy is non-existent as the only thing consistent about your branding, marketing or execution is change, and you waste a lot of money jumping from one course, consultant, or plan to the next.
When you’re in the grips of FOMO as a business owner, you’re constantly thinking that Instagram, webinars, e-courses or blogging is the silver bullet, but don’t ever stick with anything long enough to make it work. A bunch of angst-ridden action for next-to-no results means your trust erodes, not only in marketing, but in your abilities as a business owner. Add a serve of jealousy and depression and you may as well go back to working for the man.
Meeting the challenges
The internet has forever changed us. Make no mistake – burying your head in the sand and hoping that the world will return to some pastoral ideal (that never really existed anyway) is not an option if you want to thrive in this brave new world.
Short of embracing the slow movement (which is filled with fabulous examples of talented online marketing, such as Milkwood Permaculture), you must learn to navigate these choppy online waters. But it’s not impossible. It just requires commitment and consistency – both deeply unfashionable (and wonderfully effective).
Overcoming challenges: committing to excellence
Overcome greater expectations by committing to excellence. Too often in heart-based businesses started more out passion than profit, we believe our passion for our personal journey is sufficiently effective marketing story.
But businesses are built around clients. Your stories need to be their stories.
To be truly excellent you need to keep your clients close, evolving your offerings and anticipating the next step.
Overcoming challenges: meeting scrutiny with transparency
Criticism isn’t inherently bad – it’s an opportunity for improvement and insight into how your clients think. When you’re criticised, apologise for somebody’s expectations not being met (regardless of whether those expectations are reasonable in your eyes) and take the complaint offline, preferably over the phone. Be open and apologise quickly if you’re at fault.
If you’re not at fault, don’t worry. In business, you’ll come across all manner of freaks. It makes the majority of kind-hearted individuals all the more lovely, the very same ones who will rally to your defense if you are criticised online.
Overcoming challenges: defining your online boundaries
It’s important to define your online boundaries regarding how much personal detail to reveal. Not everything is relevant to your clients and business; not everything is easily understood. While sharing pieces of your life will attract like-minded souls to your business who may even grow to become IRL (in real life) friends, don’t confuse online banter with love and understanding. Seek emotional support from friends and family.
Hone your skills at delicacy, humility, and humour while recognising that we don’t all think alike. Learn to discern what parts of your personal story are appropriate, relevant and useful to share, and what aren’t, or seek outside counsel.
Overcoming challenges: more competition
Your competition is a blessing. Without competition, it’s easy to stagnate and stick with the safe path. Competition helps you hone your difference, better identify the value your clients love you for, keeps your marketing fresh and your offerings cutting-edge, and motivates you to keep growing, learning and improving.
Your competition are also your colleagues who face similar challenges as you do. They are great to refer people who are not your ideal clients, so make sure you get to know your competition and don’t let your insecurities party in your mind.
Overcoming challenges: don’t compare because what you’re seeing is incomplete
It’s very human to compare ourselves with others, but it’s not always healthy. We’re only seeing a fraction of people’s lives online, and this is the best-of show-reel. It’s like peeking through a keyhole in the dark and thinking you’ve got the whole scene. I’ve written this article with two young children coming into and out of the room, demanding food, attention, games, and clothes changes.
It’s fairly straightforward to portray success online. But do you actually know how much money an online personality makes? What hours they work? Do you appreciate the endless time that goes into growing a gigantic online community? Did that person whose photos you admired drinking a green smoothie after a dawn yoga class miss out on seeing their kids wake up? Or morning sex? Or the ordinary luxury of sleeping in?
Overcoming challenges: be single-minded to keep attention
Social media is all about flirting. There’s plenty of banter, links to other businesses, sharing of pretty pictures and conversation before people typically click and purchase. A flirt isn’t very good if they’re busy talking about themselves – a good flirt knows that it’s all about inspiring the other person, asking questions and provoking comment. Keep flirting until it’s time to ask for the sale, then be single-minded in your focus.
Always link directly to the page where your price tag and ‘buy now’ button is. Keep your landing page devoid of distractions. Don’t over-stuff your side bar with every offering you’ve got. Streamline your offerings, pricing and your payment process to make decisions easier. Don’t overwhelm your clients with options and they’ll be far more likely to buy. Make it easy for people online to do business with you.
Overcoming challenges: be single-minded in your work patterns
Figure out what works for you and stick to that – it may be that you give each day of the week a focus. Schedule your social media updates a week (or a month) at a time. Batch tasks so you don’t have to refocus every time you move onto something new. Create deadlines for yourself. Ask a friend or colleague to become your accountability buddy or engage a business coach like myself to give you homework and hold you accountable.
If you’re on social media too much, use a self-regulating social media blocking tools. Finally, don’t let yourself slide into self-loathing for ‘wasting time’ on social media when you’re actually enjoying yourself and making friends, but learn to appreciate when – and how much – is appropriate.
When you’re doing research, give yourself a target and timeframe (eg: three quotes within half an hour; choose supplier by the end of February). Use a timer at your desk.
Overcoming challenges: FOMO in your clients
People want things to be convenient (fair enough) but we know that committing to tasks will make us achieve our goals.
To help your clients commit, you need to strengthen your marketing to communicate why commitment is, ultimately, in their best interests. Then you need to highlight this – by closely surveying clients “before” and “after” through testimonials, by offering generous early bird discounts to encourage early commitment, and by rewarding committed clients who buy memberships or packages, or are email subscribers, with exclusive offers and treatment. Reward loyalty and people will be loyal.
Overcoming challenges: FOMO in yourself
If you’ve got a bad case of FOMO, the prescription is restriction. Reduce the amount of time you spend checking out the latest-and-greatest technique, tip or strategy and narrow your focus to you and you alone.
Write yourself a marketing or business plan (it doesn’t need to be long or fancy. It does need to include numbers, dates and specific actions). Put your blinkers on and commit to putting your marketing and business development plan into action every day, without fail. Don’t invest in any more books and courses unless you’re sure you need the information to augment what you’re already doing.
Don’t mistake reading, talking, social media viewing and “research” for action. When you’re on social media for business, always seek to contribute – updating your social media channels, sharing others’ updates, or talking with people – rather than simply viewing. Take a digital sabbatical between certain hours or for certain days.
Avoid social media when you’re having a hard time. Rely on real life friends and family for emotional support or validation.
Keep returning to your motivation – why do you do what you do? Who do you most want to serve? What problem are they grappling with and how can you alleviate it as quickly, gracefully and enjoyably as possible?
Finally, don’t get drawn into arguments or disagreements online. Recognise that haters will hate and moaners will moan. Know that you have a life outside of the internet, whether or not you take a picture of it to upload to Instagram.