This Week In Business

Five Ways You Can Be More Productive… in 2015 or whenever

5waysprodred
As we hit the time of year when all of us are feeling like changing (at least a little). But I think whether we want to lose 20 pounds or send birthday cards by mail to all our friends and family, we can all agree that being more productive means we are more likely to get what we want done.

I’m a bit of a process junkie: I love learning information that makes it easier to do things. I like creating efficiency. But sometimes I get a little too caught up in the theory versus the practice.

Below are all things I am actually practicing to make me more productive.

1. Asana
Purpose: Task management to get all the details out of our brains and email and into a searchable, prioritized system.
Estimated time saved: 4 hours/week

Hands down Asana has changed the way we do business. Whenever there is a project, we can break it into tasks and due dates. And best of all, it’s searchable, meaning Kassie can note some weirdo website we’ve inherited won’t let us edit it in Google Chrome and when she gets to that task can avoid the headache of trying to do something that literally won’t work.

Also by assigning dates, I can see what tasks are a priority daily and slowly chip away at larger projects that would not get done otherwise.

And the best part? It’s not stuck in my email but searchable by anyone at Breaking Even. They can see what’s been done, what hasn’t, etc. easily and add notes/comments. Ah, things getting done without me needing to be involved! You can learn more in our blog post about it we wrote awhile back about our love for Asana. 

2. Systemization
Purpose: Make routine tasks happen quickly and smoothly to save on time/energy.
Estimated time saved: 2 hours/week

I was listening to Tim Ferris’ podcast a few weeks ago when he suggested everyone for at least a week plan out the first two hours of their day. Have a time frame and system for everything from when and where I walk the dog to how I put together a smoothie. And you know what? Not only did it free up my decision making energy for more important stuff later in the day but my morning did run more smoothly.

I’m not saying we all live like robots but I am saying we spend our energy thinking about stuff that could be automated that is taking up energy and brainspace, both in our personal lives and business lives.

At Breaking Even, we’re working on creating and finalizing one document per month for one of our processes. Then ideally, if we are swamped and needed to hire, we could give our new person the documents and they could get the party started.

In life, I’m trying to automate my morning smoothie (so many possible ingredients and recipes) as a start. And if I save myself 10 minutes a day, that’s over an hour a week… and over time, that’s something!

(You can get a free ‘systems’ book by going to this website and clicking on ‘Free PDF’ in the middle of the screen: http://www.workthesystem.com/. Can’t promise how long it’ll work but if your brain doesn’t operate like a Swiss watch (mine doesn’t) then having a blueprint to help you think this way can help.)

 3. Toggl
Purpose: Tracking time between multiple people across multiple projects. 
Estimated time saved: 1 hour/week

I’ll admit it, up until a week ago, I would spend a least three hours a month in spreadsheets, which is how we were keeping our timecards here. So to see how much work we did for Client A in a month, I’d go to my spreadsheet, then Kassie’s, then John’s, then Leslie’s. It was a lot of exhausting first grade math with sometimes a sprint at the end of the month to make up for time we hadn’t put in (but I thought we had). Dumb dumb dumb.

I came across Togglr as a time keeper and I love that it’s not only searchable but tracks time spent on tasks and that multiple people can use it. I haven’t upgraded to the paid version yet but honestly, paying a few bucks a month to free up hours of my time is a no brainer if it comes to that. Plus it integrates with Asana tasks via a Google Chrome extension. Could it be any more in line with our purposes?

Check out Toggl here.

4. Psychology
Purpose: To uncloud the clouded mind.
Estimated time saved: 1 hour/week

OK so it’s one thing to make systems and do all this other stuff but mental fog is a whole other thing to deal with. What if you’re distracted?

I saw this exercise and thought it was GENIUS:  http://www.ampyourresults.com/2014/12/28/the-other-half-of-the-focus-equation-no-one-talks-about-2/

Do it and you too could get at the root of your procrastination, apathy, etc. Because let’s face it, all the tools in the world aren’t going to help you if your ‘inner conflict’ is at work, all the fun timers, task managers, etc. aren’t going to help you.

And speaking of that human element…

5. Accountability partner
Purpose: To be accountable to another human being weekly about what has and hasn’t happened yet in terms of achieving goals.
Estimated time saved: 30 minutes/week 

And if you really want to get something done, there is nothing like having to tell your friend/a slightly detached individual that you haven’t done it yet… and have them push you as to why.

Meeting with Ashley weekly most of the year made me do things I wouldn’t have done… but I think next year we’ll work together even better now that we’ve figured each other out a bit.

If you want to read more about this, check out this previous blog post I wrote about my accountability partner. 

So if I am actually saving myself about 8 hours a week (and these are all fairly conservative estimates), that’s a significant amount indeed. I can’t explain in any other way how I have been able to do so much ‘extra’ this year without having to work more than a handful of weekends.

I don’t see myself picking up more ‘tricks’ than this but I do think implementing these better will allow me to do more and better in 2015. And here’s hoping you’ve seen something that helps you do the same.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Press Release 101: Releasing it into the Wild

At this point, you’ve learned what a press release is, how they are structured, and the best ways to choose a corresponding image. Now, it’s finally ready to submit! Here’s what you need to know:

 

PressRelease_Submission

 

How should I issue a press release to the media?

In addition to posting your press release on your website and social media outlets, you should have a list of contacts in media that accessed by your customer base or service area. That can include, local newspapers, news sites, radio and television, trade publications, and folks on your mailing list.

For newspapers in particular, email long ago outstripped a printed, mailed press release. This is good for you because it saves a ton on postage. It’s also good for the newspaper, who can just copy/paste instead of retyping the entire thing.

What happens after your press release is received?

Sending a press release doesn’t guarantee that it’ll get picked up. But a timely press release with interesting content has a good chance of grabbing the attention of your media contacts.

After your release is sent, one of the following may occur depending on a number of factors:

  • The release may go ignored. Just because you think an announcement is newsworthy doesn’t necessarily mean that opinion is shared by an editor. Or maybe there isn’t space in the paper for your release this week. That shouldn’t dissuade you from sending press releases in the future. Like the Great One said, “you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”
  • The release may be printed verbatim. This happens more frequently in community shoppers, circulars, and other small publications and community newsletters.
  • The release may be published with edits. Weekly, local, and regional papers will often reprint a release with edits that helps the release conform to the paper’s style. The newspaper may contact you for clarification or for additional information. The release may often be shortened with extraneous information eliminated. Don’t take it personally. Remember, the end result of all of this is to get your product or service noted. Getting your release published — even shortened and edited — means you’ve accomplished that.
  • The release becomes part of a bigger, bylined story. The good news is your announcement may have just become front-page news. A reporter may be sent to your organization to do a sit-down interview, take photos, etc. If your content from your press release — especially a quote — is used in the resultant story, it ought to be denoted. Be aware that the paper may also look to include other sources from outside your organization. For example, if a local land trust issues a press release announcing intentions to acquire a parcel for preservation, the paper will likely go ahead and interview the folks who may be selling the property, or abutters leery of the deal. If an advocacy group campaigning against fossil fuels issues a news release about the damaging effects of carbon emissions, the paper may also balance out their story with quotes from an oil company.

Press Release 101: Using Imagery

So, we’ve gone over the nature of a press release and how to write one. Press Release Part 3 discusses how to add images that tie your words together.

PressRelease_Images

Every picture tells a story.

Include an eye-catching photo that will draw attention to your press release when it’s published.  Make sure you:

  • Send it as a separate attachment
  • Do not embed it in a Word Document. These are a pain to extract, and the quality is often poor and unusable.The best photos will be taken digitally. Some folks will scan a print and send that as an email, but the end result will be a copy of a copy, leading to poor reproduction.Make sure it’s sized correctly. A digital image that’s between 12-24” at its maximum length or height at a resolution of 72 dpi (dots per inch) is more than sufficient. Often news outlets get photos that are merely thumbnails (1”-2” at maximum) that can’t be enlarged without becoming distorted and unusable
  • Make sure it’s in-focus and well-lit.
  • Include the name of the person, or persons, seen in the photo.
  • Provide the name of the person or organization in the photo credit
  • Do not use any special filters or borders such as those seen often on Instagram.

Once you’ve pinpointed the perfect image to go along with your release, it’s ready to be sent off into the wild. What can you expect after hitting “Send”? Stay tuned for Part 4!

Press Release 101: Writing and Formatting

Last week, I gave an overall explanation of press releases and their purposes. Part 2 breaks down the writing process and the different elements of a successful press release.

PressRelease_Writing

 Writing the press release

Here’s a breakdown of the components of a standard press release:

Header

The header of your press release needs to include the name of a contact person who is authorized to speak with the press and can answer a few follow-up questions from a reporter, or will at least know who to direct the report to. A phone number and email address are must-haves. 

Authorization

Start your press release by denoting when the newspaper or website is allowed to publish your submitted material. If your press release can be published at any time, start it off with “For Immediate Release.” Otherwise, let them know when the release can be published. Example: “Embargoed until Nov. 14” or “Embargoed until 3:30 p.m. Dec. 23.”

Headline

Keep it short, about 9-12 words. Nine times out of 10, the editor is going to change it anyway to suit their style, or for space constraints. That’s a sad fact of life, but always include a headline anyway.  By catchy without being cutesy. Don’t use clunky jargon in your headline (or in the rest of your copy for that matter). 

Examples:

Right: Springfield farm gives at risk youth another chance
Wrong: It’s not just ‘another day’ on the Farm for local at-risk youth who can benefit by some ‘hard work’!

Right: National Republican leaders to sound off on midterm elections
Wrong: ICYMI: RNC, NRSC, NRCC, RSLC Hold Press Conference on Midterm Election Results (Note: this is a real-life example from an organization that ought to have known better.)

Dateline

The dateline isn’t a date, it’s actually a location, and the only thing you’re allowed to write in all-caps. Include your state in the dateline if you’re in a smaller community.

Example:

BAR HARBOR, Maine

WASHINGTON, D.C.

SPRINGFIELD, Mass.

CHICAGO

OAKLAND, Calif.

NAPILI-HONOKOWAI, Hawaii

Lead

The lead is the first paragraph of your press release, and is usually only one or two sentences long. It includes who, what, when, where how, and why.

The lead can be challenging. You have to convey to the reader — and in your case an editor — why your press release matters to a wide audience in as few words as possible. It doesn’t need to be boring, but it does need to be succinct.

Example:

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Clearview Farms in Springfield is giving troubled youth a second chance while giving them some real-world skills. Starting Tuesday, local at-risk students will participate in an innovative program that aids the community and help teens develop a sense of pride in their work.

Body and Style

This is where you can add details and — importantly — quotes. Three or four paragraphs that fills in the gaps left in the lead, and you’re done. Keep it focused on the announcement.

Most news outlets use a specific writing style, the most popular one being Associated Press — or AP — style. AP style is the most prevalent style of writing in news organizations. Even satirical newspaper The Onion uses AP style. Here in Maine, The Bangor Daily News, Portland Press Herald both use AP style. Look to those sources as examples of AP style.

Unless you’re a professional PR firm, you’re not expected to know AP style by heart. But if you keep these tips in mind, you’ll go a long ways to sounding like a pro.

DON’T WRITE IN ALL CAPS! EDITORS FIND THIS REALLY ANNOYING. Remember that most of your press releases will be sent via email and copied/pasted into another document. All-caps creates extra work for the poor schlub that has to retype it. Most papers don’t use all-caps, even in headlines. Plus, it looks like you’re shouting. Don’t shout. It’s rude.

Also, no exclamation marks!!!!!! News stories rarely, if ever, use them.

Like the majority of your press release, your quotes need to be in the past tense. When using a direct quote, use “said,” as oppose to “noted,” “exclaimed,” “pointed out,” “according to,” etc. Punctuation is kept on the inside of the quotes. 

Example:

Right: “This program gives teens a sense of pride in their work which they may not get anywhere else,” said Maura Dwyer, Clearview board chairwoman. “Youth are benefiting in ways we’ve never seen before.”
Wrong: “This program gives teens a sense of pride in their work they might not get ANYWHERE else”, exclaims Maura Dwyer, Clearview board board of directors chairwoman. “Youth are benefiting in ways we’ve never seen before!”

Tag

This is where you can give a little history and background information.

Example:

Clearview Farm is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization that has, since 1985, used agriculture as an educational tool for urban and inner-city youth. Located on a historic sugar beet ranch owned by the Kardashian family for 150 years, the 300 acre farm produces organic kale, rutabaga, asparagus, and other vegetables. A seasonal working maple sugar hut produces award winning syrup. Sales from Clearview products found at local farmers markets and grocers go to benefit the Human Fund. Go to www.clearviewisnotarealfarm.com for more information.

Folks who get it right

Take a look at these links for examples of a few press releases done right for inspiration, paying special attention to the body:

Apple has an entire page on their website dedicated to press releases.

Apple has an entire page on their website dedicated to press releases.

…One more thing:

Two eyes are better than one. If you’re a small business and issuing the press release yourself, make sure you get a second person to proof your press release for spelling and grammar before sending.

And next week, we’ll discuss how to use an image to bring it all together.

Press Release 101: So You Think You Know Press Releases?

PressRelease_What_Is

Got an exciting new product or service, and need to get the word out? Most small businesses  have a limited advertising budget, but you can try for some free publicity through your local newspaper, newsletter, online news site, television and radio stations, etc.

Often businesses will write press releases for trade publications with a niche audience who might understand industry jargon. For our purposes we’re going to talk about writing for a general audience so you get customers through the door of your store, get the cash donations flowing, and get some butts in the chairs at your fundraisers.

What is a press release and what does it do?

Simply put, a press release is an announcement directed at media outlets, written in a way that resembles a news story — the kind you read in a newspaper or online news site. A press release conveys news — hopefully good but sometimes in a response to an unfortunate event — about your company or organization. 

Topics frequently include:Single retro microphone against colourful background with lights

  • Business expansion and hirings
  • New products, programs, and services
  • Rebranding
  • Event announcements
  • Public safety updates
  • Damage control
  • Response to negative publicity
  • Political campaign announcements and statements
  • Business closures and layoffs.

 

A press release is not an advertisement — paid or otherwise. When you buy an ad, you’re in control of the content. Not so with a press release, whose content, after submitted, is at the whim of the news department. Even so, there are some basic rules in writing a press release that will help grab the attention of an editor and give your release a better shot at reaching an audience.

…Why these rules?

Even though you’re promoting a product or service, you’re not writing ad copy. You’re writing news copy. And the more your press release sounds like news copy, the fewer edits it’ll get at the copy desk, which means more of your original message gets conveyed.

Next week, I’ll explain the ins and outs of writing a press release.

 

Why You Only Need 300 Fans

Thumbs up or like symbol in coffee froth

I’ve been working with small businesses for over six years now, from the ‘ we haven’t even opened yet’ stage to running for multiple generations. And I’ve noticed a bit of a pattern.

Once we reach about the 300 fan mark on some social media platform (usually Facebook), they seem to do much better. Payments are more likely to come in on time, they are more open to us experimenting with their marketing, they are just generally more confident, likely because they are seeing traction, financially and otherwise.

There is a part of all of us that probably wants to be famous. We want to be sitting on the Today Show stage or on the front page of the New York Times, saying our equivalent of ‘golly gee, we started in our basement/garage/spare bedroom and look at us now!’

But we don’t need millions of customers and we don’t even need thousands to survive or even thrive. We just need a few hundred. Here’s why.

You’ll have customers at different levels.

In our business we have a mix of people we deal with:

Many are once or twice a year customers: they aren’t giving us lots of money but they also don’t need very much from us either.

We have some that are our power users. We are on retainer, make thousands a year from them, and are in regular contact.

Then there are people in between.

Whether you provide services like us or sell products, I bet you have customers at base, mid, and high levels of offerings.

People who move between levels, and  new customers come in as well to balance those who to elsewhere, go out of business, etc. (If you don’t have multiple levels of products, you may want to rethink that!)

Your business can’t survive on one client (well, it can but then you are kind of their employee then, aren’t you?). But you also don’t also need to kill yourself trying to serve thousands of people either since you are meeting different customers’ needs differently.

You’ll have repeat customers if you know what you’re doing.

The hardest sale is the first sale. Once people are used to working with you, however, that second (or third or twentieth) sale is not only easier but more fun.

If you have a good product with good service, you’ll have repeat customers in some capacity, whether they always stay in your hotel when they come to town or buy cheese from your shop every year for their holiday party.

Your customers have friends and family.

There will be people in your business life who inexplicably love you. There are people I have met in my travels and I have no idea why they like me so much… but they do. And they tell other people.

Every time a loyal customer sends someone your way who buys, that’s another sale you didn’t have to bust your hump for. In the biz, people call these ‘brand mavens’ (and there is a few other words for them) but they are your vocal minority spreading the love. And if you have just a few of these in the mix, they do wonders.

Between these three principles, it seems like most people need to stop worrying about getting millions to like them and work on getting 300 people to love them.

Because 300 people, and the fact that their your people, makes a big difference. And it’s not just me who’s noticed:

(Fun Fact: Kassie watches this before running marathons. I had to ask her what the movie was about.)

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.