2022 marks six years I’ve taken running my business seriously and five years of working for myself 100% full time. Along the way, I’ve learned many hard lessons, built terrific connections, and grown tremendously as a person.
So, in honor of my growth and journey, I want to share 5 things I wish I had known before I started. Hopefully, it can help you in some way or answer some questions you may have in your journey.
4 things I wish I knew before I started a business:
- The differences between marketing, advertising, and branding
- How to use email marketing to generate sales, build a community and take a break from social media
- How to effectively create a content marketing strategy that worked while not overworking me.
- What automation's are, how to create a workflow, and the best software to build them
There are many things that I am still learning, including some of what is on this list. To be a great business owner, you must also commit to being a lifelong student. I am not a master at anything on this list, but after six years, I have undoubtedly become familiar with and comfortable discussing them.
So, if you find this blog helpful, share it on Twitter @Marketingbully_ and tag me, letting me know you read the article and what you loved about it.
4 things I wish I knew before I started a business
The differences between marketing, advertising, and branding
When I started my entrepreneurial journey, I had experience as a general manager, assistant manager, and sales representative. I’d worked in training and hiring, on-boarding new team members, community outreach, and more. Because of this, I thought I clearly understood the differences between marketing, advertising, and branding.
But oh boy, was I wrong. I misunderstood that I only handled advertising in my management positions - I never had to think about marketing or branding. I believe this now with my new understanding of these three concepts, and here’s why.
Marketing = Completing the research required to meet the needs of your ideal customers. Then use this research to create human, helpful content that organically attracts them to your brand. This could be figuring out what to share on social media, building an email list, building a blog, etc. The act of researching and creating a communal space where that content is shared to educate, inform, and engage your customers is marketing.
Advertising = paid effort to drive traffic to your marketing initiatives. So, if you published a new product, created a new email series about it, or published articles and social media posts - you could run ads and hire sales representatives to drive traffic to them.
Branding = Branding creates a strong, positive perception of a company, its products, or services in the customer's mind by combining elements such as logo, design, mission statement, and a consistent theme throughout all marketing communications. (Oberlo, 2022).
I like this definition of branding because it clarifies that branding is about building your story and helping consumers understand it for how it’s intended, rather than letting them create a narrative about your brand. Also, it distinguishes the difference between marketing, advertising, and branding by discussing the design elements and planning required for successful branding.
Having this distinction would’ve helped me understand what I should outsource vs. what I should try to do myself. It also would’ve helped me be clear with my intentions and expectations of what I could reasonably do with my resources. This would’ve saved me so much money, time, and tears from frustration.
How to use email marketing to generate sales, build a community and take a break from social media
I’ve used email marketing seriously for about 3 years in my own company and I wish I would’ve started sooner. With email marketing, the quality of my leads are higher and i can create significantly less content. Since relationships naturally develop overtime, email marketing is a safe space for this to happen digitally without worrying about going viral.
I think not worrying about going viral also makes creating content more enjoyable. I’m not competing with an algorithm, nor am i consumed in what other businesses are sharing. It takes away any anxiety I have about writing content, sharing it or receiving feedback.
Also, email marketing isn’t centered on vanity metrics. No one else can see my metrics and data but me, which makes me feel more confident in continuing to create content without judgement. This also helps keep me motivated and on track with sticking to my marketing plans.
While I did learn email marketing overtime, there are other resources and tools I’ve used and created to help me along the way; here are some of my favorite:
- Hubspot Email Marketing certification
- How to write copy that sells by Ray Edwards
- The Email Marketing Tool Kit
Now that I understand and prioritize email marketing, I believe these are the 4 best tips I can give you on getting started:
- How you get your email subscribers matters because the quality of your email list determines the quality of your outcomes. This is why you shouldn’t buy email list, but instead should focus on capturing your own leads via creating value and irresistible offers.
- Your email list naturally decays at about 25% every 6 months, so you should at least do an email list cleanse and get rid of unengaged subscribers to boost your sender reputation, deliverability and open rate.
- Learn how to write email subject lines that drive engagement. Use your email subject lines to express excitement, gratitude, share a crazy fact and ask questions. If you struggle with this, Checkout 500 email subject lines.
- Commit to studying copy writing and the art of concise sales language.
How to effectively create a content marketing strategy that worked while not overworking myself
When i first started creating content, I wanted to do everything. I wanted to create every type of content possible so I could experiment and see what I loved most. I tried vine, youtube, Twitter, blogging, facebook, skits - everything.
Along the way, i learned that I loved the short form content more than youtube, which is why I could never fully commit to youtube for more than 4-5 months at a time. I also learned that I love blogging, but it’s unrealistic to think I can publish 4+ articles a month without have a editor and graphic designer helping with 50% of the work required.
While I learned so much by creating several types of content simultaneously, I would’ve gotten further picking a few to stick to, learning to repurpose my content and maximizing the use out of each type of content. When I went down the rabbit hold of learning how to do this 4 years ago, I learned how my blog could be my central hub for content and all of my other content could revolve around it. I also learned that I like podcasting so much more than making youtube videos, which led to embedding podcast episodes into my blog post.
Here’s 3 hard lessons I learned about content marketing:
- I cannot create content for everyone, on every platform. Everyone is not my target customer, so trying to make content everyone could enjoy was a huge mistake on my part. Trying to be present on every platform always resulted in being fatigued and burned out, I could never keep a cadence doing this.
- What works for one creator simply may not work for me and that’s okay. I can create my own lane, build my own community and be my authentic self without copying anyone else.
- I need a real strategy. A strategy that helps me map out my content purpose, topics, goals, content pillars, content clusters, frequency and method for batch creating content. I needed to write a plan and do the research to make sure I was doing it right and stop guessing. I’ve shared everything I’ve learned about content marketing in The Content Marketing Guide. Download your copy if you want to learn more of my methods and how to avoid hard lessons.
If i could take away anything from these experiences, it would be to focus on growing one platform at a time. Then use that platform to grow your email list. Then use your email list to grow your other socials - this makes it 10 times easier.
You’ll also grow much faster if you focus on creating quality content for one platform, instead of mediocre content for 7 platforms just to say your present on them. Remember, content marketing isn’t just about being present - its also about being impactful and binge worthy.
What automation's are, how to create a workflow, and the best software to build them
I wish I knew what automation's were 6 years ago. Automation's take repetitive task and run them passively so that they’re still being done, but I don’t have to do it and I don’t have to pay anyone one else to do it either. Having automation's can save money from labor because even as you expand and grow, you’ll hire people to manage the automation's - not complete the task itself.
If I had known this 6 years ago, I wouldn’t have immediately went into outsourcing for contractors. Instead, I would’ve invested in a business systems and marketing automation expert. I would’ve hired someone who could help automate my processes and create more efficiency systems. Then I would’ve hired someone to manage the automation's part time and virtually for 10 hours a week.
Doing this would have saved me THOUSANDS of dollars in trying to grow a small startup with limited funding. Over the years, I’ve learned how to create several automation's including:
- Automatically re-purposing my Tiktok videos to Twitter, Pinterest, and Youtube using Repurpose.io
- Every time a new product is uploaded to my website, It is automatically posted to Pinterest using Zapier.
- When someone signs up to download a freebie from my Free Library, it automatically tweets about who signed up, what they got for free and how the person viewing can download it too using Zapier.
- Every time a new blog is published, Zapier email & SMS tools can send an email / message to my subscribers by populating the blogs information into my templates.
- My new hire on-boarding process is completely automated using google drive and honeybooks automation tool for sending forms, offer letters, submission received notices, project manager to do list, creating the job application, all legal paperwork and thank you emails.
- My new client on-boarding process is automated using Dubsado for sending contracts, invoices, forms, proposals and more.
These 6 automation's alone help me save money from needing a full time assistant, a full time social media manager and a HR representative. Every month I have 50+ automation's running and more being added every quarter, so my systems are only becoming more efficient.
If you want to learn how to get started, I recommend downloading ”Building automated workflows with Zapier for beginners”.
I want to share more content like this that adds more transparency about what being a small business owner is like, because it is not easy. Some months are absolutely amazing and others make me reconsider the path I am headed down.
I know I’m not the only business owner who feels this way, which is why I want to create a space where we can openly discuss this free of judgement.
So, what are some hard business lessons you’ve learned? I’d love to read about them in the comments and create a meaningful dialogue with you.