As I was looking over the past couple of years, and planning the next one, I thought I would share this information with you all since I think it is interesting to see how small businesses get started and what they do to make it work. I hope you get something like that out of it and I would be happy to answer any questions you have.
I have always been an entrepreneur. I started my career as a PhD psychologist and started several treatment programs across the country, as well as having a private practice. Later, I became the CEO of a start-up software company which my ex-husband and I built up and eventually sold. I then found myself having to decide what I wanted to do next. I loved building and had done a lot of renovations as a hobby. While looking for space for the software company, I came across some warehouse properties in Atlanta and I decided to go develop them into loft communities.
I found I loved it and continued to do these adaptive reuse projects. Along the way, I had always done my own graphic design and websites as a hobby and then about five years ago discovered WordPress. I loved it and started blogging and creating my own sites. When selling my properties started to suck wind, I sold what I had and stopped building before the shit hit the fan. I looked around at what I loved doing and found that I was enjoying coaching small businesses on how to blog and use social media. Idea born. I was teaching them New Tricks!
The first year, 2009, I teamed up with a woman who had left her corporate job to work for the Obama campaign. We worked very hard building sites for clients and hard because there is a steep learning curve when going from building sites for yourself to building sites for other people. I called 2009, the year of, “See One, Do One, Teach One”, and it involved a lot of really late nights. At the end of 2009, my biz partner told me she was going to go her own way missing the trappings of corporate success. I was somewhat, but not really, surprised and I started 2010 having to totally rethink and regroup.
This unexpected but not, change turned out to give me space and time to ponder and set the future course of New Tricks. I sought out a friend and business coach and talked through my next steps. Margo helped me carefully consider the ideal makeup of a small team that could help me get the work done and keep the business going smoothly. With these insights under my belt, I chose and brought on two people and also decided, if I wanted to pay two other people, I needed to focus on growing New Tricks, so I implemented a Social Media plan. And thus 2010 then became the year of “Boundaries, Systems and Delegation”.
It became apparent that to grow I had to be clear on what we could do for a particular price and what we could not; who we could work with and who we could not. We had to put systems into place to keep track of the work and keep things moving. This is a struggle for me. I actually like things orderly and systematic, but getting them there is not easy. And finally, I have had to face that I could not do everything I had been doing and had to train and delegate so that I could better do things that only I can do. Letting go and asking for help. Hmmm, not my strongest suits. I also quit working ’til late in the night, which I have had to do since I have gotten up and walked almost every morning at 8 since last January.
What Has Worked
I really get tickled to see things working as planned. What a concept. We teach our clients to use Social Media Marketing and to have a plan to grow their businesses. And it’s still fun to see it work for them and for us. We have implemented a lot of things that have started to really come together using Social Media, with a healthy dose of “In Real Life” and great customer service and relationships. These things have coalesced and contributed to more of our “right” clients finding us. What exactly have we done that has “worked” so well…
- I actually started using Social Media Marketing for New Tricks. This included starting a Facebook Fan Page and actually developing relationships on Twitter ( @judiknight) and through Blog Comments ( see items 6 and 7).
- I volunteered to help to co-coordinate the Atlanta WordPress Users’ Meetup Group, which has over 600 members. I revamped the format of the group to have an hour presentation and have been holding the monthly meetings at New Tricks World Headquarters routinely having 50 to 60 people attending. We have made a real WordPress community out of it.
- New Tricks contributed with small sponsorships of two WordCamps and while there we gave out business cards in a clear cellophane bag along with an iced sugar cookie in the shape and colors of the New Tricks dog logo. Yum and so memorable.
- I led a weekly small business social media marketing group, which was great fun and taught me a lot about what my clients need and want. Everyone learned a lot, including me, and I came away with a lot of material that I can use to create an online version of the group for people who want to know how to use the, for the most part, free social media tools to grow their businesses.
- I decided to keep in better touch with my readers by sending out a weekly e-mail called Just a Digital Minute, putting out a little message from me and one Social Media Tip each and every Wednesday. This has grown my list from 39 people to over 600 people in the second half of the year. I also did a 12 Days of Christmas Online Gift Giveaway this December that helped grow the list by 100 people in the month. It was also fun, but more work than I thought it would be to set up, especially when I was already very busy.
- I found out about a workshop called Creating Irresistible Presence, by Sarah Robinson, and I signed up without really knowing what it was or why I was going to do it. All I knew was that I liked what she said and the fact that it was at the Georgian Terrace, and that she had been a Shakespearean Actor. I knew as soon as I stepped into the room that I was in the right place. It has been a terrific experience. I have met a lot of people that I continue to relate to and I have continued to do coaching with Sarah. Although the workshop and the coaching was expensive, I have, in the three months since then, recouped the entire amount by referrals that have come to me by the people in that room.
- I was the Atlanta host for Chris Guillebeau’s Unconventional Book Tour for his book, The Art of Non-Conformity. I met Chris through his blog and offered to host the event. I also met other people, like Sarah Robinson who knew Chris and when he needed to do the event here, I had offered and he took me up on it. It was a good networking event that expanded my sphere of online influence and brought online and IRL together in a very powerful way. We had 125 people at the book signing and Chris sold out of his books he brought that night.
- One of the things I love best about what I do is working with new businesses to help them create their platforms and get their businesses off the ground. This year we created branded websites and helped to launch 16 new businesses. In addition to the new biz work, we did 22 redesigns for businesses who wanted to take advantage of all the good that comes with using WordPress. We also created some sites for artists and non profits on a pro-bono basis and that made us feel good.
- I gave ten presentations/workshops, wrote 56 New Tricks blog posts, wrote and published, 48 Just a Digital Minute Newsletters and tweeted 680 tweets.
- My Klout Score (yes, there really is such a thing), which measures one’s ability to influence people on the web, went from 7 to 57 in the second half of the year.
What hasn’t worked
1. I have two products in various states of completion and would have liked to get them out last fall. I got really busy doing client work and then my projects got sidetracked, which is my excuse, but is not a justification. I will get them done. I have to. They are both things that clients have asked for and that I go over with people all the time, so it makes sense that I record these series and have them available at a much better price point than to have me personally go over this material. Then people can pay for my help with their specific issues.
2. I have a bad habit of wanting a website to be perfect, even if the client did not pay for what it would take to have it the best it could be. If a client does not have the funds for the type of site they want or need, then I really need to pass on the project or give them exactly what they paid for and make it very clear what the boundaries are before starting. This all boils down to the need to charge for the time I spend on each site.
This is a dilemma. I really love working with small businesses who are just starting out and a lot of these folks do not have a lot of money to spend. But, I want to work with people who are serious about building their businesses. My “right” clients will understand the importance of a great and effective online presence. They will know that the coaching and design work to get it “right” are valuable services they need to and are willing to spend the money to get what they want. I believe that as New Tricks gets even better known, people will want to work with us because of the expertise we bring. They will come to us knowing they want to work with us because of the work we do. But, I still need to be very clear that I cannot work with everyone. That is my lesson.
Man I hate to say no, which is why this has been and probably needs to still be the year of “Boundaries, Systems and Delegation”. But it has been a damn good year and I am looking to next year to be the year of “Altitude”. Not Attitude, mind you, but Altitude. I want to take my work higher, by doing sites for people that need and can afford my services, including the business and marketing coaching that I do. I want to focus on multiple streams of revenue by getting my products out, so that they bring in residual income that does not require my, or my teams’, labor for each and every sale. Yes, 2011 is going to be the year of Altitude!
My To-Do List for 2011
- Train my team to take more of the business items off my plate.
- Update my Website with Website Packages showing three levels of service.
- Complete Social Media Success Product.
- Complete the Get Started with WordPress Video Series.
- Complete Hacking WordPress for Graphic Designers – Webinar series.
- Getting some outside WordPress stars to speak at our Meetup Groups.
- Speaking at 2 – 3 WordCamps.
- Continue to build relationships online and cementing them with IRL meetup opportunities.
- Chris Guillebeau’s World Domination Summit in June.
- Sarah Robinson’s Three Day Event in September.
- BlogWorld in the Fall.
- Double my mailing list.
- Double the monthly site build revenue – while not increasing the number of sites we build.
- Work on increasing multiple streams of revenue: social media management, products, coaching, and training.