How things can look up in a lockdown

How things can look up in a lockdown

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less.”

– Marie Curie

Ok so I’m going to be really honest with you here: I’m a little bit fearful. The country (well the world) is on lockdown, there’s a pandemic in progress and people fear for both their health and their finances.

So yes, I’m fearful, but then human beings are programmed to feel fear at times. We fear the unknown, we worry if our families are threatened, and we hate uncertainty. However, human beings are also tough, resilient and endlessly creative, and that’s why I’m choosing to acknowledge my fears and then put them to one side.

Instead, I’m going to use this unprecedented situation to do something that all business owners wish they could do but never have the time for: I’m going to work on my business instead of in it.

There are many things that can be done to develop your business during self-isolation, and it’s worth taking this opportunity to really scrutinise your online brand…

I’ve put together a few top tips for things that you can do to help you feel proactive even if work is slow:

1. Keep your business visible on social media

Post daily with uplifting, entertaining or thought-provoking content that provides value and helps your audience. We all need a little positivity right now and your customers will remember the brands that made them smile during this time.

2. Take this opportunity to work ‘ON’ your business

Make a list of all the things that you have been wanting to do but you never had time for. Now you have the time so use it wisely.

3. Stay connected with your clients & suppliers

Why not send them an email to check-in on them and make sure that they are ok – remember we are all in this together and we need to offer kindness and support at this time.

4. Host a meeting with a fellow business owner

Use Zoom or Skype to stay connected. Plan a collaboration. Provide support where possible. Remember that your colleagues are just as anxious as you so why not make plans now to keep you both motivated.

5. Attend a virtual networking meeting

Many networking groups are now online so why not show up and join in with the conversation. It will keep you talking about your business and help you to stay connected. Community is very important and we all need to feel as though we are still part of it in some way.

6. Create a new product or service

Use this time to brainstorm something new and exciting for your business. What would you like to offer your clients? How can you help them further? Business is about identifying a need and then responding to that need with something that serves a purpose, so why not identify struggles your client may be having and then create a service or product to help?

7. Audit your existing social media platforms and website

This is the perfect opportunity to look at what is working and what is not so why not take some time and audit your social media platforms and website. Be critical. Are you showing up in a way that you want to be seen? are you delivering the right message to your audience?

8. Learn a new skill through Skillshare or Udemy

Why not learn a new skill? Now’s the time to really hone in on the direction you would like your business to take, and to define what you want to create. Take this time to brush up on existing skills or learn a new one.

9. Create a 12-month content plan for your social media platforms

We all know we should do it, but hands up if you’ve kept putting it to the bottom of the to-do list! Well now you’ve got plenty of time so no more excuses!

10. Share your skills/knowledge online via a workshop or webinar
How grateful are you that there are people out there willing to do this? Well you could be one of those people! It feels wonderful to share, and it creates a great impression on your audience

11. Create an online video series to help educate your audience

Videos don’t have to be expensive affairs shot in a studio: it can be just you, your camera and your knowledge. You can even use this as an opportunity to inject some personality into your branding by introducing the audience to your pets, garden or latest creative project.

12. Create value-focused content to build your email list

Your services may be on hold for now, but this lockdown won’t last forever, and once you’re back up and running, an extended mailing list will be just the ticket.

Summary

Most of all use this time productively. I know things look dark at the moment but dwelling on the negatives won’t do anybody any good – ok so I sound like a therapist right now, but the truth is that the best way for us to get through all this with our business (and sanity) intact is to look for the silver lining: think of this as an extended exercise in marketing and your lockdown could really start to look up! 

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5 Reasons why awards can help your brand

5 Reasons why awards can help your brand

If you had told me 18 months ago, when I started my business, that I would soon be attending my third Awards Ceremony, I would have laughed!

Back in March I was fortunate enough to attend the annual Kent Women in Business Awards (KWIBA) in Maidstone, Kent where, for the second time, I had been nominated for an Award by several of my clients.

And boy; what a night it was!

It was only afterwards, when my husband and I were sitting in bed (eating cheese on toast for our midnight snack), that it occurred to me: I own a successful business.

Ok that sounds weird, but anyone who knows my story knows that I haven’t had the easiest of journeys. Like many other women in business, it’s taken me a long time to arrive at this point in my life. The transition from being an employee to being a business owner has been a long one. I may have started my business a year and a half ago, but the truth is it’s taken a while to fully shift my mind-set to one of a business owner, let alone one who’s ready to accept that she’s arrived!

To be considered for an Award is amazing. Not only is it an amazing accomplishment for me but, more importantly, it’s recognition for my business.

Awards logos

So why are Awards important and how can they help you to build your brand?

As a designer my main priority is my clients, but as a business owner, my main priority is to grow my company and position it in the best light in order to win more clients. This is where the power of Awards comes in.

First thing’s first: filling out an Award form is pretty daunting; after all they tend to be quite long and usually require you to dig deep and talk yourself up, which can be really hard when we’ve had the importance of modesty drilled into us since our school days. So why bother?

Well, to put it simply… Awards can REALLY help your brand – especially if you win.

Let me give you 5 reasons why Awards are worth it, even if you don’t win:

1. Business appraisal

If ever there was an ideal time to stop and reflect, this is it.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the ‘doing’ that we forget to stop and reflect on how far we have come. Going through the Awards process gives you the perfect opportunity to stop and think about your achievements.

What was interesting for me about attending this year’s KWIBA event was that I could measure myself against where I was last year. I realised that both myself and my business have come a long way. My thinking is different as, somewhere along the way, I had a shift in mindset. I also realised that my vision and my goals are bigger than ever before because I also recognised that our only limitations are the ones that we place on ourselves.

2. Visibility

Just being shortlisted for an Award can help drive brand awareness and put your business directly in front of all a whole new array of customers.

The free marketing that comes from being associated with an Awards event can have a huge positive impact on your brand and who doesn’t like a bit of free marketing?

3. Awards help define quality

Let’s face it, if you have been nominated for an Award then you must be pretty good at what you do. You’ve been nominated for a reason, so be proud that you’re on the right track.

4. Motivation

There’s nothing like an Awards ceremony to leave you feeling inspired and motivated. Just being there amongst all those amazing businesses gave me a much-needed boost!

Sometimes running a business can be hard work and draining. It’s hard to switch off as there is constantly so much to do. It’s easy to get caught up in the little things and forget why you are building your ‘empire’ in the first place.

5. Build contacts

These days, when you’re nominated for an award, you tend to get sent a little banner to use on social media. This banner is your best friend! It can help you identify other nominees so that you can start conversations with them, and it helps you get noticed by other people who will want to know all about it.

Then there’s the ceremony itself, which is one big networking event!

Summary

All in all, whether you win an award or not, the whole process is a rewarding, invigorating and exciting one, so don’t be afraid to apply for awards, or ask your clients to nominate you. Your business is worth celebrating!

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10 steps to creating a winning brand

10 steps to creating a winning brand

Pop quiz: What is a brand?

Do you know the answer?

Don’t worry; you’re not being marked out of 10!

The fact is that ‘brand’ often means different things to different people. Most people, when asked, will say that a company’s ‘brand’ is its logo. Well done if you got that, it’s definitely part of it. In the Cambridge English Dictionary a brand is “a type of product made by a particular company” and again, that is true.

The problem with these definitions is that the former is too simplistic and the latter is too old fashioned. In this day and age, where customer communication and engagement are the keys to successful business, ‘brand’ is so much more. In my quest for a concise definition to use in this article I turned to that dictionary of the digital age: Wikipedia. The Wiki entry says:

“A brand is an overall experience of a customer that distinguishes an organisation or product from its rivals in the eyes of the customer”

Not bad Wiki, not bad!

So why does it matter?

Well, you’ve probably heard the acronym USP, which stands for ‘Unique Selling Point’. Business owners tend to have a really hard time defining their USP. Often they’ll say things like “our USP is the quality of our products” or “our USP is that we really care about customers”…is that really unique? Surely the majority of businesses offer quality products and good customer care? That’s how they stay in business!

What if, the next time someone asked you what your USP was, you said:

“MY BRAND”

It’s a pretty good conversation starter right?

People are bound to ask you to explain and that’s when you can start to set yourself apart from the crowd. You see it’s vital that you create a unique brand that tells your story. It’s vital that every aspect of your business is consistent and ‘on brand’, and it’s vital that you have a solid brand strategy in place if you want to grow your business.

Basically, before you can invest in a marketing strategy (what you’re going to do), you need a strong brand strategy (who you are) in place that links to your business goals (what you want to achieve). To help you start to define you and your brand I’ve listed 10 important steps that you will need to take…

1. Define your brand

Consider the following questions and jot down some answers, then ask colleagues, family or friends to answer those same questions.

  • who are you?
  • why does your business exist?
  • what is your brand’s purpose?
  • what’s your mission?
  • how do you want to be seen?
  • What is your USP?
  • what are your core values?
  • what’s your ‘big’ vision?

Is your company’s ‘style’ obvious to others? Are you putting out a clear message about who you are? If you’re a start-up, try going through your answers with friends and ask them if they have any ideas or input on what you’ve written and maybe even create a Pinterest board as a visual reminder of your goals.

2. Know your audience

Think about your audience. Who are they? What’s their age, location, likes, dislikes etc. Why do they need your product or service? What problem do they have that you can fix? What products do they already use? What sort of imagery or language do they respond to?

3. Define your brand mission statement

You need a mission statement that is clear and free from overly flowery language or clichés. Take a look at businesses you admire and see what they’ve written. Pink Lemon’s mission statement is as follows:

“At Pink Lemon we work to increase the efficiency of our client’s communications by designing engaging, compelling and innovative graphic and marketing solutions.

By increasing customer engagement, businesses can extend their reach and grow their profits. Our branding and marketing solutions are carefully monitored in order to track ROI and ascertain the most effective approach for each individual client in both the short and long term”

I may be slightly biased, but come on – it’s pretty good!

4. Get to know your competition

What do you like/dislike about your competition? what are their strengths? what are they not doing? There’s nothing wrong familiarising yourself with other people’s brands and, if you see a gap in the market then you can build that into your strategy. How are you different from your competition? How are you similar? You may even find that there are opportunities for collaboration.

5. Tell your story

Create a story that’s deep and meaningful and that will resonate with your audience. If you have a strong ‘why’ you can build trust and loyalty. (I’ll be coming back to this in a future blog).

6. Know that your brand is NOT just your logo

Remember when I said that the logo was part of your brand? The emphasis was on the word ‘part’ – you need to think beyond a logo in order to develop your branding. Consider colours, fonts, images, straplines, language, even your behaviour: branding is so much more than just a golden M or a swooshy tick! This is a subject all on its own and I’ll be writing about that in the future, but the important thing right now is to consider your business as a whole, not just as a product of your logo.

7. Develop your brand personality

Pretty much ‘anywhere you go, so does your brand’. Your brand personality should follow your business unfailingly. For example, if your brand personality is corporate and serious, then don’t start posting silly memes on your company’s Instagram account. If your brand is aimed at teenagers then to suddenly start using a load of technical jargon in your marketing would be incongruous. The key word is consistency.

8. Social media

Develop a strong social media presence to deliver your brand message. Craft your message through different media but, again, keep everything consistent (again, a blog subject on its own but worth chatting up a professional social media marketer).

9. Develop your brand style through great imagery

Use strong imagery that sits in-line with your brand. A picture speaks a thousand words after all, and strong (good quality) imagery is vital. Speak to a professional designer, consider investing in some decent stock images and for goodness sake, don’t create any of your posters in Word for Windows! (Don’t laugh, I’ve seen it happen!).

10. Integrate your brand where every possible

Visibility is the key to success. Your brand should be constantly visible so customers are reminded of who you are, what you do, and what you stand for. This requires a strong, easily recognisable visual style, a good level of our old favourite – consistency – and a solid marketing strategy.

Summary

Building your brand and raising its profile is something that never stops and it should be included in all your long-term business planning.

If you follow the steps above and get some help from experienced professionals, you’ll be well on your way to creating a strong brand, but at the end of the day, you are your own brand’s biggest advocate and it’s your job to ensure that you, your staff and your advocates are familiar with and loyal to, your message.

A strong brand yields strong results: it’s a simple premise but a long term process and one that, if you adhere to it, will afford you business growth beyond your wildest dreams!

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How to cope when things don’t go to plan!

How to cope when things don’t go to plan!

If there’s one thing I have learnt during the past 2 years of being in business is that it’s one hell of a rollercoaster ride and that you need to hang on for dear life…

The effect it has on the emotions is incredible; one day I could be on cloud nine, feeling as though I can take over the world because I have just won an amazing Client and then literally the next day, I could be feeling as though the world is about to end because something has happened that has tipped the balance.

My poor husband. Not only has he had to become my soundboard for all my big ideas, dreams and aspirations but he’s also become my Counsellor because unfortunately, as in life, not everything always goes the way I’d like it to. Like most Entrepreneurs, I set out with all these big intentions however life has a funny way of throwing curve balls so despite all the best planning in the world, sometimes things just don’t go to plan.

Now if you are anything like me, this can lead to frustration… because as a creative person, I am also very much a perfectionist. It’s a trait that can be a blessing because it does mean that I am a very detailed, focused & goal-driven person however it can also be a curse because – like most perfectionists – I place very high expectations on myself which is not always a good thing.

You see, I started my business primarily because I wanted to be around for my two young girls. My eldest daughter was starting school and I wanted to be there to drop her off in the morning and pick her up at the end of the day. I did not want to have to ask permission to attend her Sports Day, School Play, Sharing Morning or any of the other countless demands placed on us. I felt that it was my right to be there regardless as I had gone through the excruciating pain of giving birth to her and as a knighthood wasn’t on the table, this was the next best thing!

Juggling life
I certainly didn’t want to have to justify taking the time-off or be made to feel guilty about it – there’s enough mum guilt going around. I am very ambitious however my ambition now has a place behind being a mum. So, like many mums (whether running a business or not), I spend most of my time crafting the skill of spinning lots of different plates.

Never-mind the demands of trying to run a business, hell that’s easy compared to keeping on top of the list of school demands. Seriously, my daughter has now been a school for 2 years and the amount of stuff I have to now try and remember is enough to drive a sane person crazy!

So, what do we need to do to help us cope when things don’t go to plan? (other than running to the fridge, grabbing a huge tub of Häagen-Dazs and hiding away under the duvet for a considerable amount of time, which let’s face it, when you have kids, it’s just not an option!).

Below I have listed 5 top tips which I find help me to maintain a little control in this crazy world…

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perspective
OK I admit it, this isn’t always easy for me. I do sometimes struggle to see the bigger picture when I am trapped in a situation that I find upsetting or one I don’t feel in control of. Despite the counsel provided by my very patient husband, sometimes it takes time to see that the world is still spinning.

I’ve since learnt that taking time out to process and deal with whatever has happened works best. This also prevents rushing in with a reactive response which can sometimes make the situation worse!

It’s ok to sleep on a problem as often things don’t seem so bad the next day.

positive action
Life can be hugely challenging whether you run a business or not however what I find works really well is taking positive action.

First, it’s about identifying what’s wrong – what’s making you feel the way you do? Once you understand what it is that is making you feel upset, stressed, anxious etc then taking a positive step forward is going to help shift how you feel.

Now I know this sounds easy on paper, however there is always something we can do despite how small it is. In fact, sometimes taking small steps forward can help shift the mind causing us to feel better because at least then we are doing something positive to regain control.

Whenever I feel something isn’t quite right, I try to pinpoint what it is and what has caused it. If it’s something that someone as done that has upset me, then a simple conversation with that person can help resolve the issue. I’ve realised that sitting on hurt feelings and letting it fester does not do any good because I end up being caught in my own head thinking the worst. Sometimes it’s just simply miscommunication so try and find a positive way to deal with the issue.

Coffee with friends
This is a must! I guarantee that whatever is going on that is making you feel down, a coffee (and cake) with a friend is wonderful. Us humans are social animals therefore we crave positive interaction so where better to find it than with a friend.

A good friend doesn’t judge; they listen, they care and most importantly they help us to gain clarity. If you are really lucky; they even make you laugh and you know what they say, laughter really is the best medicine.

Take time out
If you are at a stage where you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, consider taking some time out for yourself. Self-care is really important; if you don’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of everyone else?

Your head needs to be in the right place to cope with everything that business or life has to throw at you. You need to be operating with all cylinders otherwise something will just give.

Take some time-out, do something that you love that will help you to switch-off. Go for a swim, take a walk, sit and listen to your favourite playlist, go to the cinema… whatever it is ‘just do it’ as Nike would say, I promise you, you will feel a million times better.

It’s so easy to sit and fester about a problem especially when there’s no clear route forward. Switching off can often lead to the answer because when we stop obsessing about finding a solution and focus on something else, the solution will often present itself in other ways. 

No control
I remember attending an antenatal appointment when I was pregnant with my first daughter.  I was discussing my birthing plan with my midwife, which of course, was completely mapped out. I remember her asking me ‘do you like to be in control?’… who me, nah… she laughed and told me to prepare myself as things were about to change and control as I knew it, would be no more.  2 kids later and boy, was she not wrong!
Summary

I really hope the above tips have helped even if it’s just in a small way. It’s important to recognise that not everything works out – it doesn’t mean failure, it just means you have tried and it’s not right for you. Whatever you do, don’t give up – just see it for what it is then move on.

You see, no matter how much you plan, sometimes the Universe has other ideas for you. Just go with it and see where it takes you because life does have a funny way of working itself out whatever that may mean.

And to be honest, if all else fails… just breathe and eat cake!

Do you have any tips on how to cope when things go a little off-track? please do share…

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