Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. This week, we recorded a special TV broadcast, #SmallBizChat Live from NYC on Facebook LIVE sponsored FedEx. We had several live studio guests answering questions on small business growth. This post is excerpted from my live interview with branding expert Dorie Clark. Dorie is a marketing strategy consultant, professional speaker, and frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review. Recognized as a “branding expert” by the Associated Press, Fortune, and Inc. magazine, she is the author of Reinventing You Her FIRST book, Stand Out, was named the #1 Leadership Book of 2015 by Inc. magazine. For more information: www.dorieclark.com
SmallBizLady: It seems like it’s harder than ever to stand out and get noticed. What can a small business owner do?
Dorie Clark: It is getting harder to stand out – we live in a world where 300 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute, and that’s only one of the myriad ways people communicate these days. That means it’s even more essential to identify your target audience and speak to them in ways that are relevant to their needs. Nothing else will catch their attention.
SmallBizLady: How can you become a recognized expert in your field?
Dorie Clark: For my book Stand Out, I interviewed more than 50 thought leaders to understand how they developed their best ideas and what enabled them to gain traction and build a following. It turns out that three things are essential: content creation, because people need to hear your ideas in order to know if they’re any good; social proof, because you need to demonstrate credibility so others take you seriously and are willing to listen; and your network, because they can expose you to new ideas, sharpen your thinking, and help you spread your message.
SmallBizLady: How can you effectively build “social proof” or credibility in your field?
Dorie Clark: A great way to establish social proof – and build a local network – is to join the board of your professional association or a local business group, such as the Chamber of Commerce. This gives you an excuse to meet and build relationships with people you might do business with in the future, and the fact that you were elected by your peers to a leadership position confers a lot of credibility.
SmallBizLady You’ve talked about the importance of networking. If you don’t have a big network now, what you can do?
Dorie Clark: One of my favorite techniques to build your network, even when you’re starting from zero, is to interview people for your blog or podcast (if you don’t have one, you can write a post for LinkedIn). This enables you to meet people you admire and learn from them – and they’re far more likely to say yes to meeting you if you’re going to help publicize their work, rather than just (like everyone else) asking for a coffee date to “pick their brain.”
SmallBizLady: How can you network effectively, even if you’re an introvert?
Dorie Clark: As I discuss in my e-book Stand Out Networking, being an introvert is no obstacle to networking. I’m an introvert, and have learned firsthand that the key is monitoring and managing your energy, and knowing when you’re about to get burned out. Certain situations, such as noisy rooms where you don’t know anyone, are more likely to be stressful, and that makes me (and many other introverts) retreat faster. Instead, I try to optimize for my strengths and only go to, or organize, networking events where it’s quiet and I can have real conversations with people. That makes it far more enjoyable.
SmallBizLady: How important is social media for small business owners these days?
Dorie Clark: Small business owners do need to have some form of social presence, so potential customers know you’re active and legitimate. But you’re not Coca-Cola; you certainly don’t need to be everywhere. Instead, ask your best customers where they spend their time online and focus there.
SmallBizLady: How should a small business owners chose which social media channels to be on?
Dorie Clark: You should ask yourself three questions:
- What social channels do my customers use? There’s no point focusing on LinkedIn if you’re trying to reach teenage girls.
- What are my own strengths? YouTube might seem like a good idea, but if you absolutely hate video, you don’t have to force yourself – there are other options.
- Are there certain types of social media that especially suit my business? If you have a “visually friendly” business – a bakery, a florist, etc. – you’re missing out if you’re not on Instagram or otherwise harnessing the power of photos.
SmallBizLady: How do you figure out what topics to blog about?
Dorie Clark: Keep a list of the questions that customers or potential customers ask you most frequently. You can literally write down ideas into the notes function of your phone – just be sure to capture them. If you write about the questions people are already asking, you know you have a built-in audience that’s hungry for answers.
SmallBizLady: You’re an expert on professional reinvention. Many people have reinvented themselves into new careers as small business owners. What do they need to know?
Dorie Clark: It takes many, many interactions for people to remember that you’ve made a transition…and even more interactions for them to think of you as knowledgeable and credible in your new field. That’s why content creation is so critical. You can reinforce your new brand by frequently writing or tweeting about it, so people begin to think of you in a new way.
SmallBizLady: What aspect of professional reinvention takes most people by surprise?
Dorie Clark: As I describe in my book Reinventing You, an element that catches many people off-guard in their reinvention is that your family and friends – the people you rely on most for support – often are the least supportive of your transition. That can be a rude awakening, but it’s essential to be aware of the possibility and plan for it. After all, while they believe in you, they may worry that you haven’t thought things through properly and think it’s their duty to “protect you” or “play devil’s advocate.” They’re trying to help, but it can feel hurtful. You need to stay strong and show them you’re really committed to your new path.
SmallBizLady: How can you become more innovative in your approach to business?
Dorie Clark: It is important to mixing disciplines. Research has shown again and again that if you only immerse yourself in one area of study – for instance, if you run a nail salon, and you only learn from other nail salon owners – you’re going to dramatically limit your view of what’s possible. Instead, read widely and build connections with people in a variety of fields. Innovation becomes possible, and fruitful, when you’re able to ask yourself questions like, “What can a nail salon learn from the example of Netflix? Or JetBlue? Or the local pet store?”
SmallBizLady: You have a new book coming out this fall about how to create multiple revenue streams. Why is that important?
Dorie Clark: We all have limited time and energy – so how can you create something once and then repurpose it in a variety of different ways? For small business owners, the question is: once you’ve developed a customer, what else can you sell them that benefits them and that they actually want? In Entrepreneurial You, I share strategies from successful entrepreneurs about how to develop new lines of business and decrease your risk by diversifying strategically.
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