The secret to achieving greatness? Spoiler alert: It’s not optimism. (2)

Written by Rhiannon Mason on .

Bushfires, pandemic, lockdowns, more lockdowns… 2020 has been a wild ride for all of us.

Sorry to be a downer, I promise it’s not my usual style. I often fall victim to my own optimism so I can #relate if you’re a bit of a dreamer, but we’ve got to be realistic here. It’s your business we’re talking about!

“But Rhiannon! Why in this time of chaos and upset shouldn’t we remain positive in the face of true adversity!?”

Well, if you’ve been in business or lived for any amount of time you may well be aware that in fact, shit does happen. For some of us, the Coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lock down is the shittest of happenings they’ve ever faced. For others, this is a mere blip in what has been an ongoing shit-storm for their business since day one.

“For some of us, the Coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lock down is the shittest of happenings they’ve ever faced. For others, this is a mere blip in what has been an ongoing shit-storm for their business since day one.”

I’m hoping that no matter which of the above categories you fall into, I can offer you some sound guidance on getting your business through this tough time. Because I know that when the going gets tough, the tough don’t just stand in the mirror and tell themselves they are golden. (I am not saying you can’t do this as well though! You do you.)

How am I going to show you the way? By using positive platitudes of course! Paradoxical perhaps, but don’t be fooled! The justification for my hypocrisy is that these proverbs are actually followed by useful advice that you can start using today, so you can keep calm AND carry on.

And please, don’t let my attitude get in the way if you want to be all positive and happy-go-lucky while working out what to do next, just let the rest of us get on with it with cynicism if we want to, okay?

A young woman smiles curtly while giving a 'thumbs up'.
“Tell me to smile again and I will jam this so far up your….”

Positive thinking will not save you.

Despite your friend telling you to stay positive when the chips are down…

Despite the rich white woman on your favourite podcast telling you about the laws of attraction…

Despite the lifestyle advice given to you by sexy models and entrepreneur influencers on YouTube and Instagram…

I repeat: positivity alone will not save you.

Nor will prayer beads, crystals, salt lamps or the like. Your positive affirmation cards are as useful as low-alcohol hand sanitiser right now, but I get a little kick out of thinking of the word courage as I brush my teeth in the morning too. RAWR!

I’m not trying to bring you bad vibes or rain on your parade. If you’ve got a parade, please party on!

Cursive text on a blue background that says 'live, laugh, love, lame", making fun of a common house decoration.
Can’t wait to see these on canvas for sale at Kmart…

But if you’re like many people out there who’ve lost their income or are worried about their business, it’s pretty obvious that positivity alone won’t help you.

If you’re up at night fretting about what the next month will look like, wondering whether you’ll be able to keep your staff on or how you’re going to generate an income now you’ve lost your job then you already know that a bunch of positive phrases and well wishes are going to do sweet F-A in getting you anymore sleep at night.

Hands with red nail polish holding up an empty jar with the label "positivity".
Call me cynical but there’s literally nothing in the jar. It’s not half full. It’s not half empty. It literally contains nothing.

No, positivity alone won’t help you.

If it were true I would’ve wished myself to millions by now. I’d surely have gathered up enough good vibes to be on adventures across the world, fueled purely by positive thinking and self belief.

Trust me, I’m so optimistic I’ve never been on time for the bus (“I’ve got plenty of time!”) and have several outstanding loans owed to me (“They’ll pay it back. They promised”). I’m a positive thinker, I assure you, and at times to my own detriment.

Sound familiar?

The thing is, it takes more than intention to make things happen. A goal without a plan is just a wish, right? So while intention is of course our foundation, let’s talk about the real requirements of achieving greatness, particularly in the face of adversity.

Again, I’m not saying you can’t be positive at all, no one likes a Sally Sadface! But what you need to back that up with is ingenuity, creativity and a little motivation.

Cue the montage music!

Okay maybe just a few…

Start where you are.

What a revelation! What madness! Start where I am!? Genius!

Before you fall out of your chair from rolling your eyes too hard – hear me out. You already know that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step!

The very first step in any journey is deciding you don’t want to stay where you are. Before you can decide exactly where you want to go, first we must figure out where we are exactly.

“So if that’s there… And I’m here… Right, thought so. I am fucked.”

The best way to work out where you’re going is to first figure out where you are.

Whether you’re completely lost, traversing new territory or absolutely certain you’re up shit creek, it’s good to get your bearings and confirm your current standing. This will give you an idea of exactly where you’re at and in turn, help you to figure out where you want to go.

Grab a piece of paper, write down a quick summary of your business and current situation. Remember your business plan? Remember your mission statement?

(If the answer is “I don’t have one” I want to simultaneously shame you and tell you you’re in the majority – but now’s the time to get something on paper! Set your intent remember!)

Here’s some points to get you going:

  • Why do you want to start this project?
  • What do you do?
  • What do you want to do?
  • What gap in the market do you fill?
  • What do your customers want?
  • Where is your service located?
  • What areas do you service?
  • Are you an online business?
  • How many sales are you making a week?
  • How many do you need to get by?
  • How many do you need to grow?
  • What things worked for you over the last year?
  • What didn’t?
  • What problems is your business facing?
  • Why do you need help right now?
  • What’s keeping you up at 2 am reading blogs like this?

Don’t write a wish-list! Write the good, bad and the ugly. Face your demons! If we don’t get a good view of the whole situation, warts and all, then we’re not getting an accurate depiction of where we are.

Even if you’re not sure about something, write it down. Ask you customers, ask your team, ask anyone but that friend who will only compliment you. Talk to them when you’re finished and need an ego boost but for now, get facts.

A SWOT analysis is a good way to do this as well. However you decide to proceed, just make sure you’re being honest and do your best to get the whole picture.

Now is the time to be realistic, not optimistic.

A satirical SWOT graph filled with positive affirmations instead of useful dot points.
Lovely, but not really helpful is it? Please make your SWOT realistic!

Also, and I’m not sure if I’ve managed to break some sort of record with how often I bang on about this, but for the love of all that is holy: check your sources of data. What are your analytics saying? How are you sales going?

Anything you write down that doesn’t have some sort of substance is speculation, I’m sorry. I don’t care how long you’ve been in the game or how niche your business is, there’s qualitative data and there’s quantitative data and you need to have both for the best summary of your current standing.

If you don’t have metrics set up or need a hand with goal-setting and monitoring campaigns hang tight, I will do a write up of this in the very near future but for now check out this article by business.com. It’s old but it’s straight forward and not immediately trying to sell you products like every other website on the subject. If you don’t love it do a quick search to find some helpful guides, start with the list I’ve made below and use what is most relevant to your business.

You can get data from a range of sources, whether it’s about your business specifically or information about your target market, industry, customers, competitors, etc. Here’s a few places you can look, it depends on what marketing you’re currently doing and what metrics you have set up:

It is by no means extensive but I’ve added links to the relevant pages because I’m a good person and I value efficiency. Get in touch if you need someone to help you with these or other marketing analytics tools. It’s important that you get a clear summary of where your business is at right now.

Use what you have.

Okay so you’ve thoroughly depressed yourself by listing all the terrors that plague your business. Maybe you’ve impressed yourself and actually feel a little more secure knowing where everything’s at and don’t feel the need to do anything more.

Well, if you’re anything like me you’ll think that and then come back freaking out in a few days. Stupid optimism.

For those more on the depressed or stressed side of things, punch a pillow, mouth some swear words or have a little cry while you make your lunch.

When you’re done feeling down, it’s time to kick some ass again, you dig? Plenty of platitudes for this scenario but I’ll spare you form them so we can get back to business.

So we’ve got a big list of issues, we’ve got a bit of a write up about what our business is about and what problems we’re facing. Good job.

If you were really diligent, you immediately set up all your monitoring software, reviewed your data and have analysed several reports concerning your businesses performance.

Yeah. Nah. I get it. But do try to put a few methods of measurement in so you can get a data based idea of your situation. You’ll thank me later.

Right, so whether you have a napkin scrawled with tidbits or a minority report-style board powered by a hundred excel spreadsheets, you’ve at least got a compass with you so you know where you’re starting from and surprise, surprise, perhaps you’re now forming more of an idea of where you’d like to go.

“Do you even know how intricate these Google Analytics reports can be!?”

Some people will be hit immediately with the feeling that they needs lots of things to fulfill their goals. I mean, sure, you’ll need stuff, but deciding you need a new staff member or fancy tool might just add more problems to your list, which if you haven’t gathered by now, is exactly what we want to avoid.

So, let’s forget about what you might need and look at what you already have. Oh come on, that feels a little zen doesn’t it? Minimalist, even?

It’s a great way to take stock and get a clear idea of what you have at your disposal.

Throw out your vision board, prepare your napkins or your Minority Report gloves, we have a new question list:

  • What resources do you have on hand?
  • What don’t you have?
  • What do you need?
  • What could you access?
  • How can you use the things you already have to your advantage?
  • Could you team up with other businesses to broaden your resources?
  • Could you try you provide your service in a completely new way?
  • What else can your product do?
  • What other things can your staff do?
  • What software and subscriptions do you have?
  • What tools do you have access to?
  • What upskilling or further training could you or your staff do?
  • Who is in your network?
  • What is your budget?
  • What are your assets?
  • What facilities do you have?
  • Can they be used alternatively?
I don’t actually care if you be yourself but get shit done and don’t waste my time are pretty solid traits to me!

Do what you can.

If you’ve actually completed the previous two steps, I’d hope that some ideas have begun to bubble to the surface and you’ve figured out a few avenues you can take to get ahead.

If not, don’t worry! I’ve got a few pointers for some actions you can take besides just being positive!

A business women pointing to a sign that says "You are possibly less stupid than you think." She has a speech bubble next to her head that says "Possibly".
I don’t make promises here.

Get Online

I’ve specialised in getting brick and mortar businesses online for a while now and although it was incredibly important for those businesses at the time, I can safely say there is no more crucial time to be getting your business online if you aren’t already.

While restrictions are in place, we are literally not allowed to leave the house here in Victoria. Again.

Our work is online, we order food online, shit, just yesterday I arranged for a cleaning service to come and collect a doona, clean it and return it without laying eyes on or speaking to a single human. Random, I know, but that’s just an example of what I can get done while still sitting in bed, provided I have my phone or laptop.

I mean, honestly, I’m a digital marketer, so if you don’t already have your business online then it’s basically a mystery to me how you’re still operating. I’m kidding – kind of! Please see that as an invitation to share your secrets with me and not as a commentary on your archaic business practices. Too much?

Anyway, the point is, if you’re not online already: you’re late. Get a website.

If you have an old website that you created in 1997 please do the world a big favour: Get a new website.

If you had a website created slapped together by some offshore contractor or the McDonald’s of digital agencies for $600, please, for the love of God: Get a new website.

If you’re just using a random instagram account to sell your products, guess what? #GetaWebsite

I mean it guys. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Just get a friggin’ website already!

Now that said, I know some businesses operate from their Facebook page. Fine. Sure. It might suit your specific business to trade primarily from that page.

However, growing that business in the online landscape without a website is close to impossible.

Your website isn’t just a shop front. It’s not just a nice online page people visit and if you’re lucky they purchase your products.

Your website can help you find out who your customers are, automate your processes, scale your business operations, coordinate campaigns, build your audience and so much more. I cannot think of a good reason not to have a website, especially now during the end of days.

 
Building your own website doesn’t have to be complicated.

WordPress

Free to begin with so you can get a feel for how to create your website before committing and spending money. You’ll just have to put up with a .wordpress.com domain name while you’re trialling it out and then you can move to a premium or business plan later depending on what suits you.

WordPress is my preferred website platform mainly because of the ability to use plug ins to create stunning designs or integrate apps and other software. I also find it easy to use and troubleshooting information is fairly readily available online due to it’s popularity.

That said, I have been using WordPress for many years and while it has evolved to stay up to date and increase its capabilities, it can be a little daunting for brand new users. Not impossible by any means, but it can take a minute to get your head around it all.

Squarespace

Squarespace is the sexy exchange student who majored in design and completely ignored you during your second year of university. For the few that can’t relate to that example, Squarespace is a drag and drop platform that prioritises design and ease of use above all else.

I personally find Squarespace to be a little restrictive but for many business owners, especially those without any background in marketing, that’s what makes it perfect. You can very easily work out what you need to be doing and work out how to do it yourself so you don’t necessarily need an expert to help you.

Squarespace has a 14 day trial period where you can try it out before committing to the plans they offer. A simple business plan will set you back about $26 a month, but for some businesses, just one or two purchases made due to the existence of that website will more than even out the expense.

Shopify

For product retailers Shopify is the leading platform for eCommerce, and apparently some service-based businesses can get in on the action too. With a free 14-day trial and easy system for new to online businesses, it can be a great way to get yourself online with minimal hassle.

There are more platforms than these, there’s literally thousands, and one of them might work better for you than these few but I just wanted people to have an idea of where to start and what’s on offer.

Reinvent yourself or build your brand

So no one is allowed in your shop. It sucks, I get it. Now between cursing the heavens and learning cross stitch you could be putting things in place so that you can increase cash-flow now and ensure your business is in the best position for when things go back to ‘normal’.

I can’t go into what the new normal will look like, none of us have the answers just yet. But I can tell you that you do have some control over what your new normal looks like.

Maybe you own a pub with 17 craft beers on tap and footy on the TV every weekend. No one’s allowed at the pub and the footy is either not actually going ahead or a strange sad game played in a silent, empty stadium. Watching that one guy go and run and get the footy in the stands after every goal is brilliant though, watch carefully!

Maybe you’re a local brewery and have live bands and trivia during the week, I don’t need to tell you that there won’t be any IRL trivia for a little while yet. but what are you going to do now?

So to start with, you’ve written down your list of haves and have nots. You’ve got a SWOT list and you know your resources. You have 3 bartenders and a cook on hand and an empty venue.

You could create a take away menu and use your bar-staff as delivery drivers. If it’s good enough for the Thornbury Local, it’s good enough for you, right? Fresh, fast food, delivered by fun, friendly drivers. Easy as!

You could deliver cocktails to your customers door, shaken fresh in front of their fly-screen. The team at Purple Emerald have been supplying all of Northcote and Thornbury with lockdown libation and are building a following doing so.

While changing your processes to this extent may only cover your expenses and just get you through another round of lockdown. The brand visibility and community support that businesses are building during this time is winning over customers and cementing loyalty that will pay off with interest once we’re allowed out and about.

If you have a Facebook page, now is the time to start building it up. Grow your audience and connect with your wider community.

 
This is by far my all time favourite stock photo.

If you’ve got a little wiggle room in your budget, spending a little time and money to create an ad campaign can be an effective and very affordable investment. Only do this if you’re a little computer/marketing savvy or have done your research, there’s enough stress and pressure going around at the moment without you flushing $400 down the drain because you created an ad for your delicious beef burgers that only targeted vegetarians.

You can damage your reputation doing the wrong thing on socials too so follow some businesses that you like, check out what they do and take a leaf out of their book.

Even if you don’t have a budget for ads, creating engaging content and posting it to your page can be a simple and effective way of engaging your audience, letting them know you’re still operating and how you’ve changed your services for them.

I know in my area, locals have created a number of groups such as Northcote, Thornbury and Fairfield Takeaway and Northcote, Thornbury and Fairfield Retail to support local businesses during this time.

Do not go out and spam every group you find on Facebook. It’s pointless and will only waste your time while pissing everyone in the group off. Share content and join discussion.

Find a way to be useful and inspire dialogue. In this case, conversation leads to conversion. For now, that might be just bolstering your page’s likes on Facebook, but once they’re following you then you’ll have a captive audience to promote specials and offers to.

Being a part of communities also allows you insight into what your customers actually want right now and ways in which you can provide services to them.

Help Others

I have found one sure-fire method of getting results and it’s an unexpected one for some people.

Maybe it’s only unexpected because of my anti-positivity diatribe but I genuinely mean it when I say it: Helping others is helpful for your business.

By helping others I inadvertently put myself in a position to be helped. I make connections, I solve problems and in turn I receive the same in-kind.

Sometimes I will offer a few hours at a reduced price to support an organisation, only to have them refer me to other leads, more than making up for any loss in a reduced price.

I’ve offered to train staff as an extra on a project only to discover new ways of operating software and reducing costs for my clients across the board.

I’ve given free consulting advice to new-starters who’ve remembered me and engaged my services years later when they’re turning over a profit.

I give all the advice I can to anyone who asks and I do it because it helps me too. If I can’t answer their question, it’s shown me that I have an area I need to focus on and brush up my skills.

If I can solve their issue, I validate my knowledge and feel all warm and fuzzy knowing I helped. But if you haven’t already worked it out, I’m not exactly a warm and fuzzy person. The reason I do it is because it feels good for me. It works for me.

The reason I’m telling you to do it is because it will feel good for you. It will work for you. Unless you’re surrounded by assholes, in which case you should relocate or seek alternative advertising advice.

I’m not saying give your services away for free. I am not saying sell yourself short or turn your business into a charity. That’s not what you should be doing at all and anyone wanting you to is not worth your time.

What I’m saying is, stop fretting about people stealing your ideas. Stop isolating yourself or your business to try and ‘get ahead of the pack’.

Take me for example, I’m a freelance digital marketing consultant. I do other things, lots of things actually, but primarily I do whatever businesses pay me to do.

The majority of my contacts, besides my clients, are also digital marketers. When you think about it, the world will never be short of marketers (despite us wishing it so), so shouldn’t I be protective of my ideas and competitive with my peers? I tried it for a little bit but honestly, it’s just not in my nature. It is also so beyond counter-productive that I’d need to write another 3000 word blog just to explain how dumb it is.

I give my digital marketing “competitors” ideas. If I meet a prospect who doesn’t quite fit my niche or needs certain areas of expertise or style, I call my so-called-competition myself to see if they have availability.

No one is perfect for everyone. I swear a lot and I like to have a cheeky laugh with clients over the phone. If I can see my prospect isn’t loving my f bombs and one liners, I can refer them to someone they gel with much better.

I know my way around a website but I certainly don’t know coding and could easily offend developers with my barbaric understanding of the technical side of things. My contacts however, are geniuses! Guess who also thinks I am a genius because I referred them rather than butchered their website? My client. They keep me for what I’m good at and their business benefits from having another expert on board to make my work look amazing.

Why the hell would I throw leads to my “competitors”? Because they do the same for me.

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“Alright now. Whoever wins gets the Email Marketing contract.”

I know an amazing web developer who gets me on board to do all their projects that require in depth content.

I constantly receive leads from another when they’re over booked or need content marketing-specific advice.

If they sense their client would do well with a content-marketing legend who swears like a sailor and writes their emails a little too informally, they send them to me.

Think about your competitors and if you really need to be competing right now or cooperating. Maybe you see drinks and they sell food, can you team up and offer a dining experience together?

Maybe you just start sharing the social media posts of a local retailer to help support them because you know they make a great product and BOOM – they start sharing yours. If they share your target audience this could mean a big boost to your social engagement.

Whether it’s getting more involved in your community or working with your competitors-turned-collaborators, there’s always ways you can make a small difference using the things you’re good at.

If anything, the main reason I like to try and help others is because I often feel like no one is helping me and the world is full of pricks. When I get in this “Wah! Wah! No one cares!” mood and I start to help someone else I realise I wasn’t caring. I wasn’t helping. So once I begin to help others and show some care, I feel supported and that maybe the world isn’t full of pricks.

Maybe.

Networking

Seriously, ideas grow when you connect with others. Discussions with other business owners and entrepreneurs can lead to the evolution of ideas and a feeling of being supported in your business.

Some people feel like networking is a dirty word. I certainly did! I had this preconceived notion that networking basically meant I stood in a room with a bunch of suits forcing their business cards on me and potentially having to participate in… ugh… ice breakers. Gross.

While I’m sure in some cases that may be what actually goes down, I’m yet to have my nightmare play out in real life.

To be completely honest, the first few events I attended, I didn’t even realise I was networking. I was having fun and meeting like-minded people. It was energising. It genuinely inspired me to work harder in my business. It made me feel less alone when friends and family would scoff at me from their stable and secure PAYG towers.

I did get business cards, but I actually use them – and perhaps more importantly, I got to use my own!

And I actually don’t think a single person wore a suit. We had breakfast, shared stories, problem solved and made connections.

What networking actually looks like in the age of COVID-19.

I have generated more leads and inquiries through networking than any other method, and have seen my work evolve to include new partnerships, mentoring and so much more. I’ve also come into contact with a bunch of great business owners who’ve helped me by sharing information and support.

If you’re a Victorian like me, you can check out the Victorian Small Business Network, but if you’re from somewhere else don’t worry, every region has some, they’re everywhere!

You can check in with your local council or community centre about small business events they’re running, they’re generally quite affordable if they’re not free. There’s usually workshops or mentoring programs, all designed to help small businesses navigate the business world.

You can check out Facebook groups as well as EventBriteMeetUpReddit and other online communities that have topics covering business.

Networking can help you discover new solutions for specific challenges you face in your business, or just help you feel more connected to your industry. You can build up contacts and forge useful professional relationships that could help your business grow for years to come.

If you haven’t noticed, I’m a fan of networking. I still cringe a little when I hear the word and think of a bunch of suits milling about with forced smiles and cheap champagne, but I’ve actually never attended one that’s been anything like that. Maybe that’s just a glimpse into my own personal hell.

Take some business cards, a good attitude and an open mindset so you can get the most out of your networking event.

To achieve greatness…

  1. Start where you are.
  2. Use what you have.
  3. Do what you can.

It’s that simple.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed, especially if things don’t go our way. Procrastinating is another symptom that you’re overwhelmed too. And if you do nothing, you’ll get nothing.

What I’m saying is, you can’t just BE positive. You need to take the negative and MAKE it positive.

Hopefully this blog has given you some valuable ideas on how to do just that, but I’d love to hear from you! What’s worked for your business? How are you making lemonade out of a pandemic? What am I missing? How annoying/amazing was this post?

Keep me updated with your progress and let me know how your business is surviving the apocalypse that is 2020.

 

© 2020 Rhiannon Mason. All rights reserved.