Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Saving Her Voice

Email is my primary communication medium with my far-flung family.  And every now and then, I am shocked into memory and melancholy when I’m searching through my old inbox messages for something random and happen upon the group of messages from my mom, who has been gone three years now.  

She was, among many things, a great correspondent who made the transition from the handwritten note to email rather effortlessly.  She still sent handwritten cards and notes on special occasions or when sending a news clipping.  Our neighborhood priest opened a note from her the day after she died – congratulating him on his well-fought battle against cancer and thanking him for his prayers.  But for the most part, by 2008, email was her main communication tool.

Her death in December 2008 followed on the heels of a staggering diagnosis only 5 short weeks earlier.  From an administrative standpoint, that meant, at the time of her death, I hadn’t yet cleared out my backlog of old emails since about April of that year.  So, as I ventured back to them, intentionally, my clean-up resolution was an exercise in revisiting that unreal year and that surreal winter, as I copied each message from her to a cumulative document for safekeeping.

As I read about the US Postal Service cutting back on delivery frequency to curtail costs, I am reminded of the priceless nature of any scrap of handwritten correspondence from lost loved ones.  The changes at the Post Office are yet another nail in the coffin for the handwritten letter.  I saved very few handwritten notes from my mom or dad, not realizing the time for saving was so short.  The manila envelope she saved for me was chock full of treasures she kept from my childhood, all in my own handwriting – letters from camp, hand-made Mothers’ Day cards, thank you notes and even a long letter in my early adult voice telling her about my new college boyfriend.  We wrote each other every week when I was in college.  And we continued that pretty faithfully once I packed my car and moved 700 miles away.  Oh, to have those letters now.

Thankfully, I still hear her voice in a myriad of other ways and can even reflect on her views in the small collection of columns I have from when she wrote as a guest columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, not that long ago.  There are many documents I own that I can read and feel her hand on my shoulder – especially the book I’ve drafted in whose part she played chief editor and fact source, right up until she died.

My college friend saved a rare letter his father wrote to him not long before his father’s sudden death at 57, just two years after we graduated from college.  I envy him that he can slide that letter out of its envelope and see his father’s handwriting, immediately recalling his face, hands and voice. These letters, recipes, pieces of clothing, silver pins, kitchen utensils, Christmas decorations take on exaggerated value when their original owner exits too early, but the exaggeration is warranted and their value is priceless.

As a resolution for the rest of my lifetime, rather than just this year, I will keep sending handwritten notes to my family.  Especially to my sons and future grandchildren.  And if the Post Office fails me, I’ll be the crazy grandma who delivers handwritten letters in person!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ready For The First Step

Have you ever been with a person at the precise instant they realized a dream?  It just happened to me on Monday night and I am so privileged to have been sitting exactly where I was sitting at that special moment.

My yoga teacher, Margaret, owns her own studio which she has nurtured with loving kindness for over three years, maybe four.  Pipal Leaf Yoga Studio was about the size of a modest dining room, always filled with mindfulness and peace.  So popular are the evening classes that sometimes the students have to set up in the hallway outside.  When the absentee tenant next door continued to neglect his space, Margaret began inquiring about renting that space and breaking down the dividing wall to expand her studio.

Well, this Monday evening was the grand re-opening after weeks of sledgehammers, plaster and paint.  It is now twice the size, still intimate, glowing with candles and warmed by the honey-colored floors and earth-toned walls.  As I sat in front of Margaret as she gently brought the class to a close, I felt the extra warmth of a dream realized, in a single tear and an intense feeling of gratitude.

Now we have to fill it!  My first step in bringing Margaret’s business to the next level is to develop a social media strategy.  For a small yoga practice (and for many businesses, for that matter) we need to cut through the business-speak and raise the social media comfort level of Margaret and her team of instructors.  

A recommended first step is Understand what is involved, secure internal buy-in, and forecast required resources and costs. The best way to understand what is involved, without actually doing it, is by reading case studies -- look on popular social media websites such as Social Media Examiner for some great examples.  These sites also offer tools in the form of ebooks, podcasts, archived webinars, and blog posts by topic that can provide a crash-course in understanding how social media fits in small businesses.

Secure internal buy-in can seem like a mouthful.  But for many small businesses, this may be a non-issue.  As in Margaret’s case, she is totally on-board and now it is a matter of figuring out whether the other instructors want to participate and to what extent.  We might discover a closet blogger in the bunch; or a great photographer who can help dress up the website, blog and Facebook page.  The minimum buy-in we need is their understanding of Pipal Leaf Yoga’s web presence and having them talk it up with their students.

Forecast required resources and costs means how much time and money will it take to expand the website with a blog, create a business Facebook page and set up a Twitter account.  Then the fun begins!  It is important to be able to define how much time it will take to maintain this new web presence – posting blogs, inviting, responding to and engaging followers on Facebook, keeping up with Tweets and building a community around the things Pipal Leaf Yoga loves. It is evolving work whose demands will be more visible over time.  But once the mechanics are in place, the passion of the people behind the posts and entries will help grow the community.

That is step one!  More to come.  Namaste.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Backseat Driving

There has been a fundamental change in the marketing model, brought on by the Internet.  When I sat in my graduate Retail Marketing course 20 years ago, Prof. Robert Eng taught us the four P’s of Marketing: Product, Price, Place and Promotion.  Every marketing diagram began with Product.  The standard formula was: develop a product, price it correctly, place it in the market and promote it like your life depended upon it.  Nowadays, it is hard to find "product" in the diagram of the marketing process.  This change has occurred ever since the consumer buckled up and used the Internet to take over the driver’s seat of the process.

Today, our desire to connect with people, products and brands draws us into the social networking world.  Search engines, Websites, blogs, Facebook and Twitter have become the first places we turn to find or learn about a product or to fill a need.  This set of technology is where we seek knowledge, find what we like and discover people and brands we trust.  This set of technology is social media and it is the best thing that has come to small businesses since the dawn of the Internet.

Social media has opened up a whole new world for small businesses.  Social media enables businesses, for very low cost, to reach out to customers and prospects by becoming part of the conversations those buyers are already having.  Rather than broadcasting product facts, features and promotions, social media allows businesses to engage with their customers and to harvest valuable information -- information that can then be used to continue the conversation, strengthening the connections, while gaining access to others.  With the right social media strategy, a business builds an ever-growing community around its product or service.

Social media takes the overload of Internet content, puts it into a context that is useful to the consumer who craves connections, and builds community around people, products and brands.   Enter, the four C’s of modern marketing: Content, Context, Connections and Community.  Many thanks to John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing and his eBook, Let’s Talk Social Media for Small Business, for drawing the comparison between the 4 P’s and the 4 C’s.  It is always healthy to revisit the old, to better understand the new.

The trick is to be the backseat driver, but to do it in a polite, persistent, engaging, entertaining way.  With a deft touch, the backseat driver influences the driver and picks up some friends along the way.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Winding Road to Here

My idea to launch a social media management business did not appear out of thin air.  I’ve taken a winding road to reach this point, but it all makes perfect sense now that I have arrived.  The heart of a solid social media strategy is the combination of effective reach and compelling writing.  While I’ve been a foot soldier in marketing armies tasked with reaching audiences in all of the positions I have held -- and the creativity applied to making the connections and reaching the targets is the fun part -- it is the writing component that drives me.

Over the years, I have written with clarity to sell solutions: website content, marketing brochures, and sales presentations.  I have written with insight to educate: parent group newsletter articles, guides to selling, and software product user guides.  I have written with passion to persuade: letters to editors, a proposal to my local library, and suggestions to community leaders.  I have written with compassion to unite communities and coordinate care for friends in need.  My most favorite writing project is the book I have written:  the story of my grandmother’s life, to preserve and share with my family her remarkable journey.

All of my varied writing finds its roots in my upbringing by two parents who loved the written word.  As kids, we wrote cards, stories, poems -- most of which were eventually given as cherished gifts.  It taught us that our writing was a special extension of ourselves and that our thoughts and words were worth saving.  I wrote regularly to my parents when I went away for college and in the years that followed.  I wrote religiously to college friends I missed over the summers.  I developed a joy of writing and, I confess, a joy of being read!  How I started my business career as an accountant, I may never be able to fully explain!

So I have a package of skills to offer as a social media manager -- some I picked up directly and intentionally as I navigated the winding road to here, others I discovered along the side of the road.  As with the changing world of social media, I continue to change and learn and apply new skills.  I am excited to help small businesses grow through social media and I want to welcome you and thank you for joining me on my own personal launch pad!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Through the Grapevine

Welcome to my new business venture!  Since 2008, I have been working on and off as a product marketing consultant while acquiring new social media marketing skills to catch up to the developments which occurred in internet marketing while I was home with the boys, full time.

Today, I am officially kicking off my new business as a Social Media Manager.  My goal is to help small businesses grow by implementing active social media strategies.  Every business is different, but a social media strategy can be any combination of starting and maintaining a blog to build personal brands and business communities, utilizing that blog, jointly with Twitter and Facebook, to build a following, and tuning webpages and blogs to achieve search engine optimization to expand the business’ web presence.

My services can be helpful to small businesses and individual entrepreneurs who:

  • would like to build their own personal or business brand through social media
  • have limited marketing resources
  • are too busy to work on social media to any great effect
  • don’t have the inclination toward, or are intimidated by, social media
  • want to drive more traffic to their website or blog.

I have performed freelance marketing and writing work which has involved marketing myself in the greater Boston area and beyond.  What I have come to realize is that my hometown community is filled with professionals who want to better incorporate social media into their business strategies, to take their businesses to the next level.  I am hopeful that people who already know me, may be inclined to consider me for a social media manager role, or to refer someone to me.

In addition to looking for clients who would like to pay for my services, I am also looking for one or two clients who would like me to set up and maintain a blog for them, for free.  This way I can help them with their social media strategy as I continue to learn and build a bit of a portfolio.  Receive free social media strategy advice! Create an effective blog together!  Iron out a few kinks along the way!  Great opportunity!  If you know of anyone who might like to take advantage of this mutual benefit, please let me know.

To get ideas of how social media can help your business and to get a flavor for my writing style, please subscribe to my blog and watch it grow.  If you know of someone, now or in the future, who needs help with their social media strategy, please send them directly to me or to this blog.