Most of the small business owners I work with have one thing in common — you’re not in it just for the money. You’re also strongly motivated by the desire to create work that feels personally fulfilling and has a positive impact on the world.
But the more success you create, the more you can feel tempted to make small compromises around the message you want to put out in the world. The last thing you want to do is alienate the customers you’ve worked so hard to attract.
I’m here today to make the case that this kind of thinking is actually counter-productive. If social impact matters to you, there are some real benefits to incorporating your mission into your business.
1. The road to mediocrity is littered with small compromises.
Another thing my clients have in common is they want to be known for something. Typically that takes the form of the go-to expert in your field, or a sought-after product designer.
It’s next to impossible to get known without staking out a clear and defined position in the marketplace.
Let’s face it — there aren’t huge innovations in how much of our work gets done. This is true for your industry and for mine. No single publicist has some magical method that’s going to guarantee you better results than what I, or the thousands of other firms and independents out there, can get you.
When you think too hard on this fact, it can feel overwhelming. How are your supposed to stand out when thousands of other companies are perfectly capable, if not brilliant, at the work you both do?
For a lot of my clients, it comes to their positioning in the marketplace. It’s not always the work product that gets you hired over the other company. It’s a sense of shared values, or a strong point-of-view, or some small difference in the way you serve your customers. Sometimes it simply comes down to branding — a customer likes your style.
When you start to compromise your dedication to impact, you’re eliminating one strong avenue for creating a market positioning that’s all your own.
2. It gives your brand evangelists something to talk about.
We’ve known for a long time now that Millennials integrate their beliefs into their buying decisions. Well guess what. The Millennials are all grown up. They make up a solid quarter of the US population and they have tremendous purchasing power.
I bring up the Millennials not to say you should be marketing to them, but to show you that a huge portion of the buying consumers in the population make buying decisions at least in part based on shared values.
At no time have we seen greater evidence for how much this matters than in the current election cycle. From the CEO of Penzeys Spices accusing the Republican party of embracing racism to the politically charged Super Bowl commercials, even large, established brands know that their customers expect them to take a stand.
If you believe the Penzeys CEO, this gamble can pay off financially in a big way. But beyond that, putting your company’s values out there gives your fans something to talk about and share. It’s an excellent way to mobilize them to share your company with their larger networks.
3. It’s a time-tested way to generate PR.
Similar to giving your fans something to talk about, being vocal around a hot-button issue gives the media something to talk about. I often hear from clients who donate proceeds to charity and want to get PR for it.
Unfortunately (or happily depending on your perspective!), this is such a common thing that there’s no media value in a story like this. To get press for your advocacy efforts, you need to get creative. And often that means speaking your mind.
Now, this can be risky. Beyond any fear of losing customers or partners you might feel, there’s also a very real risk that the narrative can overshadow the work you do.
I always ask clients, “Is this what you want to be known for?” before they go public with a controversial opinion. Does this value or belief system add to the larger narrative around your company, or distract from it?
But that’s not the only risk I wanted to share with you today.
If you’re going to put social impact front-and-center of your business, you better believe in it. Consumers can sniff out inauthenticity a mile away. In the environmental space, they have a term for companies that are faking their commitment to earth-friendly policies: greenwashing.
If you’re in it for the bottom line, that’s okay! You don’t have to fake a social mission. We can use one of the other techniques to make you stand out in your industry.
Just like another company wouldn’t fake being the first to market with a new technology, you shouldn’t fake a social mission just to get known.
At the end of the day, PR is about helping your audience get to know you. Not spin. Not faking an image. But rather helping the public see what you’re all about.
I’ve got networking on the brain, because I’m about to update the lessons I teach for Quiet Power Strategy. Formerly named 10ThousandFeet, Quiet Power Strategy is an intensive group coaching and business mastermind that I lead along with Tara Gentile.
If you don’t also follow Tara, and you’re hearing about Quiet Power Strategy for the first time, you can check it out here. In a nutshell, we lead 40 business owners in creating a personalized business plan that leverages your strengths as the owner, so you can reach your goals with less effort, heartache and time.
After the first run of the program in 2013, which I participated in as a student, Tara brought me on to teach three lessons on media and networking.
Now that you have the context for my current mindset, imagine this.
I’m sitting at my kitchen table, checking my morning emails. I haven’t eaten breakfast yet, and I’ve just started my first cup of coffee.
As I filter through assorted junk emails and some possibly promising opportunities. I see a note from one of our clients. When I open it up, I see a screen shot showing that said client is being chatted up on social media by a VERY BIG NAME.
As a media strategist and someone who teaches others how to “meet the people you want to meet and ask them to help you achieve your goals,” as the Quiet Power Strategy sales page so succinctly puts it, it’s my job to step up and counsel our client on how to make the most of this opportunity.
As far as I can tell, we have three options. Which would you do?
A: Internally freak out that this VERY BIG NAME commented on your work, but externally do nothing.
B: Wrack your brain for something to ask of VERY BIG NAME, while you have his or her attention.
C: Reply and try to engage this VERY BIG NAME in conversation.
What we see play out most often is one of the first two options. It’s like this: If you were standing in line in a coffee shop behind a celebrity, would you play it cool and say nothing (option A) or ask for an autograph (option B)?
Unless you’re a legit autograph collector, my advice is to take the third way.Strike up a conversation. You might ask something like, “I’ve never been here before. What do you recommend?”
That’s the path we advised to our client.
You can’t get ahead putting people or businesses in your industry on a pedestal. In the moment when the endorphins kick in and your blood is flowing, ground yourself and ask:
“How would I respond if this were any other business acquaintance commenting?”
This isn’t our first instinct. Despite teaching this exact framework for approaching influencers in Quiet Power Strategy, when our client shared the screenshot, it was hard to stay cool. As publicists, Maggie and I are more likely than the average person to go for the ask. Did we do our due diligence by checking for a natural and authentic opportunity with this individual? Absolutely.
As is often the case, there was nothing our client could possibly ask a VERY BIG NAME after one interaction that would be half as valuable taking the next step in building the relationship.
I mean, look at me. The first time I met Tara, she ran a massively popular lifestyle blog, Scoutie Girl, and I’d just quit my job the week before to dedicate myself to starting some sort of PR coaching business. Our relationship evolved over Tweets and blog post comments (back when those were still an effective relationship-building strategy), and when we met, I resisted the urge to fan girl her.
I struck up a conversation.
And now look at us, sharing the stage at Creative Live and leading 40 business owners to shake the bound to fail feeling that inevitably arises over the course of running your business, raise the bar and create unplanned revenue.
If you ever find yourself in our client’s position (and it’s more likely than not that you will be!), how will you respond?
Lately, I’ve heard from a lot of folks who are thinking of giving up on guest posting. In many ways, I don’t blame them. When you’ve taken the time to get to know a blogger, write a post and don’t get a return, it makes sense to move on to other things.
But before you throw in the towel, I want to share why guest posting continues to be an important part of the strategy for my business and for our clients.
Guest posting is a great way to meet people online.
When I started blogging, guest posting was the primary way that I met online influencers in my field. At the time, I was working for a non-profit and running a lifestyle blog. I reached out to people like Michelle Ward, Tara Gentile (when she was still running Scoutie Girl) and even Holly Becker of Decor8 with content ideas.
As time went on, I was lucky enough to meet all three of these women in person, which made a big difference for my business in its early days (and still does!). Tara and I, in particular, are close friends and collaborators. When people want to know how they can meet the influencers in their field, I’m always quick to recommend guest posting. By offering value, in the form of content, to another business owner, you’re taking the first step in building a lasting relationship.
Guest posting is one of the easiest ways to gain the trust of a new audience.
When people visit your website for the first time, they instinctively look for signs they can trust you. When you think about it, isn’t it crazy that we hand over money to people we never meet in real life? How do you know who you can trust?
One of the key signs you can trust a blogger or business owner you find online is that they’ve been endorsed by another blogger or media outlet you already know, like and trust. When you add a media logo to your site, you’re demonstrating that you’re trustworthy.
Guest posting builds your reputation.
The magic of media endorsements doesn’t only work on new customers. When other sites share your ideas, you are more likely to get on the radar of other influential people and media. Media and bloggers source ideas from other media.
Some bloggers and media also like to see that you’ve already been published. For example, Fast Company requests links to published content when you submit an article. Guest posting is a good way to build up your body of work, which you can leverage to bigger-and-better opportunities.
Guest posting will boost your search engine optimization.
Even if you don’t know the first thing about SEO, your guest posting is helping your search engine authority. Basically, when you’re linked from another website (comments usually don’t count), that site passes on some of their “google juice” to you.
The more high-ranking sites link to yours, the more authority Google ascribes to your site. The more authority your site has, the better your position is in search rankings.
Bottom line: guest posting is really good for your SEO.
Guest posting is great for lead generation.
Both due to the SEO benefits and the click-throughs you can get from a post, guest posting can be incredibly valuable in driving traffic to your site.
The challenge for most people in getting traffic is that you’ve picked up bad habits from other folks who don’t know how to get their guest posts to convert. Many of the common things you see in guest posts — like adding your Twitter handle to your author bio — are actively working against your conversion goals.
Instead, think of your author bio as a call-to-action that leads people back to your website.
Ultimately, that’s the main goal of a guest post — bringing potential customers back to your site. And it’s still one of my favorite methods for doing so.