Business Building Blocks

Have you ever asked yourself if you’re an entrepreneur, a small or micro business owner, a start-up founder, or all of the above? Regardless of what title you prefer, there are global and local resources for anyone who owns their own business.

Accelerators & Incubators

Harvard Business Review states, “Startup accelerators support early-stage, growth-driven companies through education, mentorship, and financing.” According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, ” A startup incubator is a collaborative program for startup companies — usually physically located in one central workspace — designed to help startups in their infancy succeed by providing workspace, seed funding, mentoring and training.” These terms are often used interchangeably but the notable difference is that accelerators are typically for companies who are looking to scale while incubators are for innovators who may need more guidance on a business plan and creating a viable business. Y Combinator, Tech Stars, and 500 Startups are three well-known accelerators.

TIP | Philly Mag published this list of accelerators and incubators which includes several local Philadelphia programs.

Small Business Association (SBA)

The U.S. SBA provides everything from loans to business counseling for small businesses and entrepreneurs at every business stage. They also provide certifications needed for government contract opportunities as well as guidelines and templates for creating business plans. SCORE which is a resource of the SBA connects business owners with mentors.

TIP | Look for local Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) for training events and additional resources. In Pennsylvania? Visit the PA SBDC site.

Workshops & Networking Events

Various companies and organizations provide educational and networking opportunities. Read more about why attending events is important in this blog post. Traditional tradeshows and conventions can be good options. However, there are other options. Potential vendors are a great resource for webinars – keeping in mind that you will likely be solicited for business after signing up for their events. Don’t forget to track “live” schedules on Facebook and Instagram from individuals that you follow.

TIP | For free programming for innovators and entrepreneurs, check out any of the global Venture Cafe locations. Venture Cafe Philadelphia hosts weekly Thursday Gatherings.

Co-Working Spaces

While many of you may still be working remotely (and will continue to do so for some time), co-working spaces are also valuable resources. Whether you need a professional space to host a client meeting or if you just need physical space beyond your home, there are many different options with different models that can support your needs. All of the options most likely have changed in our current environment, so it is worth revisiting your choices now. You can also even get shared lab spaces from companies like BioLabs. Or a unique space in our hometown of Philly is REC Philly which is a shared space for creators and creative entrepreneurs. Innovation centers, such as Quorum in Philadelphia, may also offer free drop-in or public lounge space you can use. Beyond the desk or office, co-working spaces can provide inspiration from spontaneous water cooler conversations or curated programming.

TIP | Local libraries, like the Business Resource and Innovation Center at the Free Library of Philadelphia, offer free small business support including desk space and private meeting rooms.


For more resources, check out this curated list of business tools. And if you want more tips like this one, be sure to sign up for our newsletter and follow us on social media.

Nurturing Your Leads

A nurture campaign is a series of direct marketing tactics, oftentimes emails, that are focused on building credibility and relationships with your leads or prospects. Unlike a promotional campaign, the goal is not a conversion but rather warming up the lead before making a sales pitch.

What do I need to implement a nurture campaign?

  • List of prospects or leads
  • Data per lead – source, propensity to buy, demographic, etc.
  • Predefined prospect journey that includes all touchpoints and triggers 
  • Content for the campaign – blog posts, infographics, case studies, etc.
  • Ideally a marketing app stack and automation tools

Missing automation tools or data? Try a drip campaign.

A drip campaign is similar to a nurture campaign, but it is simply launched at predetermined time intervals and usually not personalized with data. For example, you can send a quarterly email out to all prospects in your list that features your latest blog post.

Free Effective Marketing

How do you keep marketing momentum going with a marketing budget of zero? All marketing requires some time investment, so it is not truly free. However, there are several no financial cost tactics that can be effective and can be added to your marketing plan regardless of budget.

Post and share on social media

This one feels like a no brainer these days. However, organic social media (i.e. anything you post but don’t pay for) can be time consuming, so a plan and free integration tools can be extremely helpful. If there is a content plan and posting schedule, everything can be done in advance or as time allows. Some free tools to consider are Canva for graphics and Later for scheduling, but there are several other options available depending on specific needs.

In between original content, sharing (ideally with a comment or takeaway) of other vetted accounts’ posts can fill in an organic plan. It adds credible content and can potentially expand reach.

Consistently engage with followers. When someone shares a post to their story, like / comment. Tagged in a post or tweet? Share. Organic social media should be a circular activity.

Publish interesting content

In addition to sharing on social media, content can be used on other platforms such as a blog or YouTube channel. (Yes, YouTube can be called social media. It can be called a search engine too these days. But regardless of what it’s called, this applies.) There are three reasons why publishing interesting and relevant content is important.

  1. It can improve SEO, and drive traffic to a website
  2. It establishes an organization as an expert in a particular area and creates a trustworthy brand
  3. It becomes a library for future social media microcontent or case studies / examples for potential clients / customers

Speak at events or invite guests to a Facebook or Instagram Live talk

This can get a little sticky. Depending on the industry, the idea of speaking for free is unacceptable. Same goes in the reverse, sometimes a speaking opportunity is part of a larger sponsorship. However, there is a middle ground where speaking opportunities are mutually beneficial without any financial transactions. There are opportunities similar to content creation where a representative of the organization or business is showcasing themselves as an expert or someone willing to help others. In addition, most events have supporting marketing plans where speakers and their companies are featured and promoted.

Something that has become quite popular in the last year of virtual events is small businesses inviting guests to a fireside chat (i.e. 1:1 interview / conversation). These types of talks are effective because both the host and guest can expand their audience with the others’ followers. It is free (other than time) and also keeps a business top of feed and top of mind.

Collaborate or partner with other companies or organizations

In addition to hosting fireside chats, organizations can partner in other ways to reach a broader audience. One example is cross-product creation where one company utilizes another’s product in a unique creation. For instance, MacMart (a Philadelphia restaurant) sells mac and cheese and created a brisket mac and cheese special utilizing brisket from another Philadelphia restaurant, Huda. Another example is when companies with similar but not directly competing offerings partner to offer a more wholistic experience such as a gym partnering with nutrionists.

Other ways to collaborate is to exchange products or services or in-kind trades. These agreements should be documented and negotiated similar to a cash transaction, so there is no ambiguity on what is being exchanged. They can be straightforward such as a graphic designer trading design services with a copywriter for writing services. Or they can be more creative such as a graphic designer designing a gym’s website in exchange for a gym membership. Either way, the goal is to complete a marketing tactic, add to a portfolio of work, or build new connections.

Partnerships can also simply be about supporting a non-profit cause. While the altruistic part of this is most important, it can also bring goodwill to a brand.

Step up your email marketing

All of the previous tactics are ways to increase leads and grow an email database. These prospects can be converted into customers in many ways including through a custom email journey. There are free email services that allow you to design, send, and track email campaigns. Take the time to craft the full journey – what triggers each email and what the messaging is. If the list is large enough, take the time to test and learn, whether it is what day of the week to send, subject lines, or design and copy.

While some of these emails being used for prospects may work for current customers, emails can also be targeted specifically to customers and clients. Email marketing is also an effective tool for community engagement and customer retention and upsell. Subscribers only content and promotions, or simply a “check-in” with customers are some examples of these types of campaigns.

Free can still be effective and efficient

The adage of you get what you paid for is not always necessarily true in terms of marketing. However, you get what you put effort into is more accurate. Free tactics work best with forethought and planning, sprinkled with a little experimentation and creativity.

Preventive Marketing Tips

At the start of a new quarter, I recommend doing what I call preventive marketing. Preventive marketing includes tasks that can improve your current business, help with future planning, and diagnose potential issues before they become costly or time consuming.

  1. CONDUCT A MINI CONTENT REVIEW | A full content review should be completed at least 1x/year. However, regular interim reviews of digital tactics will make the annual task less daunting and time consuming. Plus, if messaging is updated mid-year, outdated tactics will not be in market for a full year.
    • TIP | Establish brand guidelines which include both visual identity and messaging guidelines, and ensure anyone who is creating content is following them.
  2. ‘GOOGLE’ YOURSELF | Search your name and/or your business name on Google. Consider other search engines if there is significant web traffic from them. Also include sites like YouTube and Amazon. Make sure what appears first is what is expected (and wanted). If not, cover the basics of SEO such as a site map, titles, and tags. Or invest in more strategic tactics such as writing content based on what the audience is searching for.
    • TIP | Set-up a Google Alert to see when any new items are published. Monitor top competitors this way as well.
  3. CHECK IN ON COMPETITORS | Review what top competitors have been up to – product offerings, marketing, pricing, etc. Check to see if there is a new company to be aware of or if they should added to the “top” competitors list.
    • TIP | Do the same thing for peer (non-competing) companies or organizations. They may provide new inspiration or insights.
  4. SCAN TERTIARY ACCOUNTS | While I’d always highly recommend timely review of any social media accounts, I understand the reality of small teams and limited time. At a minimum, I recommend taking a look at least 1x/quarter. Respond to messages (with a make it right note if necessary for a late response), see what’s new, and consider account deletion or more regular monitoring.
    • TIP | Even if a target audience is not on a particular platform, periodically monitoring it is helpful to identify any trends. Plus, the platform may have added a feature that makes it more interesting to an audience – e.g., Twitter added Fleets in late 2020.
  5. BREATHE | Leading a business, team, or family is challenging. Self care is a buzzword, but it is a buzzword I fully support. Establish “work hours” and personal time when working from home. Enjoy a hobby. Talk to a friend. Take a walk around the block at lunchtime. Disconnect for a few minutes or hours.
    • TIP | Take care of yourself, so you can take care of business.

Happy New Year!

As we close out 2020, we have been reflecting on what our goals were, how they changed, and what remained the same. And as we look to 2021, we see a changed world but a world full of possibilities. Here’s to celebrating what we’ve accomplished and what is yet to come!⁠

In honor of new beginnings in the new year, we’re offering all of our followers a free 1:1 consulting session. As a bonus, for any sessions scheduled by January 31, 2021, we’re including a free content review or competitive analysis.

Hindsight is 20/20

The end of a year always brings best of / worst of lists. In what might make the list of most overused phrases of 2020, this was an unprecedented year. So this penultimate post for 2020 features 11 of the best of the best of lists for 2020. And yes, 11 feels a little random, but hey, it’s 2020. And some of these have nothing to do with marketing or strategy, but once again, it’s the 2020 list.

  1. From the Washington Post‘s list of 20 Good Things That Happened in 2020, “A record number of Americans turned out to vote in our national election, pandemic notwithstanding.” Americans wanted their voices to be heard – from protecting democracy to fighting for racial justice to much more.
  2. Also from the Washington Post, a baby panda was born at the National Zoo!
  3. Mailchimp gave away 31,706 custom domains to help businesses establish an online presence during the pandemic. This is one example of all the ways businesses supported one another – large and small.
  4. Kalaya taking home best new restaurant accolades from Esquire. Hometown pride because #goodthingshappeninPhiladelphia.
  5. Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land, landed on the New York Times best books of 2020 list. Plus, Obama’s speech for the Biden campaign at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia made CNN‘s year in pictures.
  6. Who knew how entertaining a person skateboarding and drinking cranberry juice while rocking out to Fleetwood Mac would be? Great viral moment from The Year on TikTok: Top 100.
  7. A lesson on how to recycle effective content was Jake from State Farm. The campaign remained memorable and funny, landing State Farm in the Ad Age 2020 Marketers of the Year. What are you wearing?
  8. In the entertainment world, Disney+ was the Users’ Choice App of 2020 according to Google Play. Disney+ also took home best Apple TV app honors. I wonder how many downloads were just for Hamilton.
  9. All of the virtual cast reunions as listed in Entertainment Tonight‘s Good News Stories That Brought Us Joy in 2020. I for one enjoyed the nostalgia and laughs that these and other reunions brought.
  10. Dolly Parton. From starting the social media personality meme listed in c|nets Best Memes of 2020 to helping fund the Moderna vaccine.
  11. José Andrés. Yes, he was named CEO of the Year by Washington Business Journal, but his name has become more synonymous with humanitarian relief efforts and addressing food insecurity.

In reading through all of these various lists, it’s clear there were a lot of good things and inspirational moments in 2020. Then again, hindsight is always 20/20. So let’s all remember to celebrate the big and small moments and to laugh out loud when something really funny happens in 2021 and beyond.

Marketing Planning During Uncertainty

Marketing 101 states that a strategic marketing plan is the key success. With a plan, campaigns and projects have structure and goals. A good marketing plan details what needs to be done, the tools to get it done, and the order the tactics should be executed. It requires thought and not just whims. However, a great plan should also have flexibility not only for innovation and optimization but also for the unknown.

What happens when unexpected challenges arise?

If 2020 has taught businesses (and frankly, individuals) anything, it highlighted the necessity to be able to pivot and to remain agile. The state of the world and business in 2021 still remains uncertain for many, so it may feel daunting to create a robust marketing plan with so many unknowns. However, there are two things that can make planning a more productive and less scary activity.

Make short term plans

Instead of creating an annual plan, consider a quarterly or even monthly plan. A shorter term plan allows for more agility as environmental situations change as well as encourages more frequent review of new tactics, campaign effectiveness, and competitive environment.

Social media platforms are constantly tweaking features – think Twitter Fleets, Instagram Reels and Guides, and LinkedIn Stories – all introduced or expanded in 2020. A shorter term plan allows for integration of the new features that will support business goals.

In a world constantly in flux, past marketing effectiveness may not be an accurate indicator of current (or future) results. With a short term plan, a campaign can be measured and analyzed more frequently allowing for faster shifts in resources. Note, there is of course challenges with campaigns that require long(er) lead times that can’t be avoided or those with heavy investments and can only be produced once. However, short term plans may be able to limit some exposure with those programs.

Competitor sets also evolve as different external factors change. For example, some restaurants started selling make-at-home meal kits as a means to survive during indoor dining restrictions. Traditional meal kit companies such as Hello Fresh and Blue Apron should have taken notice of these new competitors at a minimum to see if they should change any of their marketing plans.

Plan for the worst- and best-case scenarios

When businesses are closed by a lockdown or clients no longer have marketing budgets to spend, a business faces a potential loss of partial or even all income. Even if business is slow, reducing marketing efforts to zero is not ideal. Taking a page from financial models, marketing plans should include scenarios for the worst- and best-case scenarios, in addition to the “average” case which is the plan to initially follow.

For instance, a worst case plan can include any free – organic, grassroots, earned, in-kind trade, etc. tactics. These tactics can include organic social media posts, speaking at events, press releases, or partnerships with other organizations. Or the worse case plan can include marketing a special promotion that is more about driving some revenue over none, or it can be focused on current customer retention with community building.

Best-case scenario planning is just that – if business is good and growing, then the sky is the limit. The plan can include any paid tactics that will reach the appropriate audience. It can include rich incentives for new and existing customers, and it can be an opportunity to give back to the community. Regardless of what the specific details of the the plan are, the plan should still be strategic; as in, each dollar allocated should be towards a business or organizational goal.

The future may be unclear, but plans don’t have to be

It seems counterintuitive to think about a plan for the unknown. However, marketing plans that account for that uncertainty can help a business effectively adapt and reach their audience.

Getting Ready for Q1

This year has been… a whirlwind to say the least. However, as the end of the quarter and year approaches, there are five valuable tasks that should be completed to ensure the stage is set for a successful 2021.

Get “e-organized”

As most days are filled with responding to emails, downloading files, and creating new files, there isn’t usually a dedicated time for document management. Use the end of the quarter as a reminder to clean up files including email and DM inboxes, local and cloud files, and any online tools such as Canva, Mailchimp, and WordPress. File and backup any important items and delete any that that are no longer needed or are duplicate copies. Once this cleanup is part of the ongoing plan, each quarter should be a shorter process.

Set intentions for Q1

Goal setting should be common practice as an employee / manager as well as goal setting for a business. However, creating a list of intentions is just as important. What’s the difference between intentions and goals? Intentions are the plans to get to goals. “I intend to [insert intention] to reach my [measurable goal].” For instance, I intend to learn more about video editing, so I can increase my YouTube followers by 25%. Separately, while goals should always be measurable, intentions can be non-measurable. An intention to learn more about video editing could simply be to learn a new skill for personal/professional development.

Recap marketing and business results

Lessons learned are crucial to any business – whether it is a Fortune 100 company or a microbusiness. The point is to review marketing and business results against the backdrop of you goals, gather key insights and learnings, and formulate next steps based on this information. Whether it is a formal deck or a working Google doc, the information should be the same. Note, depending on the type of business, lessons learned can also be collected on a less frequent basis. These also do not replace individual campaign reviews; they are a compilation of campaigns for a “big picture” view.

Review internal processes

Similar to getting organized, taking the time to evaluate individual and internal businesses processes on an ongoing basis helps improve long-term efficiency. For instance, the accounting and time keeping process can move from Word docs and spreadsheets to an online tool such as QuickBooks or FreshBooks as more customers are acquired or employees are added to the team. Or from an individual standpoint, answering emails throughout the day may cause unintended inefficiencies, so potentially scheduling time blocks everyday to respond to messages may be more efficient.

Take the time to do the “no-time” task(s)

Who doesn’t wish for an extra five or fifty minutes every day to complete tedious tasks? Oftentimes these tasks are simple and would take only a couple of minutes if that time could be dedicated to the task. Clean up that list by taking the time at the end of the quarter to cross at least one off – and like the other tips, the more regularly this is done, the easier it gets each time.

There are three weeks left in December, so there is still time to get these five tasks done. 😀

Dos and Don’ts of Graphics

Anyone can create their own graphics these days with easy to use design platforms and native design options in social media, website, and email programs. However, there are several simple principles to keep in mind when creating these graphics to ensure what is being created will be effective in telling a story, selling a brand or product, or sharing important information.

Below are some of these best practices. These are geared towards graphics intended for social media use, but can also apply to other use cases like websites and printed materials.

THINGS TO DO

  • Do include a business name or logo if it is sharing proprietary info – e.g., announcing an event, insights from a research study, or simply a product image
  • Do ensure the main information or design is within the live display dimensions – repurposing graphics across platforms is efficient but there is a risk that the image may show up strangely in the feed of another platform if all dimensions aren’t taken into account
  • Do proofread – no matter how catchy and creative your design is, one typo can make it ineffective or worse yet, inappropriate and offensive
  • Do keep it in your visual identity – make sure the image matches the brand
  • Do experiment – marketing is often a series of test and learn projects and design can certainly be an important part of that process

THINGS TO AVOID

  • Don’t steal images or photos without proper rights or credits – this is just bad form and illegal
  • Don’t assume someone will read the caption or text accompanying the graphic – if the image doesn’t capture someone’s attention or tell the story, then it may not be adding value
  • Don’t forget about the nanosecond test – if the goal is promoting safe shopping in a store, then make sure the picture shows the physical distance, masks, and sanitizing being enforced
  • Don’t be misleading – in other words, don’t create false advertising or a “bait and switch” campaign
  • Don’t forget about other formats – sometimes simple text, an animated gif, series of graphics, or a video might work better than one static image

Sometimes simpler is better. When it doubt, keep it straightforward and clean with one message. And remember, font size matters!

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving may look and feel a little different for you this year. However, we hope you take a minute to remember what you’re thankful for. As a small business, we’re thankful for our community and everyone who has supported our business.

Enjoy the day – and hopefully a delicious meal!

As a thank you to our loyal email subscribers, we’ll be sharing a special edition of our newsletter. Sign up by November 30, 2020 to get access to exclusive content and a custom holiday offer.