It was the International Day of Happiness yesterday…whatever that really means!!! However, it got a lot of people talking about what makes them happy and what they are grateful for. It got me thinking about things that make me happy and, particularly, what makes my life that little bit easier in business. For a variety of reasons, I have met a lot of people who are sole traders, freelancers and setting up businesses and it occurred to me how the ‘modern world’ makes that so much easier than it used to, when you start thinking positively. I also wonder if this will not be the way forever…especially if Facebook or Instagram start charging for business pages, for example, or if website hosting suddenly got extortionately more expensive.
So, here we are in March 2019 and I thought I would reflect on the things that I am grateful for that has allowed me to grow a business…via just a laptop and a mobile phone…oh, and a bit of hard work from me!
I am the first to usually complain about social media; how frustrating it is to navigate, how hard it is to get your content noticed, how it traps you on a never-ending ‘hamster wheel’ of having to keep up-to-date (and updated), etc., etc., …but you can’t deny it is amazing!
Just over two years ago, I set up a business Facebook page. Within an hour, all of my close friends, ex-colleagues and even family in Australia, knew that a) I had set up as a consultant, b) the services I was offering and c) how they could contact me. It had taken me half an hour to populate the page and it was completely free. I had an international audience…and, in fact, even a request for help, within the week.
Just imagine if we didn’t have this. How would a consultant like me have advertised their services 20 years ago? An ad in a local newspaper? A poster on a public noticeboard? Rely on word of mouth?? I would have had to fork out on design, printing and advertising space before I’d even got my first client, and the audience size and reach would have been tiny.
Many of my clients have come to me via Facebook. Many of the amazing people I have met through networking have been through learning about an event in a Facebook group or advertised as an event on Facebook. It is pretty incredible now I stop and think about it.
So, as much as it frustrates me, I have to be grateful for what social media offers me as a business owner and the opportunities it has presented.
After setting up my Facebook business page, I started to explore the idea of having a website. My cousin is a website designer, so I had a pretty good idea how much it might cost to get someone to do it professionally. Before I had really started my research, I had assumed it was something I would have to wait a long time to be able to afford. Then I discovered sites like WordPress, Squarespace and Wix. They all have their pros and cons, but my goodness, what an amazing realm of technology. Again, for free or for a very minimal price you can set up a website…admittedly, one that is pretty simple and probably based on a template – but I have a space and a platform where I can introduce myself, show my ‘highlights’, outline my services in detail and offer a direct way of contacting me.
On top of all of this, I was able to add a blog…which 100 posts later I still adore writing. If I hadn’t upgraded my website, I could still be doing this completely for free; something I find so cathartic and useful to extend my professional learning. That is pretty cool.
Again, think back 20 years, the closest equivalent would have been a flyer or leaflet maybe. I am no designer, so it would have looked rubbish, and I would still have had to pay for printing and to distribute them (somehow!!) to people who actually may be interested.
Thinking about ‘distribution’ – you have to be grateful for the amazing technology that is a search engine! It is scanning my website all of the time…without me asking it too…basically, wanting to find something so that it can list it in the correct ‘results’. I know SEO can seem difficult, but it is up to us to help the search engine find us…it is only doing what it is programmed to do. …and then it lists you completely for free for anyone in the world to find.
Digital marketing support
Now, I have considered my social media business page (well three in fact! – Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn)…and a website…well, I have to appreciate the amazing opportunities Canva, online design software, and Mailchimp, online email marketing, also offers. Both are invaluable for creating professional looking items to support any marketing and content. What’s more – both are available in free formats.
Again, I can’t help but wonder where I would be without them both. I liked using Microsoft Publisher as a kid…but hey, this is another level!
4G and Wifi
This is a funny one, perhaps, but writing this blog has really made me realise the many ‘small things’ that I take for granted, but again have been vital for me growing a successful business.
Being able to create social media posts, answer emails, update blogs and make changes to my website, whilst I am cooking dinner, walking to a meeting or just sat in a cafe makes my life sooooo much easier. Thanks to having mobile access to all of these things and the 4G or WiFi access I am surrounded by (tries not to think about the effect on the brain!!!), again has made my life so much easier.
Even with a busy family life, busy social life…as well as a busy work life, I can get so much done in just 10 minutes thanks to my phone and this ‘connected world’.
It can be exhausting and it can be dangerous, if you don’t know how to switch off…but, equally, it has been a life saver many a time. Furthermore, there is still nothing better than spending an afternoon working in my local coffee shop (Honesty at Caviste, in Overton – best coffee ever!), using their WiFi! In comparison with being bound to a desk in a concrete office built in the seventies (where I used to work), it is revolutionary and so much more inspiring.
When I worked in the world of publishing, I didn’t really even know what networking was! I thought it was standing around in hotel conference rooms pitching your business or latest product – it was for sales people and high-flying executives. What I have learnt, however, is that networking is about Collaboration. It is about ‘trading services’ not shouting about how much better you are than everyone else. It is about facilitating connections and getting to know fellow business people and learning from them…even if you never use each others’ services.
I love that there is so much variety: some are free, some are not; some are female only, some are not; some are first thing in the morning, some are lunchtime, some are coffee time, some are in the evening…there is so much variety and so much to gain if you are brave enough to explore them.
Fellow small businesses
Finally, I have to say how inspiring I find the current influx of indepenendt businesses and sole traders is. Through social media, I am aware of so many people running their own businesses. It is easy to go to the big multinational companies, but I am so pleased that I am not restricted to this and through social media and having their own websites, I can find these local and independent businesses much easier and choose to buy from them, where I get a personal service and don’t get treated like a no-one, just another pound sign on a conveyor belt.
I love following fellow small businesses, finding out how they are progressing and learning from them. All of my clients are fellow business owners and whilst they may come to me for a service, I always find something that I can learn from them. Even if I do not buy their products or use their services personally, I nearly always end up telling someone else about what they do and encouraging them to get in touch. I hope they see it as a ‘two-way’ process too.
I know running your own business, even writing a blog regularly, is not all ‘cupcakes and rainbows’ but when you take the time to take a step back and see what is around you to support and help, I hope, like me, you realise it is not all bad!