Habits are powerful.
I came to experience the power of habits in January when I took part in RED January (Run Every Day). Without fail, I got my trainers on every day, whether I had a cold, or it had been snowing, or I didn’t feel like it. I never questioned whether or not I should go for a run. I just did it, because I’d committed to doing it. I didn’t always want to go for a run, but I always wanted to be able to say I’d successfully completed the challenge I’d set myself.
More recently, some of my good habits have fallen by the wayside. I’ve gone from exercising at least five times a week to going to the gym or for a run maybe twice a week. This blog, which I used to write posts for religiously, has been woefully neglected. I’ve eaten junk because I’ve not taken the time to plan meals and shop for and prepare healthy snacks.
The result? I’ve been stressed about my blog, and grumpy about my lack of exercise. Writing a post or going for a run has become something I consider with slight dread, rather than something I just do without question.
I see the same happen with my marketing coaching and consultancy clients all the time. Marketing activity is ad hoc. It’s not something that’s part and parcel of running the business, but a thing that sits separately and can be built up as this big, intimidating deal.
It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s all about cultivating the right habits and then consistently sticking to them.
I know this is easier said than done...
Cultivating good marketing habits
It can feel overwhelming when you have so many ideas and plans. There’s so much going on, you don't know where to start, and so you either do nothing or you try lots of different things in a scattergun style approach.
If this is how you feel sometimes (or all the time), you're not alone. Small business owners everywhere struggle with exactly this. Sometimes I hear: “I’m just not creative.” Believe me: the problem isn’t lack of creativity! You need lots of creativity to build a business and continue to drive it forward. The problem also isn’t lack of ideas. Some of my clients have come up with ideas that are so good they intimidate me! At the end of the day, you know your business best. Of course you’re going to have good ideas about how to market it and tell its story.
So your problem isn’t lack of creativity or ideas. In my experience, your biggest problem is probably lack of time. Because whatever your trade is, you are that thing, and full-time. Shopkeeper, developer, designer, manufacturer, coach: that's what you know through and through, what you're passionate about. It’s what you are first and foremost.
But! As a business owner, that full-time profession is far from your only job. You have many, many part-time jobs. HR, IT support, cleaning, finance … and marketing. This is where the wheels usually come off.
It’s unrealistic to expect you’ll be able to pay attention to all the things that you'd quite like to pay attention to. So unless you commit to making certain things a habit, they will never get done.
The road to marketing success is paved with good intentions of blogs that will never get written, email newsletters that will never get sent, and social media campaigns that will never get launched.
What you should be doing is choosing the marketing activities that you can repeat frequently and regularly, so that over time they become an automatic part of your business - something that just happens and that brings benefits to your business.
Good marketing habit 1: Make the time
Marketing is that friend who, after spending time with them, you ask yourself why you don't do it more often. You know how it goes: you say “we should really get together more often”/”I should really write blog posts more often!”, but then life gets in the way, it’s tricky to coordinate diaries, and other things take priority. Before you know it, six months have gone by and you never met up with that friend or written that blog post.
So if you’re serious about getting together more often - with your friend, the gym, or your marketing - you need to make the time. You’re not magically going to get given the time. You need to create it, and then you need to be fiercely protective of it.
Here are a few ways to create the time:
Be clear on the marketing activities that will give you the most value, and be realistic about the time you have to invest. If you only have limited time to spend on social media, identify the channel(s) that are most likely to give you the results you want, and then only spend time on nurturing those communities (rather than trying to invest time in all channels).
Prioritise your activities based on value to your business. If you have lots of marketing work to do, it is tempting to tackle the fun or easy things first. But if you run out of time, it means that only those things get done. Make sure you do the things that will benefit you in a business sense e.g. bring more people to your shop or increase your orders.
Put it in your diary and treat it as you would an appointment. You need discipline! For example, if you want to write a blog post twice a month, work out how long it will take you and block the time out in your diary. If you want to record social media numbers every week, set up a recurring calendar reminder so you don’t forget.
Good marketing habit 2: Look back
See how far you’ve come. But also seek to understand how your marketing activities have impacted on your business.
Decide what you want to track and how often, and then put the necessary time in your calendar and record your numbers. What you’re trying to achieve here is not get fixated on things like changes in social media follower numbers from one week to the next, but to spot trends over time. Things like the types of content that deliver the highest levels of engagement, the time of year people search for different products, the social media platform that brings the most visitors to your site.
And when you look back, celebrate! Pat yourself on the back! Revel in how far you’ve come! This journey of self-employment can be hard and lonely, so when there’s a reasons for some cake and fizz, take a moment and say: “Go me!”
Good marketing habit 3: Look forward
When you run a business, it is easy to get caught up in the day to day running of it all. But if that’s all you ever do, your shortsightedness can cost you.
So consider where you want your marketing to be in six months’ time, and in a year. What do you hope to achieve? How do you want it to feel? Do you want your website to bring in enough enquiries so you can cut your social advertising? Would you like to increase the Domain Authority of your website? Which areas of your business would you like to expand, or would you like to launch new products? Do you want to be the go-to for journalists wanting to speak to people in your industry?
Dream, write down your ideas, turn them into goals and then get to work. Because while motivation will get you started, it’s habits that will keep you going.