This year marks the 30th anniversary of SRB Communications. In honor of this accomplishment, our blog series, Lessons Learned, will highlight five key lessons that founder and CEO, Dr. Sheila Brooks learned during 30 years as an entrepreneur. This week we offer Lesson #4, Customer First Mindset. If you missed Lesson #1, Pivot the Business, #2 – Obtaining a Bank Loan, or #3 – Writing a Growth Business Plan, click the links.
We’ve all heard it before, “the customer comes first,” “the customer is always right,” and several other cliché sayings that circulate in the business world. So, what are these quotes trying to tell us? From my 30 years in business, I’ve learned that these sayings are correct; it’s about achieving a “customer-first mindset”. Simply put, it’s part of your company’s cultural strategy.
Let’s level set this thinking. First, as a business owner, it’s important to show your employees the value that they bring to your company. They are the ones who are working with customers day to day. So, they must be empowered to make decisions and service customers in meaningful ways. Ask yourself, “Are my customer’s needs being met and do we not only meet, but exceed their expectations?” Here are some thoughts:
When the marketplace changes, be ready to share innovative and creative ideas with customers. For instance, what did you do to pivot during the COVID-19 pandemic? Customers want to hear your thinking on how to improve the work you’re doing for them to better reflect the current environment. Adopting the customer-first mindset is also about sharing new insights, listening and paying attention to their immediate needs.
Keep the communication lines open. Always make it easy for customers to interact with your team. Your employees should also be prepared to report back to the rest of the team on their progress, opportunities and challenges. Sharing knowledge is key to boost transparency and engage your employees more.
Stay attuned to your customer’s strategy, their attitudes, industry standards, and business environments. Every customer interaction that you have is an opportunity for you or your employees to get feedback on your services.
As the CEO of a 30-year-old business, it’s important that I lead the charge and closely listen to our customer feedback. But I also instill in my team so that we are always putting our customers first. By doing so, we get to know them better and understand their needs and expectations. It helps us to understand not only what is happening with them now, but what is going to be required of us in the future.
If you grow with your customers your business will grow. The moment you get complacent is the moment you’ve failed your customers. Remember, your work is never done. Serve your clients or die tryin’.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of SRB Communications. In honor of this accomplishment, our blog series, Lessons Learned, will highlight five key lessons that founder and CEO, Dr. Sheila Brooks learned during 30 years as an entrepreneur. This week we offer Lesson #3 – Writing Your Business Growth Plan. If you missed Lesson #1, Pivot the Business, or #2 – Obtaining a Bank Loan, click the links.
I encourage you to invest in yourself. The clearer your vision is about your business, the sooner it becomes a reality. It’s more important now than ever to write and update your business growth plan regularly since there is no playbook for surviving through a pandemic, which can create opportunities.
What are you working towards? What are your goals? Where are you headed? These are good questions to ask yourself in life and, just as importantly, in business. Running a business requires long-term thinking and foresight. Every action you take should be pushing you towards the goal you set beforehand. Whether it’s growing your business’s sales by 10% or selling it in 10 years, knowing where you’re headed creates a path to success that is easier to see.
What is a Business Growth Plan?
A business growth plan is a strategic plan that allows you to plan, track, and execute actions that push your business forward. The growth is simply the expansion of any aspect of the business. Having a set plan helps in three critical ways:
It helps you realize your business goals
It offers a set path to push your business forward, and
It allows you to keep tabs on your progress
Why is a Growth Plan Important in Business?
Many people go into business not realizing what they really want out of it. I learned early in my career as an entrepreneur that you must have a business plan to ensure that your company is focused on growth. Approximately 80% of businesses in this country fail within the first year, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA). By the fifth year in business, more than half of the small businesses, 45% – 51%, have closed their doors. The primary reason for small businesses to fail is a lack of adequate capital, primarily because they had no business growth plan. It is essential that an entrepreneur has a written blueprint on how they will access capital, recruit and retain the best talent, manage their operations, know their market and competitors, and so much more.
According to CB Insights, 17% of small businesses fail because they lack a business model. Ask yourself, do you want to be in business or just a consultant? If you want to be in business, you should know how to answer these questions. How big do you want the business to be? How will you know if you have reached your goals? How do you want to grow once you’ve achieved those goals? If you don’t have these types of questions answered, you’re essentially driving with no destination which is almost a guarantee to failure.
Having a business growth plan keeps you focused on what needs to be done. With a clear path to success laid out, it’s much easier to stay focused on the day-to-day and long-term picture. Maintaining your drive is imperative in keeping your business afloat, and a growth plan keeps you motivated along the way.
Early in my career, I knew that I was very clear that I wanted to be an entrepreneur and start a business with full-time employees, office space, and full-service production facility. Those aspirations seemed aggressive at the time, but they served as the inspiration behind the plan that turned those aspirations into goals. The key to my success was I waited for the right time – when I could afford to pay for them. They were part of my plan, and it’s a plan that I continue to follow, revisit, and revise whenever necessary, and it helps me see how to achieve success down the road. I’m proud of where SRB Communications is 30 years later. We’ve always had a written business growth plan and always will.
The business growth plan also allows for continued reassurance that you are on the right track. The plan gives you check points and the ability to review the progress you have made. This gives you increased confidence on the actions you take. Knowing you’re headed in the right direction for your business makes each new step easier to take. Checking on your progress also lends the opportunity to see what hasn’t work in progressing you towards your ultimate goal. If you’re not seeing the growth you’d like to see, a growth plan will give you the opportunity to stop and pivot before it’s too late.
Business is a long-term game that must be played with well-defined plan in mind. You should be constantly thinking of how you can better your company and achieve the goal that you set. Nothing is too small or too big to take on if it means bringing new growth to the company. Remaining focused on your growth day in and day out drives success. It’s the “sink or swim, swim or die” mentality that allows a business to survive. In business, we must be sharks. If we stop moving forward, we die.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of SRB Communications. In honor of this accomplishment our blog series, Lessons Learned, will highlight five key lessons that founder and CEO Dr. Sheila Brooks learned during 30 years in business. Each week the blog will offer a new lesson and new advice. This week we offer Lesson #2 – Getting A Bank Loan. If you missed Lesson #1 – Pivot the Business, here’s the link.
Access to capital is critical for starting and growing a small business, but many people don’t realize that the need extends beyond the first few years. If your goal is to expand your business, obtaining a bank loan or line of credit could help you invest further invest in your company and push you towards your growth goals. Here’s what you need to know:
It’s important that business owners have access to capital, especially for unforeseen circumstances.
It’s also important that your business credit and personal credit are in good shape.
The main difference between a loan and a line of credit is how you get the money and how and what you repay. A loan is a lump sum of money that is repaid over a fixed term with interest. A line of credit is a revolving account that allows borrowers to draw, repay and redraw from available funds.
Obtaining a line of credit or bank loan is an investment in your business. Know exactly what purchases you plan to make with that loan and how it will help increase profitability. Do not get a bank loan unless you have a clear plan of how that money will be used to further your business and how you’ll pay it off.
The best advice I can give you is to get a loan or line of credit when you don’t need the money. I’ve learned this from my own experience as a business owner. After my fifth year in business, I decided it was time for me to invest in editing equipment and an audio recording studio.
Although I got a loan to do that, I didn’t need the money. But I knew that by investing in the editing equipment and audio recording studio I would keep a large percentage of business in-house that I had been outsourcing. And I also knew I wanted to grow my business.
At that time in 1995, I had contracts with the federal government for about five years, had received our 8(a) certification and was positioned to win some other bigger government contracts. Acquiring this equipment would bring much of my editing production in-house and allow for more profits on those contracts. So, I got the loan a 5-year loan and paid it off in 2½ half years. The 8(a) program is a federal government 9-year business development program for small, disadvantaged businesses. We successfully completed that program in 2003.
In business it is imperative that you go after capital tirelessly. You must be able to build banking relationships. And, most importantly, you’ll need good credit. As a small business owner, you have to pull those credit reports, see where you stand and work to bring your credit scores up – both business and personal. If you fund your business on credit, you’ll have to make sure that you are paying those bills on time every month.
Our current economy provides a grave example of why it is important to have access to capital. Once the global health pandemic hit, corporations, governments and small businesses were forced to downsize with layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts. Many rushed to banks to request more money – without success. It isn’t just small businesses; big businesses are struggling with access to capital, too. This pandemic is teaching us a great deal about the U.S. economy.
So, it’s important to remember that bank loans and lines of credit require a great deal of responsibility. They can be great tools to help your business grow, but do not to misuse them. The result could be disastrous to both you and your business.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of SRB Communications. In honor of this accomplishment, our blog series, Lessons Learned, will highlight the five most important lessons that Dr. Brooks learned in 30 years of business as the founder, president and CEO. Check in next week for Lesson #2.
Starting a business is a risky venture for anyone to take. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that approximately 20% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 45% during the first five years, and 65% during the first 10 years. The world is a constantly changing place. Many hopeful entrepreneurs don’t prepare themselves or their businesses for the strain that can be placed on them. And no matter how long your company has been in business, you’ll need to know when it’s time to pivot.
Pivoting a business is not just adding new service offerings, it’s a systematic change in your business model. That being said, you shouldn’t wait until your business is under severe economic strain to think about how you can pivot your business. Always have your business prepared to shift business models, you never know when you’ll need to make a change.
Look at what’s happening in the world today. No one could have predicted a global health pandemic would hit and totally devastate the economy. Though the causes are different, we find the world heading towards an identical economic situation as the recession from 2007-2009. That recession hit small businesses very hard. SRB Communications lost 90% of our business, pretty much overnight. The media landscape changed dramatically. We went from producing 90-100 videos a year in our million- dollar production facility to competing with one-man teams with a small camera, iPhones, laptop and at-home editing software. Producing original television programming on a regular basis for network and cable TV was replaced by reality shows.
As the CEO, I looked at my business, our services, personnel and the media landscape. Though we were a production company, we still had one large advertising contract with Pepco Holdings. I had to make some tough decisions. I could shut down the company after 18 years of business and call it a victory or I could pivot the business from TV production to marketing and advertising, where production of radio and TV commercials are still dominant.
When I looked at the media landscape and did the market research, what I found was that there was more business to pursue in the energy and utilities industry. And that business was expanding to advertising and marketing work and executing campaigns, e.g. educating customers about utility programs and initiatives. And so that is when I decided that if we could win one (1) utility contract, we should go after every gas, water, and electric company in DC. And we did. And we won. And then we went to Maryland. We won again. Then we started winning utility contracts up the East Coast. After a few years of pursuing and winning contracts in the utilities vertical, we continued to expand our business verticals in advertising and marketing to higher education institutions, government and transportation agencies, political campaigns, convention centers and sports arenas.
So, for me and for SRB Communications, pivoting the business was about learning that we had to sell what our clients want and need. Too often a business fails because they provide services that their customers are no longer looking for. SRB Communications was a TV production company but the market shifted, so we had to do the same. In sports, there’s a saying, “Be where the ball is going, not where it is.” Look at your market, figure out what your customers need, and if you can have the capabilities, be that. Sell what clients need, not just what you have.
Business is unforgiving and to survive you have to stay on your toes. Pivoting leads to a business that is flexible enough to surpass those vulnerable years where many fail. Your business is in fact not yours; it belongs to the customers you serve. The customers decide if you succeed or fail, so it’s best that you listen intently to their needs.
Shared adversity can bring a community together, and I’m happy to see that greater Washington is responding in solidarity in the face of both racial inequality and the immense public health challenge of COVID-19.
These two problems are intertwined. In addition to its tragic human cost, the pandemic has elevated the risk that existing inequality of opportunity in the District may worsen.
Here in DC, we face significant opportunity gaps from ward to ward. For example, as of 2018, at least 12% of children were living in poverty in six of DC’s eight wards. However, in wards 7 and 8, that rate exceeded 39%. Ward 8 also has the highest number of children under age 5 and an infant mortality rate that is more than double the national average.
This tells us that, when it comes to giving people the tools to develop and build their talents, we need to start early. Thankfully, the city made progress on this front by passing the Birth-to-Three for All DC Act of 2018, an important stride toward making sure that all young children have access to quality early childhood programs.
However, without supporting the act with additional measures and meaningful investments, the opportunity gaps that plague our city will persist — and will do so in a way that impacts young people’s educational prospects and their future career prospects.
One of these challenges is the lack of access to affordable, high-quality child care.
Even before the pandemic, our nation was in the midst of a child care crisis, as demonstrated in a recent ReadyNation report. The report found that the lack of high-quality, affordable child care for infants and toddlers (children age 0 to 3) exacts a heavy toll on working families and our economy, costing our economy an incredible $57 billion per year. The reason this figure is so high is the dramatic, negative impact that the crisis has on productivity, tax revenue and workers’ earnings.
And it’s no wonder why. Like many places around the country, DC has far more infants and toddlers than it does available high-quality child care. At the same time, the average cost of child care in the District is more than the average price of public, in-state college tuition in most places around the country.
The child care crisis is also a two-generation problem. As working parents scramble to find care, children often wind up in less-than-ideal early childhood settings. Those experiences create impacts that society won’t feel until these children grow into their teenage years or adulthood.
Without access to high-quality learning and care during this critical time, a child’s chances of being “kindergarten-ready” diminish. That deficit on day one of elementary school may persist for the duration of the child’s educational career, which, in turn, leads to those opportunity gaps I mentioned a moment ago.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made funding child care infrastructure even more urgent. Most child care providers are fundamentally small businesses, and many of them face economic hardship, even closure.
As a journalist, entrepreneur, business owner and longtime advocate for equity and women’s issues, I understand that these topics are inextricably tied to the child care industry. Providers now feel unprecedented pressures on their own bottom line, and the families they serve are enduring immense hardships. Therefore, we must commit to supporting, strengthening and maintaining the child care infrastructure now, so that the existing child care crisis isn’t worsened by our current health emergency.
There are more than 26,500 infants and toddlers under age 3 in DC, but only about 7,600 licensed child care slots. COVID-19 has the potential to make this situation even more dire, with some providers having no choice but to close absent sufficient support for the child care sector. Investments to preserve existing slots and help make up this shortfall will pay dividends to greater Washington now and in the future. Likewise, funding that helps parents navigate a system that costs, on average, $2,020 per month per infant will help ease that imposing financial burden on lower-income families.
Protecting the child care sector is critical. Investments to do so will make businesses and working parents more productive today, and help ensure that the next generation of Washingtonians will grow up better prepared to leverage their talents and build the future we all want — a stronger and more equitable community over the long run.
This OpEd was written by Sheila Brooks, Ph.D., founder, president and CEO of SRB Communications. It was originally published here by The DC Line, a nonprofit media organization dedicated to covering DC local news.
This year, SRB Communications is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Since starting in the third bedroom of the home she shared with her husband in 1990, the company has evolved into a full-service boutique advertising and marketing agency with offices in Washington, D.C., Baltimore and New York City.
The company and its CEO, Sheila Dean Brooks, have won hundreds of local, regional and national awards. And former employees have gone on to jobs at major corporations, media companies and the U.S. government. During the process, Brooks has gone on to receive her master’s degree and Ph.D. From Howard University.
Those are all incredible feats, especially considering that one-third of small businesses in the U.S. fail in their first two years of operation, and half are gone in five years.
“I can’t emphasize enough the importance of being a lifelong learner and staying ahead of the curve,” Brooks says. “The digital landscape has truly transformed our world. We can see now, more than ever, how important it is to the way we do business and live our lives.”
Sheila Dean Brooks started SRB Communications in 1990 with a business partner in the third bedroom of her home in suburban Maryland after spending nearly 13 years as a television reporter, producer and news anchor in markets in Texas, Washington state and Washington, D.C.
The company started as a partnership focused on television and video production, but quickly within a few months evolved into a sole proprietorship.
The following year was critical in the growth of the company. Brooks hired her first employee and received its first government contract. By 1992, SRB moved into its first “real” office space, at 15th and K Streets, NW, in Washington, D.C. one block from where the company is today.
By 1995, the company had purchased production equipment and became a full-fledged TV and video production company, with a slogan From Script to Screen. Clients included TV One, America’s Most Wanted, BET, and WBAL-TV in Baltimore.
By 2008, with the housing recession in full swing, and the TV and video production business changing quickly and dramatically, SRB pivoted into advertising and marketing with a focus on multicultural audiences.
Today, the company has won more than 200 national and international awards for production and advertising and marketing campaigns. Clients include Exelon Corp., Pepco, Washington Gas, DC Water, Baltimore Gas and Electric, University of the District of Columbia, Bowie State University and Events DC, which operates the DC convention center and sports arena network.
“My passion in serving multicultural audiences has led me to a purpose that is both profitable and valuable,” Brooks says. “I can’t give up on that. The work I do is not solely for me. I’ve invested in so many lives and so many people have invested in me.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – SRB Communications won two International Communicator Awards of Excellence for its work on Pepco’s Annual ZooLights Campaign and the DC Water Hydrate DC Branding Campaign. Judges of the 26th Annual Communicator Awards received more than 6,000 entries from across the U.S. and around the world. The agency also won a Silver International Telly Award for its work on the Alexandria City Public Schools High School Project Informational Video. The 40th Annual Telly Awards receives more than 12,000 entries from all 50 states and 5 continents.
“I am extremely proud of our team. These awards are a tribute to their hard work and creativity,” says Dr. Sheila Brooks, founder, president and CEO of SRB Communications. “We are also proud and excited about the opportunity to create and execute an integrated marketing campaign with DC Water, a leader in the water utility industry.” The brand awareness campaign proved to educate local DC Water customers on the value of water.
SRB Communications captured the Telly Award honor for our work with the Alexandria City Public Schools in the non-broadcast educational institution category.
The Communicator Awards are judged and overseen by the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts (AIVA). The Communicator Awards is the largest and most competitive international awards program honoring creative excellence. Entries were received from top ad agencies around the world, i.e., interactive agencies, production firms, in-house creative professionals, graphic designers, design firms, and public relations firms. The annual competition honors the best in advertising, corporate communications, public relations and brand identity work for print, video, interactive and audio.
The Telly Awards is the premier award honoring video and television across all screens. Established in 1979, The Telly Awards receives over 12,000 entries from all 50 states and 5 continents. Entrants are judged by The Telly Awards Judging Council—an industry body of over 200 leading experts including advertising agencies, production companies, and major television networks, reflective of the multi-screen industry The Telly Awards celebrates.
SRB Communications, LLC is an award-winning, full-service boutique advertising andmarketing agency specializing in multicultural markets and content production. For 30 years, the agency has provided services to energy and utility companies, higher education institutions, transportation and government agencies, political campaigns, convention centers and sports arenas. The agency is headquartered in Washington, D.C. with satellite offices in Baltimore, Maryland and New York city.
If you’re interested in helping to advance your business through the magic of digital marketing and video production, contact us today.
Our fearless leader, President and CEO of SRB Communications, Dr. Sheila Brooks, has quite a bit going on for the next few months. June marks 30 years in business for SRB Communications; her book, Lucile H. Bluford and the Kansas City Call: Activist Voice for Social Justice is getting its paperback release and she was recently spotlighted by Washington Women in PR. The article written by Florence Sumaray was published on WWPR’s website, but check it out below:
Meet Sheila Brooks, Ph.D.,Founder, President and CEO of SRB Communications
Sheila is the founder, president and CEO of SRB Communications, an advertising, marketing and PR agency based in Washington, DC. SRB Communications will be celebrating 30 years in business in June 2020.
Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Sheila spent nearly 13 years in television newsrooms across the country, first as an anchor, reporter and producer, and eventually as a news director and executive producer. Throughout her career, she has taught courses in journalism as a college professor, and she currently teaches multicultural marketing in the Strategic Public Relations program at the George Washington University.
In 2015, she returned to the classroom and completed a Ph.D. in Media, Culture and Communications at Howard University. Over the years she’s won numerous awards including two Emmys, the inaugural Pat Tobin Media Relations Award from the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and the 2019 NABJ Ida B. Wells Award. She was also nominated for the 2019 NAACP Image Award for literary work on publishing her first book, Lucile H. Bluford and the Kansas City Call: Activist Voice for Social Justice.
Leading SRB Communications
Over the past decade, Sheila’s job as CEO of a minority- and woman- owned business, has evolved from working “in” the business to working “on” the business. Her talented team of eight to 10 employees handle the day-to-day accounts under the leadership of No. 2, Adiya Mobley, SRB Communications’ Vice President of Marketing and Communications. Sheila enjoys closing deals and developing and executing a growth strategy for the agency.
Sheila joined WWPR to connect with some of the most talented PR professionals in the country. It also provides opportunities for her and the staff at SRB Communications to network and share new ideas.
Outside of the office
Sheila serves on the Federal City Council as a member of the Board of Trustees and as chair of the Board of Visitors for the Global School of Journalism and Communication at Morgan State University. She also serves on the advisory board of the Jim Vance Media Center at Archbishop Carroll High School. Sheila finds her many decades of serving on boards for journalism, educational and entrepreneurial organizations proves to be rewarding. She also enjoys giving back to the community and is specifically committed to sharing her experiences with young people.
Staying busy during COVID-19
Sheila generally loves to cook and entertain. Since COVID-19, she has spent more weekend time with her husband at their beach house, only an hour away in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. They social distance walk with friends, barbecue, and just enjoy the serenity of the Chesapeake Bay. Additionally, during the week when she’s home in Silver Spring, Maryland, she is loving her Peloton.
Defining the “new normal” for SRB Communications
SRB Communications has been working remotely nearly three months while continuing to provide clients superior services and value add. The company has been fortunate to work from home daily during the COVID-19 pandemic, which the team at SRB Communications realizes is a privilege many people aren’t afforded.
Besides working from home, it has been business as usual for the most part. They have daily team and client meetings, and new business efforts keep them busy regularly. They are also excited to be celebrating their 30th year anniversary this year with a year-long roll out of campaigns to introduce to the public and their stakeholders.
Keeping up with trends in communications
Sheila can’t emphasize enough the importance of being a lifelong learner and staying ahead of the curve. Keeping up with digital trends is essential for SRB Communications to stay ahead of their competition. To do so, Sheila personally reads two books per month, and as an agency, they subscribe to several information resources. Some of those resources include following the right marketing thought-leaders and influencers, taking advantage of the many resources their partners have access to, networking with other marketers in the field through Meetups and networking sites. Lastly but most importantly, remaining agile and embracing new technology as it is introduced to the public. They also prioritize attending webinars and annual conferences like the National Association of Black Journalists, AAF-DC and ColorComm.
How the industry has changed in the past five years
In the past five years, the digital landscape has truly transformed the world, and the SRB Communications’ team now understands more than ever how important it is for their business and their lives. There have been so many advancements in the way people communicate through technology. The digital space is ever-evolving, and as marketing and communications professionals, it is our responsibility to stay abreast on the latest technologies driving the day-to-day work.
Celebrating SRB Communications’ 30th anniversary
If you asked Sheila his time last year what they would be doing to celebrate SRB Communications’ 30 year anniversary, she never would have guessed celebrating during a global pandemic. However, here they are, celebrating … in the midst of a global pandemic.
Even though they are all quarantined and safely social distancing, they have decided to transition their celebratory efforts to the digital atmosphere. They’re excited to reintroduce the SRB brand and newly designed logo to the public. They also have a few content and storytelling campaigns rolling out across their social media channels throughout the entirety of the anniversary year. To kick off 2021, they’ll be releasing their 2021 Multicultural Marketing Trends Report outlining the latest and greatest happenings in inclusive marketing and campaigns. Make sure you follow them on social media to get the latest 30th anniversary update: Twitter, FacebookandInstagram.
Lessons learned during this pandemic and how to stay positive
If you don’t walk away from this pandemic having learned something new, whether about yourself or about the broader community that we live in, then you’ve missed a huge growth opportunity. Sheila has learned that as a community they are stronger together. She has seen that play out even within the SRB team. She has watched the team stay resilient in the face of this pandemic and stay committed to their client’s work and the agency business. She stays positive because of her advisors and her fellow business owners that are supportive with regular phone calls, emails and texts.
Like many fellow business owners, Sheila has also learned how to work from home. That’s not something she thought she would be able to do, but the team has done it and hasn’t skipped a beat. Sheila has faced other crises over the past 30 years in business, and through them all, she’s learned to embrace the challenges, create opportunities, stay innovative, and most importantly, trust in her unshakeable faith. She is truly fortunate to be able to do this work with honor and a sense of responsibility at this moment in time.
Five lessons learned from 30 years of running a successful marketing and communications firm
Sheila’s passion in serving multicultural audiences has led her to a purpose that is both profitable and valuable. She can’t give up on that. The work she does is not solely for her. She’s invested in so many lives and so many have invested in her. You can’t stay in business and keep people working if you don’t make a profit. You have to keep that in mind.
Five lessons Sheila has learned in running a successful marketing and communications firm:
Know when to pivot the business. Stop selling what you have. Sell what the client needs.
Keep a customer-first mindset.
Obtain a bank loan or line of credit before you need it.
As marketers, we hold a great deal of responsibility during this global pandemic. While healthcare staff, first responders, and other essential workers focus on the physical health and security of citizens, it is the responsibility of marketers to help people cope with our “new normal”. This not only benefits society as a whole, but it will help position your company as a community partner and a brand that your customers can rely on during times of crisis. So, here are 4 things you can do to manage your marketing strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Determine Your Company’s Position in a Pandemic
If you are a marketer, odds are you are in the middle of managing a number of different campaigns and editorial calendars. A crisis of this magnitude can easily overshadow your promotion and marketing efforts, so you’ll have to determine if it’s fiscally and socially responsible to continue your campaigns. In some cases, you can pivot the campaign to address the crisis and provide content that is beneficial and relevant to your customers. Obviously, every business is unique and will be impacted differently, so there is no exact answer to what should and shouldn’t be suspended. As a rule of thumb, you should determine if your business is uniquely positioned to speak to the pandemic and how you can show up for your customers in the time of crisis. From that point, you can make a better judgement call and decide if you should stay silent or shift your messaging and content offering.
2. Revise Your Content Calendar
If you do decide to continue your marketing campaigns, it’s imperative you review all scheduled content to determine if it aligns with community health measures and messaging, and then adjust accordingly. The words and images you use, no matter how small, delivers a message to the people who consume it. When designing creative, avoid using pictures with people interacting closely with one another or using language like “get in touch,” or, “come meet the…” as this could be taken as tone-deaf or out of touch messaging during this time. As a marketer, you can help endorse the new normal by incorporating our new social guidelines into your creative and messaging.
Ultimately, follow the strategy that fits to your company and consumer’s needs best. Reevaluate your content and creative and know that the best strategy may not be selling your products at this time, but rather showing how your company can help people overall.
3. Market Your Beliefs and Values
In recent years, we have seen consumers become increasingly more aware of societal issues and have expected the businesses they frequent to share their social and environmental values. With the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses will try to use this as an opportunity to sell their business or product, but cause marketing is not about capitalizing on a global crisis. Cause marketing is about developing and strengthening your relationship with consumers by connecting with them on societal issues that matters to them the most and aligns with your company’s values.
There are many ways your company can contribute to the effort to curtail this pandemic. Some companies have started to manufacture and donate essential items like ventilators and masks to those who need them the most. Other companies have donated hotel rooms to healthcare workers on the frontline or donated money to hospitals and other organizations fighting COVID-19 cases. These are all great ways to showcase your support and company values and can provide a great opportunity for marketing that helps companies build credibility and trust among its consumers and helps keep them abreast of the efforts you are doing to help end the crisis.
This brings us to our next point.
4. Build Deeper Connections Through Human Stories
People are looking for something to be hopeful about. Everyone loves a story that they can get behind, especially stories that are relatable. Let the story be yours. It’s the perfect time to deliver human-driven stories that provide a way for people to connect while stuck at home. Employees are a great resource for developing personable content. Your employees are affected by this crisis just like everybody else. Highlight what they have been doing to stay busy and active during this time. Sharing their story makes your audience view your company as more just a faceless entity, it’s a collection of real people. As their leader, keeping them positive should be a priority too. Show your audience the ways you and your team have stayed connected and upbeat. Also, try to utilize your audience to produce user-generated content and engage in a campaign that is optimistic and engaging. That being said, you have to be aware of your positivity. Blind optimism is a poor mindset to have in a time of crisis. Don’t pretend everything is fine and ignore the issue. No one likes the band playing music on a sinking ship.
It’s clear that the economy has been crippled by the recent pandemic and many small businesses are hurting because of it. In order to curtail company spending, leadership often makes large cuts to the marketing budget during hard economic times.
However, this does not mean you can or should stop marketing. In fact, companies that continue their marketing efforts during times of economic crisis have steadied or even increased sales. Take the time to review the budget you do have to ensure you’re using it the most efficient and effective way possible. Here’s a few tactics to help you market on a tighter budget.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that quality content is important. Marketing revolves around content, so when you’re operating on a small budget, quality is paramount. The content must be useful to the consumer while also being easily digestible. Find out what your audience needs and make sure you are supplying them with valuable information to meet those needs.
Research is an important part of creating quality content. A reader can go anywhere to receive content, so why should they consume yours? Providing sound information backed with research and complemented with your own perspective via anecdotal experiences or exclusive company data adds value to the content and establishes you as a unique source of information. Once you’ve done the research necessary to write or speak intelligently about your content topic, figure out the best way to deliver it to your audience.
With technology advancing faster than we can blink, there are so many mediums to choose from with little to no cost (i.e. infographics, podcasts, videos, blogs, newsletters, live stream, etc.). It’s important to think about your topic and who is your target audience when determining how to deliver the content. Some people are likely to interact with a particular medium more than others. For example, podcasts are generally listened to by a younger audience. 84% are under 55 years old according to Edison Research. If your audience skews towards an older demographic, podcasts may not be the best place to reach them.
Like beauty, the value of your content is in the eye of the beholder. Your audience determines how much value they received from the content and the overall quality of it. If you don’t deliver your content to the right audience, they find no value in it. Choosing the right content for the right audience is about knowing who will receive the most value from it and delivering it to them in the medium that they are looking for.
Social media is a great tool for marketing on a budget. It allows you to create a following of engaged users and distribute your content to new masses. The best thing about social media is the constant development of new platforms and the reach it provides. Whether you’re looking for an older audience on Facebook or a younger one on TikTok, there’s a platform available that is right for your target audience.
There are two ways to reach users on social platforms. One is known as an organic reach. You are directly engaging with consumers without using money to reach them. You should create engaging, quality content that attract users to follow you. More followers mean more reach and hopefully, more engagement.
Engagement with your audience is one of the most valuable resources you have. Interact with them via comments, likes, direct messages, etc. and create personal connections with your followers. They respect the time it takes to do that, and it won’t be forgotten when they discuss your business. People are more likely to trust the recommendation of a real person whether that is on social media or on a blog. A suggestion from a friend about your business goes a long way.
The other way to use reach users is paid promotion. This includes paid or boosted ads on social media. Paying for ads on social media is a good way to stretch your dollars because it’s much cheaper than advertising on broadcast or radio and it allows you to target specific audiences based on demographics, interests, etc. more effectively.
As your audience grows, you can utilize their influence more. User-generated content on your social media platforms is a great way to expand your reach. This method basically lets users create and distribute custom content for you cost free. Not to mention, this content can seem more authentic to users than a traditional ad. To do this, you’ll need to create a call-to-action that gets your audience creating meaningful content for your business. Look to other companies for inspiration, but it’s important to make it relevant for your service or product offerings while putting a personal touch on it.
People are always looking for something new and different. Give them a reason to interact with your company. A base of followers is just a long list of potential sales. You can use your profile as another platform for selling while also increasing your brand awareness to a larger audience. The more recognizable your brand becomes, the more trustworthy you become to consumers. People will always buy from the companies they recognize and trust.
SEO is Gold
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is your best friend when it comes to low budget marketing. You can do everything above but if you ignore SEO, no one will find your content. So, what is SEO? It is designing your website and content to be relevant and easy for search engines to find. Since Google has more than 90% of the searches on the internet, most of the SEO guidelines are tailored to their methods. Implementing these methods are often very low-cost. Let’s walk through the basics.
Keywords are the “key” to everything (pun intended). Keywords are the words the user will search. For example, if I wanted to find a coffee place to go to, I’d search, “coffee near me.” This is just one combination that someone might use, your job is to account for as many keyword searches as possible, both short and long tail. Think about the keywords people would use to find your company and try to be specific as possible.
The next step is understanding the technical side of SEO. Google has to find your website, search the content on the site/page, and then index it on their own search engine. In order to do this, Google sends out “crawlers” which find and catalog your site. This means you should have relevant content via your keywords for them to catalog. You don’t want the crawlers to bring something to the users that is irrelevant to their search; that’s why a good understanding of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the code used to create that your site, is helpful. Doing the research necessary to master and implement SEO best practices will bring more users to your site and help generate stronger sales leads for your business.
Ultimately, there are so many clever ways to successfully market your business while on a tight budget. Do the research and think outside of the box to stretch your marketing dollars because marketing is important to your business. It’s as important as the business itself.