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  • ILISE BENUN is the founder of Marketing Mentor, and has been teaching people to promote themselves and their services since 1988. Author of 4 books and many, many more articles, Ilise has been self-employed for all but three years of her working life.

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  • DEIDRE RIENZO is a copy writer who helps small business owners turn their ideas into words. She partners with web designers to create simple, compelling, and keyword-rich website content for their clients. The Marketing Mentor program is the driving force that has helped Deidre grow her business, and she blogs about her experiences, adventures, and struggles here at the Marketing Mix.

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12 posts categorized "Organizing"

February 02, 2011

My Project Management System - Part 1

In my last blog post for Marketing Mentor, I shared 5 tips and strategies to help independent creative professionals manage their projects, virtual teams and clients…..oh, and find time to do their own work and have a life!  The upshot was that in order to keep all the plates spinning you need a system.

There are lots of really great project management solutions available, so it’s really a matter of defining what your particular needs are and finding the right fit for you.  The main criteria for your system are that it: (a) feels good to you and your work style (b) provides structure AND flexibility (c) it’s simple and easy to use.

In this post I’d like to share my system with you and, over the next couple of days, suggest tips and resources that might be helpful in developing your own.

During any given day at Plum Creative, there are several things I need to do or keep track of, including:

• Make and track new business calls/ emails
• Schedule calls and meetings
• Write proposals
• Negotiate fees
• Write/review contracts
• Create and manage project timelines
• Remind talent and clients of when things are due
• Bill clients
• Follow up on unpaid invoices
• Pay talent
• Write blog and newsletter, maintain website

So, with so many things (or combinations of things) that could come up, it’s important for me to be able to determine what my priorities are, while still being able to see the big picture.  I have it down to a 3-part system:

1) Content and Project Management software
This software is the Mothership and contains all of my data.  It allows me to link clients and prospects to active projects, opportunities, tasks, meetings, files, notes, and emails.  I have it installed on my laptop, home computer and iphone, so I can access my information wherever I am.

This software really comes into it’s own when I’m developing and tracking new business prospects and opportunities.  For example – I am able to create a target client list, link contacts, emails, make notes and create notifications for follow up actions e.g send a marketing package, follow up in a month.  When you make several new business calls a day, this really helps keep track of who you called, their response and what your next steps are.

Continue reading "My Project Management System - Part 1" »

April 22, 2010

Do you pull numbers out of your....?

Welcome to Week 30 of my adventure as a member of the Marketing Plan Group. In my posts, I talk about my voyage down the road of self-employment as a website copywriter, my achievements and roadblocks along the way, and what I’m learning from my group experience.

Now that my group is getting down-and-dirty with our numbers, I’m beginning to realize how much I pull numbers out of my… let’s say… imagination. All sorts of numbers. Pricing numbers, timing numbers, goal numbers. And I’m not the only one! One of my group members says she knows the amount in her bank account, but somehow, when left alone with her imagination for long enough – it changes. (She gets richer!)

It’s actually pretty hilarious. We never realized this was happening until our group got serious about numbers.

So, my poof, thin air approach isn’t proving to be the most accurate, especially when it comes to how long things take.

For example, how long does it take to write a blog post, make a research call, or write a bio for a client? Do you know? Or do you half-know and half-guesstimate, like me? If you don’t seriously, meticulously track your time, it’s likely you’ll be astounded by the discrepancy between what you think it takes, and what it really takes.

Turns out, writing a brochure takes a hell of a lot longer than I thought.

Are you using the poof, thin air method of tracking time? Do you really track your time, or do you guesstimate?

Take this little challenge with me: I propose that those of us out there, who may not be the most dedicated of time-trackers, take this week to obsessively track our time. Every second of it. (I’m using the time-tracking feature in Freshbooks. Function Fox is another great tool for time-tracking.)

Yes, even those “quick” email responses, “quick” phone calls, or “quick” changes. Cuz guess what? They add up. They really add up!

Are you with me?

Stay tuned… Next week, we’re making our proposals better.

January 05, 2009

Growing Your Business with Marketing, Week 1: Wrangling your contacts

This is Week One of a 52-week project/experiment in DIY marketing. Armed with nothing but a copy of the 2009 Grow Your Business Marketing Plan + Calendar and my bare wits, I'm applying the skills you need to grow a business in real time, day by day, and reporting on them week by week. You can follow along here every Monday; check in with my companion blog, A Virgo's Guide to Marketing, for additional links and information.

This week: Turning your snarl of contacts into a manageable database

If you've been around at all (meaning, in business, or even just an adult who's made friends and acquaintances along the way), you're going to have a ton of what is, for the most part, raw data. If you're like me—a great starter who's not so much with the follow-through—you're also going to have the added complication of multiple systems in various stages of implementation.

Choosing the right database solution

I've set up (and abandoned) systems in Palm, Entourage, Daylite, gmail, Address Book and various combo platters of same. I've also suffered more system crashes and database corruptions than I care to either remember or admit. Fortunately, I'm lousy with the former, so I'm not as worried about the latter.

A final borked-iMac situation made me decide to start from almost-scratch and implement a new system with the old data. Meaning, I started out with a clean hard drive, fresh installs of all software and hand-importing and sorting of all data.

After much gnashing of teeth about what kind of contact management system to commit to, I finally settled on Address Book, the vanilla contact system bundled with the Mac:

  • it's light, so it's not using a ton of system resources
  • it syncs to my iPhone (I like having my info with me at all times)
  • it syncs to gmail contacts (see above)
  • it's customizable via tagging and smart groups (more on that in a moment)
  • it's the simplest solution possible (Good enough for Einstein, good enough for me.)

If I decide I need something more robust to manage contacts, I'll research other solutions with my particular goal in mind. Which brings me to my next point: before you set up your database, know your market.

Identify your target market, THEN build your database system

As I mentioned last week, I'm in a slightly unusual position in that I have built up a brand (communicatrix) and a business (design) already, but am trying to move into a writing/speaking/consulting space. Ilise and I talked over my goals and for the foreseeable future, I'm going to focus on creative solopreneurs who need help with their DIY marketing, with "actors" as a kinda-sorta special subset.

For me, this meant Address Book. It also meant going through all my my Address Book contacts, one by one—over 1400 in Address Book along at the start of the project—cleaning up each of them by hand, then coding it with a series of tags that would make the system useful.

Introducing Colleen's 100% Non-Patented Tagging System

(Note: this works in Address Book, a Mac-based desktop client; if you're using something else, test your tagging system on a few contacts before spending quality time revising your database.)

I knew I needed to be clear on my goals (target market and desired outcomes) before getting started with  the organizing. My friend and accountability partner (and organized diva supreme) Dyana Valentine suggested that I figure out my taxonomy first, then apply as I went through the list. I'd gone through a similar kind of exercise with my friend (and user experience diva supreme) Lea Ann Hutter before launching version 3.0 of my website and it was really helpful.

The idea was to create as many as I needed and as few as possible, to keep things sane. I came up with:

  • #acting (actors and people in acting-related industries, like casting directors, etc.)
  • #friends (I use this for friends and family)
  • #design (designers and design-related services, fields, etc.)
  • #clients (current or past clients)
  • #prospects (self-explanatory...I hope!)
  • #reconnect (people I know and have fallen out of touch with)
  • #develop (people I don't know so well, but would like to)
  • #maven (people who are the best at what they do)
  • #writing (anything writing-related—my writing, other writers, etc.)
  • #speaking (same as above, but with speaking)
  • #reco (people I'd recommend to other people—I like looking smart by passing on good info, and I like being helpful!)

In addition to these, as long as I was going through everything, I added a few more for possible future sorting purposes:

  • #admin (emails needed for whitelisting purposes)
  • #blog #pr #journalist (for people who are plugged in, in case I have something I need to plug)
  • #? (names I had incomplete info for or flat-out didn't recognize; for GTDers, this is like a "someday-maybe" pile)

I'll be honest: once I got started, I found a lot more things I wanted to tag for. Stuff like where I'd met people, if at an event (#CFC, #SOBCon, #SXSW, etc.) or time of life (#ETHS, #cornell, etc) or any other thing I might possibly want to remember, use or sort for (#connector, for times I need to reach outside my network quickly; #law, in case I find myself running afoul of it—you get the idea.)

I then set up some smart groups immediately: "Friends," "Clients," "Develop," etc. I intend to start going through these lists methodically, getting in touch—or back in touch—day to day and week to week. I'll also do another pass with the tags and pull out all of the actors who have requested being on a mailing list for workshops I plan to start up in February.

The beauty of Smart Groups, hashtags and flexibility

Smart groups rule when it comes to this stuff because when you add a new contact and tag them, they automagically get placed in the corresponding group: it continually updates itself!

And now that I've (mostly) got everything tagged, I can also do combo platters as the need arises:

  • if someone calls for a copywriter recommendation, I search for (#writing + #reco)
  • if I need to talk to a journalist who specializes in marketing, I search for (#journalist + #marketing)
  • if I'm stuck on a Mac problem, I search for (#dev + #maven)

And so on. I can also search for location: if I'm planning something like my Seattle trip, I can create a Smart Group whose parameters include cities, states, ZIP codes, etc. (Apple, I'd love it if you'd make this stuff searchable on the fly in the iPhone! Oh—and Smart Groups ON the iPhone would be a great start, although I did find a roll-your-own scripting solution for the intrepid.)

Some words of advice before you start

In Address Book, the #hashtags go in the "Notes" section of the entry. The hashtag (# sign) means that when you do a search, it will pull up only the tag, not other stuff. For example, if you wanted "service" to be a tag but didn't use the # sign in front of it, a search would pull up every contact that had the word "service" in it instead of just your desired pool.

Write out your tags on index cards first. Go crazy with the first pass. Write down everything you might EVER have to sort for. Then edit, tweak, refine. See what redundancies exist. See if you can make tags shorter and easier to remember. If you can afford the time, do this over a few days, especially if you're a nitpicky type like me. I eliminated something like 15 with one pass. (I added in new ones as I went, but it would have been worse if I'd kept those AND added new ones.)

Backup! Backup! Backup! Do it as you go, and keep redundant copies, just in case. ALWAYS perform a backup before you sync to any other program or device. Most responsible sync-ware will warn you before you do it, but be hyper-aware and responsible about it. Data entry is a great task when your brain is fried; syncing data is not. I screwed up my database once after syncing with Facebook (which was great for importing missing addresses and photos, but still) and again with the gmail sync. Backup. Seriously!

I won't lie: this has been a far, far more arduous task than I'd anticipated. I've been combing through my various databases, email programs (gmail and local Mail.app) and stacks of business cards for weeks now in anticipation of 2009. If you've got a lot of contacts, or have been undisciplined about setting up a system and sticking to it, give yourself time. You're not just doing monkey work for nothing; you're investing your time to create a powerful tool for reaching out to your current contacts and building your network as you grow.

The Simplest Solution

If you're just starting out with a brand new business, you may not need a system even this complicated. What you'll want to do is just to collect all the names and contact information you have of people, and get it all into some kind of trusted system: an address book, electronic or paper; a series of index cards, alphabetized; a separate piece of paper for each contact that you put in one folder to start, then more as you go.

Start with the information you have, and use that channel to get more. If you have an email, connect to say "hi", say what you're up to and send some sort of friendly message. If it's appropriate, you can ask for more info right there; if not, move slowly, build the relationship back up a bit and then ask for contact info. You want to be real and authentic, not a shark; no one likes to be looked at as though they were chum.

Keep a record of each communication with that person. When I was an actor, I noted each letter, audition or call on a sheet of paper devoted to that person (and kept copies of stuff on the computer.) I also noted things I read about them that might be of interest, like hobbies, achievements, etc., so there would be things to talk about the next time we met or spoke. You can catalog family members, birthdays, job changes—anything that's not creepy. And remember, people LOVE getting snail mail, if it's personal. (Well, most people do; if you find out someone doesn't, note that, too!)

Make the system better!

This is definitely a case where many minds are better than one. If you see flaws in the system, or ways to improve it, please let me know in the comments. And if you have a fantastic, completely different system of your own that words—especially with follow-up, which I know is going to be the weak link here—I would love to hear it.

NEXT MONDAY is WEEK TWO: Drafting boilerplate for email & a script for (gasp) cold calling!

November 14, 2008

A new tool for worry-free email "vacations"

As email continues threatening to bury us all, more and more people are coming up with creative ways of dealing with it when we've got to knuckle down and get real stuff done.

The "only-check-twice-daily" method is great, except for those few emails you're always worried about in the back of your mind. You know--the emergency emails that really are an emergency.

AwayFind deals with just that problem. The freshly-launched web app acts like a filter, shielding you from email onslaught while letting the people who really, truly need to get through to you via text message. You sign up for an account (free or pro), create a special autoresponder that goes out to anyone who emails you and go about your business as usual. 

To celebrate the launch, AwayFind is offering a really great ebook on how to control your email flow along with any free subscription you sign up for by November 21. After that, the ebook will only come bundled with the pro version of the account, which also gives you features like the ability to brand your messages, access to support, etc. (And it really is a great ebook—I previewed it, and I'm picky as hell.)

AwayFind is the brainchild of an enterprising chap, Jared Goralnick, whom I first met back in May at SOBCon in Chicago. He is obscenely young to be so accomplished, but I forgive him that because he not only comes up with great stuff, but is the good, nice kind of networker: proactive, friendly and always looking for ways to be helpful. His excellent productivity blog--one of very few in my Google Reader--is here.

See also:

July 17, 2008

The nexus between organization and promotion

One thing a lot of people don't know about Ilise is that her roots are in professional organizing. I forget it myself, since she's so good at marketing, self-promotion and helping other people get a handle on their own tasks in those areas.

But a quote of hers for a story in this recent edition of The Oklahoman reminded me of the link between one and the other. She talks mentions that she "consistently found information on self-promotion at the bottom of piles of paper that people saved." Clutter was literally getting in the way of her clients' ability to promote themselves—and, I'm sure, a lot of other tasks.

I struggle with staying on top of things myself. On the one hand, I'm a huge fan of organizing as an art or even a science; on the other, I'm really abysmal at the day-to-day practice of staying organized, and implementing my tools and systems to actually get my work done.

I'm wondering if I'm alone in this, or how alone I am in this. Are you organized? Do you use your skills in service of work? Or do you get a lot of stuff done, self-promotion and marketing included, despite being disorganized?

(Thanks to Kay Stout for the heads-up on the article.)

March 21, 2008

What to do when you get into overwhelm

A client writes, "I'm so busy, I can't get to my work. I have two freelancers working on projects. I spend most of my time writing proposals, meeting with new clients and prospects. Half my time is non-billable. What am I doing wrong? How do I make more of my time billable?

Our answer comes from Lee Silber (a.k.a. Creative Lee), author of 11 books, including Time Management for the Creative Person (and a few others in that series).

We can't have it all—at least not all at once. We must make choices about what to focus on now. It's at the core of our success—the choices we make about how we spend our time. To do this we have to separate good from great. (Of course it's "great" we want.) To do this I suggest using a little left-brain thinking in the planning process. (We can save our right brains for creating.)

When left-brainers feel overwhelmed they make lists. They also prioritize what's most important. We right-brain thinkers are good at spinning all our plates at once and only worrying about the one that looks like it's about to fall. So, let's try the left-brain approach and see how it works.

  1. Make a list of everything you are spending time on. All your projects, proposals, personal stuff, and so on.
  2. Next to each one rate it with dollar signs ($) 1-5. One means it has very little chance to produce revenue and five means it has a good chance.
  3. Then rate each item on your list using a check mark on how urgent it is. One check means it's not urgent, five means you need it done.
  4. Using a heart, rate each item based on how much you want to work on it 1-5. How excited are you by it?
  5. Lastly, using plus signs, rank the item based on it's importance to your career, or any other criteria you feel is key.

Now you can see what is of the highest priority, and what to focus your time and talent on.

Try this and let us know what happens.

December 21, 2007

Best of 2008 round up: Tools to make your life easier

On my regular blog, I like to pause during the holiday slow-down to review my year in posts, which I then aggregate into a 2-part, 100-item list of what I learned this year. Not only does it help me pull out the most interesting and/or useful things of the past 12 months for my readers, it also gives me a snapshot of what I was working on that year. Win-win!

In the spirit of that, I thought I'd do an abbreviated, marketing/business-type version here on the Marketing Mix.

Great tools for organization/time management:

  • The List Series (Part 1, Ilise's lists and a free list-making tool; Part 2, list taxonomy; Part 3, stimulating creativity with lists)
  • Jott (free notetaking from your cellphone)
  • TextExpander (time-saving auto-typing software)
  • Photostamps (your mug on a stamp!)

and of course, to keep you on track with your marketing plan for 2008:

"Cheat sheets" (or startup guidelines):

Using social media effectively:

Which, if any, of these did you find especially helpful?

December 17, 2007

Time to prep for 2008

Well, it's almost too late to be making cold calls, now that the holidays are almost upon us. And most people are getting into the swing of holiday networking (if you need some holiday networking tips, here's a post we did last year on the topic pointing to Bruce Allen's excellent marketing blog). But it's not too early to start thinking about your marketing plans for 2008. Even if you'll be taking some time off to be with family, try to use some of the December down time to set a strong foundation for 2008 so you can hit the ground running in January.

Here's what we recommend for December marketing activities. Get yourself a glass of champagne and:

  • Install time tracking software, such as Timefox to keep track of your actual time spent on jobs (and mention Marketing Mentor for a discount).
  • Create or update your database of prospects, clients, colleagues, vendors and anyone else who needs to stay abreast of what you're doing. Weed out the prospects who no longer fit your criteria for “best prospects” and take some time to research more who resemble your “ideal client” profile.
  • Install contact management software -- such as ACT for PC users, Daylite for Mac users or web-based Highrise -- to keep track of your marketing efforts

And if you need a marketing plan, try ours. We just launched the 2008 Grow Your Business Marketing Plan/Calendar. It's ready to go for December and there's a version for "Start ups" as well as for "Veterans." Check it out today (and forgive the blatant self promotion).

December 14, 2007

Getting ready to get organized

As we get close to year end, people seem to feel the need to get organized. Maybe that's why January is "Get Organized" Month. Anyway, lots of people are writing about it:

November 21, 2007

Working holidays

Yes, it's a great, big, holiday weekend coming up. And for sure, I'll spend a chunk of it eating, relaxing, and playing with the new dog (click here for the total cuteness!)

But I will also spend a good portion of the next four days playing with business stuff. And yes, I said "play"—for me, these quiet times when everyone's out of town and the phones stop ringing are the best time to dive into some of the more "optional" but no-less-fun (and possible more fun) projects like...

  • reorganizing digital files
  • catching up with a lot of the to-read stuff I have bookmarked locally and on del.icio.us
  • making some overdue changes on my websites and blogs
  • "non-essential" marketing reading (e.g. that stack of Fast Companys, HOW magazines, etc., that have been piling up)
  • crossing off pesky, smaller items from my to-do lists

I know The BF has some holiday weekend work-type stuff planned, too (the Great E-Bay Sale, for one). Does anyone else have any nerdy stuff planned, or are you all going to watch football and snooze on the sofa between snacks?

However you decide to spend it, have a great (and safe, if you're traveling) Thanksgiving!


The Tagline Series