By Shonali Burke
Like many bloggers in the PR and marketing realm, I’ve been in awe of Liz Strauss ever since I became aware of the “name bloggers” in my professional world. When I started my own blogging journey, four years ago, Successful Blog was one of the first to become a regular stop; always for inspiration, and sometimes as I asked myself the question, “Will I ever be able tolike that?”
I met Liz fleetingly a few years ago, when she spoke at a DC-area event. Our meeting was brief. She was standing outside the event venue and, spying her in a rare moment of solitude, I couldn’t help but go up to her and tell her how much I admired her. She didn’t know me from Eve (probably still doesn’t), but that didn’t stop her from graciously thanking me. Later, she was kind enough to connect with me on various social platforms, even though the benefit was certainly skewed towards me.
As Liz recuperates from her illness, I couldn’t help but think of five lessons small businesses could learn from Liz Strauss.
1. You’re only a stranger once.
This is the tagline of Successful Blog, but is applicable to your business if you approach your customers as people first. Sure, customers come and go. But a successful business will convert first-timers into repeat buyers, and repeat buyers into evangelists. I don’t care how large or small your business is, this is possible and applicable…if you treat them as people first.
How do you start doing this? By using today’s myriad two- and multi-way communication channels to build relationships instead of email lists.
2. Building relationships takes time.
Especially with the number of (how many? I donÂt know! Too many to count!) social media/self-help/gurus shilling their wares, I am not surprised at how many small businesses that think the way to use social media is this:
After all, once you have a presence, the rest will fall into place, right?
Connecting Â i.e. following/being followed back Â on a social network does not automatically translate into a relationship. All that that first connection means is that a door has been (slightly) opened to you; how you now conduct yourself will determine whether that door opens more fully or slams shut in your face.
How do you start doing this? Be a human super-collider. Find out what makes the people you meet, whether they are customers, or prospects, or business professionals you come across at networking events, tick.
3. When you build relationships, your community steps up when you most need it to.
Look at the way this blog has been running for the past several months. LizÂ health situation was announced at the beginning of 2013. The last post I read, as I drafted my own, was dated May 10, 2013. ThatÂs a full five months later.
Had Liz not spent several years genuinely building her community via real relationships, do you think she would have had people like Rosemary OÂNeill step up to manage the blog in her absence?
No way, Don Juan.
How do you start doing this? Part of the answer is in #2 above, so first I will say, ÂRead above, lather, rinse, and repeat.Â
4. Educate and empower your community.
The second part of the answer is to educate and empower your community. Tell them, as you engage with them over time, whatÂs important to youÂ and why (and if your business is community-centric, chances are itÂs whatÂs important to them too).
How do you start doing this? As you continue to engage with them, find people who can become your de facto or de jure community managers, and empower them with enough know-how Â such as your engagement goals and guidelines, and your content needs Â so that they can step into the breach if and when they need to.
The great thing about this approach is that you may never need them to fill a void in your absenceÂ but if you do, they are ready and willing to do so.
5. Focus on what works.
A recent Constant Contact survey reported that 66% of small business owners use mobile technology. Continue reading, though, and youÂll see: Â… itÂs important to note that, of the 34 percent not using any mobile device or solution for their business, a resounding 65 percent have no plans to do so in the future, mainly citing a lack of customer demand.Â
I donÂt think this 65% of the 34% is necessarily behind the times. Being a small business owner myself, I know the conflicting demands placed on small businesses.
What will you pay attention to? When? How? WhoÂs going to do it?
It isnÂt a question of never paying attention to technological advances, itÂs a question of being attuned to the technologies your customers are using or expect, and providing the appropriate platforms, while planning for the future. Just as Liz does here on Successful Blog, by maintaining a framework visitors are familiar with, but by keeping an eye on whatÂs to come.
How do you start doing this? Stay on top of technological and industry developments. But donÂt jump on the bandwagon until your business can sustain and recoup the additional investmentÂ and donÂt let anyone pressure you into doing so either.
IÂm sure there are many other lessons you have gleaned, on a business level, from LizÂ incredible contribution to the blogosphere and our time. Would you share what you have learned, so that we can salute her collectively?
Thanks for the shout-out, Shonali! I was honored to be able to give back a tiny bit to Liz, who has shown her generosity and kindness to so many over the years. She is the nougaty goodness at the center of this amazing community.