Top 5 Marketing Mistakes I Made as a Creative Entrepreneur

Ask my parents and they’ll tell you I’ve always been a DIY type of person. Fiercely so. I can respect the advice of experts, but often haven’t always had the resources to hire them as my husband and I have both ventured out into the world as creative freelancers.

So, I read. I listen. I experiment. I learn.

After over a decade marketing creative ventures, such as my own businesses, as well as helping countless creatives find new ways of reaching their audiences, I’ve compiled a toolkit that I’ve come to lean on. It isn’t perfect, but the best thing about it is that it is all things I’ve learned to do myself.

The road to this refined toolkit, which I provide in Marketing Tools for Creatives, hasn’t been smooth. I’ve fallen flat on my face many times. I’ve also fallen into the trap of doing something the wrong way, only to realize it years later. That means I need to do the additional work of undoing some things and implementing others.

Here are the top 5 mistakes I’ve made over the years, laid out here for you so that you can hopefully avoid them!

1. Not using my header tags. These are the h1, h2, h3, etc. tags you’ll see offered on your website formatting. I should have taken the time to customize them to look the way I wanted and then actually used them. Instead I would bold and enlarge the font to indicate a header or subheader. Instead, when I changed website themes or templates, often my headers got messed up. Had I used the tags, it would have formatted them accordingly. And I was missing out on the most important thing of all: SEO. By using those header tags you are telling search engines, “this content is important!” It’s all part of the SEO game.

2. Pitching too long. Editors are busy. I know because I am an editor, and have emails that land in my inbox that I often can’t attend to for weeks. Your best chances of getting published are to keep your queries well-written and thorough, but concise. Aim for a page and if they want more information, I think they’ll come knocking. (I cover query letter and press release writing in the course.)

3. Blogging aimlessly. Our interests will shift as we grow in our lives and in our work. But be careful if you blog to make sure your blog continues to be representative of who you are today. Go through your content every half year or so and make sure it wouldn’t be embarrassing if people accessed content from 10 years ago. Update blogs that need a facelift. You don’t want a bunch of dead links flying around the Internet, so if you choose to retire blogs, make sure you have a proper 301 redirect in place or a good 404 (page not found).

4. Abandoning my email list. In general I’m the kind of person who will follow through once I’ve started something. I started up an email list for my freelance writing and then life got busy (two kids…) and I didn’t send emails for the longest time. Like two years. I should have kept focusing on growing my list and sending out low-maintenance emails, even every two to four months. It would have been better than nothing. (When I finally did send an email, I actually got a response back from someone saying, “Who the heck are you!? Stop emailing me.”)

5. Going a little too DIY. This one applies to Facebook Ads, something I’ve found more success with recently. But it wasn’t until I got set up with a Business Manager Account on Facebook and started to play with Custom Audiences and Saved Audiences. I finally did a short Facebook Marketing course to learn more about targeting and copy writing. Before that, I think I wasted my money on ads, which weren’t being targeted effectively towards people who would even click in the first place.

So, what did I do instead of all these silly things? This is the meat of the course I created called Marketing Tools for Creatives, which presents creatives with the “what” and “why” of my personal marketing toolkit. I don’t think my husband and I would be pursuing creative careers today if it weren’t for the solid marketing skills we’ve finally landed on. So, if you’re curious, take a look at the course! It’s great for writers, photographers and visual artists, too.

If you’d like a little sneak peek download these 5 Small Changes That Make a Big Difference, and I promise you’ll already be ahead of where you are today.

Managing the Load: 12 Tips for Parent/Entrepreneurs

Most entrepreneurs have an insatiable desire to see their ideas and projects come to fruition. They have many balls in the air at once as they build out their ideas and create businesses from scratch. It is a volatile position to be in, but manageable.

But, when an entrepreneur also wants to have a family, the juggling act can get overwhelming – at times even out of control.

For me, the health of my family comes first, but that often means I put my own needs by the wayside. I hit major burnout a few times in these early years of parenthood after letting the candle burn at both ends a bit too long. Running two businesses while creating a new magazine and raising a spirited baby-then-toddler became more than I could handle. After some time, I recognized that I needed to put a few things in place to help me manage the load (and eliminate some things from my plate altogether).

My system is far from perfect, but these are the tips that have helped me regain some balance:

12 Tips for Parent/EntrepreneurS

1. Sit down weekly to plan.

Spontaneity can be a good thing, but life can unravel quickly when you fly by the seat of your pants a bit too much. When you take some time to sit down and look at the calendar, you can get a good overview of how your time is balanced in the upcoming week, and where you’ll fit in your workout/outdoor time, family time and meal prep on top of your workload.

2. Synchronize your calendars.

Whichever platform you use (I use Google), a digital calendar allows you to synchronize between your devices and synchronize your calendars with other people. I share a calendar with my husband and a  calendar with my business partner. This allows me to maintain a good level of communication when things get busy, and it also helps me manage my family’s schedule overall because I can instantly see when we are all available or what’s in the books.

3. Buy a crock pot.

An odd one, I know, but seriously it’s a lifesaver. After a long day, whether I’m working or in full-time parenting mode, I find I’m usually feeling exhausted or scattered right around 5 p.m. The last thing I want to do is start cooking dinner. With the crock pot, I can prepare most of the meal in the morning, when I have energy. My particular model has timers and a “keep warm” setting when the cooking is done. So satisfying.

4. Avoid the unnecessary.

This one sounds rather obvious, but I find I often get caught up in the “urgent + unimportant” and “not urgent + unimportant” quadrants (if you’ve never used the Do, Decide, Delegate or Delete method, check out this post). Ideally, tasks should get broken down into these quadrants to help you identify what you can simply delegate to someone else or eliminate altogether.

5. Don’t try to do it alone.

Neither of our businesses – both media and photography – are run by a single person. There is power in partnering up for many reasons: you share the load and the responsibility, you can work according to your strengths and eliminate items from your list that you simply don’t enjoy doing. Yes, this involves some financial output, but if you can swing it, bringing some assistance on board, or going into business with a suitable partner, can be key assets in helping you manage the load.

6. Turn off notifications.

Most notifications are totally unnecessary and I promise they will distract you from what you’re trying to accomplish. I recently read it takes 25 minutes to regain your focus after giving in to one of these distractions. Productivity aside, I noticed I felt less stress when I shut down my notifications and wasn’t tempted by the small bits of information appearing each minute on my phone. It also keeps me more focused and attentive in my meetings and social engagements.

Sometimes my "media fasts" look like this. One day in the great outdoors is enough to refuel me for a week or two. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

Sometimes my “media fasts” look like this (see #10). One day in the great outdoors is enough to refuel me for a week or two and provide me with new perspective. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

7. USE Wunderlist.

This one also made it onto my list of productivity tools for writers. For me this app goes far beyond the writing business. We use it for all of our businesses and as a family, too. Having the ability to share specific lists with specific people, and to categorize them into folders keeps me organized and helps me to clear the clutter from my brain. The ‘Quick Add’ feature on the desktop version allows me to add an item without interrupting my workflow. Gold, I tell you.

8. Prioritize.

This one goes back to our quadrants from #4, but let’s go deeper. Priorities need to be made on a daily basis because life is constantly changing. A task that may seem important one day can be eliminated the next. I frequently scroll through my Wunderlist to look for items that can be *starred* as important or deleted. I also use the 80/20 rule when I’m looking for items to bump up or down the list.

9. Just ask.

My daughter is in part-time daycare, but I live far from family (and, as I say, help I don’t have to ask or pay for). There are times that Paul is travelling for work, or we’re both in crunch time on a project, or someone is sick (you name the reason) and I simply need to reach out for help. Now we schedule visits more regularly from grandparents or set up a few hours when someone else can take care of the little one. When I try to be Superwoman, I crash – big time.

10. Go on a media fast.

Each week, I pick one day to go on a media fast. What this means for me is no checking emails or social media for the entire day. (Since text messages have largely replaced phone calls now, it’s difficult to cut those out, but I cut out work-related texting on those days.) My media fast days usually line up with a weekend day when I’m with my family, which ensures quality time together. I’d like to try to add a second day during my regular working days to increase my productivity level in other aspects of my work. Once you get over the initial urges to ‘check in’, it feels so good to be disconnected.

11. Choose to unitask.

I am becoming more and more convinced that multitasking is much less productive than choosing a task and seeing it through before moving on. I have also heard that you’re not actually multitasking so much as toggling between tasks quickly. This working style makes me feel scattered and stressed. Eckhart Tolle writes about this in The Power of Now – about finding calm and peace in the present moment by focusing wholeheartedly on a task, even if it’s making a cup of coffee. If you find you’ve got 10+ tabs open in your web browser and you’re flip-flopping between tasks, take a minute to assess what your focus should be.

12. Finished is better than perfect.

This has been my mantra this year, and I have grown to love it. I am certainly still on the perfectionist end of the spectrum, but being a parent has certainly taught me that I simply can’t always finish things because my time is not always my own. There have been many times in the past few months that I have resisted the urge to go that extra mile, provide feedback or tweak something myself. It’s not to slack off; it’s being realistic and practical when I have so many things demanding my time and attention.

The bottom line is to create more time in our lives by sloughing off the unnecessary. If anything is truly urgent, it will present itself again. Keeping our priorities in check helps us to quickly determine how to expend our energy and worktime, and retains some quality, stress-free time to spend with family.

Resources in this article: 

What tips do you have for managing the work-family-life balance? Let me know in the Comments below!

Things Are Getting adVenture-ous

I have the amazing opportunity of being out at Hollyhock, Canada’s Lifelong Learning Centre on Cortes Island, British Columbia. And while the scenery and the feel of the place is enough to make the trip worth it all, I have the added bonus of being here for the Social Venture Institute, “an intensive, interactive inquiry into how to face the day-to-day challenges of running a socially conscious enterprise” (from their website). What does this all mean for me?

Well, I’m not quite sure…yet. For one, I’m here wearing a number of different hats. First and foremost, I’m here on behalf of two very forward-thinking clients, who have me doing some ‘research.’ I’m here representing my own freelance writing and marketing business. I’m here as Editor of Highline Magazine. I’m here to learn on behalf of other partners I work with, including a very exciting health and wellness website to be launched by the end of this year. So, depending on whom I’m talking to, I’m here for slightly different reasons.

If I had to spell it out, though, I’m here to be inspired, rejuvenated, to regain hope, narrow my focus and to scope out the possibilities of seeing a similar gathering of like-minded individuals in Alberta.

I’m also here for me. Ah yes, that little person inside just waiting to be spoken to again. “Hello, Meghan, it’s been awhile.” In juggling multiple contracts, writing gigs, editing requests, trying to play outside during the beautiful summertime and planning a nine week trek in Nepal – let alone clearing the decks completely before I depart – I have been so busy I have somewhat lost myself. All (most) of my projects are very fulfilling, but reading The 4-Hour Workweek lately has got me thinking about how much I take on when I really don’t need to. Call me “Yes Woman.”

So, I am here to get some perspective and to “check out” of life for a few days, even if my email inbox is telling me I should do otherwise.

I look forward to sharing my learning with you.

Ciao (for now) from the coast,

Meghan