What I Learned In My First Year of Business
It’s hard to believe that one year has passed since I launched A Speech To Remember and became The Word Whisperer. What started as a conversation between my brother and me about all of the horrible speeches we have heard at weddings slowly grew into a viable business idea. I asked myself over and over the following questions: Will people actually hire me to ghostwrite their special occasion speeches? How will I reach the people who need my services the most? Can I take what I truly love to do and make it work as a business?
After weighing these questions, I decided to take the leap and make my business official. Was it easy? Certainly not. Like anyone who has ever started a business, I quickly found out that I still had a lot to learn. Coming from a long career in public relations and writing I thought I was well prepared to put my business plan into action. I had handled major crises for clients, gotten them on the cover of major magazines and newspapers, managed multi-million dollar budgets and wrote every type of promotional material under the sun.
But, somehow the fact that this was my own business left me second-guessing myself. It left me overanalyzing my outreach and networking strategies and wanting each element of my story—from my web site to my business card to my Facebook page to my media pitches—to be beyond perfect. After the first few months I realized I didn’t need to be perfect. I just had to stay true to myself and true to the fact that this type of writing was bringing me utter joy.
As I light the figurative candle on my one year birthday cake, I reflected on just how much I learned over the past year. I hope that these learnings will help you in some small way, whether at work, home or in another aspect of your life.
Persistence pays off. The early months were a real test of my will to succeed. Some days I would fire off fifty emails to event planners and get one response. Some days I would talk to a reporter interested in my story only never to hear back again. Some days I would leave 20 voice mails and still be waiting for “call backs” weeks later. But for every “no” or “no response,” I began getting “yeses” and “this is so interesting.” And I continued to stay the course, diligently tracking my outreach to potential business leads and following up until I received a response. I experimented with my approach—I emailed, I left voice mails, I set up meetings, I posted on social media, I invested in a creative mailing. There was no secret recipe; I just kept plugging along until I got results.
Don’t take things so personally. I remember speaking to a wedding planner early on in my outreach who bluntly told me that none of her clients would ever pay for my services. My immediate reaction was discouragement and deflation. Maybe she’s right, I told myself. But I quickly realized that just because she didn’t think her clients wouldn’t hire me didn’t mean they wouldn’t. I realized that just as I am entitled to think optimistically, she is entitled to have a different opinion. She wasn’t attacking me or my talent; she was just sharing her perspective. If I learned anything in my years of pitching the media, I learned that you have to have a thick skin—very thick. This was no different. And a couple of days later when I received an encouraging email from a very well-known event planner who said, “Awesome. I get these requests all the time,” I had validation that I was on to something.
May the social media force be with you. I always knew social media, particularly Facebook, was powerful, but I may have underestimated just how powerful a tool it can be. I started off creating a business page and inviting all of my Facebook friends to like it. I then started joining a host of relevant special event planning groups, particularly for weddings and Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, to build relationships and post relevant content. Social media was also a great vehicle for getting wider exposure for my blog posts, which were a prime example of my writing. I still continue to learn a lot about unleashing the power of social media, but I’m off to a good start.
Be the master of your own networking. One of the most enjoyable parts of starting my own venture is the opportunity it provides to talk and meet with so many different types of people. Over the past year I have learned valuable lessons by simply by talking to other entrepreneurs in my community about what has worked and hasn’t worked for them. I have brainstormed with family, friends and other acquaintances about who they might know who may be interested or helpful in my efforts to grow the business. Time and time again, I am reminded that you never know where each conversation may go. Some of my best leads have come from unexpected places.
Authenticity is key. Just as I counsel my clients that their speeches have to accurately reflect who they are, so does everything I do to promote and represent my brand. That is why I position myself and my services consistently and authentically across multiple channels (e.g., online, print, social media, etc.). I realize that for someone to feel motivated to hire me, they must believe in my passion for my work and my ability to create speeches that make a lasting impression. If they doubt me or my product in any way, chances are that I will not win the job.
Content is king, but it’s not always easy. When I started my blog, I had pages of ideas for topics. How To Attack The Speechwriting Process. How to Give A Perfect Wedding Toast. What It Takes To Be A Great Speaker. The early posts came easily and pretty soon, I was posting once a week. Interestingly, there didn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason behind which posts were more viewed than others. I kept at it and as time went on, I gained a better understanding of what my readers were interested in learning. At the same time, it became more challenging to think of new content without being redundant from earlier posts. So I created an editorial calendar with evergreen posts and monitored the news closely for relevant ideas. This helped me to have a more defined content marketing strategy.
Let your unique voice be heard. After so many years of writing and making speeches for my own lifecycle events, I had expertise to share. For me, I was able to take what came naturally to me and help others who were struggling to find the right way to express themselves. In many ways, the title “The Word Whisperer” helped me frame myself as an expert in special occasion speechwriting. I began to offer my unique point of view in regular blog posts, to reporters and other bloggers and to professionals in the event planning industry. I was no longer afraid that people would reject my thinking because I now had confidence that I had a powerful story to tell.
Patience really is a virtue. For many startup business owners, it’s tough to stay patient. For me, I thought that I once I created this niche, clients would see the value and hire me. But this was not a realistic expectation. Once I reframed my thinking, I was better able to appreciate the time, thought and preparation needed to build a business. Instead of feeling stressed, I took a step back and told myself that when the timing was right, clients would trickle in. And then when this started to happen I realized that it was definitely worth the wait.
This past year has given me greater appreciation for what it takes to run a small business. I am proud to join this club of entrepreneurs. And even prouder to say that I love it.
To my clients, I have truly enjoyed collaborating with you and helping you find those "just right words" to make it a speech to remember.
To my husband, who is my everyday sounding board, networking coach and supporter.
To my brother for inspiring me to make this career move.
To my parents for always previewing my speeches and laughing or crying at just the right moments.