Using #Hashtags for your business

Last week we took you on a whistle stop tour of the humble #hashtag and what it’s all about.  Hopefully it helped you realise why Twitter is a great way to promote your business, and this week we thought we’d go through the many different ways you can use #Hashtags to increase your reach.

Find and use relevant #hashtags for your industry

For example #FlightDeals #VirtualAssistant #ITGeek.  That way when users search those #hashtags your Tweets will come up.

Keep on top of trending #hashtags and use them where possible

This doesn’t mean just jumping on something because it’s hot, including an irrelevant but popular #hashtag in a Tweet about cheap flights is going to make you look like a spammer.  And NEVER jump on a tragedy to make a point, or promote a product.  Just don’t. Seriously.

Create your own

Remember, you can create your own #hashtags, which is a great way to promote a specific event, campaign or product.  For example, we created #TSHTips for when we share hints to make your life easier.

Create competition

Twitter users are more likely to retweet (RT) your #hashtags if they’re in with the chance of winning something, so why not set up a competition, raffle or contest?

Create some Twitter buzz by asking followers to mention a specific #Hashtag in their Tweets and reward them when they do.

Check your settings

Your hashtag’s visibility will depend on your privacy settings. If your Twitter account is private, only those you allow to see your Tweets will have access to your hashtags. If you are using hashtags to increase your brand’s exposure, make sure your Tweets are set to Public otherwise you’ll be missing out.

Be clear

If you’re using a hashtag to join a conversation, make sure the hashtag is specific and relevant to your topic. For example, if you’re talking about Obama’s health care plan, use #Obamacare instead of simply #Obama. A vague or generic hashtag like #health or #opinion isn’t effective either.

Keep it simple

Hashtags, like links, look like spam if they are used too often. While there’s no maximum limit to the number of hashtags you can use in a post, three really should be your lot on Facebook or Twitter.  Anything more and it can be difficult to read, and doesn’t give you much chance to add anything else to the conversation.

Don’t repeat yourself

Personally, there’s nothing worse than seeing someone use the same #hashtage more than once in the same Tweet.  Really, what on earth are you trying to achieve?

We love #Hashtags, #Hashtags are great.

No, just no.

 

Give context

So many people think a Tweet which just contains #Hashtags is enough to get a point across. It’s not.  Not only is it confusing, but it’s also really boring.

Why would you simply Tweet #happy?  What on earth does that mean?

Add context.

Equally, don’t just Tweet for the sake of Tweeting.  Make sure you are actually adding to the conversation, and not just appearing in search results.  For example, don’t just say Love #TheApprentice – no one cares.

Say something worth reading, or keep your mouth shut.

How a VA can turn you in to an Air Traffic Controller

It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a boss, are self-employed, or a stay at home parent; chances are you regularly find yourself wondering if you’ll ever get to the end of your “to do” list.

 

Let me tell you now, no you won’t.

 

The reality of life, whether personal or professional, is there’s always something else.  As you work from the top, clearing items off, someone will be adding to the bottom.  If you’re really strapped for time, you’ll find yourself firefighting – only the really important and urgent stuff will get done.  Which is great, but that still means you’ve got this lengthy list of “other” things you need to find time to get around to.

 

Personally, I used to find the fact that there was a never-ending list waiting for me at home, or in the office, really stressful.  It was always there, in the back of my mind, no matter what else I was trying to do.

 

And then one day I finally accepted, that it’ll never get done.  There will always be a list, even if the items change day by day, the list remains.  Looking at me, with its evil judgmental eyes, whispering “you’re not good enough, you can’t beat me”.

 

Many of us feel the pressure to clear the list, to somehow prove that we’re on top of things.  Admittedly, it feels great when you tick items off, but clearing an actual physically written down list proves nothing.  There’ll be other things on there that you didn’t put on that list.  There is always something else.

 

This is the point I always try to drive home when I start working with a new client who wants VA support.  Invariably clients come to me and they feel completely overwhelmed.  They’re stressed because they have “so much to do and not enough time to do it in”.  They’re working late, barely seeing their kids, not sleeping or eating properly and are in danger of burn out.

 

Just as worrying, they’re in danger of falling out of love with their business.  Which then makes working a chore.  Just another thing they have to do, rather than something they have chosen.  This thing that keeps them away from the things they love, and helps them pay the bills.  For those that have cashflow problems, it’s not even doing that.  It’s just a millstone around their neck.

 

A friend of mine is an Air Traffic Controller in London.  I’ve heard him talk about how difficult the job is, the pressure, the speed with which everything moves, having to keep your eyes on so many different things, and I’ve asked him how he manages.

 

The answer’s simple.  Instead of looking at every single plane that’s circling around out there, you focus on one at a time.  You look at your planes, the ones that are taking off, coming in to land, or are just passing overhead.  You look at the bit you’re in control of, and you let your team mates worry about the bits they’re in charge of.

 

He said it’s impossible to look at all of it, you’d go mad; but yet, business owners invariably try to do just that.

 

Yes, a VA can undoubtedly help – it gives you another pair of eyes on the screen, and allows you to focus on your planes.  However, I promise you this is not a sales pitch.  I’d rather leave you with one important thought:  You can do anything, but you cannot do everything.

 

Give yourself a break.  Stop worrying about the list, and instead focus on one thing at a time, do that exceptionally, cross it off, and then move on.

What’s the deal with #Hashtags?

When we talk to people about Twitter, one thing that comes up time and time again is the fact it’s just so damn confusing.

“All those hashtags – why can’t people just speak English?”

For many, the humble # makes text seem confusing; but the reality is it’s an integral part of how we communicate online these days.  As such, if you’re going to use Twitter on any meaningful level, you need to find out how to use them.

The basics

The purpose of a #hashtag is to turn any word (or string of words) into a searchable link.  Why’s that important, you may well ask (and again, many do).

Essentially it means you can organise your own content, and track specific topics of discussion based on those particular keywords.

Like cake?  Who doesn’t?  Type #cake in to the Twitter search bar and BOOM – everyone else’s Tweets about #cake will immediately appear in chronological order.

What can you include in a #hashtag?

The reality is you there is no pre-determined list of #hashtags.  Of course there are many that are popular, either trending temporarily, or sticking it out for the longhaul.  But if what you want doesn’t exist, you can simply create your own.

The key thing to remember is you can’t use spaces. If you do add a space, then the next character will form outside of the linkable #hashtag.  Even if you are using multiple words in the same #hashtag you MUST NOT use a space.

If you want to make your #hashtag easier to read, then consider using uppercase letters for the start of each word, for example #LuLovesShoes.

The good news is this won’t change your search results – #lulovesshoes would appear, regardless of capitalisation.

Numbers are supported, so tweet about #50ShadesOfGrey to your heart’s content. However, punctuation marks are not, so commas, fullstops, exclamation points, question marks and apostrophes are out. Forget about asterisks, ampersands or any other special characters.

Make yourself heard

How and why you use #hashtags will depend largely on what you’re trying to achieve, and also your style, tone and voice.

Lu likes to use her #hashtags as an aside, or to convey personality, humour (or more likely, sarcasm). Her current favourites include #SendCoffee #ShoeLove #ShoeGoals #MumOf5 #WhyGodWhy

 

The key to Twitter is getting involved.  Why not spend some time looking around, searching existing #hashtags and seeing what other people are doing?

 

Remember, we’re here to help – so if you need a crash course, or just have a quick question, don’t be afraid to get in touch. Drop us an email: hello@timesavingheroes.co.uk, call 0161 883 2024 or leave a comment.

Case Study: Social Media and processes

We realised the other day it’s been a while since we last did a case study.  Actually, we realised a few weeks ago, but we’ll be honest, we’ve been that busy we’ve not had the time to sit down and pull all the information needed together to make it worth reading.

See, even the experts struggle at times!

Now however, we’ve made time and here it is.  A case study looking at how we helped a restaurant in Cardiff build its customer base, and increase loyalty.

The client

Our client, Davide, runs an Italian restaurant in Edinburgh.  It’s a nice looking place (we’ve not been, but we’re contemplating a day trip at some point), and from what we’ve been told has a great atmosphere and serves traditional Italian cuisine.

Right up our street!

The problem

Davide’s biggest problem was that as his restaurant is off the main thoroughfare he doesn’t get a lot of passing footfall.  People come to his restaurant because they know about it, and sadly for him, not enough people seemed to know about him.

He’d taken over the restaurant from another owner who, by all accounts, had run it in to the ground, and developed a bad reputation.

Despite doing a lot to not only renovate the space itself (including a state of the art kitchen) and revamp the menu, Davide never took the time to shout about the new place.  There wasn’t even a press release.

He’d spent lots of money on a website, but wasn’t actively promoting it. Anywhere.  It was an online version of the actual restaurant – looked great, but hidden away and kept secret.

Davide was the first to admit that he wasn’t doing enough, and he knew that’s where the problems lay, but he was so overwhelmed and confused by what he should do that he was essentially standing still, completely unable to make a decision on how to move forward.

What Time Saving Heroes did

First of all, Lu had a long chat with Davide over the phone.  It was clear that although he didn’t have all the necessary skills needed to tackle his marketing on his own, he did have a lot of them – what he lacked was clarity, a strategy and if we’re honest, a degree of self-confidence.

An hour into their chat it was obvious that just having someone to bounce ideas around with was going to be a huge benefit to Davide. Within that short space of time he remembered why he wanted to set up the restaurant in the first place, and how passionate he’d been about it initially.

Instead of beating himself up about what he could have done differently, Lu encouraged him to start taking one step at a time, and focus on where he wanted to go.  It was during this conversation that Davide said he wanted to encourage local businesses to use the restaurant at lunch times, whilst pushing his other customers to come in the evenings.

On the back of this we initially decided to focus on LinkedIn.  Lu re-wrote Davide’s personal profile, and really focused on how he and his team could provide a quick and easy lunch for those on a quick break, a great venue for corporate entertaining, and even hosting for networking events.  She also set up a company page that Davide could link directly to.

After an intensive training session via Skype, Davide learnt the basics he needed to start using LinkedIn effectively to make contacts in the local area.  By the end of the first week he had arranged meetings with a local networking franchisee (who wanted a lunch time venue), a call centre manager (who knew his staff wanted an alternative off-site food option that wouldn’t eat in to their break), and an investment firm who wanted somewhere nice and quiet to meet with clients.

At the same time we set up Facebook and Twitter accounts for the restaurant and really started to focus on the domestic customers Davide wanted to attract.  We spent £50 on Facebook advertising, targeting a very specific age range and geographical area, which had great results. We also started using hashtags on Twitter to encourage happy hour, Fizz Fridays and Mum Mondays (where Mum’s ate for free, every week).

Almost immediately online bookings increased, as did walk-ins and Davide was thrilled, as you can imagine.  He never anticipated that doing a few simple things would have such a huge impact.  The great news for him, was that once we got him started, and showed him what to do, he could take over the reigns for himself.  Meaning that his marketing was handled in-house and wasn’t an ongoing cost for him.

However, that’s not the end of our relationship with Davide.

Once customers started coming through the door we encouraged him to set up, and maintain a database.  This would allow him to see where a customer had come from (Facebook, Twitter, local trade etc), and obtain their contact details so he could direct message in the future.  By asking for date of births, and other special occasions, we’re now able to,  on his behalf, send out specific emails offering discounts for Birthdays and anniversaries.

The feedback from his customers is brilliant – they love feeling like the team care about them enough to remember their special events, and they always come back and leave with a smile on their faces.

What Davide had to say

“The team at Time Saving Heroes are amazing, nothing is ever too much trouble, and they make me feel like I am their only client. I can pick up the phone and just have a moan to Lu, who handles it all with good grace and manages to lift my spirits when I’m having a bad day. Thankfully, such days are less now.

“I cannot say how much value Lu and the team have added, it’s much much more than I could have anticipated. I expected a bit of marketing, and instead I got friends, colleagues and someone who loves my business as much as I do.

“When you feel like you’re on your own at times, that’s worth so so much. You ever come to Edinburgh, the meal’s on the house”

 

We’ll take you up on that offer on day, Davide!

 

 

Cold Calls: Proper Preparation Prevents You Know What

This week my blog posts have all followed the theme of cold calls.  On Tuesday I wrote about how to best handle making outbound calls, yesterday I looked at how social media can help warm up cold leads before you pick up the phone. Today I thought I’d look at the importance of having good content when it comes to making those calls.

I’m not a huge fan of scripts, certainly not when it comes to trying to build rapport with someone in the hopes of making a sale. However, there is a strong argument that suggests a script of some degree is useful when it comes to making calls.

The reality is proper preparation prevents poor performance and creating some form of script, or guideline when it comes to making calls is a great way to get you focussed, and stay on track during the call.

Here are our top tips for things you ought to consider when you start creating your call outline

# 1 – Don’t ask how they’re doing

So many of us ask “how are you?” when on a call, it’s almost a knee-jerk reaction.  That’s all well and good when it’s a friend, colleague or someone you at least have some vague connection with, but it’s not really appropriate when you’re calling someone you don’t know.

The reality is people are often a little guarded when they answer the phone because they don’t know what’s coming.  If you, as a stranger, start asking them how they are, you automatically sound like a sales person.

Yes, you might well be, but you don’t want to get their backs up straight away.

Equally, them feeling obliged to answer the question and then ask you the same wastes their time right from the start.

# 2 – Check they’re not too busy

Whoever you’re calling is going to be busy.  They chances of them sitting there simply twiddling their thumbs waiting for the phone to ring is quite slim.  Therefore asking them if you’ve caught them in the middle of anything, or if it’s convenient for them to talk, is a good way to start.

It shows you’re respectful of their time, and that you care about having a proper conversation.  It’s a great way of making them feel less guarded.  Of course, it can backfire, they might well say that now is not convenient; however, this is just an opportunity to ascertain a more convenient time to call back and have their undivided attention.

# 3 – Get them talking

No matter how proficient you are at making cold calls you’re always going to sound like a sales person, which never comes across well.  One of the best ways to handle this is to get your prospect talking about themselves.

When you’re talking make sure everything points towards them, rather than what you’re selling.  Hopefully you’ve done some research about them, their company or their products and you can relate this to what it is you sell, without actually mentioning it.

By including pre thought out questions you can further encourage the prospect to talk about themselves.  This makes them engaged in what you’re saying and will hopefully keep them on the call for longer.  Not only that but the information they provide is likely to be valuable (as long as you’re actually listening to them).

# 4 – Pre-qualify

Good questions at this stage in the call will ensure that you’re talking to the right person, and they might well be interested in the products or services you have to offer.

Make sure you have worked in questions or have listened out for tell-tale signs that you are indeed talking to the right person before wasting too much time talking to the wrong one.

# 5 – Focus on the pain

This sounds so extremely scary, but the reality is your products should be there to remove pain from your prospect’s life.  By talking to them and asking them questions you should be able to figure out what their biggest issues are in the area you’re focussing on.

However, the reality is when you put a complete stranger on the spot, having interrupted their current activity, they might not necessarily be able to give you the answers you want.  This means you have to be prepared to answer it for them.  Have a few common sticking points ready to provide as examples, and ask if these are things that are an issue for them.

# 6 – Head towards the goal

Each cold call must have a goal.  Ultimately you must want to achieve something at the end of it.  Yes, it would be great if you could make a sale, but the odds are that’s not going to happen.

In most cases you’ll need to send some information, or follow up with a more in-depth conversation, perhaps even a face to face meeting.  Whatever your next step is, aim for that rather than closing a sale.  Putting someone on the spot to make a decision there and then on limited information is not going to end well for you.

# 7 – Build interest

In order to get your prospect to agree to a meeting or follow-up you’re going to need to build in enough interest for them to want to carry on the conversation. The important thing is to remember you’re not going to do that by outlining the benefits or specifics of your product. Someone who isn’t necessarily thinking about what you’re selling isn’t going to care what it does, or how competitively it’s priced.

However, they are going to be keen to know what value it’s going to add to them or their business.  Focus on the pleasure it can bring or the pain it can solve and you’ll be better placed to continue the conversation with them and then hopefully close the deal.

 

How social media can help warm up cold leads

Yesterday I wrote a piece on cold calling, and today I thought I’d carry on that theme.

I always bang on about how social media is a great way to expand your audience and generally raise brand awareness, but it can be a huge help when it comes to warming up cold leads.

Let’s say you’ve done your research and you have a list of prospects you want to contact.  Yes, you could just drop them an email, or pick up the phone to schedule an appointment, but we all know the chances of you getting anywhere with that are quite remote.  Someone that doesn’t know you, and hasn’t had any contact from you in the past, isn’t going to jump at the prospect of working with you.

It can be hard to know how to make contact with someone you don’t actually know, but the reality is with social media you can reach out to countless people around the globe. Yet, for some reason, so few people actually bother.

If you look at your list there’s a good chance every company on there is going to have at least one social media channel.  It might be Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or Pinterest to name but a few.  If you’re serious about reaching out and starting a two-way relationship, then you need to start following them.

Not only that, you should actively interact with them.  Now, I don’t mean you should RT everything they post, that’s entering in to creepy stalker territory, but do get involved where it makes sense to.  Tag them in posts you think would be relevant to them, engage in conversation.  DM them when it’s appropriate to do so to introduce yourself, and perhaps your business and services.

If the company is on LinkedIn, follow them and share some of their updates.  You can also find out who some of the employees are at the business, which may make it easier for you to make contact and get a positive outcome further down the line.  Where possible make contact with these people.  You can always lead with “I’ve been following your business on Twitter for some time and would like to find out more about what you offer”.

I always say social networking is not simply about collecting names.  It doesn’t matter who you know if you don’t genuinely know them, and can’t reach out to them when you need something.  You need to take the time to nurture these relationships, and honestly it will pay off in the end.

 

How to handle outbound calls

It was only a few months ago that I mentioned one of my least favourite tasks was outbound sales/cold calling.  In typical fashion, over the last few weeks I’ve been asked to do some outbound sales calls for a few new clients.

Never one to turn someone away, I decided to take on the work, and as always, throw myself in to it.

I moaned a bit under my breath, but no one else had to hear that.  Well, apart from the dogs, but they’re used to my little rants by now.

Generally speaking if I do anything like this I like to be completely prepared.  In an ideal world there would be time to develop a bit of a script, maybe do some tests of it, tweak it and make sure it’s as good as it can be.

However, with these recent jobs, they’ve all had a certain amount of urgency to them.  So my back’s been a bit against the wall.  No time to really prep, just jump straight in.

Which always makes me feel a bit uncomfortable.

But that’s life.

With that in mind I thought I’d share some of the tips I’ve picked up over the last couple of weeks in the hopes that if you find yourself in a similar situation, you might feel a little more able to pick up that phone and make a start.

# 1 – Be professional, and happy

I’ve received many a cold call myself, and I’m always struck by how miserable everyone sounds when you answer the phone to them.  Don’t get me wrong, I entirely get it.  I might be the 50th person they’ve called that morning, and everyone else has told them to bog off, they’re despondent, miserable and wondering where they went wrong in life.

But that’s not my fault.

Which is why it is essential that you put a smile on as soon as you pick up that phone and act like every call is the first one you’ve made all day.  Be professional at all times, and where possible use the person who’s answering the call’s name.

# 2 – Introduce yourself

Take the time to introduce yourself and your company. True, they might not take it in there and then, and will probably ask you to repeat it, but it’s a good habit to get in to.  Equally, it’s a nice way for you to ground yourself in to the conversation.

“Hi, I’m Lu and I’m calling from Time Saving Heroes. We’re a local company who specialises in helping microbusinesses increase their productivity and income.”

I’ve found that this approach works better than clearly identifying what you do, provide or sell.  This arouses a bit more interest than simply saying “I’m a Virtual Assistant and I wanted to discuss how I could help you.”

# 3 – State your purpose

In an ideal world you’ll have a specific reason for wanting to call these businesses, so explain it. Having read a few blogs about this sort of thing it’s clear that framing this purpose in the form of a question is likely to illicit better results.

“If I can show you how to get more done, without employing staff or significantly increasing your outgoings, would you be interested in hearing more?”

# 4 – Schedule a meeting

If they’re interested in finding out more then set up a meeting, if it’s appropriate to do so.  If they’re out of the area, then a conference call might be the better way to approach this.

Offer two times to give a choice, and do not put the ball back in their court by saying “when shall we meet?”.

# 5 – Follow up

Make sure you get all the necessary contact information from your prospect. Ask if they have an email address (so you can send a meeting invite/confirmation), and then send the information as promised.

 

No matter what the outcome of the call, make sure you remain bright, breezy and professional and you thank them for their time and help.