The 10 best things I did in 2016 to grow my business
2016 was a hell of a year for growing my business, and it went from strength to strength. I’ve tried out a lot of strategies and ideas, some of which worked and some didn’t. But here are the best things I did in 2016 that really grew my business. I hope you’ll find some inspiration here for 2017.
1. Redesigned my website from portfolio to biz site
This was a big step for me, perfectionist web designer that I am, but a necessary one. Previously my site had highlighted my work as a writer and web designer but I wanted to attract new clients, start an email list, have opt ins for that list, a blog sidebar, a blog archive and several other functionalities. It was also a big part of rebranding my whole business.
2. Created a cohesive brand across all my sites and social media platforms
The value of creating a recognisable, consistent brand is well known. It’s all about selling your brand, your business identity and being professional. And it’s absolutely essential if you want to work in the digital age.
I spent some time perfecting my elevator pitch (snapshot of what I do), deciding on my branding, creating new templates and profiles and updating everything across social media.
RELATED POST: How To: 6 Easy Ways To Brand Your Business
3. Put my social media on a schedule
It’s seriously not possible to be across so many social media platforms without a scheduling program. Trying to source and post 5-10 pieces of content across multiple platforms each day is what online brands need to do to stay in front of their audiences and gain trust and loyalty. Which means you need a system.
I looked at various social media scheduling programs and settled on Buffer, first using their free plan which is pretty generous, before signing up to the Awesome plan at $US10/mth. Social media scheduling has been a game changer for me - it’s saved me so much time, and I’ve gained hundreds of followers across my platforms, new email subscribers and enquiries from clients, readers, editors and more.
RELATED POST: How to Stay Super Productive and Get Stuff Done
4. Started my email newsletter
The reasons why an email list is essential for businesses these days stretches around the block. It’s basically a direct means of communicating with people who have indicated that they are interested in your business. So, if you have a new product range, sales launch, idea, event, job vacancy, survey, problem, or whatever, you have an immediate audience to share it with.
My business is helping freelancers and small biz owners with digital marketing, online business, content, web design and more, so I started my email list with a weekly newsletter that provides some really great content in this field.
Then I started marketing my email list across my social media platforms, and creating direct opt in forms on my website and in blog posts. I now have 9 opt ins on my general site and more inside my blog posts; it’s persistent without being pushy (I hope!).
Check it out for yourself - Tips on digital marketing, social media and "all that online stuff" for freelancers and small business owners!
5. Zeroed in on my niche
Choosing a niche and then zeroing it on it is pretty tough for any freelancer. But it’s also essential. Gone are the days of being a generalist; you need to specialise so you can become a trusted pro in your area. That’s how to gain client trust.
2016 was a year of niche narrowing. I literally sat down and listed out all my jobs and priorities. Frankly, I was (and still am to a degree) stretched too thin. That’s because niche narrowing often also means giving up stuff you love. Which is hard. In 2017, I’m going to continue moving away from freelance feature writing and focus on content and web design, and digital marketing for small businesses. This is where my passion is right now and it also makes better business sense for the long term.
6. Developed my web design processes - and stuck them to my wall
Honestly I think that my transparent, upfront processes are one of the key reasons people choose to work with me. I can give my website clients the exact, step-by-step process that I use to develop their sites. Which I know from a client is really appreciated. And it’s helped streamline my whole process.
Anyone can do this. I simply typed out every single step I could think of in designing a website. Then I added some headings and made a PDF of the document. Now I send it to all my web design clients with their first invoice, and I've gotten a great client response as well.
7. Moved my email marketing from Mailchimp to ConvertKit
I’d been with Mailchimp for years and found it frustratingly complicated for what was a simple weekly RSS email. And I’m a self-taught web designer! Heck, I even hired someone to set up a weekly responsive campaign because I found it a pain in the ass figuring it out myself. And then I had numerous design issues like the email text appearing in different sizes depending on the reader’s device. So annoying! I was hanging for a new program for ages.
ConvertKit is an email marketing system that has been lauded to the moon and back. My biggest hesitation was the cost - at $US29/mth it’s not cheap. ConvertKit is not perfect either but it is simple, straightforward, and it also has reliable customer service. So, less time spent stressing and trying to fix technical inconsistencies makes it a worthwhile investment in my book!
8. Hired my first (lovely) virtual assistant
The world of virtual assistance is growing by leaps and bounds and no wonder. Freelance businesses are growing exponentially as people, especially women, decide that 9-5 jobs aren’t compatible with family life and career progression. But no one’s an island and we all need help. Enter the VA.
I hired Emma in mid 2016 and she has made my business life so much easier. She does lots of regular tasks that I find very time consuming like social media scheduling, designing blog graphics, proofing posts, researching, data collection… and certainly not least, being a sounding board for my ideas. One of the things I struggle with as a freelancer (and in Laos) is just bouncing ideas around with other creatives - a hugely valuable part of being a small biz owner.
Working with a virtual assistant is another business investment that pays dividends.
9. Mapped out my year and beyond in a business plan
It was so valuable to sit down and write out all my ideas, aspirations, plans and strategies I had previously just had in my head or on various pieces of paper. The act of getting it all down in one space is a great first step to getting it all done.
I’ve also developed my own business planner for freelancers and small biz owners. You can download a free copy here!
10. Trialed and learned from a whole bunch of social media strategies
And I’m still trialing them, researching, experimenting and noting down what works and what doesn’t. I keep my results in a simple spreadsheet with a separate tab for each platform.
Towards the end of the year, I wrote a series of posts on social media for small businesses for my newsletter (if you haven't yet signed up, you're missing out - it’s awesome!) which meant I delved into each of the big 6 (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram and Google+) in exhaustive detail - I did say I’m a perfectionist! The result was some really valuable tips and strategies to get the most out of each platform.
I’ve used all of those strategies myself on my own sites and platforms so it’s been great to share this real world knowledge with other people.
Want to learn about digital marketing and online growth in your own business? Check out my weekly newsletter for loads of step by step tips and strategies!
What exciting changes do you have planned for your business this year?
About the author: Lilani Goonesena is an Australian freelance writer, Squarespace web designer and blogger currently based in Vientiane, Laos. She loves helping freelancers and small businesses get online with web design and content, blogging and her awesome weekly newsletter on digital marketing, social media, content, SEO, web design and "all that online stuff". She also writes food and travel articles for businesses and magazines, and blogs at the delectable Eat Drink Laos, just for fun.