“Should we do it?” I asked him. The thought excited me but also terrified me. Butterflies? Try pterodactyls.
We were sitting on the beach, and having thrown around all the best and worst case scenarios to come out of the spreadsheet we’ve hurriedly thrown together the night before, we still weren’t any closer to making a decision.
This idea had been nagging at me for around 12 months, hanging off my skirt like a toddler pleading for an ice-cream. It could be life-changing. Or it could completely flop.
“If we’re going to do this, I reckon it’s our best shot… let’s go for it!” (And this is why I love him so!)
If we had of known what the next tsunami of months had in store for us – the late nights, the replacement of all normal conversation for how much we had spent on coffee and toilet paper, and how many followers we had amassed on Instagram, would we have been so eager to dive on in? Maybe not.
But since setting up our kick-ass creative coworking space, I’ve learned more about creating a brand, responding to your customers needs (and desires!), and how to respond to any challenging situation with head held high and a giant goddamn smile than the last two years of my online ‘freelance’ business combined.
Running a bricks and mortar business where customers literally show up on your doorstep (AND email and call) every single day is similar to an online business in so many respects – every click is a visitor knocking on your front door, after all – but there are a few in-your-face lessons and reminders that I’ve taken out of our first year running Share Space I thought might be timely nudges for you, too.
Aesthetics are SO important
For Share Space, it’s the interior design – replacing the dirty pea-green and apricot walls and ceiling with fresh white, adding bold black accents and prettying it up with fairy lights, lots of indoor plants and candles.
How you present yourself to the world (aka your brand) and how you package up your offerings is EVERYTHING.
Of course, you need lots of substance and value underneath all that style to have people returning over and over again, but without sounding shallow, first impressions count.
The biggest compliment and feedback we receive over and over at Share Space is how much everyone loves the space we’ve created. They love how it ‘feels’.
Take-out: Make sure you have a cohesive look and feel for your online business and that the aesthetic flows through everything – Instagram posts, website and email design, language in your welcome emails etc.
Everyone will interpret you differently
People read websites in different ways, don’t read emails properly, some aren’t on Facebook… so how do you ensure you reach everyone?
If the concept is new, it needs to be explained – and this is one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced introducing coworking to people who have never used a coworking space before and may never even have heard of it.
Take-out: Use many different mediums and messaging to ensure your offering is received loud and clear – email, social media posts, Facebook advertising, traditional PR, videos, FAQs on your site, fun postcards left in cafes, free events to draw people in are just some of the tactics we’ve experimented with.
Systems are boring but they keep you sane
When you’re running a business (or multiple businesses) you’ve got to be organised. Just like any business that accepts meetings with clients, works on different projects or sells products, having a smooth process for sales – and all the communication that goes with it – is essential, so spend the time setting it up properly.
We use Acuity Scheduling for our bookings and customers can pay immediately via Stripe or PayPal. Then we send out a welcome email via MailChimp, and when they finally arrive in person, they get the icing on the cake – the real-world interaction and usage of the product.
Take-out: Set up templates for enquiries to save you on email time, ensure you have an easy booking or checkout system and stay on top of social media and EDMs by planning them out in advance and setting deadlines for yourself to schedule or write. Batching tasks like this saves more time, too.
Constant marketing is essential
Just like you can’t ‘go live’ with a website and sit back and watch the money roll in, you can’t expect continual business and return customers if you don’t work every day on your marketing plan. Think: social media posting and engagement, emails, events, guest posts, competitions and rewards that boost retention.
Having a real world business with real physical seats to fill and marketing materials (aka postcards and business cards) that run out, has been an eye-opening experience and a good swift kick up the ass reminder that marketing doesn’t have (and shouldn’t have) an ‘off’ switch.
Take-out: If you’re not marketing yourself every day or every week, set quarterly reminders in your calendar or map out a plan to see you through the next 6-12 months with touch points for when you’ll give your business a marketing boost.
Personality is everything
Personality can make a break or business, even without your customer or client ever meeting you in person.
Employees that have the right mindset and personality etc. are vital – they provide the first impression of biz.
But at the end of the day, being approachable, being a nice person and genuinely wanting to learn about your customers and their lives (aka giving a shit) is so vital to the success of your business.
Take-out: Show your personal side on your site – be candid and let your personality shine through – whether through words, videos, or interaction on Facebook.
Word of mouth can’t be bought
Building a genuinely engaged audience or customer base takes time. Without a budget for advertising or time to pump into an aggressive PR campaign, our growth was always going to be fairly slow.
We’ve been relying on (literally) drive-by traffic, postcards being seen in cafes, and people hearing about the concept from their friends.
In just the same way that referrals from clients, testimonials and affiliate programs can all boost your exposure in the online world, the value of word-of-mouth promotion far outweighs that of throwaway clicks and likes.
Take-out: Create an atmosphere and provide an experience that people can’t help talking about!
Don’t forget to schedule fun
ALWAYS remember to make time for fun… business can get serious, it can get stressful and it can get BUSY.
Your customers will respond SO much more when you surprise them – at Share Space we like to spontaneously give out gifts/discounts (free coffee, icy poles, a free day), suggest a group outing for lunch, or do a quick round of requests for the playlist.
Take-out: Involve your customers/clients in your biz and let them feel a part of it…. they’ll be proud and show ownership and loyalty.
Are you running a bricks and mortar business, online, or both? What do you see as the parallels between them when it comes to marketing?