By Steve Strauss
TSE: How does it feel to wake up in the morning as your own boss?
SBL: Being my own boss is the ultimate form of freedom. I wake up each day without an alarm clock; I have a purpose clock. My mission is to end small business failure, and every blog post I write on my blog www.succeedasyourownboss.com, every how to video I create and tweet chat I conduct is to support my mission. Most people have great business ideas, they just don’t know how to run a business. I try to stand in the gap for those people and give helpful business advice before they realize they even need it.
TSE: Being an entrepreneur takes a special kind of person with certain qualities. When did you realize you had what it takes to step into the business world and make a living for yourself?
A: I was 26 when I started my first company. I knew I didn’t know much about running a small business, but I did know I could never have another job. I am into reading and doing research, so I approached starting a business like a research project. And for the last 15 years straight, I have taken a business or leadership course every year to learn how to run my business better. You must grow yourself to grow your business.
TSE: You’re celebrating 15 years in business this year. What personal qualities have been instrumental in your continuing success?
A: I think my top three qualities that have made me successful over the last 15 years are 1) Relentless consistency is my secret weapon – I keep my word, I follow-up. I’ve not missed posting to my blog for nearly 5 years ago 2) I’m constantly striving to learn more. I think of my life in terms of growth not goals. 3) Being great to work with—No one likes a diva, I show up on time, I’m camera ready and I am prepared to get to work.
TSE: You wrote an e-book titled “How to Become a Social Media Ninja.” How significant is it for businesses to have a strong social media presence?
A: Social media is the great equalizer for small business owners. It used to be that the business that could purchase the most advertising won in business, now the power is in the hand of the customer. These days, no one wants to be sold to; they are looking for helpful information, and if you have some to offer, you have the opportunity to build a relationship that you can eventually monetize. Quality content is the currency required to be successful online, but everyone should keep in mind that social media marketing is a long tail strategy. Then, develop a listening strategy to figure out where your best target customer hangs out online, and join that site. Start with one social media site first, to build a following. Then move on to another site once you feel that you have a dominant brand presence. Do not kill yourself trying to do everything. For more social media tips; grab a copy of my e-book at www.succeedasyourownboss.com/ebook
TSE: What is a reasonable time commitment to build a major social media presence?
A: It took me 18 months to build my @SmallBizLady brand on Twitter. I worked Twitter like a job, by sharing valuable content daily before I was noticed as a small business authority. Social media marketing is a long tail strategy. It is not going to start raining money in your business the minute you start utilizing a social media network.
TSE: Where should people start building their social media footprint?
A: When it comes to getting started online, I suggest building a complete profile on LinkedIn first. Why? Because it’s the first place a potential customer will look for information about you.
TSE: When it comes to social media you say everyone should use the HELP Mantra. What is that?
A: : The HELP Mantra is an acronym. H stands for provide helpful content, E stands for Engage with people personally, L stands for Listen carefully. Each social media site is different, don’t assume you know the culture of each social media site, P stands for Promote yourself with care. Be sure to spend the time building relationships online, no one wants to be sold too.
TSE: What is #Smallbizchat? How long have you been doing it?
A: On April 23, 2014 I am celebrating the five year anniversary of #Smallbizchat. When I first started using Twitter I noticed @PRSarahEvans was doing #journchat for pr professionals and journalist to share ideas. I thought the idea could work well for small business owners. There were a few other chats that targeted small business owners, but they were not run very well. I am a former TV producer so creating a structured conversation that would help small businesses with their biggest challenges. I treat #Smallbizchat like a TV show that I do live on Twitter each Wed from 8-9pm ET. I book a guest expert and interview them live, and the audience jumps in with follow-up questions. Its a peer-to-peer mentoring program. I also publish the full Q&A session every Thursday morning on my blog www.succeedasyourownboss.com, so that anyone who missed can still get the information. The biggest guests that I’ve hosted include Guy Kawasaki, Michael Gerber, and Candace Nelson from Cupcake Wars on the Food Network.
TSE: What are some of the biggest mistakes small business owners make using social media?
A: Do not start something you can’t maintain. Blogging is a key ingredient to social media success, but you must do it at least twice a week to have any results. You must use social media daily. Schedule your content in advance. Having a social media account that is not updated is worse than not having an account at all. Share other people’s content more than your own. Sell with caution. Don’t start selling the minute to arrive online.
TSE: What are your thoughts on scheduling social media content?
A: I am a firm believer in scheduling tweets and posts. I use sprout social to schedule my content to go out every day. The trick is checking in on your account several times a day to respond to people. Engagement is the key to really leveraging any social media network. People love to be acknowledged. I ever wrote a blog post about it in my NY Times column How Many Times Can You Tweet the Same Tweet? http://nyti.ms/QL0IwB
TSE: What are your top three favorite social media management tools?
A: I love Hootsuite.com, sprout social, and I use tchat.io to manage my live tweetchat #Smallbizchat each week.
TSE: What is your favorite social media site and why?
A: Twitter is my favorite social media site. It’s the first place I went online in 2008 and it’s the fastest social networking site. You only get 140 characters so you must “hit it and quit it” as James Brown would say. I even wrote a blog post about Twitter the NY Times called How Twitter Changed My Life http://nyti.ms/M0uLO
TSE: People are familiar with your “SmallBizLady,” brand but who is Melinda Emerson as a person?
A: I’m a fun loving divorced single mom of a 8 year-old son. I am a loyal friend and lover of spicy ethnic food. I love old school RB and Hip-Hop music. I am a consistent church-goer and prayer warrior. I pride myself on being a loyal friend. I have a party every New Year’s Day at my home for the same 15 women in my life who I love and never get to see. I am a work in progress, constantly trying to growth.
Melinda F. Emerson, “SmallBizLady”, is an internationally known keynote speaker and an expert on small business start up, business development, and social media marketing. In addition to being a regular columnist for the New York Times, she is frequently quoted by other media organizations including The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, MSNBC and Fox News. Melinda’s small business advice is widely read reaching more than 3 million entrepreneurs each week online. She is the host of #Smallbizchat, the longest running live chat on Twitter for small business owners. Forbes magazine named her the #1 woman for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter.
She publishes a resource blog www.succeedasyourownboss.com which is syndicated by the Huffington Post. Melinda is the bestselling author of Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months and the ebook How To Become a Social Media Ninja. Melinda is the founder and president of the Quintessence Group, an award-winning marketing consulting firm based in Philadelphia, PA. Notable Clients Include: Pitney Bowes, American Express, Dell, Staples, Sam’s Club, Chase Bank, Facebook, FedEx, IKEA, Verizon, Wells Fargo, and Xerox.
Steve Strauss is a senior small business columnist at USA Today and author of 15 books, including The Small Business Bible.