One summer Christmas holiday, when I was as thin as spaghetti and a head taller than every other girl in my primary school, I was given a Tether Tennis set. Imagine a green metal stake about the height of the average teenager. At the top of the stake was a thick metal coil to which was clipped a long nylon string attached to a tennis ball.
The object of the game was to hit the ball backwards and forwards around the stake using plastic paddles. You could play against an opponent, but I preferred to play solo (mainly because my brother was much better than I was and was not interested in playing with his bratty little sister).
My first attempts at hitting the ball saw the nylon string repeatedly attempt to kill me – wrapping itself around and around my neck – ending with a solid bop on the nose by the tennis ball when the string ran out.
My neck was raw and bleeding by the time I figured I needed to take half a step back from the pole.
The Disaster Continued
Then followed days of hitting the string instead of the ball.
When you hit the string, it gives a very apologetic slapping sound and then the ball wobbles off into a drunken circuit.
If I did hit the ball, it either tried to turn into a rocket and head for the moon, or turn into lightning and aim for the nearest ground.
Moments of Elation
Every now and again … out of the blue … I would manage a clean thwack.
Those were the moments I lived for.
Feeling a solid connection with the ball and watching it sailing confidently past my eyes on a nice even line was a thing of beauty.
But thwacks were few and far between. Mostly it was apologetic wobbles and moon orbits.
I headed out onto the dew tipped grass in my nightie straight after breakfast each morning, just to see if sleeping on it had made me any better. It hadn’t.
I practiced for hours every afternoon as the shadows lengthened into dusk and the mosquitoes started their nightly blood collection.
Eventually … almost imperceptibly … thwacks increased and wobbles decreased. Then thwacks became the norm and wobbles were almost non-existent.
I could easily and smoothly hit any ball and know with certainty it was going to fly in a nice solid circle.
Over time it took much less effort to hit the ball – I was no longer running around or over-reaching – I just stood my ground and barely lifted a finger to get the same strong results.
If you asked me how – I couldn’t tell you in words. I just know that over thousands and thousands of repetitions I learned how to adjust my bat so it hit the ball straight and true and was not on an angle. I learned the timing so I could tell to the split second the exact moment when to start my swing. And I learned how to judge the distance from the bat to the ball so that it always hit I the sweet spot.
Each improvement was a tiny micro habit repeated until it became second nature – without forethought or planning. It just happened.
And then …
… I swapped my paddles for tennis rackets and the nylon string tried to kill me again.
Marketing Your Small Business is Like Playing Tether Tennis
Marketing your small business is a lot like playing Tether Tennis. You start with a lovely shiny new business and have zero idea what you are doing.
You start blindly attempting to whack marketing balls out of the park, only to face painful disasters, wobbly results, and weird outcomes.
With luck and practice, you begin to connect solidly with your clients, developing increased consistency and getting stronger results with less effort.
Each improvement comes from trying tiny tweaks and observing the result, then trying to repeat or adjust the tweak.
And then you try something totally different, and you are back to square one and need to start a new round of tiny tweaks.
Rarely can you put your finger on the “one thing” that made all the difference. It is the hundreds of tiny tweaks that add up to success.
Hundreds of tiny tweaks doesn’t make for a great “Just do this one thing and all your troubles will be solved” story.
It isn’t glamorous and it isn’t easy. It is just rinse, repeat and adjust.
Things We Tested
My business is a classic case in point. Here are just some of the many tiny marketing tweaks I have implemented in 2015 for my business (… and before you think we have a huge team behind us, these were all done by one person squeezed in between a full workload).
Some worked, some sort of worked and some … well let’s just say memories of hitting the string were strong.
Did any one thing knock it out of the park? Hell no – but little teeny tiny things add up.
- Added Click to Tweet to blog posts to increase shareability
- Added Facebook like box to Thank You page to increase social media likes
- Built social media content calendars to better plan workflow
- Increased quality of visual content (thanks Canva!)
- Social Media Testing – times of posts, types of posts & types of images
- Social Media set up – tested different keywords & configurations
- Social Media advertising
- Tested native social media posting vs using third party apps to see which were more effective
- Embedded social sharing in ebook downloads
- Tested out different social media platforms including SlideShare, Pinterest, Instagram, Periscope, Klout, Blab & LinkedIn Pulse
- Reconfigured & scheduled image posts for different platforms
- Tested out social media groups and alliances
- Cross promoted my different social media presences across platforms
- Epic blog posts & richly formatted posts
- Added headline blog images for each post
- Added in images across all historical blog posts & adding in Pinterest friendly Alt text to each image
- Trialled different social sharing plugins for speed & results
- Adjusted 404 page to highlight some great historical content
- Content audit & renewed and rounded up existing content into more valuable content
- Tweeted links to evergreen content to drive readers deeper into my blog archives
- Tested out new plugins for popular past posts to drive traffic back to historical quality content
- Tested comment systems to increase ease of blog commenting
- Tested inline form sign-ups for blog posts
- Tested pop-ups to increase email list
- Tested Hello Bars to increase email list
- Added in a new free ebook download based on popular questions my clients ask
- Tested content upgrades to increase email list
- Added in new emails to my autoresponder sequences to add more value to my lists
- Adjusted my email list segments
- SEO (never-ending clean-up of past mistakes – this is still my number one problem)
- Tested strategies to improve the quality of Google Analytic data for more accurate decision making
- Endless poring over data to see what was working and what needed work
- Created packages of services
- Influencer outreach
- Guest blogging
- Forged new alliances through networking (I network for alliances rather than clients)
- Keynote speaking & guest lecturing to form new alliances
- Ran classes to build community and share expertise
- Changed to a cloud based Proposal & quoting system for faster, higher quality and more legally binding quotes
- Systematised testimonial gathering
- Adjusted standard email templates for client communication
- Online directory audit & expansion into quality directories I had missed
- Mentored people beginning within my industry to build the overall professionalism of the digital marketing industry and to act as a resource for challenging issues they were facing
What Can You Take Away From This?
You can’t do everything all at once. Even I get tired just looking at this list! But each of these were done one tiny piece at a time … One day at a time.
My colleague Frances Cahill from Polish Your Pitch has a great term for this approach – enthusiastic calm.
She explains that with enthusiastic calm you can see an opportunity or hear of a new idea and then try it on for size to see if it works for you. You are not desperately waiting for the one big rescue that will magically turn your world around, just being enthusiastically open to new ideas and calmly testing out ideas and possibilities.
The trick is to remember the tennis ball and the Tether Tennis, and just keep stepping up to have a go even if the results are less than fabulous initially.
Don’t give up. Keep hitting those balls – the good ones, the average ones and the dodgy ones and you will end up with more hits than misses.