Bethany Meadows, president of Vertical Solutions Media, joins us to answer the question of how business owners can stay relevant in today’s marketplace landscape.
Bethany uses her brand and marketing expertise to manage multiple small businesses. She also provides resources for other business owners with training, coaching, and support. She is the mother of seven children and four grandchildren. While running her business, she home schooled her children for 16 years. That pretty much makes her the definition of a multitasker.
First, Bethany shares how she maintains her work-life balance while raising her family and running a home business.
Balancing Work and Family
I didn’t always do it very well. Back when I was a single mom with five kids, I was home schooling, and I started my business.
The business was started to allow me to continue home schooling them and earn a living. So, I drew upon my corporate marketing experience and started a marketing agency. It was 2008, and in the later part of the year, the bottom fell out of the market.
People were withdrawing all their marketing funds. It was a really crazy time. I tried to position myself back then as an alternative to the higher overhead agencies. I was a smaller boutique agency. Really, it was just me.
Sometimes my home school day was 8 to 10 hours, and then my workday started. 18 to 20 hour days were not unusual back then. It created a habit of just working all the time. Even as the kids graduated and I had more time for me, I just filled it with more work because it just became this way of life that I had created.
My current husband really helped me with that. When we were dating, we would take weekends off and spend time together. It introduced life to me again, and it really helped me set those boundaries. I always worried about providing for my kids, about making enough money to pay the bills. And it would make me anxious. And my response to being anxious was that I was going to work all the time, but all it did was wear me out. I’ve learned to be more intentional, really looking at all the things in my life and saying, is that serving me?
Losing yourself in social media or binge-watching stuff on Netflix, that’s great to do every now and then. But if that’s a way of life, that’s not being as intentional with your time. Like anything you do in your business, have goals for yourself and be very intentional about your schedule.
And all habits need to be practiced. I know when I started my first company 20 years ago, we had a home office. At a certain time that door gets closed and there’s no more work. We had to stick to that. It was tough with a startup business; it was really tough.
Flexibility and the 90 Day Sprint
14 years after starting her company, Bethany has run into all manner of challenges with keeping her business relevant in changing times. Her main takeaway has been to remain as flexible as possible.
The marketplace is moving so quickly. I can remember even five years ago; we had a client who had only ever done TV. It was a brick-and-mortar store for baby furniture. They had been around for 60 years, and they had never done social media advertising. But when you look at parents today, they’re not responding to TV ads.
So, they were wondering why they were spending all this money and their marketing wasn’t working. We had to be more strategic in figuring out who their target audience was.
As a business, we must reimagine everything all the time. There’s no such thing as a five-year plan anymore. Years ago, it was the five-year plan, the ten-year plan. I don’t even know what the world’s going to look like in five years. A one-year plan is even too long. At this point everything’s moving so fast.
We don’t know what COVID is doing, what the stock market is doing, what the economy’s doing. This all affects us as businesses. It’s nice to have one-year goals, something to work towards, but your actual action plans run in 90-day sprints. And then you come to the end of that 90 days and reflect on it. You can revise, you can tweak, and you can create another 90-day sprint. Staying relevant just means being flexible.
The Points System
While working with clients, Bethany has developed an inventive strategy to budget time for projects.
Rather than assigning them a number of hours, she assigns points to different projects depending on their time or complexity. When a client asks for additional work, she can sit down with them and decide how to reallocate their points to make room for a new project.
I love that strategy. Points don’t equate to time, and sometimes people can be very sensitive about time.
It’s not perfect, but it does help. It creates the mindset that, ‘I have a certain amount of points and I need to use them wisely.’
Time to Thrive Membership for Businesses
During the pandemic, Bethany found that her services were beginning to price out smaller businesses who needed help the most. That gave her an idea to continue serving the small business owners who were her foundation when she started her company. This is a great example of keeping your business relevant without straying too far from your roots!
I came up with a Time to Thrive membership, which is basically a group concept. The business owners pay $99 a month and they get access to a whole library of marketing videos and worksheets and downloads and resources.
They can also come to a live group coaching event every week. I walk them through sales and social media strategies, everything that we would do for a bigger client. We bring in guest experts, we do coaching weeks on brands and business planning and all kinds of intensive two hour workshops. They’re for business owners who recognize the value of working on their business, not just in their business.
Keeping Your Business Relevant Through Affiliate Marketing
One way to be smart about your marketing budget is to cross promote with affiliates. Bethany shares how she pairs clients together in win-win partnerships. Think about how to make your business relevant through partnerships like these:
When budget was tight, we would look for affiliate relationships that we could partner our client with that wasn’t a competitor to them, but also served the same target audience. An example might be an optometrist that sells glasses and frames and partnering them with a bookstore.
You could put bookmarks in the bookstore that say, with really small print, if you’re having trouble reading this, go to doctor so-and-so. And then you can have something at the optometrist that says, well, you’re getting your readers, here’s an offer for 10% off. It’s a really great way to cross promote. It costs neither one of them anything. It’s fun and memorable, it stands out to people because it was done differently.
My first company was a cleaning company, and one of my partnerships was with an apartment community. They would allow me to come in and do wine and cheese events where I got to meet the residents. But I also gave them coupons for a free cleaning for every move in. Those converted almost 50% of the time. And I know some small businesses are thinking, why would I give away my stuff? Because it’s easy for you to measure. You try it first, see if it works. 50% conversion was totally worth it for us.
Staying Relevant In A New Normal
While one of my least favorite words is pivoting, there’s no denying that COVID has caused many business owners to rapidly readjust their strategies.
The truth is that business ownership has always been about readjustment. Bethany notes that in today’s new normal, change is constant and inevitable, and planning is more essential than ever before. So how can you keep your business relevant? Stay within a lane, don’t get distracted by this week’s hyped-up marketing trends, and always be open to learning.
We as business owners are the ceiling of our business. Our business will never grow past us. If you have grand visions and dreams of your business expanding, it’s all dependent on you because it’s not going to grow past you. So that means you must always be learning.
I’ve heard it said that you’re the reflection of the five people that you spend the most time with. Think about that in the business world. Do you have five people around you in the business world that are smarter than you, more successful than you, more experienced? Those are the people I can ask the questions to elevate my ceiling. It goes back to being intentional.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
A sage piece of wisdom that never stops being relevant.
One of the things that we need to do in challenging times is ask for help. Just by virtue of being business owners, we’re probably super stubborn. We have a lot of pride about what we do. We don’t like to admit when we don’t know something, so we don’t ask for help. We’ve got to get past that. By asking for help, that’s where we get the learning and the support to keep moving our business forward.
I would agree. I would say as a business owner, it’s sometimes a challenge for us to feel vulnerable. I’ve had conversations with my team members and told them: asking for help, being self-aware, recognizing something doesn’t work for you – those are good things. Stumbling and failing because you didn’t ask for help, that’s a bad thing.
That brings delegating to mind. It goes back to those same characteristics, wanting to be in control and being stubborn. That was really hard for me, because it was my baby! I just had to let go of certain things and let somebody else do it without me hovering over them like some sort of psycho. That was definitely a challenge for me. But now I have this freedom because I have this amazing team that I trust.
I really know that I’m past that when I realized I had no idea what was going on in my company. And it didn’t bother me.
That transition, going from that control freak to someone who has no problem delegating, really involved letting them make mistakes and being okay with it. This is their opportunity to learn, and just accepting that was part of the process.
Keeping your business relevant, planning for the unexpected, and breaking bad business habits have never been easy problems to tackle. But these challenges, when overcome, help us grow as business owners and reach new heights.
We hope you come away with some new strategies to stay relevant as a business. As we wrap up our discussion, don’t forget to check out Vertical Solutions Media on LinkedIn and Twitter. You can also find out more about the Time to Thrive membership on Bethany’s website.
I think that gratitude is something that needs to be practiced every day. Instead of focusing on the customer that’s driving us crazy, or the campaign that didn’t work, just focus on the things that did go right. That gets us back out of bed the next day with the right attitude, the right perspective.
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