In the home-based business craze of the early 90’s, everyone with a computer and a dining room table was making something, advertising by direct mail, and trying to monetize their great ideas. One prominent author of that era advised small businesses to scrimp on things that customers didn’t see—desks, chairs, filing cabinets, office equipment—while making sure that everything customers did see—mailers, trade show displays, ads—cost top dollar and looked first rate.
That was pretty good advice for its time, but since then small business budgeting rules have changed completely. First, anyone who spends time every day in front of a computer should get the highest quality ergonomic chair, keyboard and mouse they can afford. This is not anything your customers will see, but it is tremendously important to protect your personal health while you build the health of your business.
Second, many of the most important tools for helping your business succeed are free or nearly so. For the cost of a domain name and a web hosting account, you can create a professional-looking blog and website with free WordPress software. Setting up a Twitter account or Facebook page is absolutely free and can be done in an afternoon. You don’t have to spend a fortune on any of these essentials, but using them effectively involves a whole new budgeting issue: your time.
It is easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information out there on any given subject, and by the sense of urgency generated by social media hype. Without a firm sense of why you are investing your time and what you hope to get out of it, you are more likely to get lost in the sea of distractions that is the internet. Consider three line items for your social networking time budget: 1) Checking out the field, 2) Conversations with customers, and 3) Creating original content.
It is important to stay abreast of important blogs and news sources related to your business, but of the three line items, this is the one that you should budget the least amount of time for—maybe a half hour every other day. Building conversations with clients and customers is also important, and should be prioritized over general research. This time needs to be built in to every day, say fifteen minutes twice a day.
Creating original content is the biggest line item in your social networking time budget, and for good reason. Your dreams of glory will fly or fall depending on how well you communicate your message, how consistent it is over time, and how engaging it is for others to read.
Getting clear on what you want to say, and how to say it, is probably the single largest time investment for your social media strategy. (And we’re back to Authenticity.) But if you put in that time at the outset, it will save you time every day down the road, as you deliver an authentic, consistent message that clearly communicates who you are and what you do, to everyone that matters.