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What I’ve learned from being a PTFA mum

PTFA MumIt’s time that I came out of the closet. I’m one of ‘those’ Mums. The ones they warn you about when your child is starting school. I’m the person you’re encouraged to actively avoid in the playground. I’m the chair of the PTFA at my sons’ school. Before either of my kids started school I wouldn’t have had myself down as a PTFA person at all, even though my Mum volunteered at every school fair when I was the same age. I was invited to a meeting to write an article for the local magazine about the latest fundraising project and found myself inspired by everyone’s enthusiasm. I’m stepping down next term and my last event is done and dusted. I found myself wondering (not for the first time) why I took it on in the first place and what I’ve learned. Here’s what I came up with.

Volunteering matters

In the two and a half years that I’ve been involved I’ve encountered a range of attitudes to volunteering and school fundraising generally. There are people who turn up for every meeting and volunteer whenever they can (these are usually the people with the least time to spare). Then there are are the ones who don’t understand why we bother and won’t volunteer (some of these people would also complain bitterly if there wasn’t a summer fayre). There are even those who complain about everything just for the sake of something to talk about.

I’ve come to love volunteering because we’re working towards something that benefits other people. That might sound a bit smug when we’re talking about a primary school in a relatively privileged area. There are much worthier causes. But I reckon that anything that makes school a better place to be has got to be a good thing.

Organising PTFA events

My admiration for people who organise events for a living has quadrupled over the time I’ve been doing this. It’s incredibly rewarding helping people have a good time but it totally wears you out. Getting volunteers is often the main challenge, although people generally come through in the end. I’m a realist. If you work full time I don’t expect you to help at a school disco that starts at 3. I often hear ‘I haven’t got time’. I know some people genuinely haven’t, but no-one’s really got time. A job (or a business) and a family is hard work. Yet there are still a few of us who find the time because it’s good fun and the end result is worth it. I admit that I worry about whether anyone will take over when I stop as I’d hate for it all to end.

I know that sounds like a massive whinge. I admit it’s a little one but that’s not why I’m standing down. It’s because my business has gone bonkers since I became chair and I don’t have time to organise things. I also like sleeping. On the plus side I’ve learnt a lot about organising events, which is a useful skill. It’s also made me appreciate how easy planning is when I’m the only person I have to organise.

Getting people together

One of the biggest benefits of getting involved with the PTFA is getting to know people. I’ve gained new friends and strengthened relationships with existing ones. I know lots of school related gossip (and no, I’m not telling you any of it).

If I was carrying on (I’m definitely not) I think I’d simplify the events and stop doing what people expect. I might do a Christmas film with a visit to Santa thrown in rather than a full on Christmas fayre. Maybe a summer social that doesn’t have quite so many moving parts. Something that brings people together to get to know each other and have some fun. That could be the most important bit.

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How you can create a call to action that works

Call to actionWhenever you create a new piece of content for your business you need to think about what you want it to do. I know that might feel as if I’m asking you to analyse every single little thing that you put out there (and I am) but it doesn’t have to be a pain. Your marketing has one really simple job to do. It needs to tell customers that you exist and convince them that you have something they need. I know it’s not that easy in practice but it gives you a good starting point. There are loads of ways that your content can achieve your aims. It could explain the benefits of what you offer, educate your audience or just raise awareness of your brand. Whatever you want each post to do, you need to follow it up with a good call to action. Here’s how it works.

What are your goals?

A good marketing strategy should be linked to your overall goals for your business. You can read more about that here if it’s something you struggle with. When you have a vision for where you want to get to you can work out what types of marketing will get you there. It’s often a combination of things, like increasing your brand recognition but also getting more people signed up to your mailing list. You can create a variety of different types of content for different reasons.

Clear ideas about what you want your marketing to do can also help you decide what kind of call to action you need.

Why are you posting?

At a more granular level, think about each post and why you’re creating it. This might sound overly time consuming but it’s better than the alternative. Having a plan means you know what you’re going to post when. When you don’t plan you might find yourself panicking because you haven’t posted in ages and people might think you’ve gone out of business. It’s the sort of situation that ends up with a half-hearted post that doesn’t reflect your business or win you any new customers.

Thinking about why you’re posting helps you to create a call to action. It also helps you with the next question…

What do you want people to do next?

There are loads of different ways that people could respond to your posts. They could like, share, or comment on social media or sign up to your mailing list. They might subscribe to your YouTube channel or send you a connection request on LinkedIn. You could leave it to chance. The only problem with that is that people are lazy. If you ask them to do something they might not do it. If you don’t ask they definitely won’t. That’s where your call to action comes in. If you’re trying to widen your reach ask them to like and share your post. Ask them a question to get people talking. Tell them what they’ll get out of signing up for your mailing list and give them a nice big sign up button to make it easier.

Sometimes it’s not just what you ask but how you ask it that counts. There are tools and resources that will help you craft a good call to action but they’ll only take you so far. Getting to know your audience is the key to creating a good call to action. Over time you’ll get to know what gets you a good response and what falls flat.

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Your marketing: Why you need to know about A/B testing

A/B testingI know that some of you roll your eyes when I start talking about technical stuff. Others rub their hands in glee. Whichever one of those you are, you need to know about A/B testing. This recent blog talked about getting to grips with your data by looking back and analysing what worked in the past. A/B testing allows you to do that in a much more dynamic way.  Those quarterly or half yearly reviews are still important as they let you see the bigger picture. So what is A/B testing and why should you be putting it to work in your marketing? Read on…

A/B testing – a beginner’s guide

A/B testing pretty much does what it says on the tin. It allows you to test two (or more) different things to see what works best. You can use it in lots of different ways depending on what you’re trying to achieve. For example, you might want to increase the open rate on your email marketing so you need a good subject line. You can A/B test two different options and see which one gets opened more.

You can also do this with blog titles, your website and the copy on your sales pages that convinces people to ‘buy now’.

Be precise

If you analyse your marketing data you probably have a good idea of what your audience likes. Using A/B testing means that you’ve got the figures to prove it. Your overall impression of what’s succeeding might not be accurate, whereas the numbers always will be. You can see straight away which version people responded to.

To get the best results, you need to be precise. That’s easy if you’re only A/B testing email subject lines but it can get a bit fuzzy elsewhere. There’s no point creating two completely different versions of a landing page because you won’t know what made the difference. Was it the headline, the sign up copy or a random sentence halfway down the page? You can test lots of different things but do it one at a time.

You can make better decisions

Once you’ve got your data you can use it to create better content in the future. Did you get more traffic to your blog post with a serious headline or a funny one? Did personalising the email subject line result in more people opening it? Are there particular words that your audience really respond to (or not)? Sometimes your results can hang on a single word. Your audience might think ‘bespoke’ sounds snooty but they love ‘tailor made’.

This kind of testing doesn’t have to be limited to the words themselves either. You can test things like emoji use and even the colours you use. You might find that no-one signs up for your email newsletter if the sign up button is green, but they do if it’s red.

You can use it for anything

A/B testing lets you run checks on almost everything you use in your marketing. It can be something small like a headline or different elements of your new website. More importantly, the information you get can have far reaching implications for your business.

The way you present yourself and your brand is one of the key things you need to consider when you’re planning your marketing. It includes everything from your own values, what you offer and the customers you work with. A/B testing lets you discover what message resonates with your audience. It can tell you if they care more about saving time and money, or whether it’s more important to them that you’re an eco-friendly family business. It could help you to craft a message that brings you a whole new customer base.

Further reading

Do you understand the why but want to get into the how? These blogs from Neil Patel and Hubspot are a great place to start.

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Why you need to invest in writing

invest in writingI had a fabulous meeting with a lovely lady recently and it got me thinking (again) about all the different skills you need in business. She was talking about all of the different elements that she was bringing together to make sure that the message she was sending reflected her values and the work that she does. Talking to me about getting the words right was the next stage in the process. She’d written a few things herself but hadn’t been happy with them. It’s a common theme when I speak to small business owners. There seems to be this feeling that they should be able to do it themselves. Writing is easy, right? If you’re holding back from working with a writer because you feel you shouldn’t have to, here’s why you might want to reconsider.

It’s not just about the visuals

Words matter. Your first impression of a person or a business will probably come from the visuals, but the words cement the relationship. It’s especially important in writing. When you talk to someone face to face you can read their expression and body language to help you understand. In writing you can easily be misunderstood or misinterpreted. If you’ve ever read an argumentative comments thread on Facebook you’ll know what I mean. Trolls will deliberately bait others and twist their words. Others could genuinely have misunderstood you. Even people who agree with each other end up talking at cross purposes.

A second set of eyes on your writing could help you to prevent that from happening. It also means that you get to see your business from an outsider’s perspective to get the message right.

Writing is a skill

We all wrote essays and stories when we were at school. It’s often the people who studied English Lit that struggle most with the idea of hiring a writer. They know how to string a sentence together so why is writing for their own business so hard? The truth is that writing copy and content for a business is a skill all on its own. Talk to a group of writers and you’ll also find that they’ve all got their own specialisms based on what they’re good at and enjoy doing.

There’s more to it than just sitting down and writing. It’s about getting to know you and your brand. Your writing needs to be tailored to your audience which means you have to understand what they need and value. Working with a writer can help you to identify exactly who you’re talking to and how to create something that sparks the right reaction.

You don’t have to do it yourself

Of course, there’s nothing to stop you from learning to do your own writing. But if your skills lie somewhere else, do you want to? Do you want to spend a day writing a blog post when you’d much rather be doing something else? I don’t often tell people that they don’t have to do their own writing, but perhaps I should. I’ve held back because it feels as if I’m stating the bleeding obvious. Only, it isn’t always obvious.

There are lots of reasons why a small business owner might not outsource their work. Sometimes it’s lack of funds, or it could be that their business is their baby and they want to protect it. But I often find that it’s simply because they think they should do it themselves. It’s potentially counterintuitive, but just because something is in your voice, it doesn’t mean you have to write it.