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We all know the old saying: ‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.‘ Most of us in small business are probably guilty of this at least some of the time. I know I have been. But 2016 was a year when I did some things differently – and I got different results. Better ones. I grew my business significantly.

So today I’d like to share my experiences. Because they may help you.

5 things which helped me grow business in 2016

1. Schedule regular time to spend on your top priorities.

Here’s the instructions:

  • At the start of every week, spend 10-15 minutes identifying your top priorities for the week. Maximum of 3 – if you have more than that, you don’t have clear priorities.
  • Block out 90 minutes every morning to concentrate on these priorities and nothing else.

picture of road sign pointing to 'later' and 'now'

Here’s my key insight into making this work.

Priorities are not the same as activities. Too often, we get caught up in what we have to do, not why we have to do it. And that’s where it’s easy to get off focus.

For example, building a strong business network is a priority. One which came up again and again for me! But it’s not a specific activity. There are loads of ways you can go about building your networks:

  • Call people you know already and keep up with them.
  • Join a networking group.
  • Catch up for coffee.
  • Send an email.
  • Reach out with a private message on Twitter or LinkedIn.
  • Attend events.
  • Take a course.

One thing about these activities – most of them are not actually urgent, right now type activities. Nor are they, individually, likely to make a huge difference to your business. So it’s easy to put them off and do something ‘more important’ instead. But in fact, when you look at all these little relationship and networking-building activities together, they are really important. And you have to do them consistently.

For me, knowing that network building was a top priority gave me mental permission to spend 60-90 minutes just reaching out to people. Chatting. Giving a compliment. Sharing something which might be interesting or relevant.

I invited someone to catch up for coffee in April. We didn’t. But we did catch up in December, and I’ve just signed my first contract with someone he introduced me to. And if I hadn’t been doing all those insignificant little networking activities, it wouldn’t have happened.

2. Be consistent. Be in it for the long term.

Priorities change with time. But your top three priorities shouldn’t be changing every week.

Over the year, I found I had 3 or 4 priorities which came up consistently. Networking. Sorting out technical issues. Updating content. Growing site traffic.

Most weeks, I’d also have one or two more immediate priorities. Putting together a specific proposal. Meeting a client deadline.

Every week, I had to ask myself, which are the key priorities? Because I wasn’t allowed more than three. I had to focus and make some decisions about what really mattered. And over time, I came to understand that at least one of those weekly priorities should be from my ‘ongoing’ list. Individual client proposals and projects would happen anyway – they had hard deadlines – but I needed to focus on those long-term business building priorities.

3. Delegate and outsource non-key tasks.

Or find other ways to make them take up less of your time.

Taking me as an example, I do digital marketing, but I don’t code. I can develop a marketing strategy; plan or create content; project manage campaigns; implement and review reporting. Where necessary, I can upload to WordPress and publish, even install plugins. I can also customise templates or tweak HTML, but if you want a page template developed from scratch, I’m not the best person. It’s a better use of my time for me to do a rough sketch which someone else can code up.

I stopped trying to fix every little technical thing on my site myself. I started paying WPCurve to do it for me. (I’m reviewing this at the moment since GoDaddy bought them, but that’s another story.) And it was wonderful. I’d just email an instruction and wait for the issue to be fixed – usually promptly. It cost a little money, but I saved hours in researching solutions and testing them. Identifying incompatible plugins and finding alternatives became someone else’s problem.

As for social media – oh my God I love Buffer!

Technically, this isn’t so much outsourcing as batching, but it’s a great time-saver anyway. Once a week I have an appointment with myself to check and fill my Buffer queues. Tweets and LinkedIn status updates go out for the rest of the week without me having to pay attention. I still log in and check what’s happening. I answer comments, look at what else is being shared, try to comment and add value. But this is now networking outreach and interaction rather than filling a hungry content machine.

(BTW, if you use Buffer, get the Chrome extension. You can share anything interesting you find on the web without having to leave the page – and if you use the power scheduler, you can share it multiple times. Some weeks I log on to check I have content scheduled and I’m full already! Plus, this helps you to be a generous contributor rather than always banging on about your own content.)

4. Work with a mentor or coach.

two fingers made up with pen faces and fake hats to look like students graduatingRunning a business can be lonely. It’s good to have someone to bounce ideas off.

If you report to yourself, your boss often accepts your excuses. A (good) mentor doesn’t. he or she challenges you. Asks why. Asks what you could have done differently. Questions the priorities you are putting together for next week.

If you’re running a business, self-doubt can be a burden. You can’t confess it to anyone in the team, but it eats at you. And it’s hard to grow business when you don’t believe in yourself. With a mentor, you can be honest and get honest feedback. From someone who believes in you and supports you when things are tough.

I was lucky enough to find a friend who also wanted mentoring. We had regular weekly Skype calls. We talked about what we’d achieved, and more importantly, what we hadn’t achieved. And why we hadn’t achieved it.

Neither of us was good at ticking everything off on our priority lists. But we both achieved more than we would have done if we were only reporting to ourselves.

And we deepened an already good friendship.

(Shameless plug here – NoBull offers marketing mentoring services if that’s something you or your business could do better.)

5. The problem with most content marketing is that there’s too much content and not enough marketing.

Someone shared this on Twitter earlier in the year.

It’s not just clever, it’s true.

It doesn’t matter how great your content is if no one knows about it. And people don’t know about it unless you tell them.

So when you create a great new blog post, tell people about it. Check out this post for some ideas how to do that.

Remember I mentioned growing website traffic as one of my business priorities? In September, I started committing regular time to content promotion as well as content creation.

I increased website traffic by 118% in just one month!

Then I got so busy I stopped promoting my content, and things slowed down again. There’s a lesson there for me to implement in 2017!


So there you have it. 5 things I did differently. 5 things which got me different results.

Some I’ve kept up well. Others have dropped off a bit. Right now, it’s three sleeps till Christmas and I’m going into holiday shutdown mode – urgent client deadlines only, thanks! But I’m certainly going to be driving all these in 2017. Who knows, I may even get my own email newsletter going out as regularly as my clients’ ones do!

What about you? What are you going to do differently in 2017?

Whatever you try, good luck. I hope it brings  you growth, opportunity and success.