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Lessons from the entrepreneurial trenches: Media Mortar turns two

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Take it from me, starting a business is easy – anyone can do it. Running a successful one, well, that’s the difficult part.

As I close in on the first two years of Media Mortar, I want to share a few lessons I’ve learnt from the small business trenches.

I’ll start by saying I don’t profess to be an entrepreneurial expert, but I am often asked by other soon-to-be entrepreneurs about the steps I put in place to escape the shackles of nine to five and go out on my own. I also attend a number of female-centric business events where people pontificate about starting their start up, a lot.

Although I’m honoured to attend and answer these questions, to me this seems like such a silly area to focus on; it’s what happens after you have your ABN that really matters.

If you’re thinking of jumping ship from the corporate life into something of your own, my advice is – just do it. Don’t sweat the set up, sweat the set down once you’re battling it out in small business life.

Consider this post your shield, sword and armour for what comes next. These are the lessons I’ve learnt (usually the hard way) about what happens once you’ve pulled the hand grenade and stepped into self-employed life.

 

  1. You’ll never work harder in your life

I famously walked out of my corporate job telling everyone that I’d have ‘so much more time’ to walk the dog and go to the gym at the elusive midday session.

Fast forward two years, and I walked Olivia once during business hours and went to the coveted midday session precisely zero times.

Like me, you’ll learn that time equals money and money only works when everyone else does. In small business, the hustle is very real and it can feel like you’re in the line of fire for everything.

 

  1. Keep your eyes on your own target

This is one of the rules I live by, because I’ve found nothing good comes from comparing yourself to competitors.

In the past I’ve fallen into the vicious loop of looking at what other people are doing and how they run their business.

Comparison does little to lift me up to compete with them – instead, it makes me feel like we aren’t doing enough, which is kryptonite for motivation and creativity.

 

  1. Invest in a coach or mentor

The old adage ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ will be alarmingly brought to life the minute you step into your own business.

Invest as soon as physically possible in a business coach to help achieve your goals – much the same as you would a personal trainer if you were wanting radical body transformation rather than the slow burn of weight loss earnt through the daily slog.

For the first five months I pushed through my business, but I can pinpoint the November I appointed my business coach, Lorraine Murphy, to upskill me in everything I had yet to learn about both myself and business.

For much less than the cost (and time commitment) of an MBA, I was able to triple our revenue and size of the team.

I continue to work with my coach quarterly and view her as much a part of our team as I do any of my staff.

 

  1. Hire a team you love to spend time with

For me, team fit and energy is EVERYTHING. I’m so serious about it, I even had a physic ‘read’ my potential future staff to make sure I had the right players on my team. You don’t have to go that far, but if you do, Helen Jacobs is my go-to.

When hiring, I look for soft skills more than hard skills – because I have no chance in hell in teaching phone manner, kindness or confidence but I am much better at teaching people how to write a blog.

I’m also adamant that the five people I spend the most time with each week (aka my team) are so rad I’m excited to see them every day.

Honesty, integrity and positivity are my three non-negotiables – and I’m so proud of the team and team culture we have developed over the past two years thanks to this hiring policy.

 

  1. Learn about money

When I started Media Mortar, I didn’t know the difference between net v gross income let alone the intricacies of BAS, PAYG and being a trustee for a family trust.

In fact, I famously had cashflow confused with revenue for the first twelve months of the business before someone (kindly) pointed out the words weren’t interchangeable (oops).

Put simply, if you have NFI about your profit and loss, hire someone who does and then work your butt off to get up to speed.

The most respected business leaders and owners I know all have a healthy appreciation of money, how its made and how hard it’s earnt. They know their worth and work by the principle that ‘everything has a price’.

If you’re starting out and unsure what to charge, there are so many business books and online hourly rate calculators to tinker with these days to get you through your first projects til’ you’re quoting like a #boss.

A wise colleague of mine once said “always know your numbers, because no one can argue with them.” Since then I’ve worked really hard to know our monthly targets, outgoings, revenue and have changed the mindset of reading our P&L, which pushes us to reach our targets.

 

  1. Be yourself and wear your point of difference on your sleeve

When I set up Media Mortar, I put the job title The Boss on my email signature as a joke, which stuck.

Since then, it’s turned out to be the best tool for client vetting, a happy coincidence from a snap decision and complete accident.

All new clients who come through our website get an email from me to arrange a call, which is signed off from The Boss.

Clients who see it and like the tone, know exactly what they are going to get just from this one interaction. Clients who are looking for something a little more inside the box know we aren’t for them and we part ways before going through lengthy quoting and scoping processes.

It’s single handedly been the best marketing tool we’ve done – and my whole team now wear ridiculous email signatures.

 

  1. Learn from your mistakes and be coachable

If you want a successful business, you need to learn from your mistakes. One of my favourite quotes came from a Tim Ferris podcast I was listening to earlier this year – ‘If it’s not working, then change what you’re doing’.

So many of us tend to think the failure is someone else’s fault and keep delivering the same thing.

For us, the learnings at the end of the project are where the best insights come from. Nobody is perfect, and if you’re working for yourself, get ready to take criticism and feedback on the chin so you can adapt, improve and evolve.

In the corporate world they talk about the need to pivot. In small business, get ready, because it’s more like a constant orbit.

 

  1. Trust your gut

You were born with a gut instinct – and in business it’s probably your best weapon and defence.

When money is tight, it’s easy to ignore your instincts and take on work for clients who don’t share your values.

As my business grows, I’m getting so much better at sending clients to the trenches who take us away from achieving our goals and objectives.

Most recently I had to do this with a very promising client – the kind of client who drops into your lap like a gift. We couldn’t have aligned better at the beginning.

The problem was, interacting with the owner/staff was like stepping on a landmine – they didn’t take our craft seriously – we were consistently made to wait up to 40 minutes for meetings they’d called with us, laughed at our ideas and most of all sent abusive messages out of the blue for things outside our control (or remit).

We could have persisted  knowing the job had so much potential to put us on the Brisbane marketing map  – but we didn’t because it was bringing such bad energy to our team.

The lesson: trust your gut and cut clients loose when required. Not only will you be free, you’ll set the client loose on your competitors. You don’t have to be an expert at the small business battlefield to know a win | win when you have one on your hands.

Media Mortar Boss, Hannah Statham, is proud to offer mentoring sessions for like-minded entrepreneurs wanting to start a business that makes an impact. Make an enquiry via hello@mediamortar.com.au

By Hannah Statham

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8 Instagram Tips for Tourism Businesses

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Hashtags and handles aren’t meant to be hard, but for most of the tourism operators we’ve met in recent digital-ready workshops, decoding Instagram seems to be as challenging as Alan Turing decoding Enigma.

If your face contorts like the quizzical emoji (🤔) every time you log into the app, we’re here to help. Over the past three years, we’ve worked 1:1 with over 100 tourism operators, and helped turn their puzzled expressions into veritable-PHD’s in Australia’s favourite image sharing platform, Instagram.

We’ve learned there’s no such thing as a silly question when it comes to learning how to use Instagram, but there is such a thing as paralysis. That’s why we’ve compiled our top tips for running a successful tourism Instagram account, so you can go forth and conquer your account.

#happyreading

 

  1. Make Instagram a key pillar of your marketing strategy

We take it you’re here for the hard truth – well, sit yourself down because Instagram isn’t just part of your content marketing strategy, it is your content marketing strategy. Before you stop reading, muttering to the computer that your target market aren’t on Instagram (whole blog post coming soon on that perler) or how little time you have to learn a new channel, you need to hear us out. Instagram is visual, tourism is visual – and we won’t even wait for you to name a more iconic duo.

Google (and every marketer who’s ever presented a tourism conference, ever) always talks about the four phases of the travel cycle – Dream, Plan, Book, Share. Instagram taps into each of these four phases, which gives your product, destination or event four chances to tap into the buyer’s behaviour in one hand-held app. How many other free marketing platforms can do just that?

 

  1. Plan your content ahead of time to save you hours

Just as doing a weekly grocery shop will save you time (and money), opposed to visiting the supermarket every single day to collect ingredients – a bit of careful content planning will save you time in your Instagram efforts.

The biggest challenge we hear from tourism operators is that they don’t have time for Instagram, which is a valid concern, but it’s usually muttered by people who place value on other time consuming things like preparing in-room compendiums that only existing customers (not potential ones) will ever read … if at all.

By planning content, whether it’s with our monthly planner or your favourite content planning app (like Hootsuite, Planoly or Buffer to name a few), a little bit of hard work at the start of the week should essentially set your accounts up to run themselves. Of course, you’ll still need to log into the app to community manage your accounts – but other than that, your posts will be firing while you’re busy working on other parts of your business. Now, if only you could automate the housekeeping!

 

  1. Curate your content according to themes to avoid content fatigue

If a tourism operator’s biggest gripe with Instagram is time; ‘finding good content’ is a close second. This always seems so odd, because most operators are fortunate enough to run businesses with stunning vistas or views (hello, you work in tourism not construction!) and even if the product itself isn’t insanely photogenic in its own right (e.g. a motel), the broader destination certainly will be.

Using accommodation as an example, encouraging people to visit your region will always result in people needing accommodation – so posting general destination images to create intent to visit is still a strategic use of content. To help keep your content ideas fresh, we recommend you write down content themes to help keep your feed on track. For example, a hotel might post four times a week, posting the following content:

Post 1: Room image

Post 2: Destination sunset

Post 3: Nearby attraction walking/short drive from the accommodation

Post 4: Onsite activity e.g. pool/gym guests can visit.

These themes can run on repeat – or for more variation, curate at least nine different types of themes so your nine square grid in Instagram is always different and interesting – and you never get stuck/bored or confused with what to post next.

 

  1. Book a photographer to capture content to roll out over the coming months

Finding it hard to get good quality content? Outsource it to someone who’s entire job is to make good quality content! Booking a photographer for half a day every three to six months should keep your Instagram account ticking over so you don’t have to worry about getting a picture each day to put up. If a half day photoshoot with a photographer yields 100 images for your product, and you’re posting four times a week, your investment should bring 25 weeks or 6 months worth of content.

Aside from having hot content, booking a photographer also removes any confusion about copyright. You’ll know exactly who took the images and you can also buy them directly off the photographer, removing any need to credit in some circumstances.

Now, If we were running this session live, most operators at this point pipe up and tell us they don’t have a marketing budget to cover fresh imagery. If this is you – consider a time swap. We know plenty of photographer’s who’ll shoot your property, product or event in return for a free stay. You win. They win. But mostly, your Instagram account is going to win.

 

  1. Leverage channels that are far bigger than your own to grow your own

The tourism industry were early adopters of Instagram, which explains why its leading accounts are so much larger than other industries by follower numbers. Compound this with the fact that Instagram is a visual platform and tourism is highly visual and you can see why Instagram is like a moth to a holiday-makers flame. The beauty of this, is that there are large accounts you can leverage – and leveraging costs nothing but diligence with your use of hashtags and handles.

If you’re an Australian-based tourism operator or product, you should be tagging in all of your content at the very least your State Tourism Organisation (STO), Regional Tourism Organisation (RTO) and Local Tourism Organisation (LTO).  A share of your content on one of these channels, could just be the gasoline required to fire up your channels and bring with it hundreds, if not thousands of new followers (who you can convert to customers) to your channels.

 

  1. Vary your content using free tools/apps like Timelapse and Boomerang to make your content more interesting

Too many operators we work with 1:1 have never played with the full functionality of their camera on their smartphone. If you use an iPhone, you have access to video functions like Timelapse and Slow Mo that can make any videos interesting. For a fun piece of content, try experimenting with a sunset timelapse while you’re enjoying a glass of wine from your property. Simply set up your phone on a solid surface so it doesn’t wriggle around, and press go. By the time you finish your glass, you’ll have an epic piece of content to share that will keep your followers interested and wanting more.
Download the Boomerang App to make simple short form videos – perfect for guests doing a cheers or posing with their certificates of completion from say a dive course they’ve completed.

 

  1. Don’t just get caught up in telling your story, drive sales too

Contrary to what most marketers will tell you – Instagram isn’t just a storytelling tool. All the stories in the world about your business, as nice as they are, aren’t going to drive sales if you don’t leave customers with a call to action or something to do. The whole point of Instagram is to get people to book/buy your product and drive more dollars into your back pocket. Some marketers believe you should never leave an Instagram post without giving your audience something to do – whether it’s a ‘visit our website’, ‘email us’ or just asking them a question like ‘when was the last time you took a holiday?’.
We believe in the story, story, story, sales technique so that for every fourth post, you’re clearly selling to your customer. You can sell to your customer through language e.g. “Flash Sale: 30% off room nights this week due to last minute cancellation on rooms. Call 123456 to book your perfect next romantic escape” and also through online tools such as an Instagram shop. For a step by step guide on how to set up a shop, click here to find instructions inside our Social Media Handbook.

 

  1. Go fishing with dynamite, use ads

If you want to catch a fish, you need to go where the fish are biting, right? If you want to accelerate your growth, then it makes sense to advertise where customers are browsing –  Facebook and Instagram ads. You need to set these up through Facebook Business Ad Manager – wherein you can set a budget, creative and call to action. If you’re after a quick, hot fire rather than a long burn – then Instagram Ads are for you. We suggest using them sporadically for maximum results – tying them into campaigns where you have an offer for your customers like Pay 2: Stay 3 rather than your general story-telling style posts. If you want a step-by-step guide for how to set them up, flick to page 38 in our Social Media Handbook.

 

For more handy tips like this, you might like our Social Media Handbook now available for instant download here.

By Hannah Statham

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How to intern like a #boss

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A good internship can be the segue from the lecture theatre in Z Block to a corner office with river views (OK, maybe not straight away). However, a bad one, well, that may leave you knocking on the door of the career counsellor and questioning your life choices.

But like the saying goes, it takes two to tango and a successful internship doesn’t rest solely in the hands of the company sharing their desk space with you – you play an equal (read: massive) part in how it goes.

After two successful internships – one leading to my now full-time job at Media Mortar – I wanted to share my thoughts on how to intern like a #boss.

 

  1. Pick a company or brand you’re interested in

This may go against other advice you’re given – but I believe you should be measured in your decision with where you decide to intern. When I started looking, I naively thought I would try anything and everything until I found my Cinderella-slipper internship. With the benefit of hindsight, don’t waste your time applying for an internship with a company who may not share your values, or you have zero interest in the work they do.

 

  1. Don’t be afraid of the boss

My second internship was with a large media agency, and there were three big bosses (the partners), who sat at the top of the food chain (in company structure terms). Yes, they’re important people in the organisation, but they are [usually] very approachable (and just normal people too). I’m not saying walk in with your morning coffee, pull up a chair and ask ‘how’s tricks’, but if you see them in passing or find yourself riding the elevator with them don’t be afraid to have a chat. Even if it’s about the weather…

 

  1. Make an effort with everyone

It may seem obvious, but a ‘hello’ goes a long way. Just like the big boss/es, it’s important to be noticed for all the right reasons. Making an effort isn’t just confined to the tea-room either. Although you’re (likely) not getting paid, you’re still part of the team, so act like it. If you get asked to go to lunch, take the team up on it. If there are team drinks on a Friday, but you don’t work on Friday, go in for them. If nothing else, it’s another opportunity to make yourself known to the team – who in a social setting usually have a lot more time to get to know you.

 

  1. Put your hand up for additional tasks

If you’re in a smaller company this will likely happen naturally, as you will be doing anything and everything. However, if you find yourself in a bigger organisation then make it known you’re happy to help wherever needed. I’ve never met a busy person who won’t take you up on the offer to do a coffee run or make their life easier. If you want to secure a permanent position or have a solid referee then show them your worth and that no job is too big or small!

 

  1. Be flexible

If an opportunity arises outside the scope of what you expect to be doing, roll with it. You might learn something about yourself or discover an interest you weren’t aware of (or more importantly, just not good at). During my second internship, I was told I was going to sit with the creative team for a day. Don’t get me wrong, I love creative work…but these guys are seriously talented creative professionals *insert mild panic attack*. Instead of having a meltdown, I rolled with it and surprisingly loved it, so much so, I didn’t want to leave the creative bubble, ever.

A final note, as a mature graduate (in age) there’s one thing I had on my side walking into my internships: I understood the value of people and the importance of interactions. Afterall, having solid interpersonal skills is one of the top skills sought out by employers – even more so than hard skills. I’ve overheard my boss say many times, “hard skills I can teach you, but I can’t teach you how you make people feel”.

Internships are not only a means to gain real-life experience – they may lead to your first job in the workforce.

What are you waiting for? Go intern like a #boss.

By Rochelle Vaisanen

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