Updated: Sep 4, 2019

 

 

Does free always mean free? I’m going to stand loud and proud on this one and positively tell you...NO. I say this after having nothing short of a virtual boxing match a couple weeks ago that left me nearly TKO'd when I finally decided to enter the ring of email marketing.

 

Oh sure, I’ve done this in my “day jobs” for years when I was “workin’ for the man” but when it was time to pull it together for myself, under my own brand and in my own voice...SCARY. Lots of vulnerability involved in putting yourself, your message and what you are offering out into the world. But, I was ready. The time was now. All I needed was an easy to use, low cost/no cost platform to help me do it. Simple, right?

 

I had heard there was a totally free tool that could do this super important job, and since I was still (and am) working from a start-up budget I figured I’d dive in with MailChimp. I did this despite having the knowledge base for using Constant Contact (well an older version, luckily a rockstar ex-coworker of mine had taken on the email marketing projects when we used to work together. Psst...hey Sarah, want a job doing that for Rock Your Brand?).

 

Anyway, off I went into the world of MailChimp. Confidently I might add. Despite the rumblings I had heard from email marketing guide and extraordinaire Susan Finn, I still went head first into the world of MailChimp. I mean it was FREE, right?

 

WRONG. Oh sure, technically it is free. But my time, my wasted efforts, my stress levels, my reinventing the email TWICE because I did it wrong the first time, the pains of trying to manipulate the template...all THAT adds up to not being free. What it adds up to is costly mistakes, lost time, lost patience and a 4 day delay in sending out a time sensitive first email marketing launch.

 

So what was the problem? The platform is not user friendly. There is no real clarity in the difference between a Campaign and a Template. The set-up for both is very similar. I had created an entire email newsletter in TEMPLATE format instead of Campaign format, then had to edit the template, remove the content and create a campaign using the template I had just spent time editing. Also, navigation back and forth between screens is a headache and a half, and if that’s not bad enough when you click on something that says “Templates” wouldn’t you think a screen full of TEMPLATES would appear? Wouldn’t you? Or is that just me being unreasonable?

 

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Mail Chimp Screenshot: I still can't tell you whether this was the Campaign screen or the Template screen. Also I couldn't figure out why there was Drop Content Block Here Box in front of my banner. I was not fond of the boxes on the right and trying to manipulate my "types of text boxes". Can't I just have a text box and work from there? WHY THO?

 

After 3 days of banging my head against a wall, I hopped over to Constant Contact and signed up for their free 60-day trial which DID NOT require a credit card (true story). I dove right in with very little knowledge of the newest version and instantly fell in love. Super easy to navigate, highly intuitive to use, and locating templates was speedy with loads to choose from. Creating my first email was an immediate and super simple process. I knew in that moment as I started pulling content from my MailChimp disaster, that Constant Contact would be my new BFF.

 

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Constant Contact screenshot. Simple and clean layout. Blocks for insertion are clearly labeled and easy to manipulate. No confusion as to what screen I'm in, I'm building an email. Yep! Do it! Boom!

 

In the process of giving my email its wings to fly, I got to thinking about that former co-worker of mine and decided to nab her for a few words of her own (plus it was a fun excuse to reconnect!). She’s an everyday user of Constant Contact, so clearly if anyone knows the ease and comfort of this platform, it would be her.

 

Sarah Cholewa is a Marketing & Fund Development Specialist for a non-profit and uses the platform as the main form of email communication with the organization’s members, donors and supporters. After chatting a bit with Sarah, it became clear I wasn’t the only person that understood the immediate ease of this product.

 

“I love how user-friendly the Constant Contact platform is. Viewing backend analytics after an email campaign has been sent is something super simple to review. You can see your open and click-rates, check out email bounces, even use this awesome little QuickSend feature when there has been an error with a customer’s email address, which is more common than you’d realize. Oh, and can I just mention how kind their Customer Service Department is, and always so helpful!”

 

Much like Sarah, I can attest to the customer support too. Within the first 24 hours of my first sent email I received a phone call from a dedicated Constant Contact consultant assigned to my account. This was NOT a salesman call, pushing for me to instantly sign up for a paid version. This was someone who actually READ my email, clicked all my links, was viewing my analytics and offering advice FOR FREE on how to improve my next one and my overall marketing through my website in relation to how I structure my emails. Not one sales-y, slime-y thing about what he was offering. I was (and AM) beyond impressed.

 

More proof that they care about their customers? Check this out! They hold brainstorming sessions with their high bandwidth users. Sarah had an opportunity to attend one of these rockin’ sessions.

 

Based on how much we use Constant Contact at our organization and the email count, I was personally asked to attend a brainstorming session held locally by members of Constant Contact. It was a great experience to learn more about what the software can do and it really showcased how seriously Constant Contact as a company and brand takes the approval of their customers. It’s a smart approach because when customers are happy, it means they are also indirectly promoting the Constant Contact brand. It was such a great experience and really solidified my love of the platform.”

 

Clearly, I could go on and on sharing Sarah’s thoughts, and sharing mine. And no, no one is paying either of us to give you all this glowing feedback. It is truly just a phenomenal product, whether you are a large non-profit or a solopreneur working hard to get your business off the ground. For me it is already clear that this platform is worth every dime you have to pay once the 60 days are up, and within that window, I've already sent off my second email with no issues in the least.

 

When I reflect back on the 3 days I literally WASTED on MailChimp vs the 2.5 hours it took me to get comfortable with the Constant Contact platform, import my email contact list, draft my template, add in my content, send it off and already start to view analyticsthere is NO competition.

 

Ding Ding Ding! Constant Contact for the WIN.

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First I want to say this isn't easy to share, and I seriously thought about NOT sharing it. And then after some thought, I realized how everyone loves to share their wins, but it's just as important to share the losses.

 

I'm someone that has been lucky enough and blessed enough up to this point to almost ALWAYS hit the ball out of the park in regards to my writing or nearly any creative endeavor. And on the occasions that I didn't manage to do it on the first try, I've always done it on the second. Those were all the times I LEARNED so much from so many. It is literally the foundation of what I know and how I have grown professionally. I am not sharing all that as a way of bragging or justifying my gifts, I'm sharing it so that you can feel the impact of what I'm about to share.

 

Nearly twenty years of marketing, communications and writing experience and I've never had to throw my hands up and call it quits. I've never, EVER surrendered. I've ALWAYS found a way to give someone what they need.

 

Until this past week.

 

A few weeks ago I found myself supporting the most INCREDIBLE client. Passionate, expressive, fun and a complete believer in my potential and talent. I went through all my usual steps, created my custom questionnaire, held the hour long kick-off call and felt 1000% confident in understanding what it was their new business was about and felt even more confident in how to deliver the voice of it for their developing website.

 

I invested my hours, as I always do, studying the questionnaire's answers, reviewing my kick-off call notes, doing ALL my homework. After doing that first leg of the work, I sat down to write and poured my heart, my passion and my comprehension of the client's vibe and energy into every word. I even worked with a pretty detailed vocabulary list they had provided...I was on fire and ready to really wrap it up and share it with the client. I was 100% invested in what I had created. So when it was finally drafted, proofed and revised again by me, I sent it their way.

 

And then...crickets.

 

More than a week went by after I sent it and I heard not a word. Normally this client was a quick turnaround type, our communication flow was consistent and constant. But when a week went by, even with my secondary email check-in, and I heard not a word, I knew my project had gone off the rails. How did I know? Well, if you are a creative type, you KNOW that when someone doesn't have an immediate reaction to something (be it good, OR bad), it's the worst thing EVER. The long silence of waiting and wondering is excruciating. I found myself rereading what I had written, reviewing the questionnaire again, trying to figure out how I had missed the mark before I even heard back from them.

 

And my gut was right. Over a week later I learned that I had not only missed the mark, I had probably landed on a different planet. A completely strange and unfamiliar feeling came over me. It was the feeling of being LOST. I had gone through all the steps, I had processed everything as I always do, I had been thorough and dedicated my time, attention, talent 100% and yet, I failed miserably at what it was they were searching for. I was completely lost in the feeling of failure. I was in this constant loop of "what did i do wrong and how do i fix it?".

 

I reconvened with the client and had a second call to discuss what wasn't working in the first draft (which was everything apparently) and what they wanted to see more of in the total rewrite. I was devoted to understanding how to give them what they needed but I found the information conflicting. I couldn't marry the vibe of who the client was with the experience they were offering. Something was off. After a second heartfelt attempt, we agreed that I was perhaps just not the correct woman for the job. They thanked me, and I thanked them. They were gracious and kind.

 

This, what I've shared above, without a doubt, the HARDEST professional failure I've had to experience to date. I gave my all, did my homework, used my tried and trued systems - but in the end the client and I just could not get to where we needed to be together. I KNOW this happens in business every damn day, and I knew it would happen to me eventually, but to happen so soon into my business launch has been HARD.

 

The bright spot? The learning lesson? Yes, there is one. There is ALWAYS one.

 

The knowing and admitting that I needed to walk away if I was still not nailing it with attempt number 2 was a win for me in terms of my professionalism. It was an eye opener because I started to realize I was beginning to LOSE money on the project because I was investing so much time in trying to understand where everything derailed and still mining through emails and notes trying to re-write what I had already written. I was pulling time away from working on other amazing, recurring income client work, and letting myself get lost in the cloud of worry hanging over my head. It ultimately was zapping my self-confidence. My gut told me it may be hard, but it was time to raise the white flag and admit that this one was not going to be a win. That I had to tell them I may not be the right fit. It killed my creative spirit for a couple days, but we rise again with each new success (like an email that came not long after this epic failure, where a client told me what I had written was perfection...yay for that).

 

So my lesson in sharing this...you have to know when to walk away, you have to understand self preservation on behalf of your talent and your business. And lastly, you have to understand...you can not win them all...and that's OKAY.

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Nothing says you've hit "transitional" home living, like typing your blog from a local Panera because the campground you are temporarily staying at has HORRIBLE wifi.

 

Welcome to the life of a freelance biz owner who will be working to keep momentum while on the road to Vegas!

 

That's right, hubby, our two cats and I are about to embark on our cross country adventure moving 3000 miles from fickle temp'd Rhode Island to hot, sunny Las Vegas. We have a camper fully loaded of everything we need (and then some) for the next month or so until the house we are building is complete. Until then we've got a pocket full of happy wishes for what Chapter 2 is going to look like out in the "wild west".

 

All that said, the biggest concerns for this new #solopreneur includes keeping the momentum of the past few weeks going, and making sure my existing, repeating clients feel supported. That means pre-scheduling any social media for social support clients (Doggie Bark Box I've got your M/W/F posts covered!), and making sure expected copy projects (first drafts & finals) were received last week. All of which I can place a big, bold check mark.

 

(Though not every thing went as smoothly as I hoped, there's a first time for everything, right? Stay tuned for a second blog later in the week when I have some time to regroup from the road and process the idea that sometimes your first attempt at a copy project doesn't always go as expected).

 

So what are some of the ways I plan to keep this Rock Your Brand momentum moving and shakin'? Great question!

 

Here's my list of intentions for the next week while on the road. It won't be easy, but it is a necessary MUST so that Rock Your Brand lands safely on its feet in Las Vegas with the rest of the Pintarelli household:

  • Blog Updates = Facebook Page Updates: This is a great way to keep folks engaged and along for the ride with what's happening in my world. It may not be strictly copywriting related, but it does help to keep the transparency of where I'm at and what I'm doing real, relatable and if nothing else entertaining. Plus it's something I can do from the road when we stop at night and can post up after I tether to my iPhone for a hotpot wifi connection! These will then be shared on my Facebook page keeping that account active as we make our way across the country.

  • Instagram: Via the magic of Canva Instagram updates will be part of my efforts to keep that account active too! I have a host of really awesome, recent customer testimonials I plan to share and it makes for great, easy content. Not to mention I'm sure there will be some super inspirational imagery I spot across middle America that I'll feel moved to share with a quote or two. Keep an eye open! Maybe it will even move me to do a little creative writing after too long an absence away?

  • Staying Engaged in My Online Communities: This is a big one because it was already something that had begun to slip. I'm a big fan of the Freelancing Females private group on Facebook. Tons of opportunities to gain advice, give advice and take advantage of potential opportunities to submit your talents and skills to those that are looking. It has already been several days since I hopped on due to the chaos of our life the past week. But now, happily, with the closing of our former Rhode Island home, and our looking forward to landing safely in Las Vegas at a pretty swanky RV resort while we await our new home build to be completed - I can return my attention to becoming engaged once more. Falling off the radar of communities you are engaged in is a big NO-NO and I have this one at the top of my priority list.

  • Filling the Customer Pipeline: I think another big one for me is I have had the joy, and frankly, blind beginner's luck of having clients just stream straight through to me with virtually little to no effort (barring a few direct submissions of my own, most have been referrals and direct reach outs based on my website and reviews). That stated, I'm smart enough to know that is NOT the norm. So...while on the road, I plan to do some brainstorming and do offline work to develop a pretty snazzy looking lead generation piece filled to the gills with crazy helpful brand voice tips and tricks. I also need to do some package development on my website so pricing is a little more clear cut for potential clients, making it easier for them to pick a package and go!

If this all sounds like a LOT, you're right...it IS. But I'd rather have my mind stock piled with action plans for staying active and keeping the momentum moving, than fall behind and get lost in the shuffle. Momentum is a gift, and it's something I don't take lightly. I'm filled with gratitude and blessed to have the clients and work I have had to date (and still have!), and there is no stopping now.

 

Despite a 3000 mile trek across the country to our beautiful future home of Las Vegas, I plan on kicking off Chapter 2 of our life together with the same passion, zest and energy for Rock Your Brand with which I am leaving Rhode Island.

 

See you on the road friends!

 

love, light & rock n' roll,

Rachel

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