Social Media Marketing World Recap

So, I did a thing. I treated myself to a conference just because. I've definitely put in my share of time at conferences. I’ve been to conferences for rural municipality co-op utilities, I’ve been to the biggest conference for consumer electronics, I’ve been to conferences for telecommunications and conferences for flooring. I’ve planned events and session content for conferences I’ve been a part of over the years. And, for the record, I do love a conference. But until last week, I had never been to a conference that I picked and attended solely for the purpose of learning something for myself. And I did the thing. And it was incredible.

 
Old Town San Diego (One of our fave spots from the trip).

Old Town San Diego (One of our fave spots from the trip).

 

Since I’ve somewhat accidentally entered this social media arena, I’ve watched and learned and attended online events to soak up everything I can. Because, you see, I’ve never taken an actual class at a school about anything related to social media. And that’s because Facebook started my senior year of college. But I’ve watched and followed Social Media Examiner and have seen how they have beautifully navigated this social media thing and have positioned themselves as the resource for social media marketers. And, when I found out they put on a conference, I put it on my bucket list to go.

 
Our Air BnB Rocked!

Our Air BnB Rocked!

We had a flight change, and our little trooper rocked the 3:45 a.m. wake up to be on a flight at 6 a.m. Glad that he’s a good traveler!

We had a flight change, and our little trooper rocked the 3:45 a.m. wake up to be on a flight at 6 a.m. Glad that he’s a good traveler!

 

Last week, I spent seven whole days in San Diego with my husband and son. We did the zoo, we did the safari park, we did Sea World, and when all that fun was over, I attended Social Media Marketing World 2019. (In retrospect, I probably would have reversed the week to have done the conference first…brain exhaustion x’s 10). The only thing I didn't love about the conference was that there was SO much to learn that I literally had anxiety choosing which sessions to go to because, at any given time, there were at least four I wanted to attend. Thankfully, Social Media Marketing World has their attendees covered, and every few days, I’m getting emails saying a few more sessions are uploaded and ready to view. So, I get to rewatch the ones I attended and watch the ones I missed.

Even though I didn’t get to catch them all, I learned a lot about local business, more than I expected to learn about Facebook, and I feel like I can now rock content creation like no one’s business. I’ve narrowed down my top five learnings here. Feel free to message me, or DM me on Instagram (@thesmalltowncreative) if you want to chat more about it. I HIGHLY encourage anyone who is a social media marketer for their business to attend next year.

  1. When you start to write content, give yourself focus and format. How often do we feel stuck trying to create content for our business? ALL. THE. TIME. Well, Melanie Deziel is basically a genius who helps equip content creators create confines and a framework to develop content. She owns Storyfuel and gave an awesome presentation about how to quickly come up with 100 content ideas using her Focus X Format method. This method basically involves everything you can FOCUS on (ie. products, testimonials, historical information, features, overviews, deep dives and DIYs) and multiplies them by all the ways you can FORMAT them (written, audio, info graphics, roundup, e-book, etc.). And she basically debunked the myth that anyone at any business could have about “not having anything to write.” I’ll never say that again after I realized that there’s ALWAYS something to say using her methodology.

  2. If you’re overseeing marketing for a consumer brand and influencers aren’t a part of your marketing strategy, they need to be. Social media should be about collaboration and authenticity. And social influencers are the new “word of mouth,” which has historically carried brands WAY farther than paid advertising. So, get you a budget for influencers if you haven’t already. Obviously, there’s a lot that goes into influencer strategy, but statistically, they’re getting about 6x’s return on spend because authenticity sells, so it’s definitely something you want to start thinking about and working on in your business. Also, when it comes to influencers, KNOW YOUR OBJECTIVES and focus on verifiable activities so you’re sure you know the success of their work. This is super important in influencer work. This presentation was by Neal Shaffer, and this dude really knows his stuff.

  3. If you want your Facebook post to go a little further, put $5 behind it. I mean, this isn’t exactly what she said, but Mari Smith , a Facebook genius, gave a keynote one morning about where Facebook is going. And it’s true, only 1-6% of what brands post on social is getting seen. So, one way to combat that is to put a little money behind it. Even just a little boost or small investment in a campaign, even after turned off, will catch the Facebook algorithm’s attention enough to keep your post getting seen by more folks. Who knew!?!?

  4. AMMMYYYY PORTERFIELDDDDDDD. That’ all.

  5. Okay just kidding, this is really number four. Amy Porterfield was as relatable, smart and fun as I anticipated. She rocked a session about using live video and how to get comfortable as an entrepreneur or as the face of a business using live video. My biggest takeaway here was that showing up consistently is more important than doing it perfectly. And that showing up just to doodle around isn’t good. When you show up on live video, show up and have something valuable to offer your audience. And show up the same time next week. Let them know you’ll be showing up. And eventually, you’ll have yourself a following that is LISTENING to what you have to say. This session may have seemed to apply more to entrepreneurs than big businesses or corporations, but if you can get any brand to have personal interaction with their followers, it definitely still applies. FIGHT FOR LIVE VIDEO for your brands because it’s one of the few things that’s really making a difference out there.

  6. This is really five, obvs. Instagram stories. Ohhhh Instagram stories…… Well, Tyler McCall showed up and showed out talking about Instagram stories. He shared the simple but oh so important reminder that, as a business, we need our IG stories to have intention and action. We need to do what the traditional stories do with our IG stores and…guess what??? TELL A STORY!! This means beginning, middle and end. Using Instagram stories to tell stories is powerful, engages your audience and carries your followers with you in a personal and real way.

In addition to all of this, my general takeaways were that Facebook is changing, IG stories are the bomb, video is 100% a necessary part of your marketing strategy and chat bots and DM’s are the next wave of communication for brands, so get on the personal bandwagon because that’s where you’re going to see better results with your marketing budget.

With that said, I’m taking off to let my brain rest from this recap because I’m still kind of halfway in brain explosion mode. Please feel free to find me on Instagram at @thesmalltowncreative to chat about these in more detail!

 
 
 

Mindfulness in Your Marketing Message

 
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I’ve been reading up on the practice of mindfulness, which, by definition from Mindful.org, is “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” Some of you may stop reading now, thinking that this is a bunch of mumbo jumbo that doesn’t apply to you. But mindfulness is a very important part of mental health. Mindfulness is also a very important part of marketing messaging, and I’m here to tell you why.  Before I start, though, if the word mindfulness seems scary or hokey, just consider this a tip in learning how to think about and articulate your message on a daily basis. :)

The Problem
We’ve reached a day and age where nearly anything goes – every opinion brought to mind is shared (and often re-shared and re-shared) to thousands. So, as a business owner or marketer, before you go deliver words into the universe about your products or services without giving them much thought, it may help to put some simple practices in place to make sure you’re making the most of every word you say to your audience. I’ve listed below a few things I believe keep us from being mindful in our messaging and how we all can do a better job at it.  

What Keeps Us From Mindfulness
Here’s the number one thing that keeps us from thinking before we speak – busyness. We get so busy that we forget our priorities. When it comes to marketing content, we don’t think it through, then we feel as though we have to post something, so we develop last-minute content that isn’t thought through and communicates the message poorly. 

Mindful.org calls mindfulness a “bicep curl for your brain,” saying, “When we practice mindfulness, we’re practicing the art of creating space for ourselves—space to think, space to breathe, space between ourselves and our reactions.” If you’re creating content for a brand or business, you must leave yourself space. This means no last-minute moments of, “what do I say?” posts to social media, a blog or elsewhere. If you find yourself in this place, my first suggestion would be to not post anything at all.

Competition
The second thing that that keeps us from being mindful in our messaging is competition. We try so hard to keep up with what everyone else is doing that we lose sight of what we are doing. This is a very dangerous place, and it’s also a sure fire way to destroy your business. Do you think Michael Jordan stayed focused on his goals by regularly worrying about what other professional athletes were saying about themselves? Umm…no. Now don’t get me wrong, I certainly believe that small dose of competitive awareness is healthy, but I do not believe a spirit of reactiveness to competition will get a business very far.

Using a competitor’s website, social media platforms or other tactics to drive decisions in your business is a fast path down the drain. And if you create content by looking at what others are saying, you’ll stay in a constant state of  “keeping up with the Joneses” when you need to be keeping up with your owns-es (see what I did there?).

Lack of Preparation
As we continue to talk about mindfulness, the third and final thing that gets us every time when it comes to marketing messaging is lack of preparation. I write about my favorite tool for planning Instagram posts in a previous blog post here. I may be a bit overkill when it comes to planning, but I recommend at least planning 12-15 pieces of content prior to the month even starting. Yes, I know that may seem crazy to some of you last-minute folks, but when you get in the habit of it, it really will change your life.  

Lack of preparation means lack of thinking through and about your business plans for that month. It means you’ll always be in the hamster wheel of doing things off the cuff and halfway. It means you won’t ever feel really 100% confident in what you’re doing as you promote your business. 

If I can challenge you with one thing, it would be to start next month with at least 12-15 pieces of content written out and pre-scheduled. If it doesn’t make you a better person, I’ll give you your money back. J  And although mindfulness may seem like a contradiction since it’s the concept of being where you are in the moment, I would argue that advanced preparation in some things like social content or blog posts will leave so much more room in your life for mindfulness in other core business areas.

How to Be Mindful as a Business Owner, Marketing Guru or Creative Professional
As marketers, social media managers, content creators and creatives, sometimes grasping to find the right words to say about what we’re promoting or selling happens regardless of how far in advance. We’re often wandering aimlessly trying to figure out how to say what we need to say in a way that people will want to read it. Or, better yet, buy it. 

Here are some key ways that you can practice mindfulness, specifically as it relates to your business, on a daily, weekly or monthly basis: 

1.      Create space and time to think about your ideal customer. Their wants, their needs, what they did the day before, what kind of bed they sleep in, what perfume they wear. I mean really think about them and what troubles them each day. 

2.      Create space and time to think about what else is going on in your business that might coordinate with other things. This means programs, launches or upcoming events in your business or your area (connect the dots). Even events put on by businesses around you that you may be able to  collaborate with them on. Stop and think. There is opportunity everywhere.  

3.      When you think about something you sell, ask yourself, “what is it about what I’m doing that genuinely makes people’s lives better.” Center your content on this thing, whatever it is. Think about it daily, and the content will flow easily.

 If you’re not mindful daily in your business, you’ll likely find yourself three years from now wondering what in the heck you’re doing and why. It’s mindfulness in life that keeps you in charge of what you’re doing in your business, where you want to go, and it leads you to doing great things. Don’t miss opportunities because you were frantic or frazzled. We all can use a little mindfulness in our lives. Share or comment on this post if you agree! :)

These are a few of my Favorite Things

Recently, I realized I had reached a season in my life where I needed find people who could encourage me with mindset, professional goals and work things. I needed mentors, so to speak, who have gone before me in business and life, but people who weren’t necessarily in the same line of work as me. I had one big requirement…I wanted them to be essentially strangers. This may sound odd, but I really wanted a completely fresh perspective from different people with different experiences and career paths. And I’m happy to say, I lucked out BIG time and got the best of the best.

 
Laura Johns The Small Town Creative
 

Every other Tuesday, I get up bright and early (which means, they see me at my best - lol), and we hash out all things business. Then, throughout the day almost every day, we chat on Marco Polo about anything that comes to mind. It’s a breath of fresh air to hear such great perspectives on a regular basis.

This week, one of my gals posted a great blog about her favorite things, and she encouraged me to do the same. While these aren’t all business related, some are, and others are just things that have made my life just a touch more fun or flavorful. Feel free to DM me on Instagram @thesmalltowncreative or email me at laura@thesmalltowncreative.com if you have questions about any of these products.

While I always encourage LOCAL shopping, I also sometimes know that the convenience of Amazon is a good thing, so I’m shooting links your way.

Fruit Infusion Pitcher
I don’t drink enough water and, sadly, needed motivation to do so. I love keeping this pitcher stocked with limes, lemons, strawberries, blueberries or anything else I can find. It definitely helps make water more fun.

 
 

Silk Pillowcase
After hearing all you young whipper snappers tell me about the fancy P.J. Harlow pajamas, I thought…I like this fancy silk deal. But I’m not one much to spend $100 on something I sleep in. So, I decided to meet in the middle and invest in a fancy silk pillowcase. I absolutely love it!

 

Yi Home Camera
This is mainly a tip for the parents in the room, but after trying a $200+ baby monitor when we first had our little guy, I would stand on the mountaintops proclaiming how much I love this monitor. Our expensive monitor didn’t last long at all (had to be held together by tape within four month). So, I resorted to Amazon for a cheap one, thinking this would “get us by.” I LOVE this monitor. It connects easily, works with our mobile phones, and it’s been perfect for our home. I even bought one for my parent’s house so I wouldn’t have to take ours back and forth.

 

Built to Sell
So, I’ve become much more of a listener than a reader hear lately, resorting to podcast and audio books for my continuing education. I heard someone refer to this book on a podcast, and I actually ordered it in paperback. It’s called Built to Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You. It’s a fiction book about an entrepreneur building his business and realizing that if he goes down, his business is going down with him. So, it walks you through the frame work to grow a business to sell but in a fun way. There are TONS of books on this type of thing, but I love that John Warrillow turned this very real scenario into fiction. It’s inspiring but also fun and quick. Great airplane read!

 

While it’s just a few things on my Favorite Things list (I plan to have more later), these are most definitely some of my absolute can’t live with out things. I hope you enjoy!

Pivot Carefully. Pivot Confidently.

 
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What to do when you need to change things in your business

Success in business takes one part tunnel vision and one part open mindedness. And while that may seem like a contradiction, it makes perfect sense to those entrepreneurs out there trying to make every day matter. The ability to stay focused on what’s most important in the business is equally as important as having a vision for the new things that may be game changers.

Of the conversations I often have, some talk about the unexpected changes that required a complete business transformation for survival. And others just feel a strong urge to move in a different direction – concerned that it might break their soul if they do and break them financially if they don’t.

Often, when I have multiple conversations within a week’s time about the same topic, I’m compelled to write about it. Today, I’ll be talking about the pivot. The pivot is when your business is rocking along (or dragging along), and you know it’s time for a change. The change may or may not completely redefine your business, but it could definitely potentially change things and affect your customers or clients. So, the question is, how do you know when it’s the right time to pivot? And how do you do it gracefully? 

Numbers don’t lie.

We all know you had a dream and a passion to start your endeavor, and we’re so proud of you for it. But if you’re losing money, or declining in revenue month after month, it’s time for a pivot. For the owner of a brick and mortar, this may mean considering the switch to becoming an online business. For those selling one or two products or services, this may mean hunkering down to offer more. For those who can’t get inventory out the door in a timely manner, this may mean dropping some products to be more affective and offer better customer service. 

Your heart won’t lie.

It’s time for a heart – and gut – check. What thoughts fill your brain when your head hits the pillow? First, I’ll tell you, EVERY entrepreneur feels like a hamster in a wheel from time to time. That feeling is somewhat normal. But if the wheel feels like it’s unhinged and spiraling down a dead end road, that’s when it’s time for an SOS.  

When you start to feel this way, go back to your original vision for the company. Then, allow yourself to look at your 3, 5 and 10 year plan with a fresh eyes. Invite people you trust into the process. This is when it’s time to get real with yourself. If your original vision doesn’t match up to where you want to be in 3, 5 or 10 years, pivot. 

Your closest friends or family won’t lie.

Ask your people. The thing you’ve been most afraid to do this whole time because you don’t want to hear an “I told you so.” Your friends have the most insight into you personally and what you can and can’t handle. And they can see when you’re breaking down. Ask them if they think it’s time for you to pivot.  

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How to pivot gracefully. 

Don’t make decisions quickly.

There’s a reason it’s called a pivot and not a knee jerk. The life of your business is marathon, not a sprint. If you’re feeling that hamster spiral situation happening, write down what’s going on, how you feel and make a list of potential solutions to the problem.   

Next, get feedback.

Take this list to your family, closest business-minded friends and  customers. Pull records of who has purchased from you the most in the last year or two.  

Take action.

Don’t just make a change. First, communicate to your email list and customers via social media to let them know the why behind the what. Explain to them what’s happening, but most importantly, why it’s happening. Make sure they know that you have their best interest in mind.  

Also, get an action plan. Don’t just make the decision and sit on it. Stand confident in your decision and draw out an action plan to make the changes, making customer communication #1). Then, plan out how the next year looks for your business with these new changes adopted, phasing things into your new state  little each 

Breathe.

Congrats. Now breathe. It wasn’t the end of the world. You survived. This pivot could be the best move you’ve ever made in your business. Write down why you made this pivot on paper somewhere you can see it every day.  Maybe even write down those things that kept you up at night before you started. And when you start question or down, or consider a pivot back, go back to that piece of paper and remember the things that got you here. 

Pivots don’t have to be dramatic. They just need to be done carefully and confidently. And if you truly felt called to this business you have, your responsibility is to stay committed to it, even if it involves a little pivot from time to time.

 

May Your Heart Be Light

 
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It’s almost Christmas, and while I normally post helpful tips about marketing for small business, I want to post about something that’s very real to me right now, and that’s the holiday fog. It’s such a fun season – in fact, the best season of the year. But, somehow, December 25th is just a few short days away, and the last few weeks have been a whirlwind of busyness, insanity, and I just need to know if anybody feels me. I think it’s the ebb and flow of business, and I believe the way I’ve felt this year can be echoed by entrepreneurs, business people and hard workers everywhere. And I’m here to say…well…I’m here.

The pace of the American dream has worked its way into every crevice of our lives – our families operate with a “go, go, go,” mentality, and the holidays are almost like an super amped up and more complicated version of our day-to-day. And owning a business, especially in retail, becomes less of an opportunity to serve others and more something that makes you wonder why you started in the first place.

If you own a business, manage a business, lead marketing for a business, or go to sleep at night hoping you’ll still have a job a year from now….read this. If you find that the business you are in sucks more joy out of you than it puts in you, maybe 2019 is the year to consider shifting things around. (I didn’t say quit.) Without being in someone’s shoes, I won’t likely ever feel like I’m the person to actually advise someone to give up on something. But having the energy, drive and commitment to do something likely stems from the joy it gives. And if what you’re doing doesn’t give you joy, it’s time to do a gut check.

This life definitely isn’t meant to be worry free. Any successful entrepreneur has stories of tough times. But, as we step into Christmas, I want to encourage you to ask yourself – is my heart light or heavy this Christmas? And, if the answer is heavy, ask yourself what you can do to make 2019 a year of more joy and peace (and less turmoil). This can be a yearly practice (or even a monthly or weekly), but taking the time to stop and consider the weight of your heart and the factors that affect it. It could be people, lack of resources, finances or any number of other things that can cause your heart to be heavy. Determine the source and work toward a more joyful 2019. 

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Planning for the New Year

If the end of 2018 has you overwhelmed thinking about a business strategy and plan for the New Year, I suggest starting small with four priorities for the year and going from there.

The Big Four

  • Pick the top four things you want to accomplish this year and divide them by quarters. I know, I know…if you’re like me, you want to do all the things on all the days. But the reality is, none of those four things will happen if you don’t slow down, take a deep breath and do them one at a time.

  • Take the four quarters and determine…what FOUR things in each of these FOUR quarters are required to  make my big four happen. Write these things down. 

By now, you should have four big goals and 16 supporting goals.

  • Now, look at each of the 16 supporting goals and ask yourself…can I do this on my own, or do I need someone to help me (or, do it for me). If you need help. Today is the time to start looking for that help. Breaking your priorities down will help make your year not seem quite so stressful, and, hopefully, it will help you realize that in order to accomplish the BIG things, you need help with the smaller things. 

We all need one another. Quite frankly, I can’t even fathom the last year of major life changes without people supporting me at every turn. So why should business be any different?

Let’s decide our big four, our supporting four and the people it will take to make 2019 a year of success, less fog and more joy. You deserve the best for your business, and your business deserves the best of you!

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Social Media Game Changers

 
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Five things that will change the way your business uses social media. 

A few years ago, the percentage of businesses using social media was less than 30%. Today, it’s over 70%. So, what’s the deal? What exactly is it that’s allowed so many business owners to understand the value of social media for their business? If you poll 100 entrepreneurs, my guess is they would tell you they felt as though not having a social media presence wasn’t an option. And quite frankly, they would be right.  

The proof is in the pudding. One of my favorite social media planning tools, Sprout Social, reports that 75% of adults who make over $75,000/USD per year use Facebook. And with 2 billion active monthly users on that particular medium, businesses can’t afford to be silent on social.  

One of the things I hear most often from business owners is that they don’t know what to say or how to say it. And, depending on the size of the business, there seems to be a fine line between keeping social media management internal vs. outsourcing it. Either way can be beneficial to the company depending on the business. My advice is, whether internal or external, make sure you are putting social media in the hands of someone who truly understands your purpose, your voice and your narrative.  

Let me be so bold as to make this one defining statement about social media for your business. If you see it as another avenue to sell your products or services, you’re doing it all wrong. What happens when someone walks into your storefront and is bombarded with a salesperson? Well, if it’s me, I leave the store as quickly as possible. In fact, I’ve made it a habit to pretend I’m on the phone when I walk onto a car lot or inside a furniture store that trains sales representatives to be aggressive. While social media can be a place for you to promote your products, it should most definitely not be all you do on social media. Social media should be a conversation, not a means to an end. 

I’ve captured my top five tips for business owners to help you keep the main thing the main thing when it comes to social media (and help you avoid overwhelm).

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1.      Know your narrative.

This is the number one most important thing of all things. What do you want the customer to understand about most about your business? Is it that candles are 20% off? Most likely not. It’s whatever it is that led you to start this business in the first place. It’s the thing that keeps you up at night. It’s the thing that, after a really slow month, kept you going.  

Your product or service can make people’s lives better, and they need to know that. But they also need your help. They need you to guide them. On social media, you should be talking about things that affect this person each day outside of just promoting your business.

What keeps them up at night? What things to they care about? What does their family look like? What does their daily life look like, and how can you help guide them in their daily life outside of telling them candles are 20% off? That’s your narrative.

 

2.      Let them experience YOU.

Anybody can sell a shirt. But it’s the WAY you sell a shirt and the meaning behind the shirt that makes it unique. But it’s hard to show people that using words and pictures on social media, right? So, rather than focus solely on selling your product, them the experience. If you’re a storefront, what does it feel like to walk in your store – do you use a certain color palette, have flowers outside your door, have a signature style, or serve free coffee when your patrons walk in the door? Your social media should be an extension of you – with colors, photos and an aesthetic that literally mimics what it feels to walk down the street and walk in the door to you.

 

3.      Pick your platform.

This doesn’t necessarily mean I’m suggest only using one social media platform. But I do suggest a business do their research and find which platform is the most likely to have their target customer on it. Above all else, do that platform WELL. Keep content current and find out how to engage with people on that platform above all else. 

 

4.      Understand quality > quantity.

Everybody’s stressing about followers, but the reality is, more followers can also mean more clutter to sift through to get the deal done. Consider this scenario – a business can have 100 people walk in the store and not buy a thing. But, the one ideal customer walks in and buys the whole store. It only takes one, so know your narrative, lead them to your experience, pick your platform and find the one that’s coming to BUY things.

 

5.      Use the 4/5 Rule.

Of every five social media posts, four of them should be educational and driven from reputable internal or external sources (because nobody likes someone who only talks about themselves, right?). This might include non-salesly blog content, good articles or information that relates to your industry. And the other one should be content that promotes your business, products or services.

 It’s easy to forget what the purpose of social media is – being social and building relationships. When it starts to get stressful, the best thing to do is remember that social media is that it’s just another avenue to get to know people. Don’t stress. Just be authentic. Don’t oversell yourself. And have fun. Let’s make difference in the world by sharing an authentic voice on social media. 

 

Shopping Small Helps Us All

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The holidays are upon us. It’s time to start making lists and setting shopping budgets, knowing for certain we will exceed them well before Christmas. We can always make a New Year’s resolution to rid of that debt we accumulated in the last 45 days, right? By mid-December, we’ve purchased gifts for Dirty Santa at work, the ornament swap with your church group, a gift exchange with college friends and something for the relative we barely know. No matter how long your list becomes, I urge you to consider this simple chant for the holidays – shopping small helps us all.

 Next week is Black Friday, followed by Small Business Saturday, the biggest day for local shopping this year. And while the name of the day may give us the warm and fuzzies, the convenience of Amazon can often overpower your commitment to local business.

 The shop small message is so much more than a trending hashtag. It affects every day of the year for the local business owner and the community where the store is located. Local shopping releases a domino effect that touches families, schools and political decisions in your very town. Here are a few key ways your local purchase makes a difference in your community and your state.

It boosts your local economy.

Locally-owned businesses generally consider domestic manufacturers before outsourcing overseas. In fact, many of the businesses in your town carry American-made and locally-made goods. And even if the product wasn’t made in your back yard, it’s highly likely it was made in a town just like yours. Supporting neighbors is important, too. 

It employs your people.

Making one purchase locally can impact multiple people in the community. From makers and artisans to the employees who work for the business itself, we need thriving businesses that can support and employ locals. The extra effort we make to buy from a business a few blocks away means neighbors, family and church friends have job security. Local businesses depend on us to show up, both on Small Business Saturday and every other day of the year.

It Builds Your Community

The last time your child had a baseball team to sponsor, who offered their support? Most likely, it was a local business owner. The businesses in this community support us, our kids, school functions and raffles. They serve as drop-off locations for collecting donated items for those in need, and they help us spread the word about causes and events. They are an enormous part of what makes the community tick.

Whether it’s a small town or a big city, there’s always that building considered to be an eyesore. Thankfully, we are blessed to have a some great people in this town that care deeply about revitalizing abandoned buildings. More often than not, these “eyesores” were once local businesses. If a business is left unsupported, it cannot thrive. Yet, if we support local businesses, more will come, and we’ll have the luxury of a variety of options when we shop.

 
My favorite local store  Rubies Home Furnishings  put together these perfect teacher gifts for under $20 without me having to do a thing. I just called and picked them up!  Go ahead and use the hashtag #smallbusinesssaturday if it makes you happy. But, most importantly, when you look at the shopping list, challenge yourself with making every purchase on the list a local one.

My favorite local store Rubies Home Furnishings put together these perfect teacher gifts for under $20 without me having to do a thing. I just called and picked them up!

Go ahead and use the hashtag #smallbusinesssaturday if it makes you happy. But, most importantly, when you look at the shopping list, challenge yourself with making every purchase on the list a local one.

 

Small Town Heroes

 

It’s been a while since my last blog post. I often pride myself in being ahead of the game, always planning months ahead. The reality is that things like blog posts take a back seat. Always. But, I hope to be spending more time writing over the course of the coming months because, when I’m writing about something I’m passionate about, it does me soooo much good.

At the time I’m writing this, I am traveling back from a vacation and felt inspired to write about the unsung small town heroes – those men and women who may not have rescued people from a burning building – but they are real, living, breathing, life-saving people who live down just down the street. They are everywhere. And in Laurel, one of these heroes is my friend, Lauren Gebauer.

When Jay and I moved to Laurel, Lauren and her husband Ben were living just down the street from the home we bought. We both had moved to Laurel for the same reason, to be a part of Agape Church in Laurel. The Gebauers, however, moved much farther that we did with a team from California to help the church get started. When we moved to Laurel in 2015, Ben and Lauren had no children and neither did we. We made breakfast feasts and back porch dinner hangouts a regular occurrence. We were expecting our first son, and they were completing the process to begin fostering.

In my life, Lauren has been a hero in the form of morning walks with coffee, checking on me when my kid is throwing up everywhere, bringing me desserts for no reason, and watering my plants or caring for my dog when we are out of town. And in the lives of many children, she been a hero in the form of serving as a foster mom. 

Laura Johns and Lauren Gebauer

I asked Lauren to share her story on my blog not only to help promote her new book (shameless plug…go buy it here), but also because I wanted you to be blessed by reading her story. I have seen firsthand how Lauren and Ben handle the joys and challenges of fostering. And it’s amazing to me that in between fostering up to seven children in her home (four at one time), she has found the time to write a book to give children in foster care hope and encouragement.

So, without further ado, here is Lauren’s story and how her book Come to Find Out came to be.


I ended up in Laurel because I was in love with a guy and followed him out here. I still believe my mom was speaking with wisdom when she told me, “You should never move across the country for a man!” But I guess you could say it worked out for us because that guy is now my husband, and we’re still very much in love.

Ben moved out here as part of the original team to help launch Agape Church in downtown Laurel. He had been living at his parent’s house in California when we started dating, and the guy was ready for a new adventure. He heard about a group of crazy folks moving to The Bible Belt to launch a church, and he thought that would be his opportunity to be part of something bigger than himself. He actually signed up as part of the team at the last minute, which only left him two weeks to pack his stuff and get on the road. Although I had only known him for a couple months, I had fallen hard for this guy and was ready to pursue a real relationship with him, only for him to up and leave to Mississippi. I was bummed.

The team moved to Laurel in January 2010. I wasn’t on track to graduate from my university until December 2011, so as soon as I received my diploma, I hit the road and moved myself to Mississippi.

Even as kids, Ben and I have both always planned to adopt. I remember having a conversation with my parents at just seven or eight years old about orphans and adoption. I made somewhat of a promise to myself that I would adopt because I couldn’t fathom the idea that some children had to grow up without parents.

Lauren and Ben Gebauer

After we were married, we often had conversations about family planning. We both felt strongly that we would adopt before we attempted to have biological children, if we ever did decide to have biological children. I started researching adoption (cost, timelines, etc.). In my research, I learned how truly expensive it is to adopt through traditional channels. I also learned that adoption through foster care is, essentially, free.

The deeper I dug into learning about foster care, the more I felt called to start fostering. We went into it thinking we would just be foster parents without necessarily looking for a child to adopt. Our goal was to take children that need a home and do our best to be good parents to them.

Going through the process to get a license, we were able to choose the age, gender and race of children that we were willing to accept. We were open to fostering children of any race and gender between the ages of 0-8. We assumed we would likely be placed with children on the older side of our age range since it is known to be most difficult to find homes for older children. We were ready to accept the difficult cases. After all, we didn’t have any children already living in our home we needed to protect. We went to the training classes, completed our home study, bought a fire extinguisher and some outlet protectors, got our license, then began waiting.  

We received a call asking us to take a newborn from the hospital. Today, we are on track to adopt that newborn, who is now two years old. Since receiving our son in 2016, we have had seven other children come in and out of our home.

 Throughout our foster care journey, I have spent time connecting with other foster parents through social media to share advice and resources. Every few weeks or so, someone posts on a foster parent support group asking, “What are some good foster care books for foster children?” The answer to that question is that there are a handful of books for kids in foster care, but they could be so much better, and there really should be more. On any given day, there are 438,000 children in US foster care. There should be more books made specifically for them, especially if those books can be used therapeutically to help them through a difficult life situation.

So I set out to write a book for kids in foster care. I compiled a list to help me get started on my first book, Come To Find Out. This was the first thing I wrote in my journal: 

What do I want to leave the kids with?

·      hope

·      excitement for their future

·      a feeling of empowerment

·      a reminder that they don’t have to follow in their parents footsteps

·      the confidence that their life has value

·      a reminder that the best is yet to come

·      a success story

Reflecting on that list, I definitely feel like I accomplished what I set out to achieve. Now, I am actively seeking the best way to get this story into the hands of kids in foster care.

There is still a lot of work to do. Ideally, I’d like to have a whole series of books created for children in foster care. Come To Find Out focuses on the perseverance of a young girl, and I’d like to have a similar book for boys. After that, I want to create a book focusing on TPR (Termination of Parental Rights). Nearly half of all children in foster care will have to experience TPR, and it’s a confusing and painful thing to navigate. We need a book to help kids navigate that difficult transition.

 There are so many parts of the foster care journey that need to be discussed and explored for the benefit of the kids living through it, so I might as well be the one to do it.


I hope by reading this, you were as encouraged as I am. Help me support Lauren in her goal to get more books like Come to Find Out available to children in foster care. Purchase the book here. And to connect with Lauren, find her on Instagram at @lauren_._margaret