A friend of mine has a saying, “The ex-wife is never completely wrong.” This is true, I’ve found, when it comes to ex-consultants, ex-employees, former vendors, and previous PR counsel to PR clients that turn out to be not so good.

Like a new girlfriend we think it will be different with us! We’re different, so the client will be kinder, more responsive, respectful, etc.

Not true.

If someone tells you that the client (with whom they used to have a relationship) doesn’t pay, or pay on time, is not responsive, is disrespectful, doesn’t value public relations or marketing, etc. that’s not going to change after they sign a contract with you.

Bad clients are just like bad boyfriends. Break up with them.

There’s really nothing that can prepare you for that moment when you pick up your phone and/or  log in to Facebook and see 8,000 new messages. Just yesterday, you think, we were trying desperately to get 300 likes on our page!

It’s the stuff some companies dream of. It’s a nightmare for most.

The thing is, you’re not going to know when your campaign is going to take off like wildfire. You may be pretty sure you’re going to get some attention, but you don’t really think it’s going to be Snuggling Baby Goats attention.

It doesn’t matter — it’s still worth the time to do a little preparation — a bit like the conversations people are having about the nearly $2 billion Powerball jackpot and how they would spend the money if/when the win. (Buying baby goats!)

Know these four things:

  1. To whom you will turn to help manage the overwhelming number of messages across all channels. This must be a trusted, experienced individual. Do not throw your intern under this bus.
  2. To whom you will turn to increase production/meet demand, etc. How big could you scale, if necessary?
  3. If things go viral in a bad way (you mess up, a terrible review gets major attention, etc.) what will your apology say, and how will you make it right? Write that message now, leaving blanks to fill in later, of course,  long before you need it.
  4. What will be your strategy when people are mean, overenthusiastic, threatening, troll-like, etc? If it’s to turn the monitoring of comments over to the person identified here under number one, that’s OK. Shutting down and disappearing might feel like the right action in the short term, but don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. The flames will die down, a new viral story will emerge, and you don’t want to be in a position to build your audience from scratch. Hang in there.

And if it happens to you suddenly, and you have no idea what to do, and you don’t know any of the four things, just give me a call.

It’s not hard to see how this happened: Virginia goat cheese producer Caromont Farm advertised on its Facebook page a need for volunteers to snuggle baby goats. People responded in droves, eager to get some goat love, and the story, adorably enhanced with tiny cable-knit sweater wearing kids, got picked up everywhere, like Buzzfeed, and ABC News, The Washington Post and The Today Show; pretty much a media relations slam-dunk if I ever saw one, and not even what the little farm intended! No need to apply for goat snuggling this season, but the farm has scheduled a Goatapalooza for anyone who still needs their goaty fix.

We love the attention it’s getting, though because our client Cavalier Produce is a distributor of Caromont Farm cheeses, supplying local restaurants with it, and another client of ours uses goat’s milk for another purpose: Wynott Farm sells goat’s milk soap. Goats are getting their day, for sure!

UPDATE:

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that local NBC affiliate WVIR-TV NBC29 covered the story first, largely responsible for setting off the avalanche of media coverage. Also, it appears (as of January 14, 2016 at 2:00PM Eastern, that Caromont Farm has deleted or unpublished their Facebook page, a sad footnote on how small businesses are often unprepared for a big wave of attention.

In January of 2011, after 14 years of working for other firms, I opened my own. I was nervous but determined. Five years seems like a worthwhile anniversary to celebrate; a benchmark that in small entrepreneurial business means “you’ve made it.” Here are some lessons I’ve learned in my first five years as a small business owner:

  1. The conversations you have today may result in business eight years from now. Lead time can be very long, so keep having those conversations and meeting new people.
  2. Don’t waste time with worry. There are better ways to spend time! There was a single day in my second year of business that two large clients ended their engagements. (They were both restructuring.) It was a panic-inducing shock, and I’ll admit, I spent a full 24-hours freaking out about it. And then I stopped, and got busy finding new work. I’ll never kill that kind of time with worry again.
  3. Get the signed contract and, especially if there’s some concern about client cash flow, a deposit. I was royally stiffed by a client in the second year of business (it was a bad year, all around. I got divorced, too, and going through that kind of personal trauma while trying to run a business is unbelievably hard). And you know what? I am GLAD now, because that experience taught me such valuable lessons. I also found the courage to fight back and won, a feeling not as gratifying as not making a mistake in the first place, but a relief all the same.
  4. Eat breakfast. This is probably a life lesson, in general, but a morning routine that includes getting some protein in my system (and, possibly some caffeine as well) makes it possible for me to rock through a morning without being distracted by something as boring but insistent as hunger.
  5. Delegation is critical to success. When I find myself doing something I know another team member could do better, for less, I stop and turn it over. It took me awhile to get to that point but now delegation is much more routine. I can recognize much earlier what MUST be done by me, and what should be assigned to another (eager) team member.
  6. Take care of your people. My firm is run as an S-corp of which I am the sole employee. I like it that way and plan to keep it structured like that for the long haul. I have contract employees — freelancers — who do client work such as editing, writing, researching, web development, graphic design, SEO, etc. I do my best to keep them as busy as they want to be, with work they enjoy. I try to pay them as fast as I can. And if it’s a good year, and they did especially well, there’s a little something extra for them. I’ve been able to provide work for people who are good at what they do, and who enjoy the benefits of working a flexible schedule from home (or wherever they are). I’ve worked with a dozen or so contractors over five years and have developed a wonderful, dependable team over that time.
  7. Take time off. This was harder to do early on, but I’ve achieved good balance with this and find that a break now and then really resets my energy. I’m not much impressed with people who humblebrag/complain about how busy they are and how many hours they work. I am impressed with people who recognize that time with friends and family, time for self-care, time to think about the big picture and progress toward goals is just as important as earning a paycheck.

I’m so grateful to the clients I’ve worked with since the earliest days of 2011. I’m so appreciative of my team members who have made so much of this business possible. I’m excited about the future and know how rare it is to get to a fifth anniversary (and beyond) through a recession and other obstacles. It’s great to feel confident about the future of this business, and delightful to have you paying attention along the way. Thanks for reading, and for being here to learn along with me.

My firm manages websites for a number of clients and for some, we set up the client’s very first website, allowing us to make the hosting decisions for them. In addition, I’ve set up several websites of my own, for personal use or for the firm itself. For all of these I’ve used DreamHost for hosting. I’ve used DreamHost, in fact, for 10 years now and the reason I’m writing this is to tell you that I have never had an issue with their hosting. Ever. In fact, any time there’s been an issue with a website (broken code, a bad plugin, etc.) and I couldn’t get it resolved on my own, the online chat customer service has gotten it taken care of within MINUTES. I had an issue with a bad plugin on an old site I was dealing with this morning and it was just six minutes later when DreamHost had it fixed for me.

They don’t pay me — I pay them! This is just an honest endorsement for a service that hasn’t let me down once in 10 years. If you’re fed up with your hosting service or starting a new website, I must encourage you to look at DreamHost. Totally worth it.