I remember all too well the days of working a 9-5 office job, sitting in my cubicle and dreaming of working from home. I longed for the days when I could run an online business from the privacy of my own apartment, ditch my long commute, work in stretchy-pants, and not have to pack a lunch.
The grass is always greener, isn’t it?
While I’m extremely grateful that my work-from-home dreams came to fruition, I’m able to see a fuller, less-glorified picture of what running an online business looks like in actuality. There are numerous benefits, but there’s one aspect that’s been difficult for a people-person like myself...
The lack of human interaction.
Sure, I receive tweets, blog comments, and Instagram feedback, but it isn’t quite the same as one-on-one, in-person conversation.
As a reader, you might experience this same problem from the other side as well.
While I know reading this is awesome (am I right?), it’s not quite the same as sitting down to coffee with me and having a 2-sided conversation. In-person connections will always be a thousand times better than anything you can experience online.
And for an online business, this poses a problem. People want to support a business they can personally connect with.
Think about it: Why do people buy handmade clothes and jewelry from Etsy, drink craft beer, and shop local? They want to support a cause they can get behind instead of supporting a big, generic corporation. They want to put their money towards something they can relate with.
Consumers are more interested in buying an experience than a product.
So how can you connect with your readers in a more personal way and provide an experience (while also adding a little more human interaction to your workweek)?
1 | Conferences
Coming off the heals of the VenturePop conference this past weekend makes me especially mindful of the importance of in-person connections.
Last Saturday I was able to connect with Elle & Company readers apart from the computer screen (hi Micah and Adrienne!), and it was awesome to hear their personal stories and provide feedback to help them grow their blogs and businesses.
It made my month, because nothing can beat a good old fashioned conversation to get to know someone a little better.
Conferences are a fantastic way to do just that. Not only do they give you the opportunity to meet online friends in real life, but they can lead toward all kinds of opportunities for collaborations and partnerships.
And the good news is that conferences and workshops are popping up everywhere these days!
All of the above are all fantastic places to meet and connect with other people who can relate to you as a creative entrepreneur.
Did I leave out another great conference or workshop for creatives? Add it in the comments!
2 | Skype, Google Hangouts, and FaceTime
Skype is as close as you can get to an in-person connection on the internet. While phone calls are better than emails, seeing someone’s facial expressions and interacting with them “face-to-face” is often much more personable.
For this reason, I try to Skype with customers and others in my industry whenever possible. If you’re interested in creating more of a personal interaction with your clients and others in your industry, begin swapping out phone calls for Skype, Google, Hangouts, and FaceTime.
3 | Periscope
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the latest craze that is Periscope, say hello to my new favorite social media platform.
Periscope is a live streaming video app; it’s like a live television program in your pocket. It allows you to see what’s going on from another person’s perspective while it’s actually happening. You can also leave live comments, which allows you to interact with the person hosting the scope.
After feeling a little left out of the fun everyone seems to be having on Periscope, I decided to jump on for the first time (@laurenelizhook) for a little Q+A on the way down to New Orleans last Friday (I even coerced Jake into joining in, too).
While I was feeling a little nervous about the “live” aspect of it all, it was a blast!
We were stunned by the number of people who tuned in and left us hearts (we still aren’t quite sure what their purpose is, but for those who left them, we heart you too!) and we received a lot of great feedback. More importantly, we were able to chat with Elle & Company followers and interact with them live.
Our audience seemed to like it, too.
I don’t want to speak for Courtney (if you read this, Courtney, you can leave some of your thoughts in the comments!), but Periscope also seemed to make Jake and I a little more “human;” it showed a side of us that isn’t often seen in a blog post, tweet, or Instagram caption.
Those who tuned in were able to hear our voices (yes, there’s some southern twang in there) and see the way we interact with each other. And hopefully, seeing us in an informal way helped develop a more personal connection and fostered trust.
While I’m no Periscope expert, I’m already excited about the new opportunities this platform provides for online businesses.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to use Periscope for business, I would highly recommend that you take a listen to this podcast episode from Smart Passive Income. We loved it.
4 | Free Webinars
While webinars are a bit more formal than scopes and a little less interactive than than in-person conversations, they’re still a great way to provide some facetime with your audience.
Jump onto a webinar for an “ask me anything” Q+A, repurpose the content from an old blog post into a live session, or start a mini series on a specific topic.
You could charge for these webinars, but it could hinder many interested followers from joining in and interacting with you. Providing free content and on-air face time also helps build trust with your audience, so it’s wise to try and get as many people to participate as possible.
5 | Live Office Hours
Do you have a couple hours to spare once a week or once a month for some one-on-one interaction with your followers? Designate some time to make yourself available on Skype and share your handle and your “live office hours” so people can give you a ring and chat with you.
You can run it on a first-come, first-serve basis and even put a time limit on your interaction with each person if you’re pressed for time.
Not only will this allow you to answer questions faster face-to-face than in an email, but it will allow you to connect with your audience on a more personal level.
6 | Phone Responses
Gasp! (Especially since I talked about turning phone conversations into Skype sessions in #3, I know.)
Every now and then I’ll receive an email from a reader that’s very long and detailed, asking me an in-depth blog, business, or design question. I make an effort to answer every email that comes my way, but there are times when it would be far easier to call someone up and answer their question than spend 30+ minutes responding via email.
So that’s exactly what I do. I email them and ask if they would be interested in hopping on a 15-minute phone call.
I do this not only to cut back on time, but I’m also extremely grateful that readers trust me and reach out to me for advice. By taking some time to connect with them on a personal level, it (hopefully!) shows that I care.
Some of you are probably a little leery of giving your phone number to strangers and I get that. Let me introduce you to another favorite of mine, Google Voice.
Google Voice provides you with a new cell phone number that routes to your phone, and you can choose to screen and/or block incoming calls that appear on your caller ID. It’s a great way to safely connect with people you don’t know over the phone, and the setup process is easy and straightforward.
If you’re looking for a simple way to humanize your business, turning an email response into a short phone call can go a long way.
Remember when people advised you not to share too much information on the internet. Why? Because strangers are creepy and they can’t be trusted.
But what do you need to do if you run any sort of online business? Overcompensate. Go out of your way to develop trust with your audience. Consistently show yourself on camera to allow people to get to know you and meet your audience where they are.
All of the above will go a long way in developing trust with your audience and humanizing your online business.
Which blogs and businesses do you enjoy following along with most? What do they do to help "humanize" their online presence?
On that note...
We're switching up the Ellechat!
On that note, we're switching up the Ellechat in a couple weeks by taking the conversation out of Twitter and into a live webinar.
It will still run the same as our usual Twitter chat with specific questions being asked throughout the hour, but instead of chiming in over 140 characters you’ll have the opportunity to leave longer responses and even chime in live. You’ll still be able to interact with other participants within the chat and receive live feedback.
This is unlike anything we’ve done in the past, but we’re really excited for the opportunity to interact with Elle & Company readers on a more personal level.
We’re going to give this a go one week from Thursday on October 15th at 8pm EST and focus on Boosting Your Blog Traffic. If you’re interested, click the button below to sign up!