Two years ago, Hitchen and her business partner Katie Hellmuth-Martin decided to start Tin Shingle, an online membership program that offers buzz-building tools and tips to entrepreneurs. "We saw a big gap in the small-business word that was necessary to fill," she says. Owners need "to build buzz for their businesses because that buzz translates into press, customers, sales and in essence, survival." But most entrepreneurs, especially those in the startup phase, can't afford to hire an agency. Hence, Hitchen and Hellmuth-Martin created a lower-cost online platform. (Monthly membership is $150, yearly is $1,450.)
Today, Hitchen says the Tin Shingle platform is used by entrepreneurs from California to Michigan to the U.K., and many have used it "to land national morning show segments and magazine stories, master their Twitter [and] dive fearlessly into Instagram."
Edited interview excerpt follow.
The Story Exchange: On your website, you say "If entrepreneurship were a drug, I'd be its pusher." What makes you so passionate about small business?
You can take what you are good at, what you are passionate about, what you have skills in and turn it into something that not only turns a profit but helps make people's lives better, happier, easier, and so forth. Entrepreneurs get to steer their own ship, make their own decisions and lead. I love the speed at which decisions can be made, changes can happen and ideas can be implemented.
The Story Exchange: What inspired you and Hellmuth-Martin to create Tin Shingle?
We were already entrepreneurs running agencies in the fields of PR/social media (me) and web design/online marketing (Katie). Before long we were also teaching and speaking about these topics to small-business owners. We created a platform that gives them education and really trustworthy content, along with tools, resources, templates, media contacts and PR leads, an online platform to share their stories, products and events -- the works.
The Story Exchange: Can you provide a few easy tips for how a business can build buzz?
1. Be sure you are present (with a profile, image) on social platforms including Facebook, Twitter and if it works for your business, Instagram. You should be posting regularly, and not just via statements about what you do. Ask questions, share behind-the-scenes photos of you at work, curate information from your niche, share industry-specific inspirational or motivational quotes (people love those), Retweet and reply to posts of people in your niche (and members of the media) and always be authentic.
2. Create a template for a quality pitch (for the media) about your product or service. It should be clear, to the point and not too long. My favorites include a clear subject line (nothing too tricky to understand), a brief (just few sentences can be enough) with an intro that includes a hook and a clear reason you're writing, and then bullets that include unique selling points so to speak about your product, service or awesome small-biz story.
3. Don't doubt yourself. You need to be the "lead singer in your own band," so to speak. You need to believe you deserve press, buzz and your story to be told -- or no one else will. Once you fully start "owning it" and sharing it with pride, certainty, and strategically, others will clamor to do so as well.
The Story Exchange: What are the biggest mistakes that business owners make, in terms of public relations or social media?
The first: we dive into our PR, social media or even online marketing campaigns without properly educating ourselves, learning powerful strategies or taking a "time out" to plan before executing. Often we think we have no time or brain space to dedicate to it and that simply acting on it -- even without the proper skills or background -- is better than nothing. I beg to differ. Even a day or two of preparation, listening to podcasts or reading quality articles about strategies will make your work more powerful, successful and impactful.
Another mistake: Though we may be communicating via emails, pitches, tweets or Instagram photos, at the end of the day these are just different mediums in which we have conversations with regular people, share our brand story and essentially communicate who we are and what we want. This means you want to write personalized pitches to people when emailing them and actually have researched their outlet before you pitch them. When you tweet you don't want to "spam" several people with the same "Hey look at me, here's what I do"-esque pitch repeatedly in your stream. Instead, slow down, speak authentically and clearly and treat the recipient on the other end of your electronic communication like a real person with real needs -- because they are -- and you want to help them fill those needs.
The Story Exchange: As an entrepreneur, what's the biggest business lesson that you've personally learned?
Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do. Don't shush your gut. And always speak up.