What’s the story with Instagram Stories?

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A year ago today, Instagram rolled out their “stories” product. It was a direct shot across the bow of Snap, Inc. and many wondered if it would stick the landing as a real and viable product.  That month we posted our thoughts on the product and gave recommendations on how brands might want to go about tackling the shiny new toy.

A year later and Instagram Stories are a powerful force in the social media ecosystem.  According to this post on Instagram’s blog, which was sort of a birthday wish to itself, over 50% of businesses posted an Instagram story last month.  Even more amazing is that it has drastically increased the time spent by their 250 million+ active daily users, making it a more valuable platform for consumers and creating increased consumption opportunities for brands.

It quickly went from a dip your toe in situation to a front and center focus for many brands and we have found that it produces a power punch of impressions, accelerates reach and engagement and helps produce better results from brand and influencer collaborations. This is top billing placement, on the platform where the most users are paying the most attention. If you have a brand that is looking to communicate with customers and followers online, then this is a story you want to write yourself into.

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Its all about the ‘tude

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I have been practicing a new routine of late and I have found that it has really elevated my mental game and overall work output. I call it the ‘tude check and I will break it down for you here.

I create set slots on my calendar to signal that I should check in with a mindset, and reminds me to zero in on a specific and sometimes overlooked area of focus. As disciplined as I am (or at least think I am) I still find that this set calendar date with my brain really helps make sure I keep the commitment and really think about it tangibly.

1- Attitude- Here I remind myself on Sunday nights how much I love what I do, how much I cant wait to get into work and how much I am committed to building a really successful company for me, my clients and my employees.  I am a pretty focused and upbeat guy anyway, but that reminder is just a little nudge in that direction to make sure I am employing the right attitude to win.

Every week at that time (when I am in a great attitude mindset) I literally draft an email to my entire team and set the stage for their week. I read articles that motivate me to push harder, work deeper and never sit back and coast. I even pick out the Monday morning Instagram post for my company that will set the stage for us to kick a@# and take names that week. The right attitude sets the altitude for the week for sure.

2- Latitude- On Wednesdays around 3PM, I have been doing what I call a coordinates check in. I have written before about how I try to regiment my days/weeks and cover a lot of different areas for my company. So at this time, I stop and look at my compass (if you will) to gauge where I am at for the week? Am I ahead or behind pace? Is there anywhere that I need to pivot or adjust?  This allows me to course correct for Thursday and Friday and make sure I over-index in any area(s) that is/are lagging or that just needs heavy focus given the ever changing landscape of running my own business, especially one in the service space.

3- Gratitude- I have also written before about having a “gratitude attitude” and it is really so important for your mental success. On Fridays I will spend time sending some sort of thank you message to a client, employee or referral partner to let them know I am truly thankful for their contribution to my success personally or professionally. Sometimes I will even just call a parent, to check in and let them know I am thinking of them and want to see how they are doing. I do this because it is the right thing to do and to be honest it selfishly feels good which helps fill my tank with some good energy.  Once again after a week in client services, it is a much needed reprieve from the constant barrage of negative energy (sometimes warranted and much more often, unwarranted) that comes my way.

I wanted to put this down in a post, so I could share it and potentially convince others to “cop a ‘tude” too. Being positive, thankful and focused on staying on course and not getting too distracted or off target is obviously a smart approach to business and life in general. This is just a roadmap to potentially help you get there.

 

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On why you can’t afford to not create video…

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With all of the compelling stats behind the need for video today, brands should be sprinting to get in the game, yet many are still mostly on the sidelines. I would say that the number one reason I hear as to why, is that they “can’t afford it right now” and will revisit it later. In my opinion this is a big mistake and I would strongly argue that they cannot afford not to spend on video. Let me explain.

If they are already committed to social media, trying to grow their own e-commerce platform (to earn better margins, have a direct dialogue with consumers rather than a 3rd party partner such as Amazon etc.) and really any type of online messaging, and they actually care about results and ROI, then video has to be a part of the mix.  It offers increased exposure, cheaper CPM’s and higher engagement. So if you are in digital marketing and looking to optimize your game, then you cant leave your 7 iron in the bag.  It is literally your number one tool to improve performance and get more for your dollar.

I think one of the fears with video is that it is just cost prohibitive. Historically this has been true as the market pricing has been high and for the most part is still out of whack. So if and when a brand actually takes the leap to create a brand video and shells out a lot of money, they say to themselves or their provider that the video “has to go viral”. They say that because they need massive reach and game changing results to rationalize the high price tag. You don’t need video to “go viral” (what does that really even mean anyway?) you need it to help augment your social content and storytelling and improve your website experience, email marketing and paid social efforts. With video, the performance in all of these categories skyrockets. You immediately compromise your results by not finding a way to “afford” video.

Now the problem is that most pure play video shops don’t really want to create micro content videos for social media, as they see it as the underbelly of the video space. They want to do longer form, higher priced and more intricate pieces. I get it, those are great, profitable and more fun. That doesn’t mean that the market doesn’t still need these videos in a very big way. On the other end of the spectrum there are interns, freelancers and even young and resourceful internal employees who can create one off videos. The issue there is the messaging is typically disjointed, not pursuant to a real strategy and these players don’t typically understand what works and does not work on social/digital. You really need a partner who gets it.  (ahem…Sircle Media…ahem)

Most brands (especially in a crowded category such as the healthy CPG space) need at least 3 core videos:

Product Front and Center Video: Puts your main product(s) on display so potential customers see your packaging and/or get a feel for what your product is. We recommend you feature your hero lineup and present that on Facebook and Instagram.  This you would boost to fans of competitors perhaps.

Describe The Product Video: Puts your main USP’s on display and can highlight the WHY behind the WHAT for one or all of your products.  This would target special interest groups for your ingredients or perhaps even be used as part of your retargeting efforts to move buyers further down the funnel that have already signed up for your email, visited your website and/or even engaged with your Facebook or Instagram content.

Retailer Call Out Video: Lets consumers know where to find you (i.e. Whole Foods) and conveys that the brand is “bigger/better” as it is in many stores/doors. These can be used to target fans of that retailer AND/OR can be used as part of your dark posting strategy, set to really drive foot traffic locally into a specific retailer without muddying up your timeline.  This is a very important tool to help your sales people out in the field, who are trying to get and keep your products on shelves.

All three of these video types are simple, yet impactful for your business online. The game has changed and brands need to adapt to it.  I spoke with a prospect this week and they had a brand/hero video (they paid a lot for back in 2015) front and center on their website.  It was actually uploaded on YouTube (because that was the default back then) and was just playing through a viewer. The video is cute and actually had thousands of views, but the problem was that YouTube was actually showing ads against the video and those ads were for another CPG. So if a consumer saw that and then clicked on the ad, it would actually take them away from the brand. In that sense it actually hurt that the video had a lot of views on YouTube.

So the bottomline is that any brand or business looking to win online needs to rethink video completely. They need to solve for a way to get videos made, to create many rather than one (why put all eggs in one basket?) and to understand how and where to use them in today’s online ecosystem.  Our recommendation is to not sit back and watch others in your space do it, while you wait til you can afford it. That is something you definitely cannot afford to do.

 

 

 

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On influencers and KPI’s…

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We have written several pieces on the power of influencer marketing and the need to have it as part of your marketing mix, if you are looking to sell a product to consumers these days.  Our position on the topic has only strengthened over time, and we once again encourage all readers to really consider the potential and to get into the game.

Don’t get caught up in semantics, and most certainly don’t be stubborn about being anti-pay to play engagements with micro influencers. Some brands we speak with feel they are a vanity play and don’t drive real results.  We would argue the exact opposite, as the data points to these types of engagements being real KPI winners.  You have to be smart about who you engage with, what the goal is and the metrics for success should be outlined up front of course. This is true for any marketing tactic though.

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As other digital advertising becomes more competitive and intrusive it is very important to find new ways to penetrate and create awareness for your products or services.  Influencers (especially the good ones) provide an entree to captive audiences who trust their marketing messages and endorsements.  You must seek out the right partners and capitalize on these opportunities.

TapInfluence put out this compelling report, that highlights some telling statistics and is worth a download. Here are some that they collected and posted on their website:

Influencer marketing content delivers 11X higher ROI than traditional forms of digital marketing. (TapInfluence study with Nielsen Catalina Solutions, 2016)
Twitter users report a 5.2X increase in purchase intent when exposed to promotional content from influencers. (Twitter and Annalect, 2016)
74% of people turn to social networks for guidance on purchase decisions. (Ogilvy Cannes, 2014)
40% of people say they’ve purchased an item online after seeing it used by an influencer on Instagram, Twitter, Vine, or YouTube (Twitter and Annalect, 2016)
49% of people say they rely on recommendations from influencers when making purchase decisions. (Twitter and Annalect, 2016)
73% of Millennials see it as their responsibility to guide friends, peers, and family toward smart purchase decisions. (Fleishman-Hillard PR & Hearst Magazine)
71% of marketers believe that ongoing ambassadorships are the most effective form of influencer marketing. (TapInfluence & Altimeter, June 2016,)

These stats jump off the page and should make it pretty clear that this is a frontier that needs to be in the mix. Influencer collaborations drive real business results and cannot be ignored. In the end of the day they are just people with a POV and a captive audience that seems to care about what they have to say, and takes direction when they give advice. Perhaps I just influenced you to get started?  Case in point…

 

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On Facebook TV…

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Facebook is making moves to get onto your TV screen and it is coming sooner than most think.  Mark Zuckerberg said back in 2014 that the platform would be mostly video within 5 years and they are moving quickly to carry through on that prediction.

This piece on CNN Tech back in February highlighted some updates on this front and shared insight from a Facebook earnings call:

“I see video as a megatrend on the same order as mobile,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO and cofounder, said on an earnings call this month. “That’s why we’re going to keep putting video first across our family of apps and making it easier for people to capture and share video in new ways.”

Facebook advertising is already the most powerful and competitively priced marketing vehicle out there and this represents a potential new frontier for marketers and the social network. It is an interesting and exciting time for both parties.

In this piece on Social Media Today, Andrew Hutchinson breaks down some recent moves Facebook has been making on the “TV” front.  It is interesting to see them go after Houseparty marketshare. This is yet another example of FB listening to the success of a social media darling and fast growing platform, and then potentially taking it from them. Perhaps even more interesting is the prospect of watching The Ball Family on Facebook TV.  Whether you like them or not, original programming like this is likely to capture a lot of attention for sure.

What nobody can ignore, are the consumption trends when it comes to video and like it or not we will all be consuming content via very different channels in the coming years. For consumers this means more access to great content, in what many argue is already the golden age of programming. For marketers and storytellers it means thinking video first, as well as what formats they will be consumed on.

If you aren’t solving for how your brand or business will put out video content, including live action, motion graphics and Facebook Live, then you are already late to the party. That is something all brands should be looking to remedy….quickly!

 

 

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On video content and its current dominance in social media…

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At Sircle Media we have have been talking about the importance of video in your online content game plan for some time now and the momentum just keeps on increasing on the topic.  It really is a must have component up and down the communication funnel, from long form marketing pieces, down to short form social media communication assets.

Animoto released their The State of Social Video 2017: Marketing in a Video First World Report and the numbers were staggering when it came to proof that video is a force to be reckoned with.  The infographic offers many compelling stats that should make marketers pay attention, and we break down some key takeaways here:

  • 64% of consumers say watching a marketing video on Facebook has influenced a purchase decision in the last month.

Facebook video is the main frontier, especially in crowded categories where you want to stand out from the clutter with your USP!

  • 81% of marketers are optimizing their social videos for mobile viewership, including 39% that are creating square and/or vertical videos.

Consumers are watching on mobile devices, so you must be thinking in that format first. Be native!

  • The report also found that social media video drives brand engagement and sales with 83% of marketers reporting they are confident Facebook video content will drive purchases

I repeat, 83% of marketers are confident that Facebook video content will drive purchases!

  • Marketers feel the most confident about reaching customers with video on Facebook and YouTube. Consumers are still viewing on these platforms, but are also starting to expand the platforms where they’re watching branded video content. The top three channels they’re watching videos from brands are Facebook, Instagram Stories, and Snapchat.

It is no longer the case that your video strategy is synonymous with YouTube.  The consumption is coming from other channels and you need to be thinking about how and where you will be distributing during the creation process.  The good news is that the consumers are there, the data clearly shows they are watching videos and then they are taking action based on those messages.

Any marketer not getting in on this action, is making a huge mistake!

 

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Twitter: The party isn’t over…

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At Sircle Media, we are buyers of underpriced attention and we are not overly romantic about where that attention comes from (amen @garyvee). Social networks have made communication at scale so easy, that sometimes we lose site of how each can add value.  We always want more, and we get lost in the shiny newness of the next big thing. We encourage that you think about what you want to have happen and then reverse engineer from there.

While some brands are moving away from Twitter, we are finding some pockets of attention that are very attractive on the platform. Last month, we executed a Twitter party with the micro influencer @heyaprill for our client Paula’s Choice Skincare. The client decided to run a last minute promotion to push their 2% BHA liquid exfoliant and came to us looking for a quick program to help generate awareness, buzz and most importantly sales. Of course we looked at Facebook and Instagram organic and paid efforts first, but we also recommended they consider leveraging the captive audience which can come from a Twitter party.  They gave us the green light and we got to work.

18222259_10154348693051861_549624885018734284_nAll Aprill needed from us was a graphic (seen above) talking points (which we crafted and made about BHA specifically), hashtags to track the chat, and prizes provided by the client.  We arranged all of this on their behalf, within 24 hours. Prior to the party, she teased the giveaway on her website where people could RSVP for the chat and 1995 people did!

On the day of the chat we had her give away bottles of 2% BHA (every 10 mins), a $100 visa gift card (from @heyaprill), and a grand prize of a year supply of 2% BHA. These were incentives for people to want to join the chat and ultimately keep them participating for the full hour.

The actual chat was amazing and people were so engaged throughout. We monitored all chatter around it on Hootsuite and the notifications were literally non stop. Participants were active and passionate with their messaging and were using the hashtag #BHACHAT as requested. The conversation centered around real issues and the benefits and value of the product to help remedy those problems. This was excellent and highly targeted content consumption.

On top of all of that active and consumed content about the brand and the product, the client also netted 202 new followers in about 10 hours.  The party didn’t stop there though, because in the days that followed, we started to see tweets trickle in about people buying the product because of this chat which is a home run and stamp of real measurable ROI and success for the client. That is what really matters and was super sweet coming from a platform and tactic they were quick to dismiss up front.

While not as sexy as Instagram and Snapchat these days, Twitter is a valuable resource in your social media arsenal. #Respectthebird!

 

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On Instagram numbers being down and why it doesn’t matter…

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Instagram follower growth and engagement are down across the board, and that is OK.  Brands have been seeing a slow down in their growth and engagement KPI’s for awhile now and that has really accelerated over the past few months.  There are various reasons for this that we break down below, but first let’s explain why it doesn’t matter.

First off, Instagram is a storytelling platform where we argue it is about depth and not width. Meaning brands should focus on putting out great looking content that helps convey their story, personality and USP in their vertical and make sure their house is in order and looks attractive when any individual comes to consume them on the platform. The quality of consumption is more important that the quantity here and you want to make sure you don’t send someone backwards in the sales journey.  By being dormant, non responsive (meaning pushing out content only but not engaging with users) or pushing out low quality imagery you are actually decreasing your chance of ever transacting with that individual.  So your own content and brand side engagement are actually the most important.

Also, Instagram has a great advertising platform and you can specifically target any audience you want with your content. So we tell clients who are freaking out about Instagram follower growth and/or like and comment numbers, that they should really be focused on CPM’s and Click Thru Rates on their Ads.  We have talked about the importance and value of paid social here on this blog before and we are seeing CPM’s below $5 on Instagram Ads optimized for video views, which is excellent on a platform where people spend the most time consuming content.  I think it is really time for a shift in which KPI’s to focus on.

All of the above being said, we fully understand and respect the concern about engagement and follower growth being down. Let’s take a look at why this is happening:

First off, the user count continues to grow at a torrid pace. As more and more people are using Instagram, there is just more noise and only so much that can show up in feeds.  For brands this means that consumers now have a lot of other distractions (more friends, celebrities, brands etc…) and it is just like having more TV channel options….it is harder to get their attention and loyalty because the supply is so high. If a user follows 500 accounts and they each post 1x per day that is 500 posts to sift thru, which just doesn’t happen from the vast majority of users.  All the more reason to focus on better imagery and videos, so when they do see it, it is compelling content that they remember.

Also adding to the noise is the rapid increase in businesses using the Ads platform.  As they understand the potential of Instagram, they are starting to invest more money there. The downside to each individual account is it eats up some previously available attention, but the upside is that with a small investment you can put your brand into that slot and in front of the right eyeballs, via smart targeting.  Brands should be lining up! (and many are…)

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Picture taken from Trak.in

Instagram Stories have also eaten up a lot of the platform attention.  If each user has only a limited amount of daily time spent on IG, these unique content pieces right at the top will reduce engagements on your photos. Smart Instagrammers post many stories a day to keep their profile appearing at the top and as a direct result less of your followers may actually scroll until they reach your photos.

I explain to clients that Stories are like Netflix.  They came on the scene and quickly starting chipping away at attention that was previously spent on IG proper (like traditional TV). Both have a place, but Stories/Netflix have an immediacy to them and are just so easy to access and consume.  So our recommendation is that you don’t just shut down and give up. You remain committed to putting out great looking content so the quality is always high AND you experiment with Stories to join them, if you cant beat them.  Make sense?

Despite all of the reasoning above, we believe you should still be scrappy and continue trying do whatever you can to capture attention and turn the spotlight on your content and account.  This article form Social Media Today offers 7 ways to boost your Instagram Engagement and the key takeaways are:

1. Research and A/B split test your hashtags

2. Be active

3. Tie images in with compelling storytelling

4. Find the Right Time to Post

5. Add a Call to Action

6. Cross Promoting

7. Instagram Ads – Pay to Play

In the end of the day, it is just a shift in POV and time to deploy different tactics. You don’t run from a problem, you assess what you want to have happen and then deploy tactics to help you achieve that end goal. Having more followers and/or an extra hundred likes on your next post are not end goals, right?  They are just one way to assess performance, which is quickly becoming outdated. It is like Nielsen Ratings being used to determine advertising rates on TV.  An Ad might reach a lot of homes, but does anyone consume it?

Success on Instagram today comes down to great looking, quality content (no screenshots, no low quality or blurry images) depth of engagement (meaning closing our the comments and commentary you actually do get, even if less than before) and targeted exposure (advertising and Influencer and brand collaborations).  Focus on these religiously and quality followers, likes and engagement will follow.

 

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On Facebook Live (Part Deux)…

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Long live live video!  We talked about Facebook Live here in this blog a year ago and since then, the platform has exploded.  As Facebook continues to dominate the content scene, there is a real wave of momentum on their live video platform. The Social Network wants to be much more than families sharing pics and friends pushing memes (though both are great) and the ability for brands and personas to push out their message in a live format is killing it right now!

Facebook live (and Instagram live can be done at the same time with another phone/camera to kill two birds with one stone) is a definite recommendation for a brand looking for diverse ways to get content out to their audience and reach new people too. This piece on Mediakix breaks down some compelling stats, and we highlighted two below:

Facebook Live Videos Are Watched 3x Longer Than Videos That Aren’t Live Anymore

According to Facebook, users watch Facebook Live videos 3x longer than videos that aren’t live.

Users Comment On Facebook Live Videos At 10x The Rate Of Regular Videos

Facebook Live is a dream for engagement, driving comments at over ten times the rate of non-live videos. Again, because the focus of Facebook Live is a window into and interaction with a moment in time as it unfolds in real time, commenting is about being a part of a live conversation.

Here is a great piece on how to harness the power of FB Live and we have seen much of this work in practice for our clients over the past few months. Take our client Paula’s Choice Skincare for example.  They have a very charming and knowledgable Founder, who feels very comfortable getting in front of the camera.  Though not everyone needs to be quite as skilled and poised as her, it certainly helps their cause.

Before we go live, we announce it to the fanbase so they “tune in” to the time we will be broadcasting. This is much like a TV show (pre TIVO/DVR of course) and meant to get fans to adjust their schedules to digest some real interactive content.

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Also, after you run a FB live, you can edit the post and add a CTA to it, to get people back to your website. It is a good tactic to add a link and say something like “we’re sorry you missed us live, but if you want to hear the biggest takeaways from it, click here:” which could send users back to the website to consume a blog post about the live session. This is an excellent way to generate e-commerce sales and/or retargeting opportunities, as part of a conversion funnel.

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The (organic mind you) reach and engagement on these has been excellent.  Facebook rewards the effort with exposure in user’s feeds and wants to put this type of super relevant and useful content front and center. To top that off, we encourage brands to share and/or add something like:

“Never miss a live post again!  Make sure you LIKE us on Facebook and go to your settings and be sure to turn on notifications when we go live and “see first” to not miss any valuable posts.”  When you get people to take that action you will dramatically increase your reach and engagement on live.

Our recommendation is to not overthink it, and to just get started. Get on with an iPhone or a camera with an inexpensive tripod and just get talking. Some easy topics are: a new product announcement, new location opening, new branding explained and/or just some interactive Q&A about products or services.  Do it, and then assess and adjust as you go along. This is definitely about documenting rather that carefully crafting and creating.  Once you see momentum, you can better stage the presentation and create a more structured model.

You need to take that first step and remember that this is about hacking underpriced attention AND riding the Facebook Live video wave. FB wants to push it hard, and you should grab their fin and let them take you with them on the ride…

 

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On why I sometimes feel like a personal trainer…

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When clients hire Sircle Media it is very much like hiring a personal trainer.  At this point, (April 2017) they know they need smart social media management for their business, very much like a person knows they should make good diet choices and work out consistently.

When they begin with Sircle, things are awesome for the first couple of months. They are hopeful, attentive, responsive and full of energy.  It is really amazing and we immediately see an improvement in the quality of their content, the consistency of their engagement and if they truly listen, in the results (be it growth, reach, interaction, traffic etc.)!

There is a real parallel here to working out with a trainer. Right out of the gate you psychologically feel good, because you sense you are taking the right proactive action to improve how you look and feel.  You start to get consistent in your efforts, because that accountability partner makes you stick to a schedule and you see some early results. Those could be increased energy, stamina, dropping a couple of pounds OR just that false sense of immediate muscle mass increase that many feel, but isn’t truly there so early on.  Either way, things are good…

Then with both, you often hit a flat period. Results don’t pour in as fast and you start to question the value of the efforts.  With social media, this often leads to quick pivots that include cutting back on paid efforts, reducing or eliminating influencer outreach and/or missing scheduled meetings and punting social media while you focus on “more important initiatives” for the business. With training this can mean missing sessions, reducing efforts/reps/sets or even cheating with stress meals and focusing on other areas of your life, like work, family etc.  Truth is that in both cases, you need to figure out how to balance the social media/training with those other items if you really want to succeed.  It has to be in addition to, not in lieu of.

The main reason for churn at Sircle is when a client loses site of the marathon view and focuses solely on the sprint results. When numbers are flat, they often ignore any of their own contribution to that and will come at us aggressively looking for a silver bullet that will magically turn things around. We explain that they need to remain holistically committed to the cause and need to keep their head down and focused on the end goal. There is no ROI on any one tweet, but there is real fruit if you are patient and let the vines grow their grapes.

With training, it is very easy to blame them. You question why you aren’t seeing faster results, why things have plateaued and whether or not you should seek a new teacher. First off, the real long term results take awhile to see. Secondly, you might be sneaking doughnuts at night (which to me is the same as not spending Ad dollars on Facebook mind you) which will compromise results greatly.  Only the client/individual knows the real truth there.

When you leave a trainer, very much like when a brand leaves Sircle, there is typically a precipitous drop off across the board. Clients move on and we see their imagery, cadence and frequency take a big dip, as well as their engagement and growth efforts. It is so obvious, and just like with a trainer it reflects poorly on us, when they leave and “gain weight and get out of shape” so to speak. We literally have to either remove them from our website or tell new prospects the exact date we stopped working together, so they can see the difference between good (with us) and not so good (post us).

In the end of the day, your north star needs to be that you are fully aware that remaining committed to social media and personal training, is the right play long term. You wont survive professionally or personally if you dont figure out both. You need to then attack either with an unwavering commitment to it.  Most often, switching agency or trainer is not the right answer and working on listening more and developing that relationship more fully is.

I am actually amazed by how many of my former clients still come to me personally with questions, and still respect me and what we do so much, despite having moved on.  They usually know what they had and are fully aware about how things have turned since they left. My recommendation is to lean in, rather than leave with Sircle and the gym.  That is how we start to really see the results and reap the benefits together!

 

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