Friday, December 23, 2016

What's in a Name? The Value of Sponsorship as a Branding and Marketing Opportunity

In the world of marketing, you're essentially always on the lookout for new and innovative opportunities to raise awareness about the brand that you represent. It isn't just about getting the word out about a new product or service; it's also about reminding people that you're there, that you've always been there, and that you're always going to be there. In an era where marketers strive to stretch the value of each dollar as far as it will go, one often overlooked opportunity may just generate the types of results you're after: sponsorship.

Sponsorship and Brand Awareness: The Stats

Even if you don't necessarily see sponsorship of charities, non-profits, or other local organizations as a valuable addition to your marketing arsenal, it's clear that somebody does. According to a study conducted by IEG Sponsorship Report, sponsorship was a $2 billion dollar enterprise in 2016 and is expected to increase by roughly 3.7 percent over the course of the next year.

A report generated by the Edelman Trust Barometer indicated that sponsorship even goes far beyond marketing impact. Eighty percent of consumers around the world agreed that a business has a duty to play a very key role in addressing modern issues.

It even plays an important role in your own company culture. Fifty-one percent of employees surveyed said that they didn't want to work for a company that didn't have strong societal and environmental commitments, and almost seventy-five percent said that they liked their jobs more when they were given the type of opportunity to make a positive impact that sponsorship affords.

Sponsorship Best Practices

If you do decide to go ahead with sponsorship as a new brand and marketing opportunity, there are a few key things you'll want to keep in mind. For starters, do your research carefully. Always make sure that you're aligning with an organization that meshes with your existing culture and values. Do as much deep digging as you possibly can, as sponsorship creates something of a symbiotic relationship between two entities. A scandal at one will more than likely affect the other, so you'll want to make sure that there are no skeletons hiding in the closet before you start spending your money.

You'll also want to make an effort to isolate the impact of your sponsorships from the rest of your marketing activities, as only then will you be able to fully understand just what role it is playing in your larger campaign. MarketStrategies.com says that only half of marketers actually do this, which is a mistake. Though you're doing something for a good cause first and recognition second, it still needs to be measured for maximum effectiveness - the same as anything else.

These are just a few reasons sponsorship is such a valuable branding and marketing opportunity, particularly for companies operating in the small and medium-sized business space. Not only does it give you a chance to raise awareness in a powerful way, but it also allows for something even more important - you get to give back to the community that you are an active part of.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

3 Emotions That Go Along with Operating Your Own Business

Many emotions go along with owning your own company. From the excitement of opening your doors the first time to dealing with chaos in the office, running your business will be enjoyable sometimes and cause much frustration other times.

The Main Three

It seems that you can boil business emotions down to three that most business owners share or have experienced at one time in their business journey. They are:

1. Fear

Do you ever find yourself being scared that you might actually succeed? Fear is one of the most common emotions that successful business owners feel when first starting out. Being afraid of success can hold you back if you don't properly deal with it. Operating any company requires risk, and it is because you are human that risk likely scares you.

By talking with people who have taken a risk before, you will gain a better perspective on how to balance risk with common sense. Overcome fear and risk by having an open mind, and be willing to be a lifelong learner. The more you learn, the more you know in regards to appropriately handling different issues in business.

2. Euphoria

Another common emotion tied in with running your own business is euphoria. If you have any success at all, your brain will create endorphins and cause you to feel extreme pleasure. And while euphoria is a great motivator to help you continue your success, you must remember that running a successful company requires a daily effort. Just because all of your clients are satisfied on one day does not mean they will all be satisfied the next. Be prepared to make changes as needed.

3. Frustration

Frustration can be minimized by taking time out of each day to focus on yourself. If you're not happy, neither will your customers. If you find yourself frustrated, take a step back and give yourself a moment to clear your mind. Clarity is essential to overcoming the frustration that is tied in with chaos and change.

Dealing with the emotions that go along with operating your own business is key to keeping your company afloat. By following the tips mentioned above, you'll be much more likely to run a business that brings you much success and joy.

Friday, December 16, 2016

A Creative Life Improves Creative Buying Processes

There are more than a few steps involved in the buying process. When you integrate creativity into this process, this can lead to amazing business opportunities.

Incorporating creativity into the buying process means human experience should play a core role. Businesses prefer to partner with businesses they can relate to; ones they have a common goal with. This is why the human experience should always be shared when creating or redefining a company's brand. The more relation a company can share with a distributor or manufacturer, the stronger the business-to-business and business-to-customer relationships will be.

So, how does a business owner go about integrating creativity into his or her lifestyle to improve the creative buying process? Fortunately, there are many ways company owners can embody creativity into their everyday life. Here is a close look at three of them.

1: Go on vacations

When a business owner does not have time to go on a vacation, this probably means he or she is working too hard. Operating a successful business involves all aspects of the company being conducted in a healthy manner, including its employees and owner(s). Going on a vacation allows the owner to indulge in his or her passions, which increases endorphins and serotonin and leads to the enhancement of creativity in the mind. Business owners often find their most genius ideas come to them while away from work.

2: Take chances

Business owners don't become successful out of fear. Instead, they are willing to take risks. You'll never know if a creative idea is going to work unless you try it. If you're fearful about trying out a new creative idea, you can always turn to the support of your friends, family, coworkers, and any people you consider mentors. If you steer clear of taking chances, this is a sure way to kill the creativity in your life, which means creative buying processes will be at an extreme minimum.

3: Share your experience

The number one way to blend creativity into your lifestyle as a business owner is to share your experience with others who are striving to achieve the same goals you are. In doing this, you will receive valuable feedback that can help you steer clear of costly mistakes while at the same time learn about successful creative buying processes others are using that you can take advantage of.

Make sure you keep in mind the three tips mentioned above as you continue on your journey as a business owner. Creative buying processes are an essential part of managing any type of business, and as these processes improve, you will notice a substantial change in your capability to expand the services you offer to a wider range of customers because you will have more time and energy to focus on meeting your customers' needs.








Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Power of A/B Testing: The Difference Small Changes Can Make for Your Marketing

Marketing is a decision-based world. At any given moment, you've got a variety of options floating in front of you. Which of those two headlines should you use in your next e-mail? Which of those three font choices looks the best on your print flyer? Which of the three graphics will ultimately reflect your brand in the best way?

If you're wondering how small changes will affect the greater success of your marketing campaign in the eyes of your users, why don't you just ask them? That, in a nutshell, is what A/B testing is all about.

What Is A/B Testing?

Sometimes referred to as split testing, A/B testing involves comparing two or more versions of something to see which one is more effective. In marketing terms, it's easy to see the value of this approach almost immediately. Do you have two similar, yet different, versions of an e-mail subject line and are wondering which one might be the most effective? Get an e-mail list of 100 of your average customers together and try both at the same time. Send one version to a group of fifty customers and the second version to the other fifty. See which one performed better (and why) before making the decision of which one to use for your whole campaign.

A/B Testing Statistics

Don't just take our word for it - there is a wide range of statistics that prove just how valuable A/B testing can be. According to a study conducted by Steelhouse, A/B testing is THE most used method for improving conversion rates in marketing campaigns. It isn't just marketing companies that are getting in on the action, either. During his re-election campaign, President Obama was able to raise an additional $60 million dollars through a carefully designed, calculated A/B testing regimen.

The important thing to understand is that you can (and should) use and A/B test on every portion of your campaign before you bring it in front of the eyes of the widest possible audience. Take your website, for example. As the "welcome mat" of your virtual identity, A/B testing your website is the perfect way to see which of those two designs you're thinking of is better. This is incredibly common - in fact, Pardot research revealed that Google ran more than 7,000 A/B tests on its own interface in 2011 alone.

But again: it doesn't actually matter what you're A/B testing, just that you are. In print marketing, this concept can be just as effective. The key is that you're not taking anything for granted. You're getting your collateral in front of the eyes of real people, seeing how they respond, and then using that as the basis of actionable decisions that you make moving forward.

In the world of marketing, it's important to remember the old saying of "you can only make one first impression, so you'd better be sure that you're making a good one." Launching a campaign before it's ready means you can potentially shoot yourself in the foot before you've even had a chance to begin. Investing in A/B testing is one way to avoid exactly that type of problem for now and for all time.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Business Lessons from a Dog

Business lessons can be found everywhere we look in life. One of the best ways to learn is by simply looking at the world in a new way. Dogs look at the world differently than we do and often have a very simple outlook. If you want to learn more about business, these are some of the lessons your dog is trying to teach you.

Don't Take Everything So Seriously

To dogs, everything is great. They do not get down about being out of treats. They definitely want one still but they move on very quickly and it isn't that serious. Sometimes you have to approach business the same way. Yes, there are serious situations you will run into, but there are also some that you take too seriously. Things are usually not as bad as you make them out to be, so focus on the good and do not freak out so much over the bad.

Take a Chance on Something New and Trust Your People

Dogs are mostly happy-go-lucky and are always ready to go on a ride. They do not need to know where they are going, but they are happy to be on the ride. They trust you as their owner, and they know they will be taken care of no matter what. This kind of trust is not always found in the business world. In fact, it is rare. However, if you trust your employees, allow them to take the reigns sometimes and see where it can take the business.

Never Meet a Stranger

A dog never meets a stranger and is instant friends with anyone they meet. If you had this same approach, you would have a much bigger network of people that you could reach in your business. You could have new customers, new clients, new friends, and even new business partners. Approach each new person you meet with the same vibrancy and openness as a dog would and you will be surprised by how much it opens doors for you.

Listen When People Speak to You

This may seem very basic, but dogs are always listening when someone is talking to them. They may not do what is asked, but they are listening. Whenever someone is speaking to you in a business setting, you should focus your attention on them and actively listen to what they are saying.

Trust Your Instincts

Dogs follow their noses, and they also have killer instincts. They do not second guess them. Start trusting yourself more and when you have an instinct about something, more often than not, you will be right if the feeling is strong enough.

Dogs can teach us a lot about life as well as business. Most of these lessons can be used in the business setting as well as in your daily life. Just understanding these basic concepts can help you in your own life.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Using the Holiday Season to Your Advantage in Your Marketing

When it comes to marketing success, the importance of a timely, relevant campaign cannot be overstated enough. You see this all the time with major brands - some big event is going on somewhere in the world like the Super Bowl and marketers rush to be the first to integrate it into their campaigns. As the cheery holiday season rolls around yet again, you're presented with the perfect opportunity to do exactly that - at least until the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve.

But, if you really want to integrate the holidays into your marketing campaign and generate the type of success you deserve, you'll want to keep a few very important things in mind.

Use Holiday Visuals Whenever Possible

Visuals are always an important part of your marketing collateral, but they become especially so during the holiday season. From roughly November until the Christmas holiday season passes, people are already in a receptive mood for this type of imagery - so filling your marketing materials with holiday-themed colors, Christmas trees, packages, and other items is a great way to make sure you're noticed.

According to one study, this type of imagery can increase a person's retention of your messaging by up to 80%. This type of visual element can make your content more likely to be shared up to 40 times more than the average amount.

Look for Local Events You Can Sponsor

If there's one thing you can essentially guarantee about the holiday season, it's that calendars will be filled to the brim with holiday events all throughout the month of December. If you really want to attract the attention of that ever-important local market, you should start looking around for local events that you can sponsor. Not only can you help get your brand out there and raise awareness, but even if the event is only slightly related to your product or service you can still make new contacts and generate new leads as a result.

It's All About Emotion

If there is one key to success regarding holiday marketing, it can all be boiled down to a single word: emotion. The holidays are a naturally emotional time as people get nostalgic for friends, family members, and holiday experiences of years past. It's also a time where people make decisions emotionally rather than rationally - especially when it comes to purchases. Because of this, you should try to lean into the most emotional factor of your campaigns as much as possible. Focus on cheery words and images that will help people feel good about things like giving back, "paying it forward," and more. This is more likely to trigger an emotional response in your campaign, which will spawn action sooner rather than later.

These are just a few of the core ways you can use the holiday season to your advantage throughout your marketing campaign. Perhaps the most important benefit of the holidays is that you're working with a built-in ticking clock. Christmas is right around the corner, and no matter what you do, you can't delay it. People will naturally feel inclined to get those last minute gift purchases in before the big day arrives. If you've been playing into the holidays for your entire campaign, you can pretty much guarantee that you'll be on the forefront of their mind.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

5 Ballet Business Lessons You Should Make a Point to Learn

Business has quite a few things in common with ballet. Ballet is just as demanding as business, although in other ways. To succeed as a ballet dancer, one must put in a lot of hours of practice. To succeed in business, one must put in a lot of hours of work. For both, plans and dances must be executed in a precise way or the result will not be ideal. Because of these similarities, several things can be learned from ballet that can be applied to business.

1. Create Your Individual Style

Although there are basic components of ballet that ring true, someone who develops their individual style and dares to try new things is someone who will go further than an individual who sticks to only the basic rules. The same is true in business. If you want to succeed, you must stand out from the crowd. Find your own path that is unique to your goals even though you will be utilizing the same building blocks as everyone else.

2. Continue Learning Throughout Your Career

A great ballet dancer never stops learning new techniques and new dances. They simply cannot stop after they have learned only one dance and be successful. In business, this is also true. You must continue to seek out education. Whether it is another degree or simply a class to help you hone in on a skill set, you should never stop trying to learn more and improve your abilities.

3. Practice Makes Perfect

In ballet, perfection is valued and coveted. To reach this kind of perfection, dancers will practice for days, weeks, months, and years on end. They understand that they have to practice to get better and one day achieve that perfection they desire. In business, the same is true. You may have success the first time you do something, but more often than not, you will have to try again. If you believe in a business idea, keep trying and practicing until you get it right. Practice does, after all, make perfect.

4. Know There is a Place and a Role for Everyone

In a ballet dance that involves multiple people, there is a role for everyone to play. Not everyone can be the main dancer, even if they want to be. Someone has to play the supporting role. In business, it is important to understand this because the same is true. Even if you want to be the top dog on a project or in a company, you have to understand that sometimes you simply have to play another important role.

5. Develop and Build Trust

Trust is a huge component of ballet, especially if you are dancing with a partner. If the two partners do not trust each other, it will be apparent, and the dance will not be as beautiful. In business, it is equally as important to trust your partner. Otherwise, you may not give much effort to the project, or you may hold back and cause the business to suffer. Build trust with those you work with and the business will prosper. Choose not to trust, and it can crumble, just like a ballet routine.

There are several parallels between ballet and business. These lessons learned in the ballet circuit are important because they strengthen the dancer. Learn from these lessons, and you will become a stronger individual in the business world as well.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

How to Court the Younger Generation: Creating the Future of Your Business by Marketing to Millennials Today

In the world of marketing, there's a natural instinct to go after certain segments of the population when marketing because those are the ones that spend the most money. That may be good for short-term gains, but any business worth its salt will always be thinking about the future. And regardless of the industry, the future can be summed up in one beautiful little word: millennials.

Commonly defined as anyone between the ages of 18 and 34, or those born in 1982 and up, millennials outnumber baby boomers by roughly a half a million people. They're the largest generation in the country right now and, make no mistake, the one that the very future of your business will be based on. If you want to court the younger generation and create a solid future for your business, you'll need to keep a few key things in mind.

Treat Them as Equals

No consumers like to be talked down to or told what to do - but this is especially true with the younger generation. Millennials can absolutely sense "marketing speak," so don't think that is going to buy you a whole new generation of customers, either. According to one study conducted by Kissmetrics, 89% of millennial buyers trust recommendations from friends and family members MORE than any claim that a brand could make.

Use the same tactics that you've been using to win over older generations, but reconfigured for a younger audience. You should still be putting helpful, relevant content that appeals to the people you're trying to attract out into the world, but keep in mind that what is relevant to a 20-year-old isn't necessarily the same thing that's relevant to a 65-year-old. Buyer personas are going to be hugely valuable in this regard to help guarantee your eye is always "on the prize."

You're a Combination Marketer Now Whether You Like It Or Not

Marketing to specific groups of people has always required putting your efforts to where those people actually are, and millennials are no different. Millennials are nostalgic about direct mail and appreciate personalized invitations and advertising they can hold. Likewise, according to a study conducted by Nielsen, more than 85% of millennials own a smartphone. That means your digital marketing needs to marry with your print marketing for the best way to meet your audience where they're at.

When used together, print and digital marketing successfully target that coveted younger generation. Think digital with a smartphone-based loyalty rewards program, and connect that program to your direct mail campaign. Social media is another obvious example. Tie your social media efforts with posters, envelopes, and more to create the best of both worlds.

At the end of the day, it's important to remember that no business - regardless of what it is - is time-proof. If you focus all of your efforts on one particular age range or demographic, you run the risk of accidentally making yourself irrelevant when that group invariably ages out of the product or service you're offering.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Sometimes Fresh Eyes Brings a Memorable Camel

We often say that children look at the world through fresh eyes. Spending time with a child can give you a new perspective on life and how you view the world. While experience is an excellent teacher, fresh eyes can see the tried and true in a way that you may not have considered before. How can you adapt the fresh eyes concept into your business?

Marketing is successful when it gets prospects and customers to sit up and take notice of your service, brand or product. Some of the best commercials are the ones that make us laugh, cry, or even cringe. The problem is that sometimes marketers rely too much on old ideas and the view of experienced sellers and managers instead of looking for fresh eyes on a campaign. A great marketing campaign gives the audience an emotional connection with the company. Emotions give advertising a memory hook; they get remembered.

Hump Day

Remember the "Hump Day" camel commercials that were on TV about a year ago? Do you remember who they were advertising? If you don't remember, they were advertising GEICO. GEICO specializes in goofy, funny commercials that are easy to remember due to their tone. Insurance is essentially a tedious business, so getting you to remember advertisements and brand names associated with them takes a memory hook. For GEICO, the gecko is one hook that most Americans can recognize and associate with the company. However, if they overused that hook, audiences would get tired of him. Instead, they come up with quirky commercials and throw in a camel to keep you focused and interested in their brand.

Seeing Your Company with Fresh Eyes

Since you cannot see your own company through fresh eyes, it takes some testing to find out how new people respond to your campaigns. Your assumptions about who is interested in your products and why they are interested may be out of date. Periodic testing of your ideas is crucial to keeping your current customers and finding new ones.

Before you run your marketing campaign, test your assumptions on real people to see how they respond. Real people are the target market you are shooting for, therefore if your tests tell you that you won't get the results you want, you can save yourself a lot of money. Keep tweaking and testing your campaign with real people until you find the right message, image, and concept that will get the response you want. What made the "Hump Day" commercials so funny? They were silly, harmless, and could never happen in the real world.

Find a Way to Shock Your Audience

Shock your audience with unexpected humor, meaning, or entertainment when you market. Find something that will resonate with them and use it to grab their attention. Obviously, any type of shock will only work for so long because it loses its effect after a time. When was the last time you saw a "Hump Day" commercial, anyway?

Friday, November 18, 2016

A Business Perspective on Apple's Latest MacBook Event

If you're interested in the tech world at all, you're no doubt aware that Apple recently announced the 2016 MacBook Pro - something the company is calling "the best laptop ever made." Indeed, it's a unit with a technical specification sheet that can't help but impress. Objectively, it likely will go down in history as the best laptop the company has released to date. However, some users are suggesting that Apple may be losing the balance between "user experience" and "marketing" in a way that is a bit unfavorable to their end goals.

The 2016 MacBook Pro

The new MacBooks don't have a standard USB port at all, getting rid of them in favor of the new (and admittedly superior) USB-C. This is a great step towards a much more productive future, but it's at the expense of the fact that we're not quite at that future just yet. Case in point: the new iPhone 7 does not have a USB-C port at all. Instead, it uses Apple's proprietary lightning cable.

This means that if you own both devices and just want to do something as simple as charge your iPhone with your MacBook, you need to purchase an external adapter. To be clear, this is not "the end of the world." The MacBook Pro is still powerful; it can still be used with the brand new iPhone. However, what used to be a one-step process now requires two, as well as a purchase of additional hardware. This is contrary to the popular mantra of "design for the user experience first, marketing second." This is the very same mantra Apple built its reputation on.

What Would Steve Jobs Say About All This?

Never one to shy away from "rattling a few cages," this is one particular case where we don't actually have to wonder what Steve Jobs may have thought about the steps that modern day Apple just took with the MacBook. He may have actually said it himself, in an interview conducted in the 1990s.

In an interview for the PBS documentary "Triumph of the Nerds," Steve Jobs talked about how important sales and marketing people are to an organization, but how it's equally important to keep them separate from the product development process. His argument was that all too often, products go from offering a great, easy experience to being "great and easy... to market." Innovation, usability, and the overall experience tend to suffer as a result.

In that interview, Jobs said:
"... the people who make the company more successful are the sales and marketing people, and they end up running the companies. And the 'product people' get run out of the decision-making forums. The companies forget how to make great products. The product sensibility and product genius that brought them to this monopolistic position gets rotted out by people running these companies who have no conception of a good product vs. a bad product."

Contrary to popular belief, Steve Jobs didn't hold an "anti-marketing" stance at all. He supported marketers, and with good reason. Under his watch his own marketing team created some of the most successful campaigns of all time. What Jobs was warning against was the idea that you should always design a product or service for the customer first, and then turn it over to the marketing people to do what they do. When marketing is considered an extension of the product development phase, the positive qualities that brought you to your current position in the first place are often lost.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Warning: Are You Accidentally Shattering Your Brand Continuity?

At its core, brand continuity is the idea that all communication channels between your brand and your customers (live chat, email, phone calls, etc.) should all look and feel like they're coming from the same place. It's the idea that you should strive to give your customers an experience that is as consistent as possible, regardless of how they choose to make contact with you. Successful brand continuity requires you to strike a delicate balance, and if you're not careful, there are a few ways that you can accidentally shatter all that you've worked so hard to build even before you realize you have a problem.

It's All in the Visuals

One of the more subtle ways to build and maintain brand continuity is also one of the most important, mainly because it can be the easiest to get wrong. You have to make sure that all of your branding from the version of your company logo to things as seemingly insignificant as the font you use are as consistent as possible, regardless of which element of your online and offline presence you're using. If a version of your company logo is present on your website's "Help Desk" page, it should be the same version of the logo sent out in your latest email or print marketing materials. Don't use professional-looking fonts on your website if you're going to be using Comic Sans MS on your print materials.

You may initially think that this is incredibly easy to miss and in many respects, you're right. Customers aren't necessarily paying attention to every last visual element on a page versus a flyer versus a billboard. But, think about it this way: the ones that do notice may be put-off or at least find it odd, which is a feeling you do not want to invoke. Those that don't notice will still benefit from your strict brand continuity, even if subconsciously.

Getting Everyone on the Same Page

Another way that you can accidentally shatter brand continuity has to do with getting everyone on the same page regarding how your business works. If your website is very clear about one particular policy but your customer service team isn't, you're immediately confusing customers every time they pick up the phone. This confusion is especially evident regarding promotions. If an email goes out offering a new sale, you'd better make sure that anyone who answers the phones for your business knows about it and knows what it entails. Otherwise, your customers may get a disappointing experience when it feels like the left hand is unaware of what the right hand is doing, so to speak. It gives the impression that the different parts of your business are operating independently of one another, which is something you don't want to communicate to prospective buyers.

These are just a couple of ways that you can accidentally harm your brand continuity. Remember, you can never be 100% sure how someone is going to make contact with your business, especially for the first time. So, make sure however they encounter you, it's equally easy, enjoyable, and helpful.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Moving On Is Not Giving Up

No business professional in history has ever had a perfect record. Though you only set goals for you and your team with the absolute best of intentions, sometimes you may find yourself coming up short. Everyone from our parents to our teachers to our mentors has told us over and over again to "never give up, never surrender," when sometimes, you have to do exactly that. The key to coming out all the better for it involves knowing how to identify that moment of surrender when it does arrive, and how to best handle what comes immediately after.

Look for the Signs

The best way to know when to move on from an objective in the world of business involves taking a moment to observe the world around you. How much time have you spent trying to accomplish this task? How much money have you expended trying to do this one particular thing? Would that time, money, and energy be better served if it were reallocated elsewhere within your organization?

At a certain point, you will start to feel diminishing returns. You've put your all into something and success is still just as far away as it was when you started. When you have that moment of clarity, the best thing you can do is look deep inside yourself. Do you really believe that you can pull off the challenge in front of you, or do you just hope that you can? If you fall into the latter category, it may be time to move on.

Moving On Doesn't Mean You've Failed

The most important thing to understand about when you should move on from an objective you just can't quite accomplish has to do with what happens next. If you set a goal for yourself and come up short of that mark, a lot of things have happened -but failure is not one of them.

You can choose to look at it that way if you'd like, but doing so actually limits the power of the moment you have in front of you. Maybe the objective you set wasn't the right objective in the first place, and everything leading up to this point has been trying to tell you that. It's a scenario you can see time and time again with some of the most successful companies in the history of business.

Apple, for example, had been set on releasing a smartphone for years - or at least a "smartphone" as per the definition of that term in 2005. Steve Jobs and his team tried, and tried and tried again, and eventually released something called the ROKR E1, a phone designed in conjunction with Motorola that was basically a regular phone with iTunes connectivity built in. The results were disastrous - a rare black mark on Apple's otherwise top notch record. Jobs had set a goal for himself and had failed to accomplish it the way he wanted.

But instead of saying "Apple and phones are not meant for each other," he thought differently. He realized that what he really failed to do was find the right hardware company to partner with to achieve this goal. He realized that by handling both the hardware and the software in-house, he could get at what he really wanted in the first place. Apple would go on to release the iPhone less than two years later and the rest, as they say, is history.

In the End

When you set goals for yourself, you always do so with the best of intentions. Remember that Albert Einstein's definition of insanity was "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Sometimes, you need to know when to try harder and when to try something else. However, moving on doesn't mean that you're a failure - it just means that you've cleared away the cobwebs, reassessed your priorities, and are ready to redirect that energy into something much more positive and appropriate.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Online Marketing With A Little Friendly Competition

Sometimes it takes a little friendly competition to get your customers engaged. That's why it's so common to see freebies, giveaways, and contests posted online and in retail stores. The trick, of course, is finding a contest that your customers are interested in winning. You know your customers best. Selecting a contest to run can be fun for everyone, especially if you can find a way to get your employees excited, too.

Did You Know?
- New campaigns acquire a 34% audience increase on average
- One-third of contest entrants sign up to receive email updates from brands and partners
- Running a mobile contest increases the number of entrants by eight times
- Statistically, the best duration for a contest campaign is 25-60 days

Contest Ideas

One of the funniest and most entertaining ideas is to host a video contest. People are mad about videos these days, and they love to share them on Facebook and other social media sites. According to Social Media Examiner, one such contest by the snack company Doritos brought an immense return. The contest is called "Crash the Super Bowl" and asks customers to create commercials for their chips. Can you just imagine how much fun customers have creating these commercials? Let's not even begin to discuss the fun of sharing the commercials on Facebook. So while your company may not be as big or popular as Doritos, you can see how this idea can go viral quickly.

Dunkin' Donuts uses contests to tell customer stories on Twitter. They asked their customers to post how their coffee fits into their day. As you can imagine, many customers came back with responses to this request. Winners starred in their own Dunkin' Donuts commercial, and these videos were shared on YouTube and Twitter.

Low-Tech Contests

Not all contests need to include high-tech prizes or competitions such as videos. You can ask your followers to compete in Throw Back Thursday competitions with snapshots of them using your products in a funny way or just sending in ideas for how they use your product or service. The goal is engaging as many current and potential customers in your brand, and just plain having fun. If the contest is easy to participate in and offers a prize that fits your niche audience, then you will get a better return. This method of building an audience and cementing relationships with your customers is a proven success. People just want to have fun, and they are busy and stressed. An excuse to join an engaging contest will get them excited.

Kissmetrics offers several ideas that you can adapt to your company to introduce giveaways and contests to your audience. They offer suggestions on how to set up the contest, and how to optimize it and promote it online. Part of the success of a contest is that it can result in user-generated content that you can use during and after the contest to promote your products and brand. Everyone wins because it is fun, engages your audience, and you can get increased traffic and sales as well as new, original content.

Contests are particularly useful during the stressful holiday season when everyone is shopping and spending money. You can offer free products to customers who win, or gift cards that they can use for holiday gifts.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Why It's Time To Start Paying Attention To Instagram

When it comes to social media marketing, there are a lot of people who will tell you that there are only two names that you have to concern yourself with: Facebook and Twitter. While the power of these two services as marketing channels is undeniably important, to say that you should ONLY focus on these two platforms is making a grave mistake - particularly concerning where we're headed.

Case in point: Instagram may not have as many unique users as Facebook or Twitter, but the impressive growth it has shown in a relatively short period of time proves that it is more than worth your effort.

The Importance of Instagram: By the Numbers

Over the last five years alone, Instagram has quickly proven its worth against its larger brethren. Though the social networking site only had 90 million users in its earliest days, that number has since risen to 300 million monthly active users as of 2016.

What's more than that, Instagram's user base is incredibly engaged. Not only are these users responsible for sharing over 30 billion (that's "billion," with a "B") photos to date, but more than 70 million photos are being shared every day.

That statistic alone makes Instagram the third most engaged social networking site on planet Earth today. In terms of using social media for effective marketing, "engagement" is pretty much the name of the game.

Instagram is also hugely beneficial for companies that want to increase brand awareness on a global scale. Studies estimate that as of right now, a full 70% of all Instagram users are located OUTSIDE of the United States. To top it off, there will be about 111.6 million American Instagram users by 2019. This means that not only will it allow you to reach a wider audience than ever before, but it will also still allow you to reach those ever-important local markets, too.

Perhaps the most impressive statistic to concern yourself with, though, has more to do with exactly who Instagram allows you to reach. As of 2016, Instagram is used by more Americans between the ages of 12 and 24 years old than any other social network, including Facebook and Twitter. So not only can you reach a larger audience, but you're also reaching a younger one - particularly important for creating a loyal army of customers now who will be ready and willing to follow you for years to come.

The Bigger Picture

Statistics like these underline a few different things, all of which are crucial in terms of social media marketing. For starters, always be wary of someone who tells you that you only have to focus your efforts in one direction. "Never put all your eggs in one basket" is a mantra that very much applies in terms of social networking, especially because most businesses use at least two social networks every day, often more.

However, the real takeaway from this is that you should always be looking for the next big thing in terms of how and where you're communicating with your audience. Imagine the results you would see today if you were able to get in on the Facebook revolution from the ground floor. Well, a similar opportunity is currently presenting itself to businesses everywhere in the form of Instagram. Ignoring it now means leaving a lot of money on the table later on.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Powerful Influence Of Coffee

Does it ever seem as if you can't move another step forward without your favorite drink in hand? Coffee fuels many a creative mind in any industry. Whether you are an early morning coffee drinker or need a cup mid-afternoon to reboot your sluggish mind, coffee culture does pair with many of the best developments in business. You might even be the person who has to have a cup of coffee in hand all day long. Here are some coffee thoughts to help you jumpstart your day or keep it going into the wee hours of the morning when you are cramming for a deadline.

Quotes about Coffee

"I believe humans get a lot done, not because we're smart, but because we have thumbs so we can make coffee." - Flash Rosenberg

"Actually, this seems to be the basic need of the human heart in nearly every great crisis -- a good hot cup of coffee." -- Alexander King

"Without my morning coffee, I'm just like a dried up piece of roast goat." - Johann Sebastian Bach

"I never laugh until I've had my coffee." - Clark Gable

"As soon as coffee is in your stomach, there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move, similes arise, the paper is covered. Coffee is your ally and writing ceases to be a struggle." - Honore de Balzac

"I don't really like coffee, she said, but I don't really like it when my head hits my desk when I fall asleep either." - Brian Andreas

"Come on, don't you ever stop and smell the coffee?" - Justina Chen, North of Beautiful

Coffee Influence in Our Culture and Lives

Have you ever sat down and thought about how much coffee has infiltrated our culture and daily lives? Coffee is present at every meeting, event, gathering or celebration. It is a staple in good times and bad and helps stimulate conversation, ease communication, and calm people in the face of the unknown. It is so embedded in our lives that we often take having coffee on hand for granted. Would you ever have a work meeting without coffee for visitors? And don't you offer every visitor coffee when they arrive?

There is an excellent article on the Scientific American blog (http://bit.ly/2eLnuIQ), "The Culture of Coffee Drinkers," that discusses the influence of coffee throughout history and in modern times. With the proliferation of Starbucks coffee shops throughout major cities, coffee shops have become meeting places for entrepreneurs, writers, company reps and corporate CEOs who want to meet away from the office. Gourmet coffees have become commonplace.

Using Coffee to Improve Customer and Employee Relationships

It may seem like a "no-brainer," but coffee can be used as a tool to connect with both employees and customers in your shop or office, and it doesn't cost much for you to do so. Whether you send your assistant on a coffee run, or have a Keurig in your office for each person to make their own cup, sharing a "cup of joe" will help facilitate discussions about difficult jobs, employee discipline, and new contracts.

Friday, October 28, 2016

A Simple Business Lesson From the Presidential Election

The 2016 Presidential Election is quickly approaching and, once again, it offers a real "teachable moment" in our nation's history. Instead of focusing on all of the negativity that seems to be surrounding the United States political system, take a decidedly "glass half full" approach instead.

If running for president were like starting a business (and make no mistake - it basically is), both candidates are providing us with an excellent lesson in customer relations and marketing as we speak.

Know Your Audience

Regardless of what you happen to think about the candidates themselves, one thing is for certain: both candidates know the power of speaking the same language as their target audience. Even though the candidates appear opposed on nearly every issue, it's hard to deny that they're each having a tremendous amount of success within their own bases and supporters precisely because they each know what to say and how to say it within their audience. Each candidate regularly draws crowds in the tens of thousands from their most fervent supporters.

However, both candidates are relatively controversial outside of their base supporters, to the point where if they hadn't made an effort to master and hone these unique voices, they would likely be having trouble establishing momentum at this point. Both of them are still very much "in the game" (against all odds) almost entirely because they've taken the time to learn exactly what they need to say and do to build momentum among their own core group of followers.

You Have to Move Past Your Audience at Some Point

Perhaps the biggest lesson that we can learn from the 2016 Presidential Election, however, has to do with growth. While keeping a loyal, enthusiastic customer base is always important, this is only a means to an end - it isn't the end itself. If you want to continue to grow and evolve as a business, you need to be looking for ways to bring new people into that base and to allow that base to grow. A failure to do so will result in the type of stagnation that will find you spinning your proverbial wheels.

This lesson can be seen throughout the election process as well. Often you'll see one candidate making a concerted effort to bring as many new voters into their camp as possible, while another seems to be focused on maintaining their existing voters - which can be a problem when you're running the "business" of a political career.

The raw potential of a single customer for a presidential candidate is inherently limited. Regardless of how passionate someone is, or how much they like you, or how much they're willing to show their support for you, they can still only vote a single time. Zeroing in on your original, core group of customers with a laser-sharp focus may be an excellent way to make sure they stick around long enough to make that sale (or vote in November), but it doesn't help you at all regarding expansion.

If you're so focused on maintaining this core group of followers that you're willing to alienate everyone who exists outside of your bubble, ultimately you might achieve massive short-term gains, but it'll be at the expense of your long-term goals. Never be so focused on one group of customers that you're willing to push another (possibly larger) one away. Understand that ALL businesses require a steady stream of NEW customers to guarantee the growth they need to survive for years to come.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

What's in a Leaf?

If you enjoy watching the leaves float down during the fall season, you probably already know that just like snowflakes, each tree's leaves are individual and unique. Unlike snowflakes, though, leaves can tell you from which tree they came, and fortunately, there are many resources available to you for identifying trees by their leaves.

Knowing more about your surroundings is important, and it can apply well in a work situation.

Discovery

An excellent resource for identifying trees will take you on a journey of discovery: from the color and shape of the leaf to how many points it has, all to learn more about the tree it came from. It might go on to identify the type of bark, the size of the tree, and more to help you determine which tree you are looking at.

There are many ways you can apply this strategy of discovery with your customers, especially if they are repeat customers. If you think about each customer as if they were an onion with many layers to uncover, you can view each contact with them as an opportunity to peel away one more layer.

Learning

Your customers are individuals with unique personalities, family issues, work challenges, and styles of doing business. You can work on strategies to uncover more information about your customers to help cement a relationship with them. Customers who like you and enjoy your relationship are more willing to continue to do business with you and become loyal repeat customers.

Depth

Depending on how you maintain your customer records, there are different methods of collecting and retaining information about your clients. In an article, "7 Ways to (Really) Know Your Customers" (http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/4890-customer-engagement-tips.html), it offers several suggestions for small businesses to get to know their customers better including gleaning social data from sites such as Facebook.

By getting to know your customers better, you can anticipate when they will be spending, what triggers a purchase, and how you can be proactive in contacting them for their triggers. As you learn more about your customer, you can apply your knowledge to help them better manage their relationship with you, potentially saving them money in the long run. For instance, if they are buying their products when needed, but you see a pattern, you can sell them a larger bulk amount on a periodic basis saving them money and securing the purchase for your account.

Knowledge

Knowing your customers will allow you to separate the A and B level of customers from the one-time business customers. As you develop your relationships with your clients, you can grow your business in depth. Then, using similar methods, seek out new business and begin the process again.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Tips for Nurturing Existing Sales Leads

While bringing new leads into your business is always important, sometimes it's not the "be all, end all" solution to your bottom line. Remember that according to most statistics, an incredible 90% of new prospects are merely in the "browsing" stage of their relationship with your company - meaning that they're not quite ready to buy. Out of every new lead you bring into your business, only 5% are ready to pull the trigger - if that. While you may think this means you have to work harder to bring in a higher volume of leads (this is a numbers game, after all), try a different approach. Don't forget about the leads you already have.

If you want to get better at nurturing your existing sales leads to get them ready for that ever-important purchase, you'll want to keep a few key things in mind.

You Are an Authority. Don't Forget This

When people think about nurturing leads, one of the qualities required for a solid relationship is one of trust. Never forget that you're not just selling a product or service - you're also selling yourself. People are a lot more willing to spend money with your company if they trust that you know what you're talking about.

Don't JUST hit your prospects with sales materials over and over again; this isn't lead nurturing, this is badgering. Instead, try sending helpful, well-researched content in their direction as well. You need to be focused on establishing that you know what you're talking about. People aren't just going to take your word for it. When you spend time positioning yourself as an authority and focusing on the other qualities of lead nurturing as well, people will begin to see you as the solution to their problem when they do feel comfortable enough to buy.

Don't Just Make Contact When You Have Something to Sell

One of the biggest mistakes that a businessperson can make involves only remembering that a lead exists when you need to increase your sales numbers for a particular quarter. Nurturing leads requires you to keep in mind that you're talking about more than just line items on a balance sheet - prospects are living, breathing people who don't like to feel used.

As a result, make an effort to reach out to a few of your potentially higher quality leads even if you're not pushing a new product or service. Thanks to the power of social media, this is easier than ever. Even a quick Facebook message on a birthday or at Christmas will go a long way towards strengthening (and increasing the ultimate value of) your relationship.


These are just a few of the many reasons why it is so important to nurture your existing sales leads. None of this is to say that you should stop focusing on bringing in new leads and turn 100% of your attention on existing ones. As always, success requires you to strike a delicate balance between the two. But if you let the majority of your existing leads lay dormant for too long, you're burning a lot more than just potentially important relationships. You're leaving a lot of money on the table at the same time.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Applying Life Lessons to Small Business

Parents to teenagers and young adults know that there are some lessons that only living life can bring us. Life lessons learned through living life are valuable, and they are hard to teach to teenagers because teens think they have the answers to everything. However, experience can offer up gems of information about what is truly important in life and how to enjoy each moment as it comes.

What are some of the lessons that life teaches us?

1. Life isn't fair, but it is still good.

How many times have you heard your child or teenager say to you, "but that isn't fair!" The truth is that life isn't fair. Life happens as it happens, and you need to learn to roll with the ups and downs and continue on your journey. If you can take each moment as it comes, then you can appreciate the good, survive the bad, and continue on your way.

2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.

Many of the big decisions in life can be broken down into small steps that are easy to accomplish. Each time you have a big project or decision in front of you, you can make it easier to understand by chopping it up into small tasks. Then, do each task one at a time until you complete the whole.

3. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

Humor makes life more tolerable both in good and bad times. If you can learn to live life with humor, including your own foibles, you will relax more and stay healthier. Laughter is a stress-reducer and can help keep your craziest days sane.

4. Overprepare, then go with the flow.

Since nothing ever goes exactly as we plan, it is important to prepare for contingencies. If you are ready for the worst, then you will be able to move in various directions when reality hits. You can plan to the Nth degree, but once your event or project is in motion, you cannot stop it. Going with the flow and learning to be flexible will keep you on top of the situation (as much as that is possible).

Applying Life's Lessons to Business

Running a small business is fraught with surprises, changes, and learning curves. Many of the lessons that apply to life, in general, can be applied to running a business. Small business owners are responsible for everything that occurs in the whole of their business, and it is nearly impossible to predict what each day as a small business owner will bring.

If you can enjoy each part of your business, sharing what you know with your customers and employees, and reaching out to your community to connect with people through your business, you will enjoy life's journey. Business isn't always fair, but if you put your heart into it, it will be good. Your customers and employees will see how you run your business, and they will respond. When in doubt, just take the first small step, and you will be able to accomplish whatever goals you set for your business. Don't take your business so seriously. No one else does. Run your business with a good sense of humor and your customers and staff will join in laughing with you. Overprepare, and then let your business take you where it will. You will discover new dimensions to your niche that you may never have known before and you will have an exciting, fulfilling journey.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Don't Make the Internet Angry: Important Considerations About Using Social Media as a Marketing Platform

As a sheer marketing platform, social media brings with it a host of advantages that can't be ignored. According to one recent study, there will be 2.5 billion unique users worldwide on social media networks by as soon as 2018. Right now, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have the potential to effortlessly connect you with approximately 70% of the United States population.


However, social media also presents some challenges, too - particularly if you insist on taking the "tried but true" marketing techniques of yesteryear and trying to cram them into a social media-shaped box. If you want to unlock the real potential that only social media can provide, you'll need to keep a few key things in mind.

Different Users Are Looking for Different Things

One of the most important things to understand about social media networks is that they aren't all created equally. Someone who uses Facebook isn't looking for the same TYPE of message that someone who uses Twitter is. The same goes for LinkedIn, Pinterest and more. While they're all "social networks" in the strictest sense of the definition, they all have their unique strengths.

Twitter users are looking for shorter, bite-sized bits of information while Facebook users prefer longer, more thoughtful posts. A piece of marketing collateral that you designed for Facebook won't necessarily play well to Twitter's audience, and vice versa. You have to understand the channel you're using, play to its strengths, and adapt across the board. Even if you're presenting the same message on each network, you have to make sure that the delivery mechanism is optimized for the platform you're working with at the time.

Think Young

One of the most mission critical things to understand as you move forward with social media is the fact that 90% of young adults today (defined as people between the ages of 18 and 29) are social media users. Not only that, but a third of them say that social media is one of their preferred methods for communicating with businesses in general.

In essence, this means that if you want to create the type of loyal following that will carry your business far NOW, you have to start playing to their habits on social media today. These younger users will continue to age, and if you can hook them young via social media, you've likely hooked them forever.

Social Media Demands Honesty

Finally, one of the most important considerations about using social media as a marketing platform has to do with what happens if things go wrong. Because of the intimate, constant connection that social media generates, anything less than honesty is not welcome. If customers have a concern, address it. If a legitimate problem arises, do what you can to make it right. If something bad happens with your company - be it a negative run-in with a customer to a full-fledged PR disaster - don't just try to sweep it under the rug and pretend like it never happened.

Gabe Newell, a former Microsoft employee and founder of Valve Corporation, said it best when he said "One of the things we learned pretty early on is 'Don't ever, ever try to lie to the internet - because they will catch you. They will deconstruct your spin. They will remember everything you ever say for eternity."

In essence, this means that while social media can bring a lot of positive attributes to your company regarding the sheer marketing power it offers, it is also a slippery slope. If you want to use social media to develop meaningful, lasting relationships with your target audience, you can't assume this is a given. You have to earn it, and you can never take it for granted.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Goals are Not Just for Sports

In school and at work, we are often told to create goals and to strive to reach them. After all, achieving our goals is a measure of success and a method of how to pursue our dreams. Goals are a big part of managing marketing and sales in most companies, and they are the markers of who is producing and who is not. Not everyone has the same training in hitting goals, however, nor do goals create motivation for everyone.

What Can We Learn from Goals in Sports?

The easiest way to demonstrate goal setting is to look at sports. Every sport has a goal to reach to win the game. Goals can be achieved through hitting a ball out of the park, into a net, throwing it into a basket, or even by racing to a finish line. Most of these goals are made from years of preparation, training, and study of the game they represent. No athlete achieves success without that training, no matter how easy the achievement looks to the spectator. Athletes work through injuries, bad days, failures, and practice. Achievements are the culmination of hours and hours of work.

Obstacles

The point of a goal is to help you achieve success even with the stumbling blocks and barriers that stand before you. A goal is a guiding light to keep you on your journey or path. Henry Ford said that "Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal." The obstacles will always be there to keep you from making the goal. You may not have the experience, the education, or the opportunities that your peers or competitors do, however, you can still achieve your goals if you are willing to keep working towards them.

Applying Goals to Business

Like sports, business goals can be short-term or long-term. For instance, you can have a goal of getting ten items completed by the end of your work day. That is a short-term goal. A long-term goal is establishing 100 new customer accounts by the end of the year. An even longer-term goal is becoming the top business in your category in the city by 2020. The key is establishing goals that are reachable, measurable, and trackable so that you can follow your progress as you work towards the goal.

While wanting to be the best business in the city by 2020 is possible, a more reasonable goal is to triple your income from your business by 2020. With this goal, you can create the steps that will lead to the goal, and measure your progress as you continue your journey. You will know when you hit your goal by the numbers you achieve without any arbitrary or ambiguous measurements.

How to Keep Your Goals in the Forefront of Your Mind

Weekly meetings to keep everyone on your team on track may be boring, but their function is to make sure the team members are still striving towards group goals. You can do the same with your personal business goals. Remind yourself daily what goals you are working towards and what you need to accomplish that day to move in the right direction. Remember that keeping your eyes on the goal will help to remove the obstacles.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Art of the Pivot

No matter what business you're talking about, most companies usually begin life in the same way: with an idea. You wake up one morning, have an idea for a product or service that you're sure will be the "next big thing," and you get to work. You fully commit yourself to building an infrastructure, developing and expanding on your idea, and eventually, you bring your product or service to market.

And then things have a habit of sometimes not going necessarily how you'd planned them.

Maybe people are using your product, but they're not using it in the exact way that you intended. Certainly not in the way you built your strategy around. Maybe your product or service isn't popular at all, but the underlying idea is still a solid one. In these situations, you have two options: you can pack up your ball and go home, or you could do what some of the most successful companies in the history of planet Earth have done: you pivot.

The Art of the Pivot in Action

A few years ago, an online role-playing game was founded called "Game Neverending" - you're forgiven if you've never heard of it. The premise was simple - users would travel around a digital map and find other people to buy, sell, and build items with. Included inside the game was a photo-sharing tool, which quickly became one of the most popular parts of the experience. Though the developers loved their idea, users weren't quite so kind. People were spending less and less time on the "buying, selling, and building items" part and more on the "photo-sharing" part, causing significant problems for the company's long-term goals.

While you've probably never heard of "Game Neverending," you ARE no doubt aware of a service called Flickr - one of the most popular and widely used photo-sharing tools of the digital age. The developers behind "Game Neverending" realized that they were never going to get people to love their RPG the way they did, so they did what any entrepreneurs would do: they pivoted. They threw out everything except the proven-successful photo-sharing technology and started from scratch. One acquisition by Yahoo! later, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Let the Market Be Your Guide

The key takeaway from this is that you need to be willing to listen to the market and allow it to guide you through execution, even if that execution is at odds with your original intent. Remember that the market is telling you "We like this, but it would be better if it had X, Y, and Z features" is different from pivoting. If users enjoyed the RPG experience of "Game Neverending" and the developers just kept adding game-related features, we might not have Flickr today.

Instead, the market communicated loud and clear: "We don't like this game, but we do enjoy this one thing that the game lets us do." These are the types of moments you have to be not only willing to listen to, but also to allow them to change your idea of what your product or service could become.

Listening to the market and being willing to pivot, even if that was the furthest thing from your mind at the time, is not a bad thing. Indeed, history has proven that great things have been born out of it time and again. Because if you release a product or service and are unwilling to change based on the ideals of your users, you'll wind up hemorrhaging users pretty quickly.

And without those users, what are you left with? Little more than a good idea in search of a purpose, which isn't anything at all.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Failure Is an Opportunity: The Positives That You Can Learn From a Good Day Gone Wrong

Nobody ever plans on failure. When you wake up in the morning, ready to start another rough day at the office, you don't think to yourself "Oh boy, I really can't wait to screw up that big project today." Failure is something that tends to happen, despite the best of intentions. In those moments of darkness, it's easy to let setbacks both large and small get you down. However, a quality that all real leaders have in common is that they don't dread failure at all because they know that it is inevitable. Failure is only truly a negative thing if you fail to seize the opportunity of the unique learning experience you've just been presented with.

Failure Helps You Combat Momentum

One of the most common reasons why failure sometimes rears its ugly head has to do with something that can often be your biggest strength - momentum. As the machine that is your business grinds along, day after day, you begin to get into a "groove" thanks to our old friend momentum. Productivity is on the rise; you're producing adequate results, and you're well on your way to meeting your deadlines and satisfying clients. Then, disaster strikes. Maybe a finished product isn't nearly where you need it to be, or a mission-critical process has broken down. This is where momentum works against you sometimes - because you were riding the wave of that groove, you likely overlooked small problems earlier on before they had the chance to become much bigger ones in the present day.

This is where failure becomes your best friend - it forces you to stop and think about everything that led to this moment. What along the way caused the failure that you're experiencing right now? It likely wasn't anything that happened this morning, or last night, or even earlier in the week. It was probably a series of small decisions made weeks or even months ago that snowballed into your present situation. With failure, you have an opportunity to look back and see things in a much clearer way. You can make a note of certain decisions you made that didn't quite pay off in the way you thought they would and, as a result, are ones that you're not going to make again in the future (or at least you shouldn't).

The Benefit of Hindsight

An old saying tells us that hindsight is 20/20. Many people think this is an ironic statement - because you can't go back in time and change the past. You're forced to live with the knowledge that the failure you're experiencing is one you created yourself. Instead, look at this saying as a positive thing. Hindsight may not allow you to change the past, but it IS a powerful tool that you can use to positively impact the future. This is the core of what learning from failure is all about.

Think about it this way: your mistake may have cost your business X number of dollars today, but it also helped you save a much larger amount of money on an ongoing basis because you had a rare chance to learn and improve in a way that wouldn't have presented itself otherwise. Learning from failure, therefore, becomes incredibly positive, as you're investing in the future of both your company and your career with the lessons you've learned today.

These are just a few of the reasons why failure is only a negative thing if you allow it to be. Sure, you had expectations that you've set for yourself and others that you didn't meet - feeling disappointed or even upset in these moments is natural. But failure is nothing if not a great opportunity to stop, reassess, and bounce back even stronger. Failure is natural throughout all points in life. In biology, every time you exercise your muscles begin to break down. However, they then rebuild themselves stronger than they were before - this is how we get more fit. There is absolutely no reason why the same shouldn't be true in the world of business.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Create An Environment That High-Value Employees Want To Work In

If you tasked most business leaders with sitting down and making a list of their struggles, attracting high-value employees would more than likely fall close to the top. Finding those versatile, well-rounded, and driven candidates is one thing - getting them to come aboard is something else entirely. Making sure you're not just a "stepping stone" in someone's successful career is also a lot easier said than done. If you want to attract the type of high-value employees that will carry your organization forward, you have to start from within and create the kind of organization they want to work for in the first place.

Would You Want to Work for Your Business?

If you want to attract high-value employees in a marketplace that is growing increasingly competitive with each passing day, you need to start by putting yourself in their shoes. What are some things that 21st-century talent may be looking for that you aren't currently offering?

Thanks to things like SaaS (software-as-a-service) and IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service), the ability for businesses to allow employees to work remotely has become a significant priority for quality applicants. Even if you don't feel comfortable bringing someone on and allowing them to work from the home full-time, see if having them work remotely two out of the five business days is something you can manage.

Likewise, BYOD (bring your own device) has become a significant priority for younger employees. It lets them bring their own smartphones, tablets and other devices to work that they already feel comfortable using, thus increasing the overall quality of the work they're able to generate. It also helps save money for businesses, as you no longer have to pay to purchase and maintain a computer for an employee if they're already bringing one from home. These small changes to your existing policies can go a long way towards creating the type of environment and culture that attracts the talent you're after.

Get Competitive

Another one of the core ways to attract valuable employees these days involves being as competitive as possible when it comes to job perks. Apple, for example, has a now-legendary attraction strategy that includes not only traditional perks like healthcare, but also things like educational reimbursement as well. Not every company has the type of bankroll that Apple does, but it's always important to remember that making an investment in your employees through competitive perks is ultimately an investment in the future of your company.

These are just a few of the many ways that you can create the type of environment that makes it easy to attract high-value employees and even easier to retain them for the long haul. Remember: quality employees don't grow on trees, and the difference between someone who is "just punching a clock" versus someone who is putting their blood, sweat, and tears into the task at hand is an immense difference, indeed. By putting yourself in their shoes and creating the type of company they can't help but want to work for, you, in turn, create the kind of company clients can't wait to do business with.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Triumph Over Adversity

Many of the most successful leaders in the world have been people who have triumphed over adversity. This list of individuals includes celebrities, world leaders, and business people. Notable figures include Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years in prison before finally becoming President in South Africa and Steve Jobs who was fired from his own company. Many people fail in their lifetimes, and then go on to become successful. Failure in itself is not the end. Instead, it is a lesson that can be applied to future endeavors.

What Can Failure Teach Us?

Without learning how to fail and pick yourself up again, most people would never learn anything new or complete any task. It is an accomplishment to fail, and then go on to make something of yourself by admitting that you have failed and refusing to be deterred from your final goal. While this concept can apply to any endeavor in life, it is certainly a concept that can be easily applied to business.

Living with Failure in Business

The business world is full of failures. Companies often have products that do not do well in the marketplace among the mix of products that they sell. In fact, most sales teams figure failure into their daily routine since they know that they will have to approach a lot of leads before they can turn some of them into buying customers. Many successful salespeople use rejections to tally how well they are doing. For instance, they may decide to make enough cold calls over the phone each day to tally up to a hundred "no, thank you's." The reason they count those no's is that they realize that if they receive a hundred no's, they will also have enough yes's in that group of phone calls to make the quota of appointments they need to have.

Failure is a Requirement for Success

"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly." - Robert F. Kennedy

Greatness can only be achieved by someone who understands what it takes to become great. Therefore, failure is a requirement for success because it takes failure to appreciate success. While not every one of us needs to spend 27 years in prison to finally achieve our goals, the truth remains that unless we persevere towards our goals, we will not be able to achieve success in our careers or life.

Dealing with Failure in Business

As a business owner, it is very likely that you will make mistakes, disappoint staff and customers, and lose business from time to time. However, each time failure occurs, it is best to admit the failure, and then examine why it happened. By learning from our mistakes, we become better business owners and better people. Failure helps us relate to others who have experienced hard times and gives us the opportunity to connect with them as customers.

Dealing with Future Adversity

The next time you or one of your employees fails at a task, take the time to use the failure as an opportunity to learn and improve. Maybe the failure of one person can become a lesson for everyone, and it will lead to the next big success for your entire company.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Busy is a State of Mind; How to Stay Productive When You're the Boss

From a certain perspective, employees have it relatively easy. They don't have a choice regarding what type of work they're doing or when they're doing it. Productivity is dictated not only by the company they work for but by the people they answer to. If they don't have a spark of creative inspiration on their way to work one morning, that's just too bad - the work needs to be done no matter what. This can be incredibly motivating from a certain perspective.

When you're the boss, however, you aren't quite so lucky.

When you're the person in charge of steering the ship, there WILL be mornings where you don't feel as creative as you need to be. There will be days where being productive seems impossible, regardless of how hard you try. If you want to be able to stay as creative and as productive as possible, even when you don't have to answer to anybody but yourself, there are a few key things you'll want to keep in mind.

It's All About Momentum

Staying productive when you're the boss may require you to think about things a bit differently from how you're used to. One of the most valuable assets that you have on your side will be momentum, but unfortunately, that driving force isn't just going to create itself.

Say you have a big task ahead of you that needs to be completed by a specified date. When you look at it as a single goal, it can understandably seem insurmountable - particularly if you have nobody to answer to but yourself. However, if you were to break it down into a number of smaller, more straightforward tasks, suddenly you're building the type of momentum that will carry you far.

Start by making a list of all the more minor things you need to accomplish that will eventually add up to your singular large goal. It's important that you don't try to keep a record of this in your head - write it down on a piece of paper or in a word document on your computer. Doing so will help you visualize both what needs to be done, and the forward progress that you're making. Turn every task less into something that needs to be done and more into a single problem that you need to solve. As you do, physically check each item off the list. The benefit of this method is that you can SEE how much you're accomplishing, even if you haven't technically completed that one larger goal yet. Every time you cross off another task, you're building a little bit of momentum that will drive you forward to the next waypoint. Before you know it, all of those small individual items that seem insignificant by themselves will add up to the proverbial end zone that you were working towards in the first place. You're not doing any more or less work - you're just shifting the way you think about the task at hand when you don't have anyone to look to for motivation other than yourself.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Creativity is the same way. Instead of looking at something as a single, big task to be completed, be it a piece of creative material or a catchy new slogan for your business, look at it as a series of small puzzles to be solved. Visualize the amount of work to be done and the amount of progress you've made thus far. Before you know it your creative problem will be solved, even if you weren't necessarily feeling creative yourself along the way.

For those days where creativity seems fruitless and remaining productive seems all but impossible, remember a very mere fact of the business world that you've likely forgotten. Even though you're the boss, you DO have someone that you're answering to, the client. Put yourself in the mindset of one of your employees - what would you tell them if they were supposed to turn in that big project but didn't because they just weren't "feeling creative enough"? You'd say "too bad - it's too important, it needs to be done." Because the work IS too important and it DOES need to be done. As the boss, it isn't so much that you're answering to someone (in this case, the client), but more that someone genuinely depends on you. It's your job not to let them down in any way possible.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Moving Beyond Just Increasing Productivity

Thanks largely to the fact that there is a lot of work to be done and only so many hours in a day to do it, many business owners tend to think of raising productivity as their primary objective at any given time. Unfortunately, this isn't really the case - it only appears to be on the surface.

Consider the fact that "productivity" as a metric is not something that you can improve indefinitely. You can only find new and innovative ways to raise the amount of work you're able to do so far before you hit a period of diminishing returns. People WILL get overworked, at which point you're farther away from your ultimate goal of "do the best work possible, no exceptions" than you were when you started.

Increasing productivity is a means to an end: it is not the end in and of itself. Instead, there are far more important things for running a successful business that you should be focusing on.

Don't Focus on Outcomes. Focus on Processes

When people place all of their emphasis on increasing productivity, "work harder" tends to become the mantra of the day. However, the old phrase of "work smarter, not harder" still very much applies - or at least it should for the best results.

Focus less on what your employees can do and more on how they're able to do it. Does your management style create unnecessary waste in the daily workflows of your staff? Do what you can to eliminate it wherever possible. Would giving your employees the ability to work remotely make their lives easier, thus increasing the QUALITY of the work they're able to offer? It's something you should consider.

Instead of looking at work as an issue of quantity, look to quality wherever possible. Do whatever it takes to improve HOW your employees are working and rest assured, WHAT they're able to do will improve as a result.

Keep Everyone on the Same Page

As time goes on, one of the biggest challenges that business leaders face tends to be one of communication. Remember that every department or team in your business isn't acting in a vacuum - they're all essentially working together to form the single cohesive whole that is your business in the first place. A vacuum is exactly what is created when you don't take the time to periodically redefine exactly what a person or team's purpose is, what they're doing and (most importantly) why that matters.

Giving people a mission that is unclear or that lacks focus is an excellent way to lower engagement at the same time. Always take the time to make sure that everyone has their "eye on the prize," so to speak, regarding why they should care and what the prize is they should be eyeing.

These are just a few of the factors that are far more important than the blanket concept of "increased productivity" in the world of business. In fact, you'll often find that when you take the time to focus on other areas of your business to help create the well-oiled machine you always wanted to be running, productivity tends to increase on its own as a result. Workflows become easier to sustain, and communication becomes clearer, paving the way for the high volume of quality, timely production you were after in the first place.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Using Science to Make Business Decisions

Many small business owners base decisions on their gut feelings which are comprised of their intuition and experience. However, using gut feelings to make business decisions may not be the best decision-making technique. Many companies are now using analytics and science to make judgment calls. With modern electronics and online tracking, analytics are often available to gather metrics on a myriad of topics. However, you can take business decision-making a step further and design scientific experiments to discover answers to your questions. Here are some suggestions on how you can use the scientific method to learn what decision to make.

Why Use Trial and Error?

Even in our current modern age of computers and mobile technology, too many businesses use trial and error or other decision-making techniques without any evidence of potential results before they get started. Keeping in mind the adage of what happens to people who make assumptions, there are better ways to decide on business matters.

Using the Scientific Method

If you think back to your high school days, you may remember learning about the scientific method. Like many high school students, if you didn't pursue a career in science, it is likely that you have not thought about the scientific method in recent years. However, business is more like science than you might expect. You can prove and disprove many theories with factual evidence before risking time and money on a new project or campaign. Why should you risk your company income and employees' paychecks when you can test theories before you take the plunge? If you could predict behavior, you would be able to achieve much more reliable results.

Let's see how much you remember about the scientific method. The basic method is to create a theory and then set up a scientific experiment to test your theory. You need a test group equally divided into control and experimental subjects.

Setting Up the Experiment

Google is a prime example of a company that tests its theories on a regular basis. They are constantly running tests to see how people react to various changes in their search engine. When they find a particular change that nets the results they want, they then implement the successful change over a larger group of search parameters.

Tests have been run by various companies to answer questions such as these:

Do lobster tanks increase lobster sales at Food Lion supermarkets?

Do eBay users bid higher in auctions when they can pay by credit card?

Do Subway promotions on low-fat sandwiches increase sandwich sales?

Does a Toronto-Dominion branch get significantly more deposits when open 60 hours a week compared with 40? (from https://hbr.org/2009/02/how-to-design-smart-business-experiments)

When Tests Do Not Work

Testing does not work in all situations. You have to have a large enough collection of data to learn anything significant. However, when you do have enough data to create a test, testing will give you measurable and repeatable results. According to the Harvard Business Review,

"Whether in marketing, store or branch location analysis, or website design, the most reliable insights relate to the potential impact and value of tactical changes: a new store format, for example, or marketing promotion or service process."

If you have a situation with specific, measurable results, instead of guessing the outcome and taking the risk, create a test that will give you a valid answer and confidence in your investment.