Getting Out of Your Own Way

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Brilliant author, philosopher, and speaker Alan Watts once published his autobiographical book, In My Own Way, the title of which is a play on words with alternate meanings. An extremely independent thinker, Watts clearly did things in his own inimitable way. The clever alternate meaning is probably more common for the rest of us, where we use excuses and other convenient reasons to get “in our own way” on the path toward success. As Watts pointed out, the difference lies between fulfilling yourself and obstructing yourself.

Starting a business is a bold step, not one for the timid. The list of excuses used to avoid the dangers of launching a business are many and varied, but they all resonate with the same timidity. Fear of failure is probably the most common thread among all of the excuses holding us back. It takes courage to take the plunge, and a prospective entrepreneur must be willing to take some chances or they will definitely getting in their own way.

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

You are familiar with these. We have heard them all before: I don’t know enough about running a business. I don’t have the skills. I don’t have sufficient contacts with the right people to get started on the right foot. I can’t afford it right now. The economy won’t support a new business just yet. It’s just not the right time.

Each of these may be a valid concern, but the bottom line is that they are nothing more than excuses holding you back from exploring your dream. THEY are not what is holding you back. YOU are what is holding you back.

There are many ways to overcome the fear of failure. One of the most common is simply out of necessity. People lose their long-held jobs and have to pay the rent. Being “forced” into business has been the best thing ever to happen to a lot of people. But whether you are forced, following your dream, or simply fall into it by chance, the opportunities are there for you to succeed. Pat Flynn’s success is a good example.

Pat Flynn was laid off by an architectural firm in 2008. He set a goal of passing an architecture-related exam and created a website to gather information on the test and how to pass it. Many others were also interested in this objective and the site started generating thousands of hits daily. His internal light bulb went on and Flynn wrote an ebook study guide on how to pass that test, selling it for $19.99. Within a month, he had generated sales in excess of $7,000. He never looked back, and today is the brain trust behind SmartPassiveIncome.com, as well as numerous other revenue-generating websites. Pat Flynn got out of his own way.

Founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg is an extremely successful entrepreneur. He didn’t start the wave that has become social media, but his brainchild is today clearly the most popular vehicle in the genre. On his profound success, Zuckerberg said, “The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”

You must get past that little voice in your head that says, “You can’t,” and find the other one in there that says, “Yes, you can.” That voice is in there. You just have to find it and listen, for a change. The boldness to take the plunge depends on it. As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

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Is Your Message Being Diluted in Your Marketing Materials?

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When it comes to the marketing materials that you’re putting out into the world, there is nothing more important than the factor at the heart of it all: your message. Ultimately, the best-looking print mailer, poster, or other material in the world won’t mean a thing if you don’t have the clear, concise message in the center of it to back it up. If you’re worried about whether or not your design instincts are getting the better of you, and you are, in fact, diluting your message in your marketing materials, you can use these delightfully simple tips to find out.

Are You Overloading the Reader Visually?

Graphics, interesting font choices, and more can all be great tools to help get your message across to readers – but they should be complimentary, not supplementary. Every element that you use in your materials that is not contributing to your message is only taking away from it – never forget that. If your materials have swayed decidedly in the direction of “a lot of style, very little substance” in that you’re loading them up with tons of bright colors, flashy logos, images and more, there’s a great chance that you could actually be accomplishing the exact opposite of what you set out to. Start designing your materials with your message in mind and then lay everything else around it. Don’t design the best-looking print material you can and THEN try to cram your message in there somewhere.

Does it Take Longer than 30 Seconds to Discover Your Message?

In order to achieve a maximum level of effectiveness, your message needs to be as simple as possible. “This company is the one you can trust.” “This product is the one that can solve your problems.” “This service is the one you need to make your life easier.” These are (admittedly simple) examples of marketing messages that can be identified and absorbed quickly and easily. If it takes longer than 30 seconds for your target audience to realize what you’re trying to say, you’ve probably already lost them. Trust us – you don’t have that kind of time.

Do You Have Enough White Space?

White space is undoubtedly the best friend that you have when it comes to the print marketing materials that you’re designing. People don’t want to read a wall of text to find out what you’re trying to say – they want to be spoken to directly and succinctly. If brevity is the soul of wit, white space is the brevity equivalent when it comes to your marketing message. If you design a particular material and have very little white space left over at the end of the process, the chances are high that you should probably take another look. There are undoubtedly elements, whether graphics or text or something else entirely – that you can drop without harming what you’re trying to say.

Anything that isn’t directly contributing to your marketing message is only serving to take attention away from it, which is absolutely something that you do not want under any circumstances. People shouldn’t have to work to figure out what you’re trying to say – it should be immediately clear. By keeping these few, core tips in mind regardless of the type of material you’re designing, you’ll place yourself in a better position to establish a direct line of communication with your target audience in the exact way that you intended.

Transparency and Authenticity: Two Keys to Marketing Success

 

Trust is essential to success in today’s business world. It’s not enough to offer a terrific product or service. You need to back that offering with the type of high-quality brand experience people won’t find anywhere else. Doing so doesn’t just create customers — it creates advocates. It creates a legion of followers who are willing to champion your brand to their friends and family members, extending your reach farther than you ever could on your own. In order to achieve this, however, you need to focus on two key qualities: transparency and authenticity, especially in your marketing message.

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What is Transparency in Marketing?

At its core, transparency means being truthful about your business at all times. Far too many business leaders believe that acknowledging problems or mistakes is akin to showing signs of weakness. As they see it, letting people know your business may be going through a rough patch is proof that blood is in the water and the sharks will soon begin to circle.

In reality, transparency is one of the best ways to establish yourself as a trusted brand. If you make a mistake, don’t attempt to sweep it under the rug. Instead, lean into it, take the heat, and use the experience to better your organization. From that regard, transparency isn’t a weakness at all. It’s a way to show your organization is run by human beings who sometimes make mistakes but who always care about their customers above all else.

Consider the recent surge in data breaches that have affected some of the biggest companies on the planet. There are commonly two types of reactions to these events. Some companies try to pretend like a data breach didn’t happen for as long as possible. This never ends well and only damages their reputation. Others step up, take full responsibility, and go to great lengths to do right by their customers. These are the companies that survive the PR disaster that a data breach represents.

Authenticity is Key

Gabe Newell is the co-founder and managing director of the Valve Corporation, a highly successful video game development and distribution platform. When asked about the early days of Valve and the major success it had with digital distribution when so many other platforms were faltering, Newell said the key was simple. “One of the things we learned pretty early on is don’t ever, ever try to lie to the Internet,” he said. “They will catch you. They will de-construct your spin. They will remember everything you ever say for eternity.”

Newell understood what so many others failed to: authenticity is no longer a recommendation for business professionals. It’s a requirement.

Building a following for your business is always a challenge, especially as new competitors crop up with each passing day. Transparency and authenticity are two of the most important resources you have that will move you toward that goal.

Individualism in Thought and Action: Is it always a good thing?

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High angle view of a businessman standing amidst businesspeople

 

Certainly, a strong sense of individualism is a valuable asset to possess. Free market capitalism is based in large part on the ability to be both clever enough and individualistic enough to see a need and meet that need in a way that no one else has done before.

After all, it is the individual who supplies the needed answer, where only the question existed before. They do this by doing something in a new way, differently than it had previously been done, providing a product or service that is in some respect novel. In a way, they predict the future by inventing it. They supply something that was simply overlooked by everyone else. Albert Einstein said it this way: “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” The individualistic entrepreneur wants something more than what they have “always got,” and they set in motion the mechanism to obtain it.

Apple’s, Steve Jobs may have been the poster child for innovative individualism, but he is by no means alone in this capacity. Indeed, most successful entrepreneurs in Western culture adhere to the belief that their success was the product of their undaunted individualism.

Bandwagon Effect

For the most part, we have all heard of the bandwagon effect. It happens when an individual or group forms an opinion based, to some extent, on the stated or observed opinions of others, particularly if the others have formed a growing majority. Those who are influenced in this way are said to have “jumped on the bandwagon.” According to this confirmed psychological effect, the more people who hold an opinion, regardless of how true or untrue it may be, the more additional people will have a tendency to accept that increasingly popular view as their own. The bandwagon effect, therefore, relates to how opinions are shaped by the observed behavior of other people. It is based on our innate attraction for group activity. No matter how individualistic people may be, they are still affected by this innate attraction to group behavior. We are, after all, extremely social beings.

Among other things, research into the bandwagon effect has focused on politics due to the critical nature of the effect on election results. However, the effect has been observed in many environments, explaining the growth of fads and fashion trends, as well as the popularity of Internet memes on social media, especially as they are said to “go viral.”

In business, too, the bandwagon effect has a definite place. As such, it seems radically opposed to the apparent benefit of individuality, but the connection is both meaningful and useful, and should not be overlooked.

The concept of rugged individualism is the basis for the Boot Strap Theory, whereby someone of more modest means can pull himself “up by the boot straps” to a more successful position in society. Keep in mind, though, that successful business ventures must acknowledge the necessity for meeting the needs of a wide spectrum of customers or the relatively fewer “individuals” served will not provide enough of a base for financial success.

Individuality really is a good thing as long as it comes with the realization that it is not alone in some sort of exclusive importance. For most businesses to develop and prosper, owners need to realize that most people are not leaders, but followers by nature, adhering (whether they realize it or not) to the bandwagon effect. A successful business operation usually depends on the overall popularity of the business. Social media constitutes a good tool for exploiting the benefits of the bandwagon effect. However it is accomplished, though, the smart business owner will explore the benefits of increasing the popularity of her business by understanding and taking advantage of the bandwagon effect.

How to Convince Customers You’re Worthy of Their Loyalty

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Realtor meeting with couple

Did you know that 71 percent of customers have stopped using a company because of the poor customer service they received? Did you also know that the average value of a lost customer is $243? Poor customer experiences cost companies money and seriously hurt the bottom line. No company can afford to just throw away $243 per person.

Fortunately, there is a solution. By focusing your efforts on improving your customers’ experience, you can help encourage them to return to you, improving retention and stopping the bleed of past customers going to your competitors. Here’s how to do it.

Focus on employees

Your employees are the face of the company when customers interact with your brand. Make sure they represent you well. Develop a strong relationship with employees by giving them degrees of independence, flexibility, and a work environment that’s a pleasant place to be. Employees will become more appreciative and enthusiastic about your brand and pass that along to customers.

Give employees training, then independence

Focus on building a culture of independence. Allow company representatives to troubleshoot and solve problems on their own. This will help them feel more appreciated, while improving customer service. Now, when a customer calls with a complaint, the person who answers can actually help them, rather than passing the phone call from person to person.

Try to under-promise and over-deliver

Far too many customers are used to companies neglecting their promises, so show that you’re different. Promise customers the minimum of what they can expect and then over-deliver.

Listen to what customers say are the weakest parts of their experience

Though fewer and fewer customers actually use complaint lines to let companies know they did wrong, that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped complaining. Instead, it’s simply become more common for people to release their reviews to the public through social media.

A bad review from a disgruntled customer can have an enormous impact on your company’s reputation. Address customer complaints head-on and try to make amends for their poor experience. If the customer is satisfied, then politely ask them to update or remove the bad review.

Treat bad reviews as learning experiences. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What part of the customer experience was impacted (product research, pricing, the purchase itself, questions about the product, etc.)?
  • Are there any patterns to the types of complaints made by customers?
  • What do these bad reviews say about how customers wish to be seen in your organization?

Use the information you garner to guide you in making improvements to the customer experience. Prioritize changes based on the weaknesses customers point out in their reviews, and let them know they’re valued by your company.

The customer experience can be a fantastic predictor of consumer loyalty and retention. When you learn how to convince customers to stay with your brand, you’ll see more money in your pocket and better growth. Use the above advice to update your customer experience to make the most of every interaction between customer and company.

Local Marketing: The Biggest Weapon in A Mobile and Social World

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Engaging with customers has always been the name of the game in marketing. Thanks to the Internet, target audiences are increasingly spread out. That isn’t to say the Internet hasn’t been a benefit to marketers. It unquestionably has. However, the Internet isn’t marketing’s final frontier. Far from it, actually. When you think about some of the biggest digital channels businesses are using today, mobile devices like smartphones and social networks like Facebook unquestionably come to mind.

When you break down those two categories into their core elements, however, what you’re left with is the same type of local marketing businesses have been using for decades. This is why traditional print marketing and — more specifically — local marketing remain hugely valuable tools to businesses in the 21st century.

What Is Local Marketing?

Studies have long shown that most people do most of their shopping within a ten mile radius of their home. This is still true, even at a time when people can have something delivered to their home with the press of a few buttons and the click of a mouse. People are still willing to venture out of the home to pick up that hot new item or to participate in a service they truly believe in. They just need to know where to look.

According to a recent report released by the CMO Council, 49% of all respondents to a survey agreed that localized marketing was crucial to the overall growth and longevity of their business. More than that, one in four marketers were spending at least 50% of their total marketing budgets on localized programs, certain location-centric promotions, and more.

At its core, local marketing allows you to use these types of stats to your advantage by not just targeting as many customers as you can with your campaigns, but by targeting the right customers — namely the ones who live in the area where your business is actually located.

The Benefits of Local Print Marketing

To illustrate just how effective local marketing can be, think of one of the oldest such strategies in the book: the business card. As you meet new people or network with fellow industry professionals, you’re likely to hand out a business card to whomever you meet. Even if that particular person doesn’t have any use for the product or service you provide, they may know someone who does. Thanks to your business card, they now have something tangible they can give that person to point them in the right direction.

The whole idea is brilliant in its simplicity. You’re establishing your organization as a local leader in a way that creates increased traffic right to your doorstep. On the one hand, it really is no different than sending out mobile “push” notifications to a smartphone or making people in your area “friends” on your Facebook page. The advantage it does have over those digital channels, however, is that it’s something tangible. By tailoring your printed materials to a local market, you’re instantly increasing their relevancy in the lives of those people. The result is improved marketing effectiveness, which will ultimately build brand awareness and position your business as the type of authority you know you are.

Targeted local marketing remains one of the best ways to bring your organization to the attention of a new set of customers who may not even realize you exist. In an age where you’re competing with digital businesses that may offer the same services, it’s no longer about trying to attract the biggest possible audience. It’s about attracting the right audience. That’s the power local marketing gives you if you know how to use it.

Print Marketing Techniques that Have Stood the Test of Time

In marketing, everyone’s always looking for the “next big thing.” Whatever your business, you’re probably looking for that bold, new method no one else has thought of before to connect with your target audience in a new and meaningful way. Yet even with all of today’s shiny, new marketing channels and techniques, some classic print marketing ideas are just as relevant today as they were way back when. What’s more, they’re also a great way to inject your modern campaign with some old-school flair.

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Sign Spinners

Sign spinners are making a huge impression in today’s marketplace, but the idea itself isn’t as new as you might think. Though sign spinners took a bit of a back seat as new digital techniques rose to prominence in the last few years, it’s actually an idea that’s been around for decades. The premise is simple: you literally have someone stand out in front of your store with a bright, colorful sign they spin in all sorts of different ways. People driving by can’t help but notice the sign spinner’s skills, which also means they can’t help but notice the sign.

This old-school technique is effective for that very reason: it’s unavoidable. If you’re stopped at a red light, make no mistake, you will absolutely pay attention to what that sign spinner is up to. If he’s doing his job right, that means you’ll also now be aware of the business or brand he’s promoting.

Print Materials with Long Copy

For years, experts have told us that nobody pays attention to long copy anymore. Instead, they want everything in short, manageable bursts. Social networks like Twitter operate on this very premise and have seen a huge amount of success because of it.

But shorter isn’t always better. Print materials with long copy are still a great way to make an impact, as you’re going out of your way to give your customer all the information they need up front to make an informed decision. As long as that copy is effectively written and contains the appropriate call to action, it can be just as successful at generating leads and conversions as that short flyer you created with all those colorful graphics.

Everything Old Is New Again

Marketing trends are cyclical. A great new technique is seen as effective and is adopted by everyone. Soon, the general population grows tired, and the hunt for the “next big thing” begins. Those old techniques are abandoned in favor of something new, before coming back into fashion again eventually.

By embracing these older print marketing techniques, you’re doing more than just leveraging the fact that they were, are, and always will be effective in their own right. You’re injecting your marketing with a much needed breath of fresh air that will truly help set your campaign apart from the competition. That’s the type of meaningful advantage you need to focus on if you want to get the most sets of eyes in front of your brand.