How Social Media Changes Everything in Terms of Customer Engagement

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Customer engagement has always been one of the primary contributing factors when it comes to strengthening a brand or growing a business, but this is especially true in an era where social media rules the day. The conversation between a business and its customers is more important than ever, but the actual mechanism through which that conversation is unfolding has changed dramatically in a short period of time. When it comes to customer engagement and social media, there are a number of important things to keep in mind.

All Eyes Are On You

Perhaps the biggest factor to understand when it comes to social media and customer engagement is the idea that a conversation between a business and its customers is both more intimate and more public than it has ever been. If a customer has a positive experience with a representative of your brand on their Twitter page, they’re never more than a mouse-click away from telling all of their friends about it. The reverse is also true – a negative experience on a site like Facebook can have huge potential ramifications due to the public nature of that conversation in the first place.

If you search for your brand’s name on Twitter and see users talking about an issue they’re having, you can easily interject with some troubleshooting tips to help them get the most from their product or service. Not only did you solve their problem, but they also didn’t have to ask for help – this is a “win-win” scenario as far as customer engagement is concerned.

There Are No More Small Problems

Consider the public relations nightmare that Entenmann’s created for itself, for example. One day, a social media marketer at Entenmann’s hopped on Twitter, looked at the current worldwide trending topics and noticed that one happened to be #notguilty. Sensing an opportunity to both interject into a popular conversation and craft a pretty solid pun at the same time, the brand sent out a tweet asking who was “#notguilty about eating all the tasty treats they want.”

The issue with this is that, as it turns out, the #notguilty hashtag was created as a result of the highly controversial Casey Anthony trial – the verdict of which had just come down earlier that day. Suddenly a seemingly innocuous tweet about snack cakes turned into a national nightmare for the brand as they were seen as obtuse at best and highly insensitive at worst – all of which could have been avoided had the marketer just clicked on the hashtag to see what it was actually referring to. This is the type of major issue that simply didn’t exist five years ago before social media became such a permanent fixture in our lives.

These are just a few of the many ways that social media has changed just about everything in terms of customer engagement in the digital age. We believe that success in this field requires a deeper understanding of the game that you’re now playing as a business owner, so to speak. It’s now easier than ever to pay attention to the conversations that your customers are having with one another and interject in positive and meaningful ways. This is a two-way street, however – one wrong move and you’re potentially looking at a PR nightmare on a massive scale, so making sure that you’re always putting your best foot forward is more important than ever.

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A Simple Business Lesson From the Presidential Election

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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.

Pro-Tips For Rocking Your Next Trade Show

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If you’ve ever worked a boring booth at a trade show, you’ve most likely been the victim of the “avoiders.” Those passers-by who liken you to Medusa and refuse to look your way for fear of being turned to stone. You notice them by the way they engage actively with booth 1145, take a quick glance at your booth with that lonely poster and brochure, and then, hurriedly walk past you with their eyes carefully averted. After enough of these avoiders, you may start to wish you had some of those smiley-faced, squishy stress-balls to throw at them.

This year, with some careful planning and a little creativity, you may be able to grab people’s attention and keep them engaged without resorting to assault and battery. Obviously, the lengths that you go to create interest at your booth may be limited by your budget, so it’s important to think about what this trade show means to your business and how engaging 10, 50, or even 1000 target individuals may bring more work your way in the coming months. Once you’ve got your budget ironed out, you can start getting those creative juices flowing.

Get Out Your Lasso

You know from experience that the hardest part of working a trade show booth is getting people to look at you, right? What if your booth looked like they just stepped into the hottest casino in Vegas? Or, they’re stepping into a game show hosted by loud and enthusiastic individuals? Being active and/or unconventional is key to attracting attention. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination, and here are some favorites to get your mind flowing:

o Superhero or celebrity photo ops. Invent a superhero to represent your company and have him or her available for photo opportunities with booth guests. It may seem a bit corny, but it works. The same is true for celebrity look-alikes. Be sure to get their card so you can send them the pic after the show.
o Wheel of Fortune. Nothing screams “come here now” than the chance to win fabulous and exciting merchandise (or your services).
o Create a treasure map leading to your booth. This may require some cooperation on the part of the venue, but placing arrows or words on the floor that lead people to your booth can create intrigue and bring people in.

Whatever you decide, make it fun and interactive. Think Disneyland for adults.

Build Excitement in Advance of the Show

Regardless of what genius idea has emerged from your mind, it’s important to create a sense of anticipation among your clients and prospects. Sending out formal printed invites or periodic emails revealing a little something more about what’s in store for them when they visit will get them chomping at the bit to visit your booth.

Have Quality Informational Products to Hand Out

You get very few chances to make an impression once you get people into your booth. Once they’re there, make your efforts count by providing them with unique, high-quality informational products that will not just stay in the bag in the closet when they get home.

Follow-up After the Show with Everyone

Hopefully, your venue will provide a mailing list of all of the participants so you can send out follow-up correspondence to those you saw and those you missed. If no list is provided, be absolutely sure you get business cards from the people you talk to and connect with them ASAP! The more opportunities you have to make an impression, the better.

What’s in a Leaf?

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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.

Print Marketing – What Was Once Old is Now New Again

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Recently, a prospective client said they wanted to get customers’ attention through non-traditional marketing using printed products. Who knew that in 2016, the printed word would be considered “non-traditional?” Non-traditional? We’re saying this about a medium that was developed back in the 1400’s by Johannes Gutenberg! While Webster’s (of dictionary fame) mind might be little blown by this reference, when you think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense.

For the past two decades, digital media has been rapidly replacing many of our formerly traditional ways of doing things, from watching television, reading the newspaper, to yes…print marketing. With the democratization of information that the internet has brought, more and more people are consuming this information digitally. Social media and search engine algorithms target our interests and bombard us with advertisements directed at those interests, to the point that we’ve become immune to the ancillary advertising “noise” that surrounds the article that we are reading online. Ad-ridden blogs and online media are now considered traditional.

Getting Attention With Quality Print Marketing Materials

A well-designed print marketing device can effectively break through the noise and grab your customers’ attention. Print marketing can take on many forms, including:

oBusiness Cards: Different shapes, sizes, die cuts, and formats grab people’s attention and make for some great talking points that help build relationships.
oInvitations: Having a grand opening or special occasion? Send out printed invitations and make people feel they are connected.
oPostcards: Whether for direct mail purposes or periodic sales or coupons, postcards can bring in a surprising amount of business.
oMenus of Services or Products: Printed on high-quality paper with excellent design and copy, these types of marketing products add personality to your business.

Poke Your Customers Periodically to Keep Yourself on Their Minds

Marketing doesn’t end when the sale is made. Customer retention is a key part of a successful marketing plan. Following up with the customer can increase retention and build loyalty. Sure, you could send them an email, but really, email is where messages come to die. Consider instead a few timed mailings to keep them engaged, such as:

oThank You Cards: Sending out a card thanking them for their purchase and providing a time-limited discount on their next purchase makes customers feel appreciated and welcome.
oSeasonal Postcards: Consider seasonal postcards with loyalty discounts on relevant seasonal items.
oReferral Cards: Create loyalty and more business by sending out referral cards to encourage your customers to spread the word. You could also offer a discount to both the existing customer and the new customer they bring in.
oStickers: Put your logo, tag line or a branded and relevant inspirational quote on a sticker to put on cars, computers, water bottles, and other personal gear.

Obtain Thought-Leader Status With Print Magazines or Newsletters

While many of the more traditional news magazines are transitioning to digital-only formats, the fact of the matter is, 80% of individuals who read newspapers read them in print. People actually trust written content more than they trust online content. This is true of both information and of advertising. So, depending on your industry, it may be a good idea to create a periodical print magazine or newsletter to give your customers or prospects informative and entertaining news and information that they will be excited to get each month, quarter or year.

Regardless of what type of print marketing you use, telling people a good story or giving them useful and entertaining information will make them loyal customers.

Tips for Nurturing Existing Sales Leads

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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.

Applying Life Lessons to Small Business

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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.

Google’s New Cohort Analysis

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If you are already heavily into online marketing analytics, this may rapidly become one of your more valuable marketing analysis tools. If you are a newbie to marketing analysis and are not yet familiar with Google’s new tool, here is some help in understanding what it is all about.

First of all, cohort analysis is not new. It is Google’s tool that is new. A dictionary definition of a cohort is simply a group or band of people. That notion is at least as old as Ancient Rome, where a legion of soldiers was broken down into ten cohorts. In its more current usage, cohort analysis has been performed for many years. Insurance companies, for example, have used this idea to create data for actuarial tables, mortality rates, etc.

Simply put, cohort analysis is the breakdown of populations into smaller, easily definable groups. The purpose of analyzing the characteristics of these sub-categories is to determine common behaviors usually specified in relation to a time period in the buying cycle or a specific date. The patterns discerned can show a business how its customers relate to the product in the early stages of experience with it, as opposed to how customers relate to it later in the buying process.

Cohort analysis provides the ability to tailor marketing to these specific sub-groups. There could be a cohort of customers at the time of checkout, for example. Another cohort might describe the behaviors of customers who responded to a specific advertising channel that was presented over a short period of time. Common metrics that can be revealed include the date your customers first clicked on your link. Others are when they bought from you the first time, or the second, or third time.

If a cohort reveals, for example, the trends common to your higher-paying customers, you can then tailor your next marketing channel to their specific interests and needs, thus encouraging more higher-paying sales.

Google is still tweaking their cohort analysis tool, so more options for its use are likely to appear in the near future. For the time being, you can access the tool and use it to familiarize yourself with how it works. Here is how to do that:

If you do not already have an analytics account, sign up for one at Google.com/analytics. Once you have an account, sign in and click YOUR VIEW. From there, select REPORTING, then AUDIENCE, then COHORT ANALYSIS. From here, you can tailor your forthcoming report options.

At this stage of tool development, your choices include the acquisition date, cohort size, and date range, for example.

o Acquisition date can refer to the first time your customer does whatever it is you are exploring, such as first visit, first purchase, etc.

o Cohort size permits you to select day, week, month, quarter, or year, for example, to find out how many users did something during that period.

o The metric refers to the data you see, such as the number of page views, purchases, etc.

o The date range, obviously, is the period you are exploring. If your cohort size was designated as a day, you get information for each day in your selected date range.

Play around with Google’s new tool for a while to get used to what it can show you. As is the case with all good tools, practice with it now will make using it easier when its functionality is increased as more options are added.

Using the cohort analysis report is an option that can improve business performance through better understanding of your customers and their patterns of behavior. The more you know about your customers, the better you can meet their needs and increase your bottom line.

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

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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.

Endurance Can Make All the Difference

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Entrepreneur and author Matthew Paulson has characterized entrepreneurship as an endurance sport. It is true that sometimes if you see you are on the wrong track, the best course of action is to abandon the original plan and start in a new direction. However more times than not, just sticking with it can often make all the difference between success and failure, winning and losing. Famed cinematic genius Walt Disney is quoted as saying, “The difference between winning and losing is most often …not quitting.” In another famous quote referring to the opinions of pessimistic critics and detractors he said, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”

He should know. Walt Disney achieved some of the most spectacular success anyone has ever reached in cinema, winning 22 Academy Awards and more awards and nominations than anyone else in history. He did so by overcoming rejection of his ideas and doing “the impossible.”

Disney’s most profound idea, the notion of feature-length animated films when nothing but shorts had ever been done before, was widely criticized as foolish and destined for failure. He persisted, though, and we all know how that turned out. Disney’s endurance in the face of blanket rejection made the difference. By comparison, what a sterile and vacuous world we would have had if he would’ve listened to his detractors and bailed out on his plans.

Long before he was laughed at by Hollywood studios, he learned the value of endurance from other so-called failures that might have derailed an otherwise imaginative career. Early on he was fired from a newspaper for not having any original ideas and for lacking imagination, of all things. His first feature-length animation was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and it became the most successful film of 1938, earning the equivalent of 134 million in today’s dollars. That’s not too shabby for someone who lacks imagination. The world is far better off because he had the endurance to see the project through.

Distinguished writer Malcolm Gladwell outlined a theory that it takes 10,000 hours of work on a business to really know what you are doing, to make it a success. That is five years of full-time work–in other words, endurance.

David Weber and Kenny Lao hatched an idea for a food bar built around dumplings as a primary menu item. Their idea actually placed second in a New York University Stern School of Business competition, after which they launched the brick-and-mortar Rickshaw Dumpling. Becoming a bit too ambitious, they launched a second store and stretched their resources far too thin. Nearing bankruptcy, they abandoned the second site and started a mobile food truck, instead. This proved quite successful and saved their business, becoming a well-known icon in New York City. Their endurance–as well as their ingenuity–provided them the vehicle they needed to succeed.

In business and in life, we can allow rejections and other circumstances to rule us, or we can take charge and continue unhindered by those circumstances. An anonymous line states that calm seas do not a skilled sailor make. The rougher the sea, the more practice you get at handling problems. Walt Disney, David Weber, and Kenny Lao stuck it out. The example provided by people like this is an inspiration for us all.

It is said of mountain climbers that they do what they do simply because the mountain is there. But, without endurance there would be no successful climb. In business, the best formula for success involves the endurance of a mountain climber–just because your goals and objectives “are there.” Endurance can and frequently does make all the difference.