Overcoming the Getting Started Obstacle Course

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Collette Divitto was born with Down syndrome, but she hasn’t let that stand in the way of doing what she wants with her life. As a passionate baker, Collette sought opportunities to work in that field and earn a living. However, every place she applied told her that she was not a good fit. Instead of giving up, she formulated her own cookie recipe and went into business for herself.

Her cinnamon chocolate chip cookies were popular with friends and family. When one friend after another told her, “you should sell these!” she took the leap and began her small business out of her apartment. She bought business cards, made a website, and learned how to create invoices. Before long, she was taking orders online and had her first local client, the Golden Goose Market.

While Collette faced a unique set of challenges getting her business off the ground, everyone who wants to start an enterprise will face hurdles. Overcome these hurdles by asserting the sort of grit and curiosity that got Collette started:

1. Remember that you don’t need permission.

Collette first tried to work for other businesses. When they did not see a use for her, she decided to go out on her own. Instead of waiting for an opportunity to present itself, those who wish to forge a business should follow Collette’s courageous steps.

2. Be willing to learn new skills.

When bootstrapping a company and getting it going, you may not be able to hire people for every role. Collette learned how to do her own accounting so that she could get started. If she’d waited for someone who could do that job for her, she might still be waiting to start.

3. Reach out to the network you already have.

Collette’s local client, the Golden Goose Market, is right in her neighborhood. Since they already knew Collette, they were willing to take a chance on her and display her cookies. Look to your own network; think about the people you know from old jobs, friends of the family, and other contacts. They may have a need for your service or know someone who does.

4. Capitalize on what makes you unique.

Collette Divitto got promotion through human interest stories because of the obstacles that she has overcome. Think about what sets you apart from your competition. It can be a brand story, a unique product like Collette’s top secret cinnamon cookie recipe, or an aspect of your customer service that goes above and beyond what your competitors provide. Recognize your unique attributes and learn how to convey them to your prospects. These qualities are the ones that make your business more appealing than the rest.

Being willing to take risks and dedicating the work necessary can help ensure your business’s success. This sort of courageous approach can get you through those slim early times and make it more likely that your business will thrive.

The Power of Leadership: Bringing Out the Best From Introverted Employees

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As a business leader, one of the core requirements of your job is to make sure that you’re bringing out the absolute best in your team at all times. Every employee working under you not only needs to excel on their own terms but must also be contributing towards the larger whole at the same time. Having quiet, introverted employees can certainly make this difficult, but therein lies the challenge. If you want to use your leadership skills to bring out the best from your introverted employees, you’ll certainly want to keep a few key things in mind.

Work on Your Pace

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in terms of dealing with introverted employees is trying to force them to adapt to the way you like to work. Introverted employees typically don’t like fast-paced, high-stress situations. They need time to think, to plan, and to ultimately prepare for the task ahead. Part of the way you can help bring out the best in these employees involves embracing this idea wherever possible.

Say you’ve got a big meeting coming up and you know that an introverted employee will need to contribute as much as possible. Instead of springing this on them at the last minute, let them know as soon as possible. Give them time to get their thoughts straight and make sure you give them a clear, actionable agenda to work from. If you allow them to build up to the meeting, you’ll find that they’ll be much more engaged than you probably thought they would.

Acknowledge Accomplishments

One of the most important things to keep in mind about introverted employees is that they will rarely, if ever, take outward pride in their own accomplishments. They typically don’t like attention, even if it’s positive, which means that a lot of the hard work they’ve been doing will likely go unnoticed. As a result, it becomes your job to take pride in those accomplishments for them. If an introverted employee absolutely nails a project, make sure everyone on the team knows it. Make the announcement on their behalf, allowing them to feel great while embracing their personality at the same time. Just make sure you spread the love – all team member accomplishments should be acknowledged equally, both for introverts, extroverts, and everyone in between.

Use Technology to Your Advantage

Another factor to consider about introverted employees ultimately comes down to communication. An introvert doesn’t necessarily like to keep in constant contact either in person or by phone, but luckily, technology has made it easier than ever to adapt to this idea. Utilize virtual communication for projects when possible, either via text messages to your team or instant messaging conversations, e-mail threads and more. This will allow your introverted employees to not only contribute to a larger project but to do so in an environment they feel the most comfortable in.

These are just a few of the ways you can bring out the best from your introverted employees all day, every day. Remember that just because someone is quiet and prefers to work in a solitary environment does NOT mean that they aren’t contributing. In the same way, a loud, boisterous attitude doesn’t make someone a good employee either. Your primary goal is to strike a balance. You need to provide ALL employees, regardless of their personality type, exactly what they need to thrive.

Content Marketing Best Practices to Double Down on in 2017

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Marketing is an industry that is constantly changing, especially since technology does the same. If you think back to what your day looked like even five years ago, it will likely have little resemblance to the work you’ve already done today, or how you’re doing it. Despite that, there are still some best practices that are as powerful today as they ever were as far as content marketing is concerned. Along those lines, there are a few key content marketing best practices that you’re going to want to double down on as 2017 fast approaches.

Forget About SEO

In today’s digital climate, the importance of writing content for people first and search engines second cannot be overstated enough. Google has made some massive changes to its algorithm in the last year that favor quality, well-written content above all else. Google, Bing, and more have all placed a strong emphasis on making sure that content is king. As long as you create your marketing collateral with that in mind, these companies have promised to make sure that you’re taken care of regarding search engine rankings.

Focus on helping people. Try to provide insight and provoke a response. If you craft your campaigns with these simple goals in mind, everything else will fall into place.

…But Don’t Totally Forget About SEO

None of that is to say that SEO, in general, isn’t necessary. Just make sure that when it comes to content marketing, you’re not trying to stuff in as many keywords as possible. Instead, shift your SEO efforts to other areas, like making sure that you’re updating your content regularly, that it has all of your (correct) contact information, and that you’re promoting yourself through outlets like social media.

More Than Just Blogs

Remember that blogs are a powerful tool in the content marketing game, but they’re not the only tool you have to play with. Things like newsletters, eBooks, and user guides are all an excellent way to reach your target audience in fun new ways. Visual materials like infographics, charts, and even videos are also a great way to bring the visual element that you’re known for into the content marketing arena in a powerful way.

Refine Your Customer Persona

Many people use customer personas to help guide their marketing campaigns, something that is especially helpful when it comes to content marketing. Something you cannot forget to do, however, is to update these personas on a regular basis. Think about how much your business has changed in the last year and understand that your ideal customer has probably changed just as much. Use the new year as an opportunity to re-evaluate your existing buyer personas so that you can always keep your eye on the prize, so to speak.

A new year brings with it the opportunity to start fresh, but that doesn’t mean throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Embrace new techniques, but also never lose sight of the old saying of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Some content marketing best practices are certainly not broken, and those solid techniques are what you can be doubling down on in the new year.

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

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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.

3 Emotions That Go Along with Operating Your Own Business

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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.

Succeed in Business Without Undue Stress: Lessons From a Sailor

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Whether you’ve been in business for 40 years, or you are a startup waiting for the perfect time to enter the marketplace, you want to know how to succeed in the fast-paced world of capturing market share. Let’s see how your business can benefit from the lessons learned in the daily life of a salty sailor.

Sailors are known for their exciting tales of far-off worlds and adventure beyond a landlubber’s imagination. The trusted captain and crew have a few pointers to share for a successful voyage.

Know your vessel.

Is she seaworthy? Is she built and maintained by people who take pride in their work? What are her quirks? Not all vessels are the same by any means. Know what makes her unique and tend to those details. What is the greatest strength of your enterprise? What is your core competency, or what is the distinguishing feature of your product? Having a well-defined product or service and a good understanding of how it compares to similar items in the marketplace is crucial.

Choose a good crew.

Your crew will make or break the voyage, and as the captain, all the responsibility is resting on you. Is the “crew” of your “vessel” the best in the business, or did you hire your brother’s high school best friend out of some misplaced sense of obligation? You have to constantly assess the skill and knowledge of your crew. Do you have the right people stationed at the right post? Just as you wouldn’t put a deckhand in charge of navigation, you must insist on having all of your staff working in the areas of their expertise.

Know where you’re going.

As a sailor, you must always be aware of your latitude and longitude. You have to know where you are in order to chart a course to where you want to go. The tools available today are changing rapidly and technology is great, but do not lose sight of the basics: quality, consistency, value, and customer service. Knowing where you are in these key areas and how you stack up to the competition will allow you to get where you want to go, be it increased market share, growth, innovation, or profitability.

Sharpen your senses.

The wind will change direction and velocity and make your life terrible if you aren’t in tune with Mother Nature. The same goes for rain, thunderstorms, and squalls. Know what conditions are in the forecast, but always keep watch to discern subtle changes and patterns. Business journals and analysts are out there making predictions and it can be hard to figure out who has the best information. Sharpen your senses and your gut will guide you in the direction of success. Look at the forecast, but know that your gut is rarely wrong.

Know how to adjust your sails.

When the wind changes direction or a storm system builds, sailors understand that they’ll make no progress fighting the forces of nature. They know that by simply adjusting their sails, they can harness those forces, adjust their course, and continue on. They may even adjust their destination to make the most of the situation. Similarly, a leader of any enterprise must know how to adjust his plans to accommodate changes in the market. Market forces can be infinitely stronger than your iron will and can crush your business if you fight. If you accept the change and adjust your course, you may find yourself in a different place from where you intended to go, and it may be far better than you expected.

Whether you are a captain on the high seas or a captain of industry, you old salts have a lot in common. Next time you are in a pub near the marina, strike up a conversation with the weather-worn sailor in the corner. You just might learn something.

A Creative Life Improves Creative Buying Processes

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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.

Successful Secrets to Achieving Your Business Goals

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Do you ever wonder how some people just seem to rock at getting things accomplished, while others seem to dream big but never really get anywhere? It’s not luck and it’s no accident. Successful entrepreneurs know the secret to setting goals and making their dreams come true – they know about SMART goal setting.

You may be thinking, “Well, I’m smart…why aren’t my dreams coming true with my existing goals?” The trouble is not your I.Q. The trouble is likely with your goals. Successful entrepreneurs set goals with 5 key factors. Their goals are:

Specific
Measurable
Achievable
Realistic
Timely

 

Let’s break down what all that means…

Specific Goals
Goals that are specific address the what, why, and how of the goal. An example might look something like this: “Increase our Facebook followers to reach more clients by implementing a Facebook advertising campaign.” Breaking that down further, the “what” of this goal is increasing your Facebook followers. The “why” is to reach more clients. The “how” is by implementing a Facebook advertising campaign.

Measurable Goals
Goals should be measurable so that you can have real evidence of whether you’ve accomplished your goal. To build on our prior goal, we could add the following: “Increase our Facebook followers by 50% to reach more clients by implementing a Facebook advertising campaign.” This way we know where we started and where we want to go, and can also gauge our progress based on interim numbers.

Achievable Goals
We’ve all made goals in our lives that have been clearly unachievable, like losing 50 pounds in 10 days. There’s just no way that’s going to happen without us hacking off a leg, right? On the other hand, we don’t want to limit ourselves. So, it’s best to find a balance as to what will stretch your company a bit while still being achievable so you don’t give up. You want to keep yourself and your employees and partners motivated.

Realistic Goals
In setting goals, we want the focus to be realistic or results-focused goals. That means focusing on the results of our efforts, not necessarily the activities we undertake to get there.

Timely Goals
Finally, you want your goal to be fulfilled in a discrete period of time. Goals without deadlines just turn into dreams if you keep pushing things off until tomorrow. So, let’s go ahead and bring this all together. Let’s say you’ve got 5,000 Facebook followers and it took you 1 year to get that many followers. Now, you want to increase that by 50%. Applying the above, our SMART Goal is now:

“Increase our Facebook followers by 50% in 6 months to reach more clients by implementing a Facebook advertising campaign.”

You’ve now put an achievable deadline for this goal of 6 months, which seems reasonable given the time it took you to get the first 5,000 followers and the fact that you’ve got some traction now to build on.

Try this technique with the rest of your goals, no matter how small they may be, and you can start tracking and achieving your business goals like a pro.

Marketing Automation: What You Need to Know

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“Marketing automation” is more than just a buzzword – it is a very real practice that is empowering marketers around the world to accomplish more than ever in a shorter amount of time. At its core, marketing automation is a term used to describe a set of software, technologies, and other platforms that automate marketing on certain channels. These can include e-mail, social media, websites, and more. The idea is that by automating certain repetitive tasks that, while hugely important are also time-consuming, you unlock a host of additional benefits that can’t be ignored.

Reaching Customers on a Deeper Level

Targeted marketing has always been the bread and butter of many businesses in terms of increasing customer engagement. People don’t want to feel like they’re just one of a million different people being marketed to simultaneously – they want to feel like your business is taking time out of its busy day to speak to them directly. This helps increase the effectiveness of your marketing materials and is also a great way to take an average customer and turn them into a loyal brand advocate at the same time.

The issue here is that this historically takes a lot of time – or at least, it used to. Marketing automation is one of the best tools that you currently have to reach your unique customers in a meaningful way. Previously, you would have to manually segment customers based on things like your buyer personas. You would have to spend time creating these niche groups of customers based on their personalities, their needs, their likes and dislikes and more. While effective, this takes a great deal of time.

With marketing automation, however, you can simply create restrictions that will allow your software resources to segment these customers automatically based on whatever criteria you want. You get the exact same beneficial end result, but you only had to spend a fraction of the time in order to get there.

What Marketing Automation Is NOT

When people hear the term “automation,” they often call to mind images of technological solutions or other IT developments that are designed to completely replace the jobs of human employees. While that may be true in an environment like a factory floor, this couldn’t be farther from reality in terms of marketing.

Marketing automation is not designed to be a replacement for your marketing team or the hard work they’re doing – it’s designed to be supplemental to the existing experience. Automation isn’t an excuse to hire one less employee, but to free up that employee’s valuable time to put to better use elsewhere within your organization. Maybe Thomas shouldn’t be spending so much of his day writing and sending out new tweets or Facebook updates every time you publish a new piece of content – maybe that should happen instantly so that Thomas can work on something a bit more important to your larger business objectives.

These are just a few of the major advantages that marketing automation is bringing to the table in terms of what the industry looks like today. By automating certain basic marketing functions, it’s enabling your employees to do better work in a more fundamental way. It gives them the ability to work “smarter, not harder,” so to speak.

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

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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 an 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.