How to Use Your Competition for Strategic Expansion

Benchmarking

In 2006, Aviva Weiss was struggling to help her daughter cope with a sensory-processing disorder.

As an occupational therapist who worked with children on the autism spectrum, Weiss knew how overwhelming life could be for families like hers. When she ordered her daughter a weighted vest (an item that helps overstimulated children stay focused), she was horrified when it arrived. “It was super ugly,” she said. “I thought, ‘there’s no reason that special-needs products should make kids stand out even more.’”

Weiss sensed a market opportunity and seized it, founding Fun and Function to create more attractive versions of existing products like chewable necklaces, noise-reduction headphones, or clothing that soothes children with sensory issues. Items were showcased in the company’s catalog, which was designed to put parents at ease, cutting through technical jargon to connect with families on a more authentic level.

By 2010, the company had grown sevenfold and was considering a major market expansion: targeting institutions like schools and hospitals. While these clients accounted for about 38 percent of existing sales, executive Ilana Danneman believed the number could be much higher, especially as institutional clients place recurring orders in larger quantities. Weiss was uneasy about shifting from a colloquial to a more clinical focus but she trusted Danneman’s expertise, especially since Danneman had previously worked for one of the company’s chief competitors. “We never saw a need to change anything,” Weiss says. “But we could not in good conscience ignore her.”

The shift brought incredible expansion ($6.2 million in six years) and a 50 percent growth spurt between 2015 and 2016. Weiss went on to launch the Active Mind School Partnership, a program geared to empower and educate teachers who work with neurologically distressed kids. This partnership brought the largest growth to date, reminding its founders that the company mission was never about building profits but about helping people.

Competition Fuels Innovation

Competition is healthy for businesses – forcing you to innovate and consider opportunities or markets you might otherwise ignore.

Success comes from examining the marketplace, doing something in a unique or superior way, and from crafting a plan to better serve customers.

Whether you’ve plateaued or continue to expand, it’s important to keep an eye on the competition. What are they doing that’s different? How could you serve part of their client base in a better way? Does it make sense to expand your target area?

Healthy leaders take time to plan for expansion several strategic ways:

Understanding the Competition

Take a hard look at the market.

What opportunities are your competitors filling that you may be ignoring? What do they do well that you could do better? What aren’t they doing that you could do instead?

Highlighting the Difference

Do you have cheaper prices? Customizable service options? A local connection or more ethical sourcing for products?

Find an angle in your company’s story and communicate it like crazy.

Targeting New Markets

When you have one market locked down, push to grow your boundaries.

As Fun and Function discovered, new markets lead to faster and better growth. Initially, Weiss thought a market expansion might alienate existing customers but instead she found that equipping teachers and therapists contributed to better quality of life for every sensory-challenged child.

Using Branding to Reinforces the Message

Accurate branding contributes to a clearer message and builds stability with customers.

As you adapt or expand, be sure your motive and message remains distinct. When Fun and Function expanded its market, the ethos of the brand never wavered:

“The message,” said Weiss, “is that being different is normal.”

Advertisements

The Ideal Length for Tweets, Facebook Posts, and More

You’ve taken the time to collect your thoughts. You’ve carefully outlined your ideas, your theme, and the overall tone you’d like to communicate. Wouldn’t it be nice if people actually read it?

Better make it quick!

Generation Z, born after 1996, is already emerging from the shadow of millennials. Making up a quarter of the U.S. population, they will account for 40 percent of all consumers by 2020. Gen Z processes content faster than other generation, especially considering most can sort through piles of information using four screens simultaneously.

Although their options seem limitless, their time is finite. Gen Z consumers have an average browsing attention span of eight seconds (as compared to twelve seconds for millennials).

Make Every Word Count

As lead time decreases, efficiency must increase.

How do you evaluate the “right” speed for sharing? Research has answers! Here are some research-based guidelines on the ideal length for Tweets, Facebook and blog posts, headlines, and e-mails.

Twitter

Twitter allows a maximum of 280 characters, and your posts should resemble the same type of short and sweet chirp you might hear from a bird.

The essence of Twitter is its commitment to bite-sized, sharable comments. What is the ideal length of a tweet?

Research by Buddy Media shows 100 characters is the engagement sweet spot for a tweet. This analysis saw a spike in retweets among those between 71-100 characters (so-called “medium” length tweets). These posts have enough characters for the original poster to share something substantial and for a person sharing (or re-tweeting) to add commentary as well.

Facebook

Exactly what size is a 40-character post?

The sentence you just read had 41 characters. That’s pretty brief! Research by global marketing influencer Jeff Bullas found that posts with 40 characters received the 86 percent higher engagement (including comments, shares, and “like” rates from viewers) than other posts. Can’t limit yourself to such blunt communication? Posts with 80 characters or fewer received 66 percent higher engagement. Minimize length and you’ll maximize reach!

Blog Posts

Medium is a blog platform that taps the brains of the world’s most insightful writers, thinkers, and storytellers.

When measuring content that performed best on their site, Medium found that an ideal blog post is around 1,600 words, meaning the post will engage people for about seven minutes. A photo-heavy post is better suited to around 980 words, and any blog post longer than 300 words should be filled with subheads to create enhanced readability or “skim layers” for viewers.

Headlines

“Bold and Brief is Best!”

According to KISSmetrics headline experts, six words is the ideal length for headlines.

Usability research reveals people don’t only scan body copy, they also skim headlines. Consequently, they tend to absorb only the first three words and the last three words of each headline.

Don’t want them to miss your point? Then don’t use any words in between!

Six-word headlines can be challenging, so Kissmetrics suggests that rather than stressing about length, just make every word count. Especially the first three and the last three!

E-mail Subject Lines

Can you boost the open rate for your e-mails by manipulating the subject length? A study released by Mailer found a slight bump in opens and clicks at a certain range of characters:

·        4–15 characters: 15.2% open; 3.1% click

·        16–27 characters: 11.6% open; 3.8% click

·        28–39 characters: 12.2% open; 4% click

·        40–50 characters: 11.9% open; 2.8% click

·        51+ characters: 10.4% open; 1.8% click

Mid-range subjects brought the highest response. Also, research found higher open rates for e-mail subjects that convey timely information, imply benefit for quick action, and avoid exaggeration (such as capitalized letters or exclamation points).

Streamline Your Next Project with Print-Ready Proofs

Ever rushed out the door only to trip on your shoes in the entryway? Or made a hasty stop at the intersection and found yourself in a costly fender bender?

Accidents happen when we hurry, and that’s true in both life and work. In project management, sometimes we fail to allow adequate time for extra details or unexpected delays. As you draw closer to a deadline, errors are made and important details are overlooked.

Print-Ready Success

Do you want to be proud of your next print project with a smooth transition from design to print?

Here is a handy preflight checklist to help you eliminate panic or costly mistakes when a deadline is near.

  • Thoroughly proof your document for typographical, punctuation, margin, or grammatical errors. Have one or two other people proof as well. Mistakes are easy to miss but embarrassing to everyone. To slow yourself down, trying reading your document out loud or read your text backward.
  • Embed your fonts and designs. There’s nothing worse than pouring over a precise design then finding a poor imitation after it comes back from print. To maintain the integrity of your design, it is important to link all aspects of your piece (images, artwork, and fonts) into a high-resolution PDF. This includes crop marks for bleeds displaying the exact size of your trimmed and finished piece.
  • Use correct proportions, dimensions, and resolution. Images should be proofed by others to make sure they fit on the page, are correctly centered, and are cropped or outlined as desired. The resolution of image files needs to be higher for print: a JPEG file needs a minimum resolution of 300 DPI (Dots per inch). If your file does not meet that standard the quality will not be as sharp or distinct.
  • Use consistent page layouts. Clean layouts communicate professionalism and make documents easier to read. Proof your design (especially multi-page documents) to be sure margins are consistent on every page, including booklet covers or pages that feature charts or infographics.
  • Convert image formats to CMYK. JPEG is the default image format for photographs from many cameras, cell phones, and mobile devices. Screen images on TVs, computers, and cameras use red, green, and blue in varying percentages, but commercial printers typically separate artwork into four colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, black). Most design software will allow you to easily convert or save a file in CMYK, or there are several free online file conversion tools as well.
  • Print a proof and confer with our team. A surefire way to ensure a quality product is to generate a poof and discuss it with us before the final printing. It’s also important to discuss turnaround times so you can plan your milestones accordingly and allow for multiple print runs (if necessary).

We’re here to help! With local printing, you get the benefit of a work-in-progress partnership. While it’s helpful to have a preflight checklist, the trained eye of a professional is even better! Our goal is to increase your productivity, reduce your stress, and save you time and money as your prep and proof your print projects.

We’re only one phone call away, and your questions are always welcome!

Small Businesses Have a Big Reach

A tiny, Ohio-based Vita-Mix corporation has been grinding and blending for 70 years.

Known for its high-powered, durable blending machines, “Vita-Mix” was coined with an emphasis on “vita,” meaning “life.” The company was born in 1921 when founder William Barnard, after helping a friend through a significant illness, realized the tremendous impact whole-food nutrition had on health. Simple Vitamix products evolved to industrial strength mixers that could puree raw foods, blend hot soup, grind grain, or knead bread dough.

Vitamix rarely sold products internationally before the late 1990s. But as sales slowed in the U.S., the third generation of Barnard family owners decided to go global. After hiring international sales manager James Smith, exports soared to 20 percent of yearly profits, growing hundreds of new jobs in the outskirts of Cleveland. “Exporting is the salvation of our standard of living and the security of our workers,” said Smith. “It makes me proud as heck.”

A Growing Reach

Vitamix is just one small business with a large global reach.

According to 2017 statistics from the Small Business Association, nearly all of U.S. exporters are small businesses. Small businesses exported $440 billion in 2015, from nearly 288,000 firms representing 97.6 percent of all exporting firms in America. Forty-eight percent of businesses said it took them just a few months of research before they started exporting, while 36 percent said it took them a month or several months to get started.

Small businesses that export report increased sales, diversified markets, and increased long-term stability. Vitamix CEO Jodi Berg said Vitamix now exports at award-winning levels to Europe, Asia, and Australia. But before that could happen her team had to disrupt a stable business plan with a new, global vision. Does she see herself as an entrepreneur who took risks?

“I don’t,” Berg said. “To make big things happen, you have to make big moves. But big moves don’t have to be risky. If you describe a risk taker as someone who takes big moves, I’ll be that. But we did our homework.

Four Remarkable Small Business Facts

While big business often dominates headlines, small businesses play a vital role in exporting products, creating jobs, and producing wealth for thousands of families.

Here are four remarkable facts about the big impact of small businesses:

1. Nearly all are small.

Small businesses make up the vast majority of companies in America, comprising 99.9 percent of all firms. Out of 29.6 million businesses, all but 19,000 are small!

2. Half are home-based.

A home-based business may have activity outside of the home, but it is operated primarily from the home.

Industries where home-based businesses dominate include information (70 percent), construction (68.2 percent), and professional, scientific, and technical services (65.3 percent).

3. Involve family and personal financing.

About one in five small businesses are family-owned, and 21.9 percent of small firms have used personal or family savings (versus business or banking loans) to resource expansion.

4. Durable.

The one-year survival rate for businesses hit 79.9 percent in 2016, the highest level since 2006.

About half of small businesses survive five years or longer, and one-third survive 10 years or more. The longer a company is in business, the more likely it is to stay in business.

According to the National Association of Small Businesses, entrepreneurs say economic uncertainty, health insurance costs, and a decline in customer spending or cash flow are the biggest challenges they face. Still, most business owners are fairly optimistic: 75 percent say they’re confident in their own business and its future.

Grow Your Business Through Successful Staffing

Todd Fishman and Hunter Brooks were childhood friends who attended the University of Washington before heading to corporate Manhattan for several years. The friends reconnected in New York, bonding over their love of great salad.

Yes, young men eating salad.

Salads are so trendy that in Manhattan the lines for gourmet salad bars stretch around the block. While waiting in one of these lines, the friends had their “Aha” moment. They looked at each other and said, “This would be killer in Seattle!”

A Quickly Budding Dream

Enter Evergreens healthy food chain, co-founded with their associate Ryan Suddendorf in 2013.

Over five years, Evergreens has seen 200% revenue growth each year, with six stores in Seattle and a projected 11 more by 2019. Evergreens caters and offers salads, wraps, and grain bowls while keeping food fun with names like “Dice-Dice Baby,” the “Cobbsby Show,” and an Asian mix called “Pear-ly Legal.”

While entertaining, Evergreens is rooted in a focused business strategy to ensure the start-up succeeds. Successful staffing has been fundamental as Evergreens has scaled for growth and shaped a positive culture to attract the very best team.

Infrastructure that Keeps Pace with Growth

People are the backbone of every company, and Suddendorf said staffing was lean in the early days.

Chaos abounded, with lines out the door and the three founders acting as the company’s only corporate employees.

“It was like changing the car tires on a moving car,” said Suddendorf. “There was no time to step back and establish a process and then try to teach it to everybody in the stores.”

“We were working in the business rather than on the business,” Fishman said. “We were very much in the weeds.”

In retrospect, the friends say they would have raised more money upfront and contracted consulting from restaurant specialists or professional staffing agencies. Simultaneously growing a business and a competent staff is like parenting: along with joy and new discoveries, each phase presents greater challenges.

To grow effectively, healthy businesses need to adopt staffing strategies that meet current needs but also anticipate the future. Since Evergreen’s early days, Brooks says great people have been key to scaling growth without sacrificing quality. The founders gave intense focus to its corporate team in 2015, bringing on a COO and aggressively hiring HR, business development, IT and accounting specialists shortly afterward.

“There’s part art, part science to staffing the corporate team when your store count is growing,” said Brookes. “Sometimes you’re going to be a little heavier on the corporate overhead, and sometimes you’re going to be a little leaner.”

Attracting Engaged, Competent Employees

People are your company’s biggest asset, and engaged employees can give your business a huge advantage.

Finding and maintaining great staff requires a people-focused approach. As you develop short and long-term staffing goals, hiring should align with your business objectives.

Whether you want to expand certain sectors, launch new products, or grow online visibility, your hiring strategy should be totally in sync with these objectives. While you proactively work toward long-term objectives, temporary or contract staff may provide the essential support you need for specialized projects, seasonal rushes, or particular areas of expertise.

Evergreens strives to grow a brand that generates inbound applications versus actively recruiting staff. This means prioritizing a supportive, energizing work environment that includes above minimum wage pay, free employee meals for each shift, and $40 monthly bonuses for employees who lead healthy, active lifestyles.

Suddendorf says the company also makes a point of promoting employees to maximize unity and momentum:

 “About half our corporate team started in our stores.”

Reel in Prospects by Adding Print to Your Content Marketing

Content is king in advertising and communication concept, colorful arrows pointing to the word CONTENT at the center with chess king on black cement wall, creativity of brand website and social media

Researchers estimate that in 1984 a person saw an average of 2,000 ads per day.

By 2014, they saw about 5,000. With the explosion in spam and social media ads, that number increases daily. But consumers are fed up with in-your-face advertising that seems disruptive or manipulative. Instead, they’re attracted to authenticity and friendliness in a brand.

How can you build that kind of culture in your business?

It’s All About Content

Narratives and content marketing can bring fresh life to your marketing mix!

Content marketing is a strategic approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience. It shifts your team away from a “message” focus to a more optimal “people focus,” building trust and driving more profitable consumer action.

Content marketing generates stronger leads, increases sales, and enhances customer loyalty. Consider these facts:

  • 77% of internet users read blogs
  • Small businesses with blogs get 126% more lead growth than small businesses without blogs
  • Content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing and generates about three times the leads
  • A 2014 Brandshare survey found that the majority of consumers are suspicious of brands’ intentions, but 87% said they would like a more meaningful relationship with their preferred brands

Why Print + Content Marketing = Success

When people consider content marketing, they typically think of digital media.

However, true diversification means thinking bigger. The Content Marketing Institute suggests two out of three marketers don’t include print in their content marketing, but there is strategic value to including printed content elements.

Why?

1. The Information Factor

Nielson found about 56% of consumers rely on printed matter for sales information, and:

  • 56% preferred mailed or delivered circulars
  • 52% relied on newspaper circulars
  • 37% relied on in-store printed pieces or store-generated e-mails
  • 27% relied on store websites

Print is seen as a concrete, reliable source, especially by prospects nearing a decision. If you neglect printed content marketing you may minimize your chance of landing a valuable client.

2. The Trust Factor

With today’s “fake news” paranoia, trust in digital media has decreased.

A 2017 study showed that printed news magazines are the most trusted news source (72% rated them positively) while only 33% believed social media provided honest information.

Even print versions of national newspapers were regarded as more trustworthy than the websites of that exact same publication!

Because of the physical nature of the medium, print is naturally viewed as more informative and trustworthy than digital media.

So how can you add print to your content marketing strategies?

  1. Use embedded QR codes in game-style promotions or in-store displays. Check some inspiring examples here or here.
  2. Look for ways to get your business or product featured in magazine or newspaper articles.
  3. Employ printed “how to” postcards or maintenance checklists with online coupon discounts included in the text.
  4. Print inserts for invoices or point-of-sale kiosks that highlight an excerpt of your blog to lead them online.
  5. Consider generating your own quarterly or bi-annual niche publication.
  6. Print custom thank-you notes with a snippet of your brand story or the first paragraph of your blog on the back.

Printed content marketing should be used as “bait” to generate nibbles from your potential customers.

If you don’t have a place to reel them in (like a “get started today” link) or a way to keep them in the net (a defined sales funnel or a customer retention program), all your time and energy will be useless. So be strategic, be customer-focused, and get out there and fish!

Leaving a Legacy with Your Small Business

Combining their creative powers

In the 1950s, a young boy named John was enthralled by every chance to visit his best friend.

This family owned a soda pop bottling plant, which sparked a lifelong love for exotic flavors in John Nese. Years later, Nese brought soda to his family’s Italian grocery store in Los Angeles, known today for its 600 soda and beer flavors from around the world.

The variety wasn’t always this broad. Nese said the change came 20 years ago when independent grocers were being squeezed out by chains. One soda dealer offered a profit of $30 a pallet if Nese would streamline shelves and eliminate variety. Nese wouldn’t bite:

“Nuts to that,” he said. “A light bulb went off (and I said), ‘You know, John, you should be happy you own your shelf space, and Pepsi doesn’t, and you can sell anything you want.’ So I went out and found 25 brands of little sodas.”

Nese says this “freedom of choice” philosophy defines his family and his business, and customers can even make flavors of their own at the store. Rows of cane sugar syrups line the wall, along with bottles, caps, and carbonated water dispensers. “Whatever you think of, you can make!” Nese exclaimed.

This passion has fueled the Galcos’ grocery for over a century, and the Galcos plan to continue this legacy.

Successfully Passing Down Your Business

Small businesses make up around 99 percent of U.S. companies and 20 percent of these are family owned.

These businesses play a crucial role in creating jobs, exporting products, and generating wealth. As Baby Boomers reach retirement, 4 million of them will be handing off their privately-owned small businesses; in the next 15 years, we will see the largest transfer ever of private business to the next generation!

What are the keys to successfully navigating these transitions?

Preparation and communication are essential. Here are a few steps businesses are taking to pave the way for a smooth handoff:

Think decades in advance.

Small business owners often wait too long to start planning a transition, and typically only half of those planning to retire have identified a successor.

Justin Goodbread, a certified financial planner and exit planning advisor says the process is especially weighty for families:

“Families will most likely also have to cope with emotional and psychological issues that surface during a generational transaction. I believe a 10-year period is needed to successfully navigate a family business transaction.”

Sketch out clear successors and exit strategies.

A strong mission statement and business plan, a clear exit strategy for senior leaders, and an early commitment from successors are important hallmarks to longevity.

Build the right team.

Many businesses believe they can manage their transition independently, but this assumption is costly.

Healthy handoffs will require input from lawyers, accountants, financial advisors, business valuation experts, and a family business planner to shepherd the process. Though senior leaders may wish to gift the business ownership, experts believe financial buy-ins allow successors to get some “skin in the game,” as they emotionally double-down in commitment, maturity, and vision.

Be flexible as you exchange roles and responsibilities over time.

The gap between generations requires effective communication and an organized structure for each person involved.

This should be reviewed regularly to adjust the roles or time commitment of each team member. Goodbread recommends younger successors earn more responsibility on a day-to-day basis:

“It has to be earned or merited,” he says. “The problems start when a junior takes over a senior’s position in the company without earning it or wanting the position.”

Use Great Body Language to Speak with Success

Ramona Smith, a 31-year-old Houston teacher, has faced many challenges, including coaxing her son through cancer and struggling through a divorce.

But Smith believes life is about more than what knocks you down, it’s about the lifelines people offer to help you back up.

One of Smith’s lifelines was the mentorship she found in Toastmasters, a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership. In her 2018 speech, “Still Standing,” Smith posed as a fighter on stage and talked about surviving round after round with life but bouncing back again. Her accomplishments include dropping out of college four times (before graduating at the top of her class) and, most recently, being crowned the Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking in Chicago. 

Smith outlasted 30,000 other competitors over six months of competition before being named the champion in August. Her success comes not only from her will to fight but from one speaking technique that helped her connect:  

“If my hands are open to the audience, and my fists are not closed, and my arms are not too tight toward my body, it just makes the audience feel more connected, like I’m really open,” Smith said. “I’m vulnerable, and I want to give you all of me. And it makes me look relaxed and comfortable.”

Dananjaya Hettiarchchi, a human-resources specialist who won the Toastmasters competition in 2014, broke down the effectiveness of this technique:

“If you really concentrate, when you look at the inside of your palm, your eye relaxes,” Hettiarchchi said. “And a lot of great speakers, they open their palms towards the audience, showing more openness. And that allows the audience to connect with the speaker better, as opposed to showing the back of your hand.”

Best Body Language for Effective Presentations

If a simple gesture can have such an impact, what other nonverbal communication can increase our impact? Check out these tips from some of the world’s most personable communicators to increase your own credibility.

DO:

  • Open your hands toward the audience to relax and connect.
  • Use facial expressions with purpose. Sometimes when we’re nervous our face freezes up. If you don’t have an expressive face, work with a mirror to see how your expressions reinforce your message. Give your entire talk silently (while forming each word) and let your face do the communicating!
  • Maintain intentional eye contact. Leaders who speak over people’s heads or get buried in their notes seem impersonal or insincere. When you speak, move from face to face, making eye contact with one person at a time to ensure your audience is engaged. When answering a question, use extended eye contact to convey sincerity.

DON’T:

  • Hide, clasp, or fidget with your hands. This implies you don’t believe what you’re saying, or shows meekness that fails to command attention. Instead, keep your arms forward in an open manner. Use your hands to explain your point through confident, concise movements.
  • Plan your gestures in advance. Physical expression in presentations should arise spontaneously. Though body language is important, planned movements will seem awkward or inauthentic. Instead, plan key moments where you might take a different position in the room or how you will use visual aids to keep communication transparent.
  • Roam aimlessly or exhibit poor posture. Body language communicates a lot about your character, so pacing can make you seem jumpy or slumped shoulders may convey discouragement and apathy. Instead, move with purpose in your presentations. Aim for a neutral position, sitting or standing tall like a string is connecting your head to the ceiling.

Remember, the most important visual you can show your audience is yourself! Sharpen non-verbal communication skills and reap the benefits of credibility and respect!