Monday, December 5, 2016

Content Marketing Is More Powerful Than Ever

At its core, content marketing is the idea that by creating and distributing high-quality content that is relevant to your products, your services or your brand, you can more easily attract and even retain people who are interested in what you're selling. If you sell stereo equipment and write a quality blog post about what to look for in a new home theater, you're more likely to attract new customers by combining that blog with the sales flyer you sent them in the mail.

Put Information in a Format That People Want To Embrace

When people think of content marketing, they usually think of text. While this is true, it's important not to neglect the visual element. Case in point: pairing your marketing message up with the right visual image can increase the amount of information a reader will retain dramatically. According to one study, people are only 10% likely to remember information they hear 72 hours after they hear it. If that same information is conveyed in a piece of effective, content marketing with a relevant, attention-grabbing image, that number increases to an incredible 65%!

Color Really Does Mean a Lot

Continuing a discussion about the more visual side of content marketing, one of the most important elements that prove these types of marketing collateral can be more effective than ever all comes down to a single word: color. Another study found that if you're able to include colored visuals in your content marketing (or any marketing for that matter), you instantly increase someone's willingness to read and experience that content by an astounding 80%.

People Love Learning

Consider the fact that content marketing can be a lot more than just "marketing" - it can be an educational tool, as well. Take infographics, for example - especially since the advent of social media, infographics with rich, striking visuals have quickly proven to be powerful ways to get your message across. In fact, according to one recent study, an infographic is likely to be shared three TIMES more than any other piece of content on social media. When combined with print marketing, you can help establish your brand as an authority in your field to a much larger audience than imagined.

Content Marketing Creates a Higher Return on Investment

If you needed additional reasons to believe that content marketing is stronger than ever, look no further than one of the most important indicators: ROI. Studies have shown that not only does content marketing cost roughly 60% less than traditional outbound marketing like digital ads, but it can also potentially generate THREE TIMES as many leads!

Stats like these go a long way towards proving that content marketing is an excellent way to take your marketing message and present it to your target audience in a way that they're more than ready to receive. With the right piece of properly designed collateral, you accomplish everything from increasing awareness of your brand to establishing yourself as the real authority you are..... and everything in between. When you consider that 200 million people now use ad blockers as they browse the internet, high-quality, properly designed content is about to become even more important as time goes on.

5 Ballet Business Lessons You Should Make a Point to Learn

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

1. Create Your Individual Style

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

2. Continue Learning Throughout Your Career

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

3. Practice Makes Perfect

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

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

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

5. Develop and Build Trust

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

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

Monday, November 28, 2016

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

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

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

Treat Them as Equals

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Sometimes Fresh Eyes Brings a Memorable Camel

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

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

Hump Day

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

Seeing Your Company with Fresh Eyes

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

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

Find a Way to Shock Your Audience

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

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Warning: Are You Accidentally Shattering Your Brand Continuity?

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

It's All in the Visuals

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

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

Getting Everyone on the Same Page

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

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

A Business Perspective on Apple's Latest MacBook Event

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

The 2016 MacBook Pro

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

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

What Would Steve Jobs Say About All This?

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Moving On Is Not Giving Up

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

Look for the Signs

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

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

Moving On Doesn't Mean You've Failed

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

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

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

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

In the End

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Goals are Not Just for Sports

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

What Can We Learn from Goals in Sports?

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

Obstacles

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

Applying Goals to Business

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

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

How to Keep Your Goals in the Forefront of Your Mind

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

Monday, July 25, 2016

Ways to Recharge for Successful Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs are a different lot. It takes a certain type of person to hang out there on the edge and take calculated (and sometimes not so calculated) risks. The rush of adrenaline that keeps tycoons in the sweet spot of success can wear a person out, though. The hard-charging, always-ready attitude is a unique quality that has its own set of rules when it comes to taking a little downtime without losing precious time and opportunities. The following are excellent strategies for how to recharge for moguls of business.

Contemplation
There is no "right" or "wrong" way to sit quietly for a few minutes a day. Taking the time to think and contemplate things is a real game changer. It teaches you to quiet your mind and gives that big brain of yours time to rest. That's all it is. Give it a try. Take 20 minutes and sit quietly. Let your thoughts come in and gently focus on them one at a time, allowing yourself to sit in silence. Over time, the effects build and offer a calmer mind and body, heightened focus, more patience, and greater productivity.

Movement
Your doctor and Jillian Michaels are right. Exercise is especially critical for entrepreneurs. You may feel like you are going 100 MPH on any given day and do not need "additional" activity, but get outside and take a brisk walk. You can even take the time to think at the same time. It's a twofer for the multi-tasking magnate in you.

Experience the Outdoors
Great Scott! Throw nature in the mix and it's a "three-fer" (it's a real word - scout's honor). The outdoors can spark relaxation, creativity, and help stave off burnout. Daily exposure to natural surroundings will give you the fuel to get back in the office and power through your day.

Schedule Your Time
Keep a single calendar that gives you mandated time each day to walk away from your desk, your phone, and your email. Maybe a couple of 10-15 minute breaks that give you time to stretch your legs, interact on a social level, grab a (healthy) snack or call a loved one. This single calendar will house business related obligations and personal outings and priorities. Seeing all of your obligations in one place helps eliminate the over-scheduled executive trap and gives you the opportunity to see, in black and white, how you are spending your time. In addition to your breaks, dedicate some time to your meal periods. Maybe you do not want to allocate an hour per day for lunch. At the very least, turn off your electronic world for 15-20 minutes and give your food your full attention. Think of it as "eating meditation."

Unplug
Unplugging from all electronics, while a little frightening at first, can help alleviate a ton of stress. Think about it; all of those dings and beeps and buzzes that are always pulling at every last ounce of concentration you have. There's only so much a person can take. Every tweet, poke, Instagram, Snapchat, email and reminder activates responses in you that eventually lead to mental and emotional breakdowns. It's a daunting prospect, but consider taking an hour away from all electronics and build from there. Who knows, maybe you could allocate an entire electronics-free day or evening. Your creativity and your soul will thank you.

These few tips can help avoid burnout and create the optimal environment for the successful entrepreneur in you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Using Customer Data to Create a More Powerful Customer Experience

Make no mistake: the data revolution is upon us and has, perhaps, affected no industry more than the wonderful world of marketing. Your average marketer now has access to huge volumes of information about who their customers are, how they're behaving, what their thoughts are on certain issues and more - all of which can quickly prove overwhelming. It's important to look at the big data phenomenon for what it is, however: an opportunity. It's a very real chance that marketers have to realign their efforts and create the type of powerful customer experience that creates a loyal army of brand advocates.

Broadening Your Customer Personas

Customer personas have long been a tool marketers have used when trying to relate to their target audience. These fictionalized, typically generalized versions of theoretical people can be a great way to help the designers of a campaign keep their "eyes on the prize," so to speak. After all, if you're setting out on a road trip across the country, it can be helpful to know exactly where you're going before you back out of the driveway.

However, the huge influx of data that marketers now have access to is a terrific way to deepen these customer personas more than ever before. You no longer just have things like age, gender, employment status or income level to work with. You can now draw from not only what has influenced past purchasing decisions, but WHO. You have volumes of analytical data pertaining to lifestyle, interests, and behavioral patterns. You can even draw valuable information from how a person might respond emotionally to a certain event in their life.

All of this means that an already powerful tool, customer personas, can now be put to even more meaningful use in the future. These personas are no longer generalized at all, which is very much a good thing for marketers everywhere.

Redefining the "High Value" Customer

Another great way to use customer data to create a more powerful customer experience is to reassess your "best" or "highest value" customers through the lens of this new data you're working from. You've always been able to call up data like average purchase size, lifetime value, and acquisition costs pretty easily, but now you can go deeper. You can get a real sense of how satisfied your customers are with your products or services and look at how that information may affect what you need to do for your customers in order to get them to remain loyal.

You can also see whether or not the people you're actually targeting with your marketing materials are the ones who are actually spending money on what you have to offer. If there is a discrepancy there, who ARE your buyers? Is this a problem, or is this a happy accident? What does this new information say about decisions that you were previously making on assumptions? This is all incredibly valuable information to have moving forward.

At the end of the day, the huge volumes of customer data that marketers now have access to is absolutely NOT a burden. We live in an age where it's now easier than ever to glean the type of valuable, actionable insight that you can use to make more effective, strategic decisions. All of this allows you to drive home the most important benefit of all: creating a much more powerful, organic, and deeply rooted customer experience than what was possible even five short years ago.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Crafting Your Brand to Communicate Your Unique Sales Proposition

Simply being the best is no longer the key to improving your bottom line. Not only is it a somewhat nebulous concept that isn't easily quantifiable, it's become more the status quo than anything else. Everyone selling something claims to be the best. Have you ever seen someone claim to be "second-best" in their marketing?

Identifying your unique sales proposition is by far the most effective thing you can do to make your company a success. Creating a memorable image that will grab people's attention and make them feel like they want you to be their best friend goes a lot farther these days than claims at superiority.

But maybe you already know this and maybe you've already identified how your company is different from the rest of the companies that sell computers/shoes/lamps, etc. Fabulous! One question: Do your customers know what makes you unique? (Cue head scratching and cricket chorus.)

If your brand doesn't scream, "I'm a unique snowflake" to everyone that sees it, you can do better. You must do better! You owe it to your company to be as unique as you are. So, how do you go about communicating how your company is one of a kind? It's all in the brand!

One of the best ways to figure out how to craft your brand to communicate your unique sales proposition is to carefully analyze how other companies are doing it. Let's take a look at two companies that have really done the work to make sure their brand conveys their unique sales proposition...

- Saddleback Leather - This company makes leather bags and accessories, and...so do hundreds of other companies. However, Saddleback has distinguished itself by selling "excessively high-quality leather designs" that are overbuilt and backed by a 100-year warranty. Their logo: a thick, letter tag embossed with their name, with obvious stitching and three big rivets at the top. Their tagline: "They'll fight over it when you're dead." Their ideal customer is someone who works hard and wants their bags and accessories to work harder and last longer.

- Timbuk2 - Yes, another company that makes bags...but guess what? This one is...wait for it...different! By its' name alone, we know that they are about travel and adventure. If you don't want to wander out into the wild, brave the unknown, or at least have all your stuff clean and dry when you get to wherever you're going, you may not be their target customer. Their current tagline is "Drive the bus" which, let's be honest, doesn't necessarily convey a specific unique sales proposition, but the story behind it is compelling and reinforces their mission: "To inspire urban mobility, enable individuality, & promote responsibility." They do this through their adherence to their values, which include statements like "Be Fearless. Deliver. Be Nimble. Engage. Lighten Up." Timbuk2 is a fantastic example of infusing your company with personality.

These two companies, while selling many overlapping products, have gone out of their way to distinguish themselves from their competitors. They truly love their products and want their clients to love them too. What's interesting about both of these companies is that they were started by people who couldn't find what they were looking for in the bags of the world, so they set out to make them. In doing this, they were able to:

- Put themselves in their customers' shoes
- Understand what motivates their customers' behavior and buying decisions
- Uncover the real reasons customers will buy their product instead of a competitor's

These are three critical factors in identifying your unique sales position. Basically, they were the customers, so it wasn't a big leap to get into their heads and create the experience that would drive consumers to love and buy their products.

It's easy to get a little lazy and fall into the trap of "it's good enough for now" and throw something out there, never to be improved upon again. If you love your company, you'll take the time now to make sure your brand conveys exactly what you want it to convey to your ideal client.

4 Trends Affecting Small Businesses This Year

Business owners tend to spend a lot of time searching the magic oracle (a.k.a. the internet) for answers to business growth questions. How do I get new customers? How do I get existing customers to come back? Why doesn't my cat like me?

Ok, maybe business owners don't have issues with their cats, though the other questions are probably crowding their brain space right now. Fear not, we've identified 4 business trends you should be paying attention to this year.

- JOBS Act Crowdfunding Investment Opportunities

Not everything in business is free. It may be all well and good to max out credit cards or drain your savings to start and grow your business, but now there's a better way. The JOBS Act: Title III was recently released and what that means for you is that your business can raise investments through crowdfunding, even from non-accredited investors. If you're in the market to increase your market share, consider checking out sites like Crowdfunder.com or Equitynet.com.

- Rapid Delivery Systems

You've probably heard by now of rapid delivery and logistics systems like AmazonFlex and UberRUSH. Society is moving rapidly to an on-demand world, capitalizing on an economy of shut-ins, or more likely, extremely busy people. If you are in the business of selling products, you can now easily integrate an entire network of delivery drivers to hand- deliver your goods to your customers' doorsteps.

- Cyber Security

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've undoubtedly noticed that the world is moving to the cloud. The rise of SaaS (Software as a Service) companies and the increasing value of information have turned the web into a hackers dream. They're becoming more creative as well. Imagine coming into the office one day and finding that all of your files have been encrypted and a ransom note is in your inbox for the key. Your business could easily come to a crashing halt.

If you've never thought about cyber security or don't know where to start, head over to the Federal Communications Commission and create a custom Small Business Cyber Planner.

- Social Responsibility

Today's consumer is becoming more socially aware and more socially active. They care about the world they live in and they expect the same from the businesses they patronize. Earn their respect and you will have dedicated clients for life. We're talking more than just going green, though, although it's always a great first start. The next step is to imagine ways in which your product or service could help reduce suffering, poverty, or climate change. Find an issue that resonates with you and your clientele and that finds a way to effect a little social change from within your company.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Why Continuing Education is the Key to Career Advancement in More Ways Than One

When many people reach a career milestone - be it getting a job with that great new company or even starting their own business - they often leave the concept of education behind. After all, they've already had a huge amount of schooling up to this point and they've succeeded in accomplishing what they set out to, so it probably isn't even necessary anymore, right?

Wrong.

Career advancement is a journey that never ends and continuing education is one of the single, best ways to make this road the easiest one of you've ever traveled.

The Key to the Future Rests in the Present

Even if you're completely satisfied with your current position and can't imagine ever wanting to go someplace else, continuing education is still valuable for a number of different reasons. Think about your long-term career goals. Where do you see yourself in a year? In five years? In ten? Even though you're satisfied today, there will still likely come a day where you begin looking for a change or what a little something "extra" out of your current situation. Continuing education not only makes it easier to ask for a raise within your current position, but it also makes you more attractive if the time comes where a management position opens up within your business that you might want to pursue.

Many experts agree that when hiring managers start to look at internal candidates for a new position, they actually grade on a tougher scale than if they were looking to fill a position from outside the company. At this point, a simple history of "hard work" and "dedication" isn't necessarily going to cut it - their expectations are higher than that. They KNOW you're a hard worker - it's why you still have a job. A history of regular, continuing education says that you've taken your dedication to a new level and that you're not only ready for new responsibilities, but you have the ethic and the skills to back up that claim.

It's All About Perspective

The late, great comedian Garry Shandling was a firm believer in the idea that the minute you stop working to improve yourself either personally or professionally, it's all over. He was the type of person who believed that his work was never done. There was ALWAYS something he could learn and ALWAYS some way he could improve the quality of the product he was putting out into the world. He deeply stood by these ideals, even though by any objective standard he perfected not only the sitcom but also the comedy television format with his HBO series (and he had the dozens of Emmy nominations to back that up). Yet still, it wasn't enough.

Just like Shandling, the moment you feel you've learned it all and the moment you feel like you've reached the point where you can't get better, you've lost a game that you never really understood in the first place.

This simple idea is perhaps the most important reason why continuing education is the key to career advancement, regardless of the type of industry you're working in. It forces you to think about ways that you could be doing better and about the shortcomings in your daily life that you need to address. It keeps you moving forward, but it keeps you grounded at the same time. Continuing education doesn't just make you a better employee on paper because you get to add a new certification or qualification to your resume - it makes you a better person, period.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Remaining Competitive in Business by Attracting Top Talent to Your Organization

Make no mistake about it: one of the biggest keys that you have regarding remaining competitive in a crowded marketplace isn't the work that you're doing, per say. It's the people who are doing the work in the first place. By attracting top tier talent to your business, you affect the entire enterprise from the top down in a number of positive ways. Thankfully, actually getting the attention of these mythical "perfect" employees is a lot easier than you might think - provided that you keep a few things in mind.

Attracting Talent is One Thing - Keeping Them is Another

Many people believe that attracting top talent to a business is something akin to a sports draft. So long as you throw as much money at a person as possible, they'll definitely come to work for you, right?

Maybe.

Getting a hugely talented person to work for you is really quite easy. Getting them to stick around is easier said than done. Studies have shown that people are willing to switch jobs not because they'll make more money in a new position, but because they'll be happier. According to a report published in the New York Times, when a person's household income exceeds $75,000 per year, it really does nothing to improve the overall level of satisfaction that they feel. They don't lead happier, more enjoyable or less stressful lives - at least not as far as money is concerned.

What this means is that if you're offering a top tier employee $85,000 per year in an environment that they'll ultimately not fit into versus a competitor who is offering $75,000 per year in a place that they would love to work in, that $10,000 ultimately doesn't buy you as much leeway as you might think - if it buys you any at all.

Essentially, if you want to remain competitive by attracting top talent to your organization, you have to create the type of organization that top talent actually wants to work for. This means that your company culture needs to be welcoming and enjoyable. Your leadership needs to be more than just people high on the totem pole with fancy job titles - they need to be people worth following. The work that you're doing needs to be something worth pouring your blood, sweat, and tears into. Whether this means continually rewarding employees for hitting certain productivity goals, profit sharing, a second-to-none benefits package or something else entirely remains to be seen - the answer will vary on a case-by-case basis.

The underlying point is crystal clear, though, - picture the employee you want to attract and make sure that your business is a place where that person might want to work. You essentially do the same thing with your marketing campaigns and buyer personas, so when you start to think of it in those terms it really isn't that hard at all.

The Snake Eating Its Tail

At that point, attracting top talent to your organization becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. By going out of your way to create the type of company culture and environment that top-tier talent want to work for, you're in turn creating a better business and ultimately a better product at the exact same time. The competitive advantage that you've gained and the quality of the work that you're turning out then go a long way towards attracting even more hugely talented people to your business, which essentially starts the process all over again.

Making this one decision to shift your focus towards creating the type of business that people can't help but want to work for creates a snowball effect of positive results for nearly everybody involved. Talented people flock to your organization and don't even dream of looking anywhere else for a job. Customers become more than satisfied with the work you're producing as your employees are putting their heart and soul into everything that you do. This, in turn, feeds back into your business by way of increased revenue and profits, creating a situation where literally everyone wins. Doesn't that sound like the type of environment you'd like to create for yourself?