Friday, May 13, 2016

Crucial advice for every entrepreneur wanting to stay motivated

By Sharon Lee

Do you sometimes struggle to stay motivated? I know that I do.

Staying motivated is crucial for every entrepreneur—funding concerns, long hours, team-building worries and an apparent lack of traction are just a few of the issues that can quickly lead to disenchantment and even burnout.

Motivation, thankfully, comes in many different forms.

Here are seven ways that I use to keep myself motivated at all times.

1. Visualize your future
From Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs, every great entrepreneur has had a vision of what they wanted to achieve. Be clear about what you want to accomplish and the steps you’ll follow to get there. If you haven’t already done so, consider writing your goals down on paper and review them frequently—ask how your daily activities are enabling you to achieve your goals. 

2. Find an inner strength
Although the pressures facing entrepreneurs can be fatiguing, they don’t have to be damaging. Convince yourself to welcome challenges and use them to make you better–after all, the muscles in your body become stronger through repeated exercise.

"I personally prefer to turn those entrepreneurship pressures around and use them to push me and my business harder, faster, farther." Aaron Schmitz, CEO and President of Equity Technology Partners explains that, "I've seen how a lack of motivation in entrepreneurs can affect their mental and physical health and, while it's an easy trap to fall into, it's also avoidable."

3. Exercise regularly
Exercise is a great way to release stress and become reinvigorated. By nature, exercise is similar to entrepreneurship—both involve hard work, excuses are not welcome in either, and they're all about personal development. The dedication and motivation that comes from exercising carries over to entrepreneurship—so don't skip that workout.

4. Mediate frequently
Find some time every morning or evening to meditate. It doesn't really matter what it takes to clear the mind, but finding a calming process to wipe the mental slate clean is a great tool for staying motivated. It invigorates and refreshes, allowing you to see each day as a new opportunity.

5. Delegate decision-making
Although you probably have a lot of tough choices to make each day, too much decision making can take a toll. Try to limit your decision-making as much as possible. Delegate to your co-founders and employees in your work life, and significant other, family and friends in your non-work life, as much as possible—doing so will help you motivated because you will be confident that, when it comes time to make those important decisions, your ability to do so will be as strong as ever.

"You can become exhausted by decision making and the day-to-day activities," says Mary Ferguson, President of Concenter Services. "Delegating as much as possible can be a crucial factor to staying motivated."

6. Appreciate your progress
If you feel yourself becoming demotivated, take a little time to realize how much progress you have already made. Make of a list of your accomplishments—it's a great way to appreciate your personal progress and it can be pleasantly surprising, too. Put your mistakes into perspective. Don’t look back with regret and, instead, view every mistake as an opportunity to learn and become better.

7. Take time off
Sometimes, a break is all that's required to feel reinvigorated. We are are human, after all, and we get tired. Spending some time with friends or family, or perhaps embracing a hobby, provides the refreshing mental break that allows for a proper return to form the next day.

Lastly, motivation comes from many places, and not just mental ones. With the unbelievable range of cultures, values, and regions across the world, inspiration and new ideas are virtually limitless. Find time to explore. There are endless ways to find motivation in the world, so don't hesitate to expand those horizons.

Remember that starting a successful business is easy; running a successful one takes confidence, flexibility, innovation, passion, tenacity, tolerance, vision and more. Find ways to keep yourself motivated and you’ll increase the likelihood of meeting the requirements of the job.

Friday, May 6, 2016

5 marketing metrics every entrepreneur needs to know

By David Ronald

There are metrics, and then there are metrics.

Metrics need to be measurable and actionable—if you are going to select your marketing programs based on data, those data need to correlate directly to the success of your business.

Web and marketing analytics tools such as Google Analytics, HubSpot Analytics, and KISSmetrics enable you to delve into the metrics that will help you to understand the customer journey and identify what sort of content and which channels are contributing to the bottom line.

But what, exactly, should you be measuring?

In this post I will examine five key metrics that provide insights into how your marketing is performing.

1. Customer acquisition cost
Add up all money you spend on marketing programs and divide it by the number of new customers. Track this over time to determine and observe if the cost is increasing, decreasing, or staying constant (ideally the cost should decrease as the efficacy of your marketing programs improves).

2. Marketing contribution to revenue
Quantify all of the new customers you signed up and look at what percentage of them started with a lead that marketing generated. This is much, much easier to do when you have a marketing analytics systems, but you can do it manually by contacting each new customer by email or phone.

3. Revenue per channel
Identify your most effective channels (organic, ads, social media, direct email, referrals and so on) by looking at how much revenue each one generates and compare it to the cost of running the channel.

4. Inbound traffic mix
Determine how much traffic is coming into your website and which channels your visitors are coming from—you can do this manually using tracking URLs, Google Analytics, spreadsheets and the like, and marketing automation programs help too. Track how the total volume and mix changes over time.

5. Conversion rates
Track how well your website is performing. Better yet, monitor how specific pages are working. Adjust landing pages and see what changes. Test, for example, if the wording and layout can be improved or if the Download button should be higher up. or determine if your call to action is underwhelming or your forms too complicated. And explore which offer your visitors respond to.

Measuring these metrics with as much precision and consistency as possible should be an integral part of your marketing focus.

And, of course, statistics mean nothing if you don’t do something with them. Getting to the people and journeys behind the numbers delivers insights that help you direct spending to the most beneficial programs.

Thanks for reading. Do you agree with everything on this list?

Did we leave anything off?

Leave us a comment or question.

Friday, April 29, 2016

5 steps to creating a marketing plan for your business

By David Ronald

Every entrepreneur knows that a business plan is a prerequisite when starting a company. Many entrepreneurs, however, don’t realize that a marketing plan is just as vital.

A marketing plan describes what you will sell, who you want to buy it, how much you will sell it for and how you will bring it to market. A good marketing plan describes the tools and tactics you will utilize to achieve your sales goals.

In this blog post I will examine five key steps to creating a marketing plan that will work for your company.

1. Describe your company's situation
No matter your industry, from big data to fintech to internet of things, positioning your product or service effectively requires an understanding of your niche market. Not only do you need to be able to describe what you market, but you must also have a clear understanding of what your competitors are offering and be able to show how your product or service provides a better value.

Make your situation analysis a succinct overview of your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

To determine your company’s strengths, consider the ways that its products are superior to others. What do you offer that gives your business a competitive advantage? Weaknesses, on the other hand, can be anything from operating in a highly saturated market to lack of experienced staff members.

Next, describe any external opportunities you can capitalize on, such as an expanding market for your product. Don’t forget to include any external threats to your company’s ability to gain market share so that succeeding sections of your plan can detail the ways you’ll overcome those threats.

2. Describe your target audience
Developing a profile of your prospective customer is your next step.

If you’re a B2B company, you may define your target audience based on their type of business, job title, size of business, geographic location or any other characteristics that make them possible prospects. No matter who your target audience is, be sure to narrowly define them in this section, because it will be your guide as you plan your media and public relations campaigns.

If you are a B2C company, you can describe prospects in terms of demographics—age, earnings, geographic location, in addition to lifestyle. Ask yourself the following: Are my customers conservative or innovative? Leaders or followers? Timid or aggressive? Traditional or modern? Introverted or extroverted? How often do they purchase what I’m selling? In what quantities?

3. Describe your marketing goals
What do you want your marketing plan to achieve? For example, are you hoping for a 20 percent increase in sales of your product per quarter? Write down a short list of goals—make them measurable so that you’ll know when you’ve achieved them.

4. Define your marketing budget
You’ll need to devote a percentage of projected gross sales to your annual marketing budget. Of course, when starting a business, this may mean using newly acquired funding, borrowing or self-financing. Just bear this in mind—marketing is absolutely essential to the success of your business. And with so many different kinds of tactics available for reaching out to every conceivable audience niche, there’s a mix to fit even the tightest budget.

5. Develop your marketing tactics
Your tactics are the actions you need to take to help you reach your target market and accomplish your goals. These include specifics such as direct mail, email marketing, print/radio/online advertising, blogs, social media, case studies, webinars, events, sponsorships and so on.

Never rely on one tactic alone. An integrated approach that delivers a consistent message across multiple, targeted platforms is the best way to ensure you reach your target market and get the most out of your budget. Refer back to who it is you are trying to reach, where they are, and what you want them to do.

Above all, be flexible. Track results and adjust your tactics and messaging as you go. I’ve seen many campaigns start out with one message and close out with a completely different one. Try out new email subject lines, test social media messages, and keep a close eye on what works and what doesn’t.

By applying steps 1-5 you will develop a powerful marketing plan that will help you grow revenues.

Thanks for reading. Do you agree with everything on this list?

Did we leave anything off?

Friday, April 22, 2016

6 word-of-mouth marketing tips for every entrepreneur

By David Ronald

Word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most effective ways to promote your business.

How do you do leverage word-of-mouth marketing? Keep in mind that word-of-mouth starts with your brand narrative—that’s the story you give your customers to tell on your behalf, based on their experiences of your product and company.

(Click here to read our white paper on word-of-mouth marketing: 

It’s a collaborative effort. You create a new version with each customer and each experience they have with you. They bring their story (their needs, the solution they want, their expectations, their frustrations). And you bring your story (your employees, the solution you provide, your expertise, your partners). The two stories meld, or don’t, each time you two meet.
Here’s a list of some, not all, the things you can do to create word-of-mouth for your business. And do it consistently.

1. Survey your customers. Find out if your customers would recommend you to colleagues and friends and, if so what they would say. Find out what your customers like, and what they dislike, about you. Are you generating Net Promoters or Net Detractors? You should find that out before you create a word-of-mouth campaign that will accelerate the spread of your story.

2. Do more of what they like. Your survey will tell you why and when and where they recommend you to their friends and colleagues. Do more of that which inspires them to tell more. And stop doing what makes them unhappy.

3. Ask your employees. Create a similar survey for employees. That will tell you why and when and where they recommend you to their friends. Do more of the things that impress them and stop don’t the things that are demotivate them. Ask you employee about the tools and resources they need, and then find better tools and resources. Your employees write your brand story every day. Help me make it a best-seller.

4. Motivate your employees with incentives that matter to them.
Ask them what is meaningful—you may be surprised at what and how little it will cost, and how important that incentive is to their life. Then make it possible for them to achieve those incentives.

5. Use social media yourself. The operative word is yourself. Oh sure, it’s awkward and you may mistakes. There is, however, no message more unique and genuine than the voice of a CEO in their own blog, in their own writing. Consider writing your own blog, if time allows.

Or use Twitter. Join the millions of people who’ve looked like fools at least once in their life. It’s a party. And join them as they connect with millions of customers, prospects, partners, vendors, ideas, innovators solutions.

6. Know your community. What do they need? What solutions are they looking for? Find and deliver. Be a part of their lives.

These things, and more, form your story. Finish this list first. Then look at the story you’ve written. And if you consistently pursue and execute them, your story can be consistent.

Then see if you need outside help to accelerate the spread of your story through the mouths and communities of your customers. And employees.

There’s more, but this is a good start.

Let us know what you do to create word-of-mouth for your business.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 15, 2016

6 demand generation tips for your business

By David Ronald

Successful demand generation requires a strategy. Not just any strategy, of course, but one based on a metrics and processes.

In this blog post I offer some ideas on how to develop a data-centric demand generation strategy that works.

1. Buyer-centricity—strive to understand buyer prospects both in terms of their role as individuals and also in terms of their part in the collective buying process. A useful exercise is to develop personas that represent each buyer and include the influence vectors that inform the relationships between personas within the context of the buying cycle. It is then possible to structure the conversation threads that will inform the content strategy.

2. Content—“content is king” is only useful within the context and planning that make content relevant to the audience. Within the context of a demand generation strategy, this translates first into understanding the content consumption patterns of the target audience. Where do prospects consume information and at what stages of the buying cycle: search, social, peers, analysts? This understanding leads to content strategies with specific assets and media vehicles that are relevant and timely.

3. Research—reach out to current customers, including detractors and advocates, and interview them. Ask them about their influencers, buying processes, decision-making processes and so on. And you can also ask your salespeople the same about their customers to get additional insights.

4. Lead nurturing—with an understanding of the audience, relevant dialogue threads and business processes, and a content strategy in place, lead nurturing then comes into play. The process of building programs that successfully marry insights and operations is both an art and a science. The key success factors include the length, depth, and breadth of the content being offered; the logic that determines how a prospect moves through the buying cycle; the cadence of offerings; and, perhaps most important, whether the program is perpetual.

5. Analytics and optimization—analysis of the data gleaned from marketing efforts can provide real value to validate, refine, or change a demand generation strategy completely. Segmentation and testing are two examples. Consistent, results-oriented optimization of demand generation programs is a key factor in extracting the greatest possible value from them.

6. Sales readiness—work with your sales reps to develop frameworks that help them have relevant, highly targeted conversations with qualified prospects. The insights gleaned from the proceeding items on this list should also be made available to your sales team to use as part of these conversations.

Thanks for reading. Do you agree with everything on this list?

Did we leave anything off?

Leave us a comment or question.

Friday, April 8, 2016

7 sales enablement tips for every entrepreneur

By David Ronald

Some business people think that sales enablement is simply sales training.

It’s a common misperception that can lead to millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours wasted. Instead, sales enablement is about getting the right content into the hands of the right reps, at the right time through the right channel. It sounds easy, but it’s not.

(Click here to read our white paper on sales enablement:

Here are 9 tips that will help ensure that your sales reps are being supported by an effective sales enablement strategy.

1. Develop impactful sales collateral

An effective library of sales collateral includes crafting content that is relevant to specific buyer personas at each stage of the buying process. Avoid the mistake, for example, of talking “speeds and feeds” to someone in finance, or profit and loss to someone in engineering. Identify your key buying personas, understand their business issues and create content relevant to each one.

2. Create great sales playbooks

The role of a sales book is, essentially, to guide your sales reps through every interaction with buyer at the moment, from the first contact to the sales close (and beyond, if your business model includes seizing post-sales opportunities). Spend time developing playbooks and update them frequently as your interaction with prospects expands—learn from your failures and your success. And look upon the time you spend developing playbooks as an investment, not a chore.

3. Provide frequent training

Be sure to identify the necessary competencies, skills and knowledge that your sales team needs to be successful. And keep in mind that continuous education should be provided to all reps at all levels of your sales organization. Develop a blend of internally-led training and consultant-led programs that enable you to offer both the relevancy and inspiration that your sales team will benefit from.

4. Introduce a certification program

The purpose of a sales certification program is to identify gaps in the abilities of your sales reps so you know where to focus coaching and training. Develop a program that educates and reinforces key learnings. Provide incentives, hard and soft, that motivate your reps to strive for the next level of certification.

5. Leverage gamification concepts

The concept behind gamification is to apply game design techniques to engaging and motivating people to achieve their goals. Gamification can, therefore, play a huge role in increasing sales productivity—spiffs, stack ranking, and president's club trips have been widely used because salespeople respond to friendly competition, visibility, and recognition. Identify additional fun contests to incentivize to your sales reps.

6. Coach constantly

Coaching is about supporting your sales team, especially the junior reps, throughout the sales process. Coaching differs from training by being the rhythm which allows for constant reinforcement of best practices and remedy of poor ones.

7. Collect and act on data

It’s crucial to measure as many performance indicators as possible. For example, track how many opportunities are in the pipeline, how the pipeline to quota ratio is changing and your revenue run rates. The more you data you collect and analyze, the better informed you’ll be— and the more information you have, the high the probability that the decisions you make concerning sales strategy will be the right ones.

Thanks for reading. Do you agree with everything on this list?

Did we leave anything off?

Leave us a comment or question.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Advice on creating your unique selling proposition

By David Ronald

Your unique selling proposition, or USP, is that one special difference that sets your product or business apart from everyone else.

How do you determine your unique selling proposition?

Begin by identifying what is distinct about your business, why that is important, and what it means for potential customers?

What you are looking for is a unique selling proposition that a buyer can immediately grasp, understand and appreciate. If you can boil it down to a single sentence, that is even better. Then, if you want to be like the great businesses, you will begin to build all future marketing and advertising efforts around this core idea, you will teach it to your employees, and you will all begin to live it.

If you think about those businesses that have a very identifiable USP, you will notice that it is in fact a large part of their success. The USP is a reason for consumers to frequent a business, a catchphrase, and a distinctive hook for the business to hang their hat on, all rolled into one:
  • “Avis—We Try Harder”
  • “You’re in good hands with Allstate”
  • “Federal Express: When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”
Interestingly, surprisingly even, most small businesses do not have a USP. They are just out there, doing their thing, selling their stuff, and never really distinguishing themselves in the market place. Maybe they succeed or maybe they do not, but if they do, it might be because they have a good location, or the owner has some great contacts, or some other factor, but often it is not because they offer something unique and distinct to the consumer.

That’s a shame, because in this overly-crowded marketplace, without offering potential customers something different and distinctive, without letting them know you can solve their problem, you will fail to stand out, and if you don’t stand out, success is very hard to come by.

You begin to create a USP by looking at the market and finding a need that either you successfully fulfil already, or which is unfilled but can be fulfilled by your business.

To create a great USP, consider these questions:
  • What characteristics of your business are unique?
  • Of these, which are most important to your customers and potential customers?
  • What gaps are there in the marketplace that your business is uniquely qualified to fill?
  • Of all of these, which can be most easily communicated?
Once you have decided which traits make your business unique, and what the market is looking for, boil the idea down to a paragraph or two. This will not be easy, but that’s okay. Write it and re-write it. Take the idea down to its core. If you cannot state what it is about your business that is unique and different, how do you expect your customers to ever know it? To be truly effective, your USP must create value in the mind of customers.

Think about FedEx again. Its USP combines what it does with what customers needed. That’s the gold standard.

By re-focusing your business on your USP, you can inject it with new life and energy. You know what the customer wants and you have positioned yourself to uniquely fill that need. You will not appeal to everyone, but to those that need what your USP offers, you should appear indispensable.

Indispensable – It has a nice ring, doesn’t it?

Thanks for reading.

Leave us a comment and let us know what you think about this post.

Friday, March 25, 2016

6 content marketing tips for every entrepreneur

By David Ronald

Content marketing can play a significant role in helping your business to grow—it is one of the best and most effective ways for you to connect with your prospects and differentiate yourself from competitors.

The problem is, however, that when it comes to developing and implementing content marketing strategies, it’s not always easy to know exactly where to start.

(Click here to read our white paper on content marketing:

Here are the six tips that will help you use content marketing to grow revenues.

1. Tell better stories

Your words are your ambassadors and convey to your customers and prospects who you are. Many companies still don’t differentiate themselves enough through their writing voice. A compelling brand story gives your audience a way to connect with you, one person to another, and to view your business as what it is: a living, breathing entity run by real people offering real value.

Make truth the cornerstone of everything you create. Your marketing content should feature real people, real situations, genuine emotions and facts. As much as possible, it should show, not tell. It should explain—in terms people can relate to—how your company adds value to the lives of your customers.

2. Answer questions that people are asking
Remember and apply the most important tenet of content marketing: answer the questions your prospects ask. When buyers of any kind begin their journey, they fire-up Google ask a question, and will find an answer. As a marketer, the question becomes: will it be your answer they discover?

This idea should drive the content on your blog. Ask people to leave questions and use them as the basis for your blog posts.

3. Learn the skill of writing headlines

Headlines were the key tactic to make people buy newspapers, buy books and magazines. Now they make people click and share on the web and your mobile phone. Bloggers, publishers and content marketers are always on the lookout for attracting attention to drive traffic, engage with their readers and customers and make money. No clicks and you have no traffic. It’s that simple. So where do you start?

Nothing has changed. The headline is still the step and tactic that attracts attention and drives action.

4. Maintain a consistent narrative
Early in my career a marketing leader told me to “tell your story in three ways”—and that make me see the power of integrated marketing campaigns. Think about select 3-5 themes that tell your story (eg, product, company and industry) and evangelize theme across “integrated” campaigns consisting of blog posts, white papers, press releases and so on. This should increase the probability of them moving through your sales funnel.

5. Think about content promotion first 

Content promotion is the difference between brands with fans and anonymous content. Most people create content first, then think about content promotion as an afterthought. You’re better off flipping this on its head—plan out how you will promote your content before you create it.

If, for example, you want media coverage for your business, produce content that you think they want to cover, instead of trying to get media to cover things you want to talk about. This approach is much more likely to get the results you need, especially in the longer term

6. Use employee-generated content

Content is an ongoing activity, never a one-off campaign. Building your content funnel with employee-generated content will make it more varied and more likely to attract viewers. Best of all, employee-generated content is more often trusted by prospects—studies have highlighted that company advertising is trusted 47% of the time while company experts are trusted 66% of the time.

Thanks for reading. Do you agree with everything on this list?

Did we leave anything off?

Leave us a comment or question.

Friday, March 11, 2016

What is the relationship between good branding and price?

By Sharon Lee

Good branding enables you to charge more for your product. The fundamental rule of pricing tells us that the price charged for a product must match the value consumers perceive they are getting from that product. Great branding enables businesses to sell their products at premium prices. Why? Because buyers will pay the high price tag because they perceive the product to be worth it.

If all brands were new and they all launched new products on the same day, all of those products would have the same value perception in buyers’ minds—there hasn’t been time to build brand value perceptions.
Of course, each brand has its own unique tangible differentiators, but the intangible ones that lead consumers to become emotionally connected to brands take time to communicate and demonstrate consistently and persistently.

With that said, it’s easy for brands to price products according to tangible differentiators. For example, a high-definition television will have a higher price tag than a television without HD capabilities.

These types of tangible differentiators can cause price differences across different brands in the same category as well as across different products under the same brand umbrella if that brand has launched extensions within the same category. For example, an iPad with WiFi and 4G connectivity costs more than an iPad with just WiFi connectivity.

Think of pricing strategy as it pertains to brand value in terms of buyer “reference prices”—each consumer views a brand and its associated price tag in comparison to other brands and products available to them. Those other brands and products create a frame of reference for the buyer, and the buyer tries to fit each brand into a comfortable position in her mind, based on that frame of reference.

Brands and products with pricing that doesn’t fit well into that frame of reference are typically not even considered when it comes time for the consumer to make a purchase because they don’t make sense.

When creating a frame of reference for brands in a specific category, buyers consider a variety of factors to fit each brand into a position such as competitor prices, past experiences with brands in the category, past pricing experiences in the category, tangible differentiators (ie, features), and perception—it’s the perceptions part of reference prices that gives brands the opportunities to set prices based on intangible differentiators. In other words, buyer perceptions enable brands to compete on more than price alone.

Let’s face it. If price were the only factor that mattered in purchase decisions, everything we buy would be a lot cheaper and everyone would buy the same brands and products.

Price is just one part of brand value and purchase decisions. The challenge for marketers is finding the right price point to achieve maximum sales without damaging buyers’ perceptions of the brand’s overall value. Any brand can compete on price. Successful brands don’t rely on pricing alone, but that doesn’t mean pricing strategy isn’t important. On the contrary, striking the right balance between profits, brand value, and consumer perceptions of the brand is an ongoing process.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, February 26, 2016

5 tips for dealing with difficult customers

By David Ronald

With the good comes the bad and, in business, this sometimes means having to deal with difficult customers.

"The customer is always right" is a common adage but, as any experienced vendor knows, perhaps as the consequence of a painful experience, is an adage that’s untrue—your customers can be wrong and, indeed, can be wrong often.

What is true, however, is that the customer is always the customer, even if he is ill-informed, inexperienced or downright deceptive. And his status as customer, and source of your livelihood, dictates that you try your best to interact effectively with him.

But even simple personality differences can cause friction that, over time, risks destroying business relationships. And keeping a positive attitude when you must overcome feelings of frustration, dislike or distrust, can be especially challenging.

In this post I’m going to examine five communication skills that can enhance relationships with even your most difficult customers.

1. Listen

True listening is a disappearing art but, in order to communicate effectively with anyone, it's an imperative. Although the ear is only the organ that delivers sound waves to the brain, a good listener also engages her heart and mind. She does not allow herself to become distracted, but focuses on the speaker. She doesn't formulate answers before the speaker completes a statement. Nor does she give the appearance of being defensive.

2. Accept

Accept what the customer says at face value, even if you think he is wrong. He thinks he is right, and perception is the most important thing. If he perceives that you accept and believe him, he will be more likely to relax and get to the point. A common hallmark of strained interactions is that the main bone of contention is saved for last. The complainant will build up to his real issue by talking about the peripheral ones first. And that also allows him to build a mountain of anger out of his molehill of frustration.

3. Respect

If the customer receives respect from you, he will likely return it. If he feels disrespected, it will be perceived as a personal attack. Remember, you can learn something from anybody, regardless of education level, financial situation, or physical appearance. Everyone deserves respect simply for being human.

4. Empathize

You can offer sympathy to someone who is having a problem, but empathy will go much further toward achieving your goals. Put yourself in the customer's place. Wouldn't you be disgruntled or angry, or even fearful, if a product or service didn't perform according to its advertising or worse, caused some type of damage or injury?

5. Negotiate

If you successfully employ listening, accepting, respecting and empathizing, you will pave the way for negotiating. You will have put the difficult person at ease and he will be better prepared to drop his aggression and enter into negotiations, more confident of being treated with fairness, honesty and integrity.

Always try to resolve a customer's issue with one conversation—the quicker the issue is resolved the better the customer will feel about the interaction.

The reality is that problems will occur. Allow yourself to learn from difficult customers in a way that helps strengthen your business and increases the probability of your overall success.

You just may begin to be grateful for the difficult customers out there every now and again.

Thank for reading. Leave us a comment if you found this blog post useful.

Friday, February 19, 2016

7 tips for entrepreneurs who are managing for the first time

By Sharon Lee

Becoming a manager can be both a positive and overwhelming experience—management is not easy and requires a broad range of skills that take tie to acquire such as communication, coaching and motivating. But everyone needs to start somewhere and there some important steps that can make the transition a bit smoother.

Many entrepreneurs find themselves becoming first-time managers when the company they founded begins expanding. In this blog post I’m going to provide some tips for new managers who want to start strong and thrive as employee count grows.

1. Lead by example
Through the good times and bad, who are people going to look to when they need inspiration or an example for how to act? The answer is simple: you. You are now the example that others need to follow. The values you demonstrate, the way you handle adversity and ambiguity and the way you persevere through the biggest challenges, is now considered the measuring stick for how others will act and behave.

You are going to need to be very mindful of your emotions and how you react in certain situations. You are going to need to slow down, be patient and develop an informed perspective, so you can lead in a way that people will admire and model.

2. Stay in the trenches
Now that you are a manager it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do the “dirty work” that helped your business succeed in the first place. It is an endearing quality that your direct reports will respect when you are willing to do any job at any time to help them move forward.

Keep an eye on things day-to-day and when there is an opportunity to jump in and help, grab the opportunity and run with it. At the end of the day the success of the business is what matters and a culture where anyone, including you, is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish things is a culture that will thrive and endure.

3. Understand the importance of delegation
You are going to find early on that you want to be involved in everything your team is working on. The challenge here is that you cannot be everywhere at once. You need to create an environment where you are actively relying on others to help carry projects. You will still be informed, but you need to let others lead so they can grow their abilities and perspective.

When you need someone to step up and lead on your behalf, be clear on your expectations but also stress to them how important the opportunity is for them personally. When they know how important their role is they will feel even greater ownership towards ensuring an optimal outcome and their contributions will feel even more valuable.

4. Prioritize your one-on-one check-ins
Individual time with your direct reports is critical towards their success and overall career development. It is during this time that you need to keep an honest watch on priorities, metrics, and any questions that might be on their mind.

Set up the one-on-ones, so they happen at a regular and predictable cadence. Block the time on your calendar and do your best to respect this time.

5. Find a mentor
One of the first steps you should take is to find a mentor that you can go to when you have questions or need support. Find someone who has excelled at being the type of manager you want to be; ideally someone who has experience handling a diverse set of situations, so you can understand first-hand the pros and cons for handling certain situations certain ways.

Look outside your company, perhaps someone you worked with in a previous job, and find out if they are willing to provide guidance and feedback.

6. Be consistent
If you constantly flip-flop on decisions or how you make decisions, your team will start to lose trust in your ability to strategically lead. To be a consistent leader you need to be a patient leader. Take your time. Don’t respond to emails with irrational feedback. Don’t make a decision in the moment just because people are pushing you to do so. Find outlets that allow you to think through things. Write up emails and step away before you send them. This can be very hard for people at every level but sometimes the best thing you can do is just slow.

7. Know that relationships have changed
It’s not unusual for an entrepreneur to build a team with people who they have worked alongside in the past. Once you become their manager the relationship changes and you need to be transparent about that—you can never allow past relationships to cloud your business judgement.

You may need to set clear ground rules early on. But be as transparent as possible and if things feel weird, talk about it so you can collaborate on a solution.

Management is an important part of any business but it takes time to develop the skills you need to be effective at it.

Be patient with yourself and believe in yourself.

Your rewards will come in time…

Friday, February 12, 2016

Important advice for small businesses on designing powerful websites

By Sharon Lee

Creating a website that becomes a major revenue driver can be fun. Or it can be a nightmare.

There are some basic guidelines that can be applied to any design process and, if done so correctly, will make the design process easier and more likely to achieve the results you want.

Here are some rules that are most critical to modern web design:

1. Begin by mapping out the user experience

The best websites hold users’ hands and guide them through a specific workflow. The best websites are so intuitive, users don’t have to think at all in order to find their way around it—they are able to navigate through it on their first visit as quickly and nimbly as if it were their tenth.

So, how do you accomplish this?

First, resist the urge to include everything on your site. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and think about what information they’d want to find, in what order, rather than what information you want to share with them.

Then, think about what visual cues you can incorporate to draw eyes to the right places at the right times. I’m talking about things like large, high-contrast fonts, sharp visuals and specific trigger words users will be looking for, such as About, Contact or even Start Here.
2. Design for mobile first

78% of website views are happening outside of desktops. This means we’ve officially reached the point where you shouldn’t just be considering mobile devices in our design, but designing for them.

And that 78%? It’s only going to increase as mobile navigation improves, and as more and more devices are released. Tablets are the latest craze to throw the design world for a loop, and smart TVs might just be next.

3. Keep copy lean

Back when the phrase “content is king” started lighting up the internet world, some people accidentally misinterpreted it as “write a lot.”

As the internet becomes more and more sophisticated, people have grown progressively less tolerant of the word-vomit-style sites that used to be the norm. Now, we’re thrilled with websites that are bold enough to fill a screen with nothing but a single sentence—and we’re happy to scroll through five extra screens to read five more sentences (which, if they’d all been presented on one screen, we might have skipped).

4. Find a story that resonates

You’ve probably heard it at least a thousand times: good storytelling is critical for good web design. By telling users a story, instead of just checking off pieces of information, you’re engaging them in a real, human way, and you’re also helping them understand and remember your message.

The trick is to find a story that resonates with and intrigues people. Your story is not the history of your business (not even if that’s a cool story about how a couple of young, inexperienced guys launched something great out of their garage…or what have you).

Most importantly, your story must do two things:
  • relate directly to your target audience’s problems
  • present a way that the target audience can make their lives better. 

5. Show your authenticity

Avoid stock photography as much as possible. Instead, use photos of things we found around your office, like shoes, mugs and office tchotchkes. Alternatively, use images that are descriptive and unique to your business.

Why does authenticity matter? Because in today’s marketplace, it’s not the biggest, strongest, most well-established companies that win—it’s the relatable companies. The ones that seem to understand us, not just as prospects, but as fellow human beings.

6. Remember that the site isn’t done when it’s live

I can’t stress this one enough. Too often, people view the go-live date for a new design treated as a finish line, when it’s really just another step in the journey. There are plenty of things you can and should be doing with your website post-live to both maintain and optimize your web presence.

Designing a website involves many factors and, when done right, produces results. There are pitfalls, however, and I’m hoping this post will help you avoid them.

Friday, February 5, 2016

9 secrets of successful video marketing campaigns

By Scott Mason

No other form of marketing can have the emotional impact of video.

Some business owners, however, consider video to be difficult to create: time-consuming and expensive. And they are sometimes disappointed with the amount of effort it takes to produce a video versus the amount of exposure and visibility that it actually receives.

In this blot post I’m going to provide 9 tips that will increase the probability of your video appearing high in a search engine list and being viewed by thousands of people.
1. Create compelling content

Before creating a video, think of what the online community will be interested in—making a video that is compelling to a niche audience will result in great organic growth. In my prior post I described seven different types of video (here's a link to that post: Think carefully about the one that will resonate best with your audience.

2. Optimize your content

Once your video has been completed think about what keywords you want your video to rank high for. Since Google owns YouTube, the search engine giant gives a lot of weight to videos posted on that property when compiling organic search lists.

3. Create a strong call-to-action

During the video editing process create a lower third graphic that is unobtrusive to the video content. Include the website URL that you’d like to promote as well as your logo and a phone number because this is ideal for driving traffic from the video to your company’s website.

Another good idea is to create an end screen for the video that has a call-to-action. This will be the last memory the viewer takes away from your video so give them a reason to visit your website!

4. Upload your video to YouTube

YouTube is the second most popular search engine in the world—over one billion unique users view content on the site each month and more than six billion hours of video are watched every 30 days. Uploading your video to YouTube provide the possibility of content being seen by a huge global audience.

5. Share, share, share

Share your video across numerous blogs and social media channels. The more often your video is shared, the more visibility it will receive—as in link building, if your video is picked up on numerous websites, the search engines will view this content as more powerful which can improve your organic ranking for the video.

6. The more interaction, the better

The more “likes” you receive on your video and the more comments you obtain, the better. Just like a social media post, the more buzz that your video receives will result in greater exposure. For example, if a video receives 20+ combined comments and “Likes” and also generates over 100 views, the more likely there will be spike in YouTube and organic search results.

7. Add a transcript to your YouTube videos

Most people are not aware that you can upload a transcript on YouTube—creating a word document based off of what the subject featured in the video is saying. Since major keywords that you want to rank high for will likely be included in the script, this will provide SEO “juice” for your video.

(Click here to learn more about creating YouTube transcripts:

8. Seek subscribers
The more subscribers you have, the easier it will be for you to gain publicity for a new video that has been recently uploaded. Did you know that when someone subscribes to your YouTube channel, your most recent video will appear on the homepage of their account—therefore, you can expose your content to wider audiences by subscribing to other channels that are interesting and actively participate in comment discussions.

9. Upload your videos to other networks

Although YouTube is certainly the best bet for obtaining online exposure for your video, properties such as DailyMotion, Vimeo and Break will also provide added exposure. (Sites like Vimeo cost money to sign-up for but, depending on your wants and needs for your video, it could very well be worth it.)

Okay, enough from me…

Now is a great time to get started with video marketing campaigns—with compelling content and good SEO exposure, this rich form of media will help you obtain more publicity. Happy story telling!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Good branding will accelerate your business’s growth

By Sharon Lee

A strong brand gives you an edge over your competitors.

Branding is not only about getting your prospects to select you over the competition, it is also about getting your prospects to see you as the sole provider of a solution to their problem.

Your brand is the sum total of many aspects of your business. Branding includes a name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of these elements that identify products or services of a seller.

The objectives that good branding will achieve include:
  • Clearly delivers the message
  • Builds your credibility
  • Emotionally connects your target prospects with your product and or service.
  • Motivates the prospect to buy
  • Creates user loyalty
To succeed in branding, you must understand the needs and wants of your prospects and customers. This achieved by integrating your brand strategy through your company at every point of public contact—think of branding as the expression of who you are as a company or organization and what you offer.

If your brand could speak, how would it complete the following statements:
  • I am ________________
  • I exist because ________________
  • If you relate to who I am and why I exist you might like me, you can buy me and you can tell others about me
If you are effective in creating a good brand, it will live within the hearts and minds of prospects and customers. It is the sum total of their experiences and perceptions, some of which you can influence, and some that you cannot.

A strong brand is invaluable when you battle for customers every day. It's important to spend time investing in researching, defining, and building your brand. After all, your brand is the source of a promise to your buyers.

 A brand is a foundational component of your marketing communications and one you do not want to be without. A brand is strategic and marketing is tactical and what you use to get your brand in front of consumers. That's why it carries a great deal of importance within a business or organization as well.

Your brand serves as a guide to understanding the purpose of business objectives. It enables you to align a marketing plan with those objectives and fulfill the overarching strategy.

The effectiveness of brand doesn't just happen before the purchase, but it's also about the life of the brand of the experience it provides to buyers. Did the product or service perform as expected? Was the quality as good as promised or better? How was the service experience? If you can get positive answers to these questions you've created a loyal customer.

And it’s important to realize that good branding not only creates loyal customers, but also loyal employees. It helps them understand the purpose of the organization or the business—a strong brand gives your team something to believe in, something to stand behind.

Defining and developing a brand takes expertise, care and effort…

Friday, January 22, 2016

9 simple rules for creating ads that work

By David Ronald

All businesses need promotion. After all, no matter how awesome your company’s product or service is, if you don’t advertise, nobody will know about it.

Advertising is a little bit of a black art. Some ads go are highly effective while others hurt more than help. It can take a bit of trial and error to create an advertisement that really works. Here are 9 simple tips that will increase the odds of your success.

1. Determine what will make you stand out—identify and evangelize the key things that will make your prospects pay attention to your company’s product or service. Show your potential customers why your business should be their number one choice and why they shouldn’t even consider your competitors. If you do this effectively, there is a good chance they won’t.

2. Use a headline that grabs viewers’ attention—people are exposed to multiple ads each day and can’t possibly read each one. This is why you have to make sure that your ad actually grabs and keeps their attention. Some headlines are newsworthy, such as in the release of a new service or product. Others have a very strong benefit. Most are specific, as opposed to general, in their facts.

3. Focus on benefits—explaining the features of your products or services is important, but articulating the benefits for the buyer is what it’s all about. After all, people are more interested in what they get from your services than what you do.

4. Make people an offer they can’t refuse—buyers love a bargain, so offer them a good one increases the probability of a sale. Once you come up with your irresistible offer, make sure that you advertise it proudly. When people see that you have something great to offer them, they will have a difficult time resisting it.

5. Make your offer as risk-free as possible—people are nervous about spending their money. And if people fear that they’re going to lose their money and regret their purchase, they are unlikely to purchase your product. But, if you remove these doubts, people are given an incentive to give your product or service a try. So it’s a great idea to offer a money-back guarantee.

6. Use testimonials—people trust other consumers and want to know what they have to say about a company. You can’t make people look for online reviews about your business, but you can give them the same peace of mind by adding a testimonial from a current client who is pleased with what you have to offer. Seeing that other buyers just like them are happy with your product can encourage potential customers to give you a try.

7. Include a call to action—don’t just inform your prospects about what your company has to offer; encourage them to take action. Tell them directly to click on your ad, order your product, pay for your service, etc. For example, your call to action can encourage people to email you for more information, to fill out a form to find out more about your services, to join your weekly or monthly email newsletter or purchase your product.

8. Create a sense of urgency—you don’t want to just plant a seed with your ad, you want people to move forward. Consider, for example, making an irresistible time-limited offer. Or bring in an upcoming season or event when your product will come in handy to make people buy now.

9. Complete contact information—your ad should include a link to your website for more information as part of the contact information. If your offer include an offer to download collateral, consider making that item gated (ie, the viewer has to provide their contact information before accessing it). Include a QR code if your advertisement is in hardcopy format.

Advertising is important and good advertising will help your company succeed.

Thanks for reading.

Leave us a comment if you found this information useful.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Lean concepts can ensure your startup succeeds

By David Ronald

You may have had a great idea for a game-changing product and started your own business. And you may have launched your product and experienced some early success.

Before long, however, cracks began to appear and the numbers started heading in the wrong direction. Things aren’t working out quite the way you had expected.

Don’t panic. Many founders think that the first version of their product will also be the final one—in reality, however, significant refinement is almost always necessary.

Here are some suggestions for how you can use lean startup concepts, popularized by Eric Reis (, to improve your business:

1. Use evidence to unlock success
Lean startup concepts move beyond favourable opinions and towards gathering valuable, usable evidence. Adopting it enables you truly observe the effects of a product, seeing it in action and recording exactly how it is received externally—it allows you to measure what works and what doesn’t. As many businesses are now adept with using analytical tools and measurement systems this shouldn’t be daunting. Think of lean as a scientific method, with change grounded in data from behavior, not whims.

2. Reprogram your attitude to failure
While I’m a fan of Ries, I also share the success story of inventor Dr Norm Larsen ( to help others understand why we chose to go lean. Although he may not have realized it at the time, Larsen implemented a lean approach when he devised his most famous product: WD-40. Viewing his work as an experiment, he constantly adjusted and refined the product until satisfied, which is exactly what we do. You know why Larsen’s product is called WD-40? Because versions one to 39 all had failings.

We can learn a lot from Larsen’s persistence and approach. It shows how rethinking our attitude to failure can enable us to learn and adjust quickly, bringing us closer to success.

3. Climb aboard
The lean approach involves your entire company, not just management. For it to work, everyone needs to be invested. I’ve found that once staff are signed up and have a sense of ownership and involvement, they will work with you to achieve tangible goals. It’s all about empowerment; Team members will work towards collective success based on their individual performance, not distant corporate objectives.

I strive to create an environment where people aren’t scared to try new things or speak up when they feel adjustments should be made. This approach has helped me create a culture of collaboration and innovation, which has invigorated the company across all departments and levels.

4. Take a practical and philosophical approach
You may wonder how to maintain momentum when the business flourishes beyond the startup stage. Positive or negative, all business changes must be consistently addressed and managed. A key consideration of lean is that ultimately it’s a mindset. With the right care, attention and with the senior management team leading from the front, a lean culture can be maintained with scale and with confidence.

5. Take as much (or as little) from it as you want
Remember, when it comes to going lean you can be a fan without being fanatical. With the Ries model, we take from it what we need and tailor it to our business. Like all business approaches, nothing is set in stone. That’s the beauty of lean: It encourages constant analysis, adaptation and refinement.

It’s within the capabilities of your business to achieve success. If you value business or product development as a constant work in progress, the lean startup approach can give you the framework to help your business flourish.

Thanks for reading.

Leave us a comment if you found this information useful.

Friday, January 8, 2016

5 secrets of successful word-of-mouth marketing campaigns

By David Ronald

Companies that achieve word-of-mouth success story typically don’t accomplish it by chance—they have, instead, thoughtfully planned and developed marketing campaigns intended to create buzz.

Examples of companies or organizations that have done a fabulous job with word-of-mouth marketing include Apple (who wasn’t talking about the new iPhone 6?) and the ALS Association (their Ice Bucket Challenge went viral in a matter of days).

(Click here to read our white paper on word-of-mouth marketing:

While all of these companies/organizations are completely different, they employed similar strategies in launching their campaigns.

To follow in their footsteps, your WOM (word-of-mouth) marketing should:

1. Be unique—in order for your campaign to be effective, irrespective of whether you’re offering a new product or service, it has to be unique. In the examples above, the companies offered something that no one before had ever offered. While you may not have the means to develop an entirely new unique product line, you do have the means to think about marketing that product in a way that is creative and engaging.

2. Send a message—just as important as being unique is sending a message that meets consumer needs. People don’t just love Apple because their products perform better – they love Apple because their products are trendy, user-friendly, and look awesome. When you purchase an Apple product, you’re saying, “I’m hip,” or “I’m technologically savvy,” (ie, the message that Apple sends to its customers is that an Apple product will make you cool). If you want people to talk about your product, then you need to create a message for buyers that is just as tempting.

3. Guide the conversation—the point of WOM marketing is that it focuses on one customer talking to another potential customer about your product. Remember, however, that when people talk, the talk isn’t always positive. If you want to improve your marketing strategy, you can take small steps to guide the conversation that people are having about your brand. For example, you can highlight and promote certain products or services in store, on your website, and on any of your social media sites. One word of advice that will help you to direct (or avoid) negative conversation is this—if you have any potentially bad PR that people may discover, you should get it out in the open sooner rather than later—honesty is key to WOM marketing success.

4. Broaden the buzz—if people are talking about your product, that’s great—your WOM marketing is well on its way to being effective. A few people, however, talking about your brand is not nearly enough to make your marketing as successful as it could be. Once people start talking, it’s your job to broaden the buzz by building communities on social media, reaching out to influencers, and sending out hints about business or product updates, news and other exciting ideas.

5. Not ignore basics—while you should certainly look to companies with successful WOM strategies for inspiration, ensure that you don’t forget about the most basic element of a marketing campaign: your customers—if you want your customers to love you and to talk about how much they love you, you have to exceed their expectations. And do so consistently. Offering great customer service, going out of your way to keep customers happy, and always putting the customer first is the most essential aspect of a WOM marketing campaign.

Great word-of-mouth marketing epitomizes all of the elements mentioned above and employ all of the strategies that other companies have used to be effective.

Thanks for reading.

Leave us a comment if you found this information useful.

Friday, January 1, 2016

12 marketing tools that will help grow your revenues

By David Ronald

Building a company is an exciting venture, but creating and sustaining demand for what you are selling can be challenging. This is where marketing comes in.

There are many marketing options available to help a startup grow revenues. In this blog post I’m going to review the key ones:
  • Advertising—the goal of advertising is to attract new customers. After all, no matter how awesome your company’s product or service is, if you don’t advertise, nobody will know about it. Although there are many forms of online advertising, some of the most effective methods are search engine ads, banner ads and social media ads. Click here to read more about these three different types of advertising:
  • Branding—a powerful brand increases the probability of your company’s success. A strong identity builds awareness, evangelizes your company’s story and, ultimately, increases return on your investment. A brand is much more than a name or a logo—it’s the sum of all the creative touch points of your company. And a strong identity gives you an edge over your competitors. Here’s a blog post describing how we developed the Alphabet brand:
  • Content marketing—content marketing alters the way you sell by shifting the focus from hyping your products to adding value to prospects’ decision making. Content marketing is about creating relevant, informative and unbiased content that attracts buyers and converts them to loyal customers. Click here for our white paper on content marketing:
  • Go-to-market strategy—good marketing seldom occurs by chance. Developing a marketing plan is priceless because it sharpens your awareness of what makes your business unique and how to evangelize it effectively. A well-crafted marketing plan explains the benefits of your product, evangelizes how you are better than your competitors, describes the channels you will use to reach your target audience and how you intend to price your product. Click here for an article describing why marketing planning is priceless:
  • Messaging—a comprehensive and carefully-crafted marketing messaging architecture should underpin all your evangelism, from your sales collateral to your media interactions. This architecture informs how you talk about who you are and why you exist; it communicates key points you consistently make when you reach out to your target audiences. See this article for an explanation as to why vendor personas are an important consideration in messaging:
  • Public relations—good PR is about building and sustaining a groundswell of brand support, incrementally changing buyer behaviors via a steady stream of relevant and candid communication to both media and consumers. A well-constructed PR campaign ensures your company is seen in the right places and remembered for the right reasons—and, perhaps most importantly, at the right time. Click here to learn what startups can accomplish with good PR:
  • SEO—search engine optimization can have a dramatic effect on the success of any business regardless of its size. And, while some people may want you to think that it takes years of dedicated study to understand SEO, the truth is that you can learn the fundamentals in hours. Moreover, SEO is steadily becoming more intuitive and less technical. Check out this article for seven tips on how your company can leverage SEO and increase sales:
  • Sales enablement—your success maps directly to the proficiency of your company’s sales team. How does sales enablement help? The goal of sales enablement is to ensure that every one of your sales reps has the training, tools and metrics needed to optimize each interaction with buyers. Click on this link for our white paper on sales enablement:
  • Social media marketing—why should you utilize social media marketing? When used correctly, social media can be an effective tool for growing your business—it can send traffic to your website and convert visitors into leads and customers. The benefit of using social media to market your business is that no matter how specific your business is there is an audience for you on social media. Here’s a description of how social media can help any company grow revenues:
  • Video marketing—video is one of the most effective forms of marketing. It is a powerful way to connect with your audience on an emotional level and increase consumer engagement. It can also give people a reason to talk about you—video is shared more than any other source of content. And, once in a while, a video goes viral. What’s more, research shows that over half of buyers feel more confident about buying a product or service after watching a video. Read this blog post to learn more:
  • Website design—a website is one of the most important investments you can make. You want a website that captures interest, holds it and brings you sales. If your site looks professional, your potential clients will think you’re a professional who has enough clients and enough income to have a site built for you. If potential clients visit your site and it looks half-assed and home-built that’s how they’ll perceive you. Click here for five secrets that website designers don’t tell you:
  • Word-of-mouth marketing— Word-of-mouth marketing helps create and sustain demand for what you are selling by nurturing a passionate community that speaks positively about you. At a minimum, this community should consist of your customers, who can serve as references, participate in webinars and speak at conferences. It should also include media and analysts who provide favorable coverage of your company and product. And can also include influencers such as industry luminaries and bloggers. Click here for our white paper on WOM marketing:
I hope you found this review of marketing tools useful. Did we leave something of this list? If so, leave us a comment telling us what it was.

Thanks for reading.