Archive for June 2016

28 June, 2016 15:14

June 28, 2016

Many people work their entire lives to achieve a leadership role within an organization. They’ve put in their time, tirelessly working their way up through the ranks and then, it finally happens: they’re trusted enough to be given the responsibility of bringing a team together for the benefit of a business’s long-term goals. And yet, unfortunately, far too many people tend to veer off course with this almost immediately by assuming that respect is a given (which we’ve talked in detail about before), and by looking at "the team" as one thing and the "team leader" as something separate. They’re not separate, and they never were. The sooner this is understood, the sooner you’ll be generating the types of results you were after.

There IS an "I" in Team – It’s Just Silent

An old saying has told us for years that "there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’", meaning that in order to become a successful, respected leader, you have to put aside your own needs and look at yourself as just one part of a larger whole. While this is certainly true, from the perspective of a leader there actually IS a pretty important "I" in team. It’s just that most people use it incorrectly.

As a leader, you don’t lead by delegating authority or even by simply demanding excellence from those around you. You lead by example. You always have (whether you realize it or not) and you always will. You set the tone for everything that happens. Think about it – if you like to joke around throughout the work day, your team members will probably joke around a bit, too. If you like to keep things a bit more on the serious side, the mood of your team members will reflect that.

This is a clear-cut example of the two-way street of team leadership, and it is one you NEED to know how to use to your advantage. Never, under any circumstances, should you ask something of your employees that you would be unwilling to do yourself. Don’t say to your new graphic designer, Timothy, "Hey, we’re a bit behind on this upcoming project and I need you to come in on the weekend." Instead, say, "Hey, so that we can get caught up, I’m going to be coming in on the weekend and I would really appreciate it if you could find the time to as well." This goes above and beyond just showing your team members that they’re appreciated. It lets them know that you’re not JUST the team leader, you’re a part of the team as well. Of course, you might not always be able to come in on the weekend yourself, but showing your willingness is more of the idea here.

Pay attention to the way this idea plays out in visual cues, as well. If you want your employees to dress more professionally in the office, don’t call them together and reprimand them for their current appearance while you’re wearing beach shorts and flip-flops. Doing so will end in slowly chipping away at that high-functioning team you worked so hard to build in the first place. If you show up every day at the office dressed in a suit and tie, just watch how your employees will rise to meet your dress code.

A Team Shares EVERYTHING

This idea also plays out in how you celebrate your accomplishments or lack thereof. By making yourself a more ingrained part of the team and sharing the challenges, it means that you truly get to share in the victories as well. Remember – you don’t work in a vacuum. When a project finishes successfully, people may want to give you the credit because "you told the right people to do the right things." You didn’t. Never forget that you’re just one small part of a larger whole. If you were willing to share the challenges, you have to share the victories as well – this means that any success is the TEAM’S success, not yours.

In the end, the phrase "team leader" is actually something of a misnomer. People tend to think of it as immediately positive – you’re in a position of authority and that is something to be celebrated. While this may be true, it’s also something that can be far too easily abused – even unintentionally – if you’re not careful. If a chain (or team) is only as strong as its weakest link, you need to understand that the weakest link will ALWAYS be the team leader by default. Your number one priority is making sure that the entire team is moving forward through the way you treat your team members, the way you behave, and the way you show them that you’re all in this together.

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As a Leader, Helping Your Employees Grow is One of Your Most Important Jobs

June 24, 2016

As a leader within your organization, it’s understandable to feel like the list of things you have to look over gets longer and longer all the time. While you’re being pulled in so many different directions, it can be easy to forget about one of your most important jobs of all: doing everything in your power to make sure that your employees are getting better and stronger with each passing day. Make no mistake: this is absolutely something you’ll want to spend time thinking about every day for a number of compelling reasons.

Helping Your Employees, One Step at a Time

One of the most important ways that you can help your employees grow is by encouraging them to take an active role in their own professional development. One of the major reasons that you became the leader you are today is because you were not content to "spin your wheels" as far as your career was concerned. Help your employees understand that the status quo is never something they should be satisfied with and provide them with guidance in the form of mentorship opportunities along the way.

Another one of the most important ways that you can help your employees grow involves showing that you trust them by constantly pushing them outside of their comfort zones. One of the ways that we get better in our professional lives involves stepping outside the box we normally live in and doing something that makes us fear what might happen. By constantly challenging your employees, you not only help them move forward – you help show how valuable they are to both you and your organization by establishing a bond of trust that is very difficult to break.

An Investment in Your Employees is an Investment in Your Future

Another reason why helping your employees grow is one of your most important jobs has to do with the positive effect it can have on your company as a whole. Think about things from a hiring perspective – you aren’t just looking for someone to fulfill certain job duties. Anybody can do that. You’re looking for someone who can regularly surprise you and exceed your expectations on a daily basis. If you’re having a hard time finding or attracting these candidates in the interviewing process, the next best thing is to essentially build them yourself by investing in their development over time.

This not only presents you with a workforce capable of doing higher quality work on a daily basis, but it also helps cement your business’s reputation in your industry and with your own clients as an entity that can be trusted and relied on. Yes, it’s true that this will also make your employees more marketable. But with benefits like these, this is one risk that you should be more than willing to take.

At the end of the day, outward success in the world of business begins from within. By looking at your employees as what they are – a solid foundation from which to build the business you’ve always dreamed of – you can then begin strengthening that foundation brick by brick through employee growth and development initiatives. Not only will your employees themselves thank you, but your clients and ultimately your bottom line will thank you, as well.

Using Customer Data to Create a More Powerful Customer Experience

June 21, 2016

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.

Mutual Respect: The Secret Ingredient When It Comes to Managing Employees

June 17, 2016

Many business leaders are still operating under the mistaken impression that the key ingredient to managing employees involves learning how to delegate responsibility. So long as you tell the right people to complete the right tasks, your business should pretty much run itself, right?

Wrong.

You can’t just demand that your employees dedicate a huge part of their waking days to helping you accomplish your own professional goals. They have to want it. You can’t buy it, either – high salaries and competitive benefits help, but they’ll only ultimately carry you so far.

So how do you make not only managing employees easier than ever, but also turn them into true, loyal team members instead of passive subordinates at the same time?

The answer is simple: mutual respect.

What is Mutual Respect?

The most important idea to understand about mutual respect is that you’re dealing with a two-way street. You can’t force someone to respect you just because you happen to be their boss or because your name is on the door. You have to earn it. You have to show them that you’re worthy of it.

However, generating mutual respect isn’t as easy as flipping a light switch. It involves a lot of small things that eventually add up to a pretty significant whole. It’s about being genuine in your interactions with employees. It’s about going out of your way to do the right thing and recognize a job well done. It’s about making sure that all employees, regardless of position, have an equal voice in all decisions that affect them. It’s about taking the time to show an employee that those eight hours they spend in the office on a Sunday didn’t go unnoticed. That they were appreciated. That you wouldn’t be where you are without them.

What Mutual Respect Means in the Long Run

If you’re able to foster an environment where mutual respect occurs organically, you’ll begin to feel a wide range of different benefits almost immediately. Mutual respect means that an employee is willing to put in a little extra effort and work harder because they know that you appreciate what they do and that you would be willing to do the same if the situation was reversed. Mutual respect means that if you do make a mistake, an employee is going to give you the benefit of the doubt because it’s the same courtesy you’ve afforded them in the past.

Mutual respect also means that all employees understand and even believe that they have an equal voice. They don’t feel like they work FOR you, they feel like they work WITH you – because you feel the exact same way. Even when a conflict does arise, it never gets heated or even contentious because people who respect each other don’t argue and fight over issues, they discuss them like civilized adults.

These are some of the many reasons why mutual respect is the secret ingredient when it comes to managing employees. Creating a workplace where mutual respect is encouraged creates a "trickle down" effect almost immediately – conflict management is easier, collaboration is more efficient, and even the types of personality or cultural differences that stood to divide employees in the past only work to bring them together.

Mutual respect allows everyone to come to the simple yet important realization that at the end of the day, you’re all part of the same team.

4 Trends Affecting Small Businesses This Year

June 14, 2016

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.

Crafting Your Brand to Communicate Your Unique Sales Proposition

June 10, 2016

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.

When it Comes to Your Marketing Goals, Don’t Forget About Consumer Education

June 3, 2016

Whenever you begin to execute a marketing campaign, you’re usually trying to service a few key goals at the same time. One of your top priorities is most likely brand awareness – you don’t just want to get the word out about a product or service, but you’re also trying to position your company as an authority on a particular topic. You may also want to help inform your target audience about the product in question. One of the most important marketing goals that far too many people overlook until it’s too late, however, is consumer education. When it comes to your objectives, consumer education must ALWAYS be a top priority for a number of key reasons.

The Benefits of the Consumer Education Push

For marketers themselves, an increased emphasis on consumer education brings with it a host of different benefits that can’t be ignored. For starters, it allows you to take a deeper level of control over the narrative that you’re trying to tell than ever before. You’re essentially reframing the information that consumers are actively looking for in a much more positive way. Instead of making a declarative statement with your campaign like, "Here are all of the amazing and incredible features that my product or service has," you get to instead take a decidedly less sales-oriented approach and offer advice like, "Here are the problems you have, here is why you have them, and here is how my product or service is the answer you’ve been looking for."

Perhaps the biggest benefit of all to taking a consumer education approach to marketing, however, is that you’re no longer trying to convince your customers that your product or service is necessary. Instead, you get to essentially PROVE that it’s necessary and let your customer base come to the same conclusion on their own. This helps to deepen the sense of confidence that consumers get from your company, which almost always leads to loyalty sooner rather than later.

Transforming the Landscape

Another key thing to keep in mind about making consumer education one of your core marketing objectives has to do with the subtle ways in which you change the relationship between company and customer. With consumer education, marketing is no longer a passive approach. Instead, it’s decidedly active – consumers are no longer HEARING about your product or READING about it, they’re LEARNING about it. They’re engaged with your materials in a whole new way. It officially transforms the marketing experience into a two-way street by way of empowerment. Consumers will WANT to keep learning about what you have to say and what you have to offer, helping to increase penetration rates at the same time. The more satisfied with the marketing experience a consumer is, the more confident they ultimately are with the ways in which they spend your money. If you can turn the tide of the conversation in your direction through consumer education, you’re looking at a powerful opportunity that you can no longer afford to ignore.

These are just a few of the reasons why consumer education NEEDS to be one of your marketing goals at all times. Not only does it bring with it the added benefit of affecting consumer behavior in a positive way, but it also helps establish you and your organization as the authority on a particular topic that people are actively looking for.