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As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to get swept up in the allure of branding. If something is cool and pretty and makes us swoon, won’t that same logo and color scheme draw in customers like flies to honey? The answer is… maybe, maybe not. And you’d be wise to find out before fully investing in your branding. Customer research may sound unexciting, expensive, or both. But it’s the difference between upward growth, and flatlining revenue. Skip this step at your own peril.

For example: one of my clients is a home organization company. I’ve never hired a home organizer, but I felt like I had a good grasp on who does. Turns out, I was dead wrong. And how did I learn that? By speaking directly with the company’s clients. They told me a bit about themselves and why they hired a home organizer.

The goal of your research at this point is to figure out what exactly your customers are actively looking for. And, heads up, what they’re searching for might be different than the need you’ve identified in the market.

In “This is Marketing,” Seth Godin says “…it’s not helpful to imagine that everyone knows what you know, wants what you want, believes what you believe.”

Rather, he advises marketers that, “The way we make things better is by caring enough about those we serve to imagine the story that they need to hear. We need to be generous enough to share that story, so they can take action they’ll be proud of.”

Related: What Goes In to Market Research and How Much Does it Cost?

A great example from the book is a case study in which nonprofit organization, VisionSpring, sent a team to sell affordable glasses to a village in India where 65 percent of adults needed corrective eyewear, and hadn’t previously had access to glasses.

What Godin discovered was that a simple change in messaging and presentation doubled sales.

If you’re not investigating which messages resonate with your target audience, and what messaging scares them away, then you’re likely leaving major money on the table.

The research process doesn’t end once you’ve achieved product market fit, either. Once you nail down your product offering, it takes another layer of research to figure out how to share that product.

Here are four simple ways to implement consumer messaging research without huge investment:

  1. Observe your customers in real life

If you’re an e-commerce brand, it’s easy to think that you don’t have to put in any face-to-face time, but engaging directly with customers will give you insights worth their weight in gold. Consider holding local pop-up events to meet your customers, or attend events where you know they’ll be present.

  1. Use free survey tools

You should send a survey to your customers at least once a year. They don’t have to be complex, although they can be if you have someone with survey expertise on your team. To get started, you can use a free tool like Typeform or Survey Monkey.

  1. Interview your customers

Yes, this means old fashioned questions and answers. Send a select group of past or current customers an email, schedule a time to chat, and then ask them about their experience with your company’s product or service, what problems or hassles they’ve experienced with it (if any), and how your product or service has solved their problem. It’s old fashioned, but it works.

  1. Read Amazon reviews

Joanna Wiebe, founder of Copyhackers and pioneer of conversion copywriting, has gotten clients great results using simple research techniques like review mining. That means going on Amazon and reading through reviews for books and products in your startup’s general category.

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For example, if your business sells online gardening courses, that means reading reviews for gardening books and looking at what people are saying about their struggles with getting plants to grow (and stay alive), along with any topical questions.

Once you’ve done that, you can add those nuggets of information to your customer research data. By taking the time to conduct customer research and finding out who your consumers really are, you can then build a brand around those traits, characteristics and needs. In the end, it will give you and your business an extra advantage.

The post 4 Simple Ways to Implement Customer Research on a Budget appeared first on StartupNation.

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When it comes to setting yourself apart, the challenge of differentiating your company and what you sell is a tough one. Unless your product or service is truly industry-disrupting (and most successful ones aren’t), it can be difficult to communicate how your company is different. After all, everyone is touting their “quality customer service.”

But there’s a way that even non-revolutionary products and services can stand out against competitors. Thought leadership can help you gain a firm foothold in the marketplace by demonstrating your unique value in a way that customers can understand and remember.

Thought leadership isn’t a new idea. But many founders aren’t sure how to leverage it. In this post, you’ll learn a step-by-step process for using thought leadership to distinguish your brand.

Uncover your true UVP

First and foremost, you need to figure out what you do especially well — and from your customers’ perspective. What do you bring to the table that your competitors either don’t bring at all or don’t bring well? The intersection of what you do exceptionally well and what your customers value is the sweet spot for targeting your thought leadership.

How can you uncover your true unique value proposition (UVP)? There’s no better way than talking to your customers. Ask them what they appreciate most about working with you. Find out what it is that they always share when making a referral or recommending your company. Ask them why they chose you over your competitors. The answers may surprise you. Often, your UVP from your customers’ point of view isn’t what you thought it would be.

Related: Finding a Balance Between Thought Leadership and Content Marketing Create a content strategy around your UVP

Next, come up with a series of broad topics around your UVP. Then, mind map subtopics for each of those broad topics. Once you’ve completed your brainstorming session, put a star by the topics that allow you to highlight the areas where you shine — your expertise, your perspectives, your process, your ideas.

Using these starred topics, identify your topic clusters and consider which would be ideal topics for a book, a talk, a lead magnet, guest articles that you could contribute to publications your target audience reads, blog posts, etc.

Finally, create a spreadsheet with your plan, attaching target dates for publication to each item.

Get out there

The third step is to publicize and pitch your thought leadership material. This step can be the hardest, especially for founders who are introverts or ambiverts. But you can’t attract customers if they don’t see your thought leadership material!

Create a promotion strategy that identifies which publications you’ll pitch, which conferences you’ll submit speaking proposals to, and how you’ll build your email list using your lead magnet. Then add your promotion plan for each item to your spreadsheet.

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Once you have your thought leadership plan in place, it’s time to start putting it into action. But just creating content isn’t the goal. You want your audience to pay attention and engage. Here are a few tips to increase your rate of success.

  • Look at what’s already out there, and take a different angle. No one wants to read the same regurgitated articles over and over. Doing a quick Google search on your proposed topic will tell you what’s already been covered. Aim to tackle your topic from a different angle, or go deeper than existing content does.
  • Don’t be afraid of controversy. Controversy attracts attention. While you don’t want to be contrarian just for the sake of it, if you have a strong opinion based on the values your company is based on, speak out. You may turn some people off, but you’ll attract those who share your values like a magnet. Follow Starbucks’ playbook, or HubSpot’s — make your position loud and clear.
  • Partner with others who share your target audience. Partnering gives you exposure to a wider audience. Host a webinar with an industry organization or a company that offers a complementary product or service to yours. Get interviewed on podcasts that target your audience. Create a special offer with a company that offers a complementary product or service.

Thought leadership is one of the most powerful ways to differentiate your brand because it’s lasting. Once you become known for something, people will not only associate you with your UVP, they’ll also better communicate your value to others.

The post How to Use Thought Leadership to Distinguish Your Brand appeared first on StartupNation.

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The following is excerpted from “Applied Empathy: The New Language of Leadership” by Michael Ventura. Copyright © 2019 by Michael Ventura. Reprinted by permission of Atria, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Empathy is a squishy word. Sometimes it’s confused with sympathy or misinterpreted as “being nice.” That isn’t empathy. Empathy is about understanding. Empathy lets us see the world from other points of view and helps us form insights that can lead us to new and better ways of thinking, being, and doing.

The words business and empathy are rarely used together—in fact, for some of us they might even sound oxymoronic, but there are incredible benefits to taking on others’ perspectives in the context of our professional lives. Empathy is not some out-of-reach mystical power. Instead it is a skill that each of us can make a part of our daily practice and ultimately bring into the organizations we serve, applying empathy to:

  • Understanding your customers’ needs and improving your products and services by infusing them with rich, meaningful insights gleaned from a newfound perspective.
  • Connecting and collaborating with your teams more effectively—understanding the skills and styles of each person and how to get the most out of your interactions.
  • Leading with a new awareness that will undoubtedly aid you in not only understanding others better but, perhaps more important, understanding the truest aspects of your own self.

Applying empathy may seem obvious for one-to-one interactions, and it is a critical part of any good relationship, but it’s also a powerful advantage when applied at the business level to gain perspective within your company’s walls and in the world within which the company operates.

There are countless instances in the business world where companies have missed the opportunity to apply empathy, many of them paying dearly for the oversight.

Related: Tapping Into Empathy: Turn Your Everyday Insights Into the Next Big Thing

One of the most infamous was Xerox’s fumbled opportunity to lead the personal computing industry. Back in the 1960s, Xerox’s 914 photocopier revolutionized the business world. At the same time, the company’s innovation facility, the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), was fast at work developing other new and insightful products. One of those was the Xerox Alto, the first fully functional personal computer. It had processing power, a graphic interface, and even a mouse. So why isn’t Xerox a computing juggernaut today?

In the 1970s, Xerox’s leadership was largely focused on raking in the massive profits generated by the 914 photocopier— which was not sold but leased to customers, who were charged per page—instead of looking out into the world and using empathy to sense the growing demand for personal computing. They didn’t do anything with the Alto or, frankly, with many of the other great inventions that PARC was churning out. They were preoccupied with their current successes and uninterested in understanding the shifting consumer needs around them. As a result, they missed one of the greatest technology booms the business world has ever experienced.

Another more recent example of a lack of empathic leadership can be seen in the music industry’s inglorious failure to participate in the digital music revolution. While executives stretched their travel and expense accounts to the max and obsessed over CD distribution deals with brick-and-mortar retailers, Napster and LimeWire were hard at work building a completely new, and more empathic, distribution system that aligned with consumers and their needs (though not empathic to the artists or the record industry they were disrupting). Missing that opportunity crushed the major music labels’ business and gave rise to powerhouses such as Apple Music and Spotify.

Would empathy alone have saved those companies from disaster? It’s hard to say. But had they applied empathy more meaningfully in their decision-making, they could have recognized new and innovative ways to lead their businesses into the next era.

Fortunately, plenty of companies are applying empathy to solve tough challenges and lead teams with new and powerful insight.

A darling of the startup world, Warby Parker’s meteoric growth can be closely mapped to its executives’ clear understanding of the “grit” in the retail eyewear experience. Consumers weren’t getting what they needed from any of the big players in the space, and Warby Parker’s founders saw an opportunity to jump into the category offering a more human, service-oriented approach that has been voraciously embraced. (Full disclosure: we’ve worked with them and can attest to their empathic strengths firsthand).

One of my favorite empathic thinkers is Elon Musk. He truly understands the needs of the market and has proven to be a powerful innovator and entrepreneur who can apply his understanding to a variety of industries. Most recently, he’s decided to take on the challenge of “soul-crushing traffic.” His venture, The Boring Company, is solving this problem in an unexpected way. While everyone from Hollywood moviemakers to Ivy League–educated futurists has spent time imagining a world full of flying cars, Musk has taken his vision to a subterranean level, focusing instead on building a technologically advanced tunneling business designed to solve our increasingly gridlocked roadways by expanding them to the ground below us.

These companies and their leaders understand how to use empathy to look at problems differently and create solutions that not only disrupt conventions but use empathy as a powerful tool.

My own company, Sub Rosa, is a strategy and design studio that works with large, often complex corporations as well as progressive thinkers in government, entertainment, and the startup world to help them evolve their businesses with empathy. We have worked with some of the world’s most recognizable companies and leaders, and I’m proud that those clients have sought us out because we offer fresh solutions that support their need to explore, learn, and grow.

Our clients come to us because we can help them figure out who they truly are, what they are actually trying to accomplish, and, perhaps most important, show them how to take their goals or their businesses to a higher level.

  • We’ve worked with countless CEOs and leadership teams to think differently about how empathy can ignite a spirit of creativity, innovation, and growth in the hearts and minds of their teams around the world.
  • We’ve helped one of the world’s most successful athletes understand himself and his brand with empathy—giving him a mission and vision that will take his career to new heights.
  • We even brought empathy into the West Wing of the Obama White House, applying our thinking to a series of initiatives started by the first family to help bring a greater sense of understanding to our nation’s indigenous people’s rights and resources.
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Empathy lets us better understand the people we are trying to serve and gives us perspective and insight that can drive greater, more effective actions. The seemingly magical quality of empathy is the connection it helps us form with other people. Some of us are born with an overwhelming degree of empathy, while others are callous or even blind to the perspectives of others. The rest of us fall somewhere in between. But empathy is more than just a natural talent; it can also be a process, a learned skill, developed and applied when and where needed.

Our best work demands empathy, and that means each of us must be able to call on it when needed, regardless of mood or circumstances.

“Applied Empathy” is available now at fine booksellers and can be purchased via StartupNation.com.

The post This is Why Empathy is an Essential Leadership Trait for Entrepreneurs appeared first on StartupNation.

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Community is the Core of Business - StartupNation Radio - SoundCloud
(2280 secs long)Play in SoundCloud

On this episode of StartupNation Radio, host Jeff Sloan sits down with Benito Vasquez, a.k.a. Mav-One, executive director and founder of Motor City Street Dance Academy. Later in the show, Jeff chats with Beverly Meek, first VP and Community Reinvestment Activities Director at Flagstar Bank.

First up, Mav-One shares how his passion for hip-hop culture led him to pursue his own business venture. Motor City Street Dance Academy, or MCSDA, is based in southwest Detroit and works to enhance the lives of Detroiters through hip-hop, physical activity and healthy living.

During the show, Mav-One discusses:

  • His business mindset
  • How he developed his business model
  • How he kept overhead costs low when starting up
  • The power of community
  • How MCSDA markets the business
  • Future plans for MCSDA

For more on Motor City Street Dance Academy, visit the official website, or follow along on Facebook and Instagram.

Related: How to Get Your Big Break in (Entrepreneurship and) the Music Business

Next up, Jeff chats with Beverly Meek of Flagstar Bank. With extensive background in the financial services industry specifically, Beverly’s background includes experience in corporate philanthropy, mortgage lending and more. Throughout her career, Beverly has built strong community relationships, and she is adept at working with multiple political subdivisions to bring about change.

During the interview, Beverly talks about:

  • Who Flagstar’s community programming benefits
  • How the fund has been instrumental to the city of Pontiac
  • What Flagstar does for local communities
  • How Flagstar is taking part in the revitalization of Detroit
  • The educational programs Flagstar offers to small businesses

To learn more about the program, contact Beverly directly at beverly.meek@flagstar.com or visit LISC or Invest Detroit online.

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Tune in to WJR 760 AM radio next Saturday at 2 p.m. EST for an all-new episode of StartupNation Radio!

The post Here’s Why Community is the Core of Business Success appeared first on StartupNation.

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Today’s marketing landscape looks an awful lot like a war zone. Consumers are barraged every moment of their waking hours with brands logos, taglines and jingles, all amidst the struggle to stand out. Companies masquerade their advertisements as social media posts, articles or infomercials. This brand bombardment has consumers hiding, driven to pay for premium versions of streaming services that eliminate advertisements. Today’s consumers are becoming numb to messaging, utilizing their selective hearing to weed out the narrative.

As a startup trying to establish a brand, that’s not great news. So how do you stand out amidst the chaos? You create your brand messaging to add value that speaks with your target market, not at them.

By adding value, rather than noise, your target customer wants to hear more from you, not less. You must put yourself in a relevant position in which the consumer is open to receiving your content.

How to develop big brand impact on a small budget

The secret to creating a memorable brand is not about how much money you spend, but about how much time and thought you put into creating said brand.

Think about what defines a brand in the first place. Is it your company logo? Is it your company name, website or tagline? Branding is comprised of tangible items that create an intangible. This intangible is your company’s purpose, vision, values, mission and, ultimately, your promise to your customers.

Southwest Airlines is a great example of a well-known brand that made a significant impact on its industry with a simple message that resonated with its customers.

Southwest analyzed the industry and its competitors, comparing this analysis to what the marketplace was demanding. Air travelers wanted a dependable, inexpensive means of travel in which they felt valued. Airlines had become perfunctory in their treatment of travelers. The industry was reduced to the likes of a flying bus, with airports looking and feeling like a bus station. The glory and luxury of airline travel had become a thing of the past.

There was no longer that sense of glamour in flying, so Southwest decided to redefine it. In order to do so, they created a new systematic method of inexpensive travel while offering passengers a fun and friendly experience.

Related: What 5 Global Businesses Get Right About Mission Statements Define your business purpose

A great place to start is by determining what purpose your business serves to your customers and building your brand around that. Who is your business, or what does your business mean to customers?

Define your purpose (i.e. make a promise to your customer) and tap into your customer’s emotional needs. In order to define your brand differently from your competitors, stand out by creating a brand statement that promises a certain outcome to your customer. Give them a reason to remember you; strive to understand them and give them a good reason to seek out your business’ products or services.

Going back to our prior example, Southwest started by defining its business purpose as, “To connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.”

Create a company vision

Next, address your company’s vision. The vision is comprised of the reasons you exist and why you are different. The vision is what a company stands for and its short and long-term goals.

Going along with the previous example, Southwest then defined its vision as, “To become the world’s most loved, most flown and most profitable airline.”

Make a list of your values

Company values are attitudes and guiding principles established and taught within your organization. Your values should reflect your company vision and the reason for its existence (i.e. your company purpose).

Make a list of your values that drive your company mission.

Develop a mission statement

Your company’s mission statement should differ slightly from the purpose. With the mission statement, you are making a statement to people outside of your company, while your purpose is meant for your internal team. The mission statement is intended for your customers, partners and suppliers.

The mission statement is a culmination of your company’s values, blended with your purpose and vision.

Build a succinct and meaningful tagline

Your tagline is a culmination of your purpose, values and mission. It should be short and sweet, as well as unique and powerful. A tagline sums up the essence of your company. Consumers should recognize you when they hear this tagline and understand what it means.

For example, Southwest coined and trademarked the term “Transfarency®” to describe the philosophy of keeping low fares available to customers in a fair and honest manner. Then, they took it one-step further and boiled down another message into a succinct tagline. Air travelers felt like they were being nickeled and dimed, so Southwest came up with “Bags Fly for Free” to reinforce their values and purpose to set themselves apart from other airlines.

Sign Up: Receive the StartupNation newsletter! Create a brand strategy

Once you have a defined business purpose, vision, values and mission statement, creating a branding strategy will be much easier. You cannot perform these tasks in reverse order, either. Your goal is to create a brand that stands out, clearly defines you, and speaks to your customer, not at them.

The tangible part of branding includes things like your logo, colors, fonts, business cards, etc. All of this will be easier to execute given that you have solidified your intangible brand message.

In today’s chaotic marketing environment, you need to spend the extra time and effort thinking through your company brand, so that you stand out as special and neither bothersome nor mundane.

The post How to Develop Big Brand Impact on a Small Budget appeared first on StartupNation.

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If you’re like most entrepreneurs, independence is both your greatest strength and greatest weakness. Asking for help can seem unwise when the stakes are high. And things only get more complicated if you’re asking for financial help, right?

Maybe not.

Of the fatal mistakes businesses often make, refusing to build a network of support is high on the list. The fact is, 29 percent of failed businesses attributed their failure to insufficient funds. You can avoid joining their ranks if you’re willing to seek support—and not just from generous relatives or the nearest loan shark.

Believe it or not, a corporate sponsorship is a great solution for businesses of any size, and the tips below can help you secure your own.

  1. Do your research

Any financially solvent company could be a potential sponsor. Approach the ones that can benefit most from what you have to offer. Aside from your direct competitors, which brands are trying to capture a similar customer base?

One of the biggest incentives you can offer a sponsor is quality access to their most coveted consumers. Picture the partnership between Jordan Brand and Gatorade—different products, similar customers. That is the shared space where sponsorships are most likely to succeed.

If you’re not sure how to determine a sponsor’s target demographic, try requesting a company media kit, investigating previous sponsorships, and analyzing their media campaigns. You’ll also want to read any recent press releases or quarterly reports, since these can give you an idea about the company’s current goals and strategies.

Related: How to Use Pre-Sales and Pre-Orders to Boost Your Cash Flow
  1. Create a persuasive proposal

Now that you know more about the company you’re about to approach, create a sponsorship proposal tailored to its needs. According to corporate sponsorship expert, Linda Hollander, sponsorships bring a better ROI than traditional advertising, but most business leaders will still need to be convinced. The purpose of your proposal is to describe, in detail, the tangible value you’ll bring to the sponsorship and how you plan to do it.

Determine what specific opportunities you can offer to your sponsor, such as logo exposure, naming rights or product endorsement. Connect this with their target demographic and show what quantitative impact it can have on their business goals. Set measurable benchmarks for the sponsorship; for example, how many new followers you can add to their social media accounts or how many people you can expose to their products.

If you have a proven track record of bringing in a certain amount of money and can give a sponsor access to an audience primed for their product, show that. It worked for Coachella and AmEx.

Keep in mind that pitching a deal that coincides with your sponsor’s goals and strategies will help you avoid the trash bin: This marketing director reads between 15 and 20 sponsorship proposals daily, and warns that he discards about 90 percent of them because they fail to appeal specifically to his brand.

  1. Communicate with the correct department

After crafting your proposal, put it in the hands of someone with the power to approve it. This might be the head of marketing, public relations, advertising, community outreach, or another similar department.

Start building a relationship with that contact person. They’ll be more likely to sponsor you if they know your unique business story and how it aligns with their company’s goals.

Whenever you can, get a phone number and call your contact after sending your proposal off via email. If you’re persistent and lucky, you may be able to arrange a face-to-face meeting to discuss your sponsorship deal.

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  1. Capitalize on your community

National brands can win customer loyalty by sponsoring local entrepreneurs and their events, so broadcast your local appeal. Show your potential sponsors that you can connect them with not only a prime target demographic, but also a local community that they may otherwise have a hard time accessing.

In Salt Lake City, Vivint Smart Home’s sponsorship of a local arena helped “elevate the prominence of Utah,” but it also increased Vivint’s brand awareness in its home state. Aligning Vivint’s brand with a community landmark bolstered positive customer perception, and any corporate sponsor can see similar benefits when they find a footing in a small, engaged community.

Landing a corporate sponsorship is no easy task, but the effort will bring great returns if you’re wise about your approach. Carefully select companies that pursue a similar market and familiarize yourself with their business goals. Write a proposal with plenty of specific options and benchmarks and address it to the appropriate decision-maker. Describe how sponsoring your company will benefit the community and bring significant value to your sponsor.

And the most important tip? Don’t give up after several failed attempts. Any startup can land a great sponsor with enough persistence and a bit of luck.

The post 4 Ways Your Startup Can Land a Sponsorship Deal appeared first on StartupNation.

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Mark Twain once said, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

However, over 87 percent of America’s workforce is unable to reach their full potential at their job because they are not passionate about their line of work. It’s time to make a change. But, there is a big difference between a hobby and a passion, and it is crucial that wantrepreneurs differentiate between the two before quitting their day job.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been very business-driven. As I grew older, my entrepreneurial spirit eventually collided with my passion for sports and experience as a Little League coach. The natural merging of these two passions sparked a new awareness for a largely untapped business opportunity that would serve the sports and fitness industry while giving me the opportunity to pursue a career I wholeheartedly enjoy.

In an effort to get the most out of the American workforce, more and more business professionals are breaking away and leveraging their passion to make an enjoyable living. At the same time, those individuals are quickly learning that it takes more than just following your dreams to succeed.

When 75 percent of venture-backed startups are failing, it’s critical to consider the following strategies in order to keep your passion in business. 

Do your research

Before diving head first into any industry, it’s always important to thoroughly research every aspect to gain a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. It’s incredibly risky to plunge into a business without knowing the demand for the product or service.

Once you identify exactly what the market wants or needs within the targeted industry, you can begin monitoring top competitors and seeking out potential team members. You’ll want to research what skills and experience team members should possess to help you build your business. Understand the team you need in order to be successful. The success of a new venture lies in the fate of a founder, along with the team he or she builds.

Related: Passion-Driven Business: Zach Berg and Matt Damman Be all in, all the time

It’s vital to always give 100 percent as a leader, because that mentality will reflect the work of your team members. Leadership is defined through action, and a leader cannot lead from behind the scenes. Whether it be an upcoming pitch, meeting, event or simple deliverables, as the leader, you should always be plugged in and take on an active role in your company. Active leadership plays a pivotal role in painting the vision of a company’s future in order to excite employees and encourage them to consistently contribute to that future and become a valuable asset to your company.

Furthermore, while it is incredibly important to value your employees, it is also important to eliminate toxic work personalities who are not as motivated or driven to help accomplish the company’s goals, and to do so without ever looking back.

A recent study found that 78 percent of participating employees stated their commitment to their organization declined in the face of toxic behavior, and 66 percent said their performance declined. Therefore, building and maintaining a driven team alongside a fearless leader is a critical component of business longevity, and one bad apple can quickly turn everything sour.

Create a culture worth celebrating

If you have great leadership and motivated team members, then the next step is fostering a strong, positive work environment that is worth celebrating. Company culture is your startup’s fingerprint – it is unique to your company and will follow you everywhere you go. Positive culture is a vital aspect of running a business, as more than 50 percent of executives say culture influences productivity, creativity, profitability, firm value and growth rates.

A strong company culture also has the power to turn employees into advocates, contributing to the culture, promoting it and living it, both internally and externally. Happy employees also help to attract talent, and having a culture that attracts great talent can lead to 33 percent higher revenue.

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Timing is an important element of building a business. While you want to start your business at a time when the economy is healthy and your prospective industry is expanding, there is also a flow (and an art)  to decision-making that’s important to be aware of while building your business. More specifically, timing.

Time is the one variable you cannot change, and its role is detrimental in building a business. When building a company from the ground up, you don’t have an abundance of time to ponder wrong decisions. Sometimes, decisions have to be made based on what is best for the future of the company at a moment’s notice.

There is time in perspective to competitors in the market and those entering the market. Even when it comes to employees, you only have so much time to find if you’ve hired the right folks and made the right business decisions. As I once read, if you’re 70 percent of the way to making a decision, make the decision. If you try to get to 90 percent, you’ve waited too long. If I could have had that mindset from day one, I would probably have had fewer sleepless nights when I was going through tough times.

The post How to Turn Your Passion Into a Successful Business appeared first on StartupNation.

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Growing your business and expanding your brand typically requires at least some type of capital investment, and if your budget is thin, you may feel that you’re in an ad-less corner. Fortunately, that’s not the case. Today’s business owners have several advertising avenues, many of which are free or pretty close to free.

If you’re trying to build your business but can’t sink tons of money into your advertising efforts, then you’d be wise to add a few of these spots to your marketing strategy.

Google My Business

In some cases, advertising on Google requires you to spend a significant amount of money; that’s often the case with pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, which place your ad at the top of search results.

However, you can sign up for a Google My Business account for free, which will help push your business into the top results for local searches.

You’re likely familiar with these “ad” spots, as they appear organically when you search for a local business, service or product. For example, if you’re looking for a good cup of coffee in Wilmington, DE, and you type “coffee in Wilmington, DE” in the Google search engine, you’ll find a list of coffee shops, along with their contact info, ratings, etc., in the top search results.

If you haven’t registered your business and you rely on local traffic, you’ll want to do so ASAP.

Related: How This Entrepreneur Used Credit Cards to Grow Her Business Social media platforms

Next to Google My Business, social media often represents the number one way to advertise your business without cost. Yes, there are paid advertising opportunities on social networking platforms like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, but you can still do a lot without ever spending a penny.

The best way to start your social media campaign is to identify the primary platform on which your customers (or potential customers) spend their time. From there, you can work to engage them through traditional text posts, photos, videos, contests, shares, promotions, etc.

As you prepare a social media campaign, be careful not to inundate followers with purely promotional posts that seek sales. While those are fine in moderation, today’s consumers often see through that tactic. Instead, make sure you post a healthy mix of interesting, funny, amusing or otherwise engaging pieces that speak to your follower’s needs — then sprinkle in your promotional pieces.

Start a blog

If you have a website, you can start a blog. And if you have a blog, you have a great outlet for content that can help build your brand, allow you to become an industry voice, and publish content that can be shared on your social media sites.

Don’t have a website that can accommodate a blog? Sites like WordPress are easy to use and typically free.

Be present on YouTube

Video content is a great way to reach users, whether it be to share product demonstrations, educational videos, regularly occurring vlogs (video blogs), or simple company info. And when it comes to video content, YouTube is where it’s at.

YouTube has over 1.8 billion users a month and is the most popular Google service — yes, even more popular than Gmail. It’s also 100 percent free to create an account and upload content.

In the past, video production could have caused a bit of a budget dilemma, but thanks to high-quality smartphone cameras and free or near free editing programs, it’s a lot easier to add video content to your repertoire.

Attend local events

While a booth at the industry’s biggest event may be out of the question, attending and networking at local events that are relevant to your business is a great way to mingle with potential customers.

You can also increase value by leveraging your blog and social media accounts in the days leading up to the event and while in attendance. For example, posting pics and videos, using clever hashtags, and blogging about your upcoming event appearance can spread the word that you’re in attendance, want to engage, or are supporting a local cause.  

Industry magazines and blogs

Numerous magazines and blogs welcome guest posts or articles, and many of them do so for free. For small business owners with a knack for the written word (or those who have someone on staff who can fit the bill) these spots can be a true boon.

Not only do they place your brand in front of a highly targeted audience, they also allow you to position yourself and your business as a resource or industry mainstay. Plus, as more and more publications post and leave articles online, you may very well have a long-term presence on their site.

Sign Up: Receive the StartupNation newsletter! Community announcement and message boards

Maybe it feels a bit old fashioned, but don’t take the community message board for granted. They can be a great way to spread the word about your business, especially if you’re just getting started.

Further, the right board can place your business right in front of a highly relevant audience. For example, a trendy new restaurant geared toward the 20-some crowd may find that a college campus message board can be very valuable in bringing in new customers.

Before you add your flyer or business card to a board, you may want to verify that you can do so. While many are open to the public, others have limits on solicitation. It’s always wise to read any community rules, notice what other types of info the board already contains, or simply inquire further with the powers that be.

A slim budget may seem like a big hurdle, and in some cases, it certainly can put a damper on everything from operational to marketing efforts, but when it comes to ad space, it shouldn’t represent a dead end.

There are plenty of free advertising opportunities to those who seek them out. All you have to do is find out where your audience spends their time and create engaging campaigns to push your business to the next level.

This article originally appeared on Nav.com by Jennifer Lobb

The post The Best Low-Cost Places for Advertising Your Business appeared first on StartupNation.

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What are your startup’s goals for Q3 and Q4 of this year? Realizing any of them requires marketing greatness — and marketing greatness requires a plan. Today’s marketing world requires a new expertise and familiarity with digital tools and online platforms.

Let’s take a look at six of the components of a successful startup marketing campaign:

A benchmark for where you (and your competitors) stand

If you’re an entrepreneur just getting your new business off the ground, you need to determine a niche for your product or service and define your competitive potential. What do you bring to the table? You can’t assume either success or uniqueness, so what’s your angle? Be honest with yourself about the merits of your product or service and why people should choose yours over the competition.

Use the online tools at your disposal to perform benchmarks for your competitors. How much traffic and search volume do they generate? Do they seem to have any weaknesses? Even if you don’t use a special tool for competitor analysis, you can run a series of trials to get a sense of how competitors rank for certain keyword phrases and what kind of content they’re leveraging to do so.

Related: An understanding of your audience

Marketing campaigns are all about communication. Identify exactly who you want to speak to. Knowing your audience is the first step in learning how to successfully market to them. So, what kind of options do you have for diving into all the nitty gritty demographic details? And how can you reach these people where they are?

You might find it helpful to create a series of customer personas. This will get you thinking about the daily lives of the people you’re trying to reach. What do they do for a living? How much money do they make? What’s their home life like? Where do they live, what are their goals and what do they want out of life?

Then, study your competitors in greater detail. Who do they seem to be reaching on social media? What kind of personality and presentation does their brand have, and does it seem to be working? The goal isn’t to copy somebody else’s work verbatim, of course — it’s to discover members of your potential audience who might be hidden otherwise, or who might not be quite who you expected.

Social media savviness and authenticity

There’s no denying the power of social media channels in the building of a brand and the expansion of a customer base. But merely taking part in social media is far from enough — you need to cultivate a truly authentic presence.

So, how is this done? There are plenty of possibilities, but here are a few places to start:

  • Show off your products: Try to focus less on plastering CTAs everywhere and a little more on humble-bragging about your product’s attention to detail. Show off how it’s made. Introduce yourself and the team who makes it. If you give back to the community or donate your time someplace, talk about why, or encourage others to do the same.
  • Interact as much as possible: Show that your startup is part of the larger community by commenting on other posts and responding to fans and critics alike without sounding canned, rehearsed or defensive. Concentrate on building a network that’s about relationships first and closing sales second.

If social media is a part of your marketing campaign (and it should be!) you also need to know how to measure its success.

Specific, time-bound goals and a way to measure them

If you want to zero in on a set of proven techniques and campaign types that actually deliver the goods, the goal of your marketing campaign needs to be more specific than a simple “I want to increase sales.”

Suppose you’ve created what you think is a killer branded infographic. It sheds light on a little-known issue or a hidden corner of your industry that regular folks don’t get to see every day. You plan to drop it onto your social networks and pitch it to blogs. A specific and time-bound goal for this piece of content could be “Increase my social followers by [X] during this month of promotion,” or “Increase conversions on my website by [X] percent this quarter or week.”

Using a combination of social media analytics and Google Analytics, you can find out just how much people are engaging with your content and whether there seems to be a relationship between your content and the actual traffic on your website.

A presence in the “real world”

Some of the best marketing campaigns are those that bridge the digital with the physical. We know what you’re thinking: “What if I don’t have a brick and mortar presence?” If that’s the case, this suggestion is actually doubly important for you.

You can make an impact in the “real world” in many ways, which are collectively known as “offline marketing.” Even if you don’t have an actual storefront to promote, there’s every reason to believe “analog” marketing techniques will remain an integral part of business success well into the future. Many of them aren’t just holding steady, they’re actively thriving in the digital age. We’re talking about things like:

  • Local radio ads
  • Billboards and posters with vanity URLs or QR codes
  • Trade show booths and banners

Don’t underestimate the value of face-to-face interactions, even in the digital age. If handing out branded merch at a trade show isn’t quite your thing, look for local events to attend or charities to sponsor. Even when you’re not online, there are lots of ways to broaden your reach and get your startup’s brand in front of multiple of sets of eyes — or ears, in the case of radio.

Sign Up: Receive the StartupNation newsletter! Brand consistency

While this isn’t a comprehensive list of the marketing opportunities available to you, you’ve likely noted the numerous avenues out there, ranging from the purely digital to the decidedly physical. What you need is branding consistency. We touched on the idea of establishing a “personality” for your brand, which means the next step is to make sure you stand by that image.

If your brand’s tone is professional or formal, each of your chosen platforms should demonstrate those qualities. If you tend toward the whimsical instead, make that your calling card. Either way, use the same logos and iconography across your channels. Even maintaining mindfulness of your brand’s color scheme on everything from your website to social media channels to printed marketing materials will help paint a consistent image in your audience’s mind.

Having said all this, marketing your new startup is quite a bit like other pursuits in life: you can’t be afraid to try something new. That’s why taking benchmarks before you try a new strategy, and measurements during and after, is so important. It might take some trial and error to dial in the right combination of digital and offline marketing strategies. That’s why your task as an entrepreneur is to remember to have fun with it — and enjoy the ride.

The post What Does it Take to Run a Successful Marketing Campaign? appeared first on StartupNation.

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Overwhelming workloads, toxic office environments and social media overload are leading to more burnout than ever before. These bosses and advisors from The Oracles share how they handle the stress — and prevent it.

Delegate

My job has changed dramatically since we grew from a small team to over 350 people, and I expect it will continue to change. Molly Graham led Facebook’s early growth and saw her team jump from 25 to 125 people in just nine months. She likens working in a rapidly changing organization to giving away a Lego as a kid. Learning to assign work to others is definitely uncomfortable at first and something you have to get used to, but the only way to build a big, awesome company is to have amazing people working with you toward the same goal.

It can be hard to switch off in startups, but it’s really important. My partner and I often go for long walks. I love yoga, although I don’t get to it as often as I’d like. I also love traveling and try to go overseas each year to reset and recharge.

 — Melanie Perkins, co-founder and CEO of Canva, which is valued at over a billion dollars

Related: How to Avoid Burnout as an Entrepreneur Rest, exercise and learn to say no

It’s normal to feel exhausted if you constantly work hard. That’s nothing a weekend of rest and relaxation can’t fix. I love reading novels, spending time with friends, and heading to the beach or mountains. If you still dread work or feel disillusioned, you may be experiencing more serious career burnout. The natural reaction is to take a vacation, but that’s a short-term solution.

Get intentional about what you want and what fulfills you. Look inward to discover your purpose. Think about whether you are meeting your goals, and if not, ask yourself what needs to change. Re-engage by giving back to others as a mentor or thought leader. Figure out how to regain control of your time at work by delegating or learning to say no. And don’t forget to exercise — it’s a great stress reliever.

— Gail Corder Fischer, Executive Vice Chairman of Fischer & Company, a leading global corporate real estate firm that provides consulting, brokerage, and technology solutions

Begin your day proactively

It’s so important to start your day proactively rather than reactively. I always spend time with my coffee, my journal, and a book to get into a good head space before the day begins.

It can be really difficult to set aside time to recharge your batteries when you feel like you’re swamped with work. But that’s when you really need to be strict and let go of the guilt. Find time to eat energizing foods, work out (even if it’s just a walk outside), and grab 10 minutes just to breathe and be intentional about your work.

— Natalie Ellis, award-winning serial entrepreneur and CEO of BossBabe, the world’s largest online community of ambitious women with a six-figure monthly recurring revenue; follow Natalie on Instagram

Free yourself from distractions

Growing a successful business takes time and focused work, without interruptions. I turn off email and social media notifications, which means I don’t allow others to dictate my priorities. I create my schedule at the beginning of the week and set times to check in on parts of the business. This creates space to be proactive, not reactive, which minimizes overwhelm and overload so I’m free to maximize my output.

As a business owner, I do find it hard to truly switch off. I’m an achiever, so I naturally want to be doing or creating something. I’m most relaxed when reading a nonfiction book, free from distractions and able to lose myself in thoughts. The time and space to actively think is priceless and allows me to recharge before a new week ahead.

— Danielle Canty, speaker, chiropractor, serial entrepreneur, and co-founder of BossBabe, the world’s largest online community of ambitious women; follow Danielle on Instagram

Remain focused

We must fiercely protect our goals and time. That starts with being clear and focused on your vision, purpose and life goals. I regularly ask myself how an activity, conversation, or relationship supports those things. There are times when an overwhelming workload is unavoidable, but tasks I’m passionate about rarely make me fatigued. Fatigue typically arises when my daily demands are not aligned with my purpose, which can quickly result in burnout.

I’ve designed a morning routine to manage the challenges of daily life, feed my soul and energize me. I wake up at 4:50 a.m., grab my water bottle, and join a 5 a.m. call with like-minded people for five minutes of inspiration. Then I spend 30 to 60 minutes doing cardio and finish by writing what I’m grateful for. I’m also intentional about how much time and energy I give to social media and the news. If you let them dictate or clutter your schedule, it inevitably leads to fatigue, frustration and burnout.

— Eileen Rivera, CEO of The Rivera Group; real estate coach, speaker and licensed California realtor with over half a billion in sales

H.A.L.T

I’m super disciplined with set routines and rhythms. Even though I exercise, meditate and eat properly every day, I still experience burnout. That’s why I practice H.A.L.T., which means I have to stop whenever I get too hungry, angry, lonely or tired.

I have a Type A personality and push myself to extremes, which is why H.A.L.T. is so important for me. Whenever I feel burned out, I just stop and ask myself: Am I hungry, angry, lonely or tired? If so, I give myself permission to stop and take a break.

— Peter Hernandez, President of The Western Region at Douglas Elliman; founder and President of Teles Properties

Sign Up: Receive the StartupNation newsletter! Change your mindset and expectations

Burnout is serious. A Swedish study found that those with burnout symptoms from chronic occupational stress aren’t as capable of regulating negative emotion. That’s because the connections in their brain responsible for that process were significantly weakened. This is why it’s extremely difficult to work in the midst of burnout. It kills your productivity and takes a heavy toll on your mental health and relationships.

My struggle with burnout spiraled into depression and anxiety. To overcome it, I did three things. First, I made my goals and expectations more realistic. Then I set a sustainable daily workload. Finally, I take time each day to reflect on how proud I am for what I’ve achieved, rather than focus on what I haven’t. I remember how grateful I am for what I have and for the wonderful people in my life.

— Sarah Chrisp, founder of Wholesale Ted, 27 years old and the only established female in the e-commerce educational video world with over 200,000 subscribers and seven-figure profits

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Copyright © 2019 Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

Want to share your insights like those above in a future column? If you’re an experienced entrepreneur, please get in touch here.

Want to suggest a future topic for these entrepreneurs to answer? Email suggestion@theoracles.com, and it’s very possible we’ll make your suggestion the focus of a future article!

The post 7 Proven Ways to Beat Burnout appeared first on StartupNation.

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