Once Upon a Time

storytelling

Storytelling is a time-honored tradition which began before humanity had the ability to create long-lasting printed documents. The first stories were a way of passing on an oral tradition and history of various cultures around the world. There is still a storytelling tradition in many cultures, although as communities spread out, storytelling has moved to written, printed, and now digital methods of recording the tales. Oral traditions created a rich history for ancient cultures that gave rise to much of what we call myths and legends today, a blend of history and religion which gave purpose to people who lived short and often harsh lives.

Role of Printing in Storytelling

The development of the printing press gave stories new life because they could be disseminated on a broader scale and replicated easily. No longer were scribes necessary for copying expensive books and papers. Not only was the rich, cultural history and religious beliefs of various people shared among a wider community, but pure fiction was written for the purpose of entertainment and enjoyment for the masses. For those who were not taught to read, stories were read and passed around by those who could.

Storytelling in the Digital Age

While it has become easier to distribute stories in the digital age, and more of the world’s population is educated enough to read, storytelling continues to be a powerful way to distribute a message to people. Computers and the internet make spreading the word faster, but the concept of an oral tradition is easily seen in the many repetitions of news stories online from different slants or points of view. The question lies in how an entity or brand can create a unified story to present to an audience or market. With the unique ability to duplicate digital image and print and distribute them through many channels, storytelling can be a powerful tool for marketing a company or organization.

Incorporating Storytelling in Marketing and Branding

A recent article in Search Engine Journal discusses the benefits of storytelling as a method for branding. The author, Katy Katz, talks about how storytelling creates connections and potential bonds between a brand and a market. When thinking about storytelling for a brand, call to mind some of the brands that you grew up with that have become common words in the American culture such as Kleenex, Coke or Pampers, often used to replace the actual word for the item being talked about. While creating a storytelling campaign for your own brand may not turn it into a common household word, you will still be able to cement the story with the brand name to create lasting memories in the minds of your audience.

Benefits of Brand Storytelling

Katz mentions 5 benefits to brand storytelling in her article.

1. Storytelling builds memories.
2. Storytelling is a natural motivator.
3. Storytelling builds relationships.
4. Storytelling makes content exciting.
5. Storytelling can make something old, new again.

How Can You Use these Benefits to Your Advantage in Marketing?

Since most businesses have competitors that offer products or services that are similar to theirs, branding offers a way to show your differences. Creating a brand story or even just telling your brand’s story in a cohesive manner can give your audience reasons to bond with you beyond pricing or product quality. An excellent example of brand storytelling is the way Tom’s Shoes has incorporated their brand name with their history of giving. (http://www.toms.com/stories/giving/10-years-of-giving-together) They have created not only an excellent product, but a compelling reason to buy from them.

You can do the same.


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Create An Environment That High-Value Employees Want To Work In

work-environmentIf you tasked most business leaders with sitting down and making a list of their struggles, attracting high-value employees would more than likely fall close to the top. Finding those versatile, well-rounded, and driven candidates is one thing – getting them to come aboard is something else entirely. Making sure you’re not just a “stepping stone” in someone’s successful career is also a lot easier said than done. If you want to attract the type of high-value employees that will carry your organization forward, you have to start from within and create the kind of organization they want to work for in the first place.

Would You Want to Work for Your Business?

If you want to attract high-value employees in a marketplace that is growing increasingly competitive with each passing day, you need to start by putting yourself in their shoes. What are some things that 21st-century talent may be looking for that you aren’t currently offering?

Thanks to things like SaaS (software-as-a-service) and IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service), the ability for businesses to allow employees to work remotely has become a significant priority for quality applicants. Even if you don’t feel comfortable bringing someone on and allowing them to work from the home full-time, see if having them work remotely two out of the five business days is something you can manage.

Likewise, BYOD (bring your own device) has become a significant priority for younger employees. It lets them bring their own smartphones, tablets and other devices to work that they already feel comfortable using, thus increasing the overall quality of the work they’re able to generate. It also helps save money for businesses, as you no longer have to pay to purchase and maintain a computer for an employee if they’re already bringing one from home. These small changes to your existing policies can go a long way towards creating the type of environment and culture that attracts the talent you’re after.

Get Competitive

Another one of the core ways to attract valuable employees these days involves being as competitive as possible when it comes to job perks. Apple, for example, has a now-legendary attraction strategy that includes not only traditional perks like healthcare, but also things like educational reimbursement as well. Not every company has the type of bankroll that Apple does, but it’s always important to remember that making an investment in your employees through competitive perks is ultimately an investment in the future of your company.

These are just a few of the many ways that you can create the type of environment that makes it easy to attract high-value employees and even easier to retain them for the long haul. Remember: quality employees don’t grow on trees, and the difference between someone who is “just punching a clock” versus someone who is putting their blood, sweat, and tears into the task at hand is an immense difference, indeed. By putting yourself in their shoes and creating the type of company they can’t help but want to work for, you, in turn, create the kind of company clients can’t wait to do business with.


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

Working together

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.


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The Art of Reflection in Business

The Art of Reflection in Business

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Though you might not know the name Aaron Sorkin, you’re no doubt familiar with some of his work. He’s the brilliant writer behind some of the most critically acclaimed, successful shows on television in the last two decades including, “The West Wing,” “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” “The Newsroom,” and more. One of the constant themes in all of his different works is that the last episode of the first season of all of his shows all share the same title: “What Kind of Day Has It Been.” This repetitive title isn’t an example of a lazy writer who just can’t come up with something unique. It is Sorkin’s thesis statement. “What Kind of Day Has It Been” is a phrase he uses to indicate reflection. At the end of the season, he (and his characters) always look back and examine where they’ve been and how far they’ve come to get a better idea of where they should be going next.

This type of reflection isn’t just important in terms of prime-time dramas; it’s also a hugely invaluable tool in terms of running a business for a host of different reasons.

The Benefits of Periodic Reflection

At its core, reflection in the world of business is an attempt to take some of the critical experiences that you've had in the not-too-distant past and force you to think about them in a meaningful way. It's an attempt to take both successes and missed opportunities and dive deeper than you may be used to. It gives you the chance to articulate the key lessons that your experiences have taught you, either consciously or subconsciously, and use those insights as the basis for every decision you make moving forward.

One of the main advantages that reflection like this brings to the table is one of increased confidence. Even if you weren't able to achieve a particular goal, going through the process of breaking it down into the sum of its parts can still provide a valuable context as to why events played out the way they did. This, in turn, will help you harness the real learning experience that even less-than-stellar days can sometimes bring and create something positive as a result. Reflecting on the lessons you've learned throughout your career in this way can also make you more productive for the same reasons.

Remember that when you begin any journey in the world of business, be it to finish one particular project, increase revenue by a certain date, or release a new product or service to market, the road that you're about to travel is one that is clouded by expectations. When you're at the end of that journey, however, those hopes are gone. Taking a cold, hard look at everything that led you to this point can not only give you a chance to celebrate your successes, but it can also provide you with valuable insight into issues that you may have encountered or lessons that you may have learned. Reflection is the mother of course correction and that brief pause at such a critical time could very well be the moment of clarity you need to start your next journey with some much-needed perspective.

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Out of the Mouths of Babes

Family wwith small boywear the chef suit for tthe kittchen lifestyle
Customer service is sometimes the part of the job that we dread due to the range of customer complaints that ensue. However, if we look at customer service as an opportunity, we can create a lot of positive energy from it. While not all stories are as entertaining as this one, the fact that the customer service response became a boon for the company is evident.

Giraffe Bread

Lily Robinson, 3 and 1/2 years old, wanted to know why the Tiger Bread from Sainsbury’s (a British convenience store) wasn’t called Giraffe Bread. After all, it looked like giraffe skin. She wrote a letter to Sainsbury’s and her mother mailed it to their customer service department. (https://www.helpscout.net/10-customer-service-stories/)

In an incredible customer service response, Chris King, 27 and 1/3 years old, responded to Lily with another letter and a gift card. That response in itself would have been an incredible customer service moment, but the story continues.

Sainsbury’s decided to change the name of the bread to Giraffe Bread and created signage explaining the story. Lily’s mom was so impressed that she wrote about the story on her blog. (https://jamandgiraffes.com/2011/06/15/our-careline/) The story then got picked up by BBC News (http://www.bbc.com/news/business-16812545) and became a marketing tale that has returned goodwill to Sainsbury’s many times more than what the first gesture from Chris King cost them. While this return doesn’t happen every time you offer excellent customer service, your actions and response to customer complaints are opportunities to cement relationships with customers. Often, it is the customer service assistance that creates the most indelible mark in a customer’s memory.

Customer Service as an Opportunity

There are many similar instances that companies never find out about that affect their bottom line. Not every customer calls or writes to a company because of a good or bad customer service experience. However, they may tell all of their friends about it. Positive or negative, word of mouth goes far and can create a bundle of good or bad press for a company.

Because most of us are dealing with automated phone systems and customer service reps that speak other languages and barely know English, a lot us have become numb to the massive amount of poor customer service. When we do come across good customer service, sometimes it is a shock to our system. We crave good customer service, and most people will return and refer others to any company that treats them well.

Examples of good customer service opportunities abound:

*The mechanic that takes the time to explain what is wrong and why it needs to be fixed, but won’t fix anything that is unnecessary.
*The patio furniture sales person who brings out a ladder to get the last display model from the ceiling-high display shelf.
*The jeweler who walks the customer through the options of repair for their cherished, but cheap, pearl necklace.

These types of customer service experiences are appreciated by the customer and remembered.

By treating every customer service issue as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with a customer, you can build the loyalty that every business needs. Loyal customers are your bread and butter, the customers who pay your monthly bills month in and month out.
Being a small business can give you more of these opportunities because you know your customers personally, so use these moments as a chance to shine.

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What A 9-year-old Reporter Can Teach Us About Perseverance

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Nine-year-old Hilde Lysiak is the brains behind Orange Street News, which bills itself as the only newspaper dedicated to Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. When she broke the story of a murder in her neighborhood hours before professional news outlets, she received some backlash from online commenters. Because of her young age, some people said that she should focus on “cute” stories. One even went so far as to say that she should report on “tea parties and dolls.”

Despite the criticisms, Hilde has continued to report the news. She has a hotline that people can call to have vandalism investigated. Stories reported by Orange Street News range from local thefts to the expansion of the route of a local ice cream truck. While some feel that reporting on the hard news is not the job of a nine-year-old, one group, in particular, disagrees: publisher Scholastic has just offered Hilde a four-book deal. She will be co-writing a mystery series with her father. The first book comes out in 2017.

Had Hilde backed down when she received criticism, she would never have gotten this opportunity. The book deal makes Hilde one of the youngest individuals to publish a book series.

Just as it took perseverance for Hilde Lysiak to keep creating stories for Orange Street News, marketers need to keep up consistent efforts even when they’re not getting results right away. Here a few areas where prolonged and consistent action is necessary to get the sales that make your business a success:

1. Social media marketing.

There are over 32 million Google results for the phrase “social media marketing doesn’t work.” However, when you go further, you’ll find that the ways that people have been social media marketing are what does not work. For marketing on social media to work for your brand, you need to post consistently. According to Buffer, you should post anywhere from once per day on LinkedIn to five or more times a day if you are marketing on Pinterest. Without this level of commitment, you will not get the results you want.

2. Email marketing.

If you send an email blast just once with no follow-up, your conversion rate will be low. However, follow-up emails can raise it considerably. Research from Salesforce indicates that it can take anywhere from 6 to 8 “touches” to generate a sale. People are usually not ready to buy the first time they have an offer. By reaching out several times, you can help build their trust and comfort levels and get them willing to buy.

3. Blogging on your site.

If you do not blog consistently, you will not get the sort of traffic and build the type of relationships that can help support your brand. Blogging at least twice a week will help you get more traction in the search engines and will give visitors more materials to check out while they decide whether to give you their business.

No marketing effort will work overnight. By being consistent and persistent in your marketing materials, you can improve your conversions and see more success in your marketing efforts.

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Know When to Hold ’em and When to Fold ’em

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“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” This iconic hook from the song “The Gambler” is about more than just playing cards. It’s also a metaphor for many circumstances that we encounter in life and business. Knowing when to end a dead-end job or a toxic relationship is critical to maintaining a happy life.

Likewise, understanding when it’s time to quit a product you love, but that is not providing you with the gains you want, can mean the difference between success and failure, or even fulfillment and frustration.

In 1976, 23-year-old Don Schlitz wrote “The Gambler.” After pushing it around for a few years, eventually, it was picked up by Bobby Bare and later, Johnny Cash. Despite the talent behind the lyrics and performers, the song never really took off. That is until Kenny Rogers picked it up and launched it to the top of the charts. Schlitz knew he had a song worth pushing and didn’t give up. That perseverance paid off in spades (pun intended).

Knowing when to keep going with a product or service is not always so straight-forward, though. It’s a difficult decision to give up on your “business baby” that you created and nurtured, especially when revenues are “ok.” Sometimes, though, it’s necessary to give up an “ok” thing to make room for an extraordinary thing. So, hear from some of the top founders in the country about how they know when to hold em’ and when to fold em’.

Is It Profitable?

This question is probably the easiest to answer when you take into account: (1) revenue, (2) time and money investment, (3) emotional investment and (4) company goals. For Elisa Doucett, Founder of CraftYourContent, it’s a no-brainer – “if it costs more fiscally and mentally to maintain than it makes, then it is no bueno.”

For Matthew Newton, Founder of TourismTiger, his approach is similar – “if the return on time or money invested isn’t worth it and you can’t find a clear solution, it’s time to kill the product.”

Is It Providing Value?

Just creating a product because you want to make money or achieve a personal goal may not be the best for your product’s success. Likewise, if your product is too similar to your competition or doesn’t add more value than a competing product, it’s time to move on to something else.

Micheal Ericsson, Founder of Search Scientists, looks to the founder’s mindset in determining when to kill a product: “Everyone I know with a truly successful product…[is] not creating a product to create a product, they’re moving forward with the goal to change a piece of the world.”

Is It Feeding Your Passion?

While passion may not be the best reason for creating a product, it certainly should be a factor in keeping it going. According to Brandon King, Founder of SmartInternChina, “You should kill a product when it is killing you. If you go through an extended period of time working on a product you hate…that drains your energy, that is a good sign that it is time to move on.”

Continually working on a product that you hate will erode your ability to put your best efforts into it. Nobody wants to put their name on a mediocre product.

Phil Ivey, (a.k.a. Gambler) always quits for the night when he’s no longer at his best. The same holds true for running a business.

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Inspiring Company Cultures: A Great Place to Work

business people fun playing office chair race man push woman colleagues casual group competitive team

How often do you dread coming to work in the morning? Even for business owners who love what they do, sometimes getting out of bed and coming to work can be a chore. Putting a priority on developing a company culture that inspires your employees to have fun at work can help take the dreariness out of the everyday mundane. While not all businesses have a budget to implement all of these ideas, you can find some creative juice from what these companies have put in place to make their workers enjoy the workplace.

What Makes a Great Place to Work?

Sparks, a marketing company, creates activities that make work fun for their employees. Some of the activities they have implemented include:

  • Mix & Mingle – A program that coordinates employees from different departments having lunch together.
  • Food4Thought – Focuses on lunchtime presentations from various departments and what they are doing.
  • Events – Creating parties for holidays and other occasions.

Encourage Staff to Get Up Out of Their Chairs

Limeade, an employee engagement platform, tries to get their workers out of their chairs by using standing desks, walking meetings, puzzle stations, coloring stations, fitness challenges, and even Nerf wars.

Let Employees Play Games

TinyPULSE, a performance review company, has office games that the staff play together to relax and de-stress throughout the day. Two of their favorite games are Werewolf and Eat Poop, You Cat. These games can be played by the entire staff at short intervals one at a time. Team members can take a few moments away from their job to have a bit of fun. You can find instructions for the two games at the links below:

Create Activities that Employees Can Enjoy After Work

SnackNation, a healthy snack company, designs activities for employees that they can do after work or on weekends. Most of those activities involve fitness at some level. Activities include going offsite to nearby parks such as Big Bear, scooter races in the parking lot, yoga in the office, boot camps, and Friday Happy Hours.

How Can You Develop Your Company Culture?

Even small companies can develop their business culture to bring employees together and make work more enjoyable. It doesn’t take a large budget to implement some of these ideas. While you may not be able to sponsor a weekend trip, you can certainly add some games into your day that only take a few moments away from the stress of work. You can find a lot of unique team-building games on the internet with a quick Google search, many of which take minimal money to run. Some take only a piece of paper and a pen. These types of games help your staff solidify by laughing together, and they will feel more comfortable working together later on. Additionally, work can be stressful. Taking the stress away will help staff become happier at work which will give them the incentive to stay with your company longer.

You can implement team lunches to share employee recognition or talk about what is going on in the company. You can also help employees build camaraderie with lunch-time sports. Think about how you can make small changes to create a positive, fun atmosphere in your workplace. If your staff is having fun, that attitude will translate to your customers who will enjoy coming into your office.

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There Are No Pointless Meetings, Only Wasted Opportunities

startups and tech talent met with top-tier international investors,

startups and tech talent met with top-tier international investors,

If you ask any business professional what they dread on their calendar the most, many of them would tell you the same thing: all of those pointless meetings. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t been pulled away from their desk at the most inopportune time, only to sit in a room and hear people convey information that they either already knew or that they didn’t need to know in the first place.

The dirty little secret here is that there are NO pointless meetings in the world of business – only wasted opportunities to get things done. If you want to make sure your meetings are justifying their existence, you’ll want to keep a few key things in mind.

Know When to Schedule a Meeting and When Not To

The first step on your road to a more productive meeting schedule involves coming to an understanding of what type of information should be conveyed in a meeting and what would be better left for some other delivery mechanism. One of the reasons why meetings tend to fall into the “pointless” category for many people is that they don’t require input or collaboration. If a team leader wants to draw everyone together to talk about updates to a project, but they don’t want the advice of anyone else, what they’re scheduling is not a meeting at all. It is an email at best.

Collaboration and the input of everyone involved should be a requirement for any meeting to justify its existence. If a particular problem has cropped up with a project and everyone needs to come together to solve it, that’s one thing. However, if the purpose of the meeting can be accomplished by just sending a memo or some other form of communication, don’t waste everyone’s time by gathering the entire team together to talk about the work they are already doing. Instead, let the team just get on with doing their jobs.

It’s All About Solutions and Focus

Another one of the reasons why more meetings tend to be less than productive is because people come with ideas, not solutions. One sure-fire way to make sure that nothing gets done is to allow people to come to a meeting and say off the top of their heads whatever is on their minds, firing off ideas that may or may not work.

In a perfect world, everyone at the meeting would know that you have a problem and would come prepared with X, Y, and Z suggestions for how to feasibly solve it. You wouldn’t waste the meeting time searching for an answer to your problem. Instead, you would be able to pick the best solution available to you from what the team members came prepared with and brought to the meeting. Far too many meetings lack this type of targeted focus, which is why so many of us can walk out of a meeting and feel like it accomplished nothing.

At the end of the day, there are no pointless meetings in the world of business or, at least, there shouldn’t be. Getting everyone together for a meeting can be a great thing. Everyone is in a room together, feeding off of everyone else’s energy and building a solid foundation of creativity that will carry your business forward. Meetings that are little more than lectures (or worse, freestyle sessions) have no place in a productive organization. If you want to have a meeting, by all means, do so – just make sure it has a clear focus before you schedule it.

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