4 Stubborn Business Myths

myth

Entrepreneurs know that owning a small business takes dedication, passion, and hours of concentrated work. You may run into obstacles that test your business and your perseverance, obstacles that are norms in the world of business which each entrepreneur must learn to navigate. However, there are some obstacles that you may be facing without realizing it. Those barriers are stubborn business myths that just won’t go away because people believe them, even though they aren’t true.

1. It’s not what you know but who you know.

In the course of doing business, business owners or potential business owners come up against this belief time and time again. However, while it is true that knowing the right people may help you get started or get access to some deals, in most businesses it is expertise, experience, and skill that propel you forward in business. If you can provide the solutions customers want, they will refer you to their friends and family.

2. Nice guys finish last.

This myth is a holdover from the era of Western movies and superhero comics. Nice guys (always portrayed as pushovers or wallflowers) finish last because the villains and heroes walk all over them. In film, this may be true. After all, Tony Stark isn’t a nice guy. He is an arrogant, self-centered genius. However, The Avengers aside, in real life, nice guys finish first quite often. While a person with low self-esteem who doesn’t speak up will not be successful without change, a courteous business owner is appreciated immensely by customers and vendors.

In today’s modern world, people are used to dealing with machines, poorly-paid clerks, and online shopping. Finding a business person who is willing to offer them genuine customer service, build a relationship and spend time getting to know them to better serve them is rare. Many people are happy to pay more for real customer service. Therefore, being a “nice guy” is valuable to your contacts. They will remember your excellent service and come back for more.

3. Don’t work hard. Work smart.

This myth is one of the worst business myths out there. There is no way you can run a business without working hard. Hard work is what separates the “men from the boys” as entrepreneurs. Successful entrepreneurs put in hours of labor to get their businesses off the ground. Working smart is just another way to say that there is a workaround or that you can find a way to skip the hard work. It just isn’t possible in reality. If you aren’t willing to work hard, you won’t make it in business.

4. It’s called work for a reason. It’s not supposed to be fun.

All work has elements that workers do not like to perform. It might be the paperwork that you need to fill out for each customer or the data entry on your last case. However, why can’t work be fun?

People who find work that satisfies them are much happier in life. That happiness translates to their work and their interactions with co-workers, customers, and vendors. If you love to sell, create graphic designs, or help customers find what they are looking for, then you ARE having fun at work. In fact, many companies are now providing their employees with ways to have fun at work to help reduce stress and fatigue.

So go ahead and have fun while working! It can only improve your outlook and production. Work can be fun.


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Qualities That Brands With Longevity Share

brands

In the world of business, there is perhaps no commodity more precious than longevity. Getting a brand up and off the ground is one thing – keeping it around for the long-term is something else entirely. Creating longevity will rely in large part on your marketing, although this is only one small part of a much greater whole. The best marketing campaign in the world can’t create a long-standing, successful brand if a few qualities aren’t underneath it all just waiting to be communicated to the widest possible audience.

They Trigger an Emotional Response

One of the biggest traits that all brands with serious longevity share is the fact that they’re able to trigger an emotional response with their target audience, creating a loyal army of followers. This is true both with the way they market AND the way that response integrates into the service they provide.

Apple is a great example of this based on their image as the “hip, trendy” electronics company. People see a sleek, sophisticated Apple product in an equally compelling ad and they can’t help but think, “That looks really cool; I want that.” The same goes for a company like Amazon.com, albeit from a different angle. The way that Amazon has embraced personal marketing, both regarding the advertising it creates and with regards to the personalized recommendations that each user enjoys, makes them think, “I like Amazon; they get me.” That type of emotional connection is something you just can’t put a price on.

They Live Up to What They Promise

All of the best brands with serious longevity share the fact that they live up to the promises they make in their marketing materials. This comes from a deeper understanding of not just the people they’re trying to attract, but who those people are and what they want. These brands know how to communicate with their target audience and, as a result, don’t just live up to their promises, but they know how NOT to make a promise they can’t keep.

Take FedEx, for example. Entrepreneur.com recently cited FedEx as a brand with an incredibly strong corporate identity, owed largely to the fact that it’s operations are so incredibly efficient. FedEx is a brand built on trust, and the road to trust is paved with promises that have been kept in the past. FedEx is seen as an incredibly reliable service, and people in need of shipping rank FedEx favorably in that regard. This creates something of a self-fulfilling prophecy – a symbiotic relationship that only strengthens over time specifically because FedEx knows what its audience wants and it knows how precisely to give it to them every time.

Once again, Apple is another example of this idea in motion. They promise products that “just work” and have historically delivered on that promise time and again. This has made them not only one of the most successful brands in the world, but also one with serious longevity in an industry where companies come and go like the weather.

These are just a few of the core qualities that all brands with longevity share. Remember that in the grand scheme of things, brands come and go all the time. Creating a brand is easy, but if you want to make sure that your brand stands the test of time, you need to focus on offering something truly unique on an ongoing basis.


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What’s in a Name? The Value of Sponsorship as a Branding and Marketing Opportunity

sponsorship

In the world of marketing, you’re essentially always on the lookout for new and innovative opportunities to raise awareness about the brand that you represent. It isn’t just about getting the word out about a new product or service; it’s also about reminding people that you’re there, that you’ve always been there, and that you’re always going to be there. In an era where marketers strive to stretch the value of each dollar as far as it will go, one often overlooked opportunity may just generate the types of results you’re after: sponsorship.

Sponsorship and Brand Awareness: The Stats

Even if you don’t necessarily see sponsorship of charities, non-profits, or other local organizations as a valuable addition to your marketing arsenal, it’s clear that somebody does. According to a study conducted by IEG Sponsorship Report, sponsorship was a $2 billion dollar enterprise in 2016 and is expected to increase by roughly 3.7 percent over the course of the next year.

A report generated by the Edelman Trust Barometer indicated that sponsorship even goes far beyond marketing impact. Eighty percent of consumers around the world agreed that a business has a duty to play a very key role in addressing modern issues.

It even plays an important role in your own company culture. Fifty-one percent of employees surveyed said that they didn’t want to work for a company that didn’t have strong societal and environmental commitments, and almost seventy-five percent said that they liked their jobs more when they were given the type of opportunity to make a positive impact that sponsorship affords.

Sponsorship Best Practices

If you do decide to go ahead with sponsorship as a new brand and marketing opportunity, there are a few key things you’ll want to keep in mind. For starters, do your research carefully. Always make sure that you’re aligning with an organization that meshes with your existing culture and values. Do as much deep digging as you possibly can, as sponsorship creates something of a symbiotic relationship between two entities. A scandal at one will more than likely affect the other, so you’ll want to make sure that there are no skeletons hiding in the closet before you start spending your money.

You’ll also want to make an effort to isolate the impact of your sponsorships from the rest of your marketing activities, as only then will you be able to fully understand just what role it is playing in your larger campaign. MarketStrategies.com says that only half of marketers actually do this, which is a mistake. Though you’re doing something for a good cause first and recognition second, it still needs to be measured for maximum effectiveness – the same as anything else.

These are just a few reasons sponsorship is such a valuable branding and marketing opportunity, particularly for companies operating in the small and medium-sized business space. Not only does it give you a chance to raise awareness in a powerful way, but it also allows for something even more important – you get to give back to the community that you are an active part of.


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Warning: Are You Accidentally Shattering Your Brand Continuity?

brand-continuity

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

It’s All in the Visuals

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

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

Getting Everyone on the Same Page

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

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


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Moving On Is Not Giving Up

moving-on

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

Look for the Signs

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

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

Moving On Doesn’t Mean You’ve Failed

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

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

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

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

In the End

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


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What’s in a Leaf?

leaf

If you enjoy watching the leaves float down during the fall season, you probably already know that just like snowflakes, each tree’s leaves are individual and unique. Unlike snowflakes, though, leaves can tell you from which tree they came, and fortunately, there are many resources available to you for identifying trees by their leaves.

Knowing more about your surroundings is important, and it can apply well in a work situation.

Discovery

An excellent resource for identifying trees will take you on a journey of discovery: from the color and shape of the leaf to how many points it has, all to learn more about the tree it came from. It might go on to identify the type of bark, the size of the tree, and more to help you determine which tree you are looking at.

There are many ways you can apply this strategy of discovery with your customers, especially if they are repeat customers. If you think about each customer as if they were an onion with many layers to uncover, you can view each contact with them as an opportunity to peel away one more layer.

Learning

Your customers are individuals with unique personalities, family issues, work challenges, and styles of doing business. You can work on strategies to uncover more information about your customers to help cement a relationship with them. Customers who like you and enjoy your relationship are more willing to continue to do business with you and become loyal repeat customers.

Depth

Depending on how you maintain your customer records, there are different methods of collecting and retaining information about your clients. In an article, “7 Ways to (Really) Know Your Customers,” it offers several suggestions for small businesses to get to know their customers better including gleaning social data from sites such as Facebook.
By getting to know your customers better, you can anticipate when they will be spending, what triggers a purchase, and how you can be proactive in contacting them for their triggers. As you learn more about your customer, you can apply your knowledge to help them better manage their relationship with you, potentially saving them money in the long run. For instance, if they are buying their products when needed, but you see a pattern, you can sell them a larger bulk amount on a periodic basis saving them money and securing the purchase for your account.

Knowledge

Knowing your customers will allow you to separate the A and B level of customers from the one-time business customers. As you develop your relationships with your clients, you can grow your business in depth. Then, using similar methods, seek out new business and begin the process again.


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Don’t Make the Internet Angry: Important Considerations About Using Social Media as a Marketing Platform

social-media

As a sheer marketing platform, social media brings with it a host of advantages that can’t be ignored. According to one recent study, there will be 2.5 billion unique users worldwide on social media networks by as soon as 2018. Right now, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have the potential to effortlessly connect you with approximately 70% of the United States population.
However, social media also presents some challenges, too – particularly if you insist on taking the “tried but true” marketing techniques of yesteryear and trying to cram them into a social media-shaped box. If you want to unlock the real potential that only social media can provide, you’ll need to keep a few key things in mind.

Different Users Are Looking for Different Things

One of the most important things to understand about social media networks is that they aren’t all created equally. Someone who uses Facebook isn’t looking for the same TYPE of message that someone who uses Twitter is. The same goes for LinkedIn, Pinterest and more. While they’re all “social networks” in the strictest sense of the definition, they all have their unique strengths.

Twitter users are looking for shorter, bite-sized bits of information while Facebook users prefer longer, more thoughtful posts. A piece of marketing collateral that you designed for Facebook won’t necessarily play well to Twitter’s audience, and vice versa. You have to understand the channel you’re using, play to its strengths, and adapt across the board. Even if you’re presenting the same message on each network, you have to make sure that the delivery mechanism is optimized for the platform you’re working with at the time.

Think Young

One of the most mission critical things to understand as you move forward with social media is the fact that 90% of young adults today (defined as people between the ages of 18 and 29) are social media users. Not only that, but a third of them say that social media is one of their preferred methods for communicating with businesses in general.

In essence, this means that if you want to create the type of loyal following that will carry your business far NOW, you have to start playing to their habits on social media today. These younger users will continue to age, and if you can hook them young via social media, you’ve likely hooked them forever.

Social Media Demands Honesty

Finally, one of the most important considerations about using social media as a marketing platform has to do with what happens if things go wrong. Because of the intimate, constant connection that social media generates, anything less than honesty is not welcome. If customers have a concern, address it. If a legitimate problem arises, do what you can to make it right. If something bad happens with your company – be it a negative run-in with a customer to a full-fledged PR disaster – don’t just try to sweep it under the rug and pretend like it never happened.

Gabe Newell, a former Microsoft employee and founder of Valve Corporation, said it best when he said “One of the things we learned pretty early on is ‘Don’t ever, ever try to lie to the internet – because they will catch you. They will deconstruct your spin. They will remember everything you ever say for eternity.”

In essence, this means that while social media can bring a lot of positive attributes to your company regarding the sheer marketing power it offers, it is also a slippery slope. If you want to use social media to develop meaningful, lasting relationships with your target audience, you can’t assume this is a given. You have to earn it, and you can never take it for granted.


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Goals are Not Just for Sports

goals

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

What Can We Learn from Goals in Sports?

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

Obstacles

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

Applying Goals to Business

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

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

How to Keep Your Goals in the Forefront of Your Mind

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


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The Art of the Pivot

art_pivot

No matter what business you’re talking about, most companies usually begin life in the same way: with an idea. You wake up one morning, have an idea for a product or service that you’re sure will be the “next big thing,” and you get to work. You fully commit yourself to building an infrastructure, developing and expanding on your idea, and eventually, you bring your product or service to market.

And then things have a habit of sometimes not going necessarily how you’d planned them.

Maybe people are using your product, but they’re not using it in the exact way that you intended. Certainly not in the way you built your strategy around. Maybe your product or service isn’t popular at all, but the underlying idea is still a solid one. In these situations, you have two options: you can pack up your ball and go home, or you could do what some of the most successful companies in the history of planet Earth have done: you pivot.

The Art of the Pivot in Action

A few years ago, an online role-playing game was founded called “Game Neverending” – you’re forgiven if you’ve never heard of it. The premise was simple – users would travel around a digital map and find other people to buy, sell, and build items with. Included inside the game was a photo-sharing tool, which quickly became one of the most popular parts of the experience. Though the developers loved their idea, users weren’t quite so kind. People were spending less and less time on the “buying, selling, and building items” part and more on the “photo-sharing” part, causing significant problems for the company’s long-term goals.

While you’ve probably never heard of “Game Neverending,” you ARE no doubt aware of a service called Flickr – one of the most popular and widely used photo-sharing tools of the digital age. The developers behind “Game Neverending” realized that they were never going to get people to love their RPG the way they did, so they did what any entrepreneurs would do: they pivoted. They threw out everything except the proven-successful photo-sharing technology and started from scratch. One acquisition by Yahoo! later, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Let the Market Be Your Guide

The key takeaway from this is that you need to be willing to listen to the market and allow it to guide you through execution, even if that execution is at odds with your original intent. Remember that the market is telling you “We like this, but it would be better if it had X, Y, and Z features” is different from pivoting. If users enjoyed the RPG experience of “Game Neverending” and the developers just kept adding game-related features, we might not have Flickr today.

Instead, the market communicated loud and clear: “We don’t like this game, but we do enjoy this one thing that the game lets us do.” These are the types of moments you have to be not only willing to listen to, but also to allow them to change your idea of what your product or service could become.

Listening to the market and being willing to pivot, even if that was the furthest thing from your mind at the time, is not a bad thing. Indeed, history has proven that great things have been born out of it time and again. Because if you release a product or service and are unwilling to change based on the ideals of your users, you’ll wind up hemorrhaging users pretty quickly.

And without those users, what are you left with? Little more than a good idea in search of a purpose, which isn’t anything at all.


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