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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Business Cards: Why They’re Still an Important Marketing Tool in the Digital World

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With all of the talk about the importance of properly marketing your product or service, it’s important not to overlook the most valuable commodity of all: yourself. As much as that beautiful-looking flyer attracts the right type of attention for your product, a business card is designed to do the same for both your professional image and your career as a whole.

But do business cards still have a place in a digital world? In an era where finding someone is easier than ever thanks to tools like social media, do people still need to go through designing, printing, and handing out a business card? The answer is one that might surprise you.

Business Cards: By the Numbers

Just going off of statistics, it’s easy to see that the answer to the question “are business cards still an important tool in a digital world?” is a resounding YES. According to one study, there are about 10 billion(!) business cards printed in the United States each year – or roughly 27 million each day.

But diving deeper, it’s clear that business cards perform a function that goes far beyond just handing out contact information. They actually serve an important role in your business at large, too. For every 2,000 business cards that you pass out, you can expect your sales to increase by an average of 2.5%. Business cards do everything from show someone you’re serious to increase personal brand recognition and awareness.

One of the major strengths of print marketing and the use of business card is that they’re physical. They’re something tangible that people can hold in their hand and, most importantly, share with friends and other family members. In an era where people are getting bombarded by more digital messages than ever and emails can be deleted in seconds (and people can be muted on social networking sites like Twitter), never underestimate how essential this simple fact really is.

The Power of the First Impression

Just because business cards still serve a purpose does not mean that all business cards are created equally. There are a number of design tips that you can use to make the RIGHT kind of first impression the next time you hand out your card to a customer or at that next big networking event.

StatisticBrain estimates that prospective clients will hold onto a color-filled business card a full ten times longer than they will a standard white card. Color also increases the impact of engagement on a person’s ability to follow simple directions; this is an advantage too powerful to ignore.

Approximately seventy-two percent of people say that they judge the company or brand that a person works for based on the quality of their business card. Likewise, thirty-nine percent of those who responded to a survey said that they would choose NOT to do business with someone if they had a “cheap-looking” business card.

Business cards are still essential in a digital world, and that means you need to devote the time to doing them well.


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Make Customer Loyalty a Bigger Part of Your Marketing Efforts

custLoyaltyIn the early days of your business, the goal of your marketing program was essentially a singular one: you tried to get your product or service in front of as many eyes as you possibly could. Once you’ve established yourself, however, it’s time to switch gears a little. According to most studies, it’s between five and twenty-five times more expensive to gain a new customer than it is to keep one of your existing ones. This means that if you’re not already making customer loyalty a significant part of your marketing efforts, it’s about time to get going on it.

What a Difference Customer Loyalty Makes

According to a study conducted in 2014, seventy-three percent of consumers said that loyalty programs should be the way that brands show loyalty to their existing customers. Regardless of which way you choose to look at it, even instituting a modest customer loyalty program can have significant benefits across your entire organization. It can help make your marketing more appealing to new customers, as well as lead to higher levels of engagement with existing ones. That engagement breeds retention, which research suggests creates a situation where your average customer will be up to five times more likely to only buy from you in the future.

Also, remember that increasing customer retention (which these types of loyalty programs are great at doing) by just five percent can boost your profits anywhere from twenty-five to ninety-five percent, according to Bain & Co. Let that sink in for a second.

Building a Customer Loyalty Program

When you begin to institute a customer loyalty program for your business, the biggest mistake you should avoid is one of perspective. Remember that what you’re trying to do is show loyalty to your customers, period. Far too many businesses make the mistake of assuming that this is a way for customers to show loyalty to a brand, which leads to the type of ill-advised thinking that generates bad customer service and only ends up with a program few people want to take advantage of.

Assuming that you’re “giving your customer the opportunity” to show loyalty to your business is how you end up in a situation where forty-three percent of consumers say that rewards programs require too much spending to reach the next level, or where points expire before they can be used, or where points are worthless because of all the restrictions they come with. Build a program that lets you say an emotional “thank you” to the people who got you where you are, NOT the other way around.

If you are going to make customer loyalty a bigger part of your marketing efforts, however, always remember the old saying that “variety is the spice of life.” In a survey conducted by Collinson Latitude, sixty-three percent of respondents said that having a wide range of rewards and offers was the single most important aspect that decided whether or not they would sign up for a loyalty program. So the occasional coupon isn’t necessarily going to cut it (pun absolutely intended).

Again, making customer loyalty a bigger part of your marketing efforts is, and will always be, about giving back to the people who helped build your brand. If you make every decision with this one simple perspective in mind, all of the other benefits – from increasing the value of each customer to engagement and long-term loyalty – will happen as a happy byproduct.


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It’s Okay to go Niche: How One Unusual Brand is Turning Trash into Specialty Surf Bags

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Sometimes, we stumble across an answer to a problem that we did not know existed. Alec and Aric Avedissian are solving two problems at once with their business Rareform. Rareform’s customers get durable, one-of-a-kind surfbags while the company helps reroute some of the thousands of pounds of billboard material that is discarded in the U.S. every day.

The average billboard goes up for four to eight weeks, then is discarded. While there are no firm figures on how many billboards exist in the United States, the number is high. The Los Angeles area alone is host to over 6,000 boards. Since billboard material does not decompose, that is a lot of waste.

Inspiration in the Strangest Place

Avedissian stumbled on the idea of surfbags from billboard vinyl after spending time volunteering with a fishing cooperative in El Salvador. While there, he saw people using discarded billboards to make roofing. The sight was a revelation. He’d previously never considered the material and had thought that billboards were made from paper. The discovery that this durable material was being discarded every week spurred his innovative idea.

While the bags offered a durable product at a reasonable price, the company was having a hard time finding their footing. They’d had $1.1 million in sales over three years, but saw that sales were slipping. Had they reached saturation? They decided to go on Shark Tank to see if they could find the funds that would bring them growth. Two out of the three judges did not bite; they were concerned not just with the falling sales, but with the complexity of the concept of Rareform’s product. However, Kevin O’Leary was not dissuaded and made an offer. And, it turned out that the best benefit for the product was appearing on the show.

Before their Shark Tank appearance, Rareform would recycle anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of vinyl each month. With the added visibility provided by the show, they’ve increased their monthly recycling to 50,000 pounds.

When It’s Okay to Go Niche

Surfbags are already a niche item, appealing only to the approximately 23 million surfers worldwide. By adding the factor of the recycled bags and their one-of-a-kind nature, they become even more niche. However, faith in their product and a willingness to seek out new opportunities to get their wares in front of the audience worked out.

Small businesses should never shy away from a niche product as long as it has a few things going for it. The questions you should ask:

  • Is there an audience? Rareform built their early success with the help of dedicated hobbyists.
  • Do you have a platform that can get you attention? Their appearance on Shark Tank was just what was needed.
  • Do you have reasons for making your product the way you do? Rareform’s founders said they were committed to the cause of recycling. While this was a turn-off for some investors, it is what makes their product appealing and unique.

In today’s highly connected world, there is room for every well-made product, even if your audience is small. By focusing on what you bring to the table, you can find your audience and build success for your brand.


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The Best Marketing Solves a Problem

diamondDiamonds are a girl’s best friend, right? Unfortunately, not always. After learning about some of the poor working conditions and high levels of violence associated with most diamonds on the market, many girls (and guys) have decided that a conventional diamond is not the ideal expression of their love. While some have turned to vintage pieces or alternate stones, one Los Angeles entrepreneur has provided a third option: high-quality jewels grown in a lab instead of under the ground.

Vanessa Stofenmacher did not know much about the jewelry business when she started VOW, her line of engagement, wedding, and promise rings. To cope with the limitations of current diamond-tracking laws, she opted to have the stones for her jewelry line made by Diamond Foundry, a laboratory that makes diamonds in California.

In her market research, she found that women in their twenties were likely to be concerned about the source of their diamonds. They typically did not mind wearing lab-grown stones as long as they looked as good as natural ones. This research made her line a success; the company, beginning with $8,000 in seed money, was valued at $3 million in 2016.

Don’t Be Afraid to Live Your Values

Many of us feel that, in business, our personal convictions should stop outside the doors. However, if we do not create products and marketing campaigns that align with our own values, the chances are good that they will not hit the mark with anyone else.

By choosing a product that she felt strongly about, Stofenmacher found the characteristic that makes her product line different from every other one out there.

Millennials, in particular, are happy to do business with companies that take an ethical stand. By doing something about your beliefs, you can increase connection and engagement.

Think Like Your Customer

The other thing that Stofenmacher did right was seizing an idea that had been troubling many people in the market for diamond rings.

Is there an issue in your industry that you are in a position to address? It does not have to be an ethical concern. It can be a common pain point, such as:

  • the amount of waste currently associated with a product.
  • the inconvenience of current ordering practices.
  • a lack of educational materials about your product and others like it.
  • an area where prices are out of line with consumer expectations.

By looking at what your customer cares about most, you can increase the chances of creating a product and a marketing campaign that will resonate with them.

Listen to Your Customers

How can you find out what people want? Just listen. Stofenmacher learned about the desire for ethical lab-grown stones by perusing Instagram. You can set up social listening on platforms that include Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to see what people are talking about in your industry. Many brands also use customer surveys in front of gated content to learn more.

Over time, you will find that your customers respond best when you directly address an unmet need. The marketing campaigns based on this concept will get higher levels of engagement, a better conversion rate, and will help you build long-lasting relationships that are good for you and your customers.


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Using the Senses to Your Advantage With Print

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It’s well established that print and digital marketing are two entirely different beasts that each require their own unique approaches to reaching their intended audience.

Print Goes Closer

Whereas nobody would argue that digital excels at convenience (since you can essentially reach a person at all times during the day or night), nothing can top print in terms of intimacy. People already believe that receiving actual mail is much more personal than an email containing the same message. On top of that, print provides the ability to physically share a piece of marketing collateral with friends and family members.

According to a recent study commissioned by Martin Lindstrom, however, the benefits of print don’t end there. All of the senses that play a key role when someone has an emotional experience, from touch to sight, to even smell, can all be incorporated into your print campaigns thanks to advancements in technology.

The Science of Senses

In Mr. Lindstrom’s study, it was revealed that if you’re able to engage three or more senses with a piece of print collateral, you have the potential to increase not only brand engagement but also brand awareness by an incredible seventy percent. Many senses, with smell being mentioned in particular, are directly tied to the way the human brain forms memories and how it processes emotions.

Harvard Business School took this research one step further by doing an experiment with, of all things, pencils. Participants in the study were handed two sets of pencils, ones that had been treated to smell particularly nice with tea-tree oil, and ones that were completely untreated. Two weeks later, they were asked to remember specifics about each set of pencils. To the surprise of absolutely no one, the people who had unscented pencils remembered about seventy-three percent less information than those who had the scented pencils.

Using This to Your Advantage

In many ways, this means that while it is always important to focus on how your print collateral looks, you should never fail to take advantage of opportunities to engage a person’s other senses as well. This could include using a thick or textured paper stock to make a direct mail piece feel differently from every other piece of mail a person received that day. As the studies above suggested, it could also include using scented paper or other elements to engage a person’s sense of smell. Not only could this help a person remember your brand, but it could also be a great way to play with your very brand identity.

While print marketing has its advantages over digital, marketers need to work hard to offer a truly unique experience to audiences that they will NOT be able to recreate in the digital world in which we now live. Engaging all of a person’s senses is the perfect way to accomplish precisely that.


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Why Print Marketers Excel At Resonating With an Audience

printAny solid relationship, regardless of the type you’re talking about, has the core foundation of intimacy in common. This is true whether you’re talking about your relationship with your significant other, your relationship with your best friend, or even the relationship between yourself and your favorite brand. If any relationship is going to be successful, it must have that basis of close familiarity or friendship, a warm confidence upon which everything else is built.

So, how do you help cultivate intimacy with someone, particularly regarding a brand and its target audience? Easy. You resonate with them. You focus your efforts not on saying how great your products or services are, but by using images and text to carefully evoke memories, feelings, and emotions within your audience at any and all opportunity. Emotions are something that print marketers have come to excel at over the years for a number of important reasons.

Print is Emotional

One of the reasons why print marketers are so great at resonating with an audience has to do with the natural benefits of print. It’s inherently an intimate medium, especially when compared with something like email. Customers have gotten savvy; they know that even a personalized email is something you probably generated in seconds. A personalized piece of print collateral, on the other hand, took a lot more effort.

You had to think long and hard about every aspect of your print mailer because you only got one shot at it. If your customer ignores Monday’s email, you can instantly try again on Tuesday (or even Monday afternoon). The same is not true of print. You had to go over every detail and every last design choice in your mind to make sure you would invoke every potential reaction. You had to put your heart and soul into it, making sure it was *just right.* You had to send it in the mail and wait patiently to see what reaction you would get.

Customers can feel this. They appreciate it. In a world where they’re constantly being bombarded by marketing messages every time they turn on their smartphones, it’s something they want more of. These are likely the major reasons why 43% of customers find print ads less annoying than online ads, but why they also consider print collateral to be inherently more trustworthy, too.

The Limitless Potential of Print

Another one of the major reasons why print marketers are so great at resonating with an audience is because they know how to play to the strengths of the very medium itself. One of the most exciting things about print is that it is interactive. How you engage with a customer can vary depending on the specific type of customer you’re talking about.

An Email is an Email is an Email

Try as hard as you’d like to differentiate yourself, but you’re still looking at 500 or so words with a graphic or two that are likely being viewed on a small touchscreen device. Print, however, can be literally anything from a gorgeous-looking flyer on a heavy paper stock to a branded coffee mug, key chain, magnet and more. It’s something tangible. Something that your customer can hold in their hands. Something they can share with their friends

To put it another way, print is something real, which is a major benefit that you just can’t put a price on in today’s digital world.

In recent years, forming this type of unshakable bond has become the major goal of marketers everywhere, even going beyond just buying and selling. If you can convince someone to make a purchase, you’ve made a sale. Congratulations! If you can plant the seeds of intimacy within someone and really resonate with them, you’ve just created the type of loyal brand advocate that will last a lifetime. We believe that it’s a technique that print marketers have honed over the years and they’ve gotten exceptionally good at, to say the least.


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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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How to Put Apps and Social Media to Work for You as a Business

Group of People Connection Digital Device Concept

Running a successful business today means putting social media to work for your company. Regardless of industry, a strong social media presence allows you to maximize your reach, while at the same time generate sales from other sources aside from local consumers. Whether you are launching a startup or looking to expand a current business, utilizing social media and various applications that are beneficial to teams and industry leaders is a way to stay one step ahead of the competition while reaching a much wider audience.

Branding Your Company’s Social Media Presence

Before setting up social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, it’s important to consider the audience you want to reach regarding demographics and age groups. How do you want to present your company? What voice do you want to implement when showcasing products or services? Are you planning to share graphics, videos, or humorous updates to potential customers? Carefully consider the voice, tone, and style you want to use to represent your brand based on the audience you plan on reaching (with paid or organically grown content).

Social Media Tips for Business

When creating social media pages for your business, using the same handle and username for all options is highly advisable. Steer clear of confusing names or characters that may leave users lost or unsure of your page’s authenticity. Consider the flow of your posts and the type of content you produce to streamline your pages and keep users coming back for more. Share real stories and content from relevant industry professionals, helping to build brand loyalty and authority. Consistent updating is the key to maintaining relevancy while also keeping potential customers engaged in hearing what you have to say.

Slack

Slack is known throughout both the startup world as well as large-scale companies to help teams and employees better communicate with one another. As a free app download available for both Android and iOS phones, Slack allows individuals within a company to create selective “channels” for marketing, general chat, social media, and any other customized channel that is fitting for your business. Sending messages to an entire team simultaneously allows employees to work more efficiently while also staying on topic with unlimited channels available. Sending images, graphics, and documents is also a possibility with Slack, making it extremely useful when completing everything from print projects, marketing material outlines, to setting goals for an upcoming week or month.

Houseparty App

One application that is growing fast within business markets is an app that was originally designed for college students and a younger demographic altogether. The Houseparty App is free and available on Android and iOS phones, allowing users to create private or public “rooms” to video chat with one another “on the fly.” Although Skype is an alternative, along with GoToMeeting, Houseparty is entirely free and allows up to 8 users in one room simultaneously. Chatting with team members or employees who work remotely will help everyone to catch up on projects and plans quickly regardless of location.

Evernote

Evernote is a classic app that is useful for saving documents, photos, and even print materials you want to share with your entire team or specific employees with ease. The free version of Evernote allows users to upload 60 megabytes of data each month, with premium versions available for large-scale companies. Using Evernote is a quick and easy method of showcasing updates, saving and pinning websites to share, and collectively engaging in one another’s finds online (without pesky bookmarks and browsing).

Take time to consider your company’s needs regarding finance, communication, and time management to assess which type of apps work best for your teams. Find the voice and branding of your business to appeal to potential consumers without sounding robotic or “too corporate,” while still resonating with those who are interested in your products or services. The more you truly understand the needs of your consumers, the easier it becomes to relate to them, helping to boost sales, loyalty, and interest in any industry.


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Overcoming the Getting Started Obstacle Course

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Collette Divitto was born with Down syndrome, but she hasn’t let that stand in the way of doing what she wants with her life. As a passionate baker, Collette sought opportunities to work in that field and earn a living. However, every place she applied told her that she was not a good fit. Instead of giving up, she formulated her own cookie recipe and went into business for herself.

Her cinnamon chocolate chip cookies were popular with friends and family. When one friend after another told her, “you should sell these!” she took the leap and began her small business out of her apartment. She bought business cards, made a website, and learned how to create invoices. Before long, she was taking orders online and had her first local client, the Golden Goose Market.

While Collette faced a unique set of challenges getting her business off the ground, everyone who wants to start an enterprise will face hurdles. Overcome these hurdles by asserting the sort of grit and curiosity that got Collette started:

1. Remember that you don’t need permission.

Collette first tried to work for other businesses. When they did not see a use for her, she decided to go out on her own. Instead of waiting for an opportunity to present itself, those who wish to forge a business should follow Collette’s courageous steps.

2. Be willing to learn new skills.

When bootstrapping a company and getting it going, you may not be able to hire people for every role. Collette learned how to do her own accounting so that she could get started. If she’d waited for someone who could do that job for her, she might still be waiting to start.

3. Reach out to the network you already have.

Collette’s local client, the Golden Goose Market, is right in her neighborhood. Since they already knew Collette, they were willing to take a chance on her and display her cookies. Look to your own network; think about the people you know from old jobs, friends of the family, and other contacts. They may have a need for your service or know someone who does.

4. Capitalize on what makes you unique.

Collette Divitto got promotion through human interest stories because of the obstacles that she has overcome. Think about what sets you apart from your competition. It can be a brand story, a unique product like Collette’s top secret cinnamon cookie recipe, or an aspect of your customer service that goes above and beyond what your competitors provide. Recognize your unique attributes and learn how to convey them to your prospects. These qualities are the ones that make your business more appealing than the rest.

Being willing to take risks and dedicating the work necessary can help ensure your business’s success. This sort of courageous approach can get you through those slim early times and make it more likely that your business will thrive.


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