A Personal Touch Makes a Difference

Marketing is becoming increasingly personalized with the technology available to create templates for customization. More companies are looking for ways to personalize schwag, brochures, and online communications. It is easy to understand why customers love personalization because it means that they are getting noticed, and they can see their name in print or graphics.

Why is Personalization Popular?

While online and digital personalization is easy to implement with current technology, it can also be used for face-to-face marketing. What is interesting is that people are willing to wait for items that are personalized for them. Personalizing communications are the first step in communicating and engaging with the customer. Companies such as Zazzle are making profits printing customized items using pre-configured templates that customers can fill in before they print. Personalization is the result of researching data and getting to know your customer. You can tailor projects and styles towards your customer after finding out what they want.

Often we like to think that items are personalized for us. Personalization reduces the appearance of information overload and helps us to think we are in control. We tend to focus our selective attention on items that are personalized for us from emails to clothing. When someone says your name, you focus attention on that person.

Personalization in the Non-Digital World

Beyond the electronic versions of personalization, you can see this trend on products in the marketplace. Snickers Bars have wrappers with tags such as confused and ornery; Coke cans are being printed with people’s names, and children’s clothing often has names imprinted. These products evoke an emotional reaction in buyers leading to repeat business and customer loyalty. Printers have a unique niche in this marketing avenue since they have been personalizing products for a long time.

Finding the Point of ROI

The point of personalization is to make a relevant connection with a customer. Then you can leverage the connection to drive more business.

4 Stubborn Business Myths

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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.

Busy is a State of Mind; How to Stay Productive When You’re the Boss

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From a certain perspective, employees have it relatively easy. They don’t have a choice regarding what type of work they’re doing or when they’re doing it. Productivity is dictated not only by the company they work for but by the people they answer to. If they don’t have a spark of creative inspiration on their way to work one morning, that’s just too bad – the work needs to be done no matter what. This can be incredibly motivating from a certain perspective.

When you’re the boss, however, you aren’t quite so lucky.

When you’re the person in charge of steering the ship, there WILL be mornings where you don’t feel as creative as you need to be. There will be days where being productive seems impossible, regardless of how hard you try. If you want to be able to stay as creative and as productive as possible, even when you don’t have to answer to anybody but yourself, there are a few key things you’ll want to keep in mind.

It’s All About Momentum

Staying productive when you’re the boss may require you to think about things a bit differently from how you’re used to. One of the most valuable assets that you have on your side will be momentum, but unfortunately, that driving force isn’t just going to create itself.

Say you have a big task ahead of you that needs to be completed by a specified date. When you look at it as a single goal, it can understandably seem insurmountable – particularly if you have nobody to answer to but yourself. However, if you were to break it down into a number of smaller, more straightforward tasks, suddenly you’re building the type of momentum that will carry you far.

Start by making a list of all the more minor things you need to accomplish that will eventually add up to your singular large goal. It’s important that you don’t try to keep a record of this in your head – write it down on a piece of paper or in a word document on your computer. Doing so will help you visualize both what needs to be done, and the forward progress that you’re making. Turn every task less into something that needs to be done and more into a single problem that you need to solve. As you do, physically check each item off the list. The benefit of this method is that you can SEE how much you’re accomplishing, even if you haven’t technically completed that one larger goal yet. Every time you cross off another task, you’re building a little bit of momentum that will drive you forward to the next waypoint. Before you know it, all of those small individual items that seem insignificant by themselves will add up to the proverbial end zone that you were working towards in the first place. You’re not doing any more or less work – you’re just shifting the way you think about the task at hand when you don’t have anyone to look to for motivation other than yourself.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Creativity is the same way. Instead of looking at something as a single, big task to be completed, be it a piece of creative material or a catchy new slogan for your business, look at it as a series of small puzzles to be solved. Visualize the amount of work to be done and the amount of progress you’ve made thus far. Before you know it your creative problem will be solved, even if you weren’t necessarily feeling creative yourself along the way.

For those days where creativity seems fruitless and remaining productive seems all but impossible, remember a very mere fact of the business world that you’ve likely forgotten. Even though you’re the boss, you DO have someone that you’re answering to, the client. Put yourself in the mindset of one of your employees – what would you tell them if they were supposed to turn in that big project but didn’t because they just weren’t “feeling creative enough”? You’d say “too bad – it’s too important, it needs to be done.” Because the work IS too important and it DOES need to be done. As the boss, it isn’t so much that you’re answering to someone (in this case, the client), but more that someone genuinely depends on you. It’s your job not to let them down in any way possible.

The Art of Reflection in Business

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The Art of Reflection in Business

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.

The Courage of Success

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Setting goals to drive revenues and profits is part of doing business. We all strive to be successful in business and in life. When we are young, we look for careers that will make us successful to get the things we want such as a beautiful house, cars, and money. Most people define success as the ultimate goal.

However, there are other ways to look at success.

“Success is not final; failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” ~ Winston Churchill

Churchill defined success and failure as a journey instead of the end goal. How do you define success? If you look at success and failure as part of a journey instead of an end goal, life looks very different. Instead of always striving to seek the end, you are marking points along the pathway as measures of success and failure. None of these points is the ultimate goal, but rather, destinations that you can reach and surpass.

When you define success in this manner, it takes much of the stress away as you pursue your goals. While still working to create success, whether that is a monetary target or achieving other goals such as graduating from school, gaining particular skills, or training an employee successfully, you know that each point is not an end. In fact, each time you achieve success, it is a beginning of the next segment of your journey.

On the flip side, defining success as part of the path means that failure is also part of the path, and not a crushing blow. While no one likes to fail, you can take your failure as a learning opportunity to improve the next time you journey in the same direction. Breaking down the road to success into smaller, doable achievements can help you gain strength to pursue your goals and succeed multiple times.

Churchill said, “It is the courage to continue that counts.” Sometimes, we wake up in the morning and want to be anywhere except at work. However, a successful business person is the one who continues to work day after day whether they want to or not. It takes courage to persevere during the good times and bad, especially when you are not sure if you will be successful that day. When the economy is tough, and business is hard to find, it takes courage to keep looking for new customers.

It also takes courage to change with the times. No matter how long you have been in business, change is inevitable. These days it seems to come faster than ever. However, success means the courage to make the changes that will help you continue to grow in business. In fact, your successful business influences the world around you. As your business continues to flourish, you add to the economy and help bolster the lives of everyone that you touch.

Your courage to continue along a successful pathway creates a ripple effect. By setting an example for your employees, your customers, your vendors, and your family and friends, you show everyone the true meaning of success. You have the courage to continue moving forward.

Managing Change Effectively

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There is no question that people do not like change (https://hbr.org/2012/09/ten-reasons-people-resist-chang). Although some people can adjust more readily than others, it is inherent in our nature that managing change on any level is difficult.

When it comes to business, change is inevitable. As the world changes, so do our businesses in order to stay up-to-date and competitive. However, with each change, it becomes necessary to follow a transition process to acclimate both employees and customers. A transition can be the cause for issues to crop up in any area of your business. At a minimum, it can cause whining, grumbling and potential mistakes from your staff.

Changing Attitudes

When managing change in your business, keep this quote in mind.

“Without change, there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.” ~ William Pollard

The Need for Innovation

Innovation and creativity are two of the most important factors that make your business a premier vendor for your customers. How you and your staff interact with customers and how you provide the best products and services to them will nurture loyal customers and make their lives better. While your techniques and results may change, your values do not, and that is what your customers will come to expect from you.

Creativity is Evergreen

Your ability to create, or to help your customers create, is a valuable talent. Managing change offers you an opportunity to find new ways to develop and display your “wares.” Since change requires learning and developing new skills, people that go through any transition can stimulate their creative centers at the same time they are learning.

How to Manage Change Effectively

To help your employees, customers, and yourself manage change in a positive manner, look for ways to reward people who make the transition effectively.

1. Use change to retrain staff on necessary skills and review their knowledge.
2. Offer incentives for staff to display their new knowledge and expertise to customers.
3. Offer discounts to customers who try your newest innovation.
4. Take the change in stages that make sense for the involved participants.
5. Explain why you are making the change and how it will improve your product, your operations, or grow your business.
6. Give staff and customers a forum to voice their opinions and complaints.
7. Thank people for trusting you and making the effort to try something new.
8. Express your understanding of resistance to change.

As you ask your people to take the steps to change, remind them of how far your business and industry has come and where you would be if you never made any changes.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

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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.

The Art of the Learning Opportunity: How to Recover From a Public Relations Nightmare

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Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when operating a business in today’s digital age is that EVERY interaction you have with a customer, regardless of how private you think it may be, is a public relations disaster waiting to happen. The internet has brought us together as a society like never before, and this brings with it both its positives and its negatives for organizations everywhere. If someone has a great interaction with your business on the internet, they can easily tell all their friends and family members about it with a quick tweet or Facebook post. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true – even a negative interaction with your customer service department on the telephone can quickly balloon into a PR nightmare in a matter of hours if you’re not careful.

Because of this, it’s best just to assume that EVERY conversation you have with a customer is under public scrutiny at all times (because it probably is). Even responding to what you believe to be an invalid negative review of your business has the potential to turn quickly into a lightning rod of controversy depending on where it falls in the news cycle.

The Lessons Learned

For the sake of argument, let’s say you’ve found yourself in the middle of a PR nightmare due to a conversation with a client that quickly went south. Maybe one of your customer service reps let emotions get the best of them and what started as a routine call quickly turned hostile, Now, the whole world seems to know about it. You can’t take back what has already happened, but you CAN use the lessons that you’re about to learn as the foundation of every decision you make moving forward.

For starters, examine the situation to find out what you did right and, most importantly, what you did wrong. The fact that you’re in the midst of a public relations crisis itself is not something you did “wrong” since popular opinion isn’t necessarily something you can control. However, look at the steps you had to take as a group to get there. What problem did the customer call about in the first place? Why did the conversation with your rep turn so negative so quickly? Why does this single interaction seem to be capturing the attention of so many people at this particular moment?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can then get started making it right. Note that this does not mean “fix the problem” as in “make it go away.” It means to do what you can to course correct and get back on the path you want to be. Take the steps to educate your reps on how to avoid these situations in the future. Take a look at the original problem that the customer had with your product or service and, if valid, do something to fix it. If the client took the conversation public on Facebook or Twitter, respond the same way. Remember – all eyes are on you and customers who see a business that is willing to own up to its “mistakes” and make them right are more likely to show sympathy and compassion than if you try to take care of everything behind closed doors.

For many businesses, a public relations nightmare is not a question of “if” but “when.” The key thing to take away from this situation is that you have a unique opportunity that you can use to improve your operations across the board. Even if you think you’re in the right, there are likely things that you could have done better, or you wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. If you DON’T take this as a chance to learn some very valuable lessons, you’re wasting an opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade from a business perspective.

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.

Inspiring Company Cultures: A Great Place to Work

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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:

*Werewolf – Who is the werewolf that has been killing off the sheep? https://www.tinypulse.com/blog/sk-3-team-building-games-organizational-culture
*Eat Poop, You Cat – Similar to Pictionary, people make drawings and try to figure out what they are. https://www.tinypulse.com/blog/sk-work-icebreaker-games

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.