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Before you even think about making a sale, you need to capture customers' hearts and minds. Here's how to do it.
Think of your favorite brands. How does using their products or services make you feel? Maybe it's safe or cool or smart or healthy, but whatever it is, if you're a loyal fan because you have an emotional connection to the brand. It's something every company should seek to evoke in a market before ever thinking of making a sale.
That's according to Libby Gill, CEO of the Los Angeles-based business coaching and brand strategy firm Libby Gill & Company, who recently published "Capture the Mindshare and the Market Share Will Follow: The Art and Science of Building Brands."
Here's what she told me are the keys to creating a brand people connect with emotionally.
How your end user will benefit from your products or services needs to be explicit across all your communications.
"It's very important to use very clear compelling language that leads with your customer's best interest," Gill says. "Not just your background, your specs, your pedigree, all your client testimonials but what's in it for them."
Every touch point with customers or prospects should provide them exceptional value.
"I'm a big proponent of giving things away for free, which is why I have tons of free resources on my site," she says. "If you really blow people's minds with great value for no reason other than you're willing take five minutes [on a] phone call or responding to an email question so that they [think] 'Wow, if I hire this person, if I bring them on, if I read their book, if I listen to their show, I can only imagine what I'll get. So it's that deeper engagement and value that you're providing at every opportunity."
Chances are, your workload is heavy. But being smart about who you share information with can give you a real competitive edge. Although partnering with people who will share timely data can help you make better decisions, it's also important to have helpful conversations with others regarding softer things, such as "emotional truths and nuances that you can't always quantify or back up with a spreadsheet or data," Gill says. "You knock on a door, you call somebody, you walk down the hall to their office and you've got a collaboration going. I think that's one of the best ways to combat this sense of overwhelm that we all deal with so often."
An Intentional Emotional Connection
When you walk into Starbucks you know exactly the experience you'll have, right? It's because the company has been intentional about how it interacts with customers at every level.
You need to think about who greets customers the minute they walk through the door, the experience they have when they call your company, or the tone of a newsletter or e-mail and what messages your website communicates. What kind of emotional connection do you want them to have with your brand?
Does your iPhone make you feel cool and smart? Does your alarm system make you feel safe?
"You've got to really sort of reverse engineer that by understanding 'Who am I?' and 'What are [consumers] looking at me for? What is the value and the emotional connection that I can provide?'" Gill says.
An Eye on the Competition
Keeping an eye on the competition is important for any company. But it's not just your obvious direct competition you need to watch. Sure, McDonald's has Burger King or Wendy's to worry about but it also can lose business to other restaurants that sell cheap food or because parents decide to stop feeding their kids fast food.
In addition to direct and indirect competition Gill says there's also the invisible competition resulting from customers who don't trust a brand enough to commit to it. To get at that you'll need to use the right kind of language, whether it's a guarantee, testimonials or some other tactic, to assure people you have what they need.
A fourth kind of competition, Gill says, involves impending challengers.
"If you've come to the market with something brand new or you're first out there, who's right behind you? You've got to look over your shoulder," she says.
The flip cam is a great product, but not really relevant anymore because of the HD video cameras most people now have on their phones. Who wants to carry around two devices?
It's the same with people. In addition to making sure your products or services are right for the times, you need to make sure you and your team continue to grow as people.
"I see a lot of people in mid-career transitions, people who are moving to new companies, lots of people who don't want to retire because their 401ks went away and they're going to keep working. They've got to really look at maintaining and evolving their brand and that's as simple as continuing to grow as a person and continuing to look at what is out there, what your customers, what your end users need. And if you can't stay a step ahead, at least stay in step with them by always adding to your own knowledge base," she says.
Gill points to studies that have shown confident people do better in life, regardless of their actual skill.
"I saw this in 20 years in the corporate world. It was he or she who spoke the loudest who often ruled the day," says the author and consultant who formerly held senior leadership positions with companies such as Universal, Sony, and Turner Broadcasting.
"Confidence, and as they called it, overconfidence, gave people a competitive advantage over their more introverted or less confident appearing peers even when the peers were more talented or more skilled. And it was people who participated more, who spoke more, who sat in the front of the room, who exuded this sense of power and knowledge even if they were inaccurate in their responses on a series of tests," Gill says.
While the researchers she cites came to the conclusion that hiring managers need to look beyond the exterior and not discount introverts, her take was a little different.
"What I think is more relevant for most people is that we've got to take a page from those confident players' playbooks and see that we've got to learn to kind of step up that level of confidence, particularly in those high intensity situations like interviewing, at networking events or conferences," she says. "We've got to really learn to put on that appearance of confidence [and] learn to work that muscle."
How can introverts do that? She suggests having conversation-starting questions at the ready, staying current on the headlines of the day and speaking up at a meeting within the first few minutes before someone else can capture the spotlight.
"It's very important as a professional and as a brand to exude that sense of absolute control and power until it's really organic and integral," she says.
"Get involved in a charity in a nonprofit, ideally something that makes sense in terms of what your business brand is," Gill says, holding up Target as a great example of a company that gives back to the communities in which it has stores.
Tide is another brand doing a good job at this with its rolling washing machine program called "Loads of Hope." After natural disasters it sends out a mobile unit that enables people to wash and dry their clothes.
You might also check out the philanthropy of billionaire Richard Branson, someone who has nailed branding throughout his Virgin Group conglomerate. In this Inc. interview he says "Your reputation is all you've got in life" and talks about integrity, positioning, stunts, hubris, and more.
Are your clients really interested or are they just giving you the brush-off? Look for these signs to avoid getting faked out.
In basketball when you are guarding someone, you are told to watch their hips--not their eyes--to know where they are going. Serious players get good at feints, fakes, and masked intentions in order to cause their opponents to make the wrong move. The same thing happens in sales. Whether intentionally or not, buyers often send conflicting and misleading signals that can cause you to move in the wrong direction. Your ability to read the circumstances, anticipate their moves, and counter appropriately will have a big impact on your success.
The big challenge is ascertaining whether a move is real or fake. Often a buyer's expression of interest is just a brush-off to get you out of their office or off their phone. Here are a few classic examples:
Proposal request--Sales people are trained to seek the opportunity to quote, or offer a proposal, so they see this as a measurable sign of success in the sales process and are often very excited to comply. Unfortunately, buyers often use this tactic as a way to move the salesperson out of their calendar for a period while the response is being developed. Once the buyer receives the response, they can always delay further as they "consider the proposal."
Send me some more information--A tepid expression of interest, at best. This is the digital age! If they want more information, prospects can often view a link to a spec sheet, solution description, webinar, or infographic from the smartphone in their pocket. This is often a dodge rather than an expression of true interest.
Passing the buck--Kicking the can down the road from the person to whom you are speaking to someone who is at subordinate level is often a soft way of creating a sense of progress for you when it is actually an avoidance ploy on the part of the buyer.
So, how do you know if it's a fake move or sincere interest?
Just liking watching the weight shift in an opponent's body will tell you the next move of a sports opponent, there are tell-tale signs of sincere interest in a buyer's response. You have to push to get past the feints and fakes, but if you ask the right questions and push for real answers, you will be more successful.
Specificity--Real interest comes with specifics. A proposal request from a sincere buyer asks for a level of detail that seeks to solve a particular problem or resolve a very-defined need. If the buyer does not give you specifics, then push for them. Timing, amounts, levels of performance, etc. represent the kinds of details that a real buyer needs to make a decision.
Up-front agreement of subsequent steps--"Ok, Ms. Buyer, if I provide the information and the proposal, please walk me through the timeline and milestones for us becoming your provider based upon a successful evaluation of our approach." If your buyer believes that you have a viable solution then he or she should have a clear picture of what selection and implementation of that decision will look like. No picture? Then real interest is questionable.
Thresholds for action--How much better do you have to be for the buyer to switch? Real buyers can answer this question. If the costs of change have not been calculated and the threshold of improvement is undefined, your proposal is just a safety net for future failures on the incumbent's part. This means you are relegated to the filing cabinet and the interest is not real.
Any information that you provide that does not yield a sale is just free consulting. Free to the buyer, costly to you. Be careful to not get faked-out by your buyers.
Three tips from a midmarket CEO who's been there, done that.
We know, we know--your product or service is not only flawless, but also unique. Your competitors? Simply put, you do it better. Or faster. Or cheaper. Right?
Let's face it, bragging is a big part of sales in the United States. But should it be? Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle, a 102-employee recycling services company, broached this question late last year for a blog post in the New York Times.
"Now that TerraCycle is almost a decade old and operating in 22 countries, I have realized how much sales styles differ throughout the world, especially in Europe," he writes. "While the American style of sales is typically gung ho--energetic and positive--the European style is quite different, much more conservative.
"This hit me when, after a sales pitch in Germany, our client said, 'Tom, we'd love for you to present TerraCycle to our leadership team, but please be less American. Please don't be excited and just present the facts.' I thought to myself, 'Wow, how do you sell without being passionate about the product or service you are selling?'"
All of this led Szaky to a simple, but vital question: What's the smartest way to disclose negative information during the sales process? He developed a list of three tips, which we've summarized.
1. If you think the client may know something negative, own it.
"Address it up front in your meeting, before the client raises it," he writes. "And you should address it more aggressively than your client would, if he or she were bringing it up. When you do this, it's best to have a solution ready to offer."
2. Always talk about your competition positively.
"Competition, while negative to your business, is a fact of life. My suggestion is to be fair and positive. This will play well with your clients as they see that you are looking out for their best interests. This, too, will build credibility and trust."
3. Sprinkle some negatives into your pitch.
"We consider TerraCycle a premium service. For that reason, we always highlight that our cost is higher than other solutions, such as sending waste to landfill. But then we emphasize that the benefits of working with us may be worth the expense. Of course, there is a fine line--you can volunteer too much negative information and kill the deal. Negative information is like salt on one's food. It should be applied in moderation."
You can't legislate good behavior from the security of your closed door office. Start solving your problems face to face.
Every time I hear or see an overly controlling policy change I can guarantee there is a problem employee that the boss won't confront/discipline/fire directly. Instead, a blanket policy goes out to try to and change the behavior of the errant employee.
Does this ever work? Seriously, if you've done it and it solved your problem, I want to know about it, because I've never seen it happen. Why? Because problem employees never believe they are the problem. And, furthermore, they already believe that the rules don't apply to them, because if the rules mattered, the problem employee would already be following it.
Here's a case in point from an email I received yesterday:
My employer wants me to dictate when Exempt employees can take time off for doctor appointments. He said he wants all exempt employees to take time off for doctor's appointments "only in the late afternoon" (i.e. after 3-4PM). When I attempted to explain to him that while legal, this isn't the best method for managing exempt level employees he became furious with me and he told me to just do what he said. Truth is, he has one manager who abuses the company policies in regards to time off (i.e. he takes it when he wants, doesn't request approval in advance, leaves and is gone for the majority of the day, misses key meetings, etc.) Instead of dealing with this person, my boss wants to place a burden on all of his managers. The employee who is truly a problem will actually just ignore the new mandate--he will continue to do as he pleases because my boss won't deal with his poor behavior.
Yep. She's nailed it. And as a result of this policy not working, the boss will try to implement yet another policy and another. And what will happen? The good employees--the ones who never abused taking off an hour to go to a doctor's appointment in the first place--will increasingly feel unappreciated. And the problem employee will continue on, business as usual.
There's an easy way to solve this problem, if only the boss would take it. And that's to sit down and talk with the problem employee. "Jim, you disappeared for four hours this morning and two hours yesterday. You missed a very important client meeting. That's unacceptable. I need you here, in the office, doing your work and available to your coworkers and clients. I understand if you need to take some time off now and then, but you need to get approval, from me, in writing, from now on. If you cannot do this, then I will let you go." And then you document the conversation, and email it to the offending employee.
Harsh, I know. But, you need to be harsh with people who do not respect their coworkers and your business. If you do this, of course, you may end up having to fire your problem employee. If you just cannot stand to do that, ask yourself why. If that's because your business cannot survive without this person's spectacular and inimitable skill set then acknowledge that it doesn't matter if he misses key meetings and takes off on random Tuesdays. And then ignore it. Stop sending out policies. Acknowledge that you value this employee more than you do the other employees and move on with your day.
However, the real reason you don't want to fire your problem employees is probably because you're nice. Being nice is good. I highly advocate niceness. But, it's not being nice to let someone continue on doing things that will ultimately destroy your business. Don't tell yourself that you're destroying someone's livelihood by firing him. He's destroying his own job by being selfish and unreliable. Your job is to give him clear instructions and provide guidance and mentoring. Your job is not to pay his mortgage.
Remember that your other employees--the ones who don't disappear for hours at time--are bothered by this guy. His behavior affects them. And while there's a chance that they'll just begin imitating him by taking off whenever they feel like it, it's far more likely that they'll start looking for new jobs instead. And you'll wonder why your turnover is so high.
So, when you feel the need to make a new policy, ask yourself, "Is this really something we need a policy for, or are there one or two employees who need to be spoken with?" Always start with that. Treat your employees like adults unless (and until) they prove that they are really junior high schoolers. Everyone will be happier and more productive.
Three ways to maximize customer lifetime value
When I was a consultant at McKinsey working with Fortune 500 companies, and even now when I am running my own company, one metric that I’ve always kept an eye on is customer lifetime value -- that is, the estimated value of a customer relationship, based on the average customer's projected future visits and spend per visit.
Almost every Fortune 500 company, in industries ranging from retail to hospitality to telecom, measures this number, understands what drives it, and has a strategy to maximize it. Small businesses are a different story; most are in the dark. That’s a mistake.
One simple way to calculate customer lifetime value is average monthly spend per customer divided by monthly customer churn rate. For example, if a customer spends $30 per month on your product, but 10 percent of your customer base stops buying your product every month, your customer lifetime value would be $30 divided by 10 percent, or $300. So in this example, if the business could cut churn rate in half to 5 percent, it would double its customer lifetime value. Assuming a stable customer base size, this would also double the overall company value!
But to figure this out, you need to know your monthly customer churn rate. Do you know what percentage of your customers won't come back to your business next month? Most small businesses don't. Some of the best businesses with a huge base of regulars have monthly churn rates of 10 to 15 percent, while some of the worst are over 60 percent. Based on data that my company analyzed from thousands of small businesses in verticals like restaurants, retail, salons and spas and coffee and tea, we estimate that the typical brick-and-mortar business' monthly churn rate is shockingly high - likely in the 40 to 50 percent range, though there is huge variation. Assuming the average spend per visit at these businesses is around $20, the average customer lifetime value of a typical small business is only around $50, but for the businesses with the lowest monthly churn rates, it could be 10 times higher-;or $200. That’s a big difference.
So how can you reduce customer churn and maximize customer lifetime value, which will make your business more profitable for the long-term? Try these three steps.
1. Focus On New Customer Experience
What consistently pushes churn rates higher in every business I have ever studied is the rate of new customer churn. If one of your customers returns to your business a second time, there is a 70 to 80 percent chance they will keep coming back. However, most new customers don’t come back. We have seen that almost 60 percent of customers in verticals like retail and restaurants don’t come back after their first visit. Focus on making your new customers happy, so they keep coming back again and again.
2. Keep in Touch
It’s a real challenge to get your customers to come back again and again if you don’t have any way to keep in touch with them. This is why many small businesses are now investing in digital loyalty platforms, allowing them to collect customer contact info at signup. Then they keep in touch via email or text message or social media and engage. There are solutions now available that are specifically designed for small businesses - they can integrate with your POS system and are easy to implement and use.
3. Give Your Customers a Reason to Come Back
Promotions and loyalty incentives really do work. Recently, I visited a San Francisco brunch spot for the first time. On their receipt, they gave me an offer to come back within two weeks to get 15 percent off. While the food experience alone was probably not enough to get me back in the door within two weeks, the combination of the solid food quality plus the discount was. So I went back in and tried another dish, which I liked even better than the one I tried the first time. Now, this place is going to be one of my regular brunch spots. This restaurant took a step toward maximizing their customers’ lifetime value.
While you paid attention to running your business day-to-day, your focus on customers may have slipped. Here's how to get it back.
You built your business--and found success--on how well you serve your customers, right? Maybe so. But in the day-to-day crush of getting things done, most business owners and managers let their attention drift away from customers, according to Joseph Callaway, co-author with his wife JoAnn of the bestselling book "Clients First." The Callaways, known as "Those Callaways," have sold more than $1 billion in real estate, and he says they did it by keeping customers front and center, even though that can be hard to maintain.
Does your current strategy involve any of the following six principles? If the answer is yes, it's time to reorient your priorities.
1. You're laser-focused on profits.
Yes, your business needs to be profitable to survive. But, "The money comes from customers," Callaway points out. "Sam Walton used to say there was only one person who could fire everyone in his company including Walton, and that was the customer."
Some companies try to focus on maximizing revenues, promoting their brands, and other goals, and the customer becomes just one of many considerations, he adds. Keeping the company front and center will make you more successful, he says, because it's the only way your company can grow. "Some people try to cut their way to abundance but it never works," he says. "The only way you can grow is by increasing the number of customers."
2. You let the little things slide.
When you first landed customers you took lots of extra time to make sure everything was as perfect as you could make it. You communicated all the time. Are you still putting in that same effort?
"Often, just as in a marriage, it's the little things not the big things that erode a relationship," Callaway says. It's important to keep the same level of service and engagement. "We have a rule here: We don't go home with any calls unreturned," he says. "That's an easy thing to do in business--'Oh, I'll call him them tomorrow.' But by tomorrow that customer has been anxious and frustrated overnight from not hearing back."
3. If it ain't broke, you don't fix it.
Following this bit of conventional wisdom can destroy your forward momentum, Callaway says. "You won't innovate," he says. Instead, he advises, always be looking for ways to do things better. "If you take the position that if it's not broke you won't fix it, your business will stagnate and your competitors will blow past you," he says.
Callaway believes business owners who say things like, "I'm happy right where I am," should be especially concerned. "If you think by being complacent and not doing anything your business will stay still, it won't," he says. "Businesses slip when you don't think about moving forward. If you don't go forward, you're going backward. There's no such thing as a business that isn't moving."
4. Your philosophy is that the customer is always right.
They're not, and when you see a customer acting against his or her own interests, you must say something, Callaway advises. "If you're operating a sporting goods store and a man comes in and says, 'I want this lure,' and you ask where he'll be fishing and he tells you and you know those lures won't work well there, you better tell him. Because if he goes fishing using those lures and doesn't catch anything, the chances he'll come back to your store are slim."
5. You avoid problem customers.
"Not everyone is wonderful," Callaway says. "A lot of customers are challenging and a few are what we call 'evil people.'" He adds that his business has seen about half a dozen of those in 15 years, and still works with them whenever they call.
Many business experts (including me) recommend firing bad customers in order to focus more attention on the better customers--the ones who really help make your business a success. Callaway strongly disagrees. "I think that's the road to the poorhouse," he says. "You have to serve every client." You never know when a good customer will become a bad one or vice versa, he adds. "It's not our job to fire customers, it's their job to fire us if we don't do things right."
Besides, he notes, hanging in there with a difficult customer can bring big rewards. Often they'll recognize that you went to extra effort to help them when it wasn't easy, and they'll give you a powerful recommendation to their friends and colleagues.
6. You're not always completely honest.
Complete honesty in business is rare. But even a small lie, such as blaming a missed delivery date on supplies that supposedly didn't arrive, has the potential to cause trouble. "You have to learn to trust the truth," Callaway says. "People often want to make themselves look better or avoid the trouble of explanations, and they put a spin on things." But then you have to struggle to remember exactly which version you told to whom. It's better to be honest all the time, especially since getting caught in a lie is almost guaranteed to lose you a customer.
Callaway recalls arriving at an airport car rental late one night to pick up the Cadillac he'd reserved. The woman behind the counter explained that they had a Lincoln for him instead because that location did not have Cadillacs. As she was telling him this, a Caddy pulled out of the lot. It turned out to be the last one they had, already rented to someone else. "That happened 12 years ago," he says. "And I still remember it."
Think you should recruit your talent from far away? You're probably wrong.
Familiarity may not always inspire contempt, but it often promotes complacency. Rock and roll pioneer Chuck Berry once said he "couldn't draw flies" in his hometown of St. Louis. He had to travel to nearby Chicago to be appreciated. Then there was Jimi Hendrix, who was an anonymous guitarist for a number of soul groups in the early 1960′s. His career went nowhere until he traveled to England and gained a following in London clubs. Rather than a washed-up session musician, Londoners perceived Jimi as an ultra-hip San Francisco hippie (despite the fact that he was from Seattle).
I've seen this firsthand. When The Tearaways, a band I managed many moons ago, play in Santa Barbara, they draw a respectable crowd of a couple hundred people. However, when they perform in Liverpool, they draw as many as 30,000.
(The Tearaways in England. Photo credit: Ian Hanson, www.satpix.co.uk)
Mankind has long recognized the power of scarcity: We want more of what we are denied or find difficult to obtain. The cliches sum it up--"The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill" and "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." But even though every knows this tendency exists, we often fall prey anyway. A number of Rincon's start-ups still assign a premium to remote resources, usually with respect to hiring senior executives.
Santa Barbara is a highly talented but small entrepreneurial community. Start-ups often must fill one or more of their senior positions from outside our local market. After observing this process for a couple of decades, I have noticed a consistent pattern: The closer to Santa Barbara the person resides, the more his or her talents are discounted.
There's nothing wrong with hiring people from far away. But local talent has significant advantages. Here are five.
1. A back trail.
Local candidates are easy to reference. There is a higher probability you will have a pre-existing relationship with one or more people who can provide an honest reference on a local candidate. Additionally, you are more likely to receive an honest assessment of the applicant's abilities because fellow community members are inclined to share thoughtful input, rather than the generic, sanitized response you might get from a stranger.
2. An accessible network.
Start-ups recruit heavily from their employees' networks, especially in their early stages. This capability is reduced when hiring out-of-market employees due to the inherent difficulties of leveraging a geographically distant network.
3. Known chemistry.
There is a higher likelihood someone at your current venture has previously worked with local recruits, making a cultural fit more likely.
4. No relo risk.
Start-ups are stressful enough without adding the tension associated with uprooting a family. Locals can focus their energy on their work obligations, without the added distractions from relocation.
5. Less termination pain.
Although the impact of termination should not be an overriding concern when hiring someone, the reality is that a local person will have a much softer landing if things do not work out at your venture. This will minimize the disruption, should the person not work out.
German investors are eyeing the electric car company, but are only willing to pay a fraction of its worth. Can Fisker be saved?
Fritz Nol, a German investment group, is rumored to be weighing a decision to acquire Fisker Automotive, the struggling hybrid car start-up, for $25 million.
The price tag is only a fraction of the $1.4 billion that Fisker originally raised, but if Fritz Nol beats other bidders--who include Bob Lutz from VL Automotive, Fisker's original founder, Henrik Fisker, and the Chinese automaker BAIC--then they'll be saddled with $192 million in loans from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
As AutoBild reports, Fritz Nol's plan involves moving production from Fisker's contract manufacturer, Valmet in Finland, to an old General Motors facility in Wilmington, Delaware. Fisker, which hasn't produced a car since last summer, bought the former GM space for $20 million to build the Atlantic, which never appeared.
Fisker was dealt a bad hand last October when its lithium-ion battery supplier, A123 Systems, declared bankruptcy. Later that month, 300 of Fisker's first (and only) model, the Karma plug-in hybrid sedan, were ruined during Hurricane Sandy. The seemingly final nail in the coffin came last April when Fisker laid off 75 percent of its employees before defaulting on its DOE loan. To date, the start-up has yet to declare bankruptcy, but rumor has it Fisker's burning through money.
Fisker is basically a concept car company, so given its short production history, Fritz Nol would have to raise more investment dollars in order to revive it. If Fritz Nol succeeded, the company would start with a fleet of 2,500 Karmas, then go on to produce other models such as the Sunset convertible and the Surf hatchback, all luxurious--and electric hybrid--vehicles.
Longtime entrepreneur Norm Brodsky talks to Lewis Schiff about his path from authoritarian to compassionate leader and the lessons he learned in developing company culture.
When Norm Brodsky realized that leadership wasn't about how loud he could yell, he found more compassionate ways to run a business.
Norm Brodsky's wife and children forced him to find balance and to become more nurturing as a leader.
Norm Brodsky answers questions about creating the culture you want in your business, coping with culture clash and breaking old habits.
Norm Brodsky talks about making time to define and create company culture.
Norm Brodsky gives his thoughts on spreading culture, the challenges of scaling and rejuvenating the attitude of your business.
Social media mogul Dave Kerpen explains how to get noticed in your field, and make some money while you're at it.
Over the past six years, I've devoted a great deal of time to branding myself as a thought leader, or an authority in my field. These activities, which included writing a book and hosting podcasts, have led to millions of dollars in revenue and helped Likeable, my global social media firm, establish itself as a company to watch in the realm of marketing.
Becoming a thought leader can help you do the same. So with that in mind, here are six ways to get started.
Write a book.
Writing books truly established my credibility as a thought leader. Luckily for you, the barrier to entry isn't too high--my first two books were published by a traditional publisher, and I'm currently working on a self-published e-book. I recommend reading Guy Kawasaki's APE: Author-Publisher-Entrepreneur to get a feel for what followers might want.
Start a blog.
When Likeable launched its blog six years ago, I insisted on calling it Buzz Marketing Daily. My employees objected, saying we'd have to post every day to live up to the title. But that was the point. In just two years, it became one of the most widely read blogs in marketing, and now I have two company blogs and two personal blogs. You can launch your own blog using Tumblr or WordPress, just be sure to offer meaningful content.
Pitch online publications.
Not long ago, it used to be only professional writers and reporters could get a byline in national publications. Today, however, seasoned entrepreneurs can pitch a great idea and possibly get published. If an online editor decides you made the cut, you'll reap the benefits of being associated with a credible, well-known brand. What's more, if your first few articles are well-received and shared, you may have a shot at landing a column.
Make Slideshare presentations.
If writing isn't your thing but you express ideas well through design, you might try making presentations on Slideshare, which generates over 70 million views per month. If a bad designer like me can generate 175,000 views with this presentation, it's worth giving it a try.
Speak at conferences.
People fear public speaking more than death, so this isn't for everyone. But speaking in front of a live audience can be a great way to become a thought leader. Whether you're a keynote or a panelist, or even a virtual speaker at an online conference, you can share your expediences and ideas with others and build your reputation. Plus, the leads you can generate at conferences are face-to-face, often converting into real business even faster than online leads.
Host a podcast.
With over 1 billion podcast downloads on iTunes alone, podcasts are a highly effective a marketing tool. John Lee Dumas built an entire, highly-profitable business around his popular podcast, Entrepreneur on Fire, and the intimacy you can build with an audience through podcasting is unmatched.
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Quantity rarely trumps quality--especially on Facebook. A new study examines how publishing too frequently can alienate followers.
Mae West famously said, "Too much of a good thing is wonderful!" But is it really? Excess often leads to problems because a normally functioning system--whether the human body, an organization, or an ecosystem--becomes unstable. Push too far in one direction and you'll see something pushing back the other way.
The same is true for social media marketing, according to a recent report by social media software management vendor Expion. An analysis of 16,000 Facebook posts for 50 top retail brands during the first half of 2013 suggests that an emphasis on quantity over quality won't go far.
Marketers often push for volume. They want to maintain a "relationship" with customers, so they claim. In reality, they want to increase the number of sales and marketing messages, thinking that this will grow business.
As a group, the 50 top retailers had increased their collective posts over the last few years. Volume increased from the first half of 2011 to the second half of 2012 by about 50 percent. The number of postings was roughly flat between the end of 2012 and first six months of 2013.
The average number of fan actions per post also increased over time, roughly mirroring the increase in the number of posts, but then dropped between the second half of 2012 and first half of 2013. The Expion graph below shows the trends.
On Facebook in particular, you might understand why companies increase volume of posts. Not only is there the underlying sense that more is better, but a recognition that not all people will see all posts from brands they like. And there seems to be a positive correlation between volume and reaction--for a while. But then notice the reversal. Also, Expion saw the biggest decline in the growth of brand fans on Facebook and the total number of fan actions for those top 50 retail brands.
As the company writes about the trends, "...either fans are less engaged or retailers are publishing less-appealing content." According to Expion's numbers, only two of the top 10 high-volume brands saw a growth in fan actions, with the other eight seeing a decline. Here's a suggestion: companies are exhausting consumers.
Think of your own experience on various social media. What happens when you have one person or entity creating a large volume of posts? Chances are you get tired of them, even if you do like the material. It's like having nothing but creamed spinach to eat. You might like it now and again, but it becomes numbing as a constant staple.
Something similar happens in posts. Someone may be a prolific poster, but eventually you can get to the point that it's too much. Your eyes drift over the mass of words because they've become an abundance of creamed spinach.
Marketers should use key analytics wisely. When you reach a point that engagement starts to slow, certainly check the quality of the posts. But try backing off the volume some.
If you want to up your leadership game, adopt these 7 qualities.
A remarkable amount of time, effort, and money has been devoted to the study of leadership. Despite all this research, there is little agreement about exactly what leadership is.
Still, people know effective leadership when they see it. And while great leaders may sometimes be born that way, there are certain traits that great leaders share in common that anyone can practice and adopt to become more effective.
What qualities are those? Well, to be a highly effective leader, you must ...
... inspire action.
Try to paint a vision of the future that inspires your people to do whatever it takes to get there. The best leaders also clear away the organizational roadblocks that constrain employees’ natural creativity and initiative, unleashing a tremendous amount of energy in the process.
... be optimistic.
We all want to work with and for people who lift us up into the clouds instead of dragging us down into the mud. Make sure to seek out the positives in your people, helping them overcome their own feelings of self-doubt and spreading optimism throughout your organization.
... have integrity.
Research shows that the top thing that employees want from their leaders is integrity. Be honest, fair, candid and forthright, and treat everyone in the same way that you yourself would want to be treated.
... support and facilitate your team.
For people to do their very best work, they need an organizational environment that supports them by making it safe to take risks, to tell the truth, and to speak up ... without being punished for doing so. Support your employees by creating this kind of environment, and it will facilitate their progress toward attaining your organization’s goals.
... have confidence.
Highly effective leaders know deep down inside that they and their team can accomplish anything they set their minds to. Failure is not an option. Tentative leaders make for tentative employees. If you’re confident, your people will be too.
In any organization, knowledge is power, and great leaders ensure that every employee, from the very top to the very bottom of the org chart, is provided with complete and up-to-date information about the organization’s goals, performance, successes and failures. To achieve this level of connection, you should also provide ample channels for two-way communication between employees and managers, actively soliciting their ideas for improvement and rewarding employees for submitting them.
... be decisive.
One of the most basic duties of any leader is to make decisions. Highly effective leaders aren’t afraid to be decisive and to make tough calls quickly when circumstances require it. Once you have all the information you need to make an informed decision, then don’t hesitate--make it. And once you make a decision, then stick with it unless there is a particularly compelling reason for you to change it.
No matter what type of organization or industry you're in, it's possible to become a more effective leader, inspiring your people to give their very best every day of the week. Make a point of practicing these 7 leadership traits, and you will be a highly effective leader too.
A look at the metropolitan areas with the most companies on this year's list.
The term "fast growing" may conjure images of Silicon Valley tech start-ups. But the companies on this year's Inc. 5000 list prove that you don't have to be down the street from Google's headquarters to thrive. Check out the top 10 metro areas on this year's list. --Will Yakowicz
The Miami metro area, which includes Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach, boasted 117 companies on this year's list. Known primarily for tourism, it is also home to a growing number of technology and advertising companies. The fastest-growing businesses in the area include SKM Media Group, a $12 million Boca Raton company that provides direct mail, email marketing, and data analysis services, and Touchsuite, a $13.4 million business that develops software used to manage hair salons, restaurants, and other retailers.
As more incubators and VC funds set up shop in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love is becoming a tech hotspot. Almost 25 percent of the Philadelphia-based companies on this year's list are in the IT and software industries. Wilson Legal Solutions, a $1.5 million business that deploys practice-management software for law firms, was tops in the Philadelphia area, with three-year revenue growth of 4,839.1 percent.
Thanks, in part, to a diverse economy that includes strong tech, energy, and construction sectors, the Dallas metro area weathered the recession relatively well. The region's unemployment rate stayed below the national average during the downturn and is now at a solid 6.6 percent. The fourth ranked company on this year's Inc. 5000 list is Bridger, a $1.9 billion business in Addison that provides marketing, transportation, and logistics services to crude oil producers and distributors.
San Francisco is synonymous with tech start-ups, so it's no surprise that the fastest growing company in the Bay Area is Emerge Digital Group, which provides marketing services to Web and mobile publishers. The $23.9 million business ranked eighth overall on this year's Inc. 5000 list, with three-year revenue growth of 17,064.1 percent. The metro area, which includes Oakland and Fremont, is also home to non-tech concerns such as Build Group, a $101.5 million company that manages the construction of residential, commercial, retail, and hotel developments.
Boston, another burgeoning tech hub, edged out San Francisco on our list of top metro areas. DataXu, Boston's fastest-growing company, ranked fifth overall on this year's Inc. 5000, with three-year revenue growth of 21,337.4 percent. The $87 million company, which was founded by a team of MIT aeronautics and astronautics scientists, has developed a software platform that allows marketers to harness big data and use real-time multivariate decision technology for digital campaigns.
Atlanta's fastest growing company, Innovolt, developed its technology inside the laboratories of the Georgia Institute of Technology. The $8 million business, which has grown 7,247.7 percent since 2009, provides software and services that protect technology systems from power disturbances. Other Atlanta businesses on this year's Inc. 5000 include Tropical Smoothie Cafe, a $149.6 million restaurant franchise, and Cloud Sherpas, a $75.3 million cloud services brokerage.
Chicago is home to more than 400 major corporate headquarters. The city is also known for its distressed neighborhoods. That's where Pangea Properties, the city's fastest-growing Inc. 5000 company, comes in. The $28.3 million business, which has experienced three-year revenue growth of 6,218.5 percent, buys, restores, rents, and manages distressed buildings in troubled communities. Red Frog Events, a $49.5 million company that produces large-scale events, was a close second, with three-year growth of 4,956.7%.
The world's movie capital is also home to a diverse array of Inc. 5000 companies, including Spohn Ranch, a skate park designer, and Sencha Naturals, a manufacturer of flavored green-tea mints. This year, the City of Angels is home to the top overall company on the Inc. 5000 list: Fuhu, a $117.9 million business that makes an Android tablet and software for kids and has three-year revenue growth of 42,148 percent.
It's no surprise that five out of the top 10 fastest-growing companies in the D.C. metro area specialize in government services. Topping the category on this year's list is FederalConference.com, a $49.6 million company based in Dumfries, Virginia that organizes and stages conferences and events for the federal government. The business ranked third overall on the Inc. 5000 list, with three-year revenue growth of 24,830.6 percent.
The New York City metro area grabbed the top spot on the Inc. 5000 list once again this year. Intelligent Audit of Rochelle Park, New Jersey, which performs audits and analysis an negotiates on behalf of high-volume shippers worldwide, ranked number one in the area, with $145 million in revenue and three-year growth of 10,573 percent. BeenVerified, a $13.7 million company in New York City that lets people perform background checks online, came in second, with three-year revenue growth of 8,442.7 percent.
Kathryn Minshew, founder of The Muse, gives advice for how to conduct an effective interview.
Constant activity when you walk around your office isn't a sign of maximum output; it's a sign of productivity theater.
You’re the boss so it’s obviously in your interest for every dollar in compensation to buy the maximum amount of output. That means when you walk around your office, you want to see a lot of busy beavers engaged in a flurry of work, right?
Nope, says marketer Randy Murray. Everyone being busy every time you look is more likely to indicate your staff is putting on an Oscar-worthy performance than putting in a hard day’s work, he suggested on his blog recently. With a background as a playwright before he joined the business world, Murray is in a unique position to argue that what bosses are often looking at when they take a stroll around the office is "productivity theater." He writes:
Here’s a simple test that may be revealing: when you walk around, do the people you manage ALWAYS look busy?
Even on a factory floor there are pauses, lulls, and interruptions. In the cube farms of the modern office (which I detest), real work isn’t accomplished by the constant pounding on keyboards.
If your people are always, always busy, it’s likely that they’re not actually working. They’re putting on a show. A special, “look busy” show for just one audience member: you. I call it “productivity theater.”
If that’s the case, they’re not working at all. “Looking busy” isn’t getting work done. Your staff is wasting time to make you feel good. Great managing there, Bucky.
Busyness, Murray insists, is a terrible measure of productivity. He’s not alone. Monty Python comedian John Cleese has called busyness the enemy of creativity, while efficiency experts routinely beg managers to get over an outdated assembly line-inspired hours-in-equals-widgets-out mindset. Scientists have even found that looking at the occasional kitten picture helps us get more done.
The bottom line is the vast majority of work is lumpy -- you’re productive in fits and starts and require time to recharge your brain between each push forward. If everyone is hard at work every time you look that just means they’re wasting time and mental energy trying to placate your out-of-date notions of work.
Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spontaneously mix and mingle with your staff, Murray says. It just means you should adjust your expectations and objectives. "I’m not suggesting that you stop walking around. What I am recommending is that you let your staff know that you don’t care about how busy they look. Talk openly with the people you work with and find out how they best work and what they need," he writes, concluding:
"Get rid of the productivity theater. It’s not that entertaining. It’s a symptom of a broken workplace."
Does your team feel the need to perform productivity for your benefit?