4 Over-Hyped Tactics That Don’t Grow Your Business but Do Waste Your Time

There’s a basic strategy that grows every business. If you have been in business for any amount of time, you know that you need lead generation, a customer base, and a way to consistently get in front of your potential audience. Businesses fail when there is no marketing plan. You can have the best product or service in the world, but you won’t generate revenue if no one is there to see it. You have even seen terrible products and services sell like wildfire because of good marketing.

Fortunately, we don’t lack information on creating good marketing plans that help entrepreneurs build their audience. There’s a wealth of articles, podcast episodes and videos on growing your audience and generating leads. There are also some tactics that are passed around as if they’re law. You see them posted everywhere, and it’s not uncommon for you to be treated a certain way if you don’t adopt them. While these over-hyped tactics sound like they’re the only way — beware. Don’t rely solely on these audience-building strategies, or you’ll end up disappointed.

1. Hoping for organic reach on social media.

The social media platforms we know and spend time on have billions of daily users. The rise and growth of social media has created an opportunity, but that opportunity is different today. You can still reach your audience organically, but that reach is very small and only getting smaller. These days, the way you really reach people on social media is to pay for ads. Paid ads are effective but not a strategy every entrepreneur can afford.

What we see too often is entrepreneurs trying to “market” through social media. This entails posting about a product or service and then tagging a bunch of people. Even if you tagged everyone on your list, it would not be a real marketing plan. If your marketing plan relies too heavily on organic reach, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Social media and organic reach should be one part of a larger marketing plan.

2. Adding people who didn’t ask you to.

To build your business, you can build your email list, social media presence, social media groups and exposure. One strategy that has been taught is to add people to your different communities. You have probably been added against your will yourself. It’s super annoying and a tactic that will do just the opposite.

Just because you can add people to your communities doesn’t mean you should. You never get a second chance to make a first impression and adding people hurts that impression. Give people the option. Tell them about who you are and what you offer. Let them make the decision to join on their own.

3. Teaming up with entrepreneurs who are all talk. 

You are who you surround yourself with. Your business will grow if you are connected to entrepreneurs that motivate and inspire you. One tactic that won’t grow your business is teaming up with the loudest entrepreneurs. Actions speak louder than words and there is no shortage of people who will try to get you to believe their words. Don’t fall for the flash and hype. Look at an entrepreneur’s platform and results. Make your decision based on more than their words.

4. Chasing shiny, popular trends instead of doing what’s proven to work. 

Every week there’s a new shiny object. Two months ago, it was Facebook chatbots. Last year, it was Snapchat. Next month, it will be live video. There will never be a shortage of new and exciting marketing tactics that can help your business. A lot of them would even work, but that doesn’t mean it will work for you. It doesn’t mean now is the time to use them.

It’s very easy to get lost in a rabbit hole of learning. Information overload is a real issue for entrepreneurs. If your business is going to grow, you need a focused effort. You should create a real plan that has strategies that will work for where your business is at right now. Don’t chase the shiny objects.

There’s nothing stopping you from growing a business that gives you freedom and financial security. You can use today’s tools, technology and strategies to reach new leads consistently and create a plan to convert them. Don’t get caught up in over-hyped tactics that will ultimately derail your growth.

Original Article:www.entrepreneur.com

6 Qualities of Greatness

We all have the potential for greatness. To develop and express our greatness, we must possess the passion and drive to live our lives with calculated risks and an attitude of faith. When we strive for greatness, when we strive to give all we’ve got to achieving our dreams, “success” is the secondary benefit.

Greatness lies in the journey, not the result. If success is our only drive, we may achieve financial wealth, but we may not achieve greatness. Greatness is much deeper than money. Greatness is an expression of our character.

1. Leadership

Greatness in leaders is expressed though a positive attitude. For this reason, we must add a positive attitude to everything we do. When we do this, it causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events and outcomes to come our way. Our positive attitude must be powerful enough to infect every one of our team members. It is our attitude that motivates our team members to achieve the goals that have been placed in front of them.

How we respond to our team members when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter is what helps them to be fearless. As leaders, we must lay the groundwork for our team members to succeed, and then we must possess the humility and self-confidence to sit back and watch them shine. A leader who possesses greatness will take more than his or her fair share of the blame when things go wrong and be satisfied to take less than a fair share of the acknowledgment when success occurs.

2. Service

To be of real service in this world, we must add something to other people’s lives that cannot be bought. To be great, we must always give everything, and everyone we care about, our energy, drawing on the highest levels of sincerity, honesty and integrity.

We must be willing to invest our time and our hearts into whatever it is we represent. When we make good on what we do and see ourselves making a significant difference in the lives of others, we can be sure we’re investing our efforts in all the right ways and all the right things. We each have greatness in us and the potential to give something unique and special to to this world. When we blend our individual talents with the desire to serve others, we experience a beauty in life that exalts our spirit.

3. Results

Getting the results we desire comes from how hard we work and how optimistic our outlook is. Greatness is developed out of the understanding that our time in this world is limited, so we must be mindful not to waste any of our time trying to live someone else’s life.

We have to combine our passion and persistence to follow our own dreams. We must strongly resist being trapped by limiting beliefs that come from the naysayers in our lives. We have to have the courage to follow our gut instinct, to put all of who we are into what we want to achieve and consistently produce the results we’re looking for. Big results require big desires. To be great, we must allow the desire for the results we seek to spark what is extraordinary from within us.

4. Efficiency

Greatness is never a one-person job. Greatness is the ability we each have to drive effective, consistent and empathic communication. The meetings we hold must be deliberate and intentional. They should be organized, have rhythm and be clear about the purpose at hand so that all of our team members feel included and engaged throughout the process.

There is no path to profitability without effective and efficient communication. Profitability comes from productivity, efficiency, management, strictness and the way we manage our time and business. If we choose to make a meaningful contribution in this world, we must value our time, the time of others and the energy it takes to get to where we want to go. We cannot afford to allow poor communication and resentments to get in the way of our being efficient and profitable.

5. Quality

To possess greatness, we must care deeply about the quality of service we offer. Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of conscious effort. By putting out quality services and products, we increase our quality of life, our capacity to believe in ourselves and our levels of happiness.

The quality work we produce allows us to feel proud of who we are, what we do and how we impact the lives of other people. When we produce high-quality services or products, we live with the gift of having peace of mind. Quality decreases stress. For this reason, we must choose high-quality thoughts, emotions and actions to ensure that our greatness is expressed, recognized and appreciated.

6. Reliability

Greatness is reflected in the reliability of who we are as people and the services and products we offer. We must have some level of predictability in our character and in what it is that we sell or produce. If we can predict things, we have the ability to intervene when necessary to make sure that what we produce is exactly what we promised.

To be great, we must value the self-discipline and systems that make it impossible for things to go wrong. The more reliable we are, the more others will be willing to trust and depend on us to provide the quality service they are anticipating. We must be intentional about being on time, as well as confident, intelligent and calm. When we possess these qualities, we possess greatness.

Original Article:www.entrepreneur.com


6 Trends Impacting the Future of Payments

Fintech underwent a revolution of sorts this past year with the rise of crypto assets: Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum have been dominating financial news outlets, and other applications of blockchain technology are being explored to streamline different elements of finance.

As blockchain technology continues to filter into the mainstream, it’s important for entrepreneurs to keep an eye on the effects it has on payments, in particular. Here are six trends in fintech that are poised to change the way we pay — and receive payments.

1. Government regulation

While the popularity of cryptocurrencies in 2017 proved that it has the potential to gain mainstream acceptance, the volatility of crypto tokens has caused considerable concern among financial regulators around the world.

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, for instance, has said “it’s inevitable” that cryptocurrencies will come under government regulation. And the Securities Exchange Commission and the FBI, this past December, began to crack down on shady practices associated with crypto fund-raising.

In addition, top government officials at the World Economic Forum have expressed concern over the technology. And U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin indicated that regulation would be directed toward markets participating in illicit activities, although Mnuchin did not elaborate on what such regulation of crypto markets might entail.

2. Blockchain P2P transactions

While current popular crypto assets struggle to function as reliable methods of payment due to their volatility, a new breed of cryptocurrencies called stablecoins aims to solve this problem. By utilizing either complex economic models to manage supply and demand or by collateralizing their tokens with real world assets, these startups are creating stable and trustworthy crypto platforms.

As some of the more promising players in this field of tokens gain more traction, expect cryptocurrencies to be accepted as salary and general payments in the near future. With all of the speed and security benefits that crypto offers, it will be hard to ignore the impact stablecoins will have on financial markets.

3. Cryptocurrency use by consumers and businesses alike

Bitcoin and Ethereum have a total market volume of around $500 billion dollars. But there are very limited ways for people to spend cryptocurrency because most merchants simply don’t accept them. Blockchain development is still at an early stage, and many of the needed tools and infrastructure simply don’t yet exist.

A Silicon Valley-based blockchain startup called OPEN Platform is solving this problem by creating an application programming interface (API) to enable application developers to connect to OPEN’s API and begin accepting cryptocurrency immediately, with no technical knowledge required.

Just as Stripe simplified credit card payments for merchants with an easy-to-implement API, OPEN aims to simplify payments over the blockchain.

4. Generation Z-friendly

Accenture predicts that, by 2020, Gen Z will make up over 40 percent of United States customers. As financial institutions begin to deal with a generation that’s never known a time before Google and the internet, it would not be surprising see the payment and banking industries begin to shift in a way that’s friendlier to the younger generation.

One of the main demands of Gen Z is user experience, making UX design extremely valuable for businesses competing for the attention of this new generation. Its members view customer experience as the prime differentiator between competing companies, making simple payment transactions more important than ever.

5. Mobile payments

Mobile payments have become immensely popular, with platforms like Venmo making money transfers very simple. More companies are jumping on the bandwagon and begging to offer financial solutions that allow people to pay for goods, pay one other or split bills on the go without having to wait a long period of time for money to transfer.

6. The internet of things

Another recent buzzword, the internet of things (IoT), describes the integration of devices in the home, in public and in stores, using the internet. This integration allows centralized control of a variety of elements in an environment as well as the ability to interact easily within each element.
As IoT becomes more popular in homes around the country, expect companies to follow the example Amazon is beginning to set: “If you want to buy something, just tell Alexa.” This means utilizing the internet of things for easy and simple payments — and connecting up more and more with the new trends in fintech.

Original Article:www.entrepreneur.com

How to Create Monopoly in the Market

“If you try to remain unique, you will be the only one,

If you try to be the best, you will be number one”

In the current pace of globalization, it is considerably easier and accessible for most of the business enterprises to acclimatize the things already present somewhere around instead of begetting new model. However, market-creating innovations are comparatively more indispensable which generally enhance business’s economic growth. Here is a business success formula which can actually appraise a business organization to create a monopoly and not just be a part of the competition. “Improving 7/10 is far better than improving 3/10”, the formula which constraints on identifying and improving the competent core areas of a particular business instead of mounting the unproductive sections of the business.

A business organization needs to break or change the rules and create new strengths by adopting a monopolistic success formula. This formula will augment business firm in a feat of success and profitability in turn. Because being in a competitive market it leads you facing more marketing challenges while a monopolistic market actually drives you towards grabbing the complete market share. Monopoly is the situation where an organization can regulate the price of products & services by creating various entry barriers for other players to cut the competition. By taking into consideration few more tips an entrepreneur can build their monopoly in the market:

Intellectual Property Protection

If you have come up with a new trade secret, get it protected by getting exclusive legal rights from the government in order to keep limited monopoly power in the market. This is the way to scale up your business by creating an entry barrier in the market. For example, Pharmaceutical industry manufactures two types of medicines; one is generic and another is molecular. Generic medicines are made for normal utility just like substitutes for others but molecular medicines are specifically produced through advanced research and development done by the pharma company which no other can use the formula due to patented mark on it.

Strong Distributor Network

There must be a strong distribution channel with the business partners which helps in taking competitive advantage. A long-term association can be ensured by providing proper marginal value to the intermediaries who are directly or indirectly associated with the business. This strategy aims to create a good entry barrier in the market.

Exclusive Rights

According to your nature of the business, an exclusive access to an international product for making sales in home country can be reserved by taking the grant from the related country. This strategy helps in creating differentiation in the market. For instance, few mobile phone companies give exclusive rights to retailers like Flipkart and Amazon.

Economies of Scale

Another strategy for an entrepreneur to create a monopoly is to sell the products in large volume at a lower margin. The policy of centralized purchasing adopted by the companies generally enhances the scale of business which causes a reduction of average cost per unit. This economies of scale strategy discourages competitors to enter the market. Electric power, domestic utilities and Gas services are few examples of economies of scale.

Proprietary Technology 

With the uniqueness of your technology, it not only allows you to enhance the competitive advantage of your business but also makes your product impossible to replicate. This is another form of licensing strategy which allows businesses to create customer loyalty.

High Capital Investment

You can create an entry barrier by investing in new technology like Reliance has adopted marketing strategy for “JIO” in networking segment. New invention or research tends to create a monopoly in the market. The existing firms can also create an entry barrier by investing in new market technologies according to the market requirement.

Brand Equity

Creating a good brand name can be another strategy to create a differentiation in the market and enhance customer loyalty. It is the value which creates perceptual experience among the customers’ mind for a particular product.

Original Article:www.entrepreneur.com

A List of Effective Marketing Secrets for SaaS Start-ups

Many successful enterprise SaaS companies today have one thing in common – a working inbound digital marketing model. This is for the simple reason that customer acquisition costs are steep and failure to make the model work can make SaaS businesses unviable. A successful inbound function is truly the secret sauce to building organic traffic and growing your customer base! Read on to find out how you can go about doing this.

Google Understands at Least 4 Types of User Intents. Do You?

When Google recently moved their ads from the less distracting 20% column area on the right to the straight-in-the-face ads in search results, I was miffed for weeks. I felt Google was shooting itself in the foot and had set the stage for someone else to innovate on the search front. Soon I realized there was more to this than what meets the eye! “Google knows when to show ads and when to show content!”. The idea comes from deciphering the user intent. This also improves the user experience for search users. There are Google ads haters who don’t like to think this improves the user experience but let’s ignore them for a moment.

Although there can be a whole bunch of user intents that the search engine understands, I have selected four types based on subsequent online research, triggered by this spark. The first step towards building a great inbound model is for your marketing team to understand these four user intents and how to balance SEO and SEM (Search Engine Marketing) efforts.

Navigational Intent

Many users today tend to remember and search for brand names rather than exact website URLs. Of course, this is a classical example of unintended use cases when a product/service becomes as successful as Google. Google also gets to monetize this by allowing competitors to run ads on those brand name searches.

Informational Intent

This is where a user tries to find information, learn something, and acquire knowledge. When someone searches for “Pitfalls in business process engineering,” Google knows that the user’s intent is NOT to buy a product but to acquire knowledge, completely eliminates showing ads and just shows relevant content pages. The way the search engine decides to pick the pages from the domains is another point discussed later in this article.

Transactional Intent

When a user searches for something like ‘iphone 7 price in India,’ Google understands that the user is trying to make a purchase or commercial transaction. You might have observed that Google shows price cards from Amazon, Flipkart, and other popular e-commerce sites as results and directly takes users to those sites to make the purchase if they click on a card. From the user standpoint, they get the best user experience. Period.

Investigation Intent

This treads the line between information and transaction. Search queries like “Nexus vs Moto” or “Hyundai Verna vs Honda City” fall under this category. This is a hybrid intent where a user has an interest to purchase, but not until they research it first. If informational intent is the top of the funnel and transactional intent is the bottom of the funnel, this is right in the middle.

Understanding keywords for user intent and being conscious about it needs to become integral to one’s content marketing strategy. We have even included a section in our content briefing document that clearly spells out what intent we are writing the content for.

Topic Authority is the New Page Rank

If you are in the B2B market, you will be familiar with SaaS product listing sites like GetApp, Capterra, and the like. They host content ranging from CRM products to Church Management Software. Despite this diversity, Google is able to accurately feature the right pages in top positions for “Top CRM Software” or “Top Church Management Software” categories from those listing sites. This wouldn’t be possible if Google started associating the entire domain to a specific category or area of expertise.

The only way this can work is if Google starts indexing all the pages in a domain and classifies them into categories or areas of expertise (i.e. topics) and then compares them with other domains that specialize in the same topic, to conclude who fares better at a topic authority.

Finally, the TA of a specific topic within your domain determines whether your page will be displayed as a top result or not. How can you do this? Read our next article in this series….

Original Article:www.entrepreneur.com

3 Ways to Spread an ‘Intrapreneurial’ Spirit Throughout Your Company

It’s no bombshell revelation that employees love autonomy. After all, we live in an age of entrepreneurship, and it’s highly likely in such an environment that many of your team members are working on their own ideas. They see themselves as makers and leaders in their own right, not just cogs in a machine.

That’s a good instinct: Proof? A 2017 study by the University of Birmingham reported the value in autonomy: Researchers there found that those employees in the survey who were more trusted and empowered at work reported higher levels of job satisfaction .

This trust-satisfaction link is a phenomenon I’ve seen in my own company: When people have good ideas, we like to give them opportunities to carry out those ideas; and some team members have actually gone on to craft entire roles for themselves. In doing so, they’ve made drastic improvements to the company.

The reverse is also true, however, when employees feel too restricted: Keep team members on a short leash, and you could be stifling creativity and lowering employee satisfaction.

Autonomy and entrepreneurial thinking give people a sense of control, accountability and ownership of their work, which can create what we call an “intrapreneur.” This is someone who thinks and acts like a business owner within an organization. Intrapreneurship leads to a sense of achievement when things go well, a drive to fix things when they go wrong and a company that is unstoppable.

Eliminating fear and allowing ideas to flourish

Admitting autonomy and encouraging intrapreneurial ventures can be a scary prospect. There’s an inevitable ego factor that many business leaders must first overcome.

I remember hiring my first couple of salespeople, and how they turned out to be better at sales than me. It was a tough pill to swallow. But, as soon as I shelved my ego and embraced a sense of humility, I was able to empower these salespeople to take the lead.

Then, once I let them run and be great at their jobs, they became some of our biggest advocates, and we started driving the company forward, in tandem.

Giving autonomy generously rather than begrudgingly handing it over can be a tough learning curve for employers. But, by exploring your employees’ ideas and acknowledging their inner intrapreneur, you can catalyze new ideas for your company while making your team happier overall.

How to foster intrapreneurial thinking in your company

Here are three ways you can promote autonomy and intrapreneurial thinking in your own team while still keeping a grip on the wheel:

1. Listen and ask questions. You don’t have to hand over creative freedom all at once. Team members will adapt better to their new autonomous roles if they’ve had a chance to prepare and test the waters.

During a brainstorming session, take the time to really listen to people’s ideas. When someone speaks up, respond by asking how he or she would make this idea a reality. This is your hypothesis stage — it costs nothing, risks little and allows your team members to feel comfortable taking control.

Sometimes, you’ll hear an idea and want to throw that employee out of the meeting for wasting everybody’s time. But stick with it — ask questions that help the employee get better at generating ideas.

After all, the idea may not be viable, but your response is vital. Did you respond positively? Can you expand on the idea? Did you make the person feel special for sharing, or cut him or her down? Autonomy doesn’t mean you can’t help one another out. In fact, a study by university researchers found that employees came up with 37 percent more ideas  when they started off brainstorming as a group.

Good things come from empowered employees, so don’t shut them down. Instead, give them the floor, and help them turn their ideas into successful initiatives.

2. Embrace the “expandable pie.” Business leaders love their pie, but they can get a little too attached to all of the slices it contains. Sometimes, they can focus too much on predefined departments and roles.

The “expandable-pie” concept is a good way of opening up those constraints. Say that there are seven slices for seven people in your company but then an eighth person comes along with a great idea. That doesn’t mean you have to fire someone else to maintain the pie. The pie can grow, along with the creativity and ambition of the team.

According to a Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report, 32 percent of American adults surveyed said they had direct relationships with entrepreneurs, indicating that encountering an entrepreneurial spirit is pretty much inevitable, and impossible to ignore. Instead of restricting intrapreneurial thinking, then, take the plunge and encourage it.

But, take caution: Maintaining an unrealistic pie may drive fears about demotions or firings throughout your company. In that case, intrapreneurial thinking will be easily silenced, and all members of the business will suffer.

3. Add in some fun. People will feel more capable of contributing their ideas if they can do so in a fun, lighthearted way. With this in mind, companies are getting creative at showing employees that they care. For example, Gap corporate employees receive free access to local museums , a move that might inspire and incentivize their own creativity at work.

Autonomy and intrapreneurial thinking can be spun with fun, too. My company awarded cash prizes through what we called the “Why?” awards. Team members were encouraged to submit a one-page entry that included a “why” question followed by what they were willing to do to answer it or fix the problem.

Around 200 entries were submitted and got everyone’s brains working creatively while boosting a welcoming, intrapreneurship-driven environment.

Another move: We hand out “Get Out of Jail Free” cards. Each cardholder has free license to bring an idea to the table — no matter how wacky or expensive. Gamifying otherwise dull pitch meetings can help foster team members’ involvement and willingness to pursue entrepreneurial ideasthey’ve been holding onto for a while.

Creativity is the true equity value of corporate America. When you keep employees tied to an hourly wage and tell them to keep doing the same tasks over and over, you rob your company of its competitive advantage.

Instead, consider: You have all these minds in one place, and if you empower intrapreneurial thinking and autonomy, you’ll get so much more than an hourly rate out of people: You’ll get a team whose members who care as much about your company as you do themselves.

Original Article:www.entrepreneur.com

4 Mindsets That Earn You More Customer Referrals

What’s the first thing you do when you get a referral from a customer? Chances are, you’re so excited as you build your startup that you fire off an email to the new lead hoping to turn them into a new customer.

If you’re doing this, you’re missing out on the quickest, least expensive and most effective new business generators you can find. And you’re also missing the entire point of referrals. Referrals are not about drumming up new leads to turn into new customers, and if you look at them this way, then you’re probably shooting yourself in the foot when it comes to growing your business.

If you want to dramatically increase referrals, you need to radically redefine what referrals are: A customer referral is an opportunity to celebrate and show deeper appreciation to your current customers. Once you can accept this new thinking, you’ll see happier current customers and more new ones.

This model works both for B2B and B2C companies, but let’s focus on a B2B model. At every startup in my career, I’ve approached referrals not simply as new business leads, but as a validation that we were providing value to the customer. With each new referral, we paused and took time to say thank you to our customers rather than rush to email or call the new lead. We didn’t wait to see if the customer’s friend became a new customer to decide if the referral were valuable. After all, the immediate value of a referral isn’t based on whether you get a new customer out of it. The real value is that one of your current customers has gone out of their way to validate and support you, and your recognition and celebration of this leads to happier customers and more referrals in the long run.

I put together a four-step framework for our new approach to referrals. Here’s the blueprint:

1. Earn the referral.

It’s obvious, but it so often gets overlooked. If you want a customer to refer you, make them happy, and give them value. Make that your focus, and ensure that you’re doing this instead of just asking them over and over for referrals. If they’re happy, sometimes you don’t even have to ask.

2. Offer help.

When you’re just looking for business leads, you ask your customers to give you a referral because it helps you. When you believe that your service truly helps your customers’ businesses succeed, you want to offer your services to help their friends’ businesses because it truly will help those businesses. Right after a customer refers you to a friend of theirs, you shouldn’t think, “Great! This is good for my company,” but rather, “Great! This is good for my customer’s friend.” And remember to look for positive moments when a specific customer is having a particularly good experience with you. That’s when people are most receptive to your offer to help their friends.

3. Commit

It’s a big deal for someone to refer a friend. They’re putting themselves on the line for you and spending some social capital. They don’t want to hear a quick, “thanks,” knowing that their friend is now a new entry in your CRM with sales people ready to pounce. They need to know that you’ll genuinely explore whether your service is the right solution at the right time for their friend and that if they become a customer, you’ll bring your “A” game and make sure they have a great experience.

4. Give thanks.

This is the heart of it. Remember, a referral is not simply a sales lead. A referral is a huge vote of confidence from a customer and the ultimate validation that you are truly providing value to their business. When you get a referral, your whole company should pause and celebrate the accomplishment. At that moment, your customer is saying that what your company and your team provides is of great value to their business. Take the time to reach out to the customer, and have others on your team do so. Let them know that you appreciate their support and belief in you, and that the whole company is appreciative of it as well.

To understand how this can work in practice, I once created a referral program called “Awesome Bombs.” The program even had a mascot, “Boomer.” Every time a current customer gave us a referral, we showered them with gratitude for their awesomeness. We gave our staff “awesome dollars” (an in-house currency) to spend on our internal referral website where they could order things like a custom bottle of “awesome sauce,” custom fortune cookies with awesome messages and other fun items that we’d send or deliver in person. Our customers loved it and had never had any company show them that much appreciation.

In the end, this new way of thinking brings positivity to you, your team, your customers and their friends. Transforming customer referrals from a sales and marketing opportunity to a customer appreciation and celebration opportunity will then create a virtuous cycle where referrals earn appreciation and appreciation wins referrals — virtuous cycle indeed.

Original Article:www.entrepreneur.com

How to Decide Whether You Need Debt or Equity Financing for Your Business

For small businesses, 2018 looks like a great time to expand. Corporate tax rates have been cut significantly, accelerated depreciation rules are encouraging capital investment, and the economy is showing signs of sustained strength.

The first question owners should ask is whether to use debt or equity to meet their capital needs. Let’s start by looking at some common debt options: Conventional bank debt, SBA-guaranteed debt (my personal favorite, but not the best fit in every case), and factoring and other forms of non-bank lending.

Conventional debt for proven businesses

Getting the right type of financing begins with an honest assessment of the five C’s: capital, collateral, conditions, creditworthiness and cash flow. These are the factors that banks use to determine if the business qualifies for bank debt.

Capital refers to the ratio of owner’s equity to the firm’s total liabilities (or leverage). While there are exceptions for certain industries, in most cases a business should have no more than $3 or $4 in liabilities (mostly debts and payables) for every dollar in equity to qualify for conventional financing.

Collateral refers to the assets that will secure the loan. Banks typically use a percentage of the current market value or cost of the assets (known as margin rates) to determine how much they can lend conventionally. For example, a bank may cap its term loan offerings to 75 percent to 80 percent of real estate and new equipment, and 50 percent of used equipment; and cap its lines of credit to 70 percent to 80 percent of current accounts receivable and 30 percent to 50 percent of finished goods inventory.

Conditions are market and industry conditions. If the company is highly cyclical or seasonal, or subject to significant regulations, it is generally more risky than other businesses and may have difficulty obtaining conventional loans.

Creditworthiness is how the business and its owners demonstrate long-term willingness to pay their creditors on time. This is typically documented through credit reports.

Cash flow is possibly the most important of the five C’s; it’s typically based on the business’s historic earnings, prior to reductions for depreciation, amortization, interest expense or taxes but after mandatory distributions and required maintenance capital expenditures. This cash flow is then compared to the proposed debt payments. The cash flow should be at least 1.2 times the amount of required debt service to qualify for conventional financing.

For established firms that demonstrate strength in each of these five C’s, a conventional bank loan can be a great option. These loans offer attractive rates and the lowest overall cost of borrowing.

SBA loans for businesses that need more

Firms that are strong in most of the five C’s, but need to overcome a weakness in collateral, need a longer term to be able to afford the payments, or are expanding beyond their business’s historic ability to cash flow the debt, will fare better by applying for a U.S. Small Business Administration-backed loan. SBA loans offer banks the ability to approve loans with a collateral shortfall, and offer terms up to 10 years for most purposes (conventional loans typically are three- to five-year terms), so cash flow calculations are often improved. SBA-back loans can also help a bank say “yes” to a business in a riskier industry or with a storied past.

If the business is seeking SBA financing to expand its business, or will rely on projected cash flows for repayment, it is critical for the business to have a strong business plan showing how the funds will be used and how it plans to generate the cash flow needed to repay the loan.

Businesses without such plans can seek help from Small Business Development Centers and SCORE Association chapters. Those plans start with three years of detailed financial projections and should discuss the assumptions that were made when creating the projections. If the business financials are different than industry norms (i.e. they report lower cost of goods sold or operating expenses), the plan should detail why the business can achieve its projection. Business plans should also include detailed explanations of anything unusual in the firm’s past, like one-time expenses or unusual circumstances.

Getting the right loan is also helped by going to a bank that is familiar with your particular industry. A banker fully versed in hospitality or construction companies, for example, is more likely to understand the particular needs of your business than someone that has never underwritten debt for those sectors.

Factoring and other debt options

For companies with good receivables but weaknesses in the other C’s,  factoring may be an option — selling the firm’s accounts receivable to a third party at a discount. Factoring is high-cost debt but can make sense when a high-growth business needs the financing to grow the business quickly and the new business opportunity is profitable enough to create cash flow to repay the debt. Factors are typically concerned with two things: 1) validity and enforceability of the receivables; and 2) the business’s clients’ strength and ability to pay when due.

Some smaller businesses that don’t qualify for any loans can still take on debt. One option is micro-lenders, which are non-bank lenders, often themselves non-profits that mix public and private funding to lend to startups, very early or aggressively expanding businesses. They can lend $1,000 to $1 million, charging higher rates and requiring collateral in most cases, but not all. Businesses can also use personal credit to obtain auto loans and leases; credit card debt (an option best reserved for amounts of $10,000 or less); a home equity line of credit; or take a loan guaranteed by other income (perhaps the salary of a spouse or a guarantee from another family member).

Equity for fast-growing companies

Like debt, taking on various types of equity is also informed by the business stage of growth and its cash flow. Equity can come from family and friends, angel investors, venture capital, private equity investors or from a strategic partner.

Friends and family may make great investors when the business is in its infancy and won’t qualify for a loan, and is unlikely to attract professional investors.

Early stage companies, such as a proven restaurant expanding into a fast-growth chain model, or a company that has developed a product, proven it is marketable, and now wants to hire a sales team to take advantage of a market opportunity, may be able to attract equity. Angel investors offer equity infusions, typically from $50,000 to $500,000, and are looking for businesses that have a shot at rapid growth. They typically stick to specific industry niches that they know well, and can be found through local angel investor networks. The SBA also backs its own public/private early stage equity investment program, the Small Business Investment Company , which has backed such companies as Apple, Tesla and Whole Foods.

Traditional venture capital investors are useful for fast-growing businesses that need an infusion of $5 million or more to quickly bring an exciting new  technology or product to market but have insufficient historic cash flow to secure a loan of that size. The company may even be generating losses as it drives growth, but it has a near-term path to high returns for the investors. VCs favor such sectors as tech and health care and expect to sell their stake in three to five years, either through a buyout from a larger firm or an initial public offering. They require substantial control of the companies they invest in, will often dilute prior owners significantly and are usually looking for returns of 10 times or greater.

Private equity (“PE”) investors look to take a stake in companies that are typically more established. PE investors prefer to target companies that are seeking to expand by acquiring other companies and expect to boost profits by capturing the resulting efficiencies. That could be a medical practice expanding to become a regional system, or a distribution and logistics company that wants to acquire other companies.

Like VCs, PE investors want to sell on their investment, usually in three to seven years, for multiples of their initial investment. Both seek a significantly higher return than banks demand.

For relatively mature companies that are growing at a more earth-bound pace, selling equity to a strategic partner may be a better option. That could be selling some or all of the firm to the company’s main customer or vendor — a firm that is invested in the company’s success.

With economic conditions suggesting that 2018 will be an extremely positive year for small businesses, deciding whether to take on debt or to sell equity, and finding the right source, is a great first step in turning expansion plans into reality.

Original Article:www.entrepreneur.com

Examining the Relevance of Strong Leadership in the Corporate World

A leader is often defined as a person or entity who leads; a guiding or directing head. For example, the head of an army or a political movement, a conductor or director of an orchestra etc. Essentially a leader is a person who can influence or inspire a group of people towards the realization of a goal. So what are the basic characteristics that go into the making of a leader?

One Who is at the Forefront:

One of the Sanskrit words for leader is agraga, which means, someone who goes in the front. That is very much in sync with the general meaning of someone who leads. It’s a simple definition, but it satisfies the necessary, if not sufficient, a prerequisite for a leader. In popular imagery, a leader is always seen as someone who is at the forefront.

In Indian culture, perhaps the most celebrated leader is Krishna, who victoriously led the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra battle in the epic Mahabharata. In this avatar, he is seen as the protector, friend, philosopher and guide of Arjuna. Being at the front of Arjuna’s chariot, Krishna would have taken the first blow, had Arjuna been hit by an arrow.

This, in a nutshell, is pretty much everything that a leader should be. A leader is a protector and saviour; the first one to take the blow if anything goes wrong, the first one to die on the battlefield. So, we can say a good manager, like a true leader, should be like a shield for her team, facing the bullets, never running away from the front, never blaming anyone for any failure, but willing to take the onus upon herself.

One Who has Followers, not Listeners:

This very definition of a leader as one who leads from the front points to a few identifying features of a leader. The first and the foremost is that a leader should have followers, not listeners. When Krishna is leading Arjuna, as his charioteer, Arjuna is following Krishna, not merely listening to him. Krishna has evoked a sense of security and trust in the mind of Arjuna, and hence the latter has become a follower. Krishna’s words are not just mere instructions or commands of a boss to Arjuna. Krishna’s words have become Arjuna’s inspiration.

Millions of people followed Mahatma Gandhi, not because Gandhi had ordered or instructed them to do so, but because of their love towards him.

A true leader is she, who is followed, not merely obeyed or listened to.

Most managers or bosses we see in office are obeyed, not followed. That’s where they all fail to become leaders. They remain managers. They remain as mere instructors, givers of orders. People listen to them out of fear and obligation.

One Who “does” Rather than Merely Preaching

This leads to the next question: when would be someone followed and not merely listened to?

G B Shaw gave the answer to this question, though in a different context altogether. He had said, “One who can, does; he who cannot, teaches.”

People generally follow a Doer. A leader never says, “You do”. A leader always does. People follow. A manager who has evolved into a leader never says, “Do this.” He always does. His employees follow.

One Who Inspires

This raises a pertinent question: if the leader does everything, then how would she make the teamwork? That brings us to perhaps the most important aspect about leadership: Inspiration.

We’re used to hearing that the team should be motivated, that the job of a manager is to motivate her team.

Did Gandhi motivate the entire nation to endure the penance of nonviolence? No, he inspired his people.

A closer look at the words “motivation” and “inspiration” will tell the difference between the two. Motivation is just a cause or reason to act; and inspiration, like respiration, is related to the Latin word spirare, meaning “to breathe”. When done in the right way, inspiration can do wonders.

A leader is one who inspires, not motivates. If a manager can’t inspire her people, she’s no manager. And that’s the case with most of the managers in the corporate world. Uninspiring managers can be disastrous in organizations. Having failed to inspire their teams into delivering, they would resort to all sorts of ways to push them hard.

In conclusion, if the corporate world has more number of managers who possess the features of our traditional leaders, they will be no less celebrated than them and would also make working efficient and easier for the team and the organization. A person can be viewed as a good leader only when she yields the best result for the organization by managing her team well.

Original Article:www.entrepreneur.com

5 Marketing Strategies From Major Brands: What You Can Learn From Their Mistakes and Successes

Marketing is a spectator sport. We can all learn from each other by observing what brands do in the marketplace, even if we don’t have big budgets.

Specifically, we’re finding more and more brands making a buzz in the court of social media, and there’s something to be learned from every one of them: the good and the, shall we say, not-so-good.

Marketing strategy mishaps


One of the most newsworthy marketing moments of late came from PepsiCo, which made headlines about snacks designed for women. Twitter lit up like a Christmas tree talking about “Lady Doritos,” asking CEO Indra Nooyi to focus on the bigger issues facing women that are making headlines right now. Even Ellen had something to say about it!

The lesson: Before any public announcement, prepare a message track that you have vetted with those closest to you to make sure it all makes sense. Then, make sure you understand the greater consciousness happening in the world and consider it in everything you say and do.


We recently enjoyed an entire buffet of Super Bowl commercials, many of them scoring quite well with consumers. But, one commercial in particular failed to resonate the way the company must have hoped. Ram Trucks used a voiceover clip from a speech from Dr. Martin Luther King that talks about service, and in the context of the commercial, it came across as disingenuous.

The lesson: Make sure your branding is consistent across the board, from your product or service offering to all of your marketing materials and messaging.

Marketing strategy successes

L.L. Bean

L.L. Bean, via Facebook and perhaps other touch-points, announced that it was no longer offering a lifetime guarantee, but rather a one-year return policy along with further consideration for defects that occur after that time. The company basically blamed those who abused the policy for having to eliminate it.

Yet, many customers explained that the lifetime guarantee was the only reason to purchase and the only justification for the price points. L.L. Bean kept quiet for a moment, and let other customers come to its defense by explaining the reasonableness of the policy and the need to uphold sustainable business policies. I actually joined in myself on that one! As a result, what could have been bad buzz quickly became a non-news item.

The lesson: Let your loyalists speak on your behalf in good times and in bad. Others can be far more influential for you than you can be for yourself.


Retailer CVS announced that it will no longer retouch photography in the marketing of its beauty products and it will stamp or label any other brands who continue to retouch or alter imagery, in an effort to promote positive self-esteem and healthy beauty standards. While viewed in conjunction with its decision to discontinue tobacco products a few years back, this move was heralded as yet another triumph.

The lesson: create a powerful platform that people can rally behind and that is at the core of what you do, and stick to it by repeating it with consistent and innovative initiatives over and over again.


After 140,000 applications to be the new Gerber spokesbaby, the brand picked its first baby with Down Syndrome after 90 years, which met with an immediate standing ovation on social media.The brand announced Lucas on The Today Show. According to Gerber CEO Bill Partyka in a press release, it was Lucas’s “winning smile and joyful expression” that won him the role and by the looks of the pic everyone could see why.  In one moment, Gerber proved its long-lasting mantra of inclusion that says “every baby is a Gerber baby.”

The lesson: Make sure your marketing materials reflect your brand — and prevailing attitudes that are relevant to your brand.

Marketing is certainly a spectator sport, for big brands and small. Pay attention to what’s out there in the marketplace, and you’ll learn things that you can positively apply to your marketing plan, too.

Original Article:www.entrepreneur.com