Jul 222017
 
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2 Crowdfunding Sites That May Be Useful To You

Crowdfunding sites and the concept of crowdfunding have been around for a long time. It is only in recent years, though, that they have become more user-friendly and a viable funding source for startups.

First, let’s talk a bit about what crowdfunding is.

At its most basic, crowdfunding is raising money, usually relatively small amounts, from a large number of individuals – the crowd. This can be contrasted with raising a relatively large amount of money from just a few investors, usually “institutions” of one sort or another – banks, venture capitalists, government entities, etc.

Crowdfunding can be used to raise money for a variety of purposes, with the two broadest categories being charitable donations, both to individuals and organizations, and business investments (funding).

Until the passage of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (“JOBS Act”) in 2012, although some of the crowdfunds raised were used for product and startup launches, the vast majority fell more into the charitable category. Since 2012, though, and particularly since key JOBS Act implementation and regulation mechanisms were put into place in 2016, while there is still a long way to go in the growth of this funding approach, significant business capital has been raised via crowdfunding. If you’d like to read further details on the JOBS Act legislation, start here.

Title III of Regulation CF (Crowdfunding) of the 2012 JOBS Act, which went into effect in May of 2016, allows equity crowdfunding (aka “Regulation Crowdfunding” or “Reg CF”) from investors regardless (to some extent) of their net worth or income. Though they’re not the same as the previous Reg D “accredited investor” requirements, there are still regulations regarding both the investors and the companies receiving the investment, of course. Further details from the SEC regarding those regulations can be found here.

Per the SEC crowdfunding requirements detailed at the link above:

c. Transactions Conducted Through an Intermediary

Each Regulation Crowdfunding offering must be exclusively conducted through one online platform. The intermediary operating the platform must be a broker-dealer or a funding portal that is registered with the SEC and FINRA.

Issuers may rely on the efforts of the intermediary to determine that the aggregate amount of securities purchased by an investor does not cause the investor to exceed the investment limits, so long as the issuer does not have knowledge that the investor would exceed the investment limits as a result of purchasing securities in the issuer’s offering.

The required use of an “online platform” for Regulation Crowdfunding offerings has given rise to a number of new crowdfunding sites and the revamping of some existing sites. As of July 17, 2017, twenty-nine (29) “crowdfunding intermediaries are registered with the SEC as funding portals and are funding portal members of FINRA”.

Here we will highlight two of the most popular crowdfunding sites you may want to consider if you’re looking at this approach to raising capital. These two were selected because, as of the writing of this article, according to Crowdfund Capital Advisors (a great site for data on Regulation Crowdfunding), they are the two portals with the most Reg CF offerings.

Wefunder

According to Wefunder’s stats, as of July 17, 2017, of the total of roughly $41 million that has been raised through Reg CF offerings, about $23 million, or 56% has been raised on Wefunder. So, at this early juncture of the game, one could say that Wefunder is the portal to be reckoned with in the Reg CF funding space.

According to the same stats, 70 of the 129 successful Reg CF offerings of $50k or more have been done on Wefunder, and of those 70, ten percent, or 7 offerings, raised over $1 million.

The 129 successful offerings raised just under $41 million. The categories of companies that raised the most total money were: Tech ($12.6M), Software ($7.4M), Food ($7.3M), and Alcohol ($6.6M).

Start Engine

According to Wefunder’s stats, as of July 17, 2017, of the total of roughly $41 million that has been raised through Reg CF offerings, about $9.5 million, or 23% has been raised on Start Engine. At this early juncture of Reg CF offerings, this makes Start Engine the second largest portal, having done about 40% of the raise volume of Wefunder.

The Reg CF funding space is relatively new and dynamic. Don’t limit yourself to these two crowdfunding sites, but they should serve as a good starting point for your research.

Put a plan together. Do your research. Then, go out and raise some capital to build your business. You will now have crowdfunding as another potential tool in your arsenal.

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.

 

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

 

 

 

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Jul 182017
 
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7 Basic Elements Of Building Your Social Media Marketing Plan

You need a social media marketing plan for your small business!

This is a guest post from Dorien Morin at More In Media.

Social media marketing without a plan is like any kind of marketing without a plan – it’s not as effective. You might go through all the trouble of renting a storefront, ordering inventory, hiring staff and opening the doors for customers to come see you… and then… nothing! The only difference is that with social media, it’s done online.

If you want social media marketing to work for your business, you need to have a plan of action in order to measure growth, success, and ROI.

Here are 7 basic elements of building your own social media marketing plan today!

Goals

What are your goals of being on social media?

Drive foot traffic to a brick and mortar store?

Increases Online sales?

Website Traffic?

Brand Awareness?

Email Signups?

More Sales Overall?

Expand territory?

Grow online community?

Grow Team?

You can certainly add your own goals to this list.

Then, identify your main goal as well as 2-3 secondary goals you want to accomplish.

The first step of your social media marketing plan is done!

Target Audience 

Identify your “customer avatar,” a/k/a your ideal client.

To do that, ask yourself the following questions:

Who is my most profitable customer?

Who is my most loyal customer?

What age is my ideal customer?

Where do most of my customers live?

What is the disposable income of my target audience?

How often does my target audience purchase a service/product like mine?

Does my target audience buy online or offline (what are their buying habits?)

What social media sites does my target audience frequent?

Etc.

Answering these questions will help you create ‘the ideal customer’, your avatar. Now all your marketing efforts should be focused on engaging that avatar! That includes writing ads and creating videos that will make an impact on that specific avatar.

Second step is done!

Budget

Having a marketing budget is essential to building your social media marketing plan as you will need to budget for staff wages, consulting fees, content creation (photography, video and copywriting), advertising, automation tools and more.

Without a budget, your hands are tied – you can try to build your brand and online community for ‘free’ but it will still take a huge resource – your time!

Once you’ve completed your budget, the third step is done!

(Social) Media Audit

Without knowing where you are as you start, you can’t measure growth and success as you move forward.

You will need a (social) media audit to find out where you are currently visible online (platforms) as well as offline, what marketing efforts are working and what is not, what your website traffic is doing (Google Analytics), how your Facebook Ads are doing (if you are running any) and the status of your email marketing as well as your offline marketing efforts.

Throw this data into a Google doc and you’ve got your audit done. Use this data to measure growth in all areas; weekly, monthly, yearly.

Step four, done.

Competitors

Your competition is one of the best resources available to you if you are ready to create a written social media marketing plan.

Why reinvent the wheel? I suggest picking 3-5 industry and/or local competitors and make a spreadsheet with the following data.

Check their Website – are they using video? Is there a blog? E-commerce? A Podcast?

Check Facebook – what type of posts do well? How much engagement do they have? How often do they post? Do they go LIVE?

Check Twitter – are they active? What do they tweet? How many followers do they have?

Check Instagram – do they have an account? How often do they post? Do they mainly post pictures or video? What hashtags are being used?

Check all other platforms, including review sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor etc if relevant.

Use this data not to copy what your competitors are doing, but as a starting point for best practices. If their audience engages well with video, why not create an awesome video series? If there’s nothing much going on with Twitter in their/your industry, maybe put that on the back burner, unless you think there’s an opportunity to engage relevant constituencies there. It’s hard to know without trying – test it, then adjust accordingly.

Step five is complete.

Tools

You will need automation and creator tools for social media. This includes subscriptions to software, email marketing or CRM systems, as well as access to (stock) photo sites. Do some research and find out how much to add to your budget for tools – you will need to tools to be efficient!  A few of the tools you’ll want to consider include:

Canva – graphics creation

Buffer – scheduling

Camtasia – screen capture

mailChimp – email marketing

infusionsoft – CRM

Asana – project management

Slack – team projects

That’s step six, but in reality, your research on tools will be ongoing.

Content

Content creation isn’t free! You might need to hire a videographer for the day, or a video editor. You might need a photographer for an event or for website pictures. You will most likely need a copywriter and a webmaster to keep your website up-to-date and yes, that falls under social media, too. Creating a social media marketing plan includes the need for a monthly content calendar with content ideas to be worked out by the marketing team. Understand that creating content isn’t the end –there needs to be a budget to promote this content as well, as such promotion is essential to social media marketing success!

And that’s step seven!

These are seven building blocks of creating your very own social media marketing plan.

I suggest you create this plan in a written format that it can easily be shared with your team!

Refer back to this plan as you execute it, at least on a monthly basis to make sure you are still on the right track and create a new, updated plan every year!

 

Dorien Morin

Dorien@moreinmedia.com

www.moreinmedia.com

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Jul 122017
 
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How To Deal With Difficult News In Your Business

How do you deal with difficult news in your business?

I’ve seen a variety of approaches from the different entrepreneurs I’ve known. Some take the “ostrich approach” and bury their heads in the sand. Others choose to deal with difficult news head-on.

From my perspective, the head-on approach makes more sense. To illustrate why it makes more sense, let me ask you a question.

Is difficult news easier to deal with ahead of, during, or after the difficult event that it portends?

In my experience, it’s generally easier to deal with it ahead, preferably as far ahead as possible, of the difficult events or challenges it foretells. If you get the news and deal with it as early as possible, typically you have more options than if you only deal with it as, or after, the events unfold. Let’s look at an example.

Let’s say that you hear “through the grapevine” that there’s a high probability that one of your major customers is going to defect to one of your competitors. Would it be better to hear this three months in advance, a week in advance, the day they actually move, or after they’ve already moved?

Obviously, it’d be better to hear the difficult news well in advance, so you have a chance to deal with it and perhaps even change the outcome.

That’s the real point here: when you hear about difficult news, you don’t want to just bury it “under the rug” or somewhere in the back of your mind. Rather, you want to consider your options, and then take action!

You may decide that the proper course of action is to do nothing, but at least that will be a conscious decision.

So, it’s pretty clear that you should deal with difficult news as early as possible. Should you teach your employees and others in your inside circle to do the same?

The answer to that question is also a resounding “yes”!

You want to create a culture in your business, and really, everywhere in your life, that encourages those around you to communicate and deal with difficult news as early as possible.

What’s the alternative? It’s to create a culture that rather than dealing with difficult news head-on, deals with it by procrastinating, or worse yet, by taking the “ostrich approach” and pretending nothing is wrong.

The bottom line is that your decisions will only be as good as the information upon which you base them. You want your team to provide you with updated information, good or bad, but especially the difficult news, as early as possible.

Why?

If they don’t, the odds of your getting blindsided go up substantially. The odds greatly increase that something you could have dealt with, had you known about it, turns into something much more serious, perhaps even catastrophic.

In order to get your team to provide you with up-to-date information, even when it may include difficult news, you need to make it “safe” for them to do so. As the saying goes, “don’t shoot the messenger”. Really, you want to take it a step further and reward people, not necessarily monetarily, though sometimes even that is warranted, but definitely at least with a “good job, I appreciate the heads-up”.

This should be obvious, but I’ve seen too many instances, especially of late, where otherwise intelligent people get blindsided because they take the “ostrich approach” to dealing with difficult news, rather than addressing it head-on. Don’t let it happen to you.

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.

 

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

 

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Jul 112017
 
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Being An Entrepreneur Is The Only Way To Control Your Destiny

One of the perks of being an entrepreneur is that you control your own destiny.

Well, sort of.

In reality, regardless of what you do to make a living, there will be factors beyond your control. Those factors may, of course, have an impact on your destiny.

When compared with other ways to make a living, though, it’s hard to find options that give you as much control as being an entrepreneur.

If, for example, you work for someone else, your destiny is largely in that person’s or that organization’s hands. The reality is that tomorrow, or even a minute from now, your employer could notify you that your services are no longer needed.

Your employer may tell you this because you’re not doing a good job, over which you do have a large degree of control, of course.

However, they may also tell you that your services are no longer needed due to all sorts of other factors.

For example, your job may be “offshored” or outsourced to some other place in the world. Or, due to no fault of your own, and perhaps even due to no fault of your employer, the company’s sales may be declining and the company may no longer be able to afford to have you on the payroll.

So, how is being an entrepreneur different in terms of controlling your own destiny?

Well, in some ways it’s very different, and in other ways, it’s similar to working for someone else.

Let’s look at the differences and similarities.

When you are an entrepreneur (i.e. self-employed, as a simplified definition in this article — I realize there are varying views on the definition of “entrepreneur”), you’ll see the following “control” differences and similarities, compared to working for someone else:

  • You control your schedule. Your employer doesn’t control your schedule, at least, as you do not have an employer other than yourself. That said, you do have all sorts of constituencies that will have an impact on your schedule, including customers, investors, partners, employees, service providers, etc. So, in a nutshell, you’ve traded your employer for a series of other “bosses”.
  • You control how much you make. In reality, how well your company does controls how much you make. So, you can’t just say I want to be paid a million dollars per year and the money shows up on your doorstep. You have to be strategic and you have to be willing to work hard, but the good news is that if you work hard enough for a million dollars to come in, you’ll likely be keeping a lot more of it (with controlled expenses) than you would have if you were on someone else’s payroll.
  • You control how hard you work. Well, to be clear, you largely control how hard you work if you’re working for someone else, too. Once you become accustomed to being an entrepreneur, though, you realize that you don’t mind putting in long hours when it’s for your bottom line and not for someone else’s.
  • You control your stress level. Again, regardless of whether you’re an entrepreneur or an employee, you are in charge of controlling your stress level. As an entrepreneur, you may have a bit more flexibility in structuring your schedule and your activities, so that you’re better able to manage your stress level. However, in many cases, since you’re the “chief cook and bottle washer” (i.e. the buck stops with your for everything), often your stress level will actually go up relative to what it was as an employee.  As with hard work, though, you’ll likely not mind more stress so much when it’s for your business, rather than for your employer’s business.
  • You control whom you work with. This may be one of the biggest perks of being an entrepreneur, especially when you reach a level of success that gives you some flexibility. You have the last say on who works at your company, the customers you do business with, the service providers you use, etc. This is very liberating! It gives you the opportunity to only work with and help people that you like. This isn’t true for all businesses, of course – if you have a retail business dealing with the public, for example, you may not like every customer that walks through the door. If you own a service business, on the other hand, you typically can “fire” (or never “hire”) clients who you don’t want to help, for most any reason.
  • You control what happens when you retire. This assumes, of course, that you’ve built a business that can survive without your presence. If you haven’t, then the business will close when you decide you’re done. If you have, then you’ll be able to retire knowing that your business will continue to serve others, in the hands of the subsequent owners. It’s satisfying to know that you’ve built a business that not only provided for you and your family, but also that will continue to serve customers into the future, and may even continue to support your family, depending who the subsequent owners are and how the deal is structured when you sell your business.
  • You control whether you get fired. Bringing the story back to the beginning of this article, where we talked about the fact that your employer can fire you at any time, being an entrepreneur is no panacea in this regard. Subject to the terms of your agreement, clients can also “fire” you at any time. That said, for your sake, I hope that you will not have just one client or just one customer! If you build a diversified set of customer and clients, then if just one fires you, your business is not done. The same cannot be said for the situation where your (one) employer fires you – in that case, your “business” is done and you must find another job.

This list could go on, but you get the idea: As an entrepreneur, you have more control over your destiny.

That does not mean that things get easier than when you’re an employee, but it does mean that you are in charge – and you get all the good and bad things that come with being the head honcho. The sky is the limit, but the downside is yours as well. If that works for you, then being an entrepreneur is absolutely the way to go!

 

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

 

 

 

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Jul 092017
 
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How To Be Successful As A Defiant Entrepreneur

Maybe I should have titled this: How to be successful if you’re not a defiant entrepreneur!

Really. In my book and my experience, if you’re not defiant as an entrepreneur, your odds of being successful get much worse.

Think about it. What does it mean to be defiant? Here’s the dictionary definition:

Full of or showing a disposition to challenge, resist, or fight:  full of or showing defiance: boldimpudent 

From where I sit, you could almost substitute the word defiant for entrepreneur, and the definition would be the same! In fact, I guess the term defiant entrepreneur is kind of redundant.

Take a moment and run through a list in your mind of all the successful entrepreneurs that you know. How many of them are not “defiant”? I did this exercise a moment ago and for me, the answer was: “None”. Every single one of them is defiant. In fact, they’re some of the most defiant people I know!

Why is defiance important to being successful as an entrepreneur?

Well, here are some of the things you need to defy as an entrepreneur:

  • the odds of failure
  • authority
  • the status quo
  • naysayers
  • entrenched competition
  • “common wisdom”
  • inertia
  • your comfort zone
  • stereotypes
  • resistance to change
  • laziness
  • ignorance
  • jealousy

This list could go on and on!

As an entrepreneur, you are essentially in the business of being defiant!

Why is it important to your success in business that you are (or become) and you remain a defiant entrepreneur?

The answer is simple: the forces colluding against your success as an entrepreneur are numerous, as evidenced by the (incomplete) list above. If you give in and become anything less than defiant, your business is likely destined to fail.

In other words, the minute you acquiesce and give in to the forces conspiring against your success as an entrepreneur, you’re done. You might as well clean out your locker, go home, and find something else to do.

So, the next time you’re accused of being too intense, or of being too edgy – in other words, of being defiant – thank whomever it is who says it to you.

Don’t waste a lot of time explaining it to them, as you have defiant entrepreneur things to do, but let them know that as an entrepreneur, as someone who is trying to change your life and the world for the better, it is your job to be defiant!

You don’t need to apologize for it. You are simply doing your job to the best of your ability. It may be difficult for non-entrepreneurs to understand, but that is not your problem.

On a side note, I recently wrote an article about being successful as an introverted entrepreneur. I want to point out that I don’t think to be introverted and being defiant are mutually exclusive.

Some of the most defiant entrepreneurs I know are introverts – they just go about expressing their defiance differently than the extroverts in the crowd!

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.

 

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

 

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Jul 072017
 
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How Can An Introverted Entrepreneur Be Successful?

Are you an introverted entrepreneur trying to figure out how to be successful?

Let me start with the good news. It’s definitely possible for an introvert to be successful as an entrepreneur.

In fact, according to a recent Entrepreneur.com article, the following mega-successful entrepreneurs are introverts:

  • Larry Page
  • Bill Gates
  • Warren Buffet
  • Mark Zuckerberg
  • Elon Musk

This is a list of successful introverted entrepreneurs I would imagine that you would not mind being part of! Each one of these “introverts” is a billionaire, most of them several times over. We’re talking about some of the richest people in the world on this list. So, that is quite encouraging.

Ok, we started with the good news. Now, let’s talk about some of the not-so-good news, for you, the aspiring introverted entrepreneur.

First, let’s acknowledge that in order to be successful as an entrepreneur, you will typically have to interact with a wide variety of people. These interactions will usually take place daily if not many times per day. So, many times when you’d like to be on your own, enjoying some time to yourself, you will need to get out of your comfort zone and play the role of an extrovert. In entrepreneurship, perhaps even more than in most other endeavors, great things typically are accomplished by teams, rather than by entrepreneurs working alone.

Next, we should consider that the “extrovert world” is full of small talk, with which you probably are not particularly comfortable. You will need to work on striking a balance between getting right to the point and not seeming standoffish and/or aloof. Is this starting to sound familiar? You will have to work on being willing to listen to some personal or sports stories that aren’t relevant to the task at hand, as sharing such information is a mechanism for bonding with your colleagues. Who knows, you may even learn to enjoy some of these interactions.

Now, we’ll talk about the fact that he or she who talks the most or the loudest often has a disproportionate impact on the outcome of decision-making conversations. It is here that you will need to develop your “assertiveness muscles” and come to terms with the fact that if you’re going to be a successful introverted entrepreneur, you will need to be willing to argue forcefully for your ideas. Don’t worry, with time, it’s likely you will become more and more comfortable with this reality.

At this point, we should talk about what may be one of the hardest leaps for you as an introvert, which is selling. As an entrepreneur, it’s often the case that you are selling from the time you wake up, until the time you go to sleep. You sell your ideas to your partners, your product development ideas to your engineers, your products and services to your customers, and the list goes on. Selling when you don’t see yourself as a salesperson is one of the hardest things for any entrepreneur, but perhaps even more difficult for the introverted entrepreneur. Take a look here for some ideas on how to sell better if you’re not a salesperson.

Finally, for now, let’s talk about how physically and emotionally draining it can be as an introverted entrepreneur to face the challenges mentioned above, as well as the many others you will encounter each day. The fact is, you will likely end each day completely drained! It is, therefore, extremely important that you find activities and hobbies that allow you to regenerate. These activities can include meditation, yoga, running, or hiking, among others. They could even include just reading a book or listening to music, but try to mix some physical activity in as well. If at all possible, try to do at least one such activity each day, so you can face the next day as an entrepreneur completely charged and ready to go.

How do you approach being an introverted entrepreneur?

I look forward to your thoughts, ideas, and questions.

 

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

 

 

 

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Jul 062017
 
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Marketing Better – What Happens If The Fish Are Not Biting?

Almost every entrepreneur I’ve met would like to be marketing better. Why not, right? If you market better, your business should be more successful, at least on the top line.

So, speaking of “top line” – not as in revenues, as the term implies in business, but as in fishing line, the kind you use to catch fish – let’s talk fishing for a minute.

What does fishing have to do with marketing better?

I would say learning to fish well is a lot like learning to market well. Here’s why.

My son was asking me yesterday if I’d ever gone pond hopping. I asked him what he meant, as I wasn’t familiar with the term. He said, you know, where you drive from pond to pond, trying to catch fish, then keeping track of the results at each pond…

That got me to thinking of just how much fishing is like marketing!

Just as in fishing, in marketing there is always a temptation to go “pond hopping”. The less informed version of pond hopping in marketing would be where you try something in one “pond” for a short time, then quickly conclude that because you haven’t “caught something” right away, the pond is no good, so you move on. You figuratively jump in the car and drive to another marketing “pond”.

Does this approach to marketing make sense?

To answer this question, let’s go back to fishing for a moment. For example, ask yourself these questions:

  • What kind of fish are you trying to catch?
  • How much do know about the eating behavior of the fish you’re trying to catch?
  • What sort of fishing equipment do you have at your disposal? For example, do you have a boat?
  • How long are you spending at the pond before “hopping” to the next one?
  • What else is happening at the pond you’re fishing in? Are fish jumping to catch flies?
  • How many different lures did you try before you moved on to the next pond?
  • Have you fished at that particular pond before? Did you learn anything?
  • What season of the year is it?
  • Did you try just one place in the pond, or did you move around at least a bit?
  • What time of day is it?
  • Have any other fisherpersons given you tips about this particular pond, or about the type of fish you’re going after?
  • If you catch a large fish, or any fish for that matter, are you prepared to get it into the boat or onto the shore?
  • Are you fishing for sport, or is it your business? Or do you need the fish to eat, as you’re in a survival situation?
  • Is there anything else in the water about which you should be careful – things that could kill or harm you, such as snakes, gators, or sharks?

This list could go on quite a bit, of course.

What does this have to do with marketing? Everything. It has everything to do with marketing.

If you would not (should not) travel to a pond to go fishing without having the answers to the basic questions, should you go to market without answers to basic questions about the customers you are seeking to attract? Absolutely not!

You should have every bit of data, qualitative and quantitative, that you can get your hands on, before you go to market.

In reality, you should have as much of this information as possible before you even build your product or service offering, so you know that you are building something that your market will want to buy!

Marketing better must become a habit. You must become an entrepreneur who doesn’t simply hope that the “fish” will bite. You need to stack the odds in your favor by gathering and tracking as much information (metrics) as possible.

How do you get this information about your market?

  • Ask them. Talk to your customers and prospective customers directly. Gather all information you can, but don’t take everything at face value – people often behave differently than even they realize.
  • Ask others. Just like you’d ask other fisherpersons, ask others in the market how your target prospects behave. Ask them in person and also look at data and reports that they and other service providers publish.
  • Observe them. My son bought a big fish tank and stocked it with the type of fish he goes after, rather than with tropical fish he’d never fish for. He feeds them daily. He changes it up. He sees how they respond. He appreciates them and treats them well. Pretty clever! And no, you can’t keep your prospects in a fish tank (except roughly the equivalent during a focus group), but you get the idea.
  • Take notes. Don’t just “go fishing” and not pay attention to what happens. Be observant. Note what works and what doesn’t, and under what circumstances. Track metrics that help you make better marketing decisions. Don’t just make mental notes; write them down. As the saying goes, the dullest ink is better than the best memory.
  • Experiment. I read a headline recently that said “your intuition is probably wrong” — I don’t recall where I read it (should have written it down), or I’d give them credit. You need to conduct tests and pay attention to the results – often you’ll be surprised by what works and what doesn’t. Do more of what works.
  • Don’t hop too fast. Give each approach and each “pond” a chance before writing it off. If you hop from pond to pond or method to method too quickly, you may never find out what actually works! You may end up thinking, mistakenly, that nothing works, as you will have given nothing a real chance to work!

Marketing better does not happen by mistake! Well, it might from time to time, just as you may catch a fish “by mistake,” but if this is your approach, it won’t be repeatable, except on a totally random basis.

In trying to market more effectively, you are looking for an approach and tactics that are repeatable and that deliver better than purely random results!

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.

 

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

 

 

 

 

 

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Jul 012017
 
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Networking for Entrepreneurs: Here’s How to Get Powerful Results

By Lynne Beverly Strang

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Like or not, that old axiom is still true.

Networking is critical for entrepreneurs. Whether a startup obtains certain product lines, negotiates affordable supplier rates, recruits qualified employees, bids on certain projects, reaches key markets – or achieves just about any goal – often depends upon its relationships.

If you dread the cocktail scene and its superficiality, take heart. There is a better way to cultivate new connections that can help you grow your business.

Sometimes networking for entrepreneurs produces disappointing results because of a misguided mindset. All too often, people go to an event wondering, “What’s in it for me?”  The better question to ask is “How can I help others?”

“Our job, as networkers, is to pay attention to the person in front of us – and to help that person find the people they’re looking for,” says Basile Lemba, founder of the Fairfax Networking Breakfast Club near Washington, D.C. Lemba also teaches a class on networking basics that includes the concept of “Interesting vs. Interested” (Don’t worry about whether you’re interesting. Instead, be interested in others).

One long-time advocate of the pay-it-forward approach is Bob Littell, the Atlanta-based creator of “NetWeaving.”  Let’s say you have two contacts who you think would benefit from meeting each other. As a “NetWeaver,” you provide an introduction, help the two parties exchange bios and arrange to meet in person.

When they get together, a new partnership forms, or they find other ways to help each other. Later, they follow up with you to let you know how the meeting went. As Littell explains on his website, the philosophy behind NetWeaving is “give first in order to receive.”

How do you benefit from connecting others?  For one thing, there’s the gratification that comes from facilitating a new business partnership that leads to exciting – and sometimes life changing – results.

The people you connect may become valued members of your network who provide information or advice you need to achieve strategic objectives. And who knows – they might return the favor and provide a pivotal connection for you one day.

In addition to a selfless approach, consider these networking-for-entrepreneurs tips:

Follow up. If you tell a contact you’ll do something, do it. This is the most important part of networking for entrepreneurs. It’s also where people usually drop the ball.

Be patient. It takes time to build trust and form long-lasting relationships. Eighty percent of sales happen after the fourth follow-up, notes Lemba.

Mix it up. Use a combination of in-person and social media outreach to build your network. LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network on the Internet, gives you access to groups of professionals in your field (or one you aspire to join).

Volunteer. It’s a great way to meet civic-oriented business leaders while giving back to your community.

Think holistically.  A common mistake, says Lemba, is to view networking as an isolated activity that takes place at separate business events. Ideally, connecting and helping others should be a constant, ongoing process and a way of life.

Stay in touch. Call or email your contacts occasionally just to see how they’re doing. According to a recent LinkedIn global survey, less than half (48%) of professionals say they keep in touch with their network when things are going well in their career.

Keep at it.  Like most other skills, networking for entrepreneurs requires regular practice. Dedicate time each week towards maintaining and adding relationships.

Not every networking event yields a sale or new contract. But when your primary objective is learning about others and helping them succeed, good karma results. What goes around, comes around.

 

Lynne Beverly Strang (www.lynnebeverlystrang.com) is a freelance writer and the author of “Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs: Eight Principles for Starting a Business After Age 40.” Her email address is lbstrang@gmail.com

 

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Jun 272017
 
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Will Blockchain Technology Destroy Your Small Business?

Given all the recent hype, it’s likely that you’ve been hearing a lot about Bitcoin and the blockchain technology upon which it is based.

As with any “new,” [Bitcoin’s been around since 2009, but is getting a huge amount of press now] little understood technology [think robots], there’s a tendency to paint it in a negative light and ask questions about its power to destroy what we hold near and dear – in this case, our small businesses.

Before we speculate too much on any good or bad that may come of blockchain technology, let’s take a moment to understand what it is. Remember, this is a very basic overview.

A blockchain is, as its name would imply, a chain of blocks.

What is contained in these blocks, you may ask?

To understand what’s contained in the blocks, let’s take a closer look at Bitcoin, which is the most famous manifestation to-date of blockchain technology. Forget, for a moment, all the hype around Bitcoin and the resulting massive fluctuations in its value. We can save that for a later conversation. For now, we’ll just consider what is contained in the blocks of the Bitcoin blockchain.

Each block of the Bitcoin blockchain, as depicted in the graphic at the beginning of this article, contains a series of transactions that have been cryptographically secured and which have been validated by a process called mining. The way the data is secured and the way the blocks are mined go beyond the scope of this article, but if you’re interested in further details, let me know and I’ll either write additional articles on this topic, or point you in the direction of some good resources.

So, back to the transactions that are included in the blocks of the Bitcoin blockchain. These transactions could include instances where you or I purchased something of value from a vendor and paid for it with Bitcoin, as well as a number of other unrelated transactions – usually around 2,000 transactions per block, at the present time.

For such a transaction to take place, we, as the buyer, would typically have Bitcoin in a “virtual” wallet. We would then instruct the wallet to send a certain number of Bitcoins to the vendor in order to pay for whatever we were buying. The transaction would be recorded as a certain amount of Bitcoin being moved from our virtual address to the virtual address of the vendor.

So, how is this different than just paying the vendor with Paypal, or with any credit card, you may ask?

On the surface, you as the consumer, and the seller as the vendor really shouldn’t see much difference. In theory, though, there are many differences between using blockchain-based Bitcoin and just using a credit card. A few of the more important differences in the context of this discussion are:

Anonymity: given that what’s recorded in the transaction and included in the blockchain is just a transfer of Bitcoin between two addresses, there is the (supposed) benefit of anonymity.

In reality, though, it’s pseudonymity, because if you want to transmit or receive value that translates to the real word, you’ll have to be connected to the virtual address or pseudonym somehow.

And the reality is, it’s been proven that with enough time and resources, even if you use different pseudonyms, and even mixing of those pseudonyms for every transaction, given that the Bitcoin blockchain is public, an attacker or “adversary” with enough time and resources can often break the pseudonym and connect the transactions with real-world identities.

So, those who would use Bitcoin (or other, similar cryptocurrencies) for nefarious and/or illegal purposes, are in for a rude awakening, if they get high enough up on the law enforcement priority list – see the Silk Road Marketplace case for an example.

Irreversible: once the transaction is in the blockchain, you as the buyer, or the vendor as the seller, cannot rewrite history. That is to say, once the transaction has been confirmed through the “mining” process and is included in the blockchain beyond the point where it could theoretically be reversed by a “51 percent” or “double spend” attack (again, beyond the scope of this article, but an attack where a miner(s) with a large enough percentage of the computing power on the network tries to commit fraud and “rewrite history”), it is there forever and cannot be changed without the agreement of both parties to the transaction.

Even it were to be changed or reversed, that would be done in a separate and subsequent transaction; the original transaction would still be in the blockchain with a (virtual) timestamp relative to the timing of other transactions in the chain.

Transparent: As stated above, what happens in the Bitcoin blockchain stays in the blockchain, but not only does it stay there, it’s there for all to see. Given that the Bitcoin blockchain is public, unlike when you do a transaction with Paypal or with a credit card, that transaction is out there for all to see. Again, they’ll only be able to associate the transaction with you if they know your public/virtual (key) identity, either because you give it to them or they figure it out by inference or other means. This transparency could be seen as a pro or a con of the blockchain, depending on where you sit and what you’re trying to accomplish.

These are just a few of the differences between doing a transaction with a standard payment method such as Paypal or a credit card, but they start to give you a sense of what’s stored in the blockchain and what’s different about a blockchain-based cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin.

Let’s change gears for a moment and talk about blockchain technology in a context other than that of a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin.

As you can see from the Bitcoin example above, the blockchain is essentially a way to create, execute, and store transactions, in indelible ink, so to speak, so that they are: 1.) (somewhat) anonymous, if desired; 2.) irreversible; and 3.) can be seen by all who have access to the blockchain in question.

So, given these characteristics, another useful way to think of the blockchain, is as a distributed or shared ledger.

One thing we didn’t touch on in the Bitcoin example is that the blockchain typically, but not necessarily, is shared across all nodes in the network. That is, every server on the network where the blockchain is stored has a full and complete copy of the blockchain and therefore, of all transactions that have ever been confirmed and included in any block that forms part of the blockchain.

If you think about that for a moment, it is in stark contrast to the way data is usually stored. Usually, data is stored on a central server, then those who need or want access to that data access the central server (sometimes without permission) and use whatever they’ve accessed for the purpose at hand.

In contrast, with blockchain technology, on a shared or distributed ledger, there are complete copies of the data (all the data, since the blockchain started) on several, perhaps thousands of nodes (servers). This is quite different and can only be accomplished because of the cryptographic nature of the way the transactions are included, confirmed and stored in the blocks. In that sense, it has the potential to be quite revolutionary for many data-based aspects of business.

It also tends to bog down and can be quite slow – another topic beyond the scope of this article – but many believe that some of the characteristics mentioned above make the blockchain approach worth some of the speed trade-offs. There is also hope that as time goes on and the technology progresses, the speed trade-offs relative to centrally managed and controlled networks will not be as pronounced.

Well, that’s probably more than enough to overwhelm you for now.

I will conclude here by saying that, in my opinion, blockchain technology certainly will not destroy most of your businesses! In fact, I believe that it has the potential to be revolutionary, in a positive way, in how many aspects of today’s businesses are run, but I will save that discussion for another time.

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.

 

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

 

 

 

 

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Jun 252017
 
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7 Quick And Easy Ideas For Clever Sales Promotions 

You may, rightly, be asking yourself what exactly is meant by the term sales promotions in this context. While there are various competing definitions for the term sales promotions, here we are going to keep it very simple.

For our purposes in this article, sales promotions means: any promotion that you use to increase the sales of your products or services.

So, let’s dive right into the seven ideas for sales promotions that you can use in your business.

Cause-related Promotions

Have a special sale, for a limited time, or if you’re really committed to the cause, on an ongoing basis, where a certain percentage of the revenues (or profits) is donated to the cause.

This is a great way to kill two birds with one stone, if you are committed to supporting certain causes.

Also, if the supporters of that cause (those causes) match up well demographically to your target market(s), then this sales promotion can yield significant results.

Joint Promotions With Other Vendors

Sales promotions that you do jointly with other complementary vendors can yield excellent results. This is particularly true if your clientele aligns well with that of the joint promoter.

The alignment of your business with that of your joint promoter can be based on geography, complementarity of offerings, joint support of a particular cause, or any of a number of other factors.

Brainstorm a list of potential joint promoters and see what you can come up with for ideas.

Free Gift With Purchase

What customer does not like to receive something for free? These sales promotions where you offer a free gift with purchase leverage the innate human desire to receive something for nothing.

From your perspective as a vendor, such a giveaway does not need to be costly, particularly if you have certain goods that you need to liquidate. The giveaway has to be seen as something valuable, of course, or it will not work, but as the saying goes, “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

Interestingly, if you sell services, you can also give away a free (shorter, for example) consultation that could also lead to additional business.

Flash Sale

Flash sales have become very popular as sales promotions.

The key with flash sales is that you need to have good communication set up with your customers and prospective customers, usually via email and social media, so that you can make them aware of an impending flash sale. If you have to depend on a slower medium of communication such as “snail mail,” to get the word out, by definition, it takes the flash out of the flash sale.

Flash sales can be very effective. The main caveat is to not overuse them, as once they become less surprising and more of a regular event, the novelty wears off and they become less effective.

A good use of the flash sale can be when you have particular inventory (or consulting time, for example, if you’re selling a service) that you need to liquidate.

Coupons

Coupons are a tried and true type of sales promotions.

The key with coupons is that you must make the coupon valid for something the customer perceives to be of value, so it will draw them into the store. Or, more commonly, you’ll make the coupon valid for a certain percentage off storewide, sometimes excluding specific items, where your cost prohibits offering too large of a percentage discount.

Another important aspect of coupons is the length of their validity. As a consumer, it’s frustrating to have the thought to go to a particular store, or use a particular service, to make use of a coupon, only to realize that the coupon is no longer valid. If the idea of the coupon is to draw people into your store, or into using your service, make its validity as long as reasonably possible.

As with other promotions mentioned herein, it’s typically prudent to state that the coupon is not valid in conjunction with other offers or discounts.

BOGO Sales

Buy-one Get-one sales promotions have become very common, as have variants of this approach, like Buy-one Get-one-half-off. This type of promotion works very well, under the premise that more is better. If you want one of a particular item, why wouldn’t you want more of the same (or similar) item?

This type of sales promotion is also somewhat evergreen, as it’s not likely to ever “get old” that you are getting two for the price of one, or similar.

This approach is also quite helpful when you are trying to get rid of excess inventory of particular items, while at the same time offering a promotion that should bring more people into the store.

Loss Leader

The concept of sales promotions often referred to as “loss leaders” is when you are willing to take a bit of a loss on the item you are promoting, under the assumption (hopefully, supported by sales data) that when customers purchase the “loss leader” item, they are likely to also purchase other items that more than make up for the lost profit on the “loss leader”.

With this type of promotion, you need to not try to get too cute and have only one or two of the “loss leader” items, as if you take that approach, besides potentially running afoul of the law (bait and switch advertising, or similar), you are likely to end up with a lot of upset customers. Those upset customers likely will not only not buy other items from you that particular day; they may not every come back to your store.

So, this loss leader sales promotion can work well, particularly when it’s data-backed (prior sales data), but think it through well and do it honestly.

There are, of course, many potential variations of the ideas above for sales promotions. Hopefully, the seven ideas discussed above will get your creative juices flowing!

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

 

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

 

 

 

 

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