Applying Life Lessons to Small Business

Parents to teenagers and young adults know that there are some lessons that only living life can bring us. Life lessons learned through living life are valuable, and they are hard to teach to teenagers because teens think they have the answers to everything. However, experience can offer up gems of information about what is truly important in life and how to enjoy each moment as it comes.

What are some of the lessons that life teaches us?

1. Life isn’t fair, but it is still good.

How many times have you heard your child or teenager say to you, “but that isn’t fair!” The truth is that life isn’t fair. Life happens as it happens, and you need to learn to roll with the ups and downs and continue on your journey. If you can take each moment as it comes, then you can appreciate the good, survive the bad, and continue on your way.

2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.

Many of the big decisions in life can be broken down into small steps that are easy to accomplish. Each time you have a big project or decision in front of you, you can make it easier to understand by chopping it up into small tasks. Then, do each task one at a time until you complete the whole.

3. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

Humor makes life more tolerable both in good and bad times. If you can learn to live life with humor, including your own foibles, you will relax more and stay healthier. Laughter is a stress-reducer and can help keep your craziest days sane.

4. Overprepare, then go with the flow.

Since nothing ever goes exactly as we plan, it is important to prepare for contingencies. If you are ready for the worst, then you will be able to move in various directions when reality hits. You can plan to the Nth degree, but once your event or project is in motion, you cannot stop it. Going with the flow and learning to be flexible will keep you on top of the situation (as much as that is possible).

Applying Life’s Lessons to Business

Running a small business is fraught with surprises, changes, and learning curves. Many of the lessons that apply to life, in general, can be applied to running a business. Small business owners are responsible for everything that occurs in the whole of their business, and it is nearly impossible to predict what each day as a small business owner will bring.

If you can enjoy each part of your business, sharing what you know with your customers and employees, and reaching out to your community to connect with people through your business, you will enjoy life’s journey. Business isn’t always fair, but if you put your heart into it, it will be good. Your customers and employees will see how you run your business, and they will respond. When in doubt, just take the first small step, and you will be able to accomplish whatever goals you set for your business. Don’t take your business so seriously. No one else does. Run your business with a good sense of humor and your customers and staff will join in laughing with you. Overprepare, and then let your business take you where it will. You will discover new dimensions to your niche that you may never have known before and you will have an exciting, fulfilling journey.

Not All Mailing Lists Are Created Equal – Maximizing Your Return With Mailing List Savvy

It’s ironic, really. The lists that we struggle to be removed from are also the same lists our companies strive to obtain. The truth is, for many businesses, targeted mailing lists are the bread and butter of their marketing efforts. Being able to create niche-marketing materials and then putting those materials into the right hands is essential to a company’s survival.

Not all mailing lists are created equal, though. Understanding the different types of mailing lists is critical in maximizing the return on your investment of content and quality marketing materials.

Consumer Mailing List

Consumer mailing lists are comprehensive lists of people associated with their demographic, economic, and psychographic information. The consumer mailing list helps your business target individuals with very specific profiles for maximum return on investment. Typically, you can choose to filter these types of lists by the following data:

– Gender
– Age
– Ethnicity
– Marital Status
– Estimated Household Income
– Children Present
– Home Value
– Single or multiple family homes
– Hobbies and Interests

Consumer mailing lists are more expensive than say, a neighborhood mailing list, but your ability to filter out non-ideal recipients can make your investment worthwhile, especially for high-quality mailings such as multi-page letters, brochures, or large, high-quality postcards.

Neighborhood Mailing List

Neighborhood mailing lists are by far the most cost-effective list you can get. Many local businesses will target specific neighborhoods within a particular zip code or geographic location that falls within a specific radius of their business location.

This type of list is effective for obtaining new clients, particularly if your business wants a broad reach without regard to specific demographic or psychographic categories. Deliverables commonly associated with this type of mailing list include coupons, smaller postcards, and tri-fold 20# paper-stock brochures.

Business Mailing List

Business mailing lists are the “Holy Grail” for B2B companies, enabling them to maximize new targeted opportunities. This list type includes data pertaining to:

– Business Type
– Number of Employees
– Annual Sales
– Credit Rating
– Geographic Location
– Executive Names
– Phone Numbers
– Years in Business
– Owner Gender
– Public vs. Private

By targeting specific business data points, your company can identify and market directly to your ideal clients. You can also use the data points to differentiate the type or content of your marketing materials. For example, if you are a woman-owned business wanting to connect with other women-owned businesses, this type of list can help you do that, while still allowing you to send similar content to non-women-owned businesses with a different slant.

Specialty Mailing List

Specialty mailing lists are, just like they sound, lists of people filtered by special categories that you determine. Common types of specialty mailing lists include:

– New Parents
– New Movers
– New Homeowners
– Homeowners
– High-income Homeowners
– Renters
– Investors
– Health Conscious
– Green Consumers
– Sports Enthusiasts
– Voters (by political party)
– Seniors
– Consumers by Hobby

The list goes on. Essentially, if you can think of a niche that you want to market to, you’ve got yourself a specialty mailing list.

Truly understanding the individuals and businesses that your product or service is ideal for is the key to success. Combining a highly targeted mailing list with marketing materials that speak directly to the people or businesses on your list will boost your chances of making that next sale.

Why Continuing Education is the Key to Career Advancement in More Ways Than One

When many people reach a career milestone – be it getting a job with that great new company or even starting their own business – they often leave the concept of education behind. After all, they’ve already had a huge amount of schooling up to this point and they’ve succeeded in accomplishing what they set out to, so it probably isn’t even necessary anymore, right?

Wrong.

Career advancement is a journey that never ends and continuing education is one of the single, best ways to make this road the easiest one of you’ve ever traveled.

The Key to the Future Rests in the Present

Even if you’re completely satisfied with your current position and can’t imagine ever wanting to go someplace else, continuing education is still valuable for a number of different reasons. Think about your long-term career goals. Where do you see yourself in a year? In five years? In ten? Even though you’re satisfied today, there will still likely come a day where you begin looking for a change or what a little something “extra” out of your current situation. Continuing education not only makes it easier to ask for a raise within your current position, but it also makes you more attractive if the time comes where a management position opens up within your business that you might want to pursue.

Many experts agree that when hiring managers start to look at internal candidates for a new position, they actually grade on a tougher scale than if they were looking to fill a position from outside the company. At this point, a simple history of “hard work” and “dedication” isn’t necessarily going to cut it – their expectations are higher than that. They KNOW you’re a hard worker – it’s why you still have a job. A history of regular, continuing education says that you’ve taken your dedication to a new level and that you’re not only ready for new responsibilities, but you have the ethic and the skills to back up that claim.

It’s All About Perspective

The late, great comedian Garry Shandling was a firm believer in the idea that the minute you stop working to improve yourself either personally or professionally, it’s all over. He was the type of person who believed that his work was never done. There was ALWAYS something he could learn and ALWAYS some way he could improve the quality of the product he was putting out into the world. He deeply stood by these ideals, even though by any objective standard he perfected not only the sitcom but also the comedy television format with his HBO series (and he had the dozens of Emmy nominations to back that up). Yet still, it wasn’t enough.

Just like Shandling, the moment you feel you’ve learned it all and the moment you feel like you’ve reached the point where you can’t get better, you’ve lost a game that you never really understood in the first place.

This simple idea is perhaps the most important reason why continuing education is the key to career advancement, regardless of the type of industry you’re working in. It forces you to think about ways that you could be doing better and about the shortcomings in your daily life that you need to address. It keeps you moving forward, but it keeps you grounded at the same time. Continuing education doesn’t just make you a better employee on paper because you get to add a new certification or qualification to your resume – it makes you a better person, period.

Warning: Are You Accidentally Shattering Your Brand Continuity?

At its core, brand continuity is the idea that all communication channels between your brand and your customers (live chat, email, phone calls, etc.) should all look and feel like they’re coming from the same place. It’s the idea that you should strive to give your customers an experience that is as consistent as possible, regardless of how they choose to make contact with you. Successful brand continuity requires you to strike a delicate balance, and if you’re not careful, there are a few ways that you can accidentally shatter all that you’ve worked so hard to build even before you realize you have a problem.

It’s All in the Visuals

One of the more subtle ways to build and maintain brand continuity is also one of the most important, mainly because it can be the easiest to get wrong. You have to make sure that all of your branding from the version of your company logo to things as seemingly insignificant as the font you use are as consistent as possible, regardless of which element of your online and offline presence you’re using. If a version of your company logo is present on your website’s “Help Desk” page, it should be the same version of the logo sent out in your latest email or print marketing materials. Don’t use professional-looking fonts on your website if you’re going to be using Comic Sans MS on your print materials.

You may initially think that this is incredibly easy to miss and in many respects, you’re right. Customers aren’t necessarily paying attention to every last visual element on a page versus a flyer versus a billboard. But, think about it this way: the ones that do notice may be put-off or at least find it odd, which is a feeling you do not want to invoke. Those that don’t notice will still benefit from your strict brand continuity, even if subconsciously.

Getting Everyone on the Same Page

Another way that you can accidentally shatter brand continuity has to do with getting everyone on the same page regarding how your business works. If your website is very clear about one particular policy but your customer service team isn’t, you’re immediately confusing customers every time they pick up the phone. This confusion is especially evident regarding promotions. If an email goes out offering a new sale, you’d better make sure that anyone who answers the phones for your business knows about it and knows what it entails. Otherwise, your customers may get a disappointing experience when it feels like the left hand is unaware of what the right hand is doing, so to speak. It gives the impression that the different parts of your business are operating independently of one another, which is something you don’t want to communicate to prospective buyers.

These are just a couple of ways that you can accidentally harm your brand continuity. Remember, you can never be 100% sure how someone is going to make contact with your business, especially for the first time. So, make sure however they encounter you, it’s equally easy, enjoyable, and helpful.

Business Lessons from a Dog

Business lessons can be found everywhere we look in life. One of the best ways to learn is by simply looking at the world in a new way. Dogs look at the world differently than we do and often have a very simple outlook. If you want to learn more about business, these are some of the lessons your dog is trying to teach you.

Don’t Take Everything So Seriously

To dogs, everything is great. They do not get down about being out of treats. They definitely want one still but they move on very quickly and it isn’t that serious. Sometimes you have to approach business the same way. Yes, there are serious situations you will run into, but there are also some that you take too seriously. Things are usually not as bad as you make them out to be, so focus on the good and do not freak out so much over the bad.

Take a Chance on Something New and Trust Your People

Dogs are mostly happy-go-lucky and are always ready to go on a ride. They do not need to know where they are going, but they are happy to be on the ride. They trust you as their owner, and they know they will be taken care of no matter what. This kind of trust is not always found in the business world. In fact, it is rare. However, if you trust your employees, allow them to take the reigns sometimes and see where it can take the business.

Never Meet a Stranger

A dog never meets a stranger and is instant friends with anyone they meet. If you had this same approach, you would have a much bigger network of people that you could reach in your business. You could have new customers, new clients, new friends, and even new business partners. Approach each new person you meet with the same vibrancy and openness as a dog would and you will be surprised by how much it opens doors for you.

Listen When People Speak to You

This may seem very basic, but dogs are always listening when someone is talking to them. They may not do what is asked, but they are listening. Whenever someone is speaking to you in a business setting, you should focus your attention on them and actively listen to what they are saying.

Trust Your Instincts

Dogs follow their noses, and they also have killer instincts. They do not second guess them. Start trusting yourself more and when you have an instinct about something, more often than not, you will be right if the feeling is strong enough.

Dogs can teach us a lot about life as well as business. Most of these lessons can be used in the business setting as well as in your daily life. Just understanding these basic concepts can help you in your own life.

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

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

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

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

It’s All About Momentum

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

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

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

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

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

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

Content Marketing Best Practices to Double Down on in 2017

Marketing is an industry that is constantly changing, especially since technology does the same. If you think back to what your day looked like even five years ago, it will likely have little resemblance to the work you’ve already done today, or how you’re doing it. Despite that, there are still some best practices that are as powerful today as they ever were as far as content marketing is concerned. Along those lines, there are a few key content marketing best practices that you’re going to want to double down on as 2017 fast approaches.

Forget About SEO

In today’s digital climate, the importance of writing content for people first and search engines second cannot be overstated enough. Google has made some massive changes to its algorithm in the last year that favor quality, well-written content above all else. Google, Bing, and more have all placed a strong emphasis on making sure that content is king. As long as you create your marketing collateral with that in mind, these companies have promised to make sure that you’re taken care of regarding search engine rankings.

Focus on helping people. Try to provide insight and provoke a response. If you craft your campaigns with these simple goals in mind, everything else will fall into place.

…But Don’t Totally Forget About SEO

None of that is to say that SEO, in general, isn’t necessary. Just make sure that when it comes to content marketing, you’re not trying to stuff in as many keywords as possible. Instead, shift your SEO efforts to other areas, like making sure that you’re updating your content regularly, that it has all of your (correct) contact information, and that you’re promoting yourself through outlets like social media.

More Than Just Blogs

Remember that blogs are a powerful tool in the content marketing game, but they’re not the only tool you have to play with. Things like newsletters, eBooks, and user guides are all an excellent way to reach your target audience in fun new ways. Visual materials like infographics, charts, and even videos are also a great way to bring the visual element that you’re known for into the content marketing arena in a powerful way.

Refine Your Customer Persona

Many people use customer personas to help guide their marketing campaigns, something that is especially helpful when it comes to content marketing. Something you cannot forget to do, however, is to update these personas on a regular basis. Think about how much your business has changed in the last year and understand that your ideal customer has probably changed just as much. Use the new year as an opportunity to re-evaluate your existing buyer personas so that you can always keep your eye on the prize, so to speak.

A new year brings with it the opportunity to start fresh, but that doesn’t mean throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Embrace new techniques, but also never lose sight of the old saying of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Some content marketing best practices are certainly not broken, and those solid techniques are what you can be doubling down on in the new year.