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2 Four Ways Your Business Can Give Back in 2016

photo credit: Dollar Photo Club

photo credit: Dollar Photo Club

Being January, it’s the time of year when many of us set goals for the year and make some New Year’s resolutions pertaining to our businesses.  Perhaps we have a certain amount of revenue we’d like to earn in 2016, a product or service we’d like to begin offering, or some content we’d like to get published.  These are all excellent goals and I encourage you to set them, but I’d like to also encourage you to set one other type of goal for this year: a giving goal.

What I mean by a “giving goal” is a way that your business can donate time, talent, or treasure to help make your community or even our planet a happier, healthier, or safer place to live.  Why should you do this?  Well, I could say that you should do it because giving a helping hand to those less fortunate than yourself is the right thing to do…but in case that isn’t compelling enough for you, consider the fact that just about every single highly successful person or organization in history has made a habit of giving back in some way.  

I’m not suggesting that giving back will guarantee the success of your business, but I do believe there is more than an indirect correlation between success and giving.  This is especially true if you participate in cause marketing—in other words, making giving back such a big part of your brand identity that customers actually choose you over your competitor at least in part because of it.  Toms is a great example of this—for every clothing product you purchase from them, they donate a product to someone in need around the world.  

Now, I’m not suggesting that you need to become the next Toms, but I do think it’s important that you find some way that your business can give back.  There are many, many ways you can do this, many of which don’t even require any monetary contribution, but just in case you’re one of those less creative folks, I have taken the liberty of suggesting four possible ways your business can give back this year.

Volunteer your technical expertise

If you have a service-based business, chances are there is a non-profit organization in your community that could benefit from those services but that might not be able to afford them.  By donating your services to those organizations, they can focus more time and money on their core mission.  In some cases, your expertise might actually be their core mission.

For example, construction professionals like electricians, carpenters, and plumbers could volunteer their time on a Habitat for Humanity build site.  Financial professionals could help teach financial literacy classes or serve as advisors on the board of a non-profit organization.  Marketing professionals could donate their services to help non-profits with email campaigns or maintaining a website.  I know that there are marketing consultants that specialize in working for non-profits, and I’m not suggesting that those people should work for free, but there are plenty of small non-profit organizations that can’t afford to pay for marketing assistance but who could really use some help in that area.  Marketing professionals who donate their time to organizations like that often find that it’s a great way to meet leaders in their community who can afford their services.

While donating technical expertise doesn’t have the same tax benefits of a monetary donation, it is in many cases even more beneficial to the recipient and is also a great way for smaller businesses without a giving budget to support an organization they believe in.  

Be a mentor

Another way you as a business owner can give back this year is to mentor someone who is just getting started in your industry.  This could be part of a formal mentorship program run by an organization like SCORE or your local SBDC, or it could be something that you do on your own.    

This can be a very rewarding experience for you and really make a difference in someone’s life.  If you have had any amount of success as a business owner, chances are you had a mentor or coach at some point or at least got some valuable advice from people that helped you succeed.  Why not pay it forward by passing along your wisdom to the next generation of professionals in your industry?

Donate products, equipment, or space

If you have a business that sells physical products, you could donate those products to a local non-profit organization that could either use them directly or that could use them in a fundraiser such as a silent auction.  Even if you don’t sell physical products, you could donate used equipment such as vehicles, computers, or tools to organizations that need them.  

If you don’t have anything to donate yourself, you could simply partner with a local non-profit and serve as a collection point for donations.  You can reach out to your customers and get them to bring donations to your place of business, or if your business involves going to your customer’s home or business, you could collect items from them directly.  Just about every community has a Goodwill store or Habitat ReStore nearby, and most people have items lying around the house that they don’t really need or use.  If your business partners with one of these organizations to help them get donations from your customers, you can do a lot of good without having to spend one penny of your own money.

Donate money

While there are many ways your business can support causes and organizations that don’t involve financial contributions, direct monetary support is something that every non-profit appreciates and in fact needs to survive.  There are so many worthy organizations and not nearly enough money to go around, and you may think whatever small amount you can donate makes no difference.  I can assure you that this is not the case, and this is especially true when it comes to organizations that work in developing countries, where a dollar can buy a lot more than it can in the U.S.  

If finances are tight and you’re not sure if you can afford to give direct financial support to a non-profit organization, there is an easy way around this problem.  Simply do what Toms does and tie your support directly to an increase in revenue.  You can even tie it to one of your other business goals for the year—for example, if you want more customers to upgrade to your “gold” service plan, you can advertise that for each customer who upgrades to that plan you will donate x dollar amount to a local non-profit.  

One word of caution here—if you are going to make your financial support of an organization public, do your due diligence and make sure that the organization is using the money responsibly.  Also, it’s probably a good idea not to publicly support controversial organizations or causes (such as political campaigns) unless you are very certain that 100% of your customers also support that organization.  Otherwise, it could end up costing you customers who don’t want to support a brand that affiliates with a cause they don’t agree with.

Between all the examples I gave above, hopefully you’ll be able to think of a way your business can give back in 2016.  If you did think of something and want to share your commitment publicly, or if you are already giving back in some way, please leave a comment on this post and let me know about what you’re doing.  

 

kevin JordanKevin Jordan is a Certified Duct Tape Marketing Consultant, owner of Redpoint Marketing Consultants, and co-author of the best-selling book The Small Business Owner’s Guide to Local Lead Generation. You can connect with Kevin on Twitter @RMCVirginia, and find out how he’s giving back in 2016 by visiting his small business marketing blog.

Stay On Top Of Modern Marketing

“Youth Is the Engine of the World” – Matisyahu

Since I started writing my new book, YouthNation, last summer, the changes I have been studying have evolved in some instances more quickly than I could type. The groundswells from urban corners to suburban shopping malls are dictating the future of the American business economy.

Where would our nation be without Google, Facebook, Amazon, Tesla, or Twitter? Apple, a technology company, has the largest market cap on Wall Street and looks to be running away with that title. No longer do bellwether blue-chip titans hold the keys to our future. Instead, it’s a group of upstart millennial-minded organizations that are changing the face of communications, media, commerce, and transportation.

The problem is that there are still so many companies whose leadership is on the outside looking in. When I spoke at a conference of more than 200 digital marketers last month, I asked how many had heard of WeWork — a $5 billion company that’s changing the face of commercial real estate. Just two raised their hands. And this was an audience of professional digital marketers! Most of the rest of the country is even further on the fringe of this revolution.

In the 1960s and 70s, youth culture was counterculture, fighting big business and big government in an effort to be heard. They had to protest in big groups and stage be-ins and other happenings to effect change. The seminal event of that counterculture, Woodstock, attracted what was, in 1969, a mind-blowing 400,000 people. The Electronic Daisy Carnival draws more than that to Las Vegas Every Year. The power of youth in sheer numbers, share of voice, and macroeconomic impact is greater today than ever before.

So what can you do, as a modern marketer, to stay on the right side of disruption? Here are a few modest suggestions:

  • Change the way you consume news: Curate your news from those who you respect, using tools like Nuzzle, which aggregate the headlines that are shared by the people you follow.
  • Learn about emerging startups. Attend conferences and read blogs to keep abreast of companies like the aforementioned WeWork, Kickstarter, Postmates, and so many others, which are disrupting fabled industries that have remained static for nearly a century.
  • Search platforms like Skillshare where (very inexpensive) classes can keep your skills fresh in shifting areas such as search engine optimization and mobile design.
  • Choose your sources wisely. Increasingly, traditional media sources are becoming also-rans, as the most important news is broken by platforms like Mashable, and by influencers who are close to the industries being affected.
  • Learn the new social platforms, even if they seem silly at first. If the first wave was Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, the second wave is Instagram, SnapChat and Pinterest. Doing a deep dive and using them actively will enable you to fully understand these tools, and will spark ideas on the ways your business can use them.

Yes, the world continues to change, and for many, the changes are scary. But the new forces are easily accessible, so you are now more empowered than ever before to harness these changes and catapult your business to new heights. If you’d like to go deeper, YouthNation may serve as a roadmap.

 

Matt_Britton_72_DPIMatt Britton is the founder and CEO of innovative ad agency MRY, and the chair and co-founder of @CrowdTap, the people-powered marketing platform. On Twitter, he’s @MattyB.

3 How You Turn Your Employees Into Brand Marketers

Think for a minute about your best customers. Not only do they represent returning business, but the best customers refer you to their family, friends and business partners. They rate your business highly on Google and interact with you in social networks. Essentially they are marketers for your business, helping promote you and maximizing your marketing efforts. Everyone can use more customers like these.

Brand Ambassadors

photo credit: via photopin (license)

But your best customers are hard to come by, and even the best companies occasionally have customers that aren’t happy. What if I could tell you there is a surefire way to increase your number of people that are assisting your marketing efforts, much like your ideal clients?

Look around you, all of your employees are resources that you can use to maximize your marketing efforts. We at Duct Tape Marketing believe in many simple principles, one of which is that marketing is everyone’s job. Whether you are in finance or HR, you’re representing and marketing your company. It doesn’t even take a conscious effort; just a positive viewpoint on where you work goes a long way.

That is why you should engage your employees and co-workers in your marketing efforts. Your employees should be your best customers and your biggest fans. Here are some easily implemented ways you can engage your employees and turn them into your brand marketers.

Promote a Positive Work Environment

This seems like a no-brainer, but can be difficult to achieve. You want your employees to love working for you, so they can’t wait to tell their friends and family about what you do and what makes your company special. Create a positive work environment by offering great perks or promoting after-work activities. If you’re a product-based company, offer free or discounted products to your employees and their family and friends. Even something as simple as branded T-Shirts or coffee mugs for your employees can turn into conversations outside of the workplace.

Show Your Employees What It Is Like To Be your Customer

At Duct Tape Marketing, we ask companies to examine their customer journey; the path every customer takes from the moment they discover your product through the sale and post-sale support. Visually, this should look like an hourglass; customers get to know, like and trust your company before buying, and then eventually repeating and referring you.

I suggest you walk each and every one of your employees through this process, treating them exactly as you would any other customer. That way, your employees will not only know what makes your customer journey special, but also how to describe it to anyone who asks. You can even do this during the new employee on-boarding process.

Social Sharing

Businesses are always looking for ways to keep their employees from wasting time on social media, but are always looking for more social sharing of their business posts. Why not ask your employees to follow and share your social media posts? Not only is this a great way to expand your audience in general, it hones in on your employees’ friends and family who are likely to have a positive existing view of your company.

Have Everyone Blog

Blogs are a great way to draw in good leads, but sometimes it can be tough to create enough content to keep your blog up-to-date. Try asking your employees to assist you in writing posts, or even set up a monthly or weekly employee post program. Regular blog posts from your employees can help give your blog a different viewpoint and voice while strengthening your readers’ connection to your company. In addition, ask your employees to share their posts with their friends and family in person or on social media.

These are just some simple thoughts I had to turn your employees into marketers. I know many of these reasons are why I love working at Duct Tape Marketing. Have you had any employee marketing efforts that have been effective? Let me know in the comments below!

Alex-Boyer-Photo-150x150-e1420769709443Alex Boyer is a Community Manager and Content Ninja for Duct Tape Marketing. You can connect with him on Twitter @AlexBoyerKC

10 Teaching Your Business to Manage Itself

Have you ever encountered a business where everything just felt in place? The experience was perfect -the products, the people, the brand, everything worked in seemingly effortless fashion. You made an odd request; it was greeted with a smile. You went to try a new feature; it was right where it should be. You walked in, sat down and felt right at home.

Teaching Your Business to Manage ItselfBuilding a business can seem a bit like a giant set of Legos scattered all over the room. There are countless bits and parts and pieces that might fit together or they might not, but the game appears to be locked in composing these fragments in a manner that verges on what seems like some kind of normal.

But here’s the thing. Normal is a trap. Normal is the business you ran from to start this business. Normal is the last three businesses that choked and spurted and collapsed under the weight of management. Normal is a poor imitation.

Businesses that run so smoothly as to seem self manage aren’t normal. In fact, they are terribly counter intuitive, but terribly simple it turns out. The key is a tremendous focus on three things only – clarity, culture and community.

Clarity

Until you can get excruciatingly clear about the one thing your business really does that no one else does and, perhaps more importantly, the handful of high payoff behaviors that you the owner of said business must to spend as much time as possible immersed in, you will have a very difficult time practicing anything that looks or feels like art.

Until you can feel why you do what you do and use that as your guide the road ahead will always seem uncharted.

When you are clear about the one thing everything just gets so simple. You don’t even have to think about decisions anymore because you have the perfect filter and the filter runs the business.

If clarity for your business means earning a referral from 100% of your customers everyone know what to ask, how to greet a customer and who owns the result.

Culture

If a business is to mange itself a culture of ownership should be the sole objective. This must come at the expense of hierarchy and the assertion of autonomy. Every business, regardless of size has a culture. The only question really is whether or not it serves the business and the people that come to work there.

I’ve worked with business owners for years now and in my experience control, or the inability to give over control, is the greatest threat to business growth. Until a business can extend trust to those around him and give up control, there will be little more than constriction and contraction.

This means that you must also be able to communicate your sense of clarity and package it in a set of core values that when practiced in action become the road map for culture and the mantra for “this is who we are.”

Community

There was a time when community meant only customer. Today the customer is the community and that includes its customers, employees, mentors, vendors, advisors and even competitors all conspiring to advance and influence the business ecosystem.

When there is a clear picture about what the business stands for and the people that fill in that picture are given the freedom to manage their outcomes, the creation of a strong, vibrant and supporting community is a natural outcome.

A fully alive, self-managed business is little more than the sum of these parts orchestrated with total purpose.

10 What Is Shared Culture

I wish I could give you a crisp definition of what the word culture, with regard to business, really means. It’s a tricky word that finds its way into most discussions regarding the workplace these days.

Like so many things, it’s hard to describe, but you know it when you see it.

The thing is, every business has a culture. It may be strong or weak, positive or negative, or just plain hard to spot, but it’s like a form of internal brand in a way. It’s the collective impression, habits, language, style, communication and practices of the organization.

Some elements of culture are intentional, some are accidental. Some are rooted deeply in the ethos of an original employee group, some are created out of a lack of any real direction or clarity.

My belief is that a healthy culture is a shared culture, one created through shared stories, beliefs, purpose, plans, language, outcomes and ownership.

These aren’t little things; these aren’t things that you get right during an annual retreat. These are things molded over time with trust and passion and caring. These are things that evolve.

I don’t have all the answers, no one does, but I assure you this is the question that needs answering – How can I build a culture of shared commitment?

The following elements make up the foundation of a system of shared commitment.

Shared stories

The first step is to begin to develop, archive, curate and tell stories that illustrate what your business stands for.

Stories that tell why you do what you do, who you it for, why you’re passionate about it, and where the business is headed.

Throughout time great leaders have used stories to inspire commitment and attract community.

The central elements of a strong culture are the stories that employees tell themselves and each other. The why you would want to work here story, the orientation story, the here’s how we deal with challenges story, the here’s where we are headed story.
These illustrations are like oral traditions that allow culture to sustain, thrive and grow and it’s the job of the leader of the business to make story building an intentional act.

Shared beliefs

People want to work for more than a paycheck. Sure, they want to be paid fairly and in some cases the element of salary will be an important aspect of their decision to come to work for an organization, but perhaps more importantly, people want to work on something they believe in and they want to do that work with people that share their passion and beliefs.

This isn’t the same thing as saying, everyone in your organization has to maintain the same beliefs. However, by creating a set of core beliefs that everyone in the organization lives by and supports, you create a set of filters for how decisions are made, how people treat each other, how they treat customers, what’s expected, how to manage and even how to write a sales letter.

Shared purpose

For some time on this blog I’ve talked about the idea of connecting your passion with why you do what you do, or what some might call purpose.

In order to bring purpose fully into the organization you must determine a way to bring it to life and reinforce in every decision the organization makes.

This may take the form of an employee development program, foundation support, benefit package or community program. The key is to bring purpose to life by example. Your actions, or how you treat your staff, will speak far louder about purpose than any page in an employee manual. In order to create a shared purpose the staff must be your first customer.

Shared plans

The strongest, most productive cultures come to life when people know what to do and how to do it – In places where they are trusted to do go work and use their creativity to solve problems.

If you are to grow your organization to the point where it can serve you ultimate higher purpose, you’ll need to develop a system that enables people to manage themselves.

Now, that may sound a little foreign or perhaps even scary to anyone who’s worked in a typical hierarchical business structure, but it’s central to a fully alive culture.

The key lies in systematic planning thinking, clear accountability and consistent communication.

Shared leadership

While stories are an important way to attract and inspire people to join you on your journey, they can only take you as far as the leaders you develop around you.

After payroll is made and your business is generating sufficient cash flow I really believe that the leader’s primary role should shift to developing leaders internally.

In fact, as the owner of a business you’ll never succeed in reaching beyond where you are today until you are no longer the person that brings in the most work.

Teaching others to land the big fish, to tell stories, to create shared beliefs, to inspire and attract commitment means you have to invest time and resources in this very thing in a very intentional way.

This element of the shared culture comes by teaching your people what an ideal customer looks like, what a customer is desperately in need of, and how to communicate your core difference in a meaningful way.

It comes by teaching what everything costs, how profit is made, how every decision impacts a customer in some way. It grows by sending them to school, supporting their growth in other areas and demonstrating this is an organization that cares for the whole person.

Shared outcomes

One of the strongest ways to foster commitment is to get people to commit to a stake in the outcome of their work.

The only way I know to do this is to establish benchmarks, goals and indicators and then report and communicate progress religiously.

You must create reporting mechanisms that truly measure the most important components of your business. This will include key financial elements, but must strive to go far beyond into measuring success around shared beliefs and culture.

Shared ownership

The ultimate measure of commitment is achieved when people that work for your organization come to understand that they play a crucial role in creating the kind of company they want to work for – that the company is actually their most important product. (Of course the owner has to realize that first.)

This won’t happen until you help your people free themselves from the typical job descriptions and organizational charts so they can begin to manage themselves. It won’t happen unless they are excited about the journey they are on. It won’t happen until they fully understand how a dollar spent on a new desk equates to profit margin.

It won’t happen until they start thinking like an owner (and I mean in the good way) when it comes to meeting a customer’s needs. It won’t happen until everyone realizes they can help develop new business, build the community, create innovation, fix problems, right wrongs and make decisions that impact the organization on their own.

13 Every Business Must Manage Only These Three Things

While one business may be organized in departments, job titles and roles and another basically made up of only one person doing it all, every business that grows and thrives internally and externally figures out how to manage three things at all times: purpose, projects and process.

Lots of employees come into businesses hoping to rise to the ranks of management. The thing is every employee in a business is a manager of something. Lots of business owners start a business and quickly realize they must manage everything. The question is manage what?

As a customer, if you enjoyed a remarkable experience with a business there’s a very good chance that experience enjoyed the complete attention of management from three very distinct points of view – but what really made it remarkable was that it didn’t feel managed at all.

No matter how simple or complex a business may seem if it is to come to life it does so essentially orchestrating these three things – communicating purpose as strategy, delivering innovation, growth and positioning through the implementation of project after project and creating a remarkable culture and consistent customer experience through the operation of process after process.

Purpose by Mark Anderson

The cartoon above was done for me by Mark Anderson. Check out Mark’s custom cartoons and consider commissioning one for yourself.

No matter how many people actually go to work in a business, every business needs to fill the role of Purpose Manager, Project Manager and Process Manager even if all three of these roles are played by the same person.

The role of the Purpose Manager is to create and tell the story of why the business does what it does, create and keep the picture of where the business is headed and act as the filter for business decisions made in the name of the brand’s positioning.

The role of the Project Manager is to continually look to break every business innovation, question, challenge, initiative or campaign into logical projects complete with required action steps and resources.

The role of the Process Manager is to receive and implement the tasks and action steps that fall from each project plan and operate established processes that ensure trust is maintained through consistency.

No matter how complicated we want to make our businesses, this is what success comes down to.

But, this is what makes owning a business such a challenge, this is what makes managing people such a challenge, this is what makes doing a job such a challenge. Finding the places where these three roles divide and where they come back together again is the art of the business and it’s not always obvious or even natural

If you’re the sole employee you must spend some part of each day playing these distinct roles no matter that your innate talents may reside squarely in one or the other.

As you hire staff you must focus on first hiring for your weaknesses in performing or managing one or more of the three roles not on job titles or departments.

As you grow your business you must build purpose, project and process thinking into every new department, innovation and initiative.

You must also guide your entire team to approach their work in this manner and give them the tools that will allow them to embrace purpose, think in terms of projects and know when and how process that delivers purpose is the right path.

8 The Culture of Being Work

culture

sfllaw via Flickr

Culture is a big deal in business. It’s always been, but I think that for the small business, it doesn’t always receive the same intentional thought that a larger, thriving business must give it.

The funny thing is that in a small business, or particularly in a business of one, the business is all culture. Small business owners don’t simply go to work, they are work. A fun, vibrant, glowing culture can be for the small business one of its most attractive assets.

The funny thing is though, you first have to understand what it is before you can start to think about how to have it.

I wondered out loud, as you can do so easily these days, on a fairly new social network called Quora. (I’ll write something on this service soon, but today just wanted you to see this one aspect of it.) Quora is a site where you can ask questions of the community and hope to get thoughtful (more than 140 characters) answers.

The question I posed was this: What does culture look and feel like in a one person business? (Link to the question on Quora)

The answers speak so thoroughly to what culture means and how to make it present that I’ve decided to publish a few of the answers to spark more conversation around this topic.

Michael Martine, Remarkablogger

The short answer is that it looks and feels like you.

The longer answer: In this case I don’t think there’s much of a difference between culture, marketing and branding. You can have your own internal culture which would be a reflection of your personality, which quite possibly no one else will ever see. Otherwise, your interactions with others will give them a sense of your one-person culture.

It seems to me that what we’ve learned about personal branding, authenticity, and personality through activities such as blogging, social media, and of course live get-togethers can help us understand and create our own personal culture.

There’s the aspects of ourselves we’re conscious of, and there are aspects of which we’re unconscious. Both create our personal cultures. Culture isn’t always under our control.

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Glenn Hansen, Communication Strategist and Content …

It’s a great question, and funny to think that the topic of “culture” might be considered only in groups and not for individuals. I’ve studied the “corporate culture” concept, in practice and in theory. And a one-person business can have culture just like – or even more so than – a large corporate body. Sometimes I work alone, and sometimes in groups with clients or project partners. The way I interact, the promise I make to clients, the values I bring to a task, the presentation I make in groups large or small all reflect the culture of which I created the business. Culture does not necessarily change with the size of a group. But I like the question.

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Mark Brimm, Digital Marketing consultant, Preside…

I just posted something along these lines earlier today before I saw this, but I’ll retell here:

I started out as a solopreneur and found that the only way to grow had to start mentally with how I perceived my own capacity to grow and become the company I needed to become. For me, the answer seemed to be to do business with others as I would expect others to do business with me. As it turns out, most entrepreneur clients and company clients appreciate the candor and recognize someone that they feel some connection with when they see into a company philosophy of character. So, in answer to the question, I think it looks and feels like, potentially, what any client would be expecting from a big company, but without the overhead and long turnaround. If you can just keep those factors in place, now you’ve got a great company culture later on, as well.

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Jon DiPietro, Engineer by education, computer geek …

To borrow a popular quote, “Our culture is what we do when we think the customer isn’t looking.”

I don’t plan to be a solopreneur forever, so I try to maintain processes, policies and behaviors that are scalable but reflect my ethics and values. It’s difficult but I think we are much better off by establishing some sort of “culture” that can a) help us remain consistent and b) prevent us from slacking by developing unprofessional habits

So, what does culture look and feel like in your business? What intentional role does culture play?