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Why (and how) you should let your customers do the advertising for you

customer advertising

photo credit: DSC_0134 via photopin (license)

I grew up in the nineties, and my parents weren’t big on technology. My first computer had a 486 processor with a monochrome screen, it ran DOS, and it had Chessmaster 3000 on it. It was given to me by the people who owned the used bookstore in town after it had finally become too dated for even them to use. I loved that little computer.

Finally, one Christmas, my parents broke down and bought a more modern computer. It had Windows 95 and could connect to the internet. I was in heaven. I quickly taught myself to write HTML and launched my first website, a resource for pet rabbit enthusiasts.

Since that time, I have been responsible for the creation and promotion of many more websites, some of which have gone on to become full-fledged, successful businesses.

I am currently CEO of a company I founded around 8 years ago: Hatchwise. Hatchwise is a crowdsourced design community that has designed over a million different logos, websites and graphics of all kinds.

When I first launched Hatchwise, I was still running an internet company I had started previously, called MyCustomLogo, which relied almost 100% on PPC ads to bring in new sales. My company was profitable, but I was constantly stressing over the daily fluctuations in advertising cost. Also, there were a massive amount of competitors who were offering services which were priced similarly to mine, who were then advertising in the same places I did. So each of these factors made me decide that I wanted my next business to rely heavily on word of mouth, and to avoid PPC bidding wars and razor thin margins.

I was successful. The vast majority of contests started on Hatchwise come from people who heard about us through word of mouth, and who then go on to tell others about us, and just about everybody who wraps up a contest on Hatchwise has nothing but good things to say about us.

In this article, I am going to detail what we focus on here at Hatchwise, and why our customers love to tell their friends about us.

1. Focus on what you are selling. If people love the experience they’ll come back.

If your main focus is on getting new customers, but you’re neglecting the service, software, or experience that you are selling, then, in my opinion, you are wasting your time. Having a solid offering will increase your conversion rate and help you maintain a healthy growth. You should always strive to be a company that you would want to be a customer of.

Make sure that you have a website that is scalable and user-friendly. You do this by getting feedback from as many actual customers as possible. For example, it may seem to you that your website is easy to navigate, but you can’t know this for sure until you’ve gotten feedback from the people who are actually using it. Ask them what they like and don’t like about it, and how you can improve their experience.

Once you have a solid website and product you can then focus on spreading the word because everyone who uses your website or buys your product will be telling their friends about you. Obviously, the same situation applies if a customer has a bad experience, which is where the next point comes in.

2. Go above and beyond with your customer service. Everyone should have an amazing experience.

In our current day and age, people expect fast and responsive customer service. One of the things we do at Hatchwise is to make sure that all emails are responded to as quickly as possible. We also try to be aware that if we are consistently getting the same questions over and over, we need to figure out what we can do to eliminate the issue that is causing the email in the first place.

We use every email we receive as a chance to think about how we could make the customer experience easier and better than it already is. There have been times when a customer had an idea, and we implemented it that day, simply because it was a great idea. Every customer is important to us, and if they take the time to provide an idea or problem we take it very seriously.

3. If you never ask you’ll never know.

Several years ago, we began requesting feedback on our customers experience after they’ve completed a contest. This really helped us scale efficiently because we quickly identified issues that affected multiple customers. One of the big issues that arose was that the site was not mobile friendly. We realized pretty quickly by hearing feedback from customers that having a mobile-friendly site was very important to them, which is something that we had, for whatever reason, not really paid any attention to.

We also created an easy way for customers to share issues and request improvements as they were in the process of running a contest. This made it simple for customers to let us know about an issue they were having without having to email us. So we have also received a lot of great suggestions through this tool.

4. Do what you do better than anyone else.

Regardless of what you sell, customer satisfaction should be your number one concern. Identify what your customers want from you and make sure they get what they want. At Hatchwise, we realize the most important aspect of our website is the design that the customer receives. With that as our focus, we’ve worked hard to make sure that the designers who use Hatchwise are completely happy. We do this by dealing as fairly as possible with the hundreds of little issues that pop off when you have a community of thousands of designers, and also, we do this by making sure the website has all the tools and features that they require in order to operate as efficiently as they can. Shortly after we launched we created a unique program that runs in the background of the site that catches most clipart and keeps designers from copying the work of other designers.

By making sure that the designers are happy, we are able to provide an overall better experience to our clients, which results in everyone being happy.

5. It’s okay to reward people.

For a long time we did not have an affiliate program. Anytime a customer referred us it was because they thought we were awesome and they received nothing for doing it. We have recently launched an affiliate program after receiving a lot of requests to implement one. The results have been great. Giving people an incentive to recommend us was something that we should have done a while ago. If people love you and also receive something for recommending you, they are going to do it way more often.

6. It’s all about happiness.

Focusing on customer satisfaction and making it easy for customers to share any issues they are having is one of the biggest things you can do to grow your platform. It’s easy to create banner ads and market your site, but if the customers you have already have are not 100% satisfied, you are wasting your money. It is much better to have your existing customers be the marketers for your website. This will save you a significant amount of money and you will have a much more stable site.

George RyanGeorge Ryan is a serial entrepreneur who is the founder and CEO of Hatchwise, a community of tens of thousands of graphic designers and writers who have created over a million amazing designs and company names since 2008. George resides on the Connecticut coast, where he enjoys photography, his family, and starting new businesses.

 

5 Ways to Gain Brand Ambassadors (And Keep Them)

160929d“Brand ambassadors” seems like a relatively new term; however, they’ve been around as long as advertising and marketing itself (and even long before that). Knowingly or not, you’ve probably acted as a brand ambassador yourself when you recommended a product to a friend or was writing a glowing review for a local business.

More often than not, social media celebrities and bloggers come to mind when the term is used. However, the foremost important way to build brand ambassadorship is through brand loyalty of regular users. While they might not have a huge following, their words are probably more valuable to their closest circles.

Research shows that people tend to believe other people and review websites more than advertising copy on a company’s website. According to Nielsen (http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2012/consumer-trust-in-online-social-and-mobile-advertising-grows.html), 92 percent of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising. Online consumer reviews are the second most trusted source of brand information and messaging with 70 percent trust level. It follows that brand ambassadors add one more channel to your marketing strategy as well as a new dimension to it: personality.

Brand ambassadors often encompass the target market, their aspirations and needs. So, spend some time identifying your brand ambassadors and nurture relationships with them.

Listen to conversations

If you haven’t started already, start listening to conversations happening around your brand online. One of the most obvious ways to do it is to read the comments below your social posts. Yet, with modern online listening technology, the possibilities are endless.

There are quite a few free and paid services you could use to tune in into conversations regarding your company. Viralheat is a great social media listening tool that provides in-depth analytics for mentions of your brand name, products, location, and competition. Mention offers a website app, Chrome app, as well as iOS and Android apps, so you can constantly monitor conversation happening about your brand online. Social Mention might be the most user-friendly option for beginners because it doesn’t require registration and presents information in a single information stream. Using Hootsuite, you can set up a stream that will aggregate all of the conversations about your brand even if they don’t tag you in it. For example, they may use a hashtag instead of @ symbol or not use your full brand name. They also might not use any hashtags whatsoever and just say “Mike’s Subs in downtown rocks!” If you set up a stream with search query “Mike’s Subs” and specify the location to match your city, you will get all of these tweets.

Now, if you get consistently negative sentiment regarding the same areas of your business (say customer service, long wait time, overall quality, etc.), that means you have to take care of these issues before you can start earning brand ambassadors.

However, if these reviews or comments are occasional and scattered, take them with a grain of salt; treat these as an individual case, not as a sign that your whole business model needs to be changed.

Look for the most engaged followers

It’s more difficult to achieve with business pages that have a large following, yet try to outline a few people who you notice on your social channels the most. I’m not talking about just likes here, your super fans are more engaged – they comment and share your posts frequently. Those are your raving fans because they show dedication and a true following of your brand. They might be already acting as brand ambassadors for you in their circles. If you reach out to them to act as your online brand ambassadors officially, they will be super happy to help you out because they will feel even more appreciated.

Watch out for bloggers

Blogger outreach is another great strategy to gain more “experienced” or “heavyweight” brand ambassadors. Do your research and find most influential and interesting bloggers in your niche; see if it makes sense to work with these bloggers. Try to go as targeted as you can. Sometimes it is better to work with bloggers who have a smaller following, but are considered a true guru in their respective niche. If you sell wine and they blog about all kinds of alcoholic drinks, your turn to shine might not happen often. Instead, focus on wine bloggers who might shine a true spotlight on your products. Besides, wine bloggers’ audience is specifically interested in wine, whereas more broad bloggers have a much more varied audience that might not necessarily be interested in your type of product.

Quality over quantity approach is very important with this strategy. Sure you can buy ads on pretty much any website, or you could find great affiliate networks that will promote your products day and night. However, if these affiliates, bloggers or other publishers didn’t build the trust with their respective audiences, your efforts will go to waste. Another thing you should examine is how many products they promote and whether they promote industry competitors. Try to find authentic publishers who have built their credibility and trust; this will warm up their audiences to your pitch as well.

Another thing to take into consideration is what type of reimbursement these bloggers work for. Some might accept product reimbursements; other bloggers only accept monetary reimbursements (and some of those are pretty hefty and specific). If a blogger already mentioned your product on their blog because they liked it (I often share links to online tools I use and like), then approaching them might be very easy and reimbursements for their mentions might be minimal.

Sometimes you just need to hire a few brand ambassadors to get the ball rolling. It’s ok. This way, you will have a full control of what gets said, where it is shared and when some information should come down. Besides, you will have professional relations with these people, so you can edit their writing before it gets published. There will be no hurt feelings either once you decide to part ways.

Look internally

Sometimes your best brand ambassadors are your own employees. A lot of times, employees use company’s products already. All you need to do here is to identify employees who a) truly love the company and/or the product and b) write well. These employees can write occasional interviews and blog posts clearly disclosing that they are employed with a company; otherwise, you might run into trouble later.

When you identify and work with brand ambassadors, make sure to show your appreciation of their efforts. Especially if these people are regular people loving your products and telling your friends about it, be personable and human. Whatever approach you choose, make sure that selected brand ambassadors:

  1. Make sense for you industry-wise;
  2. Have built up credibility and following;
  3. Provide value to their audiences by promoting your products (otherwise no one will care for your offering even if it’s amazing).

What do you think? Do you think brand ambassadors play an important role in your marketing strategy? What approaches and tactics do you use to manage relationships with existing brand ambassadors and nurture new ones? Share in the comments section below.
IMG_2939-small-1024x683Lesya Liu is a blogger at The Social Media Current, a photographer and a social media expert. Her passion lies in art and marketing (and combining the two). You can find her latest tactics advice here.

1 The Future of Leadership in 2016

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Everyone wants to be a leader, but not everyone acknowledges the big difference between managing and leading. And for small business owners looking to grow their business, making the transition from running it to leading it, can be all the difference. The first step is knowing what exactly leadership requires – now and in the future.

So, what does the future of leadership look like and how can small businesses adapt?

01 – Creative

“Creative leadership involves blowing up the status quo, and out of the chaos, building a new world.” – Travis Turner, Writer and Blogger

Fast Company claims that creativity is the most important leadership quality for success. “All companies depend on ideas and ingenuity” affirms leading creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson. And you have to look no further than the world’s Most Innovative Companies to know he’s right. Small business leaders can create a culture of creativity by:

  • Using tools and technologies that help facilitate creativity and capturing ideas. My personal favourites include Evernote and TranscribeMe.
  • Encouraging creative brainstorming in their teams. Candor provides a handy way to do this and avoid “groupthink” or bias.
  • Creating a physical workspace that positively impacts productivity, collaboration and inspiration. From specially designed, fully equipped spaces like Facebook’s Analog Research Lab, to the more “low-fi” approach adopted by Stanford D-school, it’s worth learning from global best practice to see what’s achievable in your own business.

02 – Fair

“No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it” – Andrew Carnegie, Business magnate and Industrialist

Fair leadership is good business. A new leadership model is emerging that is characterised by less hierarchy and looser boundaries – enabling faster decision making, more ownership over projects and the freedom for employees to take the initiative. Companies like Google have valued a “wafer thin hierarchy” from the start.  Embracing fairness in an organisation can involve:

  • Creating clarity around decision making; i.e. removing ambiguity, providing clear explanations for decisions and keeping everyone in the team abreast of what is going on.
  • Encouraging feedback and communication; Happiily is designed for staff to have a voice – they can anonymously share feedback around work related issues and this total honesty gives leaders the opportunity to address any sticking points.
  • Establishing designated support teams; For example, empowering HR to have a much bigger role beyond just recruitment – coaching, mentoring, championing the company culture, and aligning staff to the company values.

03 – Authentic (and Values-Driven)

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it ” – Simon Sinek, Author and Motivational Speaker

What you stand for is just as important as what you do – and may even eclipse it. The world needs more leaders who are true to themselves and reflect this in their work.  

  • Create a moral code for work; Creative studio Sagmeister & Walsh always ask three questions before they on a project: “Can we give it our heart? Can we learn something? Can we touch people’s hearts?”
  • Establish a clear set of values; Capturing what you stand for in writing is a great way to get employees on board, share your values with customers and remind yourselves every single day of what’s important. Check out Method’s humanifesto as a great example.
  • Champion transparency; Internally this may be by building robust internal communications e.g. weekly debrief meetings or leveraging a company-wide intranet to keep everyone posted on what’s happening within the organization. Externally this may include a weekly newsletter to customers and subscribers, interim and annual reports detailing financial summaries, or a more personal touch – blog posts from senior leaders or social media updates which allow communication to be real-time and constant.

04 – Collaborative

“The role of a leader is not to have all the ideas; it’s to create a culture where everyone can have ideas” – Sir Ken Robinson, Creativity Expert and Speaker

The most evolved leaders realise that they can’t do everything alone. Their role is to inspire, encourage and grow others.

  • Open communication is key for this to work; Apps like Yammer or even Skype and Google Hangouts are a good way to keep teams in touch with each other, especially cross-office or remotely.
  • Think visually; Some clients may prefer to use Pinterest boards – it’s a great way to share visual inspiration and your boards can be made “secret” from the public.
  • Build trust through transparency – for example, enabling visibility over projects, processes and what everyone is working on.
  • Use a Project management software while collaborating on projects with clients and staff. Integration with other applications such as file-sharing service Box helps make collaboration easy and keep everything in once place.

05 – Visionary

“We have a 150-year plan and vision”, Tristan Walker, founder and CEO of Walker & Co.

From a solid business model to a five-year plan, leaders need to have a strong, unshakeable vision and the ambition to make it a reality. This means they need to stay cognizant of the bigger picture. A project management system like WorkflowMax can give leaders real-time visibility and control over all aspects of the business.

06 – Hungry

“Learn early, learn often” – Drew Houston, CEO and founder of Dropbox

Becoming a great leader is a learning process that never ends. Adopting a “get better” mindset is critical to stay ahead of the competition but requires a high level of self-awareness, a willingness to improve and the humility to grow.

  • Read more to know more; Feedly, a news aggregator app does exactly that, helping you keep your customised reading feeds all in one place. It’s used by leaders like Rod Drury, CEO of innovative accounting firm Xero.
  • Broaden the scope of inspiration; After all, ideas can come from anywhere. Websites like 99U, Brain Pickings, TED, CreativeMornings provide a host of carefully curated inspirational and educational content.
  • Save inspiration for later; Instapaper and Pocket are handy is the browser bookmarklets that allows you to save web pages for later offline reading.

So there you have it. The key tenets of leadership in the future, some handy tips on how businesses can implement them to stay ahead of the curve. For more great advice for small business owners sign up for a FREE agency webinar by John Jantsch, hosted by WorkflowMax – the project management system loved by thousands of agencies around the world.

AuthorBio_150Mallika Goel is a Marketing Copywriter at WorkflowMax – the project management system loved by thousands of agencies around the world. She has over four years of experience agency-side, working with some of New Zealand’s leading brands. Learn more about fuelling your own agency’s success with Duct Tape Marketing and WorkflowMax in a new FREE agency webinar.

Benefits of Outsourcing Marketing Activities

outsourcing

photo credit: Flickr

In the beginning, startup companies are always trying to fix everything by themselves. Their marketing strategies are usually made by self-thought marketing experts, who also work in some other company sectors. This strategy is time-consuming and company owners will realize sooner or later that marketing is one of the key sectors for securing company’s growth. This turning point can lead to two different scenarios, one is they hire a professional marketing expert and the other is they decide to fully or partially outsource their marketing sector.

Both of these scenarios can lead to success, and the outcome mostly depends on what kind of company we’re talking about. Smaller startup companies that provide quality products or services should stick to what they do best. Additional hiring, and forming a team of marketing experts can drastically lower their budget, and that’s why outsourcing their marketing strategy and letting agency experts deal with all the marketing hardships is definitely a good thing to do. In this article, we’re going to review some of the benefits that outsourcing marketing agencies offer to their clients.

It Costs Less

Outsourcing marketing teams recently became very common among startup companies. This practice is especially good for product based businesses, since forming a marketing team with talents that have the same level of competence as the ones that work for marketing agencies can cost well over six figures per year, which is the price that most of the smaller companies are not able to pay.

Marketing agency costs are much lower, and their rate is usually much smaller than only one executive salary. For this price startup companies get an experienced team of marketing experts, which is definitely a bargain. In addition to this, companies also don’t need to pay for ad and software costs, since these are usually covered by the agency.

It Provides Fresh Insight

A lot of employees are very reluctant when it comes to talking about company’s sales, marketing strategies or anything that has something to do with company’s trends. Who would blame them? In larger corporate enterprises, sharing an opinion that’s different than the one that superior has, can lead into all kinds of troubles. Marketing agency experts don’t have a problem with that, they will always provide an honest and uncensored opinion about company’s business.

It’s Less Time Consuming

To see the full benefit of outsourcing company’s marketing team, people should think about how much time they’ll need to hire and train talents to have the same level of competency as the experts who work for marketing agencies. This can be very time-consuming and it requires a lot of CV reading, tests and interviews for the hiring part and lot of explaining, practicing and research for the training part in which the chosen candidate needs to get familiar with the company’s products and services and what’s even more important with habits and behavior of company’s target audience.

Since marketing agency experts usually have a lot of experience with different fields of marketing, there’s a big possibility that the agency has an expert who already worked in the respective industry, and who already knows a lot about the products on the offer as well as about the target audience that’s interested in buying them.

It Eliminates Turnover

In addition to requiring a long and sometimes expensive training, entry level marketing personnel usually doesn’t get attached to their first position within the company. When they gain more experience in the industry, most of the experts tend to look for another position, often in different companies. It is also important to know that currently, with the rise of digital marketing, there’s a lack of qualified and experienced marketing staff, so marketing sector employees often get a lot of good offers from other enterprises. High employee turnover rates can affect company’s business in a bad way since it requires additional time and funds to hire and train new experts.

GeorgeAnthony - headshotGeorge Anthony is a marketing manager, outdoor and travel enthusiast and a basketball fan. Avid reader of business related material, with a desire to share his knowledge as much as possible. Recent work of Reborn Group inspired him to write this article. You can connect with George here and here

21 But You Do Need To Be Smart Enough to Buy It

booksA lot of small business owners are good at what they do. But, they’ve learned that’s usually not enough to grow the business so they get outside help, quite often in areas related to marketing, so they can “focus on what they do best and let others handle the rest.”

While no one can know how to do every aspect of business, and certainly there is work that makes sense to outsource or delegate, there is nothing in your business that you can abdicate.

What I mean by this, for example, is that even though you may never fancy yourself a pay per click advertising expert, if you plan to hire someone who is, you do need to be smart enough about it to buy it. Same is true for SEO, for web design, for PR advice.

It’s risky business to hand over your marketing on faith that someone is simply going to understand your objectives, your customers, your core message better than you. Even the most experienced marketing coach or graphic designer will struggle if you can’t participate in the results of the project. (It’s also important to know how to spot really bad advice – it’s not hard to call yourself a social media or SEO expert!)

I’m going to repeat this – you don’t have to know how to do everything, you do need to know how to buy it and that means you have to invest in educating yourself.

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4 Small business people management

zoho peopleThe web app builder Zoho is doing something pretty amazing. It’s building out the complete suite of small business tools online and doing it in the face of proclamations and claims of this vision from Google and Microsoft.

They have successful built tools for online spreadsheets, documents, presentations, databases, web meetings, mail, chat and CRM. This week they announced a nifty little tool called Zoho People. The aim of this tool is to allow businesses (big and small) to move their HR and recruiting online. The basic features include an employee database with management functions, org chart, process and approval maps, and employee portal.

My guess is bookkeeping and shipping can’t be far away.

4 Why would someone come to work for you?

Help WantedMost small business marketers think in terms of marketing as a way to get a keep customers. While that is indeed correct, effective marketing is also a great way to attract and keep great talent to your business. No matter how hot your products and services are your growth will be tied very directly to the your ability to get people who are passionate about your company and its story working side by side with you.

Let’s face it, the best and brightest aren’t as a attracted to companies they have never heard of, that don’t have buzz and that don’t seem to have a clear mission or passion for serving a narrowly defined target customer. If you don’t have a strong brand, clear marketing message and active voice in your market you will be left to try to convince people to come to work for you based on price – or in this case salary. Price competition is no fun for customers or employees.

Practicing effective marketing tactics is just as essential for attracting employees as it is for attracting customers.

  • Consistently communicating a core message that differentiates is essential for attracting strong employees
  • Publishing marketing materials that educate is essential for attracting strong employees
  • Effectively creating a web presence is essential for attracting strong employees
  • Generating favorable media coverage is essential for attracting strong employees
  • Educating your entire staff on the elements of your marketing plan is essential for attracting strong employees
  • Constantly reselling your best customers on what a good decision they’ve made to stay loyal is essential for attracting strong employees

So, does any of that sound like effective marketing tactics to you?

What does it take to grow a company?

Scott Cook - IntuitScott Cook, founder of Intuit, delivered a simple message this morning in a presentation titled: The game is changing but the rules are the same. The theme of the talk was a road map for growing a business in today’s environment.

    Here are the three major points for Intuit’s success according to Cook:

  • Treat your employees as a volunteer workforce – Nurture your employees as entrepreneurs
  • Ultimately the work is delivered by people and process – Experiment and Adopt tools that let you stay agile
  • Word of mouth is more important than ever – Demonstrate value ahead of the sale and Proactively create customer delight

These words were delivered by the leader of one of the biggest companies around and yet, they apply to the one person shop equally.

Intuit is famous for measuring and evaluating the customer experience and Intuit created a page that allows you to grab Cook’s presentation, the actual survey tools, something they call the NetPromoter Survey and other related customer delight tools.

This is a great resource – go grab it all