SBS’s Top 7 Branding Winners & Losers for 2017

When I look back on 2017, the first word that comes to mind is ‘havoc’. Certainly this could be said about certain aspects of every year, but from a global perspective there seemed to be an extra level of uncertainty and instability spanning sea to sea.

From international geopolitical issues to unexpected and unseasonal weather conditions, the curveballs just kept coming. For many of the nation’s most popular and well-known brands, the chaos was also impactful to both their bottom line and overall EQ.

What is Brand EQ?

One of the most valuable tools in your biz name recognition building arsenal, a strong Brand EQ (Emotional Quotient) can help sustain you in the hardest of times. Differing from brand identity which establishes how customers distinguish your brand from others in the marketplace, Brand EQ is all about how your brand makes people feel.

These include the emotions they feel when they hear your brand name, how frequently they are willing to keep up with what you’re doing, and how easily they judge/forgive your shortcomings. Whether you’re a solopreneur or running a startup, a focus on creating and sustaining a high brand EQ is essential.  

Taking a look at some of the highs and lows of some of the world’s most recognizable corporate and personal brands, here are 7 of my picks of the winners and losers throughout the year, along with some lessons small biz owners can learn from each:

1. WINNER – Pass The Dictionary: Merriam-Webster’s Twitter Feed

Do you dream of a place where you can get your facts checked, have your I’s crossed, AND set the record straight? Head on over to Merriam-Webster’s Twitter feed – it’s all there. The sort of sleeping giant on social media for many years, this iconic brand truly made a name for itself in 2017.

Unafraid to take on public officials and internet trolls alike, they win because of consistency, great content, and above all, accuracy (thank goodness for accuracy from the largest dictionary publisher in the world, it would be a shame if they got that part wrong!).

From a branding perspective, their level of engagement and responses is off the charts too.

The core product of what the company produces has not changed, however they’ve been able to recharge themselves from an older, stuffy, analytical type brand and morph into a smart, approachable “best friend on the internet” who will applaud you when you’re right, but tell you immediately when you’re headed in the wrong direction – straight up, no chaser.

Lesson for Small Business: Find a brand voice that is easily relatable to your audience. Consumers can spot insincerity from miles away and you’ll never capture the following you’re searching for or have impact until you make those relevant connections.

2. LOSER- Pepsi Wants to Fight The Power Ft. Kendall Jenner

I’ll preface this by saying I’m not a fan of Pepsi, never have been. As a daughter of the south, and Georgia at that, my allegiance, should I have one, for soft drinks lies solely with Coca-Cola.

Personal feelings aside, from a branding perspective, I’ve praised Pepsi in the past for different campaigns. However, they missed the complete plot with THAT Kendall Jenner ad and deserve to be called out on it for years to come. It was horribly timed, insensitive to real social awareness protests and in general, vapid like most things Kardashian.

I’m thinking for 2018, perhaps Pepsi’s entire branding team should all just put their next ‘brilliant’ ideas on ice to chill and leave all concepts to amateurs, who are likely to do a better job. Oh and don’t be surprised if this year they show up with an unoriginal ‘let me redeem myself’ ad that includes babies or puppies’ as props to gain public brownie points. I promise in advance to not be impressed.

3. WINNER – Donald J. Trump

Without a doubt, 2017 could easily be called ‘The Year of Trump. Dually now likely considered the most famous and infamous person of our lifetime, his appeal and the emotions of disdain he dreads up have actually been incredibly beneficial to his brand as a whole.

Leaving the actual legal implications of whether or not he and his family (who are all now collecting taxpayer-funded paychecks) have truly divested from their empire to the experts (Sneak Peek: They haven’t!), the Trump brand itself is thriving in many ways, despite detractors.

The Trump Organization’s ‘Trump International Hotel’ in DC, had a particularly good year and it makes sense. A stone’s throw away from the White House, if you’re a supporter of the president either by proxy of your vote or through business, it’s where you want to be. If you’re part of the resistance, it has been the frequent location of protest and objection.

Donald Trump as a brand away from the business is a 2017 winner because of his ability to consistently dominate the weekly (and to be frank, daily) news cycle offering new ‘organic content’ of sorts.

Between radical  3AM tweets, candid moments at monthly rallies, and self-aggrandizing sit down interviews, the president has single-handedly managed to overshadowed multiple natural disasters, announcements of key legislation, and other important things that normally would take center stage in traditional presidencies. #ThatsWhatwecallRANGE

I’ve always called him a Master Marketer, long before he ran for office. Whether you love him or hate him, you can’t take it away from him – he knows and understands the art of effective branding and uses it to his advantage every single time, often to half of the world’s misery.  

Lesson for Small Businesses: Don’t shy away from touting your successes and letting your customers know what you do best. Whether it’s a special skill or product you bring to the marketplace, talking it up helps to create excitement and inspires others to believe in what you say.

4. LOSER- Uber Sit Down, Be Humble.

I’m not sure if it was possible to open a newspaper (or Twitter, or however you consume your news) without seeing Uber at the top of the mark for naughty deeds and bad business. It’s not as if many of us were not giving the company the occasional side eye before 2017, it’s just that this was the year all the bricks came plowing down at once.

Branding Pro Tip: NEVER start off the year by getting in the middle of a national political controversy on the route to greed for profit just cause, it won’t end well for you.

Uber did not get the memo and #DeleteUber was born in late January 2017. In February alone we got a tell-all book from a former employee, leaks about ultra-toxic corporate office climate, and the then CEO and Founder had to resign from one of the White House’s Advisory Councils and was also, just for kicks, caught on tape berating a, yes you’ve got it, Uber driver.

He eventually left the company in the summer – for good. For a more extensive recap and lengthy reading material,research what happened between March and December too. Spoiler Alert: it included more high-profile resignations, a bunch of whiny millennial skinny jean wearing hipster Uber employees painting an “Undelete Uber” mural,  sexual assault accusations, the company getting banned from London, and with a side of assumed hacking – it was all a piping hot mess.

The most arrogant move the company could make next is to assume that because they own the largest portion of the rideshare market that they’ve got it completely in the bag. Internal word will tell you despite the turbulent year the company had, the bottom line hasn’t been impacted. That’s a lovely spin and a lie – I can tell you flat out, it’s impossible.

It will be interesting to see what Uber will come up with in 2018 and how many weeks this year they can stay below the fray. And most importantly, if they can sustain the number one spot in the market, hanging by a thread with a horrible brand image. #WatchThisSpace

Lesson for Small Businesses: Focus on the journey, not the race. This includes building teams made of quality as you grow, surrounding yourself with people who will give you honest feedback, and never assuming that being a niche/market leader gives you the inherent right to act a fool.

5. WINNER – Are You Ready for Some Football?

If you think the NFL had a bad year in 2017, you’d be wrong. Despite the second consecutive year of decline in viewership, a national spotlight offered major rebranding opportunities for the National Football League.

One of the key ingredients of a successful brand is to keep chatter going and make sure everyone keeps talking about you and nothing sells better than controversy.

The wave of National Anthem ‘Take a Knee’ protests was the string that needed to be pulled to get the wheels turning. Even for non-fans of football (like me) for several weeks during the autumn, you probably found yourself watching, streaming, or at the very least, googling about what happened every sunday throughout the fall.

Players keeping us in suspense, what will they do next? What will happen when they do it? Will Roger Goodell make a decisive decision either way? Who’s going to give Kaepernick a job? So many questions, from all directions, including people who do not really care, but still want to be involved in the conversation.

Additionally, President Trump  (Yep – there he goes again!) helped to further divide and amplify the controversy, brilliantly giving it more attention with indirect intention, which only offered motivation for the protests to continue. It’s a never ending cycle.

Let me be clear, the frivolous attention paid towards the NFL strictly for the protests should not take away from the issues being protested – those are very serious, valid, and we’d better off as a nation for trying to understand them.

But from a marketing and branding perspective, the discourse of the Take a Knee movement alongside their distractors is brilliant. It’s helped to drive interest and breathe some recognition into a suffering organization while making heroes and villains, because of course, every good soap opera needs them to keep going.

Lesson for Small Businesses: There’s a thin line between buzz and controversy, but if you can turn a bad situation into a benefit for your brand, take the chance and make the best of it. Be sure to ride the wave of the chatter while it lasts though, you’ll need to think of your next act after interest has subsided.

6. LOSER – Free The Bodega

By far one of the biggest brand hiccups of the entire year, Bodega, the convenience store startup (apparently the world needs one) hit the mainstream in the autumn with a poof, bang, and a flop. In an attempt to not reinvent the wheel and rip off a well-established institution, two former google geniuses bros unveiled their brilliant idea for the future of quick grab shopping. Luckily the internet was ready to offer feedback. Overall takeaway: #NotSoFast!

Featuring the awesome opportunity to undercut local small business and and corner stores everywhere near you, this services ensures yuppie-friendly overpriced goods will be more accessible via vending machines, giving you more time to stand in line for that $7 Soy, no foam, extra shot latte while updating your status about all of your first world problems.

The sheer ignorance of it all was impressive, but understandable. For those of us, including the perpetrator creators of such ridiculousness do not live in Bodega-friendly areas of the country, they don’t really get it.

While mom and pop shops are vital to all neighborhoods nationwide, in places like New York, they are a built in part of the culture.

There are many areas of New York City, particularly lower income, where Bodegas offer the only source of food and affordable grocery for locals. The deaf tone concept showed that the idea that for some people, bodegas are a necessity, not a trendy stopover.

Adding insult to injury and pouring sea salt in the open wound – the startup’s logo is a cat, taking a spin on the iconic mascot of real bodegas. Really? It makes you wonder exactly how much trolling went into this business plan. In summary: #NO #NotToday

Lesson for Small Businesses: Don’t perpetrate a fraud, don’t steal ideas and pretend to turn them into ‘trends’, and never EVER go viral for a bad idea.

7. WINNER – Citizen First Responders

If you considered 2017 to be challenging in any aspect, think long and hard about how those who have survived loss felt. The spotlight is always on people who make it into national headlines, for better or worse, often connected to mass disaster or national tragedy.  

During these hard times, brave first responders work diligently, often around the clock – for that we applaud them. But over the past year, we’ve also seen an extra level of kindness and care delivered from regular citizens.

Whether it was record numbers of people lining up to give blood after several mass shootings or folks who drove 1000+ miles to help during Hurricane Harvey, we the American people can be the best ambassadors of our values (when we want to be).

Our brand around the world is in turmoil, but we are called the world’s greatest for a reason. And while it takes suffering, pain, death, and disaster to show it sometimes, these pockets of unity and self-sacrifice are memorable.  

 

And while we see this every year, I think in this ultra coarse cultural and political climate our country is currently in the middle of, it was needed at times. To all those who helped save a life, comfort families of the fallen, and aided in rebuilding – thank you!  

Lesson for Small Businesses: Social good and local outreach is always good for small business. Find a way to support a mission close to your heart or that is aligned with your brand vision.     

I am not sure how these brands will perform in 2018, but here’s hoping we see an improvement in the losers and more consistency from the winners, even those who are unpopular out of spite.

As an avid branding spectator, I’m also looking forward to seeing which brands emerge as leaders throughout the year. For your small business, apply these lessons and focus on offering quality customer service and powerful messaging. Here’s to the next 365 days. You’ve got this!       

Who are your biggest brand winners and losers of 2017? Which brands will you be watching this year? 

Small Business Holiday Sales Promotions Do’s & Don’ts

Let’s be honest here – everyone loves a good deal. From office supplies to clothes and everything in between, sales are what helps keep this experiment we call capitalism turning on its head. During the holidays, businesses scramble to develop sales promotion strategies that will drive foot or web traffic with the goal of pushing out older inventory in preparation for the new year’s stock.

For small business owners, this can mean walking the fine line between wanting to create spectacular offers that draw attention and interest, but not underselling merchandise. While it has to be well played, it’s easy to perfect by following a few guidelines. Here are my personal do’s and don’ts of sales promotions for the holidays (and year-round):

DO:

Offer Multiple Promotions Throughout The Season

The best holiday sales promotions are spread across the buying season. While everyone focuses on #BlackFriday and #CyberMonday as the key targets of sales promotion opportunity, you may find that you get a bigger return on discounts you’re offering on non-peak times during this period. Key calendar days where sales are expected means oversaturation in the marketplace and the value of the sale itself will be decreased because everyone’s doing it.

Focus on following unconventional sales tactics, such as a weekly friday doorbuster for the month of December or mid-week email-only deals to offset other offers from competitors.

Use Reasonable Timelines for Redemption

A large appeal of the deals that help people save is in the sense of urgency, which is something to consider when creating your offer. While it’s nice to think of discounting a product for the six weeks leading up to the new year, from the customer’s perspective, it becomes less important to make a decision until the last minute, if ever.

As a standard guideline, most sales promotions should last 14 days or less. For holidays sales promotions, stick to seven days or less given the short period of time within the season. This will give you the chance to schedule more than one promotion during November and December.

Utilize a Flash Sale At Least Once

Flash sales (also known as ‘quick grabs’) have gained popularity over the last few years because they work from a buyer’s psychology perspective. Demand is driven by urgency and a sense of potential loss. Offering a deal that lasts for 48 hours or less leaves very little room for indecision and also presents your product or service as exclusively accessible for a shorter period of time.

While I’m a huge fan of doing (and sucker for falling for) one-day flash sales, you can determine what will work best for your brand. This may include A/B testing to different lists or trying a variety of ranges on platforms (social media versus website, etc).

I have known some companies who have success with two-hour flash sales that later find no traction when they do two-day only deals. The key to finding out what works is to keep experimenting with your audience.

Get The Word Out Through Multiple Channels

In today’s world where most businesses are interconnected across many platforms, use this to your advantage when promoting your holiday sales offers. Drive traffic to sales-specific landing pages using social media, e-newsletters, and ‘at the till’ signage.

For brick and mortars, an increasingly popular tactic is to offer additional secret savings during checkout, while online businesses prefer to design ‘channel-specific’ discounts to drive traffic to their websites from a variety of avenues.

The key to making this work is to ensure that you have the inventory (or bandwidth if you’re service-based) to fulfill demand and that all offers, regardless of channel, are set for a reasonable amount of time.

DON’T:

Over Do Discounts/Deep Discount

Eagerness to compete in the marketplace and get traffic to your promotions is easy to do when you up your discounts, but be careful about deep discounting. Deep Discounting is the practice of significantly dropping pricing by more than 40% for an extended period of time. Damaging alone to big business, for small businesses, this can is a revenue killer, even in the form of a flash sale.

Focus on using more promotions with less off in a short period of time instead of offering your customers large discounts that could harm you in the long run.

Use The Term FREE Shipping Too Often

One of the most common phrases used in business (the most common used in email marketing), ‘Free Shipping’ offers go through the roof during the holiday season. From advert campaigns to website chyrons, we’re bombarded with offers for Free Shipping, Free Expedited Shipping, and Free Overnight Shipping. Using this language as part of your sales promo offer will only add to the clutter, especially on the digital side of a business.

Go for an alternative that communicates the customer will not pay for shipping by using language such as ‘Cost-Free’ or ‘No Shipping Fees’, that will stand out a bit more during your promotional cycle.

Promote Something Your Audience Will Not Buy Quickly

All businesses have products or services that sell better than others. The holidays are not the best time to experiment with promoting things you are unsure your audience can get excited about.

Instead of trying to promote items that do not leave the shelf easily, focus on what you know will attracts your customers the most. This includes your standalone top sellers and second tier goods or services that can be paired well with your “superstars”.

 

Button Up

Simply known as ‘The Most Wonderful Time of The Year’, holiday season is exciting for small business because it is not only an opportunity to drive sales in the last stretch of the year, but to participate in community engagement and promote the best of your goods. Choosing wise sales tactics during this time will help you continue to create customer loyalty, build brand recognition, and add foresight to more sales plans as you begin forecasting ahead for the upcoming quarter.

Do you have sales promotion plans for this holiday season? Share some of them below!

Seasonal Hiring Best Practices for Your Small Business

As we breeze through November, the busy holiday season is upon us. For most small businesses, this means there is likely a need to add a few extra hands on deck to help you stay afloat when dealing with more orders and the demands that come with this time of year.

Holiday hires (also known as seasonal workers) are the best way to increase your staff at maximum benefit because they are usually working under defined time periods and understand the role may or may not come with benefits or potential for extending.

If your small biz goals require seasonal staff, here are some things to consider as you sift through those applications:

Pay Close Attention to Each Candidate’s Transferrable Skills

Degrees and previous job titles should be on the bottom of your list when thinking about seasonal hires. While both of these can factor into performance to a certain extent, if you’re looking to hire people who are cream of the crop, focus on the skills they have gained in the past as an indicator of what they can do.

The ability to provide top-notch customer service, follow instructions, drive profit, and create a winning experience for all is not taught in a classroom and anyone with a track record of doing so in the past is likely to be a better fit for your business than the ‘smartest’ person in the room.


Expand Your Meaning of “Qualified”

Since we’re talking qualifications here, this the right time of year to consider people outside of your ‘scope’. This may mean broadening your search to include unlikely applicants such as high school students looking to make extra money or seniors who are trying to supplement their income.

You want to hire people who can work hard and smart, but also those who can contribute a new perspective. Younger workers are eager for opportunity and often willing to give unfiltered feedback (out of slight ignorance), while older workers tend to have a bit more wisdom gained from years of traction in the workforce.

In addition to the transferrable skills that we discussed earlier, you also want to think about hiring people that do not necessarily align with your ideal demographic. If you’re a women’s clothing store, considering hiring a few seasonal male employees. Running a super tech-focused business? Hire someone who’s more analytical to help construct reports and good content around all of the data. The list goes on and on.


Be Clear About Expectations Upfront

When it comes to seasonal roles, most people are accustomed to expecting it to be short-term before signing on the dotted line. However, you should still be very clear about all of the terms and conditions of the contract. This includes laying out definite start and end dates, as well as available days off and mandatory days of attendance, usually leading up to or on major holidays.

 

One of the major components of seasonal and short-term roles is the pay, so you’ll also want to be specific about hourly rates/monthly payment and any allotted bonuses that you have budgeted for.


Hire People You Could Envision Working With Long-Term

While seasonal employees are often looking to pick up extra bucks during the holiday season and may already have a steady ‘other’ income, it’s important to think long game when hiring.

Depending on their circumstances, some exceptional seasonal hires can turn into good part-time or contract role workers later down the road. For this reason, be sure to extend offers to those you think bring the right skills, not just to this current position, but to potential gaps in the needs of your business later on. As you move through the season, you can talk about future opportunities and plan accordingly.

The Button Up

Regardless of you approach your hiring for this time of year, the most important thing to think about is bring people onboard who can champion your vision and effectively execute all well laid plans to help create a successful drive to the end of the year.

Many hands make for lighter work – make sure you have the right ones on deck. 

Have you/will you be hiring seasonal workers this year? What was the search like for these people? 

Set Yourself Up for Small Business Saturday Success

Note: US Small Business Saturday is November 25. UK Small Business Saturday is December 2.

Just one month to go until the “BIG DAY’ – Small Business Saturday.

It’s almost November and you know what that means – cooler weather, longer wait times at the post office, AND the chance for businesses to maximize profits in the run up to the year’s end.

Since 2010, Small Business Saturday, which was founded under a campaign by American Express, has served alongside Black Friday and Cyber Monday as members of ‘trifecta weekend’ which officially puts the holiday shopping season into full swing for retailers .

As an added bonus, the traditional ‘Black Friday’ mania seems to be losing out to small businesses and better online deals. While scenes from the day always make for fantastic trash television, trends point to a decline in that extreme shopper frenzy now that people have more and more options online and locally.

No matter what you’re planning for Small Biz Sat, here are a few things to consider when putting the finishing touches on your campaign(s):

Don’t Make It All About The Holidays

Now I realize that earlier I said that Small Business Saturday is part of the gateway weekend to holiday euphoria for retailers (and it is), but your campaigns for it do not necessarily have to be holiday-focused. Unlike a post-christmas sale, this is all about the celebration of your small business and what you have to offer to folks. Just as many of them will be shopping for holiday gifts for loved ones, there are some who will just be out and about searching for a good bargain for themselves. 

 


Use This Time to Showcase Your ‘Slow Drip’ Products

Do you have products or services that need a little extra love?

This is the perfect time to get them out front and center for customers who:

  1.  May not know they exist or;
  2.  Have been meaning to try them, but never got around to it

While your showstoppers (your signature products or services) get tons of love year-round, you can drive brand awareness and sales during this period by making slow drips the star throughout this season.  

If you want to take it a step further, consider how you can pair them with compatible showstoppers to make them more irresistible to shoppers.


Keep New Customers Top of Mind

Small Business Saturday is often a discovery expedition for many shoppers. Many people who are conscious about buying local often make it a priority on the day to visit small stores, restaurants, and other types of businesses to champion what they do.

Assume that all customers are just getting exposure to who you are and what you can offer.

This approach keeps your marketing efforts fresh and will also help you to continue positioning yourself in alignment with your target audience (which sometimes changes over time).

Take Pride In Being Locally-Owned

Small Business Saturday is a designated day for small business owners across the country to put themselves out there and show why they are a great alternative to bigger companies just up the road.

This is the opportunity to play that angle to the best of your advantage. What do you offer that ‘the big guys’ can’t? 


Do you source all of your products organically? Do you donate a certain percentage of proceeds every year to a wonderful local charity?

Make those connections for people through your in-person and written marketing efforts.

This will help shoppers/clients better understand how you give back to the local community, how they can get involved, and encourages them to return to a business which not only adds value but cares.


As usual, I always love hearing all of your stories and about your campaign wins (and losses – those help us grow!).

What are you planning for Small Business Saturday? Will you focus on a strong holiday-themed push or make it more general?

 

Tell me more about it below!

 

The Return of The Small Business Owner’s Holiday Workbook!

As a super fan of all things Autumn/Fall, I get an extra giddy feeling throughout my body when October approaches.

In addition to the ushering in of cooler weather, beautiful leaves falling, and cozy layers to be worn, this month is also the wedge between the earlier part of the year and the major holiday season.

Yes that’s right – while many people consider the “holiday season” to start in early December, I also account for the two earlier months. Of course if you’re a retailer, you very well could have started your ‘holiday season’ in August, goodness knows the US ‘Big Box’ stores do (Christmas Decorations on Aisle 4 in mid-July? Really Target? REALLY?).

October is also the perfect month to either start OR put the finishing touches on your holiday marketing plan.

For some small business owners, this will consist of a few in-store promotions and added value incentives (think gift wrapping or additional gift cards with they purchase a certain amount) while for others it may go as far as a customized ‘holiday-themed’ website with the chance for visitors to win access to unique holiday services for a set period of time.

Holiday marketing is often a double-edged sword though. It’s important, but it should also be thoughtful and well planned out.

During the standard holiday season, marketing efforts by major retailers increases nearly 65 percent, and that’s just from those with name recognition sending emails or direct mail pieces and using retargeted online ads.

For small businesses, this means you’ve got to think of creative ways to stand out and attract attention. It’s not easy, but it’s possible and I’m here to help.

I’m happy to announce that my ‘Plan Smart & Be Merry’ Workbook is BACK for a second year in a row!

After all of the great feedback last year, I’ve refreshed and renewed it and am releasing it a bit earlier to give all of you smart and savvy folks more time to plan out your vision for holiday small business success.

 

Featuring guidance, tips, and advisory on taking your best steps, you’ll find sections for all aspects of your holiday season marketing include:

  • Holiday Theme Development
  • Admin Issue Management
  • Sales & Marketing Strategy
  • Email Marketing for the Holidays

…and much more

Happy Planning!

 

To receive a free guide to your email – send your name and ‘small business type’ to: kimber@thesmallbusinessspecialist.com.

4 Ways To Keep Momentum On Your Journey

It has many names and can strike at any time. I’ve heard some refer to it as self-doubt, while others I know simply say it’s ‘just a little procrastination, nothing major!’. And then there are those who blame their “perfectionist” streak for the bad diagnosis.

I personally call it ‘Super Stuck-in-it Syndrome’.

I know you’ve had it before. It’s that overwhelmed feeling that washes over you before tackling your inbox after a long day, the voice of uncertainty you hear before starting a new project, or the struggle to stop drifting into thought clouds while trying to finish that afternoon client proposal.

Now for me, the best part about dealing with my bouts of ‘Triple S’ is knowing I’m not alone. The comfort in understanding everywhere I go, there’s someone else going through the very same thing at the same exact moment. Think of it as this non-designated member’s club of sorts where everyone’s welcomed with open arms at one time or another.

 


Of course, the worst part is reaching that pivotal point where I start stressing out and wondering if I’ll ever be able to shake the feeling in time to meet my goals. After all, there are only so many walks around the block to ‘clear my mind’ I can take before returning and realizing everything I have to do hasn’t done itself.

Yep there it is….still waiting.

 


So just like a scenario where I’m being chased by a mountain lion, I’ve got to choose between the classic ‘Fight or Flight’ response with the root cause being nothing more than fear.
There are only two potential outcomes now: Either I’ll stay and move forward with the mission, possibly reaching success utopia, OR I’ll surrender, give in, and never know what could have been.

 


Through trial and error, I’ve learned that the former is almost always guaranteed to produce better results and I’m ready to share my tricks of the trade with you.

Here are four key things I do to cure myself and get super un-stuck:

 

1. Keep The End Goal In Sight

One of the best ways to make progress and take action on your target goal is to consider the end result to replace the stress of the process that will get you there.

Personal trainers and fitness instructors implement this concept all the time. While those last 10 pushups may leave you in pain or avoiding that second serving of cake seems to be of torture, the downward movement of the scale makes it all worth it.


It’s the same idea when you’re working something that will grow your business.


For me, it’s all about taking things in small bites. Instead of writing a massive ‘To-Do’ list for the week, I write a shorter, easy to digest and therefore likely to get done daily to-do list. Everything that I add on here is measured by how it will get me closer to reaching my final goal.

And if I get to the end the day without all things squared away, I check off what I’ve accomplished, congratulate myself on a job well done, and save it for tomorrow where I’ll have another fresh start.

 

2. Embrace Your First Try

If you’re dedicated to perfection and afraid of mistakes, this is the part where you may need to start scrolling. As someone who has been doing what I do for a while now, I can tell you, success is not magic or by osmosis, but fully driven by intent and execution, often multiple times.

Just as writers use their first drafts to get all their ideas out on the page, use your first attempt at anything you try as a tool for reaching your peak “best” rather than destruction.

Go ahead and launch your new product or service, accepting that you’ll still need to fine tune later. All things that are old were once new and without bringing it to market, it’ll never be established. Find the necessity in the consistency of breathing new life into your business with the understanding that it will not always be an easy feat.

 

3. Push Pause On Your Inner Critic

If your purpose is to strive forward, accomplish many things, and get the upper hand on your dreams, you’ll need to silence your inner critic.

When I face self doubt and worry about anything I’m doing, especially if it’s something new, I find solace in deep breathing and reflecting on the times in my life when things have gone not just great, but better beyond my expectations.

 


Your mental judge and jury serves little purpose when it comes to productivity and can often hold you back from achieving all that you’ve planned.

 

 

And this doesn’t mean to never practice self-reflection or critique your own work – I do it all the time. But it’s all about finding balance between listening to your thoughts and getting past any feelings that may hold you back due to fear of not succeeding.

4. Seek and Find Feedback Channels That Point You In The Right Direction

A wise piece of feedback can often change the course of someone’s path, quicker than anything else. I remember when I was getting started and began receiving feedback on consulting with small businesses. Some of it was positive, some of it was negative, a bit of it was in between, but in the end I used all of it to improve my offerings. The honesty from folks just like you was truly invaluable and has helped me grow in my skills.

And now with social media and ‘rate & review’ sites, feedback for your business is not just instantaneous, but constant.

If I could give you one piece of advice about applying feedback, it would be to take it head on and process it in the best way to keep your business evolving. Even the harshest critique has validity when it comes to considering how things can be done differently.

 


I would also recommend that you have a dependable sounding board in place, people who you trust to give you honest and substantive feedback that motivates and inspires you to keep improving as a business owner, creator, and driver of your destiny.

Remember that each day is a new chance to start over and that it’s not the end all, be all. You’ll have things put in your path that will slow you down along the way, some days you won’t feel like doing anything, and there will be certain tasks that will always take priority. Just put trust in your potential – you’ve gotten this far, I know you and I both know you’re capable of more.

What are your favorite ways to stay motivated when you feel you’re getting stuck?

The Small Business Role in Hurricane Relief Efforts

I think to say this past weekend has been tough would be a bit of an understatement.

AND if we’re keeping it all the way honest, this past month in particular across our nation has been an emotional rollercoaster.

Threads of hatred, division, sadness, violence, and strife have been prominent, and for people in my generation, this is the sort of stuff we’ve only read about in history books, but never would have imagined it would make its way back into the forefront of news.  

 

On the flip side, most of it is self-inflicted though. Whether it be for political power, ‘reservation’ of perceived culture, or simply wanting to cause a ruckus, people are actively making a choice to do those things and at the end of the day, you cannot legislate hearts.

 

 

However, there’s a different feeling in my soul every time I see the suffering of folks who go through devastation beyond their control.

If you’re like me, at some point this weekend, you probably spent a few minutes (or hours) watching ongoing coverage of the historic floods in Houston and surrounding areas that were left behind by now Tropical Storm Harvey.

 


Yes, as americans, we’ve become used to a certain amount of natural disasters each year around the country. Hurricanes coming out of the gulf have their own dedicated season, East Coasters breathe a sigh of relief if they are spared complete shut-in snowstorms, and for those of us who live in the Great West, especially California, there’s a lowkey automatic alarm that goes off when you’re crossing bridges or in tight spaces because you know today might be the day “The Big One” rattles the fault.

 


As a native daughter of the south, the past 72 hours have really hit home on an extra note. Growing up in low country, as a child many years ago there was one time when my family had to mandatory evacuate for a hurricane and let me tell you, it was scary.

I am thankful that we had the means to get to higher ground and have safe shelter with comfort and all the amenities that a hotel could offer for a four day stay in a city we had never been to.

 


But while reflecting on my fortunate circumstances as I watched the coverage this weekend, my thoughts lingered on all of those folks who did not just have to evacuate, but for whom this would not just be a ‘precautionary warning’, but an unexpected life changing event.

In a matter of hours, our nation’s fourth largest populated city was nearly underwater in most areas. Sunken deep below those violent waters were not just cars and homes, but life stories, memories, and many valuables that cannot be replaced. Many modest estimates suggest the damage left behind could hover around $190 billion when all’s said and done.

 


I’ll never stop making the case that human life and its spirit is the best gift of all in the end. As we often see in many natural disasters, the outpouring of neighbors helping neighbors and complete strangers from around the world chipping in was beautiful.

There was even the now viral moment where a local news reporter and her videographer were in the middle of coverage when they spotted a big rig driver slowly sinking and by the grace of god, a rescue crew just happened to be nearby and was able to pull him to safety.

This makes me grateful.

But it’s the ‘aftermath’ that worries me even more, that keeps sticking with me, as it often does after a large scale event such as this.

 


In western culture, we have an addiction to tragedy. For news organizations, it’s
highly profitable, great for ratings, clicks, and page turning content. It often brings out the best in others who share updates often about people they have never met on social media, and it sustains the public conversation for days on end.

But once the water has dried up and the cameras go away, this is when the real pain sinks in and victims are left to deal with recovery on their own.

 


For small business owners, there’s an added layer of devastation that hits when you’re caught in the eye of a disaster. For brick and mortars, your livelihood is swept away in the fray and for those who operate remotely, there’s often days of disruption, you may not be able to access supplies or your product immediately, and there’s no textbook solution to responding to unexpected events the way our corporate counterparts can. Many fellow small bizzers have poured their entire life savings into what they own.

 


I’m personally a champion of small businesses helping small businesses. While large organizations like the Red Cross and Salvation Army are fantastic on a macro level after tragedies, their micro effectiveness is shaky. Without disparaging them completely, it’s hard to forget about many of the public missteps they’ve had, including that
still seemingly lost $500 million quasi slush fund from the crisis in Haiti.

 

 

Simply put, these organizations are highly effective at offering immediate mass scale aid, but are horrible at helping individuals rebuild and get their lives back on track once the dust settles.  And many people have known that for years, it’s nothing new.

Keeping both business owners and the broader community of Houston in mind, here are some ways that we as small business owners from around the nation (and abroad) can do our part to help those in their time of need even after the media hype vanishes:

 

Donate a Portion of Your September Profit to a Relief Fund

Consider paying it forward literally by donating a portion of your profit next month to a reputable relief fund. As we know, federal aid, while wonderful when it arrives, can often take months, and even years to fully kick in and folks need relief now.

 


Funds like the
Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund and Houston Texan football star J.J. Watt’s GoFund Me campaign are focused on ‘immediate’ and ‘on the ground’ relief, supplying funding to local shelters who will house survivors for weeks to come and funding to the thousands of families who are attempting to start over.

Fundraise for a Food Bank

Throughout any time of significant disaster, food banks become a local staple for those who have lost everything, with an extra emphasis on the elderly and low-income families who were already vulnerable before the storm hit.  Places like the Houston Food Bank are directly in the community, offering those most in need direct access to meals.

 


Luckily, children impacted by the storm will not have to worry as the city’s school district has announced that
all students throughout the system will receive three hot meals for the entire school year, which will be a blessing to so many families out there.

Set up a checkout till donation fishbowl or gather funding through your network and donate on behalf of your business or organization.

 


Also keep in mind that the major holidays are right around the corner too, so you can start collecting now and then send all the money in November or December to spread more holiday cheer.

Put All Hands On Deck for The Pets

Family pets are just that – family. When incidents like this strike, there are some tough decisions to make. Many pets get separated from their families and are rescued later, some sadly get swept away in the storm surge, and  a few turn up weeks later on the other side of town after water has receded. During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, hundreds of house pets were discovered abandoned and in need of care and new homes. Based on the destruction of Harvey, this time will be no different, and could even be a bit worse.

 


Even for the fortunate ones who evacuated with their pets in toe, many may have been exposed to harmful chemicals and pollution in the atmosphere and will need ongoing treatment.

 


Consider sponsoring one of the Texas-based animal hospitals or shelters and making it a ‘champion cause’ through your selling cycle this quarter. You can give customers the option to donate a set amount ($5 or $10) at the end of their purchases.

 


Thank You Goes A Long Way

Sometimes it still is the thought that counts when in recovery from trauma. With nothing more than an envelope, card, and a few stamps, think about sending a handwritten note or making a special card for storm first responders.

 


If you have a brick and mortar business, you could create it on a larger scale and have visitors write messages on a large card and send it off in a couple weeks time. If you’re online, gather a bundle of electronic well wishes for Houston’s firefighters, police officers, or the Houston National Guard and send them their way. They’ll be happy to hear from you.

 


Keep in mind, the list above are just some of the ‘out of the box’, ways  I was thinking of when figuring out how to contribute and do my part for this disaster.  As for as SBS goes, I’m championing pets and going to be writing some short notes to the first responders since I love pets and love to write – what could go wrong? 🙂

 


No matter what your choice or if you end up choosing a different path to help the survivors, there’s no right or wrong way to do it –
action is all that matters.

The important part of it is that you’re focused on reaching out and giving back to a local community, no matter how far away you are. Giving back is good for the soul.

How is your small business planning to help the hurricane victims in Texas? I’d love to hear about it.

 

Photo Credits: Getty Images, Houston Chronicle, and National Guard

Outsourcing & Small Businesses: The Golden Rules of Getting Started

As a collective, the small business community has so much in common. We’re all passionate about our visions and unafraid to assert our ambitions. And we also enjoy following our dreams, while calling all the shots.

 


On the downside though, the one thing we could all use is more time.

Of course, this is also true for our traditional career counterparts, but there are usually more hands in the pot to help keep the train moving at all times. Even if you’ve got a team of 10, a small business owner may still find that certain things go undone, especially in the beginning.

 

As you try to juggle many hats, you’ll likely ask yourself the ‘Should I Get More Help?’ question at some point. If you’re suffering from one or more of the following, it might be time:

  • Repetitive tasks have become tedious and stress you out
  • You spend more time than usual catching up on your off hours
  • There’s a mandatory skill that’s missing from your staff
  • You’re looking to scale or grow your business

This is even more true for solopreneurs and those who work alone. You realize that while you’re making some progress, you might not have any healthy feedback channels to ensure you’re headed in the right direction — that within itself is a waste of time.

Consider these key points before committing to hiring freelance workers:


What Does Your Business Need?

We live in the age of accessibility to just about everything, including finding good assistance towards helping us reach our business goals. In terms of outsourcing, this means you can find the right fit for your business needs, no matter where you are in the world.


Popular Types of Outsourcing Include:

Virtual Assistants — While this method did not always come with a strong reputation, there are a few solid companies out there like UAssist.Me and Zirtual, for example, which have given it a good name in the last decade or so. You can work directly with a professional online who can do anything from scheduling your meetings to helping edit website copy and a bit of everything else in between.

Works Best For: Online Businesses, Startups, Solopreneurs

 

Content for Hire — If you need help churning out large amounts of content for any project, there’s an entire niche of outsourcing out there for this. Skilled writers (myself included) love helping small businesses speak to their customers through amazing copy.

If you’re lucky, you may even find someone who’s a bit of a writer/designer hybrid, who can help with other projects like logo design and brand development.

 

Works best for: Online businesses, Brick & Mortars

Bookkeeping — I’m not one of those people who gets really warm and fuzzy when I see numbers, unless they’re piling up in my bank account, so getting help with bookkeeping is always a plus for me. All small business owners should consider either getting a real bookkeeper, or at best, investing in astute bookkeeping software. This will help you effectively keep track of your expenses, profit, and also any unexpected liabilities.

 

Works best for: All small businesses

Errand Running — Stop avoiding that list of chores and pass it on to someone else. Services like Task Rabbit and Thumbtack were created to serve busy people, including small business owners who do not have time to go pick up supplies, run to the bank, or stand for hours (and hours….and hours) in line at the post office.

In addition to errands, you can also use apps like these to hire on-site short task staff for things like assembling furniture, light cleaning, or decorating.

 

 

Works best for: Solopreneurs, online businesses, newly opened Brick & mortars

Of course, you could also consider a combination of all of these depending on your needs as your business grows, but it’s good to know there are some helpful options out there.

 

Forever or For a Season?

When it comes to outsourcing work and hiring freelancers, it’s always best to think long-term when possible. Remember that many people who do outsourced jobs work as freelancers and it helps them to have a good understanding of how long the work will last so they can book their next gig in time to fill the gaps.

 

If your project is a one-timer, be upfront about this when you send out an offer. On the other hand, as the needs of a small business change, you may find that you need ongoing help over time. Set a schedule with your outsourced team for periodic ‘check-ins’ on timelines and potential extensions ahead of the end of their contract.

 

Good Work Comes with a Price

Budgeting for outsourcing is something to consider long before you start your search for freelancers and other added business help. An important caveat that I’d like to add is the importance of respecting market rates.

Many people use freelance and outsourced jobs to build up their resume, make extra money, and some even parlay different projects into a full-fledged career. Paying people their worth is important, not just to ensure you get the best work, but also because it’s ethically the right thing to do.

 

For writers, you’ll see many ‘content mills’ that offer mere cents per word for projects. PLEASE, do not do this with your small business. It’s devalues good talent and leaves little motivation for the freelancer to carry on should they find something better.

I always recommend that my clients pay freelancers and outsource workers either ‘by the hour’ or ‘by the project’ with a set price. You can estimate ranges based on where they are based geographically to be comparable with local minimum wage or the average market rate of what another business might pay them to do such a task.

 

It’s also perfectly acceptable to ask for previous outsource salary information and follow up with other employers before handing out an offer.

Here are some suggested pay ranges for editorial and writing work:

Credit: TheBalance.com
Credit: TheBalance.com


Unless you have plans to keep working with the same freelancer over time, Pay by project is usually the most economical and budget-friendly choice.


Making It Official

Every business treats freelancers and outsourced workers differently. As someone who has freelanced with companies around the world in the past, I can tell you that the approach is heavily dependent on tax purposes.

 

In the US, both the small business and freelancers can be liable for paying a certain amount of tax on services. While in many parts of the EU, small business owners pay an annual flat rate for hiring freelance workers and freelancers themselves, also only pay a small fee on any money they make.

 

Be aware of what the rules are in your country and if you’re in the US, also understand how it works in your own state.

 

This is also true for offering the contract itself. While some businesses extend offers without making freelancers sign any sort of official contract to begin, it makes for better bookkeeping to have it all documented and in some cases, you’ll be required to submit all of this information with our taxes as proof of work exchanged.

 

In other words, the bigger the paper trail, the better.

 

No matter which route you choose to take when it comes to taking on freelancers and ‘outsourced’ employees, an extra set of hands (or two sets if you’re feeling generous) can often make the difference, driving you closer to your goals much faster and of course opening your business up to new networks.

 

As we head into the busy summer season, I would love to know if you have any plans to hire freelancers or seasonal employees.

Would you outsource any work this summer? LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW!

Recovering From An Email Gaffe Once You’ve Hit Send

So, THAT happened!

You’ve created a “stop them in their tracks” email campaign and written an equally impressive follow-up autoresponder that features some great images and puns for good measure. You take a final scan and push ‘SEND’.

Presto, Magic!

But then — Something tells you to look again.

Oh NO!

There it is. A misspelled word in the subject line.

It’s okay. It’s Monday morning. Your readers will not notice. Carry on.

And then you open it.

Okay they’ll probably definitely notice the change in font from the second to third paragraph. And why oh WHY is that last image suddenly not working?

Here’s the truth: things like this happen all the time to the best of us. Making a mistake is not so much a judgement on your competency or ability to be an effective marketer.

More importantly, the way you recover can often impress your audience enough to make them forgive (and forget) easily.

Here’s what you’ll need to do:

1. Breathe & Exhale

 

Once a mistake has been made, the natural reaction is to freak out a bit in your mind (probably more colorfully aloud). Fear not, for it’s all going to be okay. While it is likely many people on your list would have already seen the campaign, opened it, and some would have spotted the ‘problem’, they will not all rush to find the unsubscribe link. Customers can be cynics, but are more forgiving of human error than we give them credit for.

However, in today’s world of the quick response, they will still be expecting you to acknowledge it and for the sake of your brand, you should do this sooner, rather than later.

 

2. Create a Recovery Strategy

 

The most important thing to remember when it comes to acknowledging mistakes in business is having good timing. You’ll want to ensure that any type of response is done within 24 hours (ideally sooner!).

This shows that you are aware of the problem, allows you to express genuine regret, and will increase the trust of the customer in understanding that you know what you’re doing. People like working with other people and appreciate elements of humanity, even mistakes.

 

3. Fess Up & Move Forward

 

There’s no template for re-working an email gaffe, but you should always keep your audience in mind. For some people, humor is the best way towards recovery, while others should approach it by simply doing a resend with the right information, but not making a big fuss over the mistake.

Here are some favorites which have recently crossed my own inbox in the last few months:

Where Should I Acknowledge the Mistake?

The subject line is the best place to start. Customers will have a better idea of why you’re emailing them again and depending on what tone you use in your approach, ‘undo the gaffe’ emails have been known to get higher opens than the original campaign.

You’ll also gain some extra points with those folks in different time zones who did not see your first email, but will be pleased to see you’ve corrected the issue.

 

4. Foolproof Your Next Send

 

Is there a possibility you’ll make another email gaffe at some point? Yes. But there are ways you can make it nearly impossible.

Test, Test, Test

One of the keys to winning the war on the gaffe is to test your emails.

Most popular email marketing software systems offer testing functionality and even if you’re just sending from your own yahoo or gmail at the moment, testing is key.

Send to a Friend

In addition to testing, send the campaign to a friend or colleague as well. Four eyes is better than two and people who have not been working closely on the content can often spot additional mistakes.

Print & Edit

Call me old-fashioned, but I rarely depend on spell check for anything. When I am editing content pieces, printing and reading aloud is a must. This is helpful, not only for catching misspelled words, but also for getting a different spin on the tone of your message.

Have you ever thought something in your mind, but once it came out of your mouth, it sounded very different? That’s the same concept with this.

Think before you speak and read aloud before you send.

Have you had a post-send email gaffe? How did you bounce back? LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW!

The Six App Types Every Small Business Needs


In the age of quick, fast, and easy, we can use apps for everything from ordering one hour grocery delivery to last-minute virtual assistance. While technology often drives us completely mad, as small biz owners, we’re in a special group who can fully utilize the bottomless options now available on the marketplace to increase our business’s functionality so we can spend more time focusing on our goals and reaching them.

Here are six app types you should have for your small business:

1. The HR & Hiring Assistant App

If you are still working on your infrastructure and do not yet have a robust hiring team and cannot afford to outsource this to a recruitment agency, there’s still help as you search for a way to efficiently hire the right employees. Apps like Proven give you the chance to streamline the job posting process. With one-click, you can post your latest opening to all the major job sites and once it goes live, you’ll be able to check the amount of views, see specific traffic from each platform and easily track applicants. Proven offers a Free five-day trial, one job post option and if you’re recruiting for multiple posts, plans start at $50 per job.

2. The Email Marketing App

If you’re a small business owner and you’re not doing any email marketing, we may need to have a separate conversation. One of the most effective, profitable, and memorable forms of marketing, whether you have an online boutique or a brick and mortar restaurant, email marketing can enhance your chances for positive growth. Building a solid email list is key, but once you have one, using an email marketing system like MailChimp or MyEmma offers you the chance to personalize your emails, track the progress of your campaigns, and even automate your messages so they always work for you, no matter the time of day.

3. The Time Management App

Running out of time and need a little help? There’s an app for that — many of them in fact! Whether you’re looking to press forward on key projects, create a doable to-do list or need to work on cutting out distractions, getting a handle on your time will always increase productivity and help you reach your goals faster. Use RescueTime, an all-inclusive app that helps you block distracting websites, set goals,and track how you’ve spent your time each day. It’s free to get started.

4. The Communication App

You’ve heard it before: Communication is Key! No matter the size of your business or how many employees you have, a solid communication platform will give you the ability to reach out quickly and get feedback faster. And like most apps, there are many to choose from, so consider how you’ll use it and how you and your team like to interact before committing.

 

I work alone, but use Slack to keep my go-to designers and developers close by in case I have a quick question or need any branding changes. Meanwhile, some larger teams prefer Basecamp which is much more interactive. Consider trying out a few and then settling on one after a couple of weeks.

5. The Automation App

As a busy small business owner, it’s easy to feel the pressure of needing to complete many tasks including invoicing, major projects and still want to interact and build a following on social media. Unfortunately with less hours in the day than we’d like to think, something’s got to give.

Automation apps are the perfect substitute for day-to-day social media posting. While you should still have built-in time each week to respond to tweets, comment on Facebook posts and interact with your fellow cohorts on your key platforms, you can use tools like Hootsuite or Buffer to do the heavy lifting when it comes to posting articles, new blog posts, surveys, or contests you’re currently running.

6. The Employee Incentive App

A little competition is healthy, but it’s much better when there’s something to be rewarded for. Employee Appreciation and Incentive apps replace the traditional ‘employee of the month’ concept by allowing you to personalize how you want shoutout and give a gold star to employees who have done a great job. Apps like GiveaWow also let employees get in on the peer-to-peer fun where they can acknowledge others who have helped them achieve a big goal or a task and let you create custom awards for employees with the highest points. GiveaWow starts at $99/month for up to 50 employees.

While these apps just touch the surface of what’s available, it’s clear that adding a few to the rotation of your workflow is likely to help you go a long way.

What apps are you currently using in your small business? Leave a comment below!

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