Small Business News
New research suggests that employees who spend their down time being creative are more effective on the job.
A hobby can be so much more than just a diversion from the daily grind. In fact, creative hobbies can positively boost your work performance, according to new research.
San Francisco State University psychologist Kevin Eschleman and his colleagues found that those who said they often spend their free time doing various creative activities scored 15 to 30 percent higher on performance rankings. This compares to those who said they weren't very creative outside of work, reported NPR.
The researchers surveyed about 340 employees from all different professions, and the participants reported how often they engage in creative activities like drawing and playing an instrument. Researchers also asked them to self-report their strength in several performance measures like devising creative solutions to problems at work and helping others on the job.
"We found that in general, the more you engage in creative activities, the better you'll do," Eschleman told NPR. The researchers also gave 90 U.S. Air Force captains the same evaluation, and then asked their co-workers and bosses to rate them on performance measures. The researchers said they obtained very similar results to the first study.
Eschleman suggested that perhaps pursuing creative hobbies creates a cycle of positive side effects.
"It's very possible that those who are performing better at their jobs also have more energy to pursue these creative activities," Eschleman told NPR. In turn, creative tasks might then provide employees with the positive energy they need to show up at work the next day and perform.
So how can you rally your employees to be more inventive outside of work? Well, first, the authors warn you should avoid approaching the situation with a heavy hand. But you can nudge your employees toward cultivating some creative habits by offering them memberships to art studios, creative writing classes, and music lessons, they suggest.
You actually have more free time than you think.
A recently released book by Washington Post reporter Brigid Schulte is getting a lot of media attention. When you read the title--Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time--you'll see why.
From parents to students to teachers to CEOs, is there a demographic category or job function that doesn't feel as if it has too much work to do--and not enough time to do it?You Have More Free Time Than You Realize
But the truth, at least according to one of Schulte's sources, is that most of us have more free time than ever. That source is John P. Robinson, a sociologist at the University of Maryland. According to his research, marvelously summarized on Eric Barker's Barking Up the Wrong Tree blog:
He insists that although most Americans feel they're working harder than ever, they aren't. The time diaries he studies show that average hours on the job, not only in the United States but also around the globe, have actually been holding steady or going down in the last forty years. Everybody, he says, has more time for leisure.
All of which begs the question: If we have more free time, why then do we feel as if we don't?
The answer, in a word, is fragmentation. It can feel as if you never stop working when you're receiving emails on a smartphone in the middle of what used to be strictly leisurely activities (dining, watching TV, exercising, reading). Work literally feels like it never ends, because technology (and our unwillingness to part from it) puts work at our fingertips, 24/7.How to Feel Less Busy
If Robinson's studies are correct, it's good news. It means you actually have the free time you covet. You just have to do a better job of recognizing it and acting on it. Here are two tips that can help:
1. Stop telling yourself that you're busy. This pearl of wisdom comes from Robinson himself. As Hanna Rosin writes in Slate:
Robinson doesn't ask us to meditate, or take more vacations, or breathe, or walk in nature, or do anything that will invariably feel like just another item on the to-do list. The answer to feeling oppressively busy, he says, is to stop telling yourself that you're oppressively busy, because the truth is that we are all much less busy than we think we are. And our consistent insistence that we are busy has created a host of personal and social ills which Schulte reports on in great detail in her book--unnecessary stress, exhaustion, bad decision-making....
It's tempting to think of yourself as busy because so much in our culture places a premium status on busyness. In adulthood, it's cool to be busy. A step you'll need to take is to stop buying into the notion that busyness equates to importance.
2. Reduce the fragmentation in your life by scheduling uninterrupted leisure time. Consider a short list of key leaders and influential thinkers with this habit:
- LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner schedules his own solitary time to expressly escape the daily grind, observes Drake Baer in Fast Company.
- Kierkegaard, Dickens, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky--four men so famous you only need their last names--were obsessive about taking long walks every day, writes Sarah Green in the Harvard Business Review.
- Frits van Paasschen, CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts (Sheraton, Westin, St. Regis, W), always exercises six days a week, reports Scott Mayerowitz in the Huffington Post.
The benefit of this leisure time--during which you should not allow workplace communications to reach you--is that it will allow you to enter what's known as a flow state. Not only will the flow state help you relax, it will also give you a period to look forward to every day as one that's free from task or obligation.
Think of it as lunch recess or study hall for your life. Schulte's book cites the work of Roger Mannell, a psychologist at the University of Waterloo. Barker notes: "His research has found that when people have a sense of choice and control over what they do with their free time, they are more likely to get into flow, that engrossing and timeless state that some call peak human experience."
During Beethoven's post-lunch strolls, Green writes, he carried "a pencil and paper with him in case inspiration struck."
You could do the same.
What a week: After making a tax concession, the startup earned a $10 billion valuation. Now its legal troubles are starting all over again.
It's been a roller coaster of a week for Airbnb. The startup closed a deal for $450 million in funding, attaining a valuation it'd reportedly been chasing: $10 billion. It's now, after this funding round led by private-equity firm TPG, one of the most valuable startups on the planet.
Before the bubbly had time to settle in San Francisco, bad news came from out east: New York State attorney general Eric Schneiderman Monday filed an affidavit with the state Supreme Court in Albany claiming that the majority of Airbnb listings in New York are illegal. Arguments are expected to begin tomorrow.
Schneiderman is seeking user data from Airbnb in a subpoena that was originally filed in October. There's speculation that since Airbnb, a fast-growing company that lets people rent out their homes or rooms, has been in negotiations with the Attorney General's office about the matter that a settlement fell apart.
The issue at hand is that subletting for less than 30 days is in general illegal for renters in New York who are not continually residing in their apartment. And, for Airbnb, plenty of the nearly 20,000 offerings--64 percent on January 31--listed on Airbnb in New York were for an "entire apartment," not a shared space, as the law would seem to mandate.
In an email to New York users, Airbnb's head of global public policy, David Hantman, came out swinging, writing: "Taking on an Attorney General who is determined to fight innovation and attack regular people isn't easy and we won't succeed without standing together." He also wrote: "the Attorney General made it clear that he will seek personal data on our users until the end of time."
Airbnb claims it will pump $768 million into New York’s economy this year. The company has been under much scrutiny for not abiding by the same hospitality tax structures traditional hotels are subject to.
The company announced last week that it would begin a pilot program in San Francisco, Portland, and New York, to start "self-tax collecting." The company estimates the tax could collect up to $20 million a year for the government. Critics say it's about time that a company worth $10 billion and reportedly working toward an initial public offering.
"Attorney General Schneiderman has worked in partnership with innovative tech companies like Facebook and Yelp to curb illegal activity on their sites," Schneiderman's press secretary told Valleywag. "It's disappointing that AirBnB has taken a different approach, with name calling and PR campaigns to confuse the issue and evade the law."
More than 90 percent of companies are now using content marketing.
Encouraged by recent results, marketers are continuing to invest in what they deem to be the most successful content marketing strategies. Hint: This involves a lot of social media use. You'll find evidence of this in the infographic below, created by Column Five on behalf of LinkedIn.
Alexa von Tobel, certified financial planner and founder of LearnVest, explains how to protect your future financial security.
Even with proliferating social-media tools, email support is still the preferred method of customer service for many consumers.
Jerry Mills, founder of B2B CFO, defines the moment when your company is ready to hire a CFO.
All too often, entrepreneurs get caught in the cycle of trying to be creative when they're too tired to think. Here's how to get those juices flowing and reconnect with yourself.
The early stages of a new company are full of creativity.
Nothing has been built yet, so you get to spend months dreaming up every part of your business, including the brand and culture. Since this is often done with a small group of people, the experience is truly exhilarating. You come home from the office unable to sleep out of pure excitement.
But somewhere along the way, creating can be replaced with having to execute. You spend most of your time working on random to-do lists and end up waiting until the end of the day--the time when you're most exhausted--to think creatively, which just doesn't work.
To do your best work, you need to stay fresh, energetic, and creative the whole journey. Building great companies is a marathon, not a sprint, and it takes time. With this in mind, here are 21 ways to maintain or boost your personal creativity.
1. Don't email in bed.
Don't make email the first thing you do in the morning or the last thing you do before bedtime. It's like tackling a massive to-do list, because the minute you see it, you'll start thinking about all the things that you need get done. You're not as busy as you think you are.
2. Don't take meetings before lunch.
Your most creative time is usually between 9 a.m. and noon, so don't waste it in random meetings. Keep this precious time to yourself.
3. Explore your city with a camera.
Even if you aren't a photographer, listening to music and exploring your city with a camera can be a fantastic way to observe the energy and culture around you.
Whether you publish your musings or not, writing about your feelings and experiences is a refreshing way to reconnect with yourself.
5. Take a class.
Learning something new that has nothing to do with work can be fun, especially if it forces you outside your comfort zone. Signing up for an improv comedy class was terrifying for me, but it wound up being one of the most rewarding classes I've ever taken.
Picking a recipe, buying the right ingredients, and experimenting with them can be a relaxing way to take your mind off of work. Cooking taps into all your senses and the end product will give you confidence to try other things.
Don't get trapped into thinking you can't leave the office. If your company can't survive without you, there's a much bigger problem at hand.
8. Take a long lunch.
Try spending 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. with your significant other or other people you care about. It will feel a bit awkward at first, but after a few times, you'll begin to realize that you have the freedom to work wherever you want, whenever you want.
9. Curb the coffee.
Caffeine can be a helpful stimulant when you're groggy, but after a few cups it can have the opposite effect. If you're still tired, try getting more sleep.
10. Ditch the alarm clock.
Waking up to an artificial sound can actually make you more tired. Go to sleep early enough that you naturally start your day on time and you'll feel so much better.
11. Hit the gym.
This has been written about extensively, but it bears repeating. Exercise equates to better energy, better well-being, and a sharper mind.
12. Trim down your to-do list.
A to-do list with more than three things on it can be hard to finish off. Whether you're thinking about company-wide goals or your own objectives, something will get overlooked. Creating takes time.
13. Take the team for a hike.
Company gatherings don't have to be lunches or happy hours. Taking a random weekday to go on a hike can be a bonding experience. Conversations will cover a variety of topics, but more importantly the event will build trust in your group.
14. Hit the road.
Get in your car on Friday afternoon, and don't come back until Sunday evening. The only rule is that you can't bring your cell phone.
15. Work at the library.
You won't get much done in a busy office, but you will at the library, where you can hear a pin drop.
16. Read a book.
Magazines and online articles are nice and all, but a book can tell a story that will open your mind.
Helping others with no connection to your job can give you perspective on what really matters in life. Soon you'll realize that responding to emails isn't the most important thing you can do.
Whether you use audio tapes, a smartphone app, or sit simply in silence, meditating is a great way to start or end your day, as it helps you recharge.
19. Use pen and paper.
Nothing is more creative than sketching, scribbling, or writing down your ideas. The best part is you won't have to stay inside and lug a power cord around.
20. Turn off notifications.
The noises will make you tired, and when you're tired you can't be creative. Constantly being buzzed about this or that lowers your productivity.
21. Attend an InstaMeet.
Instagram offers local meetups that are attended by dozens of people who are passionate about photography. The attendees cover a wide range of skill sets, but what bonds this community together is that everyone is really creative. You might make some friends who help you see your city in a whole new light.
Have you ever had to give up control and teach someone else to fly? Did they crash and burn or soar?
An office in a large building in downtown San Francisco is about the last place you would expect to offer a close encounter with nature. But that's exactly what we got recently, as a pair of peregrine falcons and their chicks took up residence in a high-rise adjacent to ours.
Lucky for us, the folks at a bird research group have a "Falcon Cam" installed to give us a live peek inside the nest 24/7. The organization has been following that nest since 2005, and every year there's a new falcon family. I've got to admit, I can't stop watching. I've become attached to the chicks and seeing how they are growing.
When I got to thinking about it, I realized that we could learn a few business leadership lessons from these birds of prey.1. Nurture.
Often we get so caught up in the day-to-day dealings of leading and running our business that we forget that we need to nurture it. And by nurture it, I mean a variety of things. Like the peregrine falcons spending more than a month sitting on their eggs, and then nearly two months protecting, feeding, and tending to their chicks, we need to keep in mind that someone--or maybe everyone--needs to nurture our product or service, our customers and prospects, and, of course, our employees.
After being at the helm of my e-mail marketing company VerticalResponse for the last 13 years, I definitely feel a sense of obligation and responsibility to take care of the business, and I want my teams to feel the same way. That passion and instinct is what makes us great, and I think our customers and employees can sense that. How are you nurturing your business?2. Demonstrate teamwork.
No business succeeds through the efforts of a single person. And there have been lots of posts written about teamwork and how to do it better, so I'm not going to go there. What I've noticed about those falcons is that they really do embody a team. The mom and dad falcons work together to protect, nurture, feed, and give their chicks the best chance of survival--which takes some doing given they've got a pretty high first-year mortality rate. (Kind of like startups!)
How you model and execute teamwork from Day One--it can set your business on a course for success or extinction. Is teamwork alive and well in your business, or do unnecessary silos exist that need to be knocked down?3. Learn to fly.
One of my favorite falcon-watching moments occurred one day last spring when my husband John and I were returning from lunch. We were walking toward the office when we saw the falcons soaring through the sky and then dropping into a dive. There was a lot of squawking involved, and we wondered what all the commotion was about. Then we looked up and saw...flying lessons! Yep, the chicks were being pushed to the ledge and taking that leap of faith and learning to fly. Imagine how that must feel?!
Well, in some sense, I bet you already know. As a business leader, we've all had to take a leap of faith at one time or another in our careers. We've had to stop questioning, stop analyzing, let go, trust, and just go for it. Or maybe, you've had to give up some control and teach someone else to do something and then let them spread their wings and fly.
And guess what? Maybe they crashed and burned. And then maybe they got up, dusted themselves off, and tried again. It's all good because you've got to let them do it, just like the falcons.
Have you learned any business lessons from an unconventional source like my falcons? Share in the comments.
The concept of not knowing what you don't know has gotten its fair share of attention. Here are three practices that can lead to crucial discoveries.
"The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question." Peter Drucker, The Practice of Management (1954)
When Clayton Christensen, the famed Harvard Business School professor, was an MBA student at the school, he had a habit of writing down the best questions he heard in class. At the end of the day, he reviewed the list, seeking traits and patterns that separated the most brilliant questions from the ordinary ones.
Perhaps, then, it's no wonder he became the scholar who placed the adjective "disruptive" in the business lexicon. For he did so in an attempt to answer two crucial questions: Why is a company's competitive advantage so hard to sustain? And why do low-end, inferior technologies disrupt the market dominance of superior, established products?
Before Christensen came along, few business thinkers used these questions to frame the intertwined topics of innovation and competitive advantage. In other words, Christensen's questions themselves were something of a disruption to an existing order, codified in his first book, The Innovator's Dilemma (1997).
But as popular as Christensen's questions and precepts have become since then, businesses are still getting disrupted. And not just large businesses. Small ones, too. Entrepreneurial ones, like yours.
The question is: Why does it happen so often?CEO Blind Spots: Why Disruption Remains Prevalent
I asked this question not long ago to Hal Gregersen, who coauthored The Innovator's DNA (2011) with Christensen and Jeffrey Dyer. Gregersen, now executive director of the MIT Leadership Center and a senior lecturer in the MIT Sloan School of Management, is an expert on the art of questioning.
After I ask Gregersen the question, he leans back in his chair.
"A disruptive question, as defined by [Christensen], is one that someone else [e.g. an upstart competitor] is asking that you aren't," he says. "And the higher you go in a company, the harder it can be to uncover you don't know what you don't know."
Gregersen believes business leaders are blind to the questions they should be asking for two reasons.
1. In most organizations, you get promoted not for asking questions but for providing answers. You advance by voicing the glib sound bites, not the edgy hypotheticals.
2. Once you ascend to the CEO seat, there are barriers precluding your interaction with anyone who might nag you with those hypotheticals.
For example, only a select few employees--who are also high-ranking--report to you directly. And those direct reports tend to kiss your ass and prepare you with "talking points" that will make sure no one gets upset. "It's an insulated world, where the blind spot is not explored," says Gregersen.3 Methods for Battling Your Blind Spot
How can you do it? Gregersen and I discussed three methods:
1. Create internal disruptive teams. If you, as a leader, are going to be insulated, the least you can do is task some of your employees with the goal of unearthing some potentially disruptive questions--and uncovering what you don't know. In his forthcoming book The First Mile, Scott D. Anthony, a managing partner at Christensen's Innosight consultancy, shared one of Intuit cofounder Scott Cook's techniques for managing internal disruptive teams: Cook stresses that these teams should spend almost no time doing financial forecasting or plotting plans on spreadsheets.
Another key, Gregersen believes, is to staff your disruptive teams with a high ratio of innovative thinkers to delivery-focused employees. On a 10-person disruptive team, you would want eight of the members to have a creative bent, or to display the several traits that Gregersen and other experts have connected with innovative thinking.
2. Address the pain points that your current solutions are creating. Chances are, your current products and services are solving problems for customers. That's why you're in business. But have you considered what pain points your solutions are creating, even as they solve the problems?
For example, Gregersen cites the famous story of Doug Dietz, a designer of MRI machines for GE. As functional as his MRI machine was, the one thing its design didn't take into account was that it was an intimidating thing for small children to approach. So Dietz, with the help of what he learned at the Stanford d.school, set about fixing this problem. With paint, scents, and lights, he and a team turned the scan rooms into "adventures."
3. Set aside time every day to sit, think, and write down better questions--about yourself and your organization. Gregersen's 4-24 Project is an attempt to start a movement among leaders to ask better questions. Specifically, Gregersen is urging leaders to take four minutes every day to write out all the questions they have about anything personal or professional.
While there are potential business ROIs in the activity--including, but not limited to, articulating disruptive questions for your company--there are also personal benefits. First and foremost, there's the meditative practice of simply sitting and thinking. For at least four minutes a day, you will (ostensibly) remove your mind from your immediate to-do list, and think only of questions. On more stressful days, these questions will, of course, pertain to your to-do list, as opposed to long-term, big-picture, high-concept thoughts. But even then, you'll at least gain the benefit of venting.
Over time, says Gregersen, you'll be able to do what Christensen did as an HBS student: Review your lists of questions, and notice the patterns.
Perhaps one day, you'll even hit on the one that saves your organization.
If you're going to go to the trouble of pitching journalists over email, make your messages count.
I often witness amazingly good public relations at work. In my job as a reporter, I've worked with PR reps who know their stuff, develop a camaraderie with me, and know my tastes and leanings--and those are companies I tend to work with again and again. Here's what I've learned from those savvy companies, summed up in a cheat sheet to help your new startup connect get noticed by the media.1. Finely tune your emails.
Mass emails sent to random people can sometimes work--after all, that's why MailChimp exists. But they rarely work with me. Most of them actually end up in a spam folder or one of the "promotion" tabs in my Gmail. Pitches that arrive in my inbox with specific examples of how the company is breaking new ground, intended just for me? They are pure gold.2. Learn about the writer.
I love when PR pitches start out with a comment about one of my articles or a blog entry. That tells me the sender took the time to figure out my beat and the stories I usually end up writing. There's a real person on the other end trying to communicate with me. When a pitch just seems like it is intended for any working journalist, I usually ignore it out of hand.3. Fix the errors.
I've been known to post on Twitter when I receive a PR pitch with a misspelled word in the subject line. How is that even possible? It's important, when you want to sell the services of a new company, to make sure you read over every email carefully. It's one of the worst ways to draw attention to a pitch. Sure, I might scoff at the email at first but I'll still delete it. And the misspelling forms an indelible impression about whether the company is really legit.4. Get the facts straight.
Make sure everything you say about the startup is factual--include stats as appropriate and even link to research papers. Honestly, the more the better. But be careful if you try to stretch the truth.5. Don't exaggerate.
Speaking of getting the facts straight, another major PR mistake has to do with exaggeration. I've written about this before, but if you claim to have the best of something, you better be able to prove it. Or if you say this is a product that's first to market, make sure you have thoroughly examined the field. If one of the claims you make isn't true, the pitch quickly loses credibility.6. Follow up--but only once.
If you have customized a pitch and learned a bit about the writer, so you're not just sending mass emails to total strangers, then there's a good chance I'll read your pitch. In fact, I use Gmail labels and mark pitches I want to come back to later. I've been known to ask a question several weeks after the fact. Following up with me is fine--but pestering is not. When you follow up more than once, it actually makes me think you don't realize I know how to manage my email properly.7. Make your follow-up brief.
I learned early on in my writing career to use this proven tactic. Go ahead and send an initial pitch that spells everything out in detail. It can be quite lengthy--you want to tell the whole story--as long as it's well-crafted. However, when you do a follow-up email, make it short and to the point. I sometimes will follow up once with an editor or a company founder and just ask, "What do you think?" so the recipient knows I'm not pestering. I really do just want to find out if they are interested.8. Name your competitors.
I suppose this one is controversial--the minute you name a competitor, you might point the journalist in a different direction. However, journalists need to know the whole story--and you're doing them a favor when you put your company in context. If you're a new competitor to Path, go ahead and name the company and even include a link. Then, explain how your company does something better. You should even list a few other competitors--but be careful not to diss them.9. Don't forget the social-media links.
I'm surprised how many PR pitches don't bother to include a link to the company's Facebook page and Twitter account. These days, journalists want more than just a link to the company domain. They want to see what everyone else is saying about the company and find out the latest news. It's also a quick way to see how many followers are into that company.10. Always be professional.
One last word of advice on your email pitches: Let's keep this professional. I've received many emails that had some inappropriate comment right away (some of you who know me are going to send me a message right now with a joke, and that's totally fine). But that is risky behavior for an initial pitch. I don't tend to take such messages seriously. In fact, crude remarks in an email or some unflattering statement about the competition don't help sell a company at all. They hamper your chances for success.
It's one of the most important decisions you'll make as founder. Here's how to settle on a company name you won't regret.
If you're a fan of the new HBO show Silicon Valley, you're probably still chuckling about the theme of last night's episode.
To break it down: The show's protagonist, entrepreneur and programming whiz Richard, has just landed a $200,000 investment in his startup called Pied Piper. Now he just needs to secure the Pied Piper name.
Richard faced some rather hilarious obstacles in trying to keep his beloved startup name. First, there's the fact that his four employees thought naming the company after a "predatory flautist who murders children" was a terrible idea. Then, there was the salt-of-the-earth sprinkler maker who already owned the name Pied Piper and refused to give it up for less than $250K.
You'll have to watch to find out what happens, but the episode is a good reminder that naming a startup is one of the most important and difficult decisions a founder faces. A name can drive--or deter--growth. It's often the way a startup makes a first impression on customers, investors, and partners.
Here are a few tips to get you started.
1. Does it feel good to say out loud? Inc.com's John Brandon recently wrote that founders need to consider the, well, usability of their company's name. You and your employees will be saying the name dozens, if not hundreds, of times a day to investors, customers, clients. You should make sure it's a name that's easy to say.
2. Does it have a story behind it? Brandon also points out that a startup name should be part of something bigger than the company--whether that's a personal story about the founding or an over-arching mission of the company. In other words, if you can't explain why your company is named what it is, then you have a problem.
3. Have you considered the domain name? Though there's some disagreement in the startup community as to how much a domain name matters, Inc.com's Jessica Stillman points out that you should, at the very least, be thinking of a domain. When tech darlings Dropbox and Square were founded, for example, each company had a temporary domain.
And finally, if you've already landed on a name but you regret your choice, take a note from Livestream CEO Max Haot. He describes in the video below, how his company picked the wrong name, and then had to figure out how to transition to the right one.
Why do so many businesses have a tough time business building and ramping up sales? It’s because they’re pitching, not educating and adding value. Seems obvious, right?
Let’s say you sell telephone systems, like Company X does. Company X practiced sales by cold calling prospective companies to ask if they were interested in talking about a new telephone system (yuck--this is a standard product pitch). They had four salespeople making hundreds of calls per day. The result? A whopping three appointments per week. Ack!
First of all, every company that has a phone system more than five years old could benefit from a new phone system. Heck, more than 15 of the major providers of phone systems from just 10 years ago are now out of the phone system business. But inertia is a powerful force--and the enemy of business building and good choices. If the phone system isn’t broke, why fix it?
Ready to double sales? Take the following steps:
1. The first thing Company X did after discovering the education-based marketing concept was target bigger companies. The bigger the company, the bigger the phone system. The bigger the phone system, the bigger the sales potential.
2. The salespeople called the 2,000 largest companies in their market with two simple questions: “Hi, we’re doing our annual telephone system survey. I just need to know two things: What is the model of your phone system, and how old is it?” In two days, the salespeople had a list of 508 companies with old and often obsolete phone systems.
3. Now for the best part: education-based marketing. The sales reps called on these larger companies with one offer: “We have a new educational program entitled 'The Nine Ways You’re Wasting Money on Your Voice and Data Spending.'” They continued, saying: “We’ve been in the telephone business for 10 years now, and we’ve found that every company wastes money on voice and data spending in at least nine areas. We’ve put together a white paper to teach companies how to stop wasting--and start saving--money. If you ever need any help at all with your voice, data, or telephone system needs, we want you to know about us. So we’re sending you our white paper.”
This approach increased their appointments tenfold, from three per week to 30 per week. This company’s revenue was $3 million the year prior to using the education-based marketing approach. After six months, Company X’s sales pipeline was $9 million strong. I’ve used these techniques for companies much larger--in the tens and hundreds of millions in revenue. They’re solid.
To drive my point home about the power of education-based marketing, let’s review a few ineffective education-based marketing approaches, alongside more effective ones:
Business: Financial Planner
Ineffective offer: “I want to come and talk to you about how I can help you plan for a better financial future.”
Effective offer: “Even if you never do anything with me, I want to make sure you know that there are five critical mistakes everyone makes in trying to accumulate wealth.”
Business: Technology Services Firm
Ineffective offer: “Let me tell you how great we are at helping with your IT services.”
Effective offer: “As part of our effort to build better relationships in the business community, we offer a free white paper entitled ‘Six Ways to Dramatically Increase Productivity Using Your Current Technology.’”
Education-based marketing net-net
Sales is about building rapport, not breaking it. When you sell, or pitch, you’re often breaking rapport because the prospect may be skeptical; no one wants to be sold. When you educate, you build rapport. Launch all your meetings by teaching your prospect something, or by offering data that establishes that you’ve done your homework.
If you embrace education-based marketing, you’ll outmarket your competitors every time. Education-based marketing attracts buyers before they think about buying. It casts a wider net, attracts more buyers, and closes a higher percentage of prospects if the lessons you offer are truly valuable. This is the least expensive, most effective marketing concept you’ll ever use.
What kind of free education could you offer that would make your prospects want to meet with you, respond to your ad, or take an interest in your direct mail approach?
The social network reportedly will launch a new mobile ad network later this month, allowing companies to run highly targeted ads on apps and other third-party platforms.
It was only a matter of time before Facebook responded to users' requests and built its own ad network.
Facebook declined to comment on the matter, but Re/code reports that Facebook will deliver highly targeted ads all over the Web, not just on its site. This could be a useful and lucrative tool if you're looking for receptive consumers, given that Facebook knows all sorts of personal tidbits about its users, such as their hometown, alma mater, and offline pursuits.
The advantage for Facebook itself is clear: Brands are willing to pay big money to reach the right customers. Re/code reports that in the last three months of 2013, mobile ads generated $1.24 billion for Facebook, or 53 percent of the company's overall ad revenue.
Expect ads of the "app-install" variety, which prompt users to download an app or continue to engage with one they've previously downloaded, Re/code reports.
Note, however, that Facebook isn't the only tech titan on the mobile-ad bandwagon. Twitter has linked MoPub, the mobile-ad exchange it purchased last September, with its ad-buying platform so customers can push ads to a range of properties. And Google, the dominant player in the space, still offers AdMob as a way to monetize mobile apps. A number of smaller players, including Hunt and Millennial Media, are competing in this market as well.
Start tracking what you accomplish rather than what needs doing for a counterintuitive productivity boost.
Perhaps this complaint of top VC Marc Andreessen sounds familiar:
"[Y]ou know those days when you’re running around all day and doing stuff and talking to people and making calls and responding to emails and filling out paperwork and you get home and you’re completely exhausted and you say to yourself, 'What the hell did I actually get done today?'"
As every business owner (and, apparently, VC) knows, busyness does not necessarily translate into a sense of accomplishment. Many of us respond to this problem with that trusty tool, the to-do list. If we could just prioritize our tasks properly, we think, so nothing falls through the cracks or unexpectedly disturbs us, certainly we’ll get more done.
How’s that working out for you?
That’s the question asked by a new ebook from productivity startup iDoneThis. It suggests entrepreneurs make a simple substitution for the ineffective, anxiety-inducing to-do list: Try using a ‘Done List’ instead. By the company’s name, you can probably guess iDoneThis might have a stake in advocating the idea, but the book makes a compelling case for why a done list beats a to-do list any day.The Problem With To-Do Lists
If personal experience hasn’t already convinced you that what’s on your to-do list and what you actually spend your time doing rarely line up, then iDoneThis has plenty of statistics to prove it to you. Data collected from the company’s productivity app show that 41 percent of to-do list items never get done, and only 15 percent of completed tasks were ever on a to-do list in the first place. Thanks to their dismal performance as depots for tasks in progress, to-do lists end up being a warehouse of the uncompleted and a continuous source of worry that we’re not accomplishing enough.
"Psychologists Robert Emmons and Laura King discovered that the anxiety that results from having too many conflicting goals causes our productivity as well as our physical and mental health to suffer," reports the book, "so the to-do list gives and takes. It helps us remember the many things we have to tackle. At the same time, it’s a nagging tool that can induce unhealthy, disarming anxiety."A Better Way
The solution to this problem recommended by Andreessen is the same as the one recommended by iDoneThis--dump the to-do list and replace it with a record of all your small wins and achievements instead. As Andreessen explains, using this technique means that "[e]ach time you do something, you get to write it down and you get that little rush of endorphins that the mouse gets every time he presses the button in his cage and gets a food pellet."
That sounds like a waste of time, you might object. Why would I want to spend time writing down things I’ve already accomplished? But research discussed in the ebook testifies that Andreessen is onto something. Spending a few moments reflecting on what you achieved ends up making you more productive in the end by juicing your energy levels.
"It seems counterintuitive to spend extra time to do one more thing--but taking stock of what you’ve accomplished provides critical fuel. Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer, authors of the incisive The Progress Principle, pored over 12,000 daily work diary entries and were surprised to find out that making progress--even small wins--on meaningful work is the most powerful motivator," reports the book.
If a to-do list is an energy suck, "your done list will energize you," concludes the ebook.
Will you give the idea a try?
Business success in the era of digital transformation requires a thorough understanding of the digital customer experience (DCX). Businesses that embrace digital transformation, according to Gartner, will be able to spot opportunities and act in a matter of seconds. On the other hand, companies that fail to adopt new digital technologies will face what MIT Sloan Management Review and Capgemini Consulting foresee as competitive obsolescence.
A new research report, Digital Transformation: Why and How Companies are Investing in New Business Models to Lead Digital Customer Experiences, by Brian Solis, with Charlene Li and Jaimy Szymanski of Altimeter Group, defines digital transformation and presents the related business challenges and opportunities. The report is the result of interviews with 20 digital strategists and executives at 14 of the world’s leading brands conducted from September 2013 through February 2014.
The findings of the new Altimeter report are in close alignment with my discussions with Perry Hewett, the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) of Harvard University and the first CDO in higher education, about the Six Tips for Tackling Digital Transformation. Perry stressed the need for a high-performance digital team, while simultaneously making digital everyone’s job. John Hagel, co-chairman of Deloitte’s Center for the Edge, warns about the dark side of digital transformation and recommends asking the right questions and cultivating influence through trust to smooth the process of digital transformation.
The infographic below highlights the key findings of the Altimeter report, articulating the benefits of digital transformation, and offering a change agent’s agenda. You can check your progress toward full digital transformation with our 50 Digital Marketing Metrics. Another measure of how far a business has progressed toward digital transformation is the notion of Digital IQ as advanced by PricewaterhouseCoopers. These provide excellent companion pieces to the new Altimeter study for companies serious about digital transformation.
If you don't have these systems, you probably don't know Jack. Master coach Jack Daly puts you on track for a great culture with these four critical processes.
You can't have a successfully growing company without a solid, sustainable culture. Master coach Jack Daly has finally put the keys to building an incredible culture into his wonderful new book, Hyper Sales Growth: Street-Proven Systems & Processes; How to Grow Quickly & Profitably.
Management is often told to build a great culture, but do they really understand what it means to do so?
Daly clearly defines culture as the unique personality of your company--the people, the environment, the "feel." Great companies build it with intention, because, as Daly says: "You can't fake culture." Culture does more to bring great people in, keep them there, keep them happy, and keep them working longer and more productively than any other factor. Daly points out that to have a successful business you must create an environment where people want to go to work vs. have to go to work. Daly's motto: "Put the F word back in business. Make it FUN."
Daly rightly observes that many business leaders will design and articulate an ideal culture but never actually install the systems and processes needed to make sure it gets started and is upheld. Below are the four systems Daly says you need to build a killer culture.
1. Systems for Recognition
Daly explains that the people who work in your company should feel recognized and valued, from the very first day they start work. He suggests you should never start new people on a Monday, when things are unorganized and hectic. Instead, bring them in when things are humming and make their first day a day to remember.
With your existing staff, small but regular gestures go a long way. Recognizing milestones, achievements, and good efforts at any opportunity is sure to make someone feel valued and connected to the company. Recognition doesn't need to be expensive, but it needs to be personal. Make sure you tie your rewards as best you can to desired actions. As Daly says: "You get the behavior you recognize and reward." Imagine if today an outsider stood in front of your employees and asked, "By a show of hands, how many of you are overly recognized?" Put systems in place that ensure a full room of hands up.
If you can only do one thing differently tomorrow, Daly says: "Recognize the people you work with directly and win their hearts."
2. Systems for Communication
Many companies get by, day after day, without building specific communication systems. But as companies grow, this approach results in people problems and systemic breakdowns. A top complaint employees make in HR surveys is "I wish I knew more about what was going on."
Lack of consistent information breeds confusion, fear, and resentment. Daly advocates establishment of some simple systems of communication between management and employees that will get everyone on the same page. Teams and departments should check in daily. There should be larger monthly, quarterly, and annual check-ins. Establish policy and practice where bad or difficult news is proactively brought to the table. Daly preaches that the best policy is to shoot straight and don't spin. Most importantly he points out that everyone must learn to listen: "We've heard it often: two ears, one mouth, for a reason."
If you can only do one thing differently tomorrow, Daly says: "Shut down your inner voice and start being an active listener."
3. Systems for Personal and Professional Development
Daly says potential employees want to know why (besides a paycheck) they should come to work in your company and current employees need to know why should they stay. The best people see their careers as more than just salary and perks. They care about the overall experience they're going to have while working each day. They want the opportunities for growth and development that can only be fostered in a growth-oriented work environment.
Great employees want to become smarter and more productive in their careers. Their objectives are aligned with yours, so make the investment in them. Construct or pay for training that makes your employees better at their technical and people skills. Invest the time and money to cultivate your employees and you'll end up with skilled and loyal management that will happily expand the company for decades.
If you can only do one thing differently tomorrow, Daly says: "Discover the visions each of your employees have, and work to blaze a path for them."
4. Systems for Empowerment
Daly explains how you can leverage the growth of your business by empowering your people. He stresses that a growing company needs active decision making by everyone, not just the CEO. But it's not as simple as telling people to make decisions. If they don't feel confident they have tools and authority, they will hold back and defer back up the ladder.
Daly says: "To truly empower your employees, you must create an environment where people feel comfortable making decisions, as if they were the owner." It's hard to build this empowerment all at once. If your culture is clearly defined and aligned, your people will know what action to take.
Every time you give over authority, your employees grow stronger. If they are rewarded for taking right action on their own, that behavior will expand. Put protective systems in place giving them the opportunity to fail safely so they can learn from error.
If you can only do one thing differently tomorrow, Daly says: "Give people power to succeed and fail on their own so they learn and grow."
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Those first few hours after the weekend are critical. Start your week off right.
Monday mornings are the most critical time of the workweek, as they set the stage for the day and week ahead.
"Because you've stepped away for a couple days, these back-to-work mornings are the most memorable for the rest of the week," says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job. "They influence your mindset in a positive or negative way, depending on what actions you decide to take."
Most successful people are keenly aware of the typical Monday morning workplace dynamic of unanticipated events, overflow of communications, and general chaos. "But after weathering hundreds of them, they realize they must gain control and stay upbeat," Taylor explains. "They take extra steps to compensate for this busy time of the week, and apply their best management skills to ensure that the day unfolds as smoothly as possible."
Here are 15 things successful people do on Monday mornings:They wake up early and exercise.
This gets your circulation going and helps you stay alert, putting you at an advantage for a productive week ahead. "You'll get your endorphin rush, which will help your mood, too," Taylor explains.They eat a healthy breakfast.
On Monday morning, you want to handle everything you have control over. Eating breakfast is one of those things. "You don't want to be staring at the clock, awaiting lunchtime as your stomach growls at morning meetings," she says.They arrive early.
Do not succumb to the snooze button. "Commutes are bad on Monday, so beat the odds," Taylor says. Plus, getting in earlier than others will help make Monday morning seem more like the afternoon, because you'll have had a chance to breathe before responding to the barrage of people and issues. "Being an early bird will give you some wiggle room for the unexpected at work, not to mention any important personal matters that may arise," she says.They clear their desk and desktop.
"Hopefully you already did this before you left on Friday," Taylor says. "But if you didn't, get this out of the way, or you might add to Monday stresses in a sea of disorganization." Organize and prioritize your files. Put aside unimportant paperwork, and keep critical files easily accessible. You want to be prepared when you, your boss, or colleagues need something at the last minute.They carve out time for unexpected projects and tasks.
Successful individuals expect the unexpected on Monday, she says. "Your boss, team members, or staff may have remembered some loose ends over the weekend," she says, "so you're wise to build in some extra downtime on Monday morning."They greet their team and boss.
This is important to do first thing every morning to keep morale high, but on Monday it's particularly valuable, as your team needs a special boost. "Ideally, you'll spend an few extra minutes with your colleagues on Monday mornings," Taylor explains. "It reinforces a sense of purpose and community for everyone, including you."They update their to-do list and goals.
"Get yourself current on priorities and tasks," Taylor suggests. Then set five to eight goals for the week.
"Accomplished professionals have several goals in mind for the day and week," she says. "They know that if all goals aren't achieved, they can take pride in accomplishing most of them, and there's next week to achieve additional objectives."They visualize the week's successes.
By envisioning the positive outcomes of various projects at hand, you can work backwards and determine the necessary steps to get your desired results.They screen emails for urgent requests.
You can sink into email oblivion if you don't scan your inbox for urgency, Taylor says. "Star emails that are priorities, and think quality, not quantity," she says.They tackle the tough challenges first.
The least desirable but critical projects are easy to put off, but your energy is stronger in the morning, so that's the ideal time to confront the most difficult assignments.They make an extra effort to smile.
"It might be the last thing on your mind, but overcompensating for the pressure-cooker morning will help you get through it," she says. You may well stand out in the crowd, but your smile will likely be contagious, helping both you and team members relax.They add a "blanket of humanity" to their emails.
It's tempting to power through all your emails in the most efficient way on Monday mornings. But before you hit Send, read them over to ensure that they're friendly and clear. "Put yourself in the recipient's shoes," Taylor says. "It's relatively easy to appear curt when you're in a hurry, along with the impersonal nature of emails and texts. You want to mitigate false starts and misinterpretations." One way to do this: Start the email by saying "Hi" and "I hope you had a great weekend."They're able to say no.
"On Monday mornings, there will be many distractions--from people to emails to calls, meetings, offers for meeting in the break room, and so forth," Taylor explains. "Successful people can diplomatically and politely say no to colleagues by offering to engage at a later time."
If your boss needs you, that is clearly an exception. However, if you have crucial calls to make or meetings to attend, give your boss the heads-up. "It's stressful to be a people pleaser, particularly on Monday mornings," she says. "Generally, no one ends up being pleased, as you can't do your best work with conflicting priorities."They stay focused.
Successful people don't dwell on any challenging events that occurred over the weekend or other frivolous thoughts. "Compartmentalize by putting them in a separate box as you start your week," she says.They remember that there is Tuesday.
"In all the chaos, it's easy to believe that the world will cave if you don't solve all Monday's problems on Monday," she says. "But when the dust settles at the end of the day, you may realize that certain tasks could have waited." Sometimes, you obtain more information over time that enhances your decision-making process. Or you may find that certain problems you're pondering will resolve themselves.
Monday morning can challenge even the most industrious, successful business leaders. "But if you compensate for all the anticipated distraction and intensity by remembering to focus, plan, and stay calm, you won't relive Monday all over again on Tuesday," Taylor concludes.
Lots of people talk about doing good in their community. But the Mars Agency actually follows through on it.
A lot of companies want to do good in the world, and offer official social-justice platforms and the like.
But the Mars Agency does more than just say it believes in helping the community--it actually does.
The agency's senior copywriter, Debbie Feit, spent a month volunteering for two charities, the Association for Children's Mental Health in Michigan and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. To her, the experience was more than a way to get press but a way to demonstrate that the things that mattered to her also mattered to the company.
As a writer, she helped the Association for Children's Mental Health request grants, overhaul a brochure, edit a document on the juvenile justice system, and generate ideas for its newsletter. These things couldn't have been done in just a few hours, which is what most busy people believe they have to spare. Her monthlong sabbatical allowed her to truly do good.
The company program began in November 2011 in conjunction with the Mars Agency's 40th anniversary. The firm decided to give back to the community by launching a Corporate Responsibility Program that includes three pillars: community involvement, a formalized wellness program, and formalized training for doing good.
In 2013, the company began offering employees the opportunity to take monthlong sabbaticals so long as the Martians, as they're called, felt the goal was worthwhile, according to Rob Rivenburgh, COO of the Mars Agency. Thirty-five employees put together presentations on what their sabbatical would entail, which management pared down to 10 and then asked every office to review. Of those 10 projects, the higher-ups decided on four. Feit's service was among them, but here are some others that stood out.
Kasia Koziatek, a manager of client service in Detroit, recently returned to work after spending time at an orphanage in Peru, where she offered support and one-on-one attention to children there.
Launch of Doodlegooder
Tom Drennen, a creative director based in Detroit, is launching an organization meant to inspire creatives to come together to reclaim their doodles and submit them to Doodlegooder, which will deliver them to children who need a little joy.
Clearwater Camp for Girls Scholarship Fund
Mary Evans, vice president of strategic planning in the agency's Detroit office, plans to provide marketing and PR support. The project will help girls of all financial standings learn not just about themselves but about others and foster a love of nature.
You may be wondering how all of this will benefit the Mars Agency, and your company, if you were to try it. As Rivenburgh says, "It's all about the Martians. If our people are happy, the clients will be happy, and the money will follow. It's all about people being all in and invested in the Martian community. We hired this time a full-time trainer for training and development. That's a pretty big commitment. It's all about the people."
As you can see, this goes for the people outside the company, too.
Everyone wants an office culture where employees pitch in without being asked. Here are some concrete ways to encourage the behavior.
Restaurant drive-throughs--of all things--can be uncommonly friendly places. At a Tim Horton’s in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a customer spontaneously paid for the order of the person behind her in December 2012. That person turned around and paid for the next customer, spurring a chain of 226 people to "pay it forward." Similar, albeit shorter chains, have appeared at other Tim Horton's and at Chick-fil-A and Heav'nly Donuts drive-throughs.
But if you’re not in the fast-food business--or even if you are--how do you create a culture of spontaneous generosity? Everyone wants an office culture in which people step up to the plate without being asked, but there are a few key elements of paying it forward that make it hard to adapt such thinking to a business setting.
For paying it forward to really take hold, current research suggests, the initial good deed has to be anonymous, and the people in the community shouldn't know each other. Yet other people in the community have to have some way of finding out that the good deed has occurred in the first place, or they won't be motivated to repeat it.
I spoke with Milena Tsvetkova, a Cornell doctoral candidate studying spontaneous generosity, about how entrepreneurs can create a culture of paying it forward. Below is a condensed and edited version of our conversation.
Why does anyone pay it forward?
I think there are a few mechanisms at work. One has to do with a concept called generalized reciprocity. When someone anonymous does you a favor, you cannot return the favor directly, so you repay it to someone else. The other is simply that we're influenced by what others do. So if we see people doing favors, we're more inclined to do so ourselves. Both these mechanisms are stronger when people don’t know each other.
When you observe a good deed but don’t actually get the benefit yourself, you might do someone a favor just out of pure conformism. This is more likely to work in a situation in which there’s a lot of uncertainty. Say you start a new job, and you notice that people take turns bringing breakfast in the morning. You think, Oh, this is how things work in this office. I don’t want to be different. I’ll do what others do. I want to fit in.
Chains of paying it forward are usually started by an anonymous good deed. Does that make it particularly hard to create an office culture in which people pay it forward?
When you have an office, especially a small office, probably other factors are playing a stronger role. In an office, you're probably dealing with things such as fear of exclusion and peer pressure. People will be observed, and have a reputation, in a small office. I think that effect is stronger.
There is nothing wrong with fear of exclusion or peer pressure. If you want a nice office environment where everybody is helping everybody, fear of exclusion or peer pressure will get the job done.
Maybe in a larger office there could be a situation in which somebody anonymously helps a colleague in need, and maybe this starts a process of paying it forward.
In that case, how would other employees know a good deed had been done?
Well, in an office there is a lot of gossip. Gossip is helpful here.
Sometimes, in a closed environment, all you need is one persistent altruist that anonymously keeps on giving, and gossip. That could be enough to get one of these chains going. People don't know it's the same individual being generous. They think, Others do favors around here, and I should do it, too.
If you have a relatively stable group, if people continuously receive, at some point maybe they'll start giving.
When you say "relatively stable group," that makes me think it's harder to get employees to pay it forward if there’s high turnover. Is that correct?
Maybe. If people keep leaving, they don't have enough exposure to the pay-it-forward environment to want to contribute to it. We were trying to stimulate an office environment, but I wouldn't jump to conclusions about turnover just yet. The research hasn't been peer reviewed.
Are there any business models that use the phenomenon of paying it forward?
There are some that seem to be trying to. One is this idea of the "suspended coffee," or sospeso, in coffee shops in Italy. I know it also happens in Russia, but it started in Italy and has happened in Spain, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
The idea is that any customer can buy a coffee but not consume it. The business announces it, and generally they log these coffees on a board anyone can see. Anyone who enters the coffee shop can claim one of these suspended coffees. Lots of people claim the coffees. The coffees are meant for people who are homeless, or in economic hardship, but of course sometimes people just forget their wallet.
Generally, there’s an oversupply of coffee--more coffees are bought than claimed. That’s good for the business, of course, but mostly it's a good signal of community involvement.