A little more collaboration please!

Are you one of those entrepreneurs who feels like they are constantly looking over their shoulders to check out what the competition is doing, and then worrying about how to get ahead of them? Do you get anxious and insecure and then perhaps a little jealous when the competition seems to be doing better than you, or they get a big customer win, or they win an award for their products and service? If the answer is yes, then read on! Competition is a reality in business and it’s human nature to compare ourselves to others, but the bottom line is that if you spend precious time focusing on what your competitors are doing, constantly readjusting your own business model to react to theirs, you end up working for the competition instead of on your own business and clients. So perhaps a more radical approach is to look at collaborating rather than competing? Maybe you and your competitor have ideas or solutions to consumer problems that are two halves of the whole, and brought together could create a much bigger market changing solution? Perhaps a consumer challenge in the marketplace requires a big, innovative, out-of-the-box approach that is too big for one entrepreneur to take on alone, but could represent an incredible business opportunity for two entrepreneurs to collaborate on to find the answer?

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Take a fresh approach to customer service through social media

Do some research on social media and you will notice that it’s become the top channel for consumers in search of customer care around the products and services they buy, and yet the interesting thing is that only a fifth of businesses actually use social media as part of their customer care strategies. So for proactive and innovative entrepreneurs who want to differentiate themselves by providing a more positive and immediate customer service experience, social media could be your best friend. But you have to give thought and attention to developing your customer care strategy for social media so that it works for you, your brand, and your customers alike. You need to build effective response mechanisms on your various social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to quickly respond to your customer messages in a way that is both personal and empathetic. Customer engagement is the key here. There needs to be a customer care fact book developed for whoever is allocated the responsibility of managing your social media activity, ensuring that responses are accurate and consistent. Above all, its about engaging in a proactive and helpful conversation with your customers through social media, so that their experience with your brand is always a positive one. 

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Make time to build your own brand in your working week

We all know the story of the plumber with the leaky tap - spending hours each day fixing everyone else’s problems and then never finding the time to fix their own. As entrepreneurs it’s the same challenge when it comes to finding precious time in our working days to allocate to important tasks that will help to build our own businesses, such as working on our corporate and personal brands. Let’s face it, if we were our own client we would be allocated a set number of hours in the business each week to service the account, and the work would be delivered on time. So why do we not take our own brand building seriously enough to allocate the same precious time in our working schedules? We need to remind ourselves that our brands and what they stand for are what connect us to our customers - they are important and need to be given time to be continually developed. So the trick is to recognise this fact and block out specific time in the calendar each week to devote to those activities that help to build that brand connection, such as new product development, blog writing, product photography and social media posting, etc. Become your own client and block out the time you need to service your own brand the way it deserves.

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Find your purpose, find your customer

Every entrepreneur looks to break into their chosen market and create brands and products that resonate with customers and ultimately result in sales. But these days, customers are demanding more than just a great product and value for money, they are looking for a much bigger feel-good factor - and that’s fulfillment. They are looking to feel good about their purchasing decision, to know they are improving and adding value to their own lives and to others. As a result, these customers are looking for brands that demonstrate their higher purpose. Brands that promise to go beyond simply the functional benefits or service offered and instead genuinely add value to the lives of the customers they aim to reach. Brands that can demonstrate a higher purpose don’t simply talk about the quality of their goods or services, but rather they focus on their integrity and their desire to make the world a better place. They reach out to customers by telling a story that is emotive and connects on a bigger human level. Brands that reach out to customers by communicating their higher purpose through the power of storytelling are seen as more authentic, more human, more real. So, if you want to find your customers, and importantly want them to choose you and your brand, then find your brand purpose and start telling your own story. 

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Want to attract millennials to your brand? Share your social impact story

We all know that millennials are changing the face of business, both in the workplace and as consumers, and in the US alone it’s estimated that by 2020 they will make up 50% of all employees in the United States. This same trend is being seen around the world, and as a result, it’s becoming anything but business as usual particularly for those businesses looking to hire this new talent. According to an interesting new research study on Millennial Employee Engagement by Cone Communications, millennials are making conscious decisions on which companies to work for based on their need to seek greater purpose and to make a difference in the world. So if you are a business looking to attract the best millennial talent, then here are some insights you will need to consider:

  • 64% of Millennials consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work
  • 64% won’t take a job if a company doesn’t have strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) values
  • 83% would be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to social and environmental issues
  • 88% say their job is more fulfilling when they are provided opportunities to make a positive impact on social and environmental issue.

Millennials are also making their buying decisions based on a company’s social impact commitments. The research shows that more than nine-in-10 millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause (91%), and two-thirds use social media to engage around CSR (66%). Millennials already represent $1 trillion in buying power in the U.S. alone. So the bottom line is that if you want to impact your bottom line and attract the best talent into your business, then you need to proactively engage with millennials and ensure your social impact story is a strong one.

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Building a personal brand is key for entrepreneurs

As entrepreneurs we spend so much time, effort and money on building our business brands, creating brand personalities that are capable of connecting with the customers and audiences we are trying to attract. We devise complex brand marketing strategies that will deliver our key messages, create impactful logos that will resonate with clients, and package our products and services to connect with customers. So why is it that we tend not to expend the same amount of planning, care and effort on building our own personal brands as entrepreneurs? After all, people do business with people as the old saying goes, and as entrepreneurs we are the face and voice of our companies and our personal brands matter. Just think about how many famous entrepreneurs you could instantly bring to mind, and then reflect on just how carefully those entrepreneurs manage their personal brands and messaging in the public domain. In the eyes of customers and clients, our business brands and personal brands are inexorably linked - it’s therefore worth taking time to ensure both are carefully managed so they deliver maximum results for the business as a whole.

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Standing out as a startup brand in a crowded marketplace takes creative effort

When you are a young startup brand trying to get your products out into a marketplace which seems packed by highly established mainstream and household name brands, it can seem a little daunting to say the least. After all, those established brands have seemingly unending money to pour into product development, manufacturing, marketing, and PR, while startups are often battling just to create new product lines and package them up for the marketplace. But the fact is, competition is a reality and always will be, so the trick is to find innovative and creative ways to differentiate your brand and product offerings without breaking the bank. Create room between yourself and yourcompetitors through a strong brand personality in your space by developing a distinct design aesthetic linked to your vision. Emphasize these positive points of differentiation consistently through different marketing channels. This could be a combination of PR, digital advertising, events (attending trade shows), hosting private view events, etc. Also, look at your price point as a means of differentiation, together with your quality commitment to your customers. You might not be able to match the advertising and promotional budgets of the big players, but what you lack in funding you can make up for in creative marketing and promotion and still make that all important brand connection with your customers. 

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Practicing the art and science of pricing in your business

One of the secrets to business success is pricing your products properly, but it is also one of the trickiest things to get right - as the saying goes, pricing is part art, part science. If you can get your pricing right at the beginning, it can create a great foundation for your business, but get it wrong and it can cause huge problems for your bottom line. There are huge quantities of books and online resources to guide your reading on this subject as an entrepreneur, but a pretty reliable approach is to formulate your pricing strategy based on the following factors. Get to know your customers, monitor their buying habits and understand their price pain points. Know your operating costs and ensure you build them into your profit margins. Understand exactly what your sales targets need to be to ensure you cover all your costs and make a profit each month. Track your competition and monitor their pricing structures for similar product and service offerings. Keep on top of the marketplace, monitor upward or downward pricing shifts, and be prepared to make any adjustments where necessary. Finally, understand the pivotal relationship between quality and price, remembering that customers will often pay a premium for a higher quality of product or service. The bottom line is that there is a certain amount of flexibility in how you set your prices, but you have to be attuned to your customers and the marketplace to know what is going to be a price point that will work for everyone.

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Why the power of positive thinking in business can give you the edge

Mindset plays such a key role as an entrepreneur and if you take a look at those people who achieve great success in business and in life they tend to share positive thinking as a personal trait. Having a positive perception towards your business and the approach you take towards dealing with the inevitable challenges, failures, mistakes and criticism you will face means that you see every experience as a learning opportunity - a chance to do things differently next time, to keep improving, to keep pushing the envelope. It would be all too easy to have your confidence knocked by such challenges and to feel defeated, but a positive mindset and the ability to keep learning and moving forward is what makes the difference. As Oprah Winfrey says, “The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change by merely changing his attitude.”

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Giving your customers a new level of insight into your business through live video

Harnessing the full power of technology is a great thing when you’re an entrepreneur and when you’re looking at new and interesting ways of engaging with your customers. So the introduction of Facebook Live, Instagram Live and Periscope provides a powerful way of taking your customers right into the heart of your business to experience your products, services and brand ethos in a way that other marketing and communication techniques simply don’t offer.  These three live video streaming platforms not only give your customers a ‘behind the scenes’ look at your business and the people who deliver your products and services, but they can also provide powerful ways of introducing newly launched products to your audience, promoting events or special offerings, and to getting feedback in real time. Interaction and engagement through live video streaming on social media may seem daunting at first, but it’s a powerful new tool to connect with those you are trying to reach, and the more you engage with your customers the greater your chance of enhancing your brand connection and ultimately sales. So if you haven’t got your social media live video streaming in place as part of your overall marketing plan, then today could be a good time to get it started.

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The art of making yourself investor ready as a woman entrepreneur

Hopefully, at some point on your entrepreneurial journey, the challenge of taking the next major step to achieving high growth in your business will be top of mind, and with that comes the perennially thorny issue of getting access to capital. Even with solid financials and business plans in place, it’s essential to get ready for inevitable meetings and pitch sessions with potential investors and financiers. There are a number of things on your checklist to help you prepare for such meetings. Firstly, remember that global influencer organizations such as the IMF and the World Bank firmly believe that by increasing the participation of women in the global economy, including entrepreneurship, it would increase gross domestic product in key countries significantly. It’s worth having your macro impact story at your fingertips to tap into this sentiment. Secondly, believe in yourself and your business - you have a great story to tell, so share it with passion backed up by hard numbers. It makes for a compelling meeting. Thirdly, get to know all the decision makers you are looking to meet in the banking and investment community, and do your homework on what is a priority in their investment space right now. Fourthly, research all the potential alternative sources of funding, particularly women-led investment funds. Fifthly, choose women’s entrepreneurship organizations and networks that might open up opportunities and contacts. Finally, be confident in your business and your story, and go out and sell it to those investors who are looking to help you make an impact.

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Get used to being uncomfortable as an entrepreneur

Who ever said that life as an entrepreneur was a comfortable choice? Making the decision to embark on building a business and a brand, creating products and services that can disrupt the marketplace and make a difference, often means regularly sacrificing comfort by stepping out of your box. It can be a brave move with considerable sacrifices along the way, but on the plus side, it means you don’t have to be like others who have gone before you, accepting the way things are done or slotting into a particular notion of what an entrepreneur should be. You have the ability to create who you want to become and how you want to build a business that is unique to you. Stepping out of the box means trying different things without fear; experimenting first and implementing second; improving on what exists; constantly learning and being open to change; being an innovator not a perfectionist; sharing ideas to keep things moving; and always rewriting the rules to encourage new ideas to emerge. It may not be all that comfortable when you take this approach, but who said that being an entrepreneur and stepping out of the box of convention comes with a comfort factor. Oprah Winfrey said: “I have created a life by stepping out of the box of other people’s limitations. I call it zigging with others are zagging.” A great way of looking at life as an entrepreneur.

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Embracing eCommerce is a powerful tool for global growth

eCommerce is a growing global industry sector and particularly amongst millennials, with the total number of online shoppers in the US, one of the biggest markets, expected to reach 215 million shoppers by 2018. So here are a few statistics to get you thinking about the power of e-commerce to grow your own business. 51% of Americans prefer to shop online with 95% of them shopping online at least yearly, 80% at least monthly, 30% at least weekly and 5% daily. Almost half of these shoppers bought or spent more than they originally planned to when buying online. And, the average Gen X shopper spends 15 percent more online than a Gen Y shopper. In fact, there doesn’t appear to be any essential limit to strong and steady growth in the eCommerce sector, with overall sales volumes and other vital metrics in the field having dramatically increased each year for at least the past decade. So it stands to reason that small businesses that are not embracing eCommerce as a powerful tool for global growth going forward stand to lose out on both sales and relevancy to important consumers in the marketplace.

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Leverage what makes your brand unique

Richard Branson said: “The way a company brands itself is everything — it will ultimately decide whether or not a business survives.”  Think about iconic brands around the world and specific images come to mind that resonate on an emotional level - whether that brand represents a product, a city, or a service offering. So why do they resonate so powerfully with us? Often it’s because those brands have built personalities over time that focus on their intrinsic characteristics, and its exactly those characteristics that make them so memorable for us. Strong brand personalities could be based on a powerful founding story, or a set of values, a different approach to service delivery, or a unique corporate culture. As consumers we connect with brands because of these characteristics and the messages that are associated with them in our lives and in the marketplace. Building a successful and memorable brand takes time, takes effort, takes creative consistency to maintain, but the trick for anyone building a brand of their own as a startup is to focus on exactly what makes it unique, and leverage that uniqueness to connect with consumers.

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Build more thinking time into your daily schedule

We all know how busy our lives are as entrepreneurs and there never seems to be enough time in the day to accomplish everything we set out to do, especially finding precious time to think without interruption. So it was really interesting to read about how some of the most successful entrepreneurs manage this challenge each day, dedicating precious time in their schedules to prioritize clear thinking time - to reflect, to be creative, to innovate. Take for example Warren Buffet who famously said that he estimates spending 80% of his working day reading and thinking. Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn is another key advocate of building dedicated thinking time into the daily routine, saying “as the competitive and technological landscape continues to shift at an accelerating rate -- you will require more time than ever before to just think.” He dedicates up to two hours each day to thinking time, blocking out his schedule to ensure no interruptions. There are many more examples of successful entrepreneurs who look at thinking time as essential in their daily routines - maybe it’s something we should all consider as not just a ‘nice to have’ but a ‘must have’ in our lives.

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Creating a positive startup culture starts with you!

How many times do we read stories of hugely successful startups where the founder’s inspiration came from a desperate need to escape stifling corporate culture set in stone by bureaucratic business leaders? Just think of Silicon Valley and the tech startups that have revolutionized the way we do things and the way we work today. Startups are the places where things can be done differently, where there is freedom of expression, where fresh ideas are encouraged. But this only happens when the culture is led by example from the top, by the founders. In any company or organisation, employees tend to take their cues from those who create the vision, those who set the tone. So, as a simple example, if as a founder you take a really relaxed approach to work attire and jeans and T Shirts are the order of the day, then this will send a message to the rest of your team that this relaxed dress environment is acceptable and will encourage them to follow suit. In the same way, if as a founder you are collaborative in your approach to solving problems or tackling new challenges and welcome the ideas of others in the team, then chances are your employees will do the same. As founders, the way we behave sets the tone for the business and tends to shape the actions of everyone else - so creating a positive startup culture definitely starts with us. 

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Specialization and getting the edge in business

As entrepreneurs we all know that there is a lot of competition out there, lot’s of companies and brands vying for the attention of would-be customers, lot’s of marketing noise. The trick is finding a way to stand out from the crowd, and one of those ways is to position yourself and your business as a specialist. Increasingly, discerning consumers are looking to make purchasing decisions based on a company or brand’s ability to deliver a truly great experience, not just a world-class product, due to their status as a specialist. Whether it’s a chocolatier creating exquisite handmade chocolates using only the finest local ingredients that celebrate a particular region or country; or a perfumier creating memorable, pure fragrances that use essential oils and natural ingredients sourced from one specific location; or a translation services company specializing in African languages, to name but a few. So if you really want to differentiate yourself and your business in the marketplace, look to accentuate your specialism and talk to your specific target market instead of trying to focus on being all things to all people.

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Make this the year you get more organized

If you are one of those entrepreneurs who starts each year off by promising to get more organized in order to reduce some of the every day stresses and strains and save time, then it seems you are not alone. Yet the time wasted through disorganization could be so better used in your business, after all time is money! So if you feel the need to bring some organization into your life, then here are five simple steps to getting started. Firstly, change your attitude and motivate yourself to do things differently - think about what you will be able to achieve with all the extra time you will now have just by being more organized. Secondly, set your goals and make a list of what you need to do as a priority, then break that list down into smaller actions that can be achieved in bite-sized pieces instead of big daunting tasks. Thirdly, set strict deadlines for the completion of each mini task and closely monitor your progress as you go. Fourthly, reward yourself for each major task completed. Finally, make this approach part of your everyday business life - you now have a game plan to get more organized each and every day.

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Lose the hard sell and tell your brand story instead

There has been lots of talk over the past few years about harnessing content marketing to connect customers with brands. And, it’s certainly been seen that if you want to really engage with customers, there is nothing more powerful than storytelling to share authentic and honest stories that resonate with those customers, sharing how your business was born and what it stands for. These days, the hard selling of products and services is becoming exactly that - hard - and with target markets such as millennials, it is somewhat of an alien concept. Storytelling and connecting at an emotional level with potential customers is a really powerful marketing tool that people can relate to at a human level. It stands to reason that if everyone in your company and team knows and tells your brand story consistently, customers will better relate to it, and as a result, feel they are buying products and services that align to their own personal values and interests. So, spend time writing and sharing your brand story with everyone that is an ambassador for your company and brand, and use that story to make that vital emotional connection with your current and future customers.

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Why self belief and perseverance can quieten the doubters

If you are a sports fan you may have been inspired this last weekend by the incredible display oftrue sportsmanship at the Canadian Open Tennis Tournament as two legends of the game (Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal) battled it out for the trophy. At the beginning of the tournament, no-one would have betted on either of these players being in the final, with talk of both being well past their prime having battled serious injuries and set backs in recent months and years.  Yet their own individual self belief, pure perseverance and quiet determination to just focus on one game at a time, one competitor at at time through the tournament programme, beating the biggest names in the game right now, got them both to the final - and what a final it was! Roger Federer, the older player of the two, came out tops on the day after one of the most brilliant displays of tennis and sportsmanship in the history of the game. What was perhaps most memorable about the whole occasion was the lesson given to all the doubters who had written off the chances of these two once titans of the game being able to compete at the highest level any more and win major tournaments. It proves that self belief and perseverance are everything, something as entrepreneurs we can all learn and take-away from this example.

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