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Countdown: Skill #3 Creativity

Countdown: Skill #3 Creativity

The first blog post in this series ( http://bit.ly/2v8mXJm ) I listed the top ten skills necessary if you are to triumph in the ongoing upheaval in the worldwide job market.  Today, I want to discuss the #3 skill, Creativity.

 

 

Why is Creativity so Important?

 

There is one simple reason why creativity as a skill is so much in demand.  Robots and software technology can’t do it.  Here is one area where human beings can beat the bots.  Every time.

Freelancers need this skill to solve problems with new programs and procedures.  Clients and different departments implementing new programs and services will require new solutions to problems that arise.

I have a favorite saying I think sums up the need for creativity in the business world.  It comes from General George Patton, the famous tank corps commander in World War II. “The best battle plan in the world isn’t worth a damn after the first shot is fired.”

General Dwight Eisenhower also weighed in on this subject when he said, “Plans are useless, but planning is essential.”

Freelancers know this.  When it all goes to hell, you’re going to have to get creative and think your way out of it.

 

How Can You Define Creativity?

 

I admit this is hard.  Creativity is one of those things that everyone knows when they see it, but find it difficult to define.

Let’s take a shot at it.  Creativity is:

  • The ability to think outside the box.
  • Coming up with something that’s never been done before.
  • Applying old methods in new ways.
  • Perceiving the world in new ways.

There are more.  Here is a link taking you to a Copyblogger Post with 21 different definitions of creativity ( http://bit.ly/2jEEKTH ).  (Hint… the list starts about halfway through the post).

 

Can I learn to be more creative?

 

How many times have you heard it?  “I’m just not a creative person.”

Wanna bet?  Actually, we all start out being very creative, and then we unlearn it.  In 1968, a man by the name of George Land devised a test to measure creativity ( http://bit.ly/2ykJSzE ).  He then gave the test to 1600 children, age 3 to 5 years, enrolled in a Head Start Program.  The results were amazing.  The 5-year-old kids scored 98% on the creativity test.  He retested the same kids 15 years later.  Guess where they scored? 12%.  Adults given the same test scored 2%.

This means our society is teaching us to unlearn creativity.

So it’s really not an issue of learning to be more creative.  It’s remembering how to be as creative as we once were.

The common misconception is that creativity belongs to artists, writers, musicians, and maybe a few computer geeks.   Nothing could be further from the truth.  We are all creative. Like all skills, it is one where proficiency is gained by practice.

Remember the old joke? A kid carrying a violin case goes up to a cop in New York City and asks, “How can I get to Carnegie Hall?”  The cop looks at the kid and says, “Practice, practice, practice.”

The best part is improving creativity is fun. A lot of fun.

 

I’m Sold. Where Can I go to Learn?

 

Online of course.  Google “Learn to be Creative.”  You’ll get more than a million results.

Now as for books?  One of the best I have ever read on this subject is “The Artists Way, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity,” by Julia Cameron.  I read this book when it first came out over 25 years ago when I wanted to begin developing my writing skills.  I have reread at least 3 times since then.  Don’t be put off by the title.  This book is considered the seminal book on creativity.  It’s for people in every walk of life seeking to enhance their creativity skills.  There is also a great workbook that goes along with it I would recommend as well.

I have included links below if you would like to get these outstanding books. (Full disclosure, I am an Amazon Affiliate)

 

Countdown: Skill #4 People Management

Countdown: Skill #4 People Management

In the first blog post in this series ( http://bit.ly/2v8mXJm ), I listed the 10 critical skills you will need to succeed in the upheaval taking shape now in the worldwide job market.  Today I want to discuss Skill #4, People Management.

 

Why is People Management so Important?

 

People management has always been an important skill to possess.  In the coming chaos in the job market, it will become even more vital.  As robots and software technology continue to replace people in the work force,  human judgement becomes more and more critical.

As a Freelancer, you will be involved in complex projects.  These projects will employ teams of highly skilled and intelligent people.  These teams may consist of company employees and/or other Freelancers.  And…the one thing you will all be required to bring to the table is human judgment.  It’s the one thing robots and software cannot do.

 

What Does Good People Management Consist of?

 

If there was one word I could use to sum up good people management it’s engagement.

Did you know according to Gallup research, 51% of the American workforce is not engaged?  This means they are indifferent to their job or don’t like their work.  ( http://bit.ly/2wVIZik  ).  So, the first task of any manager is to get his team engaged.

 

How do I Get People Engaged?

 

The hypothetical situation here is you are Freelancer managing a team of Freelancers completing a project for a company.  Here is how I would do it.

  • Be clear about the purpose of the project. What is special about it? Why is it important? Freelancers tend to pick their jobs. If you can show how working on this project would enhance their career or professional development you’ll be way ahead.
  • Set expectations. Let them know exactly how they fit into the team and what they are expected to do.  Show them how what they do is critical to the project’s success. Let them know you are counting on them.
  • Let them know you have their best interests at heart. Freelancers want to know they are in a situation where they can do what they do best.
  • Ask for their opinions.  And…really listen.  Reward innovation.  Value feedback.  Give plenty of feedback to them. Remember if you want to get people engaged, you have to be engaged.
  • Give lots of praise.  But, be genuine.  Too much praise can come off sounding phony
  • Figure out ways to make it fun.

Freelancers build teams.  Let your team members know if they do a good job, you’ll be sure to ask them back on the next gig you get. People love working for a well-functioning team.

Freelancers need to know they are getting paid well.  Remember companies can save up to 30% of labor costs (payroll taxes, fringe benefits, etc.) by hiring Freelancers. What kind of revenue will this completed project generate for the company?  Set your prices accordingly.  The better the pay, the higher the talent you’ll be able to attract.

 

Where can I go to learn about this?

 

Online of course.  Google “People Management Training” and take your pick.  Training resources range from free to thousands of dollars depending on what you choose.

Then there are books.  Always my favorite starting point.   One of the best is Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”

Another excellent book is “Bringing out the Best in People” by Aubrey Daniels.

See links below to order these fine books. (Full disclosure, I am an Amazon affiliate.)

The main point here is to start now.  Assess your leadership skills and figure out what you need to improve. The People Management skill is ranked #4 for a reason.  If you need improvement in this area, the sooner you start, the better.

 

Countdown: Skill #6 Emotional Intelligence

Countdown: Skill #6 Emotional Intelligence

In my original post in this series ( http://bit.ly/2v8mXJm ), I listed the 10 skills critical to your success as a Freelancer in the growing upheaval of the worldwide job market.  Today I’m going to discuss Emotional Intelligence, #6 in the series.

 

Emotional Intelligence is Important Because?

 

It is one of the essentials of leadership (there’s that word again).  Yes, as a future Freelancer, you are expected to be a good leader.  Part of your job will be the bringing together of disparate groups who need to get along if your projects are going to succeed.  In order to do this, you need to develop your Emotional Intelligence skills.

Emotional Intelligence (also referred to as EI in this post) is linked to your own success.  Studies show 90% of top performers are high in EI.

Emotional Intelligence also leads to personal happiness and achievement.

 

4 Core Skills Comprise EI

Self Awareness

Self Awareness is defined as the ability to perceive our own emotions and your reactions in given situations.

What gets you excited?  What angers or frustrates you?  How and when do you show your emotions?  How does showing your emotions affect others? In what ways?

Knowing how you react emotionally in any given situation and staying aware of those emotions as they happen is the key here.

Self-Management

Here is the best definition of self-management I have found. It’s the first two lines of Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “If”.  “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you.”

Self-management is the ability to stay calm, cool, and collected.  Not allowing others to derail, distract, or disrupt your leadership in any given situation.

Social Awareness

Social awareness is the ability to pick up on how other people feel and why they feel that way.

It’s also developing a high sense of empathy which is the ability to understand the other person’s situation.  Add to this, the ability to meet the needs of clients and customers.

 

Relationship Management

 

Relationship management is bringing it all together.  It’s the ability to listen to all sides, using your awareness of  your own and others emotions to reach agreement. It’s applying creativity to a collaborative decision so that decisions are made from the bottom up. It’s also using clear communication to resolve conflict and build lasting bonds.

Relationships develop over time by frequency and depth of contact with others. The idea here is to build networks of individuals you can use to further your Freelancing practice, and better serve your clients.

 

Where Can I Learn About Improving My EI?

 

If you’ve been following my blogs, you’ll know the first place I always start is with books.  Start with Amazon, your local bookstore, or your local library.  One excellent book on the subject I found is Ian Tuhovsky’s Emotional Intelligence.  It’s an excellent guide to understanding and improving your EI.  There are also some nice freebies at the end. I’ve included a link below if you’d like to order this book. (Full disclosure, I am an Amazon Affiliate.)

Check online for courses.  If you Google “Courses in Emotional Intelligence”, you’ll find everything from University Courses leading to leadership certification to seminars to free online training.

 

When Should I Start?

 

Today!  The upheaval in the world job market is already underway.  Software technology and robots are replacing people at an ever increasing pace.  Forbes estimates 50% of the labor force will be Freelancers by 2020 ( http://bit.ly/2tfLsjq ). This is good news for you, but only if you act now so you are ready to take advantage of the shift.

One more thing.  If you’d like to read the full text of Rudyard Kipling’s Poem IF, click here ( http://bit.ly/2irfa3X ).  Ladies I apologize in advance for the poem’s tilt toward the male gender.  Kipling wrote it in 1895 when social norms were far different

 

 

 

Countdown: Skill #7 – Judgment & Decision-Making

Countdown: Skill #7 – Judgment & Decision-Making

In my original blog in this series (http://bit.ly/2v8mXJm), I said there were 10 skills critical to your future success in the coming turbulent job market.  Today I want to discuss skill # 7, judgment and decision-making.

 

 

The Importance of Judgment & Decision-Making Skills

 

Futurist Thomas Frey estimates 2 Billion (that’s Billion with a capital B) jobs will be lost by 2030 worldwide. (http://bit.ly/2w4whhN) Those jobs will be lost to robots and software technology.  There will also be lots of new jobs created.  But…the new jobs will require a skill robots and software don’t have.  Human judgment and making the decisions arising out of those judgments.

Your job as a future Freelancer will be to make those judgments and decisions for your clients. And…this will be one of the most sought after skills.

You could be called upon to decide:

  • Whether a program or service will even work for your client.
  • If the program or service is desirable, how will it be integrated?
  • What departments or divisions will fill new roles?
  • What existing jobs may be eliminated or repurposed?
  • Who will be responsible for the maintenance and updating of the new programs?

As you can see, the possibilities are almost endless.

 

Please define Judgment and Decision-Making

 

Judgment is the ability to evaluate a situation as objectively as possible.  Typically this will involve:

  • Defining the challenge or opportunity
  • Coming up with a list of possible solutions.
  • Listing pros and cons of each solution.

Decision-Making is: Choosing a solution and implementing it.

Sounds simple, right?

Ah, if it were only that easy.

There are a few other elements involved, such as:

  • Taking risks
  • Having the courage to put a decision into play
  • Admitting you’re wrong if it doesn’t work.
  • Gathering feedback to try again.

 

Often This Whole Process is Defined as Leadership

 

“Wait a minute!” I hear you say.  “If I’m a Freelancer, why do I have to be a leader?”

Any one who has ever been in the military will tell you; leaders exist at every level.  From the smallest unit of 3 people, to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, someone is always in charge.

As a Freelancer, you will be responsible for integrating and coordinating many things.  That means you will be leading. You should be confident in your ability to do research, implement it, and manage conflict amongst others.  You need to be a keen observer, able to spot difficulties early before they grow into a crisis.  This requires an action orientation and an assumption of risk.

The distressing part of this whole thing is that research shows most people make decisions based on emotion.  Then they try to justify that decision with logic.

It will be up to you to show your clients a better way.

 

Where Can I go to Learn About Judgment?

 

Lots of places.  As always, there are books.  One of the best I have found is by Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis titled Judgment, How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls. This book deals mainly with senior leadership in large organizations. It is still a good tutorial for developing the skills needed for good judgment. Plus, there’s a nifty handbook included at the end.  There is a link below if you would like to buy this book. (Full disclosure, I am an Amazon Affiliate)

There are also lots of courses available.  Just Google “Decision-Making Courses” and a ton of choices will come up.

Finally, there’s plain old everyday practice.  We all make decisions.  Lots of them, every single day.  Some turn out well, others not so much.  Analyze the good ones.  What did you do right?  Learn from the bad ones.  What could you have done better or differently?

The important thing is to start now.  The better you are, the more prepared you will be when that Freelancing opportunity appears.

 

 

How Freelancers Will Change the Economy

How Freelancers Will Change the Economy

There is no doubt.  Freelancing will be the future of the American worker.  The shift is all ready underway.  Here is a great article from Vivian Gianga at Fast Company explaining why.

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5 Major Ways Freelancers Will Change The Economy By 2040

The 9-to-5 job is dying. But what will an increasingly independent workforce mean for the economy?

BY VIVIAN GIANG4 MINUTE READ

Traditional work is dying.

By 2040, the American economy will be “scarcely recognizable,” according to a new report published by the Roosevelt Institute and the Kauffman Foundation.

We’ve seen glimpses of the looming changes already: freelancers now make up 34%–that’s 53 million people–of the U.S. workforce, according to a 2014 survey by Edelman Berland. In the next 25 years, this shift will accelerate in a major way towards entrepreneurship, independent contracting, and “peer-to-peer” work on platforms like TaskRabbit. Additionally, there will be major diversification of entrepreneurship as new platforms like crowdfunding and relocalized production become increasingly popular.

As traditional jobs wane, there will be some growing pains. “It’s going to put major strains on our public fiscal system,” says Dane Stangler, vice president of research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation. “We’ve built all of our massive entitlement programs–whether it’s social security for retirement or health care systems or unemployment insurance or whatever–around this notion of a fixed job.”

As we veer from this traditional work model, Stangler says the government will end up losing major payroll taxes, and that’s going to create challenges for our fiscal system unless some “very significant policy adaptations” are made.

He warns: “There’s a whole ripple effect if this is going to be an actual and growing part of the economy.”

The report, which includes insights from 30 economists, technologists, policy makers, and entrepreneurs, focuses on four main topics: the future of work, the future of technology, the future of entrepreneurship, and the future of inequality. Below are five changes to expect from America’s next economy:

1. WORK WILL CONSIST OF MANY “SHORT-TERM” ASSIGNMENTS

It used to be that having a job meant security and success for Americans. Since the recession, the idea that a good job is the centerpiece of the “good economy” was proven wrong, as people realized having a good job doesn’t equate to job security.

A career will be composed of thousands of short-term assignments spread out over a lifetime.

By 2040, the job market will consist of part-time assignments, portfolio careers, and entrepreneurialism. Instead of day-in, day-out work consisting of much of the same responsibilities, a “career, then, will be composed of thousands of [short-term] assignments spread out over a lifetime,” says the report.

In other words, workers will work on short-term assignments ranging from several days to multiple years, and will become employees for their own firms. As this becomes the norm, the vast majority of job growth in 2040 will come from small businesses.

2. THERE WILL BE MORE PLATFORMS AIMED AT MITIGATING ECONOMIC RISK

As traditional jobs–with their health insurance, retirement planning, and tax withholdings–disappear, we will see more platforms and institutions develop to help workers and their families manage exigencies and mitigate risks. These platforms will meet needs in three distinct categories, according to the report:

1. Offer new means of marketing and selling goods and services, like Etsy does with handmade crafts.

2. Provide ways for workers to learn about new assignments, to qualify for and schedule assignments, to collect payments, and to meet such needs as health care, insurance, pensions, child care, and elderly care, like Task Rabbit.

3. Offer training and education programs for workers to connect with the larger market.

3. THERE WILL BE MORE TALENT AGENCIES LOOKING FOR THE STANDARD WORKER

In the past, talent agencies were reserved for performing artists and athletes, but in the next economy, talent agencies and headhunting firms will start to play a bigger role in the lives of the everyday professionals looking to further their career. The report says:

There is not a single model or clear linear path along which the platforms of the new economy will evolve, but it is evident that the profoundly different nature of jobs and work in the emerging new economy will require profoundly different platforms for organizing work and careers.

4. SMALL-BUSINESS GROWTH WILL LEAD TO A BOOST IN WAGES

The rise in self-employment will inevitably increase wages (think: you’re no longer suffering under an underpaying employer). Additionally, as the aging population retires and with a birthrate below replacement, the labor supply will decrease, which will also play a role in boosting wages.

While immigration can help meet new labor demands, it’s unlikely to stall wage growth, according to the report.

5. EVERYONE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR OWN SUCCESS

Sure, you’ll be free from an underpaying employer, but this also means your career success relies solely on you.

The report says:

In particular, workers will be forced to think constantly about their next assignment, the skills required for that assignment, and the education and credentials required to gain those skills.

There will no longer be specific guidelines or career ladders to guarantee a career trajectory. Instead, workers will have to be savvier than their predecessors, because life has gotten much more complicated.

To be successful, individuals will have to be more entrepreneurial in thinking and planning their lives, meaning constantly selling themselves, defining one’s own work, and educating themselves for future assignments. In the next economy, work may be more lucrative and fulfilling, but the idea that you’ll be professionally rewarded because you’ve been loyal to a company will be a thing of the past.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vivian Giang is a business writer of gender conversations, leadership, entrepreneurship, workplace psychology, and whatever else she finds interesting related to work and play. You can find her on Twitter at @vivian_giang.

 

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Here’s 5 Ways You Can Build Your Brand

Here’s 5 Ways You Can Build Your Brand

You’ve started a business.  Now your challenge is to build your brand to attract new customers.  Here is a great post by Annetta Powell that tells you how.

5 Effective Brand Building Strategies to Attract Customers

IN MARKETING|BY ANNETTA POWELL

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Brand building is an integral aspect of personal and business development. It not only increases the voice and consumer awareness of a brand, but it also gives it an identity and worth.  The advent of participatory and interactive platforms has given many businesses the chance to enhance brand awareness and equity. If you have been thinking of building a personal or business brand,  then it is important for you to know that brand building takes a great deal of time and resources.  In the section that follows, we shall define brand building and also look at different types of brands and the steps to create a successful brand.

What Is Brand Building?

There is no one definition that actually captures the essence of brand buildingin its entirety.  Many people think that brand building is all about communicating and exposing your brand. That is just one side of it. The best way we can define it is that it is a process of creating value to consumers.  It encompasses all things that consumers know, feel, and experience about your business in its entirety.

Having defined brand building, we shall now look at 3 popular types of brands and what they stand for.

  • Service brand- this brand is built on knowledge, culture, and experience that one has with the service delivering agency/company/people. Think of Geek Squad or Molly Maid.
  • Retail brand- this brand is built on a mixture of products and service experience. Think of Chick-fil-a, Kroger, or KFC
  • Product brand- is built on the experience that one has with a specific product. Think of Nike, Ford, or Sony.

Having looked at the 3 popular types of brands, we shall now proceed to look at steps involved in brand building.

1.) Define Your Brand

The first stage in brand building is defining your brand. This is a very critical step as it ultimately determines what your brand truly stands for. When defining your business brand, you should create a checklist of its core strengths. Similarly, if you’re defining a personal brand, you should look at the skills and expertise that you possess especially those which stand out. On the same token, you also need to know what your brand stands for and what is important for your brand (brand values). Your values should in one way or another show that you are contributing to environmental, social, and economic well-being of consumers. You may not realize some of these important aspects of brand building immediately, until you look at them objectively.

2.) Differentiate and Position Your Brand

Before embarking on brand building, you have to take time to differentiate it so that you can attract attention and stand out from competitors.  To differentiate your brand, you have to create a unique advantage in the mind of consumers not merely getting attention by brand building colors or logos or other superficial elements. Once you come up with a unique value proposition, you should use a good branding strategy to position your brand in a way that will help consumers see and appreciate the greater value of your brand over competing ones in the market.

3) Build and Expose your Brand

As I indicated earlier, brand building is not a one off thing. Building a unique and powerful personal or business brand takes time and consistency.     To build your personal brand, you have to keep reinforcing your values and skills by taking up new roles and assignments that will give you more exposure.  Alternatively, you can use promotional channels, blogs, forums, and social media (LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook) to create a voice for your personal or business brand.

When building your brand, you should also endeavor to develop brand personality (what people know, think, and say about you). This is what drives or motivates people to identify with and engage with your brand.  The truth is; if you execute your brand building strategies consistently, then you will easily establish a pattern that will forever be associated with your brand name.

4.) Personalize your Brand

If you want your brand building campaign or brand to be successful, then you have to personalize it. It is important to give your brand an identity. Let consumers see and experience the personality of your brand in its entirety. Look at your brand as something that a consumer wants to identify with pretty much as they would with their favorite cars, cellphones, or computers.

As you engage in brand building, you should also invite customers to be co-creators of brand values so that they can feel that they also own it and relate with it.  Top brands encourage consumer-brand interaction by personalizing products to meet the needs and preferences of consumers.  When you personalize your brand, you give consumers reason to participate and engage with your brand for a lifetime.

5.) Review Your Brand

Your brand is not static; it will go through a range of motions in its lifetime. Depending on your brand strategies, your brand will either grow in strength, or remain dormant, or recede with time. In the brand cycle, new events, changes, and circumstances bring challenges and opportunities to enhance the value of your brand or re-establish it. All these possibilities should give you the impetus to take charge of your brand building activities.

As your brand name grows, so do the responsibilities and expectations to continue with brand building.  The best way of ensuring brand growth is reviewing your activities and evaluating your successes through metrics such as levels of brand awareness and levels of engagements. Regular reviews will help you seize and exploit new opportunities while upholding your commitment to remain true to your vision and brand strategy. It will also help you steer your brand in the right direction and keep it relevant as you move into the future.

As you can see, brand building is not a one off thing. You have to define your brand, differentiate, present it, and review what your brand stands for from time to time. It is very important to be clear about your branding strategies and how you’re going to implement them.  You should also adopt brand strategies that will add value to your consumers and help them develop the right impression of your company and what it truly stands for.

 

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Annetta Powell

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10 Reasons a Small Business Blog is Worth it

10 Reasons a Small Business Blog is Worth it

As small business owners we wonder whether blogging is worth the time and effort.  After all, our days are filled with enough activity as it is.  Here’s a great post by Jeff Charles giving you 10 great reasons why you need to do this.

10 Important Reasons to Work Seriously On Your Small Business Blog

Jul 19, 2016 by Jeff Charles In Marketing Tips 2

 


10 Important Reasons to Work Seriously On Your Small Business Blog

 

How the heck do they do it?

You know who I’m talking about. I’m talking about those successful small business entrepreneurs who get tons of business and engagement online.

Sure, they hustle just as much as you do. They attend the same networking events. But there’s a difference.

They seem to have much more business than you do. They’re closing more deals. They’re generating more leads through their website.

So what’s the difference between you and them?

They’re probably blogging. They’re probably using their small business blog to build an online audience that is engaged with their brand.

If you’re a small business entrepreneur or solopreneur, you have probably heard of content marketing, right? No doubt you’ve heard of the importance of creating valuable content for your website. But maybe you haven’t taken that first step yet.

A small business blog is one of the most-used and effective content marketing tools at your disposal. Simply put, if you’re not blogging, you’re leaving money on the table.

Here’s some stats for you:

  • Marketers that use blogs get 67 percent more leads than those who don’t.
  • 81 percent of U.S. online consumers trust information and advice from blogs.
  • Companies that blog have 97 percent more inbound links.
  • 61 percent of U.S. online consumers have made a purchase based on recommendations from a blog.
  • 60 percent of consumers feel more positive about a company after reading custom content on its site.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you need to consider how you’re connecting with your audience. Since you might not have the huge marketing budget of a mega-corporation, you will have to use other means to build and connect with your audience.

One of the best ways to do this is by blogging. It’s been shown to be highly effective at generating quality leads for your business.

Many business owners overlook the potential rewards that blogging can provide. But you’re a savvy entrepreneur, so you’re not going to make this mistake, are you?

This post is going to give you ten benefits that a small business blog can provide for your business. When you read through this post, you will learn various ways you can use your blog to generate more business, earn more credibility and make it easier for prospects to find you online.

Why You Should Have a Small Business Blog

1. Market Research

Having a blog with many articles allows you to more effectively understand what your audience really wants. From the back end of your site, you can spy on what pages people are viewing the most, and this gives you an idea of where their interest lies. When you know what types of content perform the best, you know what types of content to continue to create.

Also, you can use your blog to request feedback from your audience. If you have an engaged following, it’s very likely that they will be happy to answer the questions you have.

2. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

As you probably know, there’s not much of a point to having a killer website if nobody can find it. One of the biggest keys to getting more traffic is making sure that people will find your site when they use search engines. As a  matter of fact, search engines are the no. 1 driver of traffic to content websites! SEO is something that you can’t ignore if you want to have a viable online presence.

The more relevant content you have on your website, the more likely it will be that you will rank for certain keywords. This is where a small business blog comes in. Consistently publishing high-quality content on your blog will do wonders for your search engine optimization efforts.

When you produce useful content, Google’s algorithms will rank your site higher. Over time, your site will make its way to the front page of search results. Not only that, but when people read high-quality content, they’re more likely to link back to it. Earning quality backlinks from other high-authority blogs will do wonders for your SEO efforts.

3. Customer Engagement

Engagement is immensely important for any online business. It’s not enough to just create great content. You also need to interact with your audience as much as you can. You can’t have any success by just talking at your audience. You need to have ongoing conversations with them. It will help you know your audience better. It will help your audience know you better.

That’s what you want.

If you enable comments on your small business blog, you can discuss topics and get feedback directly. This can tell you a lot about your customer base. Not only that. It shows your audience that you are interested in interacting with them. This will increase loyalty and help you form a deeper connection with your audience.

4. Communicating Your Mission

One of the most important components of effective branding is purpose. Connecting with your audience means embracing a unique brand perspective that can give your audience something they can connect with on an emotional level.

This is where blogging comes in.

Your blog is a place where you can communicate your brand purpose. This is important because establishing a strong brand is an important part of encouraging customer loyalty. When you communicate a brand purpose that goes beyond what you sell, it helps you stand out from your competition.

For example, if you are a business that sells vegan meat substitutes, you can express your brand’s purpose by posting animal welfare material on your site. This shows your audience that your company is focused on something more than just making money.

5. Communicating With Customers

If there’s something going on with your service — for example, there will be a planned outage or lack of availability — you don’t have to keep your clients in the dark. Having a centralized place to post announcements is extremely important because people don’t always read their email.

6. You Can Offer Promotional Material

A small business blog is also a great place to offer occasional promotions. If you already have an engaged audience that consumes your content, they will be able to see what discounts or promotions you are offering. It’s a great way to keep your customer base informed.

Sure, you can spread your coupons around Facebook, but it’s better to get into the habit of compelling your audience to visit you at your own site, especially if it’s an ecommerce site. Keep them coming back for more by posting your promotions on your blog.

Here’s a caveat: you don’t want to overdo this. While blogs can be great for offering promotions, it shouldn’t be used solely for this purpose. Most of your content should focus on offering informational value to your readers. If you only post promotional content, your audience will not continue to visit your blog.

7. Showing Your Human Side

People want to know that there are actual human beings behind the business that they buy from. Post some personal stories and talk to your customers through your blog.

This is an opportunity for you to let your personality shine through. When you’re writing blog posts, don’t smack your reader in the head with a bunch of “corporatespeak.” Nobody wants to read that. No really, they don’t!

It’s much better to write in an informal style that people can relate to. When it comes to blogging, it’s not just about what you say, it’s about how you say it.

8. You Can Become a Source of Value

The key to effective blogging is providing value. Nobody is going to read your content unless they get something out of it, right?

If you want to build influence, you have to be valuable. You can do this by providing helpful information to your readers through your blog.

Arjun Reddy, the founder of Super Baby, builds credibility with his website’s “resources” section by giving actionable tips to his visitors.

“Our visitors are parents who are looking for fun ways to help their children become smarter. The advice we give in our resources section is designed to provide helpful parenting tips for our readers.”

The reason Reddy is enjoying success is because he’s providing value up front. When you do this, you show your potential clients that you are valuable to them. That’s why content marketing works. When you’re creating content, you should be asking yourself what your reader is going to get out of that particular piece of content. Each piece of content should be designed to inform, educate, or entertain. If possible, you should do all three!

9. Networking!

When you have built an audience and gained some notoriety, it can attract other entrepreneurs to you. For an entrepreneur, networking is important, isn’t it?

If you’re able to grow your readership effectively, you will gain more credibility. This will attract other influencers in your niche. You never know who might be paying attention right?

This could lead to other opportunities for your business. You might be able to take advantage of the key relationships that you form through your small business blog.

10. Building Credibility

Having a small business blog gives you a presence in your niche. A blog is a record of quality value and experience that you are bringing to your audience. This will give you instant “street cred” when someone finds your content.

Lissette Palencia, CEO of Sleeping Angels has built a steady stream of clientele by using her blog to provide valuable information to her website’s visitors.

“As you can guess, when you run a nanny agency, your clients are parents who are concerned about the safety of their children. They want to do the research first. When they visit our website, they find tons of valuable information that helps them make the right decision for their family. Not only does it inform them, it makes them more comfortable with doing business us.”

This is essential for your business. Your blog is a tool that you can use to establish credibility in the minds of your potential clients. Prospects will read your content and gain value from it. Then, they will become far more willing to buy from you because you have already given them a significant benefit through your blog.

Conclusion

Here’s the thing. If you’re looking to expand your online presence, you need to be creating high-quality content on a consistent basis. A blog is one of the best ways to do this.

These are just a few reasons to keep a blog if you’re an entrepreneur, but there are much more. Just remember that anything that can bring value to your audience is something that you should consider adding to your business.

If you’d like to see more on this and other topics for small business owners, just sign up for my emails by filling in the form in the right hand column.

How to Find Success

How to Find Success

“You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

Zig Ziglar

Think about this simple statement.  It almost sounds too easy doesn’t it?

The great myth.

As Americans, we are all taught as children to aspire to success.  What does it really mean and how does one get it?  Is it a bigger house, nicer car, more money in the bank?  Do you have to work 16 hour days, 7 days a week, plot to destroy your competitors or anyone else that gets in your way?  This is the great American myth.  The way to happiness is paved with the accumulation of more “Stuff”.  Put another way it’s, “He who dies with the most toys wins”

What is success?

If we want to achieve something, don’t we have to define it first?  There’s an old Yogi Berra quote, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.”  So, just what is success?

First, I believe success, like happiness is an inside job.  Only you can decide what success is for you.

This is the hard part isn’t it?  There is no one arbitrary, one size fits all, definition of success.  There’s no check the block list that, once completed, earns you a certificate from the US Department of Success.

If you win the nobel prize in physics but don’t have a dime in the bank, are you a success?

Then there’s the nagging question, what happens when you get there?  Do you then “live happily ever after?”

So, What’s the Answer?

I believe success is not a place or a thing.  I believe success is a wonderful, long, never ending journey.  One that is filled with sorrows, joys, trials, tribulations, celebrations, and fascinating traveling companions.  For, if we are fortunate enough to attain success, we will not do it alone.

How do I get started?

This brings me back to Zig Ziglar’s quote that led off this article, “You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

What this means to me is that life is really about service to others.

No, I am not talking about giving away all your earthly possessions, taking a vow of poverty, and moving to a monastery.

What I am talking about is simply devoting your time to helping other people get what they want.  When you do this,  people are glad to pay you for your assistance.

I used to be a mortgage banker.  I originated residential mortgage loans for people.  What I was really doing was helping people to buy homes.  I got paid very well for helping potential home buyers get what they wanted.  At the same time, my employer wanted mortgage loans to add to their servicing portfolio.  So, by helping home buyers, I also helped my employer get what they wanted.

See what I mean?

Ask yourself, “What am I passionate about?”  Make a list of things you really love to do.

Now pick one or two things on the list and ask, “How can I take this one thing I love to do and use it to help someone else get what they want?”

It’s a two way street

When you think about it, success really is a two way street.  We can only be successful by helping someone else be successful.

Let’s look at an example.  With apologies to accountants everywhere, I’ve tried to pick something that sounds pretty boring.  Taxes.  Did you know that at the end of 2014, the Federal Tax Code was 74,608 pages long? (http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/look-at-how-many-pages-are-in-the-federal-tax-code/article/2563032)

Let’s say you are an accountant.  Your specialty is taxes.  You are passionate about being able to pick apart the tax code to find all the little inconsistencies, faults, loopholes, etc., that people can use to reduce their tax bill come April 15th.  The more complicated the issue, the happier you are.

I’m a guy with a very sophisticated business situation involving multiple partnerships.  I’m trying to find someone to help me get my taxes done on time, yet pay the lowest amount due.  Do you think I would be happy to pay your fee to help me accomplish my goal?

You betcha!

In Conclusion

Joseph Campbell became fascinated with mythology.  He theorized there was a single myth (the monomyth) that was the pattern for all great myths no matter their origin or time of creation.

“Wow,” you say. “That sounds pretty dull.”

A professor at Sarah Lawrence College, Joseph Campbell became one of the most prolific authors and teachers of the twentieth century.  One of his most famous books was The Hero With a Thousand Faces.

This book has influenced untold numbers of writers and film makers in the art and practice of story telling.

George Lucas used the ideas in this book to shape the stories in the Star Wars Trilogy.

Joseph Campbell, was the one who said, “Do what you love and the money will follow.”

I believe this is true.  I also believe, if you follow this course of action, you will be both happy and successful.  But, remember…you are the only one who gets to decide whether or not you have achieved success.

Pick something you love to do.  Find some one who needs it done.  Go do it for them. Be patient and persistent in your service.  Have lots of fun along the way. Most of all, don’t let anyone else define your success.

If you enjoyed this post and would like more of these articles, sign up for my email newsletter by filling out the form on the right.

Best Hire: Employee or Independent Contractor?

Best Hire: Employee or Independent Contractor?

As small business owners, sooner or later we are faced with hiring our first employee.  So which kind is best: full time employee or independent contractor?  Here’s a great post with all the pros and cons. 

The Pros and Cons of Hiring: Employee vs. Independent Contractor

BY LAURA SHERMAN | SMALL BUSINESS


[This article is a piece of part 11 of our Smart and Simple Guide to Starting a Business – scroll to the end to see the other parts]

As a small business owner you will need to determine whether to hire full time employees or use independent contractors. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they are basically the same thing. They aren’t.

Although you pay both kinds of workers to do tasks for you, they are not viewed the same by the IRS. And if the IRS suspects that you are not classifying your workers correctly, they might audit you.

The IRS defines independent contractors in this way: “The general rule is that an individual is an independent contractor if the payer has the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not what will be done and how it will be done.”

So, if you own a restaurant and hire two waiters, they would be employees. However, if you contracted a local handyman to come in as needed to fix anything minor that breaks in your restaurant, they would be an independent contractor even if you pay them hourly. The waiters show up to your place of business and work under you, while the handyman has his own business and simply shows up and fixes things his or her way.

There are pros and cons to hiring full time employees and independent contractors. Most small business owners wish to avoid the added overhead of having a slew of employees, but some don’t have a choice. You’ll need to evaluate your situation to determine what is best for you.

Advantages to hiring full time employees

When you hire full time employees, they will work for you thirty or more hours a week (fewer hours makes them part-time) and will usually have a long-term commitment to you and your business. The advantages to this type of relationship for you, the employer, are:

  • These employees will feel pride in their position in your company. Most people want the security of a job, but they also want to feel the satisfaction of working for a company that they can call home. They want to feel that they are an important part of the team. If you give them that, they may go the extra mile.
  • The hourly wage for a full time employee is often much less, because they have job security. If you were to hire out for the same work with a freelancer, you can often expect to pay quite a bit more.
  • You don’t need to scramble to find help when your workload increases. If you only rely on independent contractors and need urgent help, your favorite freelancer might be booked. Or it might cost you a lot more to hire one last minute.
  • You don’t have to wear all the hats of your business yourself. Instead you can delegate tasks permanently to others. This frees up your time to do the tasks best suited for you.
  • You don’t need to continually train staff on how you like things done. Your employees know you and can do the work without the need for continual direction.
  • If you want to take a vacation, you can be assured that someone is holding down the fort for you in your absence.

Disadvantages to hiring full time employees

As you consider whether you want to hire full time employees, you’ll need to consider the downside as well. There are certain requirements that come with having employees:

  • Although it isn’t mandatory, most full time employees expect benefits, like health care and vacation time. As you interview potential candidates, they will most likely be interviewing with other companies as well, who offer such benefits.
  • You’ll need to pay their salaries like clockwork, even if your business has a lull. In order to cover their paychecks, you’ll need to have a reserve of money in your bank account.
  • You’ll have specific payroll paperwork that is legally required. Along with this, you’ll need to withhold your employees’ taxes, social security, and Medicare.
  • You are responsible for your employees’ training and professional licensing requirements. These vary from state to state.

Advantages of hiring independent contractors

Small business owners usually prefer to hire freelance workers for jobs when they need help. There are distinct advantages to sticking only to independent contractors:

  • Although you usually pay more per job or per hour, you will most likely save money overall since you aren’t required to pay them any benefits and do not need to commit to a salary.
  • You have greater flexibility. When you work with an independent contractor and it isn’t a good match, you simply don’t hire them again. When you have an employee that doesn’t work out, you may need to fire them, which isn’t always easy.
  • You can hire the right person for the task needed, contracting someone with a specialized service. They often have many years of experience, so you don’t need to train them.
  • They are responsible for their own permits and professional licenses.

Disadvantages of hiring independent contractors

While hiring independent contractors has many advantages, there are some drawbacks as well:

  • You lose some control over how tasks are preformed, because you can’t closely monitor their work. You can guide them, but usually they aren’t on site and will run their business their way.
  • They are hired short term, so you might not get the same worker for the next project. They usually operate on a first term, first serve basis.
  • They have no sense of company loyalty, but are a hired gun for one specific job. They are not part of your staff.
  • They will not promote your brand, but their own. Their work is done under their business name, with their logos, etc.
  • All copyrights will be owned by the independent contractor, unless you draft an agreement stating otherwise.

There are times when the line between employee and independent contractor can become blurry. For instance, how do you classify a virtual assistant? In order to answer that question, you must evaluate the situation.

Does the virtual assistant have her own company name, work for you on a project-by-project basis, and operate independently with limited supervision? Most likely, they would be an independent contractor. However, if she works for you forty hours a week and you are her only client, she might be an employee.

Understanding the difference between an independent contractor and a full time employee will save you a lot of headaches in the future. Set up your business with the type of workers that you need for long-term success.

5 Dangers of Fast Growth.

5 Dangers of Fast Growth.

As Small Business Owners we know growth is the name of the game.  But, did you know you can grow too fast?  Here’s a great post warning you about what can happen.

5 Dangers of Overly Fast Small Business Growth Strategies

By Suzanne Kearns
Posted in: Small Business

 

Comments1

business growth team plantWhen you start your own small businesses, you immediately start thinking about growth. Maybe you just dream of eventually opening a second store, or you might envision becoming a huge conglomerate or one day franchising the business.

Growth isn’t just admirable – it’s expected. But often, small business owners don’t consider that growing a business too quickly can eventually cause the company’s demise. You can easily find yourself lacking working capital, which is one of the biggest contributing factors to the failure of one in six new small businesses.

You and your business can avoid the dangers of overgrowth. By managing your business correctly and scaling up at a good pace, you’ll guide your company on the path to success. Whether you’re running a home office or a company with many employees, the key is planning.

Make sure you know the five biggest risks associated with sudden, unexpected growth.

1. An Overbearing Debt Loan

If you don’t plan properly for an increase in business, you can wind up taking on far too much debt. Growth takes money, and especially during the early stages of growth, working capital will be low. Many business owners take on massive debt to feed the growth machine, and a vicious circle begins. Increased orders require you to take on more debt, and so on. Too often, the cycle breaks only because the debt becomes so high that it topples the business. Even though more money is coming in, you owe even more and can’t cover debts.

 

For example, if you owned a housecleaning business and suddenly began to get more customers, you’d need to purchase more supplies and probably hire some more help. These positive developments would involve a lot of cash flow, and they can quickly turn negative by eating up all of your reserves. The new business is good, so you give incentives to your existing customers to send you referrals, leading to even more customers. Again, you need more staff and supplies. Perhaps you go as far as adding a company car with your logo to spread the word and support the increased workload.

Your working capital completely depleted, you take the next logical step: getting a loan. At first, it looks like the increased profits will more than cover the credit payments. But while the client list is growing, the debt is piling on more quickly, and keeping up with payments becomes a struggle. The growth was good, but it came too quickly and caught you unprepared as a business owner. Better fiscal management would have allowed for controlled growth based on revenue and profits.

2. Being Unable to Satisfy Your Customers

As a small business owner, you’ll be thrilled to be in high demand. But you need to be sure that you can supply the level of service your customers expect. Personal attention is a key selling point that attracts customers to a small business, especially when you’re involved in an active local community. In the face of unexpected growth, you’ll face the challenge of maintaining quality with the increase in quantity.

Consider the case of the home cleaning service. With a manageable number of clients, you can easily give each one the personal attention that makes your company special. In fact, that personal touch is what got everyone talking about you, spurring the recommendations and the increase in business. While it’s inevitable that the bigger a business grows the less interaction the owner will have with the clientele, unless you manage expectations, some clients may end up feeling put out – and they’ll stop coming to you.

The answer to this problem is – again – managed growth. Calculate how many new customers you can take on without turning your back on the clients who got you started. As you grow, bring on a customer support staff to promptly attend to all of your clients’ needs.

3. Forgetting Your Original Goal

In an effort to expand your business, you’ll be tempted to move into somewhat related – but unexplored – territory. The housecleaning business, for example, could be growing at a comfortable pace when a satisfied residential customer encourages you to bid on the contract to clean a commercial building. It’s tough to resist the prospect of big contracts and new opportunities, but straying from your original business model too quickly can create a volatile situation. While you’re striving to succeed in an untested aspect of your business, you’ll be forced to turn your back on the duties and client base that got you started in the first place.

Entrepreneurs naturally want to try new things, and success often requires taking a risk on new ideas in unproven areas. But you have to carefully consider how much time you can devote to a new plan, and budget accordingly. More importantly, make sure you maintain the safety net of your current customers and business model. If your expansion effort doesn’t pan out, you need to be able to rely on the original concept.

4. Losing Employees

Any small business owner will tell you that your best employees are the lifeline of the business. But when a business experiences quick growth, lines of communication can break down. If you’re surprised by your business’s growth, you’ll get preoccupied with keeping up, and if your employees aren’t ready for it, you’re in trouble. You need to let your employees grow with the business, but training them for management and leadership positions takes preparation. If you catch your staff members by surprise, and you’ll likely lose them. For a small business, losing employees – especially longstanding ones – means losing institutional memory, customers, and money.

In the case of our cleaning business, getting wrapped up in all the new business could easily alienate an unprepared employee in charge of the residential aspect of the business. Without guidance and support, that staff member is left in the field guessing at what decisions are best for the company. Since this employee isn’t trained for management and doesn’t have your insight into the business model, you’re probably going to be unhappy with those decisions, and your customers will be dissatisfied too.

5. Focusing on the Short Term

It’s amazing to watch a company in the middle of a growth spurt. Cash rolls in and business owners think that they’re on the way to the top. Profit and loss sheets look good, and it starts to look like worrying about bills and cutting  business operating costs and expenses will be a thing of the past.

 

But a dangerous trap lurks in these bright days. In the search for good news, you can make the easy mistake of looking only at short-term profits. Instead, consider the plans that you’ll have to implement to sustain long-term growth and success. Don’t lose control just because you see a few good weeks and months in store. Making rash decisions to boost one day’s profits can cost you something – your cash reserves. And if you’re unprepared, those good days will suddenly end.

Remember that company car with the cleaning service logo? It may have been a little premature to have taken on the expense of a brand new car and decal work. Celebrate your success, but don’t overindulge.

Final Word

For your small business to succeed, the name of the game is growth. But growth is very complex. It’s hard enough to grow in the first place, so make sure that you handle it properly when that success comes. Keep your eye on three areas of the business: your systems, your staff, and your cash reserves. Successful growth requires taking the time to plan and prepare to sustain all three as your business increases.

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