New technology is making us faster, smarter, smaller, and more efficient.
While it’s not always easy to learn new systems, some are just too good to pass up. We’ve selected a few of our favorite tools to make your life easier.
But don’t just take our opinion—we’ve also researched what others are saying and doing. We referenced two recent surveys to reinforce our top picks.
One survey, published earlier this year in Inc. Magazine by SurePayroll, asked 350 small-business owners nationwide for their favorite online tools; another survey we accessed interviewed over 500 entrepreneurs to find their favorites.
We bring you the best of these lists—with our endorsement of how this technology is changing our small business life.
Communication and Meetings
Google Hangouts: At Prestobox, we use Google Hangoutsevery day. It’s an easy way for us to have “face to face” meetings when we can’t be there in person. Sometimes we share our screen and do training with customers on Skype. Other times we gather our remote team for internal meetings.
We use Google Calendar as well, so we send out meeting requests that automatically have a link included to the Hangout. It makes it so easy to click on the link and join in. We’ve had meetings with people around the world and it feels like they’re next door. And it’s free.
Skype: This is our backup. We have Skype accounts in case a customer prefers Skype, but don’t find it quite as easy, or full functioning (easy screen share, multiple participants) as Google Hangouts. However, we are including it on this list because in the surveys we referenced, many small businesses do use and enjoy Skype.
See Also: 85 of the Best Tools for Startups
Box: This is a great cloud-based storage system that allows you to securely share, store, and manage all your company’s files. Your team can access your files anywhere and they are securely backed up. We use their starter package for $5/month/user. We came to Box after a few heart-stopping moments with Dropbox where we lost files, or functionality. That might have been our user error, but it scared us enough to make the switch. Box is also on the Inc. list of favorite tools.
Google Drive: Lots of our partners use Google Drive, and we’re on here too. We don’t find it quite as easy to use as Box, but it’s also free and probably easier to set up. Google Drive is also recommended in the other two surveys we referenced.
See Also: 34 Educational Resources for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
Trello: Trello is a visual project management system. It allows you to see how you are progressing through a series of steps. Your entire team can access it, write notes and instantly see where things stand. We use this with our tech team to identify what needs to be accomplished each week, and to track progress. Trello was also selected as one of the best online tools in the Inc. poll.
Evernote: Evernote is a nifty way to take notes across different devices. You download the app onto any device you use—your phone, your computer, your tablet—and then it all syncs together so your notes are always up to date and accessible. The search function in the notes also works well so you can find what you’re looking for. No more scraps of paper; it’s all organized online. We use the free version of Evernote. The surveys we referenced agree with us too; many small businesses swear by this app.
See Also: 19 Funding Resources for New and Existing Businesses
Moz: If you want a quick hit to your search engine rankings, try Moz Local. They push all of your contact and location information to the major data aggregators. Then, the search engines can find you more quickly and your customers can find you.
We recommend this to our website customers, and have found that the results are fairly instant and dramatic. Access to Moz is $84/location.
Weebly: We use Weebly technology for the backend of the websites we create, and we love it. There’s really no need for custom coding for most websites anymore.
Weebly’s platform creates mobile-enabled websites that are as easy to create as a Powerpoint doc. Intro websites (you don’t get your own URL) are free.
PrestoBox: Full disclosure, yes this is our company and we created it with the sole purpose of automating branding for small businesses. Our “Brand Genie” software quickly identifies your colors, fonts, images, and brand personality. Then you create a logo, business cards, and a website. Our websites are on the Weebly platform with your brand on top. What used to take months of time and cost thousands of dollars, now happens in a snap. The Brand Genie is free; logos are $9; custom websites are $345.
Canva: Canva was called “the easiest to use design program in the world” by the Webbys, which gives awards for best on the internet.
They have turned me into a designer. I’m still not as good as a pro, but the Canva online platform features all sorts of pre-loaded graphics and tools that make design simple for everyone. The tool is free to use with minimal charges if you use certain graphics.
See Also: 3 Tools That Will Turn You into a Designer
Managing a small business is always a juggling act, and if you’re like the majority of small businesses, you’re the sole proprietor. That means you don’t have employees that specialize in whatever it is that needs to get done. You usually have to do it yourself.
These online tools are here to help. Each one should help you become more productive and free up more of your time—without impacting your budget. We hope these tools make your small business life easier.
Professor Pian Shu tackles one of the most difficult questions in the startup world: How can you tell if a new business will succeed?
In 2008, entrepreneur Brian Chesky and his two San Francisco roommates made the rounds of Silicon Valley VC firms with what they thought was a great idea: a website and mobile app that would allow homeowners to open their homes to strangers to sleep on their floor while traveling, in exchange for a nightly fee.
Of course, now we know the idea as Airbnb, a $10 billion business with 1.5 million listings around the world. But back then it must have seemed crazy. The liability issues alone seemed insurmountable—to say nothing of the likelihood that people would be willing to give the keys of their houses to total strangers who may or may not be serial killers.
Five VC firms rejected the nascent company’s pitch outright, and another two didn’t even bother to reply. “Investors must have thought, who would ever do this?” says Assistant Professor Pian Shu, a member of the Technology and Operations Management unit at Harvard Business School. “They didn’t know it would turn out to be a multibillion dollar industry.”
Click here to continue reading the article on HBS Working Knowledge.
Comments from Sara Conte on leadership lessons from World Cup.
The Women's World Cup victory was historic. Loved this article from Inc. about leadership lessons we need to learn from the win. Good for all startups and entrepreneurs!
Click here to read the article on Inc.
5 Leadership Lessons from U.S. Women's World Cup Team
The U.S. Women's World Cup team wasn't without its controversy. But its consistent wins demonstrate uncanny leadership principles.
BY CHRIS MATYSZCZYK Owner, Howard Raucous LLC
Perhaps you leaped on the bandwagon late.
Perhaps you were there all along in spirit. Or at least on Twitter.
Perhaps you haven't gone to bed yet, after many rousing hours of celebration and patriotic fervor.
Whatever your current state (mental or physical), the U.S. Women's World Cup team showed us a thing or two about winning leadership.
1. Secure Your Foundation Before Becoming Too Aggressive.
Critics were saying in the group rounds that the U.S. couldn't score goals. The truth was that few teams could score goals against the U.S. The team understood that the World Cup, not unlike business in general, can be a grind rather than a single glamorous event. In the six games before the final, the team had conceded one goal. It played for 540 minutes before conceding. That's like Congress sitting for 10 years before agreeing on anything. Praise might be heaped on goalkeeper Hope Solo, but no goalkeeper looks good in front of a porous defense. Organize the foundation of your business first and more exciting things might follow.
2. Ignore Obvious Injustice and Adversity.
FIFA, otherwise known as the Church of the Blatter Day Saints, decreed that the whole World Cup would be played on artificial fields. This is the equivalent of playing the World Series in a gym. Oh, the U.S. team fought against this venal insult. But when they knew they couldn't win, the players still played soccer as it should be played, rather than hoofing the ball and hoping for a fortuitous bounce. (There are many fortuitous bounces to be had on plastic fields.) The players could have let the turf warp their perspectives, just as so many businesspeople blame unfair business conditions or plain cheating. The U.S. women could have used the turf as an excuse. Instead, they just played. And just won.
3. Let Talent Do its Thing.
A tempting strategy in both business and soccer is to fill your team with workhorses--efficient players who don't possess too much inspiration or imagination but will get the job done. The U.S. had a lovely balance between the trickery of Alex Morgan and the work rate of Megan Rapinoe. Against both Germany and Japan, when many might have thought the team would play even more defensively, the talent on the team was given the confidence to go forward and create. When you're at the critical juncture that might divide success from failure, let your talent do what your talent can do. That's when those with true ability want to shine most.
4. Don't Make Changes When You're Criticized. Make Them When They Feel Right.
Against Germany in the semi-final, U.S. coach Jill Ellis brought on Tobin Heath and pushed Carli Lloyd further forward. Potato-headed critics on couches make terrible coaches. Yet many suggested far more changes when the team seemed shy in front of the goal. At some point as a leader, you have to accept that yours is a lonely task. It can be even more miserable than having your online date not turn up. You can listen to advice. You might even listen to your critics--which doesn't mean agreeing with them. When it comes down to it, you will be judged by your decisions. Make sure those decisions are yours.
5. When You're Winning, Shoot From Midfield.
Few more glorious goals have ever been scored in any World Cup final--men's or women's--than Carli Lloyd's third. Her effort from somewhere near Edmonton was pure judgment, pure talent. To enjoy that level of confidence is rare. To enjoy that level of confidence in the most important game of your life shows that somewhere in that team was a winning mentality and a leader who encouraged bravado, rather than made like an actuary. Once a business leader can see that she's ahead, there's a certain swinging for fences unimagined that can bring not only more success but true, lasting glory. Every businessperson deserves to enjoy the feeling of glory just once.
Judging panel: Stephen Green, entrepreneur and assistant vice president at Albina Community Bank; Sara Conte, co-founder and president at PrestoBox; Marcelino Alvarez, founder and CEO at Uncorked Studios ;Genevieve Morganstern, CEO at Sadie; Paola Moretto, CEO at Nouvola; and Junea Rocha, founder and CEO at Brazibites.
A Loteria app — a Mexican game similar to bingo — targeted at English and Spanish language learners took home the overall prize at Portland’s first Startup Weekend Latino this weekend.
Ninety people participated in the event that aimed to bring the Startup Weekend model to a population of entrepreneurs who might not otherwise have known about the resource.
Participants arrived on Friday at the Portland State University Business Accelerator and pitched ideas to the group. Seven teams then formed to spend the weekend building and gathering customer validation. By the end of the 54-hour challenge, the teams pitched to a panel of judges.
Team creations ranged from apps, such as Loteringo, to a food business, an apparel brand and an Internet of Things application for agriculture.
Juan Barraza, one of the event organizers, said the weekend required more education for entrepreneurs to introduce them to the concept of Startup Weekend. The whole point was to offer an entrance into the network of startup resources in Portland. Once word got out, sign-ups took off in the last week or so before the event, he said. He added that 75 percent of the participants were Latino.
The judging panel consisted of: Marcelino Alvarez, founder and CEO at Uncorked Studios; Stephen Green, entrepreneur and assistant vice president at Albina Community Bank; Sara Conte, co-founder and president at PrestoBox; Junea Rocha, founder and CEO at Brazibites; Paola Moretto, CEO at Nouvola; and Genevieve Morganstern, CEO at Sadie.
Barraza is already busy planning next year's event. “We want to build a following. What we did was set up and get a community into place to participate,” he said. “The call to action is there,” he said, making reference to diversity efforts in the startup and tech community in Portland. “The Latino community needs to answer.”
Following the weekend activities, teams are invited to participate in two more events. One takes place next month on how to pitch to investors, held at Quick Left and supported by Portland Seed Fund, TiE and the Portland Development Commission. The other occurs in August, focusing on one-to-one work on legal, accounting and go-to-market strategy. The second event is slated for the eBay Community Lounge and supported by Oregon Entrepreneurs Network and the PDC.
The next Startup Weekend in the region is slated for the weekend of July 24 — Startup Weekend Vancouver, at Clark College.
Episode 11: Sara Conte: Build a Brand that Creates ‘Loyalty Beyond Reason’
In this episode, co-founder of PrestoBox Sara Conte shares some of the growth strategies PrestoBox has used to build their customer base.
Sara also talks about the psychology of brand strategy and how even the smallest business can start with a brand that connects with the personality of the company.
Businesses that last and create loyalty and stand out in a crowded world need a brand that is memorable. If you want know more about creating a brand that communicates who you are, you’ll want to hear what Sara has to say.
We are so happy to have Sara Conte (joining our Latino Startup Week as a judge. Sara is co-founder of PrestoBox, the world’s first automated branding agency. Sara’s resume is impressive: she is has earned experience in many industries (including venture capital and e-commerce), she sits on the board of many organizations and she is a prominent fixture in the Portland startup community. Her background helped to prepare her for her current challenge of running her own startup – where she learns new lessons each day about sales, customer service, analytics, technology, SEO, social media and the art of partnerships.
Don’t miss the opportunity to get valuable insights from people like Sara. See you at Startup Weekend Latino!
Q. What are you passionate about?
A. I’m passionate about building businesses – especially ones that utilize technology in new ways to solve problems and create value. Also super passionate about raising smart, healthy girls.
Q. If you could give advice to your 10 year old self today, what would you say?
A. I am living with my 11 year old self – my mini me daughter Hannah! I tell her to have fun, work hard and be kind.
Q. What’s the best advice you ever received?
A. My parents taught me to keep reaching for the stars – and enjoy the journey.
Q. What is your personal mission statement?
A. Have fun, work hard and be kind.
REGARDING STARTUP WEEKEND LATINO:
Q. What compelled you to participate in Startup Weekend Latino as a Judge/Mentor?
A. Juan Barraza’s big smile, hablo un poco español and a fire to help entrepreneurs from all walks launch successful ventures.
Q. What excites you most about participating in this event?
A. I’m hoping to help get some new ventures launched! And fingers crossed we have good salsa.
Q. What advice would you give to participants of Latino Startup Week?
A. As you develop your ideas, remember to put the customer first. Quickly identify your core customer and prove that your product will delight them.
Q. What is your opinion of the current state of diversity in the entrepreneurial community?
A. Entrepreneurs come in every shape and size. We shouldn’t cookie cutter our impressions of who’s going to succeed.
Q. What is the biggest factor limiting diversity in entrepreneurship?
A. Know your market and sell to them. Take a risk. Support your friends.
Q. What would you do to ensure increased diversity?
A. Access to training and capital for diverse communities.
Q. What advice would you give someone interested in becoming an entrepreneur?
A. It’s a journey and a leap of faith. Make sure you’re wearing the right pack with the right partners – on the right trail. Know your customer.
Get your tickets to Startup Weekend Latino today!
Building a brand that’s authentic, consistent, and rooted in a distinct personality separates you from the competition and allows your customers to connect with you on a more meaningful level.
Building a brand can feel daunting. In fact many small businesses feel like it’s something that only the “big guys” can afford. But branding is something that every company can do if you follow a few basic rules.
Step 1: Remember that a brand is more than a logo.A brand is a whole ecosystem of how you communicate with the outside world. In a nutshell, your brand is a promise to people about the way you will do business. This promise affects how you build your website, how you create your business card, even how you answer the phone—because the style, colors, and words you choose should reflect the emotions your customers will have when they use your product.
Tip: Look at your logo and write down five values that your logo will stand for. This is what people should remember about your business. Make sure these values are carried out in everything you do.
Step 2: Define the “head” of your brand system.Who’s your target audience? Why is your product or service better than the competition? What do you do that no one else can do? One great way to cull this information is to ask your customers why they do business with you.
Tip: List the types of people you want to target who would resonate with that promise. Create an exact model of your perfect customer. What do they look like, act like? Where do they shop?
Step 3: Define the “heart” of your brand system.As much as we like to think that humans are rational beings, we take action based on emotion. Building your brand is about creating a living and breathing persona that customers will fall in love with. That is the stuff that creates long-time loyalty and will get you through the natural ups and downs of any economy.
Tip: List the emotions your customers will feel when they experience your products or services.
Step 4: Find your brand voice.
Once the “head” and “heart” of your brand framework are defined, it’s time to define your basic brand personality. Are you bold? Are you funny? Are you trustworthy? Are you conscientious? Choose the adjectives that underlie your brand voice and make sure your voice is consistent in every branding and marketing piece you create. If your company became a person, what would that person be like? Brainstorm a list of personality traits and qualities. Be as specific and quirky as you like.
Tip: Play the celebrity game. If your brand came to life as a historical figure, sports figure, movie star, etc, who would that be? Think about what your company would eat for breakfast. Think about how your company is with kids. Think about what clothes your company would wear.
Step 5: Collect your brand images.
Photography can truly capture the imagination—and wallets—of potential customers. Well-chosen photographs with a consistent theme make a big difference in how your brand is perceived. Just think about Nike and how powerfully their brand photography conveys their brand message. Browse a few photography sites like Getty or iStock and start building a collection of photographs that represent your brand. Plug in the key words that you identified in Step 1 and Step 3. You can use this imagery in promotional materials, on your website, and it should give you ideas when you design all of your branding materials.
Tip: Be consistent in how you apply this imagery. Don’t forget about how you photograph people in your office. Make sure it fits within your brand ecosystem.
Step 6: Choose your brand colors.Finding the right shade of green, or the right shade of red, or just the right combination of yellow and grey can do wonders in anchoring an unassailable position in your customer’s mind. It’s important to build a system of brand colors that include core driver colors in combination with bold accents. Look over your emotions list from Step 3 and your photo collection from Step 5 and choose a few colors for your brand color palette.
Tip: For additional inspiration, go through pages of magazines and tear out pages of colors that you like. You can match these colors to actual Pantone number codes (listed for free online) for reference with designers.
Step 7: Select your type styles.Typography is a subtle but highly influential way to convey your brand message. A modern sans-serif type tells the world you’re innovative and ready to find unexpected solutions. A traditional serif type tells the world you’re dependable and trustworthy. You can even experiment with a combination of serif and sans-serif type styles to create a totally unique brand expression. Find websites, print ads and brochures of companies with a brand similar to yours and look at the fonts they selected.
Tip: Try a few different styles until you find the ones that fit. There are fewer type styles online, so be sure to combine both online and offline sources.
There it is! The components of a successful brand including your brand voice, your brand photography, your brand colors, and your brand type styles—all wrapped up into a smart and utterly compelling brand system.
Easy? No. Fun? Yes. Worthwhile? Absolutely. If you take a look at any of the rockin’-the-world companies like Apple and Starbucks and Nike you’re bound to find a well-thought-out and strategic brand system in place. Just keep these basic brand tenets in mind and you’ll have the foundation in place for a business that can truly stand the test of time.
Read more: http://articles.bplans.com/the-definitive-guide-to-building-a-brand/#ixzz3e1CDHOcH
As part of our vision to create a community where businesses can come and learn about how to grow, we are doing a series of interviews with business owners and executives that highlight what has helped their businesses grow.
Today’s interview is with Sara Conte, Co-Founder of PrestoBox.com.
1. Can you give a brief overview of what PrestoBox does for our readers?
Sure, PrestoBox is a startup software company and the world’s first automated branding agency. It’s the perfect option for small businesses who want more than the online DIY templates, but who can’t afford an agency. The “Brand Genie” automatically matches small businesses with a recommended brand personality through 12 easy questions (backed by 10 years of research and the latest technology). Small businesses can then quickly build a cohesive and well designed Brand Kit, including a logo, business card, and website.
2. What is your vision for PrestoBox?
Our vision is to bring branding to the masses. In the past, small businesses had to spend thousands of dollars and take months of time to determine their brand. With the Brand Genie, it happens in a snap. Small businesses need brands as much as big companies. Brands help small businesses tell their story and connect with their customers.
3. In looking at your website, it is amazing that you are able to deliver a complete branding package and website for under $100. What is even more amazing is that you have eliminated a lot of the challenges normally associated with creating a brand and a website. Can you speak to the branding process and how its simplicity has played a role in your success?
Oh thanks! Simplicity is a big compliment. We take a complex and expensive process and make it easy and affordable. Our founder, Elicia, developed this unique methodology in an offline way first while running her branding agency. We added technology, millions of design options and a team of people passionate about solving this problem for small businesses. That’s how we created this platform for scale. It also helps that we’re partnered with Weebly for our websites – arguably the best technology on the market servicing 30 million customers.
4. In general, what have been the key factors to your growth?
We are growing primarily through strategic partnerships and content marketing. There are a lot of companies already laser focused on serving the small business market. We offer them a fun, easy and affordable new solution for their existing users.
5. Is there a specific story that stands out to you where a customer was really impacted by what you do?
One of my favorite customers is Susan Philpot, a woman who is starting a coaching business in Austin, Texas. She wanted a jumpstart for her business – and needed to look polished. The Brand Genie gave her just that – and more. She was online and ready for business in a matter of days. She just kept telling us, “I love it.”
6. It looks like you have had success reaching out to the media and influencers. How did you manage those efforts?
A combination of efforts – some reached out to us – and others we targeted. We haven’t done a full push for media coverage. Instead, we are really focused on getting helpful information out to small businesses about branding (content marketing).
7. Any advice for other business owners who are looking to grow?
My advice is to clearly set goals and then outline the steps to reach them. Growing a small business can be really tough. Celebrate every milestone and learn from your missteps. Listen to advice, but be true to yourself. Nobody has all of the answers.
Thank you Sara for your time! This interview highlights one of The Way Company’s core principles, the importance of understanding what challenges your offering is helping customers overcome. Yes, PrestoBox has a created a great product that delivers automated branding, but it is also working to eliminate the need for small businesses to spend thousands of dollars or months worth of effort developing a great brand.
To learn more about PrestoBox or build your business branding package visit their website at prestobox.com.
Your logo represents your business. It’s the entryway to your brand and should make your customers feel welcome from the start. Use the checklist below to create a logo that’s right for you.
1. Define Your Brand
When creating a logo, it’s critical that you lay the foundation of who you are, what you stand for and how this idea looks in colors, fonts and images. Put this into a brand statement – what do you stand for? Make absolutely sure that your logo reflects your brand.
2. Make it Simple and Practical
Too many small businesses create fussy, complicated logos. The most effective logos are often the simplest (think Nike, Coca Cola, IBM). Sometimes all you need is a professional type treatment. Make sure you create a logo that is legible in all sorts of spots big and small, wide and narrow. It should look good in black and white. It should be easily reproducible. And please don’t use clip art.
3. Look at Your Competitors
Check out your competition. Make sure your logo stands out in a good way.
4. Ask Your Friends
Get feedback from your friends (customers, suppliers, employees, etc). Ask them how your logo makes them feel. What do they think of when they see the logo? If you’ve got it right, these comments should match your brand statement.
5. Make it Offline/Online Ready
You will need various file formats for your logo.
6. Protect It
Do extensive online research for who is using your name and possibly similar logos. Check the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website to see if there are other companies using your name, or a similar logo. Work with an attorney to do an official trademark search and to file for a trademark. Make sure there are no major infringements you launch.
Once you’ve ticked these boxes, start using your logo. Put it on all of your marketing materials, your invoices, your t-shirts, the side of your truck, and more. Remember your logo is just the tip of your brand image. Use complementary and consistent colors, images, fonts, patterns and brand voice in all you do. Create a brand guide and distribute it through the company so everyone knows what you stand for – and what that looks like. Give your logo life with a full brand ecosystem.
Customers are the life of every business. Your company won’t exist without them. So how do you find out what they’re thinking? You ask them! But there’s a real art in getting them to respond in a meaningful way.
Follow these five steps to meaningful customer feedback.
1. Know your customer
First, you need to know as much as possible about your customer. Identify your core customer. To help figure this out, review your sales figures. In most businesses, 20% of your customers generate 80% of your profits. This is your core customer.
Write down as much as possible about this customer and how they interact with your products and services. How old are they? Male/female? Why do they need your product? Why do they like your product? What are they passionate about? Where do they live? How do they live?
Develop this into a full narrative about your customer. Give them a name.
2. Throw a party
Now that you know who you are targeting, get them to talk. In person feedback is the best way to get nuanced information from your customers. Ask your customer to demo your product. Watching your customer interact with your product will almost always provide incredible insights.
Get a group of customers together. Throw a party. When we were starting PrestoBox, we threw Brand Genie launch parties where we invited people who matched our core customer description to give our software a whirl. We did it on a shoestring budget by borrowing cool space in the penthouse lounge of a friend’s apartment and catering the food ourselves. We watched silently as people went through the process, then talked to them individually and finally brought the group together for a discussion. All the while we kept it light and fun – enticing them with the “magic” of the Brand Genie. The feedback we received was priceless.
The event doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does have to be consistent with your brand.
3. Remove yourself
The “party as focus group” is a great way to dig into what your customers are thinking and feeling. However, customers aren’t usually as honest when you’re right there. You need the brutal truth.
Remove yourself from the equation and do some blind tests. Our favorite source for these types of reviews is UserTesting.com. You define who you want to test your product and then get feedback in an hour with videos of your target customer speaking their thoughts as they use your website.
We tested our product this way and were startled at the results. It was clear after watching the videos that our logo builder product was broken. All of the users said that they needed more variety before they would consider making a purchase. It was the first time we heard this so directly. This feedback immediately changed our priorities and we got to work creating thousands of new logo options.
This service works great for online companies – however it can be replicated offline as well. Just remember to remove yourself from the equation.
4. Send email
Email is one of the most effective ways to get customer feedback. However, you need to do it right. The average person receives over 100 emails each day and is increasingly annoyed by messages they did not ask for. Make your email relevant and more likely to get a response by taking time to craft it.
A request for feedback email is not the same as a newsletter. Keep the email short and leave the graphics out. Start by making it personal. Use the person’s first name and insert a personal message. If the recipient knows you took the time to write this email, they may take the time to respond.
Online surveys can be an incredibly effective way to gather information. However, clicking on a link takes extra time and your response rate may decrease. Try embedding your question in the email and then tally the results by hand.
Use “because”. When you want people to take an action, always give them a reason. Response rates will go up significantly if you tell your customers why it’s important. One word can make a big difference. Try to incorporate a few of the most persuasive words in the English language: you, free, because, instantly andnew.
5. Call them
Reach out to your customers on the phone. In today’s digital era, a personal phone call stands out and can be a great way to get feedback. Handle your calls with care. Make sure you are friendly, professional and uber respectful of their time.
A great time to call is after they place an order. You’ll be on their mind and they will be more inclined to help. Do leave personal messages if your customer doesn’t pick up. Treat these customer calls just like you would a call to a dear friend.
Follow these steps to get meaningful customer feedback. And once you get it, remember to circle back and let these customers know what you did with it. Tell them when you launch your new products and thank them again.
Photo Credit: Eugene Kim/Creative Commons
Logos help businesses big and small create tremendous value and instant recognition. It represents everything you do. Logos use colors and images to affect our emotions. Whether it’s the red in Red Bull (aggressive), or the green in Starbucks (relaxed). And this influences our buying behavior.
The problem is that most businesses struggle to create a logo. Some pay millions (Pepsi spent $1 million). But logos don’t have to be expensive. Nike paid $35 for its swoosh. Google paid $0 (founder Sergey Brin created it on his own).
Whether you spend a lot or a little, you must invest the time to determine what you want that logo to say about you.
Follow these steps to jumpstart the process.
Step 1: Know what you stand for.
Define who you are. What's the promise that you’re making to your customer? Make a list of the key attributes of your brand. You may be known for customer service, quality, or speed. Try to narrow your list to three or four. You’ll make more of an impression as you focus your message.
Step 2: Know what you look like.
What colors, fonts and images convey your brand promise? Look at companies you admire and notice how their choice of color and design conveys their values. For example, whites can convey simplicity and purity. Greens can convey new beginnings and growth. Blues may be more appropriate for a business with traditional values. Each color brings out different emotions. The colors, fonts and images you choose to represent your business can make a strong and lasting impression.
Step 3: Get some help.
You've determined your foundation. Now get some help. If you can only spend $50, you will walk a narrow path. Agencies will charge an arm and a leg. So get online and surf the web. Try out one of the online logo builders. Don’t use clip art. Post your creative brief at some of the crowdsourcing websites and see what comes back. You have defined what you want and will know it when you see it.
Step 4: Create a whole system.
With your new logo, you now have the foundation of your brand in place. Make sure you build from this starting point so that all of the parts and pieces of your new brand work together.
And then, say hello to new business!
Think a brand is just for big businesses? Think again. Branding is critical for businesses of all shapes and sizes.
Your brand is what the outside world thinks of you. That’s it. Although you can influence your brand through well-designed logos, hilarious ad campaigns, carefully crafted press releases, or super-friendly service, ultimately, your brand is what the outside world says it is.
Why bother? Because strong brands are the key to customer loyalty and higher sales. The Economist recently reported, “Brands are the most valuable assets many companies possess. But no one agrees on how much they are worth or why.” Strong brands inspire loyalty, and we can’t always put our finger on exactly how they do it.
SEE ALSO The Definitive Guide to Building a Brand
Branding can be a daunting task for small businesses and it’s easy to think brands are reserved for the Nikes and Coca-Colas of the world. But branding is even more important if you’re a small business.
Four reasons to brand your small business:
A brand makes you look bigger
If you scream “small-time vendor,” or “mom working in her bathrobe,” that is how your customers will want to compensate you. Branding will help elevate your business. Research other businesses—who do you look up to? Find an example of what you want to look like.
A brand builds credibility
If you want people to trust that you can deliver, you need to look the part. A well-designed brand is as important as brushing your teeth before the first date. Think about what you stand for and communicate that to your customers in everything you do, from the colors you choose to the words you use.
A brand makes you memorableStand out from the crowd, in the right way. Your customers have to remember you to find you. If your potential customer Googled your service, what would they find? Identify elements of your business that are different from your competitors, and showcase them in unique ways.
A brand attracts customers
When customers understand who you are and what you offer, they think about doing business with you. When they trust you and begin to love you, they tell their friends. Once your brand is solid, word of mouth is the best way to grow your base. Ask your customers for reviews and referrals. Make sure they know you appreciate the business. Build on great reviews by showcasing your happy customers. Grow your business further with well-planned and brand-consistent marketing campaigns, using the same colors, fonts, and personality.
SEE ALSOCustomer Focus and Consistency: Keys to Strong Brand Building
Case Study: Dermatology Associates of SW Washington
When Dr. Elizabeth Dawson joined Dermatology Associates of SW Washington, she knew she needed to change the “face” of the practice in order to stand out in an increasingly competitive medical marketplace.
But the practice couldn’t afford to go to a branding agency, where prices started at $50,000. Dr. Dawson tried working with a graphic designer, but after five fruitless rounds of logo designs and thousands of dollars spent, she still didn’t find the brand that she was looking for.
So, she changed her approach. Dr. Dawson needed an affordable, easy solution and started with the Brand Genie, an automated tool to define your brand identity. She worked through this process with her team to figure out what they really stood for, what they wanted their patients to remember about them and tell their friends.
Dermatology Associates defined a brand that felt right to them. We call it “elegant simplicity.” The core brand attributes are professional, caring, intelligent, honest, and respected. The benchmark brands are Apple, Nordstrom, and Trader Joe’s.
Those words sound great, but what does that look like? What is the color for “professional and caring”? How can fonts—not just words—convey “honest and respected”? What images demonstrate “elegant simplicity”?
Each of these details were addressed. The brand quickly came to life as the design system was created. Dermatology Associates chose a beautiful palette of colors, fonts, and images—all designed to work together and consistently convey their brand attributes.
Take a look at the before and after:
Before: Not sure what we stand for, but we know we’re located in the Pacific Northwest.
After: Elegant Simplicity!
This small business instantly looks bigger and more professional. It builds credibility with its customers as it conveys the attributes that are important to them—caring, intelligent, honest, and respected. This small business also becomes much more memorable as the system starts to work, with all customer touch points conveying similar messages.
And finally, it attracts customers. Who would you rather see?
With its new brand in place, Dermatology Associates is positioned to generate more patient traffic, strengthen the loyalty of existing patients, and solidify relationships with referring physicians. In other words, the practice is now ready to do business.
“Our new brand greatly improves our image and the face of our practice. It helps us convey that we’re current and modern, yet still warm and welcoming.”
– Dr. Elizabeth Dawson, Dermatology Associates of SW Washington
SEE ALSO 4 Ways to Turn Your Website into a Marketing Heavyweight
Did you work hard to brand your business before you opened, or did you work on branding after the fact? How has your personal brand affected how you do business?
Sara Conte is a frequent contributor to online discussions about strategy, branding and entrepreneurship.