A brand, such as Starbucks or Apple, is much more than just a name. Branding encompasses all the thoughts, feelings and emotions people experience when they hear the words “Starbucks” or “Apple.”
Your brand represents the commitment you make to your customers through your product or service. Is your business trendy or classic? Who is your target audience? What is your mission?
Building a brand requires careful thought and consideration. Use these guidelines to create a brand that’s unique, memorable and appealing.
Seven Tips for Creating a Vivid and Memorable Brand
• Figure out who your target audience is. Learn more about their wants, needs and shopping habits by talking to them and following relevant social media accounts.
• Develop a positioning statement. You’ll be tempted to include everything but the kitchen sink, but communicating too much ultimately communicates nothing at all. Stay focused and craft one or two lines that sum up why your business matters.
• Choose a business name, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. If the name is too on-the-nose, it could be awkward if you plan to expand your offerings down the road. You also have to consider logos, website domains and trademark registrations.
• Once you have a name, it’s time to work on fonts and colors. Unless you have a specific reason for choosing something a little more complex, stick with clean and simple fonts.
• Choose a palette based on the psychology of colors, but make sure you consider how it looks in black and white and against different backgrounds.
• What would a brand be without a logo? In addition to the design elements, check to make sure it’s scale-able across a range of sizes.
• Write a short but punchy slogan that immediately paints a picture. A slogan is a great way to maintain consistency, but you can certainly adapt it over time as you refine your marketing efforts and strategies.
Now that you’ve created a polished and powerful brand, start applying it across all phases and segments of your business. Don’t forget that consistency is key.
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Social media pages form one of the foundations of inbound marketing — they’re where you can post your valuable content, using a call-to-action to drive visitors to your landing page, where they may become qualified leads.
The challenge, of course, is making your social media pages stand out in the crowd.
You can find plenty of social media tips to boost your visibility on the web, but these four give you a range of options that suit your goals and resources.
Make it easy — then, fun. No visitor should have to search around to find your social media pages. Use naming standards for your home pages that make it immediately clear who you are.
Then, have some fun. Categorize your Twitter content — blogs, tweets and videos — with hashtags that engage, inform and contain relevant keywords – like these examples, which actually won “best hashtag” awards! (Note: hashtags are for Twitter or any other platform that allows for “click through.” They do not work on Facebook.)
Look beyond Facebook. While there’s no denying its paradigm-shifting impact on social media and personal relationships, Facebook is highly saturated — to the point where some analysts reported decreases in overall usage and app downloads in 2012.
That doesn’t mean you should shun Facebook, of course — it’s often the first choice for social searches. But you can also consider outlets that may provide a better fit for your services via a smaller, but more influential, audience.
For example, LinkedIn is the world’s largest business network for a reason — it’s highly credible, deep platform for making connections. If you are targeting B2B (business to business), some relevant connections from LinkedIn could put you in touch with influential people who may not otherwise pay attention to Facebook pages.
If you have B2C (business to consumer) goals and a product or service that is highly image-driven, Pinterest (which recently transitioned from invitation-only to all-access) draws millions of hits daily — particularly from women, who make up nearly 60 percent of its audience.
Find advocates. Most advocates of social media tips would agree: few marketing tactics enhance credibility like kudos from impartial third-party source. Satisfied customers, industry awards and good reviews boost your profile and are easy to link from Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn or other social sites.
You can go the extra mile by finding brand advocate — people who promote your products or services, but who are not on your payroll. Your best customer, for example, can star in a blog interview or host a how-to on YouTube. Such tactics would not only boost your credibility, they practically guarantee that the customer will be sharing the content on his networks.
Be a mensch. Not every message on your social site needs to be tied to sales. A company that reaches out to its community or the world at large is often seen as credible and trustworthy. Use your media to publicize worthy causes; then put your money where your tweets are by donating products, services or money and encouraging others to do the same.
Want to get more personal? “Like” and share great posts from your customers’ pages, or those from your community.
Social Media Tips Can Work for You To Drive Links and Traffic Yesterday’s marketing tactics have been largely eclipsed by inbound marketing, which reflects the way consumers behave today. Getting the most from social media will help you make your mark in this wide-open environment.
The business landscape in America has gone from the Age of Manufacturing to the Age of Information. Now we’ve moved into the Age of the Entrepreneur.
Each year, more individuals choose to forgo the secure paycheck but restrictive environment of the corporate world to strike out on their own. The American Dream has existed as long as our country has, but there’s never been a better time to pursue it.
Forbes says that a staggering 500,000+ new companies emerge each month. But you’ve probably also seen the dark underbelly of this shiny surface. According to Bloomburg, eight out of 10 startup businesses fail within the first 18 months. That stark reality can give even the most passionate entrepreneurs cold feet.
However, saying that these businesses “fail” may not be completely accurate. Inc. estimates that 90 percent of those that don’t survive actually commit suicide. The founder or founders get bored, neglects their homework or succumbs to self-doubt. For these and other reasons, their companies simply don’t go the distance.
Have you been nurturing a great idea or product that you’re ready to bring to life? As the saying goes, forewarned is forearmed. Knowing the odds of going under can help prevent you from becoming simply one of those statistics.
Before you drink the startup Kool-Aid, review this checklist for some valuable tips to help you become part of the two percent of success stories.
Do what you love. If you put money ahead of personal satisfaction, sooner or later it’s going to show through as a lack of sincerity. You’re going to put in an incredible amount of time and effort. Why would you want to do that for something you’re not really invested in? For example, a tech startup may sound exciting and lucrative, but if computers bore you to tears, you’ll be doomed.
Have a business plan. Yes, you’ve heard the stories of the hotshots like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs who just jumped right in and made it up as they went along. That’s still the exception, not the rule. You don’t need a comprehensive document that crosses every “t” and dots every “i”. What you do need is a financial blueprint that outlines factors including estimated costs, revenue projections and a break-even point.
Know what sets your product or service apart from others. Have you ever watched Shark Tank, the TV show where budding entrepreneurs make their pitch to potential investors? One of the first questions that always comes up is, “What’s different about your company?” The number of businesses entering the marketplace means that competition is tougher than ever. You have to know exactly what need, want or problem your product or service will solve for a customer.
Be flexible. Conditions in today’s business world change almost daily. Don’t be so in love with your own vision that you can’t adapt in order to satisfy your customer base or take advantage of a new opportunity.
Underpromise and overdeliver. New business owners often get this backwards. They’re so anxious to get those first customers that they promise the moon and get in over their head. If you make modest but solid promises and extend yourself to go the extra mile, you’ll look like a hero.
No man (or woman) is an island. Whether due to lack of funds or excess ego, many entrepreneurs try to do everything themselves. No matter how intelligent and capable you are, you’re going to have areas of weakness. Don’t be so proud that you won’t get help where and when it’s needed. You might satisfy your self-esteem, but your startup will pay the price.
Don’t be paralyzed by mistakes. Everyone makes them. You will too. What’s important is that you learn from them, readjust your course and keep going. Too many people end up throwing in the towel. Strive for perfection, but don’t give up when you hit those speed bumps.
You can join the ranks of entrepreneurs who make it past that 18-month deadline to build a successful company. Balance your enthusiasm and passion with a clear-eyed sense of reality and you’ll join that two percent.
The days of retiring from a company after 40 years with a pension and a gold watch are dead and buried. Today’s worker will likely spend his career with several different companies in pursuit of upward mobility. More significant, though, is the number of people who choose to strike out on their own.
Entrepreneurship in this country has never been stronger. More than 11.5 million Americans are currently working for themselves with more than 500,000 companies being launched each month. While this independence has long been considered a major component of the American dream, it’s possible that the economic uncertainty of the last few years has resulted in more people choosing their own employment, either out of choice or necessity.
Are you one of these adventurous spirits who has taken the plunge? Perhaps you’re in the process of weighing your options or looking to move to the next level. Whether you venture into manufacturing, technology or service, there are basic elements that all businesses have in common. Running a start-up is difficult enough, so manage some of the stress by learning from those who have traveled this road before you.
Here are 10 commandments, if you will, for business start-ups. Take these tips and apply them to your situation and blaze your own trail.
1. Do what you love. There’s a good reason this simple but powerful concept is first on the list. If your business isn’t personally meaningful to you, your focus will wane no matter how lucrative it might be. We’ve all heard the stories of people giving up six-figure incomes to teach or do volunteer work. Be sure you’re sacrificing your time and energy for something you enjoy.
2. Cultivate a network of other entrepreneurs. Water seeks its own level. If you associate with people who are skeptical and negative, eventually you will be too. There are numerous professional organizations you can join, both industry-specific and general. You’ll find that veteran business owners are supportive of newcomers and generous with their wisdom.
3. Allow your employees to let their lights shine. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. Encourage your employees to contribute based on their unique talents rather than forcing them into a slot. For instance, successful salespeople are often put into management where they end up languishing. Not every skill set translates to every position. People will be happier and more productive when they enjoy what they’re doing.
4. Be honest about your weaknesses. A successful businessperson will freely admit he doesn’t have all the answers. What sets him above the unsuccessful ones is the savvy to hire people who fill in the blanks. You won’t get anywhere by bringing in clones of yourself. Put your ego aside and focus on what’s best for your business.
5. Get everything in writing. While this is vitally important for the legal nuts-and-bolts of your company’s structure, it should apply to everything from employment agreements to meeting notes. You don’t want the operation of your start-up to rise or fall on one person’s faulty memory, especially your own.
6. Take on a partner only when it’s absolutely necessary. In the first blush of excitement during a start-up, it may seem like a great idea to bring in your friends and family. But when the cold light of reality sets in, you’ll realize how counterproductive this is. You’re running a business, not a social club. Leave emotions out of decision-making.
7. Don’t neglect your health. Yes, there’s no getting around the fact that there are going to be plenty of long hours and fast-food involved, especially in the beginning. But you won’t do yourself any favors by getting so run-down that you can’t function. If you can’t get to a gym, you can certainly squeeze in a 15 to 20 minute walk. Keep a mini-fridge on hand to stock with fruits, veggies and other healthy foods. Limit the coffee and drink water instead.
8. Follow a schedule. While freedom is part of the appeal of running your own business, that doesn’t mean you can abandon professional habits. Set regular working hours and plan an agenda for each day.
9. Know where your money is going. It’s fine to hire an expert to handle the finances, but that doesn’t mean you wash your hands of that aspect. Losing track of your funds is a sure route to losing control of your business.
10. Keep your moral compass pointed in the right direction. Stories of people who have sacrificed their souls in pursuit of cash are the stuff of legends, or at least big-budget movies. If you cut corners and compromise your morals, you’ll never truly enjoy your success. Make sure you’re able to sleep soundly when your head hits the pillow.
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When you’re starting up a new company, the temptation is to wear all the hats. After all, it’s your baby and no one understands it like you do. Of course, there’s also the matter of that pesky budget. It stretches a lot further when you’re employing a staff of one.
Of course, the reality is that you can’t do everything yourself. And speaking of budgets, the one area where you truly need some help is your finances. It would be so much simpler if business accounting was just a matter of addition and subtraction. But it’s a complex minefield that takes experience to navigate.
It’s too important of a position to leave to chance. In other words, don’t Google “accountant” and select the first one that pops up. Shop around for a financial expert just like you would for inventory, supplies and equipment. He’ll be working for you, so he should meet the qualifications that you’re looking for.
You don’t have to meet with a prospective accountant in person, but don’t rely on email. If you can’t meet, use Skype or the telephone. Hearing an actual voice helps you get a better sense of a person. Is he confident and well-spoken? Does he hem and haw while searching for answers? This could be the first step in an ongoing relationship, so start it on the right foot.
Be sure you do your homework before your meeting. Here is a checklist of questions that will provide much of the information you’ll need to make an assessment.
How long have you been in business? A fledgling firm may not yet be experienced enough to handle your concerns. On the other hand, an accountant who’s been in business for many years may be on the verge of retirement. Find out what the plans of succession are so you’re not left hanging.
Will I be assigned to one person? Some accounting firms operate on a call center basis, with associates taking calls on a rotating basis. If your account is specifically assigned to an accountant, the two of you will be able to develop a relationship and he’ll get to know your particular business much better.
What services do you offer? There are several subcategories under the heading of finance. Are you looking for tax preparation help? Do you want someone to handle budgeting and cash flow management or strategic planning?
How often will we be in contact, and by what means? You want to be on the same page with this issue. If you want to be able to consult on a weekly basis, you don’t want to find out afterwards that he’s available only once a month. Just as with your initial meeting, you should also be able to have personal contact, at least for the major meetings.
Are you available year-round? Some accounting firms are open only during tax season when demand for their services is at its peak. However, as a new business you’ll need advice during the rest of the year as well.
What types of businesses do you work with? Restaurants have a different financial agenda than contractors, who in turn are different from graphic artists. It helps to find an accountant who’s familiar with the type of business you’ll be operating.
How do you bill for your services, and what’s included in your fee? Some accountants bill by the hour while others charge a flat rate. You might want to consider the former if you’ll be handling most of your finances in-house and consulting only on major issues. Find out exactly what’s covered in the rates so you don’t end up getting nickel-and-dimed on services that turn out to be an extra charge.
Do you follow a conservative or aggressive approach? Nearly all financial matters come with risk, and business finances are no exception. For example, some accountants will beat the bushes to write off every possible penny. Others are reluctant to put a client in a position of possibly being red-flagged for an audit. Determine where you fall on this continuum so you find an accountant whose views are compatible with yours.
How will I be informed of relevant changes in my industry? A good accountant should keep you abreast of current news and events pertinent to your business, particularly changes in tax regulations.
What type of accounting software do you use? If it’s not the same as yours, ask how information and data will be exchanged.
This list can be supplemented or modified based on the needs of your specific business. Overall, it gives you a solid platform to find an accountant who will work as hard for your company as you do.
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