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What Founders Can Learn from the On-Demand Economy

Small Business Trends - Mon, 2017-05-22 17:30

Has there been a business model that has earned as much attention, funding dollars, and as many spin-offs as the on-demand model? Certainly not in recent memory, and certainly not so quickly.

But just a handful of years after the first on-demand companies rose to become economic powerhouses, the model is experiencing problems, and the many smaller companies in that space have to reinvent the system. The problem is multifaceted and is in part due to the sheer volume of companies competing for consumer adoption. Services that span the full range of customer needs are fighting for traction, and many are falling out.

Last year the sum of venture capital funding that was given to on-demand startups collapsed by 50% compared with the year prior. In fact, the on-demand model often referred to as the “Uber of X,” is also being called the “Uber of failure.”

But out of the mayhem, valuable lessons are slowly being learned. Watchful founders are identifying the symptoms of failure. The model can work when the right service is paired with the right operational support and the right vision. But it has taken billions of dollars in funding and hundreds of failed companies to understand what that mixture should look like.

Lessons to Learn from the On-Demand Economy

While by no means a comprehensive list, these are a few things that founders in and out of the on-demand economy can learn from the last few years:

Copy and Paste Doesn’t Work

It should go without saying, but even though imitation is the highest form of flattery, it doesn’t always make for a good business. That has been proven out in the on-demand space where hundreds of companies copied the Uber model with little to know innovation or even customization to the particular service they were providing.

But by the same token, the on-demand companies that are still receiving venture capital funding and acquiring users are the ones who have built on top of the model. Scot Wingo, founder, and CEO of on-demand eco car wash service Spiffy put it this way, “Entrepreneurs who are succeeding in the on-demand space today do not operate like the original on-demand companies. They have changed their backend operations, changed their corporate cultures, and are going back to the basics of how to run a quality company and putting the customer first.”

Perhaps the single greatest takeaway is that the first responsibility of an entrepreneur is to innovate, even if only by a few degrees.

Fundamentals Still Apply

At the beginning of the on-demand era, there was an enthusiasm about the model that it was a gold strike. People rushed to open up their goldmine confident that they would also find incalculable wealth without needing to experience the drudgery of building a business in a traditional industry.

Of course framing any opportunity as a gold rush is easier to do in hindsight. In the beginning, it was hard to be a voice of reason and bet against something that had such universal appeal. But there were concrete signs at the beginning that ignored by many entrepreneurs.

No business model in the world allows you to ignore the basic tenets of good business. Every business needs a brand, a path to profitability (one that doesn’t assume the idea will go viral on its own), and core values that consumers can identify with. Most on-demand companies lazily attached their brand and values to the notion of convenience. But consumers want to be able to relate to a brand for its unique qualities – its commitment to excellence, passion for the environment, or desire to help the under served.

In other words, the fundamentals of business are essential in every industry, however great the hype.

Value is Greater than Hype

“Businesses solve problems,” says Wingo. “If your business is not solving someone’s problem or meeting someone’s need, it is not a viable business. So just because people have clothes does not mean they will use an on-demand dry cleaning service. There has to be more to the idea; a value proposition that connects with people.”

Good entrepreneurs have the ability to understand in a meaningful way what value is. Maybe it is instinct, perhaps it is just careful observation, but the most successful entrepreneurs can tell whether a value proposition makes sense or not. That is not to say that they are immune to hype and dollar signs, but that is the difference maker.

Testing every business idea against that principle is also what is changing the makeup of on-demand companies which are increasingly purpose-driven, slow growth, and laser focused on value. Wingo’s startup Spiffy has several of those earmarks, slowly launching in select cities, emphasizing its commitment to the environment, and using full-time employees instead of contracted workers. The industry is likely to see more changes as the winnowing of on-demand services continues.

Founders should pay close attention to those changes and learn from the on-demand saga.

Keyboard Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "What Founders Can Learn from the On-Demand Economy" was first published on Small Business Trends

Hey, Small Designers, the Latest Jeans Are Already Out of Style

Small Business Trends - Mon, 2017-05-22 15:30

Blue jeans are generally considered to be pretty timeless in the world of fashion. But that doesn’t apply to all of the trends within that niche.

Recently, some specific blue jean trends have gained a lot of attention — just not always in a good way. You can currently get jeans that look like they have mud on them, plastic jeans, detachable cutout jeans and clear mom jeans.

This Woman Wore Topshop’s Clear “Jeans” For A Week & Survived https://t.co/DjTDoujsZH pic.twitter.com/9tkhNSickC

— Bustle (@bustle) May 21, 2017

Clear plastic jeans have got to be a joke!!?? pic.twitter.com/tjQxFYVnCM

— Georgina? (@Ge0rginaC0nway) May 18, 2017

Detachable Cutout Jeans?!? https://t.co/vbfNs70Yd8

— 981thebreeze (@981thebreeze) May 19, 2017

Idk what’s worse.. the fake muddy jeans or rompers for men

— Dustin Huff (@DustinHuffMusic) May 17, 2017

However baffling these trends might be to the average consumer, there are businesses that are making profits off of these fleeting trends. The only question is, how long will it last?

Fashion isn’t the only industry with fleeting trends. So this concept can actually apply to businesses in a lot of different industries, regardless of whether or not clear jeans are involved.

Are Short Lived Trends Worth Your Attention?

When dealing with these short lived trends, businesses have a couple of different options. You can either designate some limited resources to producing products that fit into those specific trends just to gain some quick attention and profits for your business. Or you could simply stick with the more timeless products and focus on building a base of long-term, sustainable customers.

There isn’t one right answer for every business. You just have to understand that not all trends last forever so that you can plan properly.

Image: Y/Project

This article, "Hey, Small Designers, the Latest Jeans Are Already Out of Style" was first published on Small Business Trends

81 Percent Of Small Business Owners Say Entrepreneurship Makes Them Happy

Small Business Trends - Mon, 2017-05-22 13:30

If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you are probably happy to be one, a new study indicates.

Are Entrepreneurs Happy?

According to the 2017 American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor, the answer is, “Yes”. In fact, 81 percent of business owners say their happiness is due somewhat or entirely to being an entrepreneur. What’s more, 94 percent of entrepreneurs say they are happy with their lives.

Optimism High Among Business Owners

It’s probably because of their optimism that business owners are feeling more secure about their future. The study shows fewer entrepreneurs are worried about their ability to save for retirement (45 percent, down from 53 percent in 2016).

On average, entrepreneurs believe they will need 1,182,000, up slightly from the $1,170,000 they thought they needed last year.

Small Businesses Have Big Plans

“In this economy, there’s a clear correlation between business owner optimism and plans for growth,” says Susan Sobbott, President, Global Commercial Payments, American Express (NYSE:AXP).

Data supports her assertion as it’s revealed entrepreneurs are planning to increase capital investments, hire staff and increase usage of low cost methods like social media to attract new customers.

Hiring is High on Agenda, But Remains a Challenge

In specific numbers, 74 percent say they need to hire to handle their growing business or to help increase business volume (72 percent).

To meet their staffing needs, the greatest number of small businesses (17 percent) will hire a combination of full and part time employees. Sixteen percent say they will hire only part timers while 12 percent will hire only full timers.

Finding the right people, however, continues to be the biggest challenge (26 percent, up from 19 percent last year) for businesses.

The American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor, conducted since 2002, is based on a nationally representative sample of 700 U.S. small business owners/managers of companies with fewer than 100 employees. The anonymous survey was conducted via telephone by Ebiquity between March 29 and April 21, 2017.

Happy Business People Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "81 Percent Of Small Business Owners Say Entrepreneurship Makes Them Happy" was first published on Small Business Trends

10 Tips for Creating and Selling Online Courses

Small Business Trends - Mon, 2017-05-22 12:00

Creating courses to sell online is a great way to funnel your expertise into a rewarding and profitable channel. If you’re an expert, specialist or highly knowledgeable in a certain area, why not share your knowledge to a global audience and earn some money as you do so?

Of course, successfully creating and selling online courses takes time, knowledge and commitment. To shed some light on how to effectively create and sell courses online, Small Business Trends spoke to David Siteman Garland, the creator of The Rise To The Top  and Create Awesome Online Courses. David helps people create and sell online courses, and has assisted more than 3,500 students in over 100 countries to create successful courses, on everything from baby sleep training to clarinet lessons for adults.

Take a look at David Siteman Garland’s ten tips for creating and selling online courses.

Tips for Creating and Selling Online Courses Get Your Customers Results Quickly

Rule number one of online course creation and selling, is to get your customers (students) results as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible.

That’s why they are investing in your course! They want your advice to get them to their goal and you are the shortcut.

Create Courses with Tangible Results

The most successful courses have a tangible result or transformation. Period.

Think about this… if your ideal student took your course and did everything you said… what would be the result? The transformation? Did they learn how to do a backflip? Teach their dog 20 new tricks? Complete writing their book?

Create a Step-by-Step System with Your Online Course

What people are buying from you is a system to do something. Anyone can research random YouTube videos or Google 1,000 blog posts. What you are doing is creating a step-by-step system.

Be Specific about Niche and Target Audience

There are riches in niches. Be specific in terms of topic and who you are selling to. A huge mistake I see all the time are courses that are way too broad. You have to be specific in terms of topic, audience or both.

Don’t Price Your Courses Too Cheaply

Don’t compete in the bargain basement. Resist the urge to price your course at the bottom of your industry. Focus instead on the right students who not only want to pay a premium price but will actually take action. Staying at the premium end of the industry will bring in happy customers who are invested and ready to put your system to good use.

Price Courses on Value

The length of your course has nothing to do with pricing. Pricing is based on VALUE (the result). Length has nothing to do with it. Remember rule number one, people are going to buy your course because you are the SHORTCUT.

Create Anticipation

Build anticipation for your first launch. Never just “release and pray” people will enroll. Think about a movie… what happens before it comes out? (you guessed it…previews!) Same concept for an online course. Build anticipation for your first launch by creating a free video series that inspires, educates and gets folks pumped to enroll the day you open up for business.

Do a Course Launch

Speaking of launches…. remember to do a launch. A bad idea is just to create your course and send out an email saying …. it’s open! The best thing to do is what I call a VIP launch.  It lays out specific dates, bonuses and other aspects that build up anticipation and MOTIVATES people to enroll NOW.

Get Your Name Out There

Don’t worry about those overhyped launches you see all over the internet, where people brag about the zillions of dollars they made with their launch.

The launch is just the kickoff party. It puts your name out there and gets your first few (or more than a few) customers in. One of my students, Renae Christine did $3,000 on her first launch and was ecstatic.

Promote Your Course After Launch

The launch is just the beginning…not the end. Now Renae has done over seven figures in sales in the past 12 months – just a couple of years after that first $3,000 launch. The most successful courses and course creators stick with it after the first launch. There are all kinds of ways to market and promote your course so you are rolling in sales (and happy customers) 24/7.

If you have any tips or advice about creating and selling courses online, we’d love to hear our readers’ stories and experiences about their internet course endeavors.

Chalkboard Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "10 Tips for Creating and Selling Online Courses" was first published on Small Business Trends

20 Women Entrepreneurs Who Are Changing the World

Small Business Trends - Mon, 2017-05-22 10:30

It’s a great time to be a female entrepreneur. There are plenty of trailblazers making their mark on a variety of different industries. If you’re looking for some inspiration or any female entrepreneurs to look up to, take a look at the successful women entrepreneurs listed below and learn how they’re changing the world with their businesses.

Successful Women Entrepreneurs Rebecca Minkoff

The millennial fashion designer has built her own clothing and accessory empire by targeting young women and actually connecting with them on a personal level, mainly using social media and influencer marketing.

Alexa von Tobel

This entrepreneur actually dropped out of Harvard Business School before starting her business, LearnVest. Her goal with the business is to bring financial knowledge to the masses to help them make better decisions.

Weili Dai

Weili Dai is the co-founder of Marvell Technology Group, a company that makes semiconductors. The tech entrepreneur has won numerous awards and recognition for her ability to succeed in a male dominated industry.

Pamela Slim

Pamela Slim is an author, teacher and business expert. She provides coaching and consulting services to other entrepreneurs looking to boost their bottom line.

Leslie Blodgett

An accomplished entrepreneur, Leslie Blodgett has stood at the helm of multiple beauty brands, including Bare Escentuals and Shiseido.

Tory Burch

This popular fashion designer has built a worldwide brand of shoes, handbags, clothing and more. She is also a philanthropist and has won several awards for her designs and business acumen.

Cher Wang

Cher Wang is the co-founder and chairperson of HTC. And her success is magnified by the fact that she does it all in the tech industry, a sector that has traditionally been dominated mainly by male entrepreneurs.

Angie Hicks

Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie’s List, a website that helps connect consumers with local service providers. She started the business back in 1995 and has since grown it into one of the most recognizable sources for finding service providers.

Shelia Lirio Marcelo

This female entrepreneur founded an innovative online startup to help people find child care, pet sitters and house sitters. Care.com is now one of the top sources for finding child care providers online.

Cynthia Ndubuisi

Cynthia Ndubuisi is the entrepreneur behind EverGlow, a company that makes biodegradable dish soap that’s derived from plants. She created the product because of some challenges faced by people in her native country of Nigeria. And she used the help of a mentor to build it into a recognizable brand.

Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington founded the Huffington Post, one of the most notable news publications online. Since then, AOL acquired the publication. But Huffington remains involved in business endeavors and has another startup in the works called Thrive Global.

Erica Nicole

This entrepreneur is the founder and CEO of YFS Magazine. The news site focuses on providing informative content to young self-employed individuals and entrepreneurs.

Rashmi Sinha

This female entrepreneur created an online presentation tool that’s popular with a lot of small businesses — SlideShare. She’s been named as one of the most powerful female entrepreneurs in the world.

Sara Blakely

The founder of SPANX dealt with plenty of failure in the professional world before starting the wildly successful shapewear business. Now, it’s a globally recognized brand. And Blakely’s net worth has been estimated at about $1 billion.

Yang Lan

This entrepreneur is the founder of Sun Media, a Chinese media group. Her empire includes TV, newspapers, magazines and more. And she’s been named as one of the most powerful entrepreneurs in China.

Sophia Amoruso

Although her original entrepreneurial venture, Nasty Gal, folded earlier this year, Amoruso remains involved in the business world. She has a successful book, Netflix show and other projects in the works.

Debbi Fields

Debbi Fields is the female entrepreneur behind Mrs. Fields cookies. She started the business with just a small personal investment and built it into a large, nationwide brand.

Gisele Bundchen

Though Gisele Bundchen might be more well known for her modeling career, she is also an accomplished entrepreneur. Her skin care business, Sejaa Skincare, brings in millions each year.

Corri McFadden

If you think ecommerce reselling is just a hobby, think again. Corri McFadden has built a very successful business based on that concept. Her business is called eDrop-Off. And she and her team collect gently used luxury goods and resell them on eBay.

Mei Pak

Though she actually has a degree in mathematics, Mei Pak decided to go the entrepreneurial route instead and started Tiny Hands, a company that sells unique and handmade jewelry pieces.

MinkoffBurch, HuffingtonUnited Photos via Shutterstock

This article, "20 Women Entrepreneurs Who Are Changing the World" was first published on Small Business Trends

25 Travel Accessories for Men

Small Business Trends - Mon, 2017-05-22 09:30

If you’re in the market for some masculine travel accessories, you’re in luck. There are plenty of different products out there that work great for male business travelers. Here are 25 of them.

Travel Accessories for Men Lifewit Men’s Leather Briefcase

If you’re taking short trips and mostly just need to transport your work gear, an over-the-shoulder bag like this leather briefcase might work just fine. This leather bag retails for between $130 and $300.

Renwick Shoulder Bag

This shoulder bag from Renwick offers another classic option for business travelers. It retails for $17.99.

CaseCrown Laptop Bag

This CaseCrown messenger bag offers another option. It’s made specifically for laptops and comes in a few different sizes, starting at $29.99.

Kopak Slim Business Backpack

Or you could opt instead for a backpack to hold a variety of different items. This slim model is made specifically to fit most laptops, but can also hold some other belongings. Price starts at $36.99.

Targus Rolling Bag

You could also go for a rolling bag like this one from Targus. It’s sized to hold laptops and other items. And it retails for $44.95.

HSEOK Laptop Sleeve

While you travel, you’ll need a way to keep your laptop protected. This HSEOK laptop sleeve features a masculine design and starts at $16.99.

Rivacase Tablet Case

Likewise, a tablet case like this one from Rivacase can be essential if you travel with a tablet device. This product starts at $14.90 and comes in a few different sizes.

ProCase Tablet Stand

You might also find it helpful to have a stand for your tablet so you can easily work on the go. This ProCase tablet stand is made for Samsung tablets and retails for $17.99.

RAVpower Portable Charger

This portable charging station will allow you to charge your devices even on the go. The product starts at around $20 and features a sleek, masculine design.

Treblab Connectivity Headphones

If you need to do any video or voice chatting while you travel, some good headphones with a built-in microphone can be a big help. These start at $39.99.

Philips Noise Cancelling Headphones

Or if you just need to drown out the distractions around you, consider some noise cancelling headphones like these from Philips, which retail for $114.95.

Roll Up Electronics Organizer

To store all of your electronics without taking up a ton of space in your suitcase, you could use something like this roll up organizer from Patu, which starts at $12.99.

MLMSY Toiletry Bag

For all of your shaving supplies and other toiletries, consider this hanging toiletry bag from MLMSY. It comes in a more masculine style than many other toiletry bags and costs just under $13.

Squeeze Pod Toiletries

Or if you’d rather just purchase the travel sizes of the toiletry products you need, these squeeze pods offer a simple solution at $12.99.

Travel Bottle Set

You might also find a set of travel size, TSA approved bottles like these helpful. This set is fairly masculine and costs $16.95.

Parker Travel Shave Kit

Or you could go with a dedicated shave kit like this one from Paker that retails for about $100.

AmazonBasics Garment Bag

If you need to travel with a suit or other garments that you need to keep wrinkle-free, a garment bag like this one for $7.99 can be a huge help.

LapGear MyDesk

If you need to get any work done while on a plane or waiting around the airport, a lap desk like this one can be a big help. This LapGear product starts at $16.99.

ProCase Travel Case

You could also use a multi-purpose case like this one to hold toiletries, electronics or any other number of goods. This ProCase organizer starts at $11.99.

Waterproof Travel Pouch

If you plan on doing any hiking or exploring while you travel, having a small case like this one to hold your essentials can be a big benefit. This one starts at $8.99.

Travel Portfolio Bag

A portfolio bag like this one can provide another option for keeping your phone, wallet and other important items easily accessible while traveling. This one ranges from $9.99 to $21.78.

Caseling Travel Storage Case

Or if you need a case that’s really durable, this Caseling product has a hard exterior to protect your breakable goods. It retails for $14.99.

Master Lock Luggage Lock

No matter what types of accessories you choose, you’re going to want to make sure they’re all secure in your bags. So you might want to purchase a TSA approved lock like this one from Master Lock, starting at $6.98.

Accuweight Luggage Scale

You’ll also want to make sure that your bags don’t exceed any airline weight limits. And this Accuweight luggage scale, priced at $6.99, can help.

Travelmate Neck Pillow

This memory foam neck pillow can help you make your travels more comfortable as well. It retails for $13.65.

Traveling Man Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "25 Travel Accessories for Men" was first published on Small Business Trends

4 Reasons Why Your Sales Call Will Fail

Small Business Trends - Mon, 2017-05-22 08:30

Making sales calls is one of the inescapable responsibilities of being a business owner. No matter what you sell or how big your company is or how much success you’ve enjoyed, as the business owner, you still need to stay actively engaged with the art of selling and finding new business for your company. Unfortunately, many business owners are falling short in the role of sales person. Many business owners don’t want to make sales calls, or think that they shouldn’t have to pick up the phone, or are going about sales calls the wrong way.

Sales Call Mistakes

Here are a few telltale signs that your next sales call will fail:

You’re too nervous. Sales calls require confidence. But if you’re sounding anxious and stumbling over your words, you’re going to make your prospect uncomfortable, and they will be less likely to trust you. Rehearse your sales pitch in advance. Practice recording yourself while holding the phone. Get your sales pitch down to the point where it feels comfortable and easy to remember; then you’ll be more likely to deliver it with ease and aplomb.

You’re too eager. The flipside of a nervous cold call is just as bad — being overly eager. If you’re too eager to get the prospect to agree to a sale or agree to a follow-up meeting, you will make the prospect feel pressured and mistrustful. If the prospect feels like you’re trying to pressure them, they will be skeptical of what you’re selling, and might even hang up. So try not to be too eager. Remember: this sales call is not the end-all, be-all of your sales effort, it is just the start of the process. You don’t have to close the deal on the first call, you just need to see if the prospect is interested, and try to get them to agree to a second call, a meeting, a demo, or whatever the next step of your sales process might be.

You don’t know why you’re calling. Every sales call needs to have a specific goal in mind. You need to know why you’re calling and what you’re trying to accomplish. For example, are you asking them to sign up for a product demo? Are you asking them to agree to receive some sales literature for their review? Your sales process should be well organized with several stages to work through; know which stage you’re on and understand the goals for each sales call before you pick up the phone.

You don’t know who you’re talking to. Are you sure that you’re talking to the right person at the company that you’re calling? If not, don’t just launch into your sales script — ask questions to make sure you’re talking to the right decision maker that you actually wanted to reach. Sometimes getting the right person on the phone is a more complex and difficult process than ultimately making the sales call.

You haven’t done your research. B2B sales is all about doing your research and finding prospects that are the right fit for what you sell. Just like the old saying, “measure twice, cut once,” you need to spend a lot more time doing research into your prospects and their organizations before you pick up the phone to call. Make sure this company is really in the right industry, make sure your solution is a good fit, make sure that you’re aligned with each other. Better research leads to better sales calls; without doing your homework, you’re flying blind.

Picking up the phone to make a cold call to a new prospective customer for the first time is not “fun” for most people; it can be frustrating or nerve-wracking. But if you believe in your business, and you want your business to succeed, you need to find a way to keep making sales calls and keep getting better at it by avoiding the four sales call mistakes above.

Sales Call Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "4 Reasons Why Your Sales Call Will Fail" was first published on Small Business Trends

4 Signs That You Must Pivot or Collapse

Small Business Trends - Mon, 2017-05-22 07:30

The vast majority of startups fail within the first couple of years. While this is sobering, the fact is that many of these failed ventures could have been successful if the entrepreneur behind the startup would have simply recognized the need for a slight pivot. Are you willing and able to face the reality that a pivot could be in store for your business?

What Does Pivoting Actually Mean?

Anyone familiar with basketball has heard the term pivot used by a coach. Within the context of the hardwood, a pivot is a move a player makes after he picks up his dribble.

“Pivoting is done on the ball of the foot,” coach James Gels explains. “You do not want to become flat-footed or have your weight back on your heels. The ball of the pivot foot must be in contact with the floor at all times and must not slide sideways. When you pivot, just actually spin around on the ball of your pivot foot.”

In other words, a pivot is nothing more than keeping one foot in contact with the ground and using your other foot to move around in order to find a new angle or gain an advantage over your defender.

But it’s also important to note the distinction between pivoting and immediately passing. When you pivot, you’re essentially saying, “I’m no longer in a good position to score/pass, but I’m not quite ready to give up the ball. If I could just gain a different angle, maybe I can successfully get rid of the ball.” In a pivot, you aren’t totally abandoning your current situation. Instead, you’re looking for new options that may arise out of your current state.

The term pivot is used a lot in financial circles, as well. You’ll hear financial analysts and stock traders talk about “pivot points” all of the time. What they’re referring to is the point on a stock chart where the market changes directions for the day. By spotting a pivot point, a trader is able to identify a point of leverage and switch gears (so to speak) in order to profit from a change in the marketplace.

The business definition of pivoting, according to Eric Ries, entrepreneur and author of The Lean Startup, is a “structured course correction designed to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy, and engine of growth.” It’s akin to leaving one foot planted on the ground, picking up the other foot, and seeing if a better opportunity exists when you change your orientation. But instead of a basketball, high-tops, and hardwood, you’re dealing with a startup, revenue, and a unique product.

See, the term pivot is commonly used in many different areas of life. But nowhere is a pivot more critical than in the business world. A failure to pivot at just the right time can result in a total collapse of your business. A pivot in the wrong direction can also lead to failure. In fact, you have to pivot at the right time and in the right direction in order to reap the rewards of such a transition.

Groupon, the popular online deal site, is a relevant example of what a successful pivot looks like. Unbeknownst to many, the site actually stemmed from another website, called The Point. It was an online activism platform and was met with very little acceptance in the marketplace. But instead of closing up shop, founder Andrew Mason and his investors performed what has now become a billion-dollar pivot to become profitable.

The Point, which was basically designed to help fix what was broken in the online fundraising industry at the time, did a lot of things wrong. But Mason and his team noticed that it did one thing very well. It allowed groups of people to come together, combine resources, and enhance their buying power. So, instead of totally giving up on The Point, Mason merely pulled this “good part” out and turned it into a group deal site that’s now known as Groupon.

There’s obviously a lot more that went into the pivot — and you can read about it here — but the basic takeaway is that Mason successfully executed a pivot at a time when it looked like his only option was a collapse.

4 Signs That You Must Pivot Pronto

Okay, enough about basketball, stock markets, and deal sites — let’s talk about you. If your startup feels like it’s stuck in place or slowly dying off, it’s time to face reality and start thinking about your two options: pivot or collapse. That may seem overly dramatic, but unless something changes, this is where you’re headed.

But before you pivot, you probably want to be sure that you’re making a smart decision. So, let’s take a look at some of the top signs that you need to pivot as soon as possible:

1. Too Much Competition

You may have had a great idea when you first launched your venture. But the problem is that you won’t be the only one with the idea for long. Bigger companies with much deeper pockets and more powerful workforces often come in and run with somebody else’s idea and do a better job of executing. That’s just the nature of the business world.

If you launched a small tech venture last year and then IBM came in and essentially one-upped you, you don’t really have a choice but to do something differently. You aren’t going to go toe-to-toe with IBM and win. But instead of scrapping the business altogether, you may be able to use some of your resources to pivot in a proprietary direction that others can’t follow.

2. Limited Response from the Marketplace

There’s a difference between doing some customer research and testing before going to market and then actually taking a product to market and trying to sell it to customers. People often say they’re interested in something or willing to pay X dollars for a product, but then totally reject the product when it goes from a prototype to an actual item with a price tag.

If you’ve launched only to experience a lack of customer enthusiasm, then this is a sign that something isn’t right. Either your marketing and branding strategy is terrible, or the product itself doesn’t get people excited. A pivot may be your best option for getting out of the mess.

3. Your Perspective Has Changed

Sometimes a pivot isn’t rooted so much in the product or venture as it is in the founding team. Perhaps you’ve learned a lot since launching and your perspective has changed. As a result, you now see new opportunities that you previously didn’t know existed. This happens a lot when entrepreneurs get more familiar with a niche and begin to understand who their customers are and what they really want.

In this situation, the key is to avoid rushing into a pivot. Serial entrepreneur Steve Blank always suggests sitting on new insights for 72 hours to see if they still seem as good after reflection. If you still see more potential in the pivot, then you may want to start working in this direction.

4. One Part Works Really Well

The fourth sign that you need to pivot is that one part of your business venture is more powerful than the sum of the parts. This is what happened in the Groupon situation. Mason recognized that the best aspect of The Point was the collective buying power it gave people, so he chose to get rid of the other parts and turn that aspect into a new business (i.e. Groupon). Could you do something similar?

Pivoting is Not a Sign of Weakness

Entrepreneurs often put off a pivot because they feel like it’s a sign of weakness – as if they’re publicly admitting failure for everyone to see. But the reality is that the opposite is true. A pivot shows that you’re aware of your surroundings and willing and able to recognize new opportunities as they arise. Investors, business partners, and customers respect this.

So next time you find yourself facing one of the four circumstances outlined in this article, consider the viability of a pivot. It might be the best decision you ever make – just ask Andrew Mason.

Pivot Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "4 Signs That You Must Pivot or Collapse" was first published on Small Business Trends

How Luck Affects Investing in Startups

Small Business Trends - Mon, 2017-05-22 06:30

Suppose you were given $1 million to invest equally across ten start-up companies and you were told that you would receive $100 million if all ten failed and lost your entire investment. Are you sure you could lose all of your money?

This seemingly bizarre question highlights an important point about the role of luck and skill in angel investing. If you cannot guarantee that you will lose money on your angel investments, then there must be some luck involved in the activity. Moreover, if bad luck is necessary to lose all your money on the downside, then good luck might also be necessary to make money on the upside.

How Luck Affects Investing in Startups

Now suppose that there is a cost to trying to lose all your money by picking start-ups in which to invest. Maybe you are required to incur a $10 million loss to try to make the $100 million by identifying ten start-ups that would fail and wipe out your entire investment. Would you take this deal? If you would not accept this deal, then you must believe that there is some amount of bad luck that could result in one of your companies surviving and thereby causing you to lose $10 million.

Remember that luck cuts both ways. You can get lucky and happen upon a winner and you can get unlucky and fail to pick any winners at all. That point has another implication for investing in start-ups. If you’re not sure you can pick losers, then why do you think you can pick winners?

But don’t fall into the trap of thinking luck has a symmetrical effect on the upside and on the downside. Human beings love symmetry and tend to assume that good and bad luck will have similar effects on angel investments. That need not be true. As one angel investor who has funded over sixty startups pointed out to me, “a single stroke of bad luck can destroy a company, but a single strike of good luck cannot make a company successful.”

When luck plays a role, you need a large portfolio. With long shot outcomes, which is what angel investing is, you need a very large sample size to identify whether or not someone has any skill at the activity.

Moreover, the relative balance between luck and skill in an investment tells you something about the size of your investment portfolio. The more luck-dependent something is, the larger a sample size that is needed to draw inference. As the French mathematician Abraham De Moivre found, “the variation of the mean is inversely proportional to the size of the sample.”

What about the balance between the base rate and the individual case? Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman said that prediction depends on identifying the balance between the two. Translated to luck and skill, this means if skill is the most important, you should heavily weight the individual case. But if luck is the most important, then you should focus on the base rate.

A final point I would like to make about luck is how bad human beings are at making attributions to luck. Most people are terrible about understanding the cause of outcomes. We tend to look for patterns in random data. This means that just because someone got lucky and picked a winner the first time doesn’t mean they know anything about picking winners. Following the advice or investment choices of someone who was lucky the first time won’t get you higher returns. Emulating someone else’s approach makes sense only if their skill has contributed to their investment performance.

*This piece is my interpretation of several presentations of an experienced angel investor who would prefer to remain anonymous.

Luck Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "How Luck Affects Investing in Startups" was first published on Small Business Trends

New US Beef Export Deal with China Could Be Huge for Domestic Producers

Small Business Trends - Mon, 2017-05-22 05:00

Sonny Perdue, President Donald Trump’s secretary of agriculture, said once China begins importing American beef under a new trade deal, they will want more.

“When the Chinese people taste our high-quality U.S. beef, there’s no doubt in my mind that they’ll want more of it,” Perdue said in a statement Friday.

US Beef Export Deal with China

“This is tremendous news for the American beef industry, the agriculture community, and the U.S. economy in general,” Perdue said. “We will once again have access to the enormous Chinese market, with a strong and growing middle class, which had been closed to our ranchers for a long, long time.”

The bi-lateral trade deal announced Thursday will open Chinese markets for American beef by July, allowing American producers to export meat for the first time in 13 years.

China banned U.S. beef in 2003 after it discovered imported meat contaminated with mad cow disease. American beef exports dropped from $3 billion to $1.1 billion by 2004, but the market has since recovered to pre-2003 levels without exporting to China.

Under the new trade deal, China will also be able to export certain cooked poultry products to the U.S. Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross said that the impact of poultry products on U.S. producers is uncertain but would not be severe.

American beef producers are pleased by the deal, which finalizes a preliminary agreement to lift the ban on beef imports in China reached in September.

“After being locked out of the world’s largest market for 13 years, we strongly welcome the announcement that an agreement has been made to restore U.S. beef exports to China,” the National Cattleman’s Beef Association said in a statement.

Beef Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "New US Beef Export Deal with China Could Be Huge for Domestic Producers" was first published on Small Business Trends

Online Sales World Event Teaches How to Increase Revenue

Small Business Trends - Sat, 2017-05-20 13:30


You don’t have to spend a ton of time and money learning how to improve your business’s sales.

Increasing revenue is the name of the game at Sales World, an online event taking place in November. The on-demand conference will be attended by over 10,000 sales professionals looking to learn more about tools and methods for improving their sales numbers over the coming year.

And the best part is that you can access any part of the event live and on-demand online. So you don’t have to travel and leave your small business for a week in order to attend.

You can learn more about Sales World and other upcoming conferences in the Featured Events section. Then check out even more small business events in the list below.

To see a full list or to submit your own event, contest or award listing, visit the Small Business Events Calendar.

Featured Events, Contests and Awards

Twitter Chat: “Get Inspired in Your Business”
June 28, 2017, Online, Twitter

Are you ready for the Microsoft Inspire event? The company’s annual partner conference is only a couple weeks away! Join Anita Campbell, CEO of Small Business Trends, and Small Business expert Gene Marks on June 28, 2017 at 3pm ET (12pm PT) under the hashtag #MSBizTips for a preview of what’s coming down the pipeline for small businesses from Microsoft, and discover what you can expect to learn from the conference.

Sales World 2017
November 08, 2017, Online

Sales World 2017 takes place November 8th to 9th, 2017, Online; Live and On Demand. It is the largest Sales Industry Event in the World and will be attended by over 10,000 Sales Professionals. It’s the one sales event you can’t afford to miss!

DIGIMARCON WORLD 2017 – Digital Marketing Conference
November 14, 2017, Online

DIGIMARCON WORLD 2017 Digital Marketing Conference takes place November 14th to 16th, 2017. Whether your goal is to reinforce customer loyalty, improve lead generation, increase sales, or drive stronger consumer engagement, DIGIMARCON WORLD 2017’s agenda will help attendees enhance their marketing efforts. Sessions will focus on building traffic, expanding brand awareness, improving customer service and gaining insight into today’s latest digital tools.

More Events More Contests

This weekly listing of small business events, contests and awards is provided as a community service by Small Business Trends and SmallBizTechnology.

Rising sales photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Online Sales World Event Teaches How to Increase Revenue" was first published on Small Business Trends

10 Tips for Promoting Your Small Business from Online Entrepreneurs

Small Business Trends - Sat, 2017-05-20 12:00


How do you promote your small business? You can use content marketing. You can focus on social media. You can host some sales or other events. And that’s just the start.

For more ideas on how to give your small business a boost this spring, check out these tips from members of our small business community.

Use These Spring Promotion Ideas for Family Friendly Businesses

Spring is a great time to try to appeal to families with your marketing. And there are some really great promotional ideas out there, including the ones listed in this post for family friendly recreation businesses by Jenny Hayward of Signpost.

Use a Blog to Boost Your Business

Blogging isn’t exactly a new promotional strategy for businesses. But it’s important that you have an actual plan for how you can use a blog to really boost your business. Marc Prosser elaborates in this post on the CorpNet blog.

Create High Converting Content

Whether you’re creating blog posts, social media or other types of content, you need to always keep in mind how that content is going to convert customers. In this Content Marketing Institute post, Shane Barker shares how you can create high converting content for your business.

Drive Traffic With LinkedIn Marketing

When you think of social media marketing, your mind probably goes right to Facebook or maybe Twitter. But there are some powerful tools on LinkedIn that you can use to promote your business, as Ravi Chahar outlines in this Inspire to Thrive post. You can also see commentary on the post over on BizSugar.

Use Customer Empowerment to Improve Retention Rates

Your small business’s promotions shouldn’t be all about gaining new customers. It can also be about improving retention rates. This Kissmetrics post by Nadav Dakner goes into more detail about how customer empowerment can improve retention rates for small businesses.

Discover the Anatomy of a Perfect Guest Post

Guest posting on other blogs and websites can also be a great way to promote your blog or business. To learn about what makes a perfect guest post, check out this case study by Ryan Biddulph on Basic Blog Tips.

Bring in Higher Returns Through eCommerce

eCommerce isn’t just a tool for businesses to offer products for sale. It can actually offer other benefits as well, including the potential for improved marketing. Read more about this concept in this post by Ethan Theo on Getentrepreneurial.com.

Create a Successful B2B Content Marketing Strategy

Content marketing isn’t just for B2C businesses. You can also create a successful strategy to promote your company with potential business customers, as this Prepare 1 post by Blair Evan Ball explains.

Keep Up With SEO Trends

SEO can be a very helpful tool for online businesses. But since it’s a constantly evolving concept, it’s important to keep up with trends. Ivan Widjaya discusses the concept in this SMB CEO post.

Learn How to Market to Millennials

Targeting millennials with your marketing promotions isn’t the same as targeting baby boomers or any other generation. So you actually have to learn how to speak to each group specifically. Rick Verbanas shares some tips in this Your Guerrilla Marketer post.

If you’d like to suggest your favorite small business content to be considered for an upcoming community roundup, please send your news tips to: sbtips@gmail.com.

Online entrepreneur photo via Shutterstock

This article, "10 Tips for Promoting Your Small Business from Online Entrepreneurs" was first published on Small Business Trends

Watch Out: This Yelp Program Punishes Online Review Manipulation

Small Business Trends - Sat, 2017-05-20 09:30

Yelp (NYSE: YELP), a website and mobile app that publishes crowd-sourced reviews to connect people with great local businesses, claims to have over 120 million reviews of businesses worldwide. With such a large number of reviews, and the influence those reviews have on consumers’ buying decisions, Yelp has its share of run-ins with individuals and small businesses writing fake online reviews.

But, the California-based online reviews company has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to shady business behavior on its platform. As part of its larger Consumer Protection Initiative, Yelp has a less publicized Consumer Alert program that punishes businesses caught manipulating reviews and ratings.

Yelp Consumer Alerts Program

Yelp’s Consumer Alert program places a clear alert message on a business’s profile page on the site when it determines that business has made significant efforts to mislead consumers with fake reviews. Yelp consumer alerts inform people that the online review company has detected extreme attempts to purchase fake reviews or manipulate ratings for certain businesses. And the program’s team of “detectives” adds a link to relevant evidence.

Consumer Alert on a business page on Yelp.

“Yelp has become so influential in the consumer decision making process that some businesses will go to extreme lengths to bolster their reviews,” said Eric Singley, vice president of consumer products and mobile, Yelp, in a press release announcing the program launch back in October of 2012. “While our filter already does a great job of highlighting the most useful content, we think consumers have a right to know when someone is going to great lengths to mislead them.”

In the past, the Yelp Consumer Alerts program team says it has alerted consumers to dishonest behavior by medical spas, urgent care facilities, dentists, physicians and more — exactly the types of businesses that consumers shouldn’t have to second guess. In some of these cases, Yelp has gone ahead and sued firms accused of manipulating reviews, including suing a law firm (no less) for faking its own reviews.

Plight of Business Flagged for Review Manipulation

A business flagged for bogus reviews in this manner can suffer irreparable damage to its reputation and hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in lost revenue. A SEO company busted for posting over 800 fake reviews online between 2014 and 2015 in the U.K. had its reputation seriously damaged. And in the U.S., 19 companies identified by the New York state attorney general’s office as manipulating different review sites including Yelp were forced to pay more than $350,000 in fines.

Small businesses threatening to sue customers who post negative reviews about them can also find themselves in trouble. Yelp also places the so-called Consumer Alerts on Yelp review pages of businesses that make legal threats against customers that post reviews on the site.

Last year, Prestigious Pets, a Dallas pet-sitting service, filed a law suit against a couple who wrote a negative review criticizing the business demanding damages of  between $200,000 and $1 million. Yelp consequently placed the increasingly infamous Consumer Alert on Prestigious Pets’ Yelp page.

Consumer Alert on Prestigious Pets’ Yelp page.

“Consumers have the right to share their opinions about their experiences with businesses, but there will always be a small handful of businesses who mistakenly think it’s a good idea to threaten consumers who exercise their free speech rights,” Yelp explains on its official company blog.

Meanwhile, two bills aimed at protecting consumer speech have been introduced in Congress: the SPEAK FREE Act, and the Consumer Review Fairness Act that’s also known as the “Right to Yelp Bill.”

Yelp Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Watch Out: This Yelp Program Punishes Online Review Manipulation" was first published on Small Business Trends

Building Digital Culture is the Key to Business Longevity

Small Business Trends - Sat, 2017-05-20 07:00

Building Digital Culture: A Practical Guide to Successful Digital Transformation wants business owners to stop playing with the concept of “going digital” or “innovative”. “Going digital” isn’t creating a website, creating a social media account or using an iPad. These are aspects — albeit tiny — of a digital culture, but the concept of “digital culture” is much deeper than the way the term is used. Digital culture in this book is more revolutionary and powerful than anything that you have ever seen in business.

What is Building Digital Culture About?

“The company that you toil and work so hard to make succeed is statistically unlikely to exist in a decade.”
Building Digital Culture: A Practical Guide to Successful Digital Transformation

Building Digital Culture presents a very strong statement to business owners: Build a truly innovative business culture now or watch your business die. Why you might ask? Most modern businesses don’t cultivate an environment that fosters agility, experimentation and creativity. Instead, they maintain business processes built on the assumption that their future will remain pretty much the same.

Enter any number of businesses: Netflix, Google, Amazon, PayPal, Uber and others that have leveraged technology to not only steal the business from under their competitors’ noses but also radically define what a business can do.

That is the key point that Building Digital Culture doesn’t want readers to miss. You can’t predict the future like you did in the past because technology is evolving faster than anyone could ever predict. It’s not growing in a predictable linear fashion. It’s growing exponentially. This makes it hard for businesses that take a “wait and see” approach to technology and makes it more likely than ever they will get left behind.

Leveraging the technology requires a culture most businesses have not adopted wholeheartedly, the authors  say. While they may praise “innovation”, most actually reinforce a culture that is just the opposite with silos, fragmentation, ineffective employee training, low tolerance for experimentation and painfully slow recruiting practices. These practices reinforce “business as usual” and essentially lure them into a temporary but fatal cycle of success. What these businesses don’t see is the unstable footing caused by this success. The more invested they become in maintaining their own success, the less able they are to innovate when something disruptive (like removing late fees for video returns) happens.

Author Daniel Rowles is an industry expert in the field of digital marketing. He is CEO and Lead Trainer of Target Internet, a digital marketing and training business, and Course Director at the Chartered Institute of Marketing. Rowles is the host of the Digital Marketing Podcast in addition to writing several books on digital marketing and helping businesses such as Mercedes, L’ Oreal, and Warner Brothers.

Co-author Thomas Brown is the former director of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and current senior consultant at Isherwood and Company and executive advisor at ThinkStuff.

What Was Best About Building Digital Culture?

Building Digital Culture contains probably, hands down, the most focused discussion of “going digital” you will probably ever find in a book on the future of business. The book continually reinforces several points that demystify the vagueness of “going digital”. First, the book debunks the myth that “going digital” is all about “the next big thing”. It’s about the culture and thinking process, no matter your budget. Second, it emphasizes why digital innovation is so important now rather than later for every business, not just a select few.

What Could Have Been Done Differently?

Building Digital Culture deserves credit for taking a lot of the vagueness out of digital marketing and innovation and bringing them back down into the realm of everyday mortals. One area that could use a little more attention is the chapter on measurement. While the book praises the idea of a single dashboard for all significant metrics, it doesn’t go into a lot of detail (or provide any examples) of how this might look. More detail here could help businesses (of which there are many) who are swimming in data while only utilizing a tiny portion of it.

Why Read Building Digital Culture?

Building Digital Culture is best for business owners who are a little concerned about the uncertain future of their industry and the rather confusing advice on how to respond. The book provides clear-headed advice, complete with strategies for cultural transformation and refinement of business processes. Building Digital Culture helps readers understand how this bold and uncharted new world of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, Big Data and everything else ties into a business’s bottom line over the long-term rather than the short-term. This kind of information is extremely helpful for business owners who understand that “digital” is more than a trend or buzzword but don’t know how to turn that knowledge into reality. Building Digital Culture is a massive leap forward in business thinking, in that regard.

This article, "Building Digital Culture is the Key to Business Longevity" was first published on Small Business Trends

Without the Difference, Business Quality Will Always Lack Excellence

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2017-05-19 17:30

The Difference: When Good Enough Isn’t Enough is about quality but it doesn’t feature many of the terms you would expect in a book on the subject. You won’t find a discussion on Six Sigma strategies, Lean manufacturing or how to add more items to your kanban board. What you will find is a discussion of one topic author Subir Chowdhury (aka “The Quality Prophet”) believes is crucial to every step of the quality process, the right mindset.

“Improving quality is not a slogan …”
The Difference: When Good Enough Isn’t Enough

What is The Difference About?

Chowdhury, an aeronautical engineer and quality consultant who has helped companies save billions, came to this “quality is a mindset” realization after he was trying to help two businesses in the same industry deal with a similar problem. He applied the same procedures to both businesses but only one business thrived. Chowdhury came to realize that there was more to success than following a checklist and procedures like Six Sigma. The business that was thriving had a different culture. This business had a culture that embodied what Chowdhury repeatedly calls in the book, a “caring mindset”.

A “caring mindset” is one that understands the technical aspects of the job and the consequences that come along with it. A frontline salesperson who realizes that the cleanliness of a store affects the company’s profitability (and by extension, his or her own job), will be sure to clean the store. A city engineer who realizes decisions he or she makes affect thousands of lives will be more careful when making them.

In The Difference, Chowdhury introduces four sets of principles using the acronym S.T.A.R. to help businesses integrate and maintain that “caring mindset” into their culture at the individual and group level. Using these principles, his book argues, is the key to helping business improve their compliance on quality-related issues into quality excellence. The S.T.A.R. principles, centered around transparency and accountability, force individual workers to own their part in the company’s overall function. When a business’ culture makes this tiny mental shift from “business as usual” into the transparency and accountability advocated by the book’s S.T.A.R. principles, they should reach a higher level of organizational performance than they ever thought possible.

Author  Subir Chowdhury, crowned the “The Quality Prophet” by BusinessWeek, is chairman and CEO of ASI Consulting LLC, a global consulting firm for strategy, training, and quality consulting. Chowdhury grew up in Bangladesh, trained as an aeronautical engineer in India, and then came to the US for graduate school where led a distinguished career. He is an honorary member of the World Innovation Forum, an inducted member of the Engineering, Science, and Technology Hall of Fame in addition to winning several other prestigious awards for his work in the manufacturing and quality consulting fields.

What Was Best About The Difference?

The Difference establishes the “heart” of matter when it comes to insuring quality, something that businesses are prone to overlook. In Chowdhury’s eyes, businesses can adopt all of the “best practices” they want, but the effort will ultimately fail if the employees don’t mentally commit to the workplace and the “best practices” that a leader chooses. The Difference explains why quality isn’t a trivial matter. The book then provides a simple set of principles, well-developed examples, and a highly-decorated expert’s platform to help readers make this campaign for quality for the better.

What Could Have Been Done Differently?

The Difference has  a unique approach when talking about quality. As discussed above, the book doesn’t delve into manufacturing strategies or ways to increase productivity. The focus is on the “human” aspect of quality. The book introduces several examples of what happens when this goes wrong; however, it doesn’t provide strategies for a solution. It leaves readers to connect the dots. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily because it forces readers to find their own solutions using the book’s stated principles.

Why Read The Difference?

The Difference is an accessible guide to the key ingredient for creating and maintaining quality in the workplace, a caring mindset. Without the right mindset, any external attempts to address a quality issue will ultimately backfire. The book helps readers understand the implications of having a different “quality is mindset” belief in every part of your business, no matter what kind of industry you are in. Using a very simple set of principles and down-to-earth stories, Chowdhury identifies the key factors that distinguish excellent organizations from good ones.

This article, "Without the Difference, Business Quality Will Always Lack Excellence" was first published on Small Business Trends

Casper Rethinks the Customer Experience by Delivering Mattresses in a Box

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2017-05-19 15:30

You can buy pretty much anything online these days — books, clothes, even groceries. But until recently, most customers still had to go to a physical store to buy a mattress.

In fact, retailers seemed convinced it simply wouldn’t make sense to sell a mattress in any other way. Of course, customers would want to visit a store and try out the mattress before they buy. But that was all before Casper came along.

Casper is a mattress brand that is looking to disrupt the whole industry by selling a “mattress in a box” that customers can buy online and then simply send back if they aren’t satisfied. It might seem strange. But the idea gives customers a little more time to try out the mattress and see if they like it. Previously, customers could simply feel or maybe lay on a mattress for all of 5 or 10 minutes in an attempt to make a proper decision.

The company has made on concession to convention recently signing an agreement with Target to carry some products in stores. The stores will carry pillows, sheets and other accessories responding to feedback from some customers that they wanted to actually feel some of  the materials before buying. But the mattresses will still only be sold online.

Disruptive Customer Experience

But going back to Casper’s unconventional central business model, your small business could learn a thing or two from this type of creative thinking. Put some extra thought into your customer’s experience. Think about what’s best in your market and what’s worst. Consider if there are any disruptive changes that might give consumers more options — and you an advantage over competitors.

Image: Casper

This article, "Casper Rethinks the Customer Experience by Delivering Mattresses in a Box" was first published on Small Business Trends

Updates from Microsoft, QuickBooks Make Small Biz Headlines

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2017-05-19 13:30

Microsoft and QuickBooks both offer tools that are absolutely essential to many small businesses. And this week, both of those big names announced changes to some of their most popular offerings.

You can read about those updates and more small business headlines below in this week’s Small Business Trends news and information roundup.

Technology Trends Microsoft  Introduces Tools and Services for Small Developers at Build 2017 Event

As expected, Microsoft Build 2017 did not disappoint when it came to announcements and a few surprises. The event, Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) annual developer conference, the tech company invited software developers to join them to learn about the latest new technologies and plans on the horizon.

QuickBooks Online Introduces Changes in Site Navigation

QuickBooks Online accounting software for small businesses recently announced it is rolling out some new navigation changes to improve productivity and online experience.

Lessons Small Businesses Can Learn from the Global WannaCrypt Ransomware Hack

What can small businesses — especially those operating on the web — learn from the latest ransomware attacks. Recently, hackers dispatched ransomware called WannaCrypt. When it was opened on computers, it locked users from accessing necessary data. The only way to unlock the hack was to pay a ransom via Bitcoin. More than 200,000 computers in 150 countries were affected by WannaCrypt.

Prefer App Aims to Reinvent the Gig Economy with Client Relationships

The gig economy has given so many more options to professionals looking to provide services, and to businesses and individuals looking to hire skilled professionals. But the process hasn’t always been very personal. Typically, when someone is looking to hire a professional, they might look for reviews online or even use an app to find the closest service provider.

Employment 91 Percent of Remote Workers Feel More Productive Out of the Office (Infographic)

Workers feel more productive when they are working remotely out of the office, a new study indicates. More Productive Out of the Office According to data compiled by Ireland-based business coaching company Davitt Corporate Partners, 91 percent of remote workers believe they “get more work done when working remotely.

Retail Trends Ebay Motors Provides More Opportunities for Sellers — and Local Service Businesses

eBay Inc. (NASDAQ: EBAY) is making some changes to its motors marketplace and platform that small businesses, especially local service providers, might want to take note of. The giant eCommerce company announced recently it is expanding the eBay Motors marketplace and adding new features and services to deliver a more personalized and innovative experience to automotive buyers.

Small Biz Spotlight Spotlight: Dreamlines  Creates Custom Illustrations for Weddings, Anniversaries

Finding unique wedding and anniversary gifts can be a challenge, especially if you’re looking for something that’s completely personal to the bride. But that’s why Nikki Gentry founded Dreamlines LLC. The company makes customized illustrations of wedding dresses that can make for great wedding or anniversary gifts.

Social Media Case Study: How to Use Facebook Ads to Generate Leads

Using Facebook lead ads can help you to generate leads and get more business. Small Business Trends followed the path of Amazing Lash Studio Eastvale and how they used this social media tool. We spoke with Justin Perry, the owner of the company that used Facebook lead ads to build out their guest list and get a 4.8X return on their ad spend.

Have You Been to Twitter Flight School?

Just in case you haven’t heard of Twitter Flight School, the social media platform is not diversifying into teaching would be pilots to get their license. But the metaphor is meant to signify what the school will help you accomplish in terms of marketing your small business. When Twitter Flight School was first launched in 2014, it was exclusively available to ad agencies.

Is Snapchat Really Right For Your Small Business?

Is Snapchat really the way to go for your small business? Low growth numbers in Q1 2017 and stiff competition from the likes of Facebook and Instagram Stories have business owners wondering if this video app might self destruct just like the videos and pictures sent on the network eventually do.

Are You Taking Advantage of Facebook’s Small Business Council?

There’s a good chance that your small business already uses Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) to promote your offerings and communicate with your audience. But did you know that the social media giant also provides assistance to small business users through the Facebook Small Business Council.

Livestreaming Entrepreneurs, Here’s How Virtual Assistants and Chatbots Boost Success

In 2016, Facebook opened up its Facebook Messenger app to third-party chatbots. Businesses are being encouraged to make chatbots work well with Messenger to serve 1.79 billion monthly active users on Facebook, one billion of whom are active on Messenger. The mass-market potential of chatbots is that its “technology will simply understand and do as the human asks,” reports Gartner.

VC and Angel Capital Are Accelerator Funds a Better Way for Angels to Invest?

I have been thinking a lot lately about the best way for angels interested in making pre-seed stage investments to put money into start-up companies. I’ve come to the conclusion that investing in accelerator funds is better than joining an angel group. Angel groups are investor collectives that pool funds and management.

5 Reasons Angels May Have Small Portfolios

The typical angel investor has a portfolio of just seven companies, the American Angel Survey, an effort to gather information from nearly 1700 accredited investor angels, reveals. The 75th percentile is just 15 investments, and the maximum portfolio is only 106 investments.

Microsoft Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Updates from Microsoft, QuickBooks Make Small Biz Headlines" was first published on Small Business Trends

Ronan Galvin of Kickstagram: Marketing Automation Led to 282 Percent Increase in Revenue in 8 Months

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2017-05-19 12:00

Kickstagram co-founders Ronan Galvin and Casey Mathews developed a platform to help businesses automate engagement on Instagram. But according to the duo, it wasn’t until they started using InfusionSoft’s marketing automation platform that they were able to simplify a complicated and time-consuming onboarding process that improved the customer experience. And within eight months, Kickstagram achieved 5,000 more leads generated, a 282 percent increase in revenue and a 336 percent increase in customers.

Kickstagrams’ Marketing Automation Success Story

I had an opportunity to speak with the two cofounders at last month’s InfusionCon User Conference (ICON) to learn more about how automation made such a sudden impact on their business, as well as to get a few tips on how to get more traffic from Instagram.

Below is an edited transcript from our conversation. To see the entire interview, click on the embedded video below.

* * * * *

Small Business Trends: Let’s talk a little bit about how you guys got started. Maybe give us a little bit of your personal backgrounds and how you guys got started with Kickstagram.

Ronan Galvin: After college I went over to China and started sourcing and manufacturing products for clients back in the States, and then Casey and I hooked up because it was too hard to do it just from China. So Casey was in the States, and he would travel back to China and meet up and, visit factories, and whatnot.

As we were starting our business, Kickstarter was also taking off, and social media, Instagram, too, around that time, 2012, 2013, something like that.

We would get a lot of clients. They would be successful with their Kickstarter, then they were like, “now how do we fulfill our products,” whether it’s watches, or a new little tech device or something like that. Friends of friends were like, “Hey, you guys are in China. Can you get this product?” Then we would oversee the manufacturing and the development of that, and then ship it back to them.

Now after we fulfilled on the Kickstarters, we had selfish interests in the fact that the more they sold, the bigger our commission would be, so it was like after the Kickstarter they were like, “Well, now what do we do? Can we go into retail?” They didn’t really have access to a retail distribution chain, so it was obviously eCommerce. One thing with eCommerce was, social media. So 2012, 2013, ’14-ish, it was able to post on Instagram, or Facebook, or Twitter and get traffic back to your website. Once you got the traffic back to your website, you can convert into sales. We found that Instagram was a good solution. Casey was sitting around one night, and …

Casey Mathews: I was working on one of our clients at the time, their Instagram, and I just started liking pictures based off hashtag words that were relevant to their wood and steel watch, people that were into watches, that fit that type of vibe, or different things like that. The next day I was pretty surprised they got a lot of followers back. I was like, “Wow. They were telling me how much they’ve been struggling lately, and yeah, my thumb hurts.” I did about two or three hundred likes, but I was actually really pleased with the results. Obviously I did it for a couple more days just to make sure it was the real deal, it kept working, and then I realized how do I do this without my thumb falling off, more or less, you know.

Initially we looked into automating this process, but we knew when you do something automated you’ve got to be careful because you have to put filters in place, and so we partnered with a developer and made our own software on the back end, and really just being like students of Instagram, and also knowing our clients, I think we did a pretty good job of finding the happy medium of being able to do these 2,000 engagements a day. But at the same time be extremely targeted cause you don’t want to waste that when you have such only a limited amount of engagements.

That was kind of the birth. Initially kind of a hobby. “Liking” and picking up 5, 10 clients at first. We were like, “Wow. This is cool. People are interested. Let’s try to email a hundred people this week or something.” We sent them out of Gmail. Four, five responded. They’re interested. That’s pretty good return. Next week, 200, and then we got to the point we’re like, “Wow. We could actually …” We had 20, 30 clients, and we’re like, “Yeah, we should probably stop the other things we’re doing and focus on this, because we see the potential in this industry.”

Ronan Galvin: It’s kind of, I guess, ironic, we started out doing this automation for social media, and now we’re using this Infusionsoft that automates a lot of our stuff.

Casey Mathews: Automation, automating our automation.

Small Business Trends: What’s been the impact overall … What are some of the results you’re seeing?

Ronan Galvin: One of the biggest stats we like to share is we had a hundred clients and four employees, and everything. There’s a lot slipping through the cracks, and kind of unorganized. Everything was out of Gmail, and just a lot of manual work. We started to implement Infusionsoft, and now we’re sitting at 700 clients with six employees, so the biggest things is for us is we were able to get to 700 and only add two more employees. A lot of it we’re getting sales in now. We brought our whole team here [to ICON]. Everyone who’s signing up now is getting a sequence of automation; they think someone’s sending it, which is cool.

Small Business Trends:How has that been able to enhance the way that you do your work with your customers?

Casey Mathews: I think a big thing we’re starting to get into is providing that extra value that, I guess like you were saying, we didn’t have time to provide or create. Video, we’re doing a lot more in-house video, because the better their Instagram is, our software and our service is going to do better stuff for them.

The better their Instagram account is, the more we’re going to send traffic to them. We create new videos on whatever’s hot or trending on Instagram. Show them that. Send it out to them. That’s something we couldn’t do before. Hand hold them a little bit more on the onboarding, but make sure some of it’s going to be through a personal touch.

Small Business Trends: Give us something that the folks don’t know about Instagram that they should know about it.

Ronan Galvin: Just be consistent with posting each day, and be consistent with the content that you post. Sometimes we have people who will sign up their brand, and they have great jewelry, for example. The jewelry is flawless, but then you go and look at their Instagram, and they’re posting selfies, or a picture of their dog, or what they had for dinner on their brand profile, and no one’s following you because of that. They’re following you because of your jewelry. Show off the lifestyle, the jewelry. Don’t intermix the personal.

Casey Mathews: Unless it’s the most high quality picture and …

Ronan Galvin: There’s a good reason.

Casey Mathews: Yeah, there’s some good reason, but seems like people really co-mingle that personal and brand thing a little bit too much.

Ronan Galvin: Being a smaller business, you probably are the one who is handling the social media, and so it’s probably easier to say, “Oh I’m at this cool event.” Snap a photo.

Casey Mathews: My tip too would be don’t be afraid to emulate other people that are doing it great.

Ronan Galvin: We always say look in your space at the big players. So if I’m starting an athletic shoe brand, I would look at Nike because Nike has the team of 15 social media managers, and they know what content to produce, when to post it. They’re already doing it, just take what you can and tweak it to fit your brand and your voice. That’s the easiest way to do it.

Small Business Trends: Tell folks where they can learn more about what you guys are doing.

Ronan Galvin: You can go to Kickstagram.io, and all the information is right there.

This article, "Ronan Galvin of Kickstagram: Marketing Automation Led to 282 Percent Increase in Revenue in 8 Months" was first published on Small Business Trends

Wix Launches SEO Wiz to Help Small Businesses Get Found

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2017-05-19 10:30

The cloud-based web development platform Wix.com (NASDAQ:WIX) has announced a way for small businesses to enhance SEO rankings on their websites. In a press release, the company introduced Wix SEO Wiz. The new tool powers search optimization on Wix sites by creating a personalized plan to ensure that Wix websites are properly optimized for search engines.

Wix worked directly with the Google Search Console team to develop SEO Wiz — a fast and easy solution for users to index their websites.

Additionally, SEO Wiz provides easy step-by-step interactive walkthroughs on how to optimize every page of a Wix website. All you need to do is enter information about your website and your desired keywords. SEO Wiz will then automatically check your keywords for relevancy and suggest additional ones, too. You will also be provided with a comprehensive SEO analysis of your Wix website.

Wix SEO Wiz Will Help Sites Get Found

“We know how important organic traffic is for Wix websites, especially businesses,” said Head of Wix Search Products Sarig Reichert. “We believe that Wix has the best SEO solution and with the new SEO Wiz, it is even easier for Wix users to set up their sites and get found online fast. The product integration with Google Search Console further advances the ability for our users to be found on the world’s most popular search engine.”

Google’s Search Console Product Lead Michael Fink also expressed his optimism and excitement for the new product saying: “It’s been exciting to work closely with Wix on making sure that great content can be submitted to Google Search with one click in the SEO Wiz tool. We’d like to expand this partnership model, following the remarkable success of the Wix collaboration.”

Wix currently boasts over 106 million registered users. And if SEO Wiz is as easy to use and brings as amazing optimization results as suggested, it should be a huge help to any online small business — especially those less savvy about search engine optimization.

Image: Wix.com

This article, "Wix Launches SEO Wiz to Help Small Businesses Get Found" was first published on Small Business Trends

10 Places to Find Free Music for Videos

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2017-05-19 09:30

Music is an essential element of any video. The right kind of music helps make a video more powerful, emotive and effective. The internet is home to a number of royalty-free music sources that enable users to download music to use for making videos.

Whilst these sites offer royalty-free music, some require payment. Sites that offer, or claim to offer, total free music can be questionable in their authenticity. In many cases, it can be difficult or even impossible to know if the original artist agreed to have their work there.

Small Business Trends has identified ten places to head to for royalty-free, authentic music downloads for making quality and professional videos.

Places to Find Free Music for Videos FreeSoundTrackMusic

FreeSoundTrackMusic provides royalty-free music that can be used on videos, movies, games and multi-media productions. Whilst the music is royalty-free, video creators are required to purchase credits to become a member and have access to a greater choice of music. Credit prices range from $3.50 for a single download, to $24.00 for a 24-track download pack.

Audio Jungle

Audio Jungle offers royalty-free music under paid licenses. While free royalty-free music might be tempting, as Snail Music admits, the quality of the free music is not always sufficient for corporate video and therefore recommends users take advantage of using the site’s royalty-free music under paid licenses. Audio Jungle has five different music licenses available.

Audio Sparx

Audio Sparx prides itself as being a world-class music licensing source for creative and commercial use. With over 800,000 pre-cleared tracks by award-winning artists, bands, composers and orchestras, it’s not different to find high-quality music to accompany videos of Audio Sparx. Users simply have to create an account, sign in, browse music and then add chosen tracks to their shopping cart.

TuneFruit

TuneFruit likes to be referred to as a micro licensor rather than production music. TuneFruit offers a vast range of free music downloads from wide choice of musical genres. Video makers can browse through the like of acoustic, cinematic, blues, jazz, retro, rock, and a whole host of other musical genres, to find suitable tracks for their videos. TuneFruit offers five pricing tiers with explainer videos.

Partners In Rhyme

Partners In Rhyme have been providing royalty-free music over the internet since 1996. Users can browse through the music libraries, listen to the different tracks and, when they find a suitable track for their video, add it to their cart.

Premium Beat

Premium Beat offers royalty-free corporate music designed to help video creators produce videos to motivate and inspire their audience. After creating an account, uses can search for a suitable track and then add it to their cart for downloading.

Pond5

Pond5 provides royalty-free stock and production music tracks for any creative project. Whatever type of video a user is creating, Pond5 claims it will have the tracks in its vast library of royalty-free music to help users make their project awesome. Users need to sign up to Pond5. They can then fund their account through three-tiered credit pack options. These credit packs include free bonus credits, meaning the more you buy, the more you get.

Audio Network

Audio Network makes finding the perfect music for an engaging and inspiring video easy. Users can browse through catalogues of different music styles, moods and emotions, instrumentation, production genres, album listings and artists and composers. The site offers pricing tiers, ranging from the Creator Package to the Professional Package.

Free Stock Music

Free Stock Music offers a 100% royalty-free license that enables video creators to use music for all types of productions. When users have registered with Free Stock Music, they will then have access to the site’s free soundtrack music library, where they can look for music to spice up a professional video or home movie.

Royalty Free Music Library

The Royalty Free Music Library is an easy-to-navigate and use site that offer royalty-free music with a lifetime license, meaning users pay just once and can use the track forever. The site claims to be the “best source of royalty fee music for audio, video and multimedia productions of all kinds.”

Finding the right music to finetune your video is imperative, after all the icing on the cake is the music! These sources help video makers locate, download and benefit from quality and emotive music for video production, quickly and efficiently.

DJ Sound Board Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "10 Places to Find Free Music for Videos" was first published on Small Business Trends