9 Summer Reads for Small Business Owners

One of the best descriptions of small business owners came from a speaker at an expo in DC:  “People who work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week for someone else.” Even if you’re working a mere 50 hours, that doesn’t leave you much time for reading but the longer days of sunlight and the pool or beach are beckoning.

So put down your phone, close the laptop, and treat yourself to a book.  If you need a rationalization, consider it business support time, because it is.  The reads below can help you get motivated, learn a new marketing tactic or improve your productivity, maybe even all of the above.

Not all of the books are specific to small business but people I know and entrepreneurs like myself have found them helpful.  Most, if not all, are available used (which means you may be able to buy from another small business). If you have a suggestion to share, please do!

So here’s your nine, listed in no particular order:

  1. You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero. I love this book and go back to re-read a bit of it when I’m having a difficult day. Like the title says, it helps you reaffirm your value. It also encourages you to take risks and stick to your goals (despite the inevitable setbacks), and avoid what Sincero calls the Big Snooze.
  • The One-Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by Ken Blanchard, et al. Lisa Carey, a small business coach in Northern Virginia, recommends this book for those who have people working for them but still take on too many tasks (monkeys) themselves. By doing so, Blanchard says in Harvard Business Review, “You become a hassled manager and don’t feel very good about yourself. And you have workers who look to satisfy their needs elsewhere, because they feel underutilized and unappreciated.” So dodge the monkeys and pick up a copy.

3. The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Small Business Marketing by Rich Brooks. If you’ve been in business for a while, you’ll find yourself wishing you had found this book earlier but I think you’ll still find it helpful. social media marketingAs a big fan of SBDC and Ray Sidney-Smith (a walking encyclopedia on many of these subjects), I can’t say it’s everything entrepreneurs need to know about things like SEO and digital marketing, but it does address a ton of questions.

4. New Sales. Simplified. by Mike Weinberg. Numerous sales experts have penned  great books on selling and business development but who has time to read them all?  I chose this one because it offers practical, specific suggestions on the mechanics of prospecting. If you are putting off calls that could help your business or not getting any results from them, check out the tough love section on why folks fail at phone calls.

5. Speaking of tough love, check out The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It recommended by Eric Lentz, an Ohio-based software application developer. Author Michael Gerber “points out how common assumptions, expectations, and even technical expertise can get in the way of running a successful business.” Who doesn’t need that?

6. Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin. New York City photographer Pat Bates suggested this rather easy read (147 pages) by the famous marketing guru who has published other thought-provoking bestsellers. This one focuses on leadership and making change through building a tribe of people who share your passion. Godin tackles the common misperceptions and doubts people have about their leadership potential.

While the book drew some criticism for lacking substance and being repetitious, it also made it onto some “must read” lists, including Huffington Post’s 5 Books Every Changemaker Should Read.

7. She Means Business: Turn Your Ideas into Reality and Become a Wildly Successful Entrepreneur by Carrie Green. As founder of the Female Entrepreneur Association and winner of Great Britain’s Entrepreneurs’ Champion of the Year award, Green definitely qualifies as a go-getter. Largely aimed at motivating those who are just starting out, the book chronicles Green’s entrepreneurial journey and what she has learned. Thanks to Australian marketing strategist Hayley Robertson for suggesting this one.

8. Predictable Success Getting Your Organization on the Growth Track- And Keeping It There. Rita Foss, co-founder of Ironistic, a digital marketing company in Alexandria, recommended this book that delves into the seven stages that organizations experience. Praised as clear and engaging, this is on a Forbes must read list for “any business trying to grow, or a business that has lost its way.”

9. Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization by Olivier Blanchard. Bethesda video producer Pete Couste (who also heads the Independent Practitioners Section of the Public Relations Society of America) said he has found this book really helpful in measuring results.

The book drew high praise from a socialmedia.com reviewer, who liked the fact that the book not only addresses measurement how-tos, but also talks about integrating social media into a company’s processes and overcoming common objections to building a comprehensive SM program.

While it may feel that summer is slipping away, keep in mind that the first day of fall will not arrive for almost two months.  To be precise, the autumnal equinox starts at 9:54 pm on Sept. 22 when the Sun crosses the celestial equator.  That’s as scientific as I get – the Farmer’s Almanac people can explain it better. Bottom line – you still have time for a summer read. Enjoy.

Crafting and Communicating an Authentic Brand Story

The best brands are built on great stories.“

—Ian Rowden, Chief Marketing Officer, Virgin Group

More than at any other time in human history, today’s consumers possess increasingly short attention spans and are bombarded daily with numerous media and messaging channels. Everywhere you look there is constant marketing and advertising going on in some way, shape or form, with the goal of informing, promoting and prompting commercial activity from you and me, the consumer. New products and services are constantly being developed and rolled out and updates and upgrades are being released on a daily basis.

It is in this climate that brand creators and curators find themselves with an urgent need to become great storytellers. For small businesses, the sole owner and operator is often the individual in charge of this story. Brand is regarded as a business’ most valuable asset. It follows then, that the most important (and valuable) story a brand steward can tell is their own.

This is the one story brand creators and curators must know thoroughly and become masters at telling, in any setting and to any audience. The audience can be stakeholders, potential investors or especially, new and existing customers. In the same way that no one, not even your closest competition, does exactly what you do in the same way that you do it; No one understands you, what you sell or why you do it, better than you.

What do we mean by brand story? Your brand story is the unique narrative that weaves together your business origin (look back) and orientation (looking ahead) and speaks to present issues, concerns or needs in the market. What need was your business created to meet? What problem was your business created to solve? This story speaks from you to your audience with a message and tone that permeates through all your business communication. Your brand story can emulate other organizations but should never imitate directly. It must be yours – looking, sounding and feeling like the rest of your brand.

Exceptional brand stories do a few key things well:

  • They provide answers because they begin with questions. Arguably the most critical question to answer is the “Why” of your business. In helping consumers understand how you got to where you are today, take them back to that initial problem that your product or service was created to address.
  • They incorporate visuals that tie in the key aspects of your story and associate well with its tone and key elements. Give careful thought to the visual assets that you use to tell your brand story, especially in digital media settings. We live in an increasingly visual world where the competition for attention spans is quite fierce.
  • They are grounded in real life. Realize that problems are not an end but a beginning. Problems provide opportunities for creativity, not obstacles.
  • They begin with why your organization is different, but they continue with why that even matters.

Recently I heard a very compelling brand story from Greg Vetter, CEO of Tessemae’s, a rapidly growing all-natural producer of sauces, dressings and other condiments. That story is summarized here. Once you become familiar with the story, it’s readily apparent how the origin of the company influences the orientation of the company, and along the way, how this authenticity in look, feel, delivery and message continue to shine through everything about the company, from its production to packaging.

Remember, there are lots of brands telling lots of stories through lots of media. Authenticity creates appeal. This is something Tessemae’s understands and all small businesses would do well to imitate. Know your brand story and tell it as only you can!

Create Brand Experiences Using the 3 M’s

The Coca-Cola logo is an example of a widely-r...Brands are everywhere! Products and services are constantly advertised to consumers through social media, mobile devices, digital signage among many other new and traditional avenues. There is more competition than ever for brand recognition and loyalty among consumers.

As consumers increase in volume and technological savvy, businesses must adapt their approach to marketing and branding to them. Creating high-quality brand visuals and messages is a must, but to truly distinguish their brands, 21st century brand stewards must go a step further. Three principles, each beginning with the letter M, will help the men and women who create brands achieve greater success in today’s market.

Meaningful

Branding for today’s audiences should, first and foremost, be meaningful, answering the question, “What is the problem that is being solved through the product or service?” Brand messaging is rooted in seeking answers to real problems. Common emotions or situations, such as humor, happiness or fear can be used and even featured in brand messaging or imagery, but ultimately if there is no need that is clear, the brand positioning ought to be re-considered.

This principle is the one of the three discussed here that is most essentially connected to both producer and consumer. To solve problems is why companies get into business, and why customers seek out businesses or organizations in the first place. This aim of branding will answer this question: “How will it meet a need in your life? How does it do it better or differently than anything else?”

Brand experiences developed for products and services give meaning by speaking to real and perceived needs and wants on the most basic human levels. Brand crafters should be able to restate their solutions as answers to problems and questions. This is important because clients and customers are more likely to return to brands that they feel excel at meeting real needs that they have.

Memorable

Secondly, brand experiences should be memorable. Children and adults love stories. We love to hear them and we love to make them up. We are always telling stories and responding to memories from childhood and other periods in life both the pleasant and painful times. This aim of branding answers this question: “How does this product or service make you feel?”

The human mind is always making connections. Brand crafters should use this to create visual and verbal links that tap into the power of stories and memories and heighten the awareness of brands to consumers. This can be done by developing visual and verbal elements (“symbols and saying”) that are either easy to remember or call to mind memories resonant with the target audience.

This principle is most important to the consumer (customer) side. Brands must seek creative ways to tell a story that is uniquely theirs in a way that is authentic and compelling. Discerning audiences can tell if the narrative being presented is not genuine. Fantasy, Future, Tradition, History, Values and Dreams are six of the most popular and common themes used repeatedly in compelling and successful branding.

Don’t underestimate how the power of stories and memories matter to consumers making sometimes difficult brand choices. Brand strategists and designers who tap into the right stories or and create the right memories can make connections with consumers that move them and motivate them to purchase a product or service. Consider the last great movie scene you witnessed and how easy it was to tell your friend about it. Consumers are far more likely to buy and share what they find memorable.

Measurable

Lastly, modern brand experiences should be measurable. Branding is a business tool, created with tangible business goals in mind, such as increased consumer awareness, expanded market share or successful entry into new markets.
After successfully appealing to the head and the heart, brand caretakers must then seek an answer to the questions, “How does it impact lives? How will we know if our initiative, rebranding, campaign is successful?” Branding strategists and designers have at their disposal many methods and tools to gather the answers, including analytics, focus groups, surveys, response cards, inbound marketing, search engine optimization and social influence among many others.

This principle is most important to the producer (the business or entity) than any of the others. Brand strategists and designers, operating as part of business teams, must use and create branding systems that produce some type of data that can be analyzed. They need to measure in a quantifiable ways the net gain in influence and value and profit for their brands and parent companies. They need to know it worked, or if it didn’t work, why was it unsuccessful. Stakeholders of all levels in an organization need to be able to determine if an expensive and expansive strategic campaign was successful in meeting its goals or not?

This principle is vital because lots of time and money is invested in branding. Failing to learn from past mistakes and misjudgments in this area can cost cash, credibility and even careers. In addition, branding is about reputation and perception and reputations and perceptions are two things that can change very quickly. In a world of constant change, data provides bankable evidence that helps brand crafters make better strategic decisions, which ultimately creates stronger businesses and brands.

Once you establish meaning and context for your branding in the everyday needs and wants of your audience, then craft a narrative that is authentic and strikes the right emotional chords, the last step is to deploy your visuals/messaging and keep track of what influence it is having on your intended audience through perception and behavior change.

As you think about the evolution of your brand, remember the 3 Ms: Meaningful, Memorable and Measurable. These are the indispensable characteristics and considerations you should use to guide successful branding strategy and create powerful and effective brand experiences.

Is This The Future of Advertisement?

sbdc_advertisingMaybe you noticed it but you probably didn’t.  It’s that post on your Facebook feed that is an ad, but its made to look like just another post from a friend.  In this day and age where we expect our newspapers, leaders, doctors, and teachers and to provide full disclosure of financial arrangements and other important facts, some of the biggest web sites on the Internet are playing fast and loose with our trust by passing off ads as just a normal post.

This type of ad is called “Native Ads” and because of their placement in our regular viewing area must illicit a higher than average response rate.  The fact that they provide no special border, or tag gives the user no idea that it’s a paid placement and that is just wrong.

My hope is that enough people begin to call out these ads for their mis-leading nature that the companies either remove these from our “organic” viewing area or else make it much more clear that this is an advertising and not a posting from one of our friends.