Small Businesses and Startups – 3 New Years Reflections and Resolutions Mike | January 5th, 2015

Alright then. Hangover from New Years eve is gone these past few days. The last long weekend of the holidays is done. And now, once again, we turn our gaze lovingly back to our business, our customers, and our team. As managers, we are so focused on the moment at hand, the task that needs accomplishing, the strategy that needs executing, the data that needs analyzing, that we often neglect to take time to simply reflect. Reflection is a critical activity for effective managers and strong leaders and there are natural moments for the act of contemplation that sometimes feels like a luxury we simply can’t afford.

We’ve written before about New Year resolutions in the context of business and management, but this year I want to put these into more of a ruminative  frame. In other words, let my reflection on each of these drive my resolve to improve each.

As a manager some days I do a pretty good job while on others my performance may be poor or ineffectual. So I have chosen 3 areas where I know I can improve, where I can strengthen my focus, and where I can change things up with the goal of advancing, refining, or reviving specific aspects of the business. I’d love to hear your own reflections and thoughts on these or on your own reflections and resolutions.

1. Focus on the customerAs the manager of an internet business, our approach has always been “light-touch” and our assumption has always been biased towards “self-serve.” Like many internet businesses we have built the company around the assumptions of scalability, and that necessarily means finding ways to serve a large customer base with a small team. We’ve preached and practiced the lean approach to business and, while I still strongly believe in it, I have come to the conclusion that we haven’t done a good job connecting with and engaging our customers. People tend to buy more from, and return more often to, companies they feel a strong connection to. At crowdSPRING we are resolved to make 2015 the year of customer relationships; we will not be satisfied to simply wait for our users to contact us with a question the need answered or a problem they need resolved. Rather we will reach out proactively, work hard to build and maintain relationships, hold our customer’s hands and help them answer those questions before they are formulated and solve those problems before they arise. The goals are improved conversion rates, increased customer satisfaction, and greater word-of-mouth. We will collect data on these factors as the year progresses and adjust our approach as we go.

2. Support the team. I have always enjoyed and dreaded the year-end reviews we do for each member of the team here. We discuss the year that is closing, reflect together on each person’s growth and development, talk about whether the goals we set last year have been achieved and what new goals we might set for the year to come. While my door is always open to any discussions with any team member, the end of year review is a great time to offer myself up for and feedback, positive or negative, that they may want to share and I actively encourage them to do so. What’s interesting is that there is always something to be learned and there is always something shared that catches me by surprise. Why is that? I don’t have the answer to that question, but I have resolved that in 2015, I will spend more time focused on the team; give more thought to what they might need from me; consider more and better ways to communicate. The goal is that at next year’s reviews, none of the feedback should come as a surprise and none of the criticism be about something I was not aware of. I intend to keep my finger more firmly on the pulse of the team and be way more proactive about soliciting their thoughts and ideas about the company, the product, and my own performance.

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Twitter Link Roundup #250 – The very best ideas about Small Business, Startups, and Design! Mike | January 2nd, 2015

With the new year, our thoughts at crowdSPRING invariably focus on what we have in excess: winter, winter, winter. And with winter comes our favorite team outing of the year: Skiing! Check out the beautiful video above and perhaps you’ll be inspired to join in, too

And now, properly primed for the cold New Year, it’s time for our weekly roundup! Great links and articles we shared with you over the past week on our  crowdSPRING Twitter account (as well as my own Twitter account). We do like to talk about logo design, web design, startups, entrepreneurship, small business, leadership, social media, marketing, economics and other interesting stuff! I hope you enjoy!

smallbusinessblog

Many Choose Not to Save in the Health Marketplace – crowdspring.co/12NPwsQ

How Gabriel Bristol Went From Homeless to CEO crowdspring.co/1CP44ba

Rebounding economy could mean more pay raises crowdspring.co/1AcOd40

Are Your New Year’s Resolutions Good for Your Business? |insureon – crowdspring.co/1AcO9kK

startupsblog

What Keeps Them Up At Night? – crowdspring.co/1A8BMUB

Move Over, Millennials: Generation Z Is Entrepreneurial And Plans On Working Independently | Co.Exist–crowdspring.co/13DAMgq

A Testable Idea Is Better than a Good Idea | HBR – buff.ly/1JXEdQw

The Inescapable Paradox of Managing Creativity – crowdspring.co/1DwzCnM

How Competitive Startups Can Fuel Each Other’s Success – crowdspring.co/1yQkEpq

Special guest post by @JTRipton: “The Top 10 Business Books of 2014″| vcrowdSPRING Blog – crowdspring.co/1Aiew6K

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Fresh from the SPRING: TheBluesman Audree | December 31st, 2014

When perusing our galleries here on crowdSPRING, we see some amazing work submitted in the projects. Today, we noticed this holiday gem submitted in this illustration project.

Let us start the slow clap for TheBluesman. Check out more great work on TheBluesman’s profile page.

Nicely done, Bluesman, nicely done!

FFS-TheBluesman-Holiday

Twitter Link Roundup #249 – Small Business, Startups, Innovation, Social Media, Design, Marketing and More Mike | December 26th, 2014

One Direction without autotune. ‘Nuf said.

And now, perfectly in tune and in the proper key, it’s time for our weekly roundup! Great links and articles we shared with you over the past week on our  crowdSPRING Twitter account (as well as my own Twitter account). We do like to talk about logo design, web design, startups, entrepreneurship, small business, leadership, social media, marketing, economics and other interesting stuff! I hope you enjoy!

smallbusinessblog

A Liability Risk for Airbnb Hosts – crowdspring.co/1w2ZD8T

Getting Virtual Teams Right – crowdspring.co/1u8p2sv

Small Business Marketing Tools and Resources – crowdspring.co/1wQ2MuP

Customer Service: The Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy | crowdSPRING Blog – buff.ly/1DHGnmL

The Real Reason Unlimited Vacation Policies Work | by @mvolpebuff.ly/1w3kqsO

Crowdfunding Campaigns Come With a Growing Price Tag | Yahoo Small Business – Advisor buff.ly/1ug2ciE

5 Pointers for Finding a Quiet Place to Work on the Road – crowdspring.co/1ALSwli

startupsblog

Brands must ‘open up’ and encourage entrepreneurial thinking to stay competitive | The Drum –crowdspring.co/1CVEy52

How Investing in Employees Ensures Your Organization’s Success – crowdspring.co/1G4iZM9

The New Era of Time Management – crowdspring.co/1srLi0Q

Why Startups Are Bad Storytellers | LinkedIn – crowdspring.co/1u8p7fA

Obamacare and Pre-Solving Predictable Problems | LinkedIn crowdspring.co/1u8pmau

Peter Thiel on the Kinds of Startups He Would Never Invest In – crowdspring.co/1u8phDK

Rethink What You “Know” About High-Achieving Women – crowdspring.co/1u4ihc6

Entrepreneur Russ Fradin Makes More Money, Less Noise | Hunter Walk – buff.ly/1A6Bopo

The Ultimate List of Blog Post Ideas crowdspring.co/1sNBpe5

Build an Innovation Engine in 90 Days – crowdspring.co/1G5fCq0

The Top 10 Business Books of 2014, by @JTRipton! | crowdSPRING Blog – crowdspring.co/1yVVwJ4

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Fresh from the SPRING: lenty Audree | December 24th, 2014

When perusing our galleries here on crowdSPRING, we see some amazing work submitted in the projects. Today, we noticed this holiday gem submitted in this print design project.

Let us start the slow clap for lenty. Check out more great work on lenty’s profile page.

Nicely done, lenty, nicely done!

FFS-lenty-Holiday

Small Business and Startups: The Top 10 Business Books of 2014 Guest Post by JT Ripton | December 22nd, 2014

When Ron Charles and Timothy R. Smith of the Washington Post described 2014 as a good year for book lovers, they probably weren’t referring to texts of the business variety. That said, the business book fans among you shouldn’t be too disappointed. From the lessons of a hugely successful serial entrepreneur to the surprisingly insightful musings of a rock star, this year’s bumper choice of business books contained more than a few gems.

Here are ten that should feature on your bookshelf:

The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Leadership – Sir Richard Branson. Image via Flickr by Gulltaggen From high school dropout to space travel pioneer, there are few things that don’t appear on Richard Branson’s resume. In his latest literary offering, he gives a behind-the-scenes look at his notable — and some might say exuberant — leadership style: a style that has helped him build a multibillion-dollar empire. Colorful, shrewd, and freewheeling, The Virgin Way confirms Branson’s desire to make sure that everybody is having as good a time as he is.

The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century – Steven Pinker. As short as it is practical, Steven Pinker’s guide to modern writing is a must, not only for writers and editors, but also for anyone who wants to achieve a stylish finish to his or her prose. Using thought-provoking examples of flawless and gruesome writing, and a generous helping of witty banter, the New York Times bestselling author takes Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and gives it a much-needed facelift for the 21st century.

Your Inner Will: Finding Personal Strength in Critical Times – Piero Ferrucci. Piero Ferrucci, psychotherapist and bestselling author of The Power of Kindness, guides readers through a practical study of will cultivation and examines the pitfalls that can arise from a lack of inner strength. In chapters on autonomy, freedom, mastery, integrity, and courage, and using insights from wisdom teachings and psychological exercises, Ferrucci also highlights how to use your untapped energy to skillfully navigate crises and lead a more purposeful life.

Me, Inc.: Build an Army of One, Unleash Your Inner Rock God, Win in Life and Business – Gene Simmons. The ghoulish looking bassist from the rock band KISS is probably not the first person you think of when seeking business insight, but Gene Simmons has proven himself as a formidable business man. Inspired by The Art of War, Me, Inc. describes 13 principles for success, freedom, and peace of mind. From networking like hell to harnessing available digital tools, the inspiration for each principle comes from Simmons’ own field-tested triumphs and failures.

Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success – Shane Snow. If you ever wonder how some startups go from zero to hero in a matter of months, and how you can do it too, Smartcuts is a good choice for your reading list. Journalist and entrepreneur Shane Snow uses smart examples such as Alexander the Great and Jimmy Fallon to bust the age-old myths about success and prove how the most innovative icons adopt a rule-breaking approach similar to those employed by modern computer hackers.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – Greg McKeown. You’ve probably read plenty of books about how to get more done in less time. Stanford graduate and CEO of THIS Inc., Greg McKeown, takes a different slant in Essentialism, focusing instead on how to determine the most important things in life. McKeown advocates eliminating everything that is not essential, so you can do away with the feeling of being stretched too thin and reclaim control of your own choices in life and business.

The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success – Megan McArdle. In the thought-provoking The Up Side of Down, Bloomberg View columnist and emerging author, Megan McArdle, draws upon cutting-edge research in economics, business, and psychology to offer a new take on the principles of success. By adopting the approach in this book and thinking differently about how you live, learn, and work, you can harness the power of failure and channel early mistakes into future success. This is a must read for anyone who wants to know how to pick up the pieces when the chips are down.

Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind – Biz Stone. Using personal and pivotal stories from his early career, Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter, offers a remarkable insight into opportunity, creativity, and empathy. Things a Little Bird Told Me also addresses failure, ambition, corporate culture, and the value of vulnerability. This book will satisfy every reader who seeks advice, principles, wisdom, or behind-the-scenes stories from one of Time’s most influential people in the world.

The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users – Guy Kawasaki. Whether you’re promoting a business or yourself, you probably already know the important role that social media can play. What you might not know is which of the countless authors to listen to. Apple’s former chief evangelist is a smart choice. In The Art of Social Media, Kawasaki teams up with Peg Fitzpatrick to create an essential bottom-up guide. Useful for newbies and seasoned pros alike, this book features more than 100 tips and tricks to help improve your social media game.

The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace – Ron Friedman, PhD. Replacing employees can cost up to 400 percent of their annual salary, so encouraging them to stay put is a wise move. In The Best Place to Work, Ron Friedman blends the latest research into motivation, behavioral economics, and management with powerful case studies to offer leaders a new way to create an extraordinary workplace. In doing so, he gives you the game-changing ability to achieve workplace excellence in any organization.

With the help of these ten business books, there’s nothing stopping you from becoming the successful person you imagine. Stock up your smart phone’s virtual bookshelf now, since 2015 is likely to bring a new selection of must-reads.

Photos: Richard Branson, by Gulltaggen, Flickr;  and Gene Simmons by Alberto Cabello Mayero, Flickr

Twitter Link Roundup #248 – Small Business, Startups, Innovation, Social Media, Design, Marketing and More Mike | December 19th, 2014

As this is the final roundup before Christmas 2014, I thought it might be nice to show you a gift that you won’t be able to give. Why, you ask? The good folks over atCards Against Humanity offered a special expansion pack for lovers of the game. Unfortunately the limited run sold out in a very short time, but the video above will show you exactly what you missed out on. Enjoy!

We hope you enjoy your holiday, but now… it’s time for our weekly roundup! Great links and articles we shared with you over the past week on our  crowdSPRING Twitter account (as well as my own Twitter account). We do like to talk about logo design, web design, startups, entrepreneurship, small business, leadership, social media, marketing, economics and other interesting stuff! I hope you enjoy!

smallbusinessblog

Want To Close More Sales? Try Tablets | Usability Geek –crowdspring.co/1zdiJKs

Building Trust In Client Relationships And The Power Of Saying “I Don’t Know” | Search Engine Journal –crowdspring.co/1CVzygR

Customer Service: The Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy | crowdSPRING Blog – crowdspring.co/1BY6mlc

5 Fast–And Cheap!–Ways To Make Your Office Space More Productive | Fast Company –crowdspring.co/1A8SCmS

Time Is the New Money. Are You Broke? – crowdspring.co/1A8SIuB

How to Tell Your Small-Business Story – crowdspring.co/1u8ovXv

startupsblog

Small Business and Startups: How Do I Thank You? | crowdSPRING Blog – crowdspring.co/1GkbtP7

Where are the Women Software Engineers? – crowdspring.co/1pIoZb3

A Great Name Tells You More Than Just What the Company Does – crowdspring.co/1y6b38N

6 Alternatives to Being a Bad Boss – crowdspring.co/15XucTU

3 Potent Secrets to Innovation | by @DanielBurrusbuff.ly/1GqXiYw

Wonderful startup story … When we were small: Under Armour | The Washington Post – buff.ly/1ssMC3m

Why Fear Kills Productivity – crowdspring.co/1u8orHd

Can this Silicon Valley strategist teach Fortune 500s to share? -buff.ly/1CWc7UF

Rethink What You “Know” About High-Achieving Women – crowdspring.co/1u4ihc6

A Pitch Deck Containing These 15 Slides Is More Likely to Get the Money – crowdspring.co/1yDqCsa

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Fresh from the SPRING: JohnBlaine Audree | December 17th, 2014

When perusing our galleries here on crowdSPRING, we see some amazing work submitted in the projects. Today, we noticed this gem submitted in this logo project.

Let us start the slow clap for JohnBlaine. Check out more great work on JohnBlaine’s profile page.

Nicely done, JohnBlaine, nicely done!

FFS-JohnBlaine

 

Customer Service: The Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy Ross | December 16th, 2014

Most customer service teams respond to customers with sympathy. A sympathetic response could be: “I’m also unhappy with the way that product works.”

Sympathy is rarely an ideal response to a customer’s problem. Instead, show empathy. Empathy allows to you be professional and caring at the same time. It also allows you to avoid becoming emotionally involved (like when you show sympathy).

Think about it this way: when you’re sympathetic, you simply feel badly for someone. Sympathy doesn’t communicate to a customer that you understand WHY they feel the way they feel – it only allows you to communicate that you understand their problem. A typical response – “I’m sorry” – is insufficient to solve a customer’s problem. You must do more.

On the other hand, empathy communicates that you not only understand the customer’s problem, but also that you can relate it to something you yourself have experienced.

Here’s a wonderful short RSA video (by Dr. Brene Brown) that puts the two (empathy and sympathy) in context.

Small Business and Startups: How Do I Thank You? Mike | December 15th, 2014

Mom taught us well. She raised us to be polite and she raised us to consider other’s feelings. For many small business owners saying thanks to your team is a head-scratcher. Performance-based bonuses can be a powerful incentive for individuals, and profit-sharing plans can reward great teamwork, but saying thank you can and should rise above those. Besides, not every business can afford meaningful bonuses for the team and not every business has profits to share in the first place.

People (read, your team) have a very basic need to be appreciated. Simply saying, “Thank you” for a day’s work, for a solid accomplishment, or for a record of loyalty can go a long way towards job satisfaction and can act as a motivator by reinforcing the behaviors, productivity, and creativity that we all value so much. In fact, studies have shown measurable gains in productivity when positive interactions outweigh the negative ones. The scary thing is that a recent poll showed a very high percentage of workers reporting that they had not received a single affirmation for the good work they had done over the past year. Yikes.

So, small business manager can take simple steps in the way of “Thank You’s” that carry meaning, that are sincere and thoughtful, and that act as a reflection of the culture of the company. Affirming (with consistent regularity) the hard work and contribution each person makes to the team is the low-hanging fruit. Showing your love for your employees is never a bad idea, so here are 6 simple (and free to inexpensive) ideas for special occasions, or even for no occasion at all!

1. Say it! Stop at an employees desk. Sit down next to him. Smile to let him know that this visit is not about a project or a meeting or a deadline. Look him straight in the eye and say “Thank you.” That’s it. Done. (PS – this can also be done  at the lunch table or on the phone or in the elevator. Duh.)

2. Write it. Sadly, the art of the hand-written note is a dying one. Very few people take the time to write a card or  note even on the most appropriate occasions. So what better way to surprise and delight an employee than with something so simple, so unexpected ad a thoughtful, hand-written note or card telling them how much you appreciate something they did, something they learned, or simply that you appreciate having them on your team.

3. Surprise them at surprising times. Paying close attention to the people around you and listening to what they say can lead to wonderful moments to say thanks and these don’t have to be for someone’s birthday, or anniversary, or at the holidays. At any random time during the year, something as simple as a $25 gift certificate to a restaurant you heard a worker mention can show her not only that you appreciate what she does, but that you respect her as a person. People like to know that they are heard, whether the context is a meeting or a water-cooler discussion about great places to eat. Plus, people love surprises and when they receive a gift (even a tiny little one) at a time they wouldn’t normally expect one, the impact is magnified and the value of that thank-you is greatly increased.

4. Shout it out! Recognizing a team member in front of the rest of the team can be a powerful motivator and there are plenty of opportunities to do it. At crowdSPRING we have a bulletin board crowded with printouts of tweets and emails from our customers complimenting this or that team member  and when a new one arrives, the shout heard around the office is “Put it up on the board!” There are lots of other great venues for recognizing folks: a team meeting is a great time to give a shout out and tell the story of an individual to let everyone know about their big accomplishment or their stellar effort. If you publish a newsletter, this is also a wonderful way to acknowledge someone’s contribution.

5. Help them learn. People value opportunities for personal growth virtually as highly as they do monetary benefit. Google recognized this with their “20% time,” which allowed employees to take one day a week to work on side projects (with great results: Gmail being one). Everyone who works for you has their own hobbies and special interests  and these should be not just celebrated and shared, but you should enable your team to pursue what interests them. Training and development programs can also be a great way to say thanks while building capacity and skills for your company; sending your folks to conferences, seminars, and professional development courses go a very long way to showing how much you appreciate someone.

6. Do stuff together. Lastly, time together doing fun or interesting things is a great way to say thanks while providing the chance for team building and personal bonding. Do outings together, eat lunch together, share movies and books with each other, and plan time away from work where you can just have fun with the folks from work. At cS we have had events as different as company outings to a day at Lallapalooza to after-work beers, to movie nights in the home theater and to a team kayaking trip (the photo at the top of this post was taken this past September on the Chicago River at dusk!).