Your Small Business Will Not Succeed Unless You Build a Strong Brand Ross | February 8th, 2016

A brand is the sum total of the experiences your customers and potential customers have with your company. Your brand lives in everyday interactions with customers and prospective customers, the images you share, your company website, the content of your marketing materials, and in your posts on social networks.

Today, no company can control all the conversations that take place about the company’s products and services. And yet building a strong brand is more important than ever. Companies that build a strong brand establish trust and credibility. Companies that fail to build a strong brand rarely succeed. It’s one reason we strongly recommend companies stay far away from “ready-made” logos found in online logo stores and avoid making other branding mistakes that can cripple your small business.

Many business owners believe that building a strong business is the same as building a strong brand. The two are related, but not tightly. In the following video I discuss why you should focus on building a strong brand and not just focus on building a strong business.

What do you think? How important is it to for companies to build a strong brand online?

10 Important Things You Can Do To Be A Good Customer Keri | February 4th, 2016

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As customers, we often put our expectations in the hands of the customer service team. That being said, there is so much one can do to take charge of their own experience as a customer. The company, the product, and the team are only part of the equation, and not the only deciding factors on how smoothly your experience will go. So how do you, the customer, take charge of your own experience? I’m so glad you asked…

1. Know your needs- Before taking the leap, make sure you know what you need! Sounds simple enough, but knowing exactly what your needs are will prevent you from getting side-tracked or even roped into spending more than you need to. It’s surprising how many prospective customers haven’t given much thought to what specifically they need. Lack of clarity makes it very difficult for a company to meet their needs and more importantly, such lack of clarity also makes it difficult for the customer to get what they need.

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2. Do your research- It’s best to take the lay of the land before making a purchase. There are so many tools at the disposal of consumers, so use them to your advantage. Even using tools like social media to find company and product reviews can be a big help. Also, if a company offers FAQs or other helpful materials, check it out!

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3. Get to know who you’re working with- Make a connection with the person or team helping you. If you make an effort to learn names and other details, you are more likely to stick out in their minds, and they are even more likely to go that extra mile for you. Surprisingly, even though most people think that speed of the response is the most important factor in a customer’s interaction with a support team, it turns out that empathy is more important. If you make a strong connection, you’ll usually find a level of empathetic support that will make you smile.

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How to Avoid Failure: Two Common Small Business Mistakes Arielle | February 3rd, 2016

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We all experience failure at some point in our lives. As business owners, failure is common to us- not every idea can be a winner. As entrepreneurs, the looming fear of failure is all too real. According to Forbes, nine out of ten startups will fail within their first few years of operation. This means that it is more common for a business to fail than it is for a business to succeed, pinning the odds of success against us.

Some argue that failure is overrated and that you should learn from success:

You can learn a great deal more from success than from failure. Here’s why: Knowing what not to do helps you focus and avoid setbacks, but doesn’t help you adapt to changes. You know what didn’t work — does that help you next time when you need to figure out what will work? If you ask successful entrepreneurs whether they would rather hire someone who has failed or someone who has succeeded, I suspect most would prefer to hire the person who has succeeded. This is not surprising — scientific research shows that we learn more from success than from failure.

But, since many more people fail than succeed, it’s important to be able to learn from both success and failure. In fact, the most successful entrepreneurs are willing to take risks and to fail. After all, risks create opportunities, and opportunities often lead to success. ( a word of caution here: not every failure is a learning experience).

Ultimately, the learning process (from success and from failure) is cumulative. Melinda Emerson (@smallbizlady on Twitter), one of the leading small business experts in America, recently wrote in her blog, Succeed As Your Own Boss:

Success is a cumulative process. In other words, you have to start today and do a lot of little things right every single day before you can finally create a track record of achievement that will cause people to see you as successful. The same is true of failure. Some failures can be catastrophic, for sure, but failure is not fatal until it becomes one in a series of many that define your daily lifestyle and your character.

Here are two of the biggest mistakes businesses make, and what you can learn from those mistakes:

1. Creating a good product – for an obscure market niche.

One of the first questions investors ask in a pitch meeting is “Who are your competitors?” Often, startups answer that they don’t have any because their market is so unique that no one has entered the space. In a world of thousands of business, that’s pretty hard to believe.

The truth is that startups always have at least one competitor, even if the competition is indirect. People jump on good ideas, so the chance of being the first to have one of the uniquely great ideas is pretty low. The key to a good startup is tackling a good idea from a new angle, one that makes the startup stand out from the sea of others trying to enter the same space. Yet many startups ignore this insight and attempt to launch their businesses in small, niche markets. However, when a market is too small, it becomes difficult to make recurring profits and survive as a business. By focusing on “great products” and ignoring the size of the market, entrepreneurs fall into the trap of creating something great that nobody wants. Marc Andreessen, General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz echoes this idea in one of his LinkedIn posts:

Conversely, in a terrible market, you can have the best product in the world and an absolutely killer team, and it doesn’t matter — you’re going to fail.

Andreessen highlights two other important aspects of a successful business. Even though he claims just having a great team and product aren’t enough, there is still value to be found in strong teams and strong products.

How can you determine the market size for your product or service? We’ve offered advice about this and recommend you read How To Choose a Market For Your Startup Or Small Business and Tips on Defining The Size of a Market for a Startup Business.

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Fresh from the SPRING: dhanny09 Audree | February 2nd, 2016

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 dhanny09. Check out more great work on dhanny09’s profile page.

Nicely done, dhanny09, nicely done!

dhanny09

 

Why A Generic Logo Design Will Hurt Your Business Keri | January 28th, 2016

A huge part of what we do in customer service here at crowdSPRING is working to make sure creatives produce original work, respecting the work of others, and that buyers walk away happy with a design all their own. We often get asked why we are such sticklers about the use of generic concepts and why we are against it, so here’s the rundown for buyers and creatives.

Buyers:

Some Buyers come to the site know exactly what they want, and others are just trying to figure it out. We realize that newcomers to logo design may come to a project open to any kind of design. They see the overused stuff and love it! It’s popular for a reason. But we here at crowdSPRING see the projects day after day and trust us – we know when something has been done and done and done. We don’t want your logo to be confused with someone else’s logo down the street. You need a brand identity to call your own.

Storefronts Read the rest of this post »

The Science of Productivity and Happiness: Why Your Office is Hurting Your Company Arielle | January 27th, 2016

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Working in a cubicle is my worst nightmare. The idea of being confined in such a small space with little variation for many hours a day sounds unbelievably boring. Thankfully, I am fortunate to work in an open, flexible environment.

Unfortunately, most offices aren’t built with our well-being in mind (or for getting actual work done). The typical full time employee spends eight hours a day sitting at a desk away from sunlight, in an environment that is almost always too noisy or quiet. Office layouts that foster that type of environment have been found to contribute to lower levels of creativity, productivity, health, and happiness.

There’s a great deal of research on this subject. For example, researchers have found that common office layouts promote continuous sedentary behavior. Sitting all day positively correlates with higher rates of diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Even worse, sedentary behavior for most of the workday increases mortality rates. Not surprisingly, a majority of the adults found suffering from these problems worked office jobs, where they sat for an average of eight hours a day. Traditional office spaces with single-height desks are actually detrimental to our health.

Fortunately, smart companies have started improving their office layouts in order to promote better health, happiness, and productivity. Alan Hedge, a professor of ergonomics at Cornell University says that in order to combat these negative effects, “The key is breaking up your activity throughout the day.” He suggests setting an alarm to remind yourself to talk a short walk, or to stand up and stretch.

You can also change your work tools. Sit/stand desks offer a great way to combat sedentary behavior. You can inexpensively convert your desk to a sit/stand desk by using a simple cardboard box – or you can purchase an electronic sit/stand desk (these are the ones we use at our office) with preset heights.

Sit/stand desks allow employees to have control and flexibility over how they work, allowing employees to choose the best intervals to change their position without breaking them away from their work. Employees improve their posture, attitude, and general health and happiness when they are able to break from the sitting norm.

Sit/stand desks or interval breaks aren’t the only ways people can change their work habits. An experimental studio called Rietveld Architecture-Art Affordances created an installation in Holland, designing their interpretation of an active workspace based on numerous studies on the dangers of sitting all day. The installation looks like a massive, geometric playground, eliminating traditional desks or rooms. Instead, it creates a maze of shapes, allowing employees to sit, stand, crouch, lie, and work in any position they find comfortable.

The health hazards associated with long stretches of sitting aren’t the only problem with office layouts. In a 2014 study on light exposure in offices and quality of life, researchers at Northwestern Medicine and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign discovered the importance of natural light for health and productivity. Employees who worked in offices with less natural light suffered from more negative health effects than employees who worked in offices designed to maximize natural light. Phyllis Zee, M.D., a neurologist, study author, and sleep specialist from Northwestern Medicine commented on the study’s findings:

There is increasing evidence that exposure to light, during the day — particularly in the morning — is beneficial to your health via its effects on mood, alertness and metabolism. Workers are a group at risk because they are typically indoors, often without access to natural or even artificial bright light for the entire day.

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What We Get When We Help Others Ross | January 26th, 2016

There is a famous Chinese saying:

If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.

Many people become involved with efforts to help the environment, cancer research, and other big causes. Those efforts are worthy and important.

When it comes to small-scale efforts, there’s far less interest. After all, if you can spend one hour helping many people, why spend one hour helping just one person?

The truth is that we rarely have good opportunities to help large-scale causes. We  always have good opportunities to help on a smaller scale. For example, several times per week, during my commute to the office, I have calls with young entrepreneurs working on their first startups. My commute is about 30 minutes and I’m either listening to podcasts or talking with other entrepreneurs. Either way, it’s a win/win because I can help them avoid making some of the mistakes I’ve made, and I continue to learn – even when I am asked for advice.

When you help another person, that person isn’t the only one who reaps the benefits. You benefit too. Plainly put: it’s good to be good. Researchers have found that helping others is more likely to create a happier, healthier, longer life for you. In fact, contrary to popular opinion, doing something good for someone else leads to more happiness than doing something for yourself (such as buying something new).

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Fresh from the SPRING: kokoyangkoo Audree | January 26th, 2016

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 kokoyangkoo. Check out more great work on kokoyangkoo’s profile page.

Nicely done, kokoyangkoo, nicely done!

kokoyangkoo

 

Twitter Link Roundup #294 – Terrific Reads For Small Business, Entrepreneurs, Marketers and Designers! Ross | January 22nd, 2016

When it comes to business, just as in our personal lives, we tend to quickly stereotype people when we meet them. Often, these stereotypes often get in the way of business and personal relationships. Here’s a humorous and unfortunately, not entirely untrue look at what one might see if they put on “racist’ eyeglasses.

The lesson here? Be open minded when you meet new people and suppress your urge to stereotype everyone you meet.

Now it’s time for you to enjoy another great set of links and articles that we shared with you over the past week on our crowdSPRING Twitter account (and on my Twitter account). We regularly share our favorite posts on entrepreneurship, small business, marketing, logo design, web design, startups, entrepreneurship, small business, leadership, social media, marketing, economics and other interesting stuff! Enjoy!

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10 Important Web Design Best Practices & Tips for Small Business Websites –

To Motivate Employees, Do 3 Things Well –

8 Smart and Practical Ways To Increase Your Small Business Profits –

Five Public Speaking Tips and Tricks for Small Businesses | crowdSPRING Blog –

How to Hire –

Seven Tips On Being A Great Customer –

The Logo Store Nightmare: Ready Made Logos Harm Your Business –

Empower Your Small Business – Website Best Practices, Great Tools for SmallBiz, Successful Biz Meetings & more –

Four Things Working at Facebook Has Taught Me About Design Critique –

Night Owls vs. Early Risers: What’s Best for Your Business? –

Three Great Web/Mobile Tools (social media, customer service, legal) for Small Businesses & Startups –

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Not Everyone Gets a Seed Round –

How to Build a Company Employees Believe In | Zenefits Blog –

Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast –

Night Owls vs. Early Risers: What’s Best for Your Business? –

How to Hire –

Collaborative Overload –

Managers Can Motivate Employees with One Word | HBR –

Calming Your Brain During Conflict | HBR –

How Important Is It For a SaaS Startup to be Profitable? | by

“A CEOs job is not to know all the answers — it’s to find people who do.” –

In Silicon Valley Now, It’s Almost Always Winner Takes All | The New Yorker –

7 Habits of Successful Startup Founders –

How to Analyze Your Startup Like A VC in 15 Minutes Or Less | by

Manage Expectations vs. Exaggerations –

The Most Common Founder Disease is Perfectionism –

How Much Cash Should Your Startup Burn? | by

Freelancers Will Dominate the Workforce by 2020 –

10 Reasons Your Product Launch Will Fail –

To Motivate Employees, Do 3 Things Well –

The Metric that Matters for Startups in 2016 | by

Good insights from on culture, products and more (video interview at TNW Conference USA 2015) –

Four Things Working at Facebook Has Taught Me About Design Critique –

Which is a More Efficient Way to Build a SaaS Startup – Bottoms Up or Top Down? | by

Three Great Web/Mobile Tools (social media, customer service, legal) for Small Businesses & Startups –

Five Public Speaking Tips and Tricks for Small Businesses | crowdSPRING Blog –

The Logo Store Nightmare: Ready Made Logos Harm Your Business –

8 Smart and Practical Ways To Increase Your Small Business Profits –

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Five Public Speaking Tips and Tricks for Small Businesses Arielle | January 19th, 2016

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Conferences, meetups and other public events offer many unique opportunities for entrepreneurs and small business owners to market their business. Yet many people turn down opportunities to speak in public.

If the thought of speaking in public causes you to panic and sweat profusely, you are not alone. 74% of people fear public speaking. In fact, you might be surprised to find out that some of your favorite celebrities and public speakers also have a strong fear of public speaking.

I understand how daunting it can be to speak in front of a large audience; public speaking is one of my biggest fears. But I know that to succeed, I will need to be comfortable speaking in front of large groups, so I try to find ways to cope with my fear and learn from those who don’t fear public speaking.

After a little over two decades of putting subjects through the Trier Social Stress Test and other studies, researchers have concluded that any form of public speaking triggers a release of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is released because we intuitively fear judgement, and public social settings are a definitive place where judgement will happen. This means that everyone, whether they feel it or not, experiences some sort of anxiety before and during public speeches or presentations. This is not necessarily bad – some level of stress is good:

How can people shift into a stress-is-enhancing mindset? Start by recognizing that stress can be useful. ‘We only stress about what we care about,’ Crum [a psychologist at Stanford University] says. She points out that achieving goals necessarily involves stressful moments. If we know that stress is coming, then we can see it for what it is: part of the process of growth and accomplishment.

But of course, there’s a difference between controllable stress and run-away stress. Researchers have found that people who seem to have no fear of public speaking have been able to find ways to control their cortisol levels. In fact, some people don’t release as much cortisol as others, while some people find ways to control their anxiety.

Researchers have discovered some broad techniques that relieve anxiety for many different types of people. When applied to a situation where someone fears public speaking, these techniques can help calm the fear and make the feat seem more plausible. Sure, you can follow the common advice to imagine your audience in their underwear, but that mostly confuses me. Instead, here are five of my favorite tips (they work for me!) on calming the anxiety to make public speaking a little easier:

1. Step away.

Right before a public speaking event, sometimes the worst thing to do is to reread notes or practice the presentation. The constant practice can trigger even more anxious thoughts, and aggravate the fear. Before I have a public speaking event, I like to step away and take some time to clear my head and center my thinking. My favorite ways to do this are to listen to acoustic covers of songs that I know well, or practice yoga. Other people like to meditate or get massages, but I personally find that without a specific focus, my thoughts wander back to public speaking far too easily, once again inducing the fear. Instead, I change my focus and am able to forget about my fear.

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