Small Business and Startups: Give Thanks (and Coupons) Mike | December 9th, 2013

Holidays are upon us, folks and it’s time to give thanks. every business large and small owes a debt to those who have helped over the year and there is no better time to gift than now: your investors and lenders deserve a note, a bottle of wine or other small token to show your appreciation  for their trust, their support, and (hopefully) their advice.

Your employees deserve thanks for their hard work, their productivity, their energy, and their all around contribution to your success. Typically this form of thanks might include a year-end bonus, a holiday bash, and some little swag, maybe a company tee shirt, pin, or jacket. Hey, even a company-branded Gulfstream may be appropriate for some od you out there!

Finally your customers. Ah yes, them. Without this group of people, your business would have no business being in business. How to thank them? Lots of ways great and small and the ideas are endless: for companies with a relatively smaller customer base, you might shoot them a card, send them a small gift, or even invite them down to your company party. For larger companies an email is probably in order, but a little gifty can be nice, too.

One solution that many companies turn to when thanking their customers for their all-important support? Discounts, baby! Airlines offer additional miles to frequent travelers; hotels send out lists of marked down rooms at posh resorts; restaurants will often sell discounted gift cards; car companies inundate us with end-of year offers typically accompanied by shiny bright, ribbon-festooned models.

What you do for your customers is up to you, but consider using coupons and price reductions as a dual-purpose strategy. First, what better way to say thank you then to reduce or even exclude your margin on something that they would purchase anyway? Secondly, why not find ways to increase sales, cement loyalty, and spread-word-of-mouth at the same time? Couponing is a great way to do this, because it is in your control, allows you to gather valuable data, can increase traffic to your store or website, and helps to develop the all-important relationships that businesses and their customers desperately need.

Here are a few ways you can use coupon discounts to reach your customers and deliver that valuable “Thank You!”

1. Via email.

Mailchimp, Constant Contact, JangoMail and the like make it easy to create and manage email  campaigns and special Thank You’s can be sent using any of these or other services. Import your list, modify one of their templates (or create your own design), input your content, and away it goes, delivered to your customer’s virtual doorstep through the internet tubes. An added advantage of using email campaigns to say thanks is the data you’ll receive in return. These services allow you to look at customer behavior that can help when you send your next mailing: you’ll easily view how many of the recipients opened that email, hw many of them clicked through y=to your site, and how many of them actually took you up on the offer. You can easily add tags such that data can be tracked using Google Analytics; you can A/B split your mailing to test different subject lines or different customer segments to gauge  performance; and you can better understand your customers and what maked them tick.

2. Via the Post Office.

For companies dependent on local customers (talking to you Mom & Pop retail store) the US Post Office offers a fantastic product that allows you to target customers (existing or potential) via their zip codes, their streets, or their addresses at a very low cost. For as little as 15¢ via the USPS Every Door Direct Mail service, you can send them a postcard segmented by age, household income, or household size. Your mailing can be tracked as it passes along it’s route and you’ll know exactly who received your coupon, when they received it and (if you plan your design and coding well) who redeemed your coupon and who did not. Naughty or nice, you’ll gain a better understanding of which content and what demographics are working for you to increase response rates on your next mailing.

3. On your site.

With a few simple lines of code, your dev team can generate pop-up or banner offers on your site that will deliver your gift to visitors when they arrive. This strategy can be as simple or sophisticated as you like. Returning customers can receive one offer while new visitors can be offered something different. Browser cookies and retargeting strategies work well to help understand who the visitor is, if they’ve bought from you before, even the frequency of their interactions and this can help you to segment visitors further allowing you to deliver the most special Thank You to the most special customer.

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Twitter Link Roundup #204 – Small Business, Startups, Innovation, Social Media, Design, Marketing and More Ross | December 6th, 2013

Every day on the crowdSPRING Twitter account and on my own Twitter account, I post links to posts or videos I enjoyed reading or viewing. These posts and videos are about logo design, web design, startups, entrepreneurship, small business, leadership, social media, marketing, and more! Here are some of the links that I’ve liked and shared this past week!

The video above (22 minutes) is a very good explanation (parts are technical) of how Bitcoin works.


Small Business and Startups: End-of-Year Mishegoss, 2013! -

The Right Way to Grant Equity to Your Employees -

You’re Not Alone: Most People Hate Open Offices | Co.Exist -

How To Become A Customer Acquisition Expert -


You’re Not Alone: Most People Hate Open Offices | Co.Exist -

Startup Risk And Fear -

Make Things As Simple As Possible, But Not Simpler | Psychohistory by Adam Nash -

“The freefall of Demand serves as a cautionary tale for hype … No company burns so hot that it can’t cool off.” -

What I’ve Learned in My First Month as a VC | by Ryan Sarver -

The 7 Questions A Startup Should Answer in their Fund Raising Pitch -

Small Business and Startups: End-of-Year Mishegoss, 2013! -

Want to change the world? It won’t happen via your mouse button -

How To Become A Customer Acquisition Expert -

This is GOOD advice: “listen closely, seek multiple opinions on the same thing, and then decide” -

From Its Beginnings In A Denmark Loft, Zendesk’s Steady Rise To The Top Of The Helpdesk Heap | by Leena Rao -

GoldieBlox, fair use, and the cult of disruption | by Felix Salmon -


Eight cultural differences that impact conversion | Econsultancy -

When Marketing Is Strategy | Harvard Business Review -

Publishers, Stop Crying Over Spilled Ink | HBR -

Marketers Find Success on Social Through Customer Engagement | eMarketer -

How To Become A Customer Acquisition Expert -

Mind blowing stats on where humans spend time v where advertisers advertise – huge disconnect! -

14 metrics marketers use to measure social media ROI in 2010 vs. 2013 -

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Small Business and Startups: Where to Learn Mike | December 2nd, 2013

Resources for entrepreneurs are widely available and easy to access, but you need to know where to look and who to visit. First time entrepreneurs in particular have tons of questions and hunger for mentors, confidants, cronies, and fellow travelers. Anyone with an idea for a business can find a place to turn, an article to read, a war story to listen to, an online discussion, or a local entrepreneurship program or incubator to provide guidance. Many of these resources are free or low cost and the amount of knowledge available to share can make your head spin. Here are a few resources, programs, and organizations that you can leverage.

1. The institutes, the incubators, the accelerators.

These programs are designed to kickstart entrepreneurial ideas and the idealists who dream them up. Their stated goals are similar: provide opportunity; nurture great ideas, make introductions, and create an environment where great companies can get started. These organizations are designed help budding entrepreneurs a place to learn while developing their ideas. Check out the sites for these five for more information:

Founder InstituteJunto InstituteY CombinatorThe Technology Innovation CenterTechStars.

2. The networks.

Online and off, these organizations and groups are designed to help entrepreneurs meet one another, share ideas, transmit knowledge, and create an atmosphere where learning and collaborating are the norm. Many cities are actively developing centers for entrepreneurs and startups what provide lectures, resources, co-working space, and an environment that promotes economic growth and development through entrepreneurship.

Young Presidents’ OrganizationTech CocktailKCnextOnStartups1871

3. The blogs.

These great blogs focus exclusively on startups, small business, entrepreneurs and the issues and subjects near to their hearts. Entertaining, sure. But mostly these small business, venture capital, and marketing blogs provide great tools, resources, learning opportunity, and practical information targeted directly at you., Seth’s Blog, John Jantsch, Mark Suster, Tim FerrisSmallbiz Technology, Small Biz Survival.

4. The webinars.

There are numerous webinars available online  for free to entrepreneurs and these are a great way to learn in depth about specific topics. Studies show that video is a great way for many people to learn and the experts who create these webinars share tons of valuable information, tips, and specific strategies for your business.

BizlLaunchStanford Innovation and Entrepreneurship Webinar SeriesThe Company CorporationDell Global Events Webcasts

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Small Business and Startups: End-of-Year Mishegoss, 2013! Mike | November 25th, 2013

Every year I have to sit you down and explain to you the importance of preparing for the end of year madness that every small business is required to experience. There is a ton of work to be done, myriad details to attend, and fun that must be had; this I need like a loch in keppe, but hey, we make our own choices in life, right? The madness is best summed up in the Yiddish and there are several variations: meshuggah (which Merriam Webster defines as crazy or foolish, but also happens to be a metal band from Sweden!), meshugener (a foolish or crazy person), and (for our purposes here) mishegoss defined as general craziness, or a senseless behavior or activity.

So while you keep an eye on your team, your customers, your marketing, your online activities, and your bottom line it is now also time to get ready for tax time, perform the year-end reviews, consider raises and bonuses, clean up the office, schedule holiday vacations, and plan the company party! Here are 10 things you should be considering as the calendar ticks down and 2014 looms large!

1. Start with a look back. Now is the time to review your 2013 budget, strategies, and tactics as you consider whether you did as well as you might of and how you should adjust your approach for next year. Do you need to make adjustments to your budget categories and amounts? How successful was your overall strategy? Which of your tactics should you keep and which should you dump? We are huge believers in a lean approach to marketing and business and one of the precepts is small batch testing: stick with what works and get rid of what doesn’t. Consider what you learned this year and take action accordingly.

2. Prepare for tax time. Put together a package for your accountant and start the review prior to the end of the year. We do this every year in November and share with our accountant a package of documents and reports which lets them get a head start on tax prep. By doing this a month or two ahead, we have time to make the changes and adjustments the accountant inevitably wants us to make and when January rolls around all that is left are minor tweaks. Typical items to share include, year-to-date payroll reports; reconciliations on all bank, loan, and credit card accounts; any business intelligence reports or data you collect; and a current copy of your QuickBooks or accounting software file. Check with your accountant and prepare a checklist of the items she’ll need to do a meaningful review. If this process goes well you will save a significant amount of time on your tax preparation come January.

3. Review your website. Take the time to make sure your site is performing well and is optimized for the best results in search. Check your links, your help pages and your landing pages for accuracy and to make sure everything is working well and your links are redirecting appropriately. Make sure your user agreement and About Us pages are up-to-date and plan to work with your web developers to make sure everything is ship shape.

4. Clean house. Stop right now and look around your office. Messy desks, paperwork needing filing, old files that should be thrown out. Every spring mom would make you clean out your closet and get rid of the old junk in there and your office should be no different. Clean up, now!

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Twitter Link Roundup #203 – Small Business, Startups, Innovation, Social Media, Design, Marketing and More Ross | November 22nd, 2013

Every day on the crowdSPRING Twitter account and on my own Twitter account, I post links to posts or videos I enjoyed reading or viewing. These posts and videos are about logo design, web design, startups, entrepreneurship, small business, leadership, social media, marketing, and more! Here are some of the links that I’ve liked and shared this past week!

The video above is a great example of storytelling. It was made by GoldieBox, a company creating building-block toys for girls to inspire future engineers.


How can you price your products & services to demonstrate value? Here are tips to help you find the right balance -

Empower Your Small Business: content marketing, pricing dilemmas, conference call services –

The Right Tool For The Job -

Book Review: Remote by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson –

Create products that people love by validating your idea first -


Why Silicon Valley Funds Instagrams, Not Hyperloops -

Book Review: Remote by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson –

How can you price your products & services to demonstrate value? Here are tips to help you find the right balance -

This I Believe: A Manifesto for a Magnificent Career -

Demystifying 409A Valuations -

Is Crowdsourcing Fueling Business Innovation? | Forbes -

Ecommerce Trend for 2014: Buying Into the Subscription Service Model | by Matt Villano –

Google Reveals Its 9 Principles of Innovation | Fast Company -

Chicago can be better than Silicon Valley (when it comes to promoting women entrepreneurs) | by Sharon Schneider -

The Right Tool For The Job -

Interesting perspective on lack of women founders

Make Things As Simple As Possible, But Not Simpler | Psychohistory by Adam Nash -

Create products that people love by validating your idea first -

C.R.A.Z.Y. … Dropbox Could Be A Bargain At An $8 Billion Valuation | TechCrunch -

Complete nonsense? Snapchat’s Valuation If For Real | Business Insider -

New startup economics: Why Amazon (web services) and Dropbox need each other -

The Real Cost of your Commute -

Where luck fits into stories of startup success | Blue Sky Innovation -

The Science Behind What Naps Do For Your Brain & Why You Should Have One Today | Fast Company

The Llama has finally kicked Winamp’s Ass -

The Startup Accelerator Trend Is Finally Slowing Down | TechCrunch by Belle Beth Cooper -

From Its Beginnings In A Denmark Loft, Zendesk’s Steady Rise To The Top Of The Helpdesk Heap | by Leena Rao -

Why I don’t check Facebook until 6 p.m. | The Next Web -

Fight Like You’re Right, Listen Like You’re Wrong and Other Keys to Great Management –


The top 10 ideas anyone ever had for marketing | ThoughtGadgets by @benkunz -

Five Ways the Advertising Industry Is About to Transform | HBR

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12 Questions: Meet Emanuel Hărdăuț (Transylvania, Romania) Audree | November 21st, 2013

In our 12 Questions blog series, we feature interviews with someone from the crowdSPRING community. For these interviews, we pick people who add value to our community – in the blog, in the forums, in the projects. Plainly – activities that make crowdSPRING a better community. Be professional, treat others with respect, help us build something very special, and we’ll take notice.

We’re very proud to feature Emanuel Hărdăuț  (crowdSPRING username: emanuelhardaut ) today. Emanuel lives and works in Cluj-Napoca (Transylvania), Romania.


1. Please tell us about yourself.
Servus to everyone, (Servus is an old Transylvanian salute, it comes from the latin “servus tu sum” which means “I am your servant”). My name is Emanuel Hărdăuț, I’m 34, I am a graphic and motion designer, I live in Cluj-Napoca (Transylvania), Romania, with my fiancee, Luciana, which I love very much and I hope we’ll get married soon. I’m proud and honored to be here, on crowdSPRING, with all of you, talented Teodora_small
Because I loved drawing and painting I went to the Arts High School, and graduated the University of Arts and Design, here in my hometown, Cluj-Napoca. It was a nice period, I was drawing portraits and nudes, studying much history of arts, meeting interesting people, playing guitar, having fun after classes, and the most important – learning from each other drawing and graphic design, my coleagues and I. Pretty much like here on cS, where we all can learn one from another, that’s one of the things I like about crowdSPRING.
After graduating the university I had many jobs, I worked as a graphic designer for two publishing houses, and three advertising companies. I was an animator and background designer for a tv animated series. For the past two years I have been a motion graphics designer for a local television. And now I’m back on crowdSPRING, after a two-years break, and I enjoy being freelancer again.

Titan Treatslogo

2. How did you become interested in design?
Probably during high school, in ’94, when my graphics teacher was trying to keep us away from the computers. She was teaching us traditional, manual techniques for obtaining textures, hand drawing letters, collage, etc. At that time I really hated her for the anachronic approach, but over the years I realized that that experience helped me understand what  design is all about.
That’s when my parents bought me my first computer, a terribly slow 486 PC, and a friend of mine brought me the ms-dos 3ds studio 1 (the first 3ds max) and I was amazed, although every command took like 4-5 minutes to do, and I was kinda staring at a sphere, not knowing exactly what to do next. Back then I discovered PhotoStyler and later, PhotoImpact, which came free with my first scanner, in `96, and it was much faster than Photoshop, so I used it until a few years ago, when it was discontinued.

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Content Marketing: Beastie Boys And Girls Ross | November 20th, 2013

If you’re struggling with your content marketing strategy, read How To Grow Your Business With Content Marketing. But more importantly, watch the video below.

More than anything else, great storytelling differentiates successful content marketing from noise. I’ve previously shared some outstanding examples of storytelling in content marketing.

Here’s another good example from GoldieBox, a company creating building-block toys for girls to inspire future engineers. I have two daughters and I definitely can relate to the lyrics in this song.

In creating the video, GoldieBox rewrote the lyrics to The Beastie Boys song, Girls. Here’s the video:

GoldieBox hired Brett Doar, the creator of the Rube Goldberg machine in the band OK GO’s viral video for “This Too Shall Pass”. Here are more details about the video and the company, including a behind the scenes look at how the video was shot.

It’s time to change!
We deserve to see a range,
cuz all our toys look just the same,
and we would like to use our brains.
We are all more than princess maids…

This is a great example of storytelling in content marketing. Do you agree?


The Right Tool For The Job Ross | November 19th, 2013


A few days ago, my son and I replaced an old, leaky faucet in our laundry room. We planned on 90 minutes, but we ran into a problem and ended up spending more than four hours to replace the faucet.

Our struggle with the faucet reminded me about the importance of having and using the right tools for every job. This is especially true when it comes to running a business (more on that below).

It wasn’t difficult to remove the old faucet, but the hole cutouts in the sink were 1/8 of an inch too small for the new faucet.

The sink is porcelain, and this presented a unique challenge. I didn’t have any experience drilling porcelain sinks, so we tried a few things first, including a hole saw made for creating holes in wood, and a bi-metal hole saw (I already had both of these so it was easy to try). Our efforts proved futile – neither was able to drill into the porcelain.

A quick Google search  taught us that we needed a special diamond-tipped hole saw to drill porcelain. After a quick trip to the local hardware store and $20 for a simple diamond-tipped hole saw, we finished the cuts in about 30 seconds (after struggling for nearly 2 hours trying to use the wrong tools).

I took the opportunity to teach my son about the importance of using the right tools – for every job.

Our conversation about using the right tools reminded me about the importance of finding and using the right tools when running a business. It can be very frustrating to use the wrong tools for any job, but the wrong tools can be fatal to your business. The right tools nearly always make tasks easier, quicker and often, more fun.

For example, years ago we experimented at crowdSPRING with Skype chat, IM and other tools for team collaboration, but settled on Campfire from 37signals. Instead of using the web interface, we looked at a few apps and found that Propane and Flint offered the best user experience and functionality – and that’s what our distributed team uses daily.

Similarly, we relied exclusively on Skype group video when it was initially released but Skype group video was incredibly buggy and frustrating (and it still is). A huge amount of time in our group calls was wasted trying to get video to work correctly. We switched to Google+ Hangouts for group video calls and have been very happy.

We periodically evaluate the tools we use and switch when we find something better – whenever a new tool can make our team more efficient or happier. For example, we’re currently testing Trello for our engineering team sprints after using another product for many years.

The right tools can help empower your social media efforts, and can also help you launch your company for less than $1,500. In fact, a “tool” doesn’t even have to be physical. For example, did you know that “surprise” is one of the most powerful small business marketing “tools”?

Look carefully at the tools you’re using in your business. Are they the right tools for the job?

image credit: Cayusa

The Pricing Dilemma: Finding the Right Balance Mike | November 18th, 2013

There is a tension inherent in the relationship between a business and its customers when it comes to pricing of a product or service. Customers look at prices with a complex eye in determining whether the tradeoff between cost and value is a fair one for them to make. The value proposition that your business offers its customers is based on a mix of the product or service offered, the perceived convenience of buying your offering, your marketing efforts and how you “sell” it to them and, finally, your pricing. These are (in essence) the legendary four P’s of marketing: Product. Place. Promotion. Price.  When a customer is deciding between yours and a competing offering they determine for themselves the order of importance of these elements and determine if the price you are asking is a price worth paying.

This does not mean, for instance, that a customer will always choose the lowest priced offering available. There are other factors that may warrant paying more. Convenience, for instance, looms large in making a determination. Yes, the deli on the corner may charge me more for that gallon of 2% milk than the supermarket, but the supermarket is 5 blocks away and I want my milk now. Done, I have just justified paying 35% more for my white nectar.

The product itself may be the determining factor for a consumer of your goods. Can you charge a premium for superior quality or better features? Just ask anyone who chose a Mercedes over a Toyota. Consumers (whether end-users or other businesses) will compare product features as long as they believe that the thing they are buying is not a commodity that can be purchased elsewhere for less or purchased more conveniently (see the last paragraph, right?).

The next ingredient in your customer’s mix is your own marketing, branding, and promotional efforts. How your brand is positioned is key to many of your customers when deciding if the value you offer is equal to or greater than your competition. Your company may be built on its ability to operate efficiently, or it may be built on the relationships you develop over time with your customers and a deep understanding of their needs, or it may be built around your ability to develop the best, most innovative products or features. But at the end of the day it is the customer who determines whether the value you present in your promotional efforts is of the mix they seek.

All of this brings us back to price. How much you can charge for your product is a function of all of those components and how the customer perceives them. Many businesses will experiment with pricing looking for just the right balance of value and quality; indeed in the past 20 years or so we have seen more and more industries move in the direction of dynamic pricing where company adjusts it’s prices on a day-by-day, even minute-by-minute basis determined by current demand, competitive analysis, season, weather, even the day of the week or the time of day. Think airline tickets, hotel rooms, and cruise vacations for examples of industries that change their pricing constantly in a dance between value offered and market-driven demand.

Collecting data on your customer’s buying habits is critical to price adjustments, whether done as a one-time change or continuously as a dynamic model in response to demand. Having an understanding of everything from average shopping card sizes, to customer lifetime value is critical when considering adjustments to pricing. Finally, how you communicate value when making price adjustments is of great importance to your business and your customers; be clear and transparent that price changes are occurring, let your customers know when the change will occur, communicate why you are adjusting prices, and help them to understand the value that is being delivered and how you justify the price you are asking.

Photo: Dave Fayram

Twitter Link Roundup #202 – Small Business, Startups, Innovation, Social Media, Design, Marketing and More Ross | November 15th, 2013


Every day on the crowdSPRING Twitter account and on my own Twitter account, I post links to posts or videos I enjoyed reading or viewing. These posts and videos are about logo design, web design, startups, entrepreneurship, small business, leadership, social media, marketing, and more! Can you believe this is Roundup number 200!?!? Here are some of the links that I’ve liked and shared this past week!

The image above is a fun interpretation of four famous brands and their imaginary slogans, based on public sentiment.


How Content Marketing Can Help Grow Your Business in 2014 –

The 10 Best Conference Call Services for Entrepreneurs –

10 things Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Coach –

Why You Shouldn’t Say “You’re Welcome” –

The Second Time Is Harder –


Six Key Benchmarks for Your SaaS Startup –

How Content Marketing Can Help Grow Your Business in 2014 –

The 10 Best Conference Call Services for Entrepreneurs –

Model Equity Calculator for Founders with Option Pool Expansion –

The Second Time Is Harder –

Why You Shouldn’t Say “You’re Welcome” –

10 things Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Coach –

Good examples (photos) of tech startup offices in the Valley –

If you can’t make it [as an entrepreneur] in Chicago, the problem might be your idea –

Startup tips from “The Walking Dead” –

Startups and the law: 5 key issues | Blue Sky Innovation –

It’s time to rethink startup equity – GigaOM –

Why the Petal Diagram Isn’t the Best Competition Diagram for Startup’s Pitch –

This I Believe: A Manifesto for a Magnificent Career –

5 Examples of Companies Innovating with Crowdsourcing | InnoCentive Blog –

Instant unicorn? An app for selfies –

“Venture capitalists are not just buyers of companies; they’re also sellers of capital” -

Amazon’s big reveal: Desktops as a service –

Fab was on cloud nine but recently, not so much, it seems –

The Five Ways Companies Can Leverage 3D Printing –and Avoid Disruption | by Jeremiah Owyang –

The generous skeptic –


40 Infographics & Cheat Sheets For Social Media Marketers –

Google Is Bigger Than Magazines And Newspapers | Business Insider –

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