5 Smart Ways To Do A Better Job In 2014 Ross | February 18th, 2014


Doing great work in a job you love increases your happiness and personal satisfaction. I’ve written previously on this topic, including Seven Habits of Highly Effective Employees.

Many people, especially after their annual reviews, resolve to do a better job “next year”. But a broad resolution to do better rarely helps unless you take specific steps to improve how you work.

Here are five specific things you can do now to do a better job in 2014.

1. Invest time daily to deliberate about the bigger picture. Before you jump into your daily tasks, spend a few minutes considering how your work will be used and by whom. Until you understand the scope of what you’re doing, it’s impossible for you to be creative in your work.

Sure, you can connect the dots and perform the assigned tasks, but the end product of your efforts will be far less valuable than if you took a few minutes to consider why you’re doing what you’re doing.

As I wrote earlier this year:

When you know how to do something, you have a skill that you can replicate to do the same thing again and again. But when you understand how and why something works, you not only have a skill, but you also can adapt your skill to changing situations.

2. Plan wisely before you execute. Some people spend a great deal of time planning but never execute anything worthwhile. Others jump right in without planning and often hit roadblocks.

The best and most successful employees think daily about the bigger picture, not just about the tasks they have to execute that day. They create a plan, execute, measure progress and obstacles, tweak their plan, and continue executing. Careful planning helps you succeed and your successes help you grow and become even more successful.

3. Find ways to help your colleagues succeed. Smart employees share credit for successes because they realize that nearly every project, even if it’s ultimately done by a single person, is  a team effort. The best teams in the world share a common trait: they embrace a collective vision and want to do something great together. They want to leave a dent in the universe. Great leaders promote these traits; poor leaders micro-manage.

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Body Language, Non-Verbal Cues, and Small Business Mike | February 17th, 2014

In high-stakes poker games it is not uncommon for the players to wear dark shades to hide their eyes from the others at the table. Players at the highest level of the game are skilled at reading the competition’s “tell” and using this to their advantage. The very best poker players rely on their skills and instinct at calculating the odds that another player has a better hand, but they are also practiced at interpreting non-verbal cues and using that ability to great advantage.

In business, fluency in non-verbal communication can also be a great advantage. After all, good communication skills are at the heart of how we do business. We use our verbal and written abilities every day to communicate our product’s value to potential customers, to communicate our expectations to the team,  to communicate our plans and objectives to investors and to negotiate the best deal with vendors and strategic partners.  

But, sophisticated communicators understand that it is not just the spoken or written word that can be effective in communicating. The best communicators are also adept at transmitting as well as reading non-verbal cues. Why is this important?  Body posture, facial expressions, gestures, and eye movement can express both intentional and unintentional messages and a business manager who is skilled at reading this can understand a great deal about about a person’s mood, intentions, or level of engagement. When we can effectively read other people’s body language the conversation becomes about so much more than the words that are being used. Here are 9 examples that may come in handy at that next negotiation!

1. Eye contact. When someone is responding positively to what you have to say chances are very good that they will be maintaining strong and consistent eye contact with you. Conversely, when your conversation partner or audience is looking away, or making infrequent eye contact, it is a pretty good sign that they are not sympathetic to your message. You can watch closely for this sign as you speak and you can also be aware of your own eye contact when you are listening. Even if you do not agree with what the speaker may be communicating, you can maintain eye contact and avoid giving the impression that you are not feeling positive about their message. Be wary though; boredom can be signaled when they eyes are directed at the speaker but are slightly unfocused.

2. Crossed arms and other barriers. This is often an indicator of resistance and can be interpreted as your listener putting up a physical barrier between you; when the other person moves an object between you, or shifts their body to partially “hide” behind something, you may have trouble. A memo pad subtly shifted at the conference table. A purse or backpack moved in front of their body to provide separation, or any other physical object can be an indicator that the person is protecting their personal space and may signal that you need to switch your message or how you are communicating it.

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Twitter Link Roundup #211 – Small Business, Startups, Innovation, Social Media, Design, Marketing and More Ross | February 14th, 2014


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 image above shows the investment activity of U.S. based venture capital investors, by deal stage.


Advertising On Facebook For Likes Is A Waste Of Money - crowdspring.co/1fYVhou

Word Science: How To Influence Others To Share More Of Your Content - crowdspring.co/1eQNknc

Empower Your Small Business: Facebook ads are a waste of money, content marketing science, more -crowdspring.co/NCHjAW

Great Bosses Don’t Give Up When an Employee Needs Help - crowdspring.co/NeJf2t


Silicon Valley Needs to Lose the Arrogance or Risk Destruction | Wired Opinion - crowdspring.co/1g2t41F

Want to know what life is like as a @techstars associate? Read Ryan’s take from last year ->medium.com/p/c8ff4a1f9683

5 Things Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Slopestyle - crowdspring.co/NteRRZ

The Optimal Average Customer Value for SaaS Startups - crowdspring.co/NrGI59

Giving less advice | by Jason Fried - crowdspring.co/1dL2dmq

The Incredible Importance of Sleep for Habits & Motivation | zenhabits - crowdspring.co/1creH2Q

Firing myself, again - crowdspring.co/1lGD1Y6

Are Experienced Founders Better? | MODE Blog - crowdspring.co/Nv3KYE

Dana Stalder: Why $1.5 Million Seed Rounds No Longer Work - crowdspring.co/1aZZZov

How does the Collaborative Economy Weed out the Jerks? | by Jeremiah Owyang - crowdspring.co/1dCpve7

Our Love Affair With the Tablet Is Over | Re/code - crowdspring.co/Nv1PDw

Most active venture capital investors of 2013 in the US by stage – pic.twitter.com/cfCFXWmpbH

Say no to SaaS vanity metrics - crowdspring.co/NzqJ53

Interesting behind-the-scenes post (some tech info) about how the Secret app is designed to work – crowdspring.co/1fUt41V

How I learned to stop giving advice - crowdspring.co/1fZqSZb

Flappy Bird is proof that no one knows what the audience wants | Polygon - crowdspring.co/Ntt8Or

Great Bosses Don’t Give Up When an Employee Needs Help - crowdspring.co/NeJf2t

The Optimal Average Customer Value for SaaS Startups - crowdspring.co/NrGI59

Failure report: Dissecting the biggest flameouts in venture history | PandoDaily - crowdspring.co/NrH5fY


Word Science: How To Influence Others To Share More Of Your Content - crowdspring.co/1eQNknc

Advertising On Facebook For Likes Is A Waste Of Money - crowdspring.co/1fYVhou

Old School SEO Tests In Action (A 2014 SEO Experiment) - crowdspring.co/1dB0QGP

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12 Questions: Meet Catherine Feeman-Fick (Wisconsin – USA) Audree | February 13th, 2014

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 Catherine Feeman-Fick (crowdSPRING username: catherinef3) today. Catherine lives and works in Wisconsin.


1. Please tell us about yourself.
I am a visual communicator that broke the mold coming from a family of teachers. I love to help companies discover their business personality! It is a passion, and quirky as it may be, I am able to pull out information or see things others cannot.

All I wanted for my 9th birthday was oil paints… I wanted to be an artist. Thankfully my parents embraced the idea and set out to support me any way they could… I received the gift I so longed for, painted my little heart out, and entered my work in a 4-H contest. The result: a first place win and the good fortune of meeting my art teacher/mentor for the next nine years.”

So the story begins – Kendal College of Art and Designs and the “real world” have been my best teachers. Yes, I admit it; I came from a generation with out cell phones or computers. I can honestly say I am grateful for not having all of the distractions technology can bring.
I still prefer starting any project with a pencil and paper to this day. Technology has given me the ability to take my concepts and easily present them to non-visual clients. Back in the day, we had to do it all by hand or key lining which was a long and tedious process…no command Z’s!


2. How did you become interested in design?
It has always been part of me ever since I could draw, create, act, speak… and of course my 9th birthday wish.

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Advertising On Facebook For Likes Is A Waste Of Money Ross | February 12th, 2014

We’ve experimented with many advertising and marketing channels over the years, including Facebook. A few years ago we tested whether promoting our posts on the crowdSPRING Facebook Fan page could expose us to more potential customers. We received more likes and fans, but discovered that our new fans were not engaging with us.

During our experiments, we varied our targeting – sometimes our targeting was broad and at other times, specific. We tested custom audiences. We repeated our experiments and confirmed our results: advertising on Facebook for likes is a waste of money.

In fact, the problem is even worse than it initially seems. In addition to wasting your money, you also negatively impact your ability to engage your real customers and fans.

Remember that your advertising dollars ensure that your posts would appear on News Feeds of your fans, their friends, and perhaps other targeted customers. If more people engage with your posts, your posts would be more prominently displayed. In fact, Facebook’s algorithm is built to reward posts that have strong engagement. However, many of your advertising dollars are spent to display your promoted posts in the News Feeds of phony accounts that never engage or interact with the promotions.  More importantly, when you later post non-promoted content, that content is also shown to phony accounts that never interact/engage with your content. As a consequence, your overall ability to reach your fans and customers suffers.

Here’s a terrific video from Veritasium discussing their own experiments and their similar conclusion that advertising on Facebook for likes is wasteful.

Has your experienced differed? Have you run successful Facebook campaigns and discovered new, engaging fans?

Word Science: How To Influence Others To Share More Of Your Content Ross | February 11th, 2014

word science

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve read hundreds of posts and articles about content marketing. That’s not a coincidence. Content marketing can be a powerful tool to help grow your business.

But even the best marketers sometimes struggle to come up with consistently good content for their blog posts, whitepapers, social media posts, and emails. The secret to content marketing success is good storytelling, but is there anything you can do beyond telling stories to influence others to share more of your content?

Socially Stacked produced a helpful infographic detailing commonly used popular phrases and buzzwords that tend to increase the likelihood that others will share your content.


Do you agree with the words and phrases in the infographic? Have you found some others that have worked well for you?

5 Things Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Slopestyle Mike | February 10th, 2014

The opening of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi is a great opportunity to think about competition, performance, and creativity. Winter athletes dazzle us with their skill and endurance, and amaze us with their ability to perform under intense pressure. This isn’t the first time I have written about the Olympics, but  the debut of a new event this year drew my attention, not just for the astonishing visuals, but for the risks and drama involved. As opposed to the Halfpipe competition that we are familiar with, Slopestyle snowboarding takes place in “Terrain Parks” which are special runs that contain jumps, rails, and other obstacles the boarders use to launch themselves into the air. Slopestyle runs are judged on the difficulty of the tricks being executed, the vertical height achieved, and the overall execution of the run. Athletes can repeat tricks during each run and judges look for consistency as well as degree of difficulty.

Slopestyle has been generating some controversy in the past few weeks. Several top snowboarders have been injured during practice runs and Shaun White, the perennial leader in snowboarding events pulled out of the Slopestyle competition in order to “focus solely on trying to bring home the third straight gold medal in halfpipe…” The news media, however, was focused on the risks involved and have speculated that White withdrew because of concerns about the safety of the course.

All of that is simply a distraction from what is the most important aspect of the Slopestyle competition, namely “What does this mean to entrepreneurs, small business managers, and startup founders!” Today let’s consider these wonderful athletes and this exciting new event in the context that matters to us – here are 5 things we can learn from Slopestyle!

1. Skills. Like managing a business, Slopestyle takes a certain minimum level of skill and competence in order to compete. Snowboarders have to be adept at balance, flight, flexibility, to represent their country in international competition, let alone to be up their on the podium receiving a medal at the end of the process. Entrepreneurs and managers have to understand basics of marketing, finance, logistics, customer psychology, and human resources in order to operate their businesses, let alone compete successfully in their market. Both take practice, the ability to learn from mistakes, and repetition over time to perfect. The takeaway for entrepreneurs is that they need to take the time to develop the requisite skills and then practice and perfect.

2. Originality. When it comes to startups, we know it is the idea that counts. It needs to be original, it needs to be tested, and it needs to solve a problem or meet a market need. Same with Slopestyle. The athletes performing in this event have to differentiate themselves from the competition and this is done by creating original tricks and moves that no one else can imitate or execute as skillfully. Snowboarders often steal each other’s tricks, but when they do it becomes about who can perform that kicker, stalefish or roast beef to perfection. Businesses, too, do not always have to be launched with a completely original idea, but if a new entrant in an existing market hopes to gain share, they had better make up for the lack of originality with a more perfect execution. 

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Twitter Link Roundup #210 – Small Business, Startups, Innovation, Social Media, Design, Marketing and More Ross | February 7th, 2014


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 image above would be a perfect Holiday card photo for a family of penguins.


Small Business and Startups: 5 Tips For Keeping the Books – crowdspring.co/1f1zOfD

You Can’t Beat Habit – crowdspring.co/1dlSylX

4 Steps to Starting a Web Business Without Knowing Coding | The Next Web – crowdspring.co/1ep8F6R


A special report from The Economist on Tech Startups. Here’s the full PDF – crowdspring.co/1cNY3hP

Small Business and Startups: 5 Tips For Keeping the Books – crowdspring.co/1f1zOfD

21 Reasons To Bootstrap Your Startup | ZoomShift – crowdspring.co/M5SXUd

The mobile future of variable pricing | ThoughtGadgets by Ben Kunz – crowdspring.co/1epd89z

Good perspective fon how long it takes for entrepreneur to know if their idea might succeed – crowdspring.co/1cNRjk2

Books that Shape Common Early Stage (Startup) Culture – crowdspring.co/1fLefAN

Weird interview questions don’t predict success, but companies still ask | Fast Company – crowdspring.co/1f35ml8

The Most Valuable Lesson I’ve Learned as a CEO | LinkedIn by Jeff Weiner – crowdspring.co/1cNXgxc

The Founders Guide to Surviving Startup Life – crowdspring.co/1eYfYis

What Games Are: Flappy Bird, Patterns And Context | TechCrunch – crowdspring.co/1dmNVbo

The Complete Quantitative Guide To Judging Your Startup | TechCrunch – crowdspring.co/1gBDzfA

Microsoft, Past and Future | by Gruber – crowdspring.co/1fQMMx3

Amazon is surprisingly quiet/inactive when it comes to acquisitions | Re/code – crowdspring.co/1dhwOrm

What’s up with the Series A? – crowdspring.co/1fkwYB1

5 reasons why battery innovation is hard for Silicon Valley – crowdspring.co/1fLbWNv

Raising Seed Capital – crowdspring.co/MX18CE

“About three-quarters of venture-backed firms in the U.S. don’t return investors’ capital” – crowdspring.co/1dhuwIO

Entrepreneurs Among Happiest People In The World, Except In The U.S. | OPEN Forum – crowdspring.co/1f7YIKA

Startup founder salaries: Younger, more inexperienced entrepreneurs pay themselves less | The Next Web – crowdspring.co/1f87xE1

What I Would Look for When Choosing a VC – Knowing What I Know Now? – crowdspring.co/1f7WXgp

4 Steps to Starting a Web Business Without Knowing Coding – crowdspring.co/1ep8F6R

Why Chicago needs to stop playing by Silicon Valley’s rules | by Adrian Holovaty – crowdspring.co/1f87594

On the Matter of Why Bitcoin Matters – crowdspring.co/1e393YD

Four Keys to Sales Success | Inc by Howard Tullman – crowdspring.co/1fkx7V6

You Can’t Beat Habit – crowdspring.co/1dlSylX


Three Long-Held Concepts Every Marketer Should Rethink | Harvard Business Review – crowdspring.co/M5TsNZ

SEO Pricing: 600+ Agencies Share Costs of Services & Pricing Models | Moz – crowdspring.co/1f86l3x

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You Can’t Beat Habit Mike | February 3rd, 2014

I am a complex and ever-changing creature of habit. I wake up every work-day morning at 530am, am at the computer drinking my morning coffee and answering emails before 6,  starting to think seriously about lunch (and aware of gnawing stomach) at 1130, yawning for afternoon coffee at 3pm, and heading home for dinner and after-dinner work around 530. At 10pm I am watching Jon Stewart, at 1040 brushing teeth, and am in bed lights out by 11. I did stop taking the train this year, but only because I moved within walking distance of the office. I mss that, for sure but am working on replacing the regularity of the commute with a daily morning workout at home. (So far a little spotty, but starting to gel.)

There is comfort for me in this daily routine, but there is something more. Predictability. And it is precisely that predictability that helps me to maintain productivity, think clearly, generate new ideas, and maintain a very busy schedule while not exhausting myself completely. It is also that predictability that allows my team to know where I am when, and what I am probably doing, where. In fact, I argue that having a regular schedule, driven by habit and developed for efficiency can be a great boon to entrepreneurs and startup founders. You see, by developing habits and sticking to schedules business owners and managers can better manage their time, can complete more tasks, and can achieve a level of productivity that would be undermined by seat-of-pants, ad hoc, and aimless work and life schedules.

I have observed that many people in life, and many workers professionally tend to make their way through their days with no specific plan of attack, and no real structure to how or what they will accomplish that day. I tend to be a list-maker (another habit developed over time) and it is these lists that organize my day, my week, even my month. In conjunction with a fairly detailed calendar, these lists act not just as reminders for the tasks I need to accomplish, but also as a time-organization tool and as a record of what I have done. If I ever need to remind myself about a meeting I had last October, or a restaurant where I met a colleague for lunch, a quick flip through my trusty moleskin will reveal those details.

Habit is also the enemy of distraction. Entrepreneurs are surrounded by people, bright lights, flickering screens, enticing web videos, funny chain emails, and noise, noise, noise. Creating strong work and life habits can help to filter out the noise and keep one focused on the task at hand, whether it is your weekly review of sales figures (every Monday morning), your afternoon coffee (3pm, remember?), or your full-team meeting (Thursdays at 11am). If you know that you have that standing meeting starting in 10 minutes and you ned to prepare for it, you are much less likely to get caught in the tar-pit that is The Onion online edition (best headline as I write this post? “Al-Qaeda Operative Can’t Believe How Expensive Super Bowl Tickets Are.”)

Habit helps to structure and define your day and, in turn, your day’s work. By creating manageable chunks of time during the day, you can accomplish more by better focusing on specific tasks, and by limiting the amount of time you devote to any one thing, you create a framework for the day and can actually accomplish much more over time than you might if you were flitting from one task to the next.

Habits can be good (washing your hands), bad (drinking too much), or clothes (think monks), but they can also be a valuable tool for the manager or business-owner when developed and used over time. What do you do habitually? How does it help you to be more productive? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below this post.

Painting: “Old Faithful” — by Albert Bierstadt, 1830-1902

Small Business and Startups: 5 Tips For Keeping the Books Mike | January 27th, 2014

The first quarter of the business year is a great time to put in place or review your accounting and bookkeeping systems. Every entrepreneur needs to have a bit of the comptroller in their personality, but relatively few have the skills or patience to learn them. Enter the accounting team: you, your bookkeeper, your CPA, and (sometimes) your tax specialist.Rat

The basics are pretty simple: you need to pay vendors, bill customers, make deposits, and pay your taxes. Beyond that it starts to get pretty complex, pretty quickly. The best way for small business owners and startup entrepreneurs to deal with that complexity is through careful planning, detailed documentation, and careful organization. The worst thing a business owner can do is to let those bills and invoices, pile up which can not only make things crazy difficult when tax time comes around, but can also serve to kill your cash flow and, ultimately, your ability to stay on business.

With the right people in place and the right tools at hand, accounting tasks can become relatively simple and the commitment of your time surprisingly minimal. Here are 5 things to keep in mind when planning for a solid accounting and bookkeeping strategy:

1. Know your accountant.
Larger companies have larger accounting departments, and will often have a CFO, a controller (aka ‘comptroller’), accountants, and bookkeepers on staff to handle the flow of financial data and oversee the quality of reporting. Often these companies will engage an outside tax accountant who specializes in the arcane details of the IRS as well as state departments of revenue or taxation. Small businesses are more likely to hire an outside accountant who is versed in managing books, creating reporting systems, and preparing corporate taxes. Smaller accounting firms tend to be populated with these jack-of-all-trades type accountants and will meet the needs of most small businesses. High-growth startups and mid-size companies will also often outsource accounting, but will usually have at least two accountants on the team, a generalist as well as a tax specialist. A good accountant will not just keep your books in order and your business on the right side of the tax code, but can and should also act as a trusted advisor, someone who can answer your questions, assist with your business strategy, and help you grow and develop your company over time. Where to find this person? My best advice is to ask business associates, friends, or even your attorney. Referrals are the best way to find the right match and to enter the relationship with some certainty and a reasonable level of trust.

2. Keeping the books.
A great bookkeeper is not the same as an accountant and many businesses hire their bookkeeper with some simple goals in mind: keep me organized, get my bills paid, and get me prepared for the work that will be handed to the accountant. Typically bookkeepers are much less expensive than CPAs and can be trusted to record and organize your day-to-day transactions, keep your bank accounts balanced, produce simple reports, and assist with keeping your financial records in order. Many small businesses will use an outside bookkeeper, paid hourly, who is in the office on a regular basis to handle all entries, pay all the bills, and manage invoicing and receivables. Having help with this aspect of managing a small company can be indispensable, and the time it can free for a busy manager, invaluable.

3. Stay organized.
Any business from the smallest of hot dog stands to the largest of public companies creates data. Sales data, inventory data, employee data, customer data… the list is endless. And like any kind of data, if it is not organized and accessible it is completely useless. With accounting data this is doubly-true and the speed at which a small business can fall behind can be breathtaking. Even a few weeks of unrecorded sales transactions, or a month of un-mailed invoices can quickly swamp a small business, destroy cash flow, and put it out of business faster than you can spell IRS. Set up a filing system, keep bills organized and paid on time, be sure customer invoices go out promptly, and put systems in place that will force you to do these things in a disciplined and methodical way. A strong bookkeeper will be worth their weight in gold if they can help you develop the systems you’ll need between now and tax-time 2014. Unfortunately it’s too late for 2013; if you’re not already organized with last year’s accounting, you have some troubles that this blog post will be unable to help you with!

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