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3 Leaders Reveal Their Hardest Conversations

Not all decisions are easy to make. How do you give a difficult talk to your teammate, boss, or even yourself? Andrea Williams covers this in her article for Michael Hyatt, on Nov. 27, 2018.

Building a successful organization requires interpersonal skills as much as knowledge of finance or marketing strategies. Perhaps the most important tool in the relational toolbox is the tenacity to have tough talks that lead to the sort of necessary change that makes growth possible.

Here, three individuals relate their most difficult conversations, revealing insights and advice applicable on a fairly wide scale. Their problems are likely to be yours at some point, if you are leading people.

Calling out a trusted team member

Addressing an individual’s poor decision making is never easy, especially if that person is a valuable part of the team and someone you want to continue working with long-term. The solution, says Shyam Krishna, founder of SKI Charities, is to empower that individual with more ownership over their role and the future of the organization as a whole.

SKI Charities supports local entrepreneurs in developing countries by providing microloans to women, giving them the necessary resources to lift their families out of poverty. In order the execute this mission, Krishna depends on project managers who are based in each country and are directly responsible for recruiting and developing entrepreneurs for SKI’s microfinance program.

During the organization’s growth in eastern Zimbabwe, Krishna discovered that one project manager was “overly-aggressive” in decision-making and enrolling beneficiaries who were not ideal for the program.

“She had been a stalwart member of our team and played a vital role in our early growth,” Krishna says, “so when I noticed this movement away from our core mission, I knew I had to speak with her about changing her mindset while balancing her continued engagement.”

Ultimately, Krishna reminded the project manager of SKI’s core mission, while also encouraging her to take an active role in creating and enhancing the company’s future vision. “With her involvement and ownership, she began to make decisions less as an employee and more as a leader herself,” Krishna says.

Giving the boss an ultimatum

While the onus for effectively tackling difficult conversation typically falls on leaders who need to address their subordinates, there are times when the need to initiate an important discussion starts at the bottom.

Before becoming the founder and CEO of business consulting firm Trebuchet Group, Chris Hutchinson was working under a leader who stifled his growth, taking over a number of his responsibilities once he had achieved success in those areas.

Hutchinson’s frustration was mounting.“I needed to help my boss do the role the business needed of him and let me do mine, or help transfer my responsibilities to him and leave the business,” he says.

Hutchinson presented his boss with two solutions: Either his boss would need to step back and focus on being the president of the organization, while Hutchinson exercised full autonomy as general manager, or Hutchinson would depart, transferring his responsibilities back to his boss.

“He chose the latter,” Hutchinson says. “Over the next few weeks, I coached him on how we would announce my transition…It was very difficult to leave my colleagues when I believed they would not be successful, yet I also felt I was in a no-win situation. The harder I tried to help, the less authority I had to be able to help.”

Hutchinson’s experience shows that not all difficult conversations will achieve an ideal result for both parties, but it’s important to have them nonetheless. His advice? Prepare in advance to ensure that your message is delivered with clarity and focus.

“A good friend gave me The Four Agreements book as I worked up the courage to present my boss with a clear choice and then follow through on that choice,” he says. “The book helped me make commitments to myself to do my best to be impeccable with my word, not make assumptions, and not take things personally. These lessons made a tremendous difference in that situation and have served me in other, difficult conversations with people at work.”

Owning up to your own mistakes

It’s estimated that one-in-five American jobs are held by contractors, and that, within ten years, half of the workforce will be comprised of contractors and freelancers.

For contract workers, the beauty of free-agent employment is the ability to assume full control over their schedule and work-life balance. But, in the face of poor time management and everyday life challenges, your schedule can quickly become an unwieldy monster.

As a self-employed attorney and mediator, Nance Schick has found that her most difficult conversations were the result of having to disclose her professional errors. This was certainly the case after a recent health crisis.

“I kept trying to work and thought I could get more done each day than I did, and this only made the work backlog pile up more,” Schick says. “This client’s project went further down my priority list each day, in part because I overestimated myself and made promises I couldn’t keep. Worse yet, I stopped communicating with her about my delays, thinking the project would be done before she even realized I was late completing it. I told myself this was okay because a lot of businesses operate this way, even if that is not how I run mine. But it was not okay.”

After recovering from laryngitis, pink eye, and a sinus infection, Schick was able to complete the project and submit it to her client for review. She also included and explanation, an apology, and a discount on her fees.

Since then, Schick has realized that it’s her responsibility to fully regain the trust of her client, but she’s also realistic in understanding that unforeseen circumstances may once again delay her productivity. Going forward, she plans to handle those situations with a different approach.

“First, I will be more realistic and honest about my schedule, even if it means I have to refer a project out to a trusted colleague,” she explains. “Second, I will notify the client immediately if I suspect a deadline won’t be met, and I will give the client a true opportunity to adapt, including by reassigning the project. Third, I will apologize by phone and allow the client to express her anger, disappointment, or whatever she feels.”

That may be a tough conversation to have but if she wants to grow, Schick believes it is a necessary one. “I must be the change I wish to see in others,” she says.

This article is written by Andrea Williams, digital content strategist, author, and journalist. You can find this post here.

The opinions expressed here by Andrea Williams are their own, not those of MichaelHyatt.com.

If you need help getting started in a new business venture, and you are in Chicago, Oak Brook or surrounding areas, contact us today if you feel you need some coaching on this topic!

ABOUT GREG LEE


6 Things Leaders Should Be Thankful For Everyday

With Thanksgiving arriving soon, I thought I would share this article published on November 22, 2017 on jmalonde.com, written by Joseph Lalonde. Taking a moment to remember the little things can make a big difference, no matter how busy the holidays become:

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Because of this, I wanted to reflect on 6 things leaders should be thankful for on Thanksgiving and every other day.

There’s a lot of pain that comes with leadership. Struggles no one else ever sees. Betrayals by coworkers and friends. Business failures. And so much more.

Yet there are also things leaders should be thankful for. Let’s take a look at these today.

6 Things Leaders Should Be Thankful For Everyday

1. Success:

Yes, be thankful for your successes. Your successes mean you’re having an impact on the world around you.

Don’t hide your successes. Celebrate your successes and be thankful for them.

2. Failure:

Hold up… You mean leaders should be thankful for failures? Oh yeah, leaders need to be thankful for failure.

Failure is an opportunity to learn and grow. You can examine your failures and see why they didn’t succeed.

Learn and grow from your failures. They’re a great stepping stone to your next success.

3. Influence:

If you’re a leader, you’re influencing other people. These could be team members, customers, even your vendors.

Your influence is guiding and leading people. Be thankful for the influence you have on others.

4. Team members:

Your team is a valuable part of your leadership. From leaders in training to the people working on the ground floor of your organization, these are the people who are the foundation.

Without your team, there’d be a lot more work for you, the leader, to take on.

Be thankful for your team members. They take a huge weight off of your shoulders.

5. The organization:

Sometimes it can be hard to be thankful for the organization you work for. There comes a lot of stress and frustration when you lead an organization.

There are times when you feel unappreciated. You begin to wonder why you’re there when no one values the work you do.

This shouldn’t negate the thankfulness you feel towards the organization. You have the opportunity to guide, build, and lead the organization in a new direction.

Be thankful for the organization you work in.

6. Your family:

Sadly, I’ve seen families get passed over by leaders more often than not. The leaders dedicate themselves to leading an organization yet forget to lead the most important organization they chose to join: Their family.

Your family is part of your mission. You chose them. And they’re a godsend.

Be thankful for your family every day. One day they may not be there.

Joseph Lalonde created JMLalonde.com to help inspire current and future leaders. You can find this post here.

The opinions expressed here by JMLalonce.com columnists are their own, not those of JMLalonce.com.

If you need help getting started in a new business venture, and you are in Chicago, Oak Brook or surrounding areas, contact us today if you feel you need some coaching on this topic!

ABOUT GREG LEE


The 5 Skills and Behaviors That Make Entrepreneurs Successful, According to Harvard Research

In keeping with the theme of entrepreneurship, the following is an article published in Inc.com on February 27, 2017, written by Marissa Levin, Founder and CEO, Successful Culture, discussing the skills and attributes the Harvard Business School found in common in successful entrepreneurs:

Richard Branson has tremendous passion. Elon Musk sees no limitations. Steve Jobs was relentlessly focused on perfection and the customer experience. Oprah Winfrey and Tony Robbins were determined to build a life of abundance by overcoming poverty and abuse.

What is the secret to successful entrepreneurship? Is it passion? Vision? Focus? Intelligence? Grit?

Harvard Business School (HBS) set out to unpack the answer to this question, which hasn’t been easy.

HBS Professor Lynda Applegate, who has spent 20 years studying leadership approaches and behaviors of successful entrepreneurs, shared that it has always been challenging to capture the skills and behaviors of successful entrepreneurs.

“Part of the problem is that people usually focus on an entrepreneurial ‘personality’ rather than identifying the unique skills and behaviors of entrepreneurs who launch and grow their own firms,” she said.

To uncover the most common skills and attributes, the Harvard research team administered a self-assessment to 1,300 HBS alumni, and then a follow-up 360-degree assessment that collected data from the peers of the 1,300 participants.

To prepare for the assessment, the research team combined literary reviews and entrepreneur interviews. Through this analysis, they identified 11 skills and attributes that are common in entrepreneurs. These are:

  1. Identification of Opportunities. Measures skills and behaviors associated with the ability to identify and seek out high-potential business opportunities.
  2. Vision and Influence. Measures skills and behaviors associated with the ability to influence all internal and external stakeholders that must work together to execute a business vision and strategy.
  3. Comfort with Uncertainty. Measures skills and behaviors associated with being able to move a business agenda forward in the face of uncertain and ambiguous circumstances.
  4. Assembling and Motivating a Business Team. Measures skills and behaviors required to select the right members of a team and motivate that team to accomplish business goals.
  5. Efficient Decision Making. Measures skills and behaviors associated with the ability to make effective and efficient business decisions, even in the face of insufficient information.
  6. Building Networks. Measures skills and behaviors associated with the ability to assemble necessary resources and to create the professional and business networks necessary for establishing and growing a business venture.
  7. Collaboration and Team Orientation. Measures skills and behaviors associated with being a strong team player who is able to subordinate a personal agenda to ensure the success of the business.
  8. Management of Operations. Measures skills and behaviors associated with the ability to successfully manage the ongoing operations of a business.
  9. Finance and Financial Management. Measures skills and behaviors associated with the successful management of all financial aspects of a business venture.
  10. Sales. Measures skills and behaviors needed to build an effective sales organization and sales channel that can successfully acquire, retain, and serve customers, while promoting strong customer relationships and engagement.
  11. Preference for Established Structure. Measures preference for operating in more established and structured business environments rather than a preference for building new ventures where the structure must adapt to an uncertain and rapidly changing business context and strategy.

Five Standout Traits

Out of these 11, Harvard found that founders scored significantly higher than non-founders for:

  • Comfort with uncertainty
  • Identification of opportunities
  • Vision and influence
  • Building networks
  • Finance and financial management

Founders had significantly lower ratings for “preference for established structure.”

Men Versus Women

HBS also examined the differences between men and women founders:

  • Women ranked higher in the dimensions of “efficiently manage operations” and “vision and influence.”
  • Men ranked higher in “comfort with uncertainty” and “finance and financial management.”

Serial Versus First-Time Entrepreneurs

Not surprisingly, serial entrepreneurs have much more confidence than first-time entrepreneurs, having more confidence especially in the areas of “building networks, securing financing and financial management, and generating creative ways to identify and meet market opportunities.”

The Future of Entrepreneurship, According to Harvard

As more and more people participate in the assessment, Harvard will be able to tap into the data to learn what entrepreneurs and organizations need in terms of leadership to help them grow.

Researchers will be able to extrapolate data around criteria such as age, gender, country, size of business, industry, type of venture, pace of growth, and many other factors that will shed light on how entrepreneurs are similar and different.

This knowledge will help all business owners tap into their own strengths, and surround themselves with others that can achieve their greatest potential.

If you need help getting started in a new business venture, and you are in Chicago, Oak Brook or surrounding areas, contact us today if you feel you need some coaching on this topic!

Greg A. Lee is also available on Advicoach.

ABOUT GREG LEE


The 5 Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make When Going From Employee to Self-Employed

Focusing on entrepreneurship, I’d like to share an article published in Inc.com on February 16, 2017, written by Beth Doane, managing partner of Main & Rose, discussing what you should know what you are getting into before making the leap:

Thinking about leaving your cubicle for the thrills of the startup world? So have 27 million other people like you. The good news is that there are more resources now than ever to help you find success when making this leap. The bad news is that just one small misstep and you can end up right back in your 9-to-5 gig.

I never worked in a corporate environment, started my first company when I was 22, and made a slew of expensive mistakes in those first few years. I attribute being able to survive to the fact that I had great mentors along the way and met fellow entrepreneurs who I could lean on for guidance and support.

I recently caught up with one of these fellow entrepreneurs, Darren Humphreys, who now spends his time tracking lions across the Serengeti or lounging on a remote beach on a hidden corner of Madagascar, but his original career was the farthest thing from this lifestyle. Darren hails from the top ranks of Wall Street and walked away from it to start a travel company. Like me, Darren learned how to scale and be his own CEO through making mistakes.

Below, we compiled the top mistakes founders make and what you really need to know to make it as a true entrepreneur.

Not Finding the Real Niche

Knowing what you want to do — and are passionate about — is not enough to make it a business. Even having a business plan, a marketing plan and a whole lot of venture capital won’t cut it these days. You must dive far enough into your concept to find the niche within it. If you can identify this niche within your “passion” industry, you will be truly distinctive and it will set you up for success.

Budgeting Incorrectly

Don’t leave your career without a plan and enough money to get you through the first six months. A new venture always costs more than you think, and that includes “opportunity cost.” When Darren first started his company, he knew if he had to budget and without a plan, he wouldn’t get very far. It’s worth hiring an expert for your budgeting (and making sure to budget for that expert!).

Underestimating Timeframes

New ventures always take longer than you anticipate. Darren advises that you should aim for validation within the first 12 months, and profitability within the first three years. I found this to be true: The companies I see succeeding wildly are able to bring a simple product to market and test it quickly, so they can make adjustments and improvements on the fly.

Not Being Selective Enough

You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. Finding a co-founder who complements you is crucial, and if you make the wrong choices, it can tank you before you even start. We always eventually become what we are surrounded by, so choose your staff and partners very carefully. Both Darren and I learned to hire slowly (and fire swiftly) in our ventures.

Having Incorrect Definitions of Success

Not all success is measured in dollars and cents: Darren knows this to be true, because he sacrificed things to be able to call the ocean his office. It’s easy to forget that success is what you make of it when you are trying to survive and build a business. Quality of life and crafting your own path hold a great deal of value, so before you start on your journey, make sure to write out what is truly most important to you — like family, your hobbies, giving back and learning new skills.

If fulfillment came from cash, America would be the happiest place on earth. Instead, pay attention to what really inspires you — and make sure you include that in your daily life.

Beth Doane is an award-winning writer, speaker and social entrepreneur. She is the managing partner of Main & Rose.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

If you need help getting started in a new business venture, and you are in Chicago, Oak Brook or surrounding areas, contact us today if you feel you need some coaching on this topic!

Greg A. Lee is also available on Advicoach.

ABOUT GREG LEE


Happy New Year!

 

In our world of business, we enter 2017 with great hope and anticipation of an invigorated economy and yes, some trepidation about whether it will all come together once again to lift our businesses, big and small.

We know that in fixing our business climate here in the United State, we have significant hurdles to overcome.  Our labor force participation is at its lowest level in 40 years.  Our principal generator of new jobs, small business startups, is growing at a rate of 30% less than in 2008.  One million new startups have failed in the last 8 years, resulting in the loss of 7-10 million jobs; GDP growth has been less than 3% for 10 years running.  I can go on and on about the issues of our stagnant economy, but we all know that we now have a major opportunity to reverse these negative, confidence-draining trends.

The optimist in me tells me that this is a mountain not too steep and difficult to climb.  Here’s why – we are, at our heart, a nation of doers that want to make things better for all of us, individually and collectively, and when slapped down, we confidently and aggressively get back up, rebuild, innovate and work hard to find solutions that solve the problems that confront us and satisfy our customers’ needs.

To me, confidence and risk taking go hand-in-hand and make our country unique in history.  Here’s my logic flow:  If businesses of all sizes see a favorable business climate with less regulation, lower taxes and available financing, there will be the entrepreneurial and corporate confidence to invest, innovate and take the necessary risks to create new and better goods and services that our customers want and desire today and tomorrow.

It’s all about a business culture in our country that incents and rewards growth, risk taking, entrepreneurship, innovation and community.  If we are smart about it, the rising tide will lift all the boats.  Here’s to a great 2017!


3 Leadership Skills Critical for Driving Change

In keeping with the focus on leadership, I’d like to share the following article written by Brent Gleeson, Keynote Speaker and Leadership Coach, published in Inc.com on August 16, 2016.  This article proides some key takeaways from the book “Change the Culture, Change the Game” authored by Roger Connors and Tom Smith on the skills leaders need for improing organizational culture to drive better results.

All organizations experience periods of much-needed culture change in order to achieve the results they need to grow, compete and win. Changing or improving the culture of a company or team requires focus, accountability and consistency. And it must be led from the top. Without total and complete buy-in from the senior leadership team the desired culture will fail to be achieved.

Leaders either move actively through an organization or unconsciously. When an unconscious leader attempts to fake their way through culture change they will not create the necessary experiences required to instill the correct beliefs. Without the needed cultural beliefs, actions will not achieve results.

There is also a misconception that leaders driving significant culture change must be bold in nature, give inspirational speeches and take wild leaps at greatness. That is simply not true. They must be honest and sincere in their effort exhibiting true passion for change. They must take aggressive strides in mastering three critical culture change leadership skills. And most of the time the organization can’t wait for them to do so, it must be done in tandem with driving change. This requires a consistent and deliberate effort and places this ability within reach of leaders at all levels.

These three skills are: leading the change, responding to feedback, and having a facilitative communication style.

Leading the Change

Culture change initiatives are not something that can be delegated to Human Resources or any other department. This is a leader-led model which must start at the very top. Every experience a leader creates, communication they deliver and action they take will either support or undermine the effort. The senior leadership team must actively manage the process and make sure that it’s at the top of every manager’s priority list.

Some of the best practices leaders must own include: establishing accountability across the organization; defining the results needed from the culture change (what are we trying to accomplish?); developing a cultural beliefs statement (again, this shouldn’t belong to the marketing team); developing and communicating the case for change; and consistently ensuring alignment across the leadership team.

For leaders to master the ability to lead the change, it requires learning and practicing the tools, planning what to do and what to say, and internal and external coaching.

Responding to Feedback

Without the team there can be no leadership. During a change effort the team will scrutinize the leadership team more than ever. They will be hopeful for new change they have been craving for a long time, but they may also look for signs of potential failure.

Providing feedback

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

focused on supporting the desired cultural beliefs and desired outcomes to team members is critical for success. But it goes both ways. Senior leaders must ask their reports, or anyone for that matter the question, “What feedback do you have for me?” Leaders must create a culture supportive of managing up and transparency.

Some leaders are good at taking constructive criticism and other are not. Responding with an excuse or dismissing the feedback as irrelevant or incorrect will foster beliefs about that leader’s willingness to change. In times of culture change, leaders must usually be the first to change the way they think and act.

Feedback will not always be accurate or grounded in reality but it is the leader’s duty to ask for it, as well as respond to it. Letting the team know that their voice is heard and what you are going to do to take action when necessary is the most important component to mastering responding to feedback.

Facilitative Communication Style

When I speak to organizations or perform workshops with their leadership teams, communication is always a key component. As a former Navy SEAL, we used to evangelize the saying “move, shoot and communicate.” We work in highly chaotic environments which require effective communication in order to adapt to change.

Leaders must not just ask for feedback every now and then but create organizational experiences that foster ongoing collaboration and communication. It doesn’t happen on its own. These experiences will empower the team and involve everyone in being accountable for driving the positive change forward.

Needed change is usually created through many internal and external environments. Either way, it can be scary for the team. It is up to the leadership to drive the change, ensure alignment, and see it through. It can have revolutionary effects to the bottom line when done right.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

4 Ways to Kick Into Hyper Growth This Year

hyper-growth-blog-race-cars

With a new year on the horizon, I’d like to shift the focus to Leadership and share the following article by  Adam Fridman, Founder, MeetAdvisors,  published August 19, 2016 in Inc.com, which discusses what INC 5000 honorees are saying about what high-growth companies are doing to be competitive in this landscape with the tools we currently have available:

Every year around this time, the INC 5000 list comes out and our collective conversation turns to growth. And since the latest technology is always changing the way business is done and stories of other disruptors constantly fuel entrepreneurial creativity – the formula for growth keeps evolving.

Last year, Mintigo conducted a study to identify exactly what INC 5000 companies were doing to surpass their success metrics. Among the qualities of the fastest growing companies in America were: efficient use of technology, having an in-house marketing team, hiring with future growth in mind, and focusing on high-growth industries.

The findings of this study have become more and more relevant in growing startup trends – and years from now, those key elements to success will likely continue to be true (even in 2030 when hologram versions of our staff will be teleporting into work!). But let’s get down to the nitty gritty. What specifically are high-growth companies doing to be competitive in this landscape with the tools we currently have available? Here’s what some of the honorees said:

Focus on What You Really Do
In your first years of business, it’s easy to try to be everything to everybody. More services, more opportunities for customers, right? Not so much. It seems that if you want to grow quickly, you need to focus on what it is you really do.

Constance Aguilar, Co-Founder of The Abbi Agency believes that getting hyper-focused was her company’s number one growth driver. “We streamlined our departments, creating a 4-pillar system for business development, which put our leads into industry categories staffed and lead by experts in those particular areas of business,” she said.

Creating a framework for the agency allowed them to expand their marketing agency’s business in specific areas, rather than simply go after ‘anything and everything’. The result was the agency growing 191 percent over the past three years.

Don’t Skimp on Talent

You’ll see this recurring theme across the map with high-growth companies. While technology is great, it’ll never replace the power of human connection.

“High growth is about hiring the most talented team that shares a common vision. Our team’s collective vision is to change the way the world pays,” says Tom Villante, CEO of YapStone, a fintech company that powers payments for global marketplaces and large vertical markets. This past year, Villante added numerous seasoned executive to his team, hailing from companies like Twitter, Paypal, and Salesforce; YapStone was ranked in the list for the 9th consecutive year – having grown 136 percent over a three year period.

Revolutionize Your Customer Experience

Look, we live in a fast-paced world where consumers expect a certain level of customer experience. If they don’t feel taken care of – they’re not likely to darken your door again, no matter how much they need your service.

“We built a company that treats every decision for our customer as if we were making the decision for ourselves,” says Joe Pervan, Partner at The Fulfillment Lab, a fulfillment house that provides customized solutions for global companies. In an industry that is not traditionally customer-focused, this company went against the grain to create technology that fit each customer’s individual needs. A longer process, for sure – but at a whopping 1,735 percent growth in the past three years, they’re glad they took the time.

Anticipate Future Need

Our world is moving at lightning speed and what might be so relevant to your customer today, may not suit their needs tomorrow. This is why it’s important to constantly innovate new ideas that anticipate the future needs of your customer.

This is the 4th year that Madison Logic made the INC 5000 list, and this year they moved up 500 spots. “We attribute this to constantly innovating and staying ahead of the B2B marketplace, while also making it our priority to understand our clients’ needs and create products that help them achieve success,” says the company’s CEO, Tom O’Regan.

It has becoming increasingly clear that, like Madison Logic, we need to listen to our customers and have them tell us what they need.
Judging by these responses, it seems that true entrepreneurial companies are most concerned about creating something great and disrupting their market. In the entrepreneurial world, passion is power – and it seems that if you have that passion for greatness, the growth will come with it.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

 


The Top 10 Stats from 2016 that Show the Importance of Email Marketing

In keeping with the focus on marketing, I’d like to share the following article by  Linsey Morse in the B2BSalesNewsletter.org, originally published at skyword.com, that takes a look at the top stats of 2016 that highlight the importance of email, and a few tactics for effectively wielding it effectively in your content strategy.
When I think about digital storytelling, there are a few images that come to mind. I picture crisp, vivid photography that draws my eye to a publication. I picture articles so compelling I can practically hear the clear voice of the writer who composed it. I think of catchy hashtags and emotional Instagram campaigns. And I think of videos, whose power to transport has rendered the medium invaluable for a solid content strategy.
But in all that, it’s easy to forget one key element of a comprehensive storytelling strategy that’s too important to leave behind: email marketing.

Even in 2016, where spur-of-the-moment, blink-and-it’s-gone content reigns ever supreme, you need email. And, more importantly, you need to storify your email strategy. It’s not enough to have a newsletter or a targeted approach to distribution. Today, your email approach has to demonstrate a deep understanding of (and respect for) your audience and their needs, with rich visuals and irresistible subject lines.

According to Salesforce’s 2016 State of Marketing Report, “80 percent of marketers agree that email is core to their business.” Are you among them? If not, take a closer look at the top stats of 2016 that highlight the importance of email, and a few tactics for effectively wielding it effectively in your content strategy.

Why it’s Important to your Strategy

1. Email pays for itself–and then some.

If you can work your email strategy into your broader content strategy, the results will prove worth the work (especially where ROI is concerned): according to the Direct Marketing Association via Outbound Engine, “Email marketing yields an average 4,300 percent return on investment for businesses in the United States.” What’s more, as Hubspot pointed out, Forrester Research found that “companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50 percent more sales ready leads at 33 percent lower cost.”

Furthermore, Salesforce’s report noted that 49 percent of marketers (up from 20 percent in 2015) claim email is ” directly linked to their business’ primary revenue source.” And for businesses who are already using email as part of their strategies, they’ve likely seen a payoff even as recently as the close of Q2: as Experian’s Quarterly Email Benchmark Report (from Q2 2016) showed, while “quarter-to-quarter volume [for email] remained the same for Q2 compared to Q1 2016…revenue per email rose from $0.06 to $0.07 in Q2.”

2. There’s power in its personalization.

One of the best things about email–and automated email marketing in particular–is that it enables marketers to create personal experiences that speak to their recipients. And those extra efforts to personalize pay off: Campaign Monitor discovered that “emails with personalized subject lines are 26 percent more likely to be opened, and marketers have found a 760 percent increase in email revenue from segmented campaigns.”

That’s not surprising. As with any good content strategy, email’s efficacy lies in its ability to prove a sender knows and respects their audience. And remember, you need both to ensure your campaign’s success. The majority of people claim they open all emails their favorite companies send; confirming this, according to Chadwick Martin Bailey, the organization sending an email and that email’s subject lines are the two most influential factors in open rates. Proving your company deserves a spot among those favorites necessitates care and consideration for readers–just as it does with your blog and on social.

3. Speaking of social�

According to McKinsey and Company, email far surpasses the social media giants where generating customers is concerned–in fact, it’s 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter. That might seem surprising, considering the number of people who actively engage on social on a daily basis, but it’s easy to understand how email facilitates a quieter, more intimate, and (most importantly) less distracting environment for a conversation or transaction. Beyond that, the company cites the fact that, (as of 2014,) “ninety-one percent of all US consumers still [used] email daily.” And that number’s expected to grow: The Radicati Group predicted that the number of email accounts worldwide would increase to 4.3 billion by the end of this year.

4. It’s only ever a thumb’s press away.

According to statistics from emailmonday (via Adestra’s 2016 Consumer Adoption and Usage Study), more email (55 percent) is read on mobile than on desktop clients. What’s more, emailexpert found that “sixty-four percent of decision-makers read email via mobile devices.”

Courtesy of emailmonday

With readers embracing mobile as a means of all communications, that means you’re able to send your personalized stories to readers and reach them wherever they are. While this does lead to the risk of catching someone in a moment when they’re not willing to consider your product or service, the likelihood is good that if your audience considers your brand a trusted name, they’ll engage.

5. B2Bs are in the lead.

According to emfluence’s Email Marketing Metrics Benchmarks 2016 report, “B2B marketing email averaged over a 47 percent higher click-through rate than Business-to-Consumer (B2C) email and boasted a 23 percent higher click-to-open ratio.”

Does this mean B2B companies are better email marketers than their B2C counterparts? Not necessarily, but it does indicate that they might be more well acquainted with their target audience’s needs and interests. For some B2B newsletter inspiration, check out the tips FreshMail offers.

How to make it work for you

6. Optimize for mobile.

Outbound Engine puts it best: “If an email does not display correctly, 71.2 percent will delete it immediately.” That makes optimization crucial. Responsive email templates are not always ideal, serving more as one-size-fits-most (but-certainly-not-all) solutions to the optimization problem. However, knowing that approximately 90 percent of all mobile email opens happen on an Apple device is a good start. Consider your user base and their devices when creating your next email template–it’ll pay off.

7. Contribute to your brand’s story.

Think about your emails as one more way to reinforce your brand’s story–they’re almost a publishing destination. Case studies, firsthand accounts from customers, content written by employees and relevant stories about the ways in which your brand is contributing to the world are all great approaches you can take–provided you do so in an authentic way. According to Headstream’s Brand Storytelling Report 2015, 80 percent of surveyed adults want brands to tell stories. And as you already know, authenticity is crucial in developing a relationship with your audience. Find a way to create email content that’s true to your brand’s voice and tone and aligns with its goals, and segment your audience wherever possible. Readers will take notice.

8. Automate, automate, automate.

Automation is a marketer’s best friend when it comes to crafting comprehensive campaigns and making sure your stories get where they belong–so it’s no surprise that an average of 49 percent of companies is currently automating in some way. It almost goes without saying that having a month to sculpt a story with gorgeous video or photography and an attractive headline about your brand’s latest product or service makes for an infinitely better experience than developing on the fly. To that end, scheduling goes a long way. But when you automate, you can track email success, monitor your leads, and refine your process for the long term. You can conduct A–B tests to determine the best ways to frame content–and the best content to frame. It’s like having your finger on your audience’s collective pulse.

9. Monitor your subscription (and unsubscription) rates.

With global unsubscribe rates averaging at a seemingly negligible .127 percent, it’s easy to write this problem off. But, as IBM Marketing Cloud pointed out, “improving your unsubscribe rate just 0.1 percent would save 1,000 subscribers every time you send to a database of 1 million people. That’s more than 200,000 contacts retained over a year if you send four emails per week.”

Don’t underestimate the importance of unsubscriptions–and if users unsubscribe, consider the cause. Are you sending emails too frequently, or not frequently enough? Is your content relevant, engaging, and segmented appropriately? Are you using a responsive template? Turn to your audience (and your automation software) for clues.

10. Test (and retest) your cadence.

Just as you’d develop a regular publishing cadence for your digital publication and meter your social posts, it’s crucial that you deliver your emails with the right frequency. More often than not, your cadence is going to be unique to your audience’s behaviors, so there’s no one best answer to this question–although Vertical Response’s compilation of research provides some great references. Good rules to abide by when you’re just starting to test the waters with a new email newsletter include ensuring you can deliver fresh, relevant content consistently with each newsletter, while simultaneously ensuring you’re not bogging readers down with a content excess.

Remember, too, that you’re no longer restricted to the Monday-through-Friday, nine-to-five schedule of old. As Vertical Response noted, “With consumers becoming more and more active on their mobile devices, especially outside of standard nine to five working hours spent at an office desktop, testing sends outside the traditional morning hours is essential.” Take time to experiment and find out what works best for your readers.

The Future of Email

The major tenets of email are clear: to be successful, your brand needs a keen awareness of its audience’s behaviors, a finger on the pulse of their devices, and an eye for optimal design. As future updates to email clients make it easier for your readers to ignore your messaging completely, it’s becoming increasingly crucial that your brand keeps up with fresh, relevant, engaging email content that goes the distance and brings readers back for more insight. Brands that take the time to get to know their readers will have the upper hand in the email sphere–and the value of that, as these stats have shown, cannot be overlooked.


6 Kinds of Disasters Most Businesses Don’t Foresee

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To continue focusing on business disasters this month, the following article was written by a staff contributor, Anna Johansson, and published in Inc.com discussing several kinds of disasters most businesses don’t foresee.

Once a company is up and running, it tends to stay in operation until some event prevents it from continuing–businesses don’t stop working for no reason. Though occasionally they suffer a slow decline to closing, more often a firm’s shutdown is the result of an internal or external misfortune that compromises the integrity of the operation or starts a chain reaction that leads to collapse.

Some of these disasters are familiar and probably preventable, but others take you down when you least expect it.

Foreseeable and Unforeseeable

It’s hard to define what constitutes a “foreseeable” business disaster versus an “unforeseeable” one. If a disaster were inherently and universally foreseeable, any business owner would be able to see it coming and, in theory, prevent it from happening.

The truth is, even if a disaster might be possible to foresee, that doesn’t mean any observer — even an astute one — will be able to anticipate it accurately. Let’s take a look at some of the least commonly expected disasters, and the catastrophes that tend to happen when you aren’t prepared to handle them.

Major Disasters

If you want to protect your business against some of the most destructive or surprising potential disasters around, these are the ones to watch for:

1. Cash flow interruptions. Businesses need cash to survive; it’s what you use to pay your employees and your bills, and generally keep the lights on. If your cash flow runs into the negative, sooner or later your entire operation will collapse. This seems obvious, but many startups end up facing cash flow problems they didn’t anticipate. Why? Because cash flow is a bit different from bottom-line profitability. It requires you to pay careful attention to your incoming and outgoing money at all times. Even if your business is making money on paper, an unexpected expense, a customer who won’t pay on time, or a drop in expected revenue could send your finances into a downward spiral.

2. Personal injury lawsuits. Personal injuries in the workplace are probably something you won’t anticipate. They don’t have much to do with your daily operations, especially in a non-industrial or non-manufacturing setting, but they can still happen anywhere, at almost any time. Under the right conditions, a single personal injury lawsuit in your place of operation or involving the use of one of your products could cost you millions of dollars or more. It’s possible to lower your risk of this by establishing stricter, more comprehensive safety requirements, insisting on a protective waiver or similar legal document for your customers, and even obtaining litigation insurance. Together, these measures will make your company less vulnerable to most unfortunate encounters here.

3. Intellectual property lawsuits. Most businesses don’t think much about intellectual property lawsuits because they would never intentionally plagiarize another company’s material or blatantly employ an asset without permission. This can be an unexpected disaster, however, because it usually occurs when your business (or someone who works for it) didn’t realize what it was doing was wrong. This could be something as simple as using an image in your blog when you didn’t have permission for it, or mentioning another company’s name inappropriately in an advertisement. Such lawsuits can cost a lot of money, especially if you’re dealing with big corporations, so verify your work multiple times to ensure you’re always using intellectual property appropriately.

4. Natural disasters. Don’t overlook disasters of the natural world. Depending on your physical location, you could be hit by such misfortunes as an earthquake, fire, flood, tornado, or ice storms that may compromise your facilities and cost you thousands of dollars in replacement costs, not to mention the lost time while you’re dealing with productivity outages. In rare cases, offsite natural disasters could also affect your business, such as when flooding damages a server that hosts your website. So you might wish to consider taking proactive measures against the threat of natural disasters by storing your data offsite, and by investing in insurance that will cover any disaster-related damage.

5. Fraud. Fraud can come in many forms, and chances are you’ll never see it coming. It’s unlikely that your business would be defrauded at the higher levels, but when you’re first starting out, you could be vulnerable to fraud in the form of a misleading customer interaction or a partnership that doesn’t pan out. As your firm gets bigger, you’ll be less susceptible to these potential fault points, but you’ll still be vulnerable to internal forms of fraud; no matter how much you trust your employees, someone may still end up managing your money fraudulently or stealing from your business in other costly ways.

6. Scandals. A scandal could hurt your company in a variety of ways, especially if your business is big and popular enough that bad news would tend to spread quickly. Financial scandals often get the most attention, especially when many individual consumers might be affected, but if you’re caught lying about your products, or if they malfunction in some grand and terrible way, you could suffer a consumer revolt. It’s hard to recover gracefully from a PR disaster, but it’s possible, so try to remain as transparent and accommodating as possible if this ever happens to you.

Even armed with ample knowledge and experience, it’s impossible to prepare your business for everything. There will always be circumstances beyond your control, and unpredictable events that test your company’s foundation.

You can fight back by hedging your bets and preparing for the widest range of possible scenarios imaginable, and setting up contingency plans just in case your business gets caught off guard.

 


6 Ways to Prepare Your Business for ‘The Really Big One,’ or Any Disaster

This month I’d like to focus on business disasters.  The following article was written by a staff reporter, Trish Townsend, and published in Inc.com discussing what companies can do right now to survive a devastating earthquake/tsunami combo or any disaster.

What are companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, Expedia, Starbucks and Nike to do if “the really big one” shakes the Pacific Northwest?

An apocalyptically-worded story in the latest issue of the New Yorker detailed the devastation that might result from a high-magnitude earthquake along the Cascadia subduction zone, a fault line that runs from Cape Mendocino, Calif., to Vancouver Island, Canada.

“Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5” — including big parts of Seattle, Portland and other major municipalities in Washington and Oregon — “will be toast,” Kenneth Murphy, a regional director for FEMA, told the New Yorker.

In fact, most areas in the affected zone would be able to ride out a high-magnitude earthquake and would be out of the way of the tsunami expected to follow, according to Bill Steele, director of outreach and communications for the University of Washington’s Pacific Northwest Seismic Network.

“It’s not going to look like the coast of Japan after the tsunami came through. It’s not anything like that,” he said.

That’s not to say a mega-quake wouldn’t cause mega-disruptions for local businesses, however. Here are some tips to help your company be ready if a disaster such as a 9.0 magnitude earthquake were to hit your area.

1. Spread out your resources

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, says Wendy Freitag, communications outreach specialist with Washington state agency Center of Excellence for Homeland Security, aimed at building disaster resilience in the state. Cross-train staff in different locations so that if one location has to close as a result of disaster, staff at another location can take over operations. Be ready to route calls through call centers off-site rather than call centers in the affected place. Make sure you have a geographically diverse group of suppliers, says Steele.

2. Back it up

Companies should invest in backup servers offsite to keep websites running and other stored information safe from damage, Freitag said. She also recommended purchasing backup generators to keep the lights on and having backup batteries and solar powered chargers available for cell phones. If cell phone service is available, it won’t be much use of employees’ cell phones have died and the electricity is out, she said.

3. Think of alternative ways to communicate

Voice communication technology may be shot for a while after a major event such as a magnitude 9.0 earthquake followed by tsunami. Freitag said companies may be able to rely on sending messages by SMS or — if they can log on — over the internet. Another option she said was to invest in satellite phones for key employees to communicate with each other. She said businesses can talk to their telecom providers about what options may be available.

4. Prepare your employees

Employees need to be prepared to respond if a disaster occurs while they are at the workplace. Freitag recommends companies run drills such as those organized throughShakeOut. Companies may find themselves unable to send employees home if a disaster hits during the workday, Steele noted. So workplaces need to be prepared to keep employees on site until it is safe to leave.

Just as important as preparing employees to cope with the impact of a massive earthquake on the company is helping employees prepare at home. Parents worrying about their children probably won’t be focused on keeping the company in shape through the disaster, says Freitag. She advises companies to incentivize employees to get their homes and families disaster ready. Companies might bring someone in to train employees on how to prepare at home, she said.

5. Go above and beyond with building safety

“The basic building code is designed to prevent the catastrophic collapse of buildings, to not kill people,” said Steele.

Minimum safety codes are not aimed at keeping a building fully functional after a disaster occurs. Engineers can help companies make improvements to buildings so that electrical wiring, heating and ventilation systems, server racks and other building amenities stay intact and ready for future use. Businesses can also take some tips from homeowners in preparing for a big earthquake — bolting shelves to walls, for example.

6. Pool your resources

Most large companies already have business continuity plans in case of disaster, but smaller businesses may not have the resources to thoroughly prepare on their own, says Freitag. She suggests that small businesses located in close proximity to each other find a way to pool resources to prepare. Ask the local chamber of commerce to invite a disaster preparedness expert to speak to employees as one large group, she said. Have each business offer a specific aspect of preparedness – a food company can offer to keep extra food on site, for example.

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