Category Archives: Best Practices

Basic Rules of Branding: Crafting Your Image in the Public Mind

A lot of people spend time merely trying to mimic the business models and ad campaigns of iconic brands without really looking deeper into what makes those brands stick. Whether you’re putting together a new brand for your start-up idea or you’re conducting a brand refresh to focus your messaging after major market shifts or changes in leadership, it’s vital that you stick to some basic rules.

Metal Branding Brand Perspective

Your Brand is Built upon Core Principles

Contrary to popular belief, your brand is about more than your name and logo, or it should be. Your logo, slogans, product presentation and especially your company name are critical to the impact your brand has, to be sure.

Your efforts to build and manage a brand need certain fundamental ideas and values that anchor it. It’s when brands forget those key values that their brands are based on that they stop projecting an image to customers and the public that resonates.

Those core principles need to be more than just empty platitudes, though. Ask yourself and your executive team just what is important to them about operating in your industry, what sets them apart from competitors and what kind of presence they want your brand to communicate.

You Have to be Consistent

This means you have to defend your brand against erosion by bad marketing or just the variety of minds working on your campaigns. Inconsistent graphic design, colors, logo presentation, haphazard marketing copy that doesn’t project a consistent tone or follow central brand principles—your brand manager needs to corral all of these disparate messages into a consistent brand representation.

It’s much easier to maintain brand consistency if you’re able to launch your brand internally, getting buy-in from all of your staff and ensuring that branding gets consideration in everything you do. When everyone is aware of—and reminded of—your core principles and branding standards on a regular basis, they’re more likely to maintain a consistent brand representation collectively.

Customer Experience Must be Controlled

If you properly present your branded messages to customers in every instance, you’ll be successful in creating a consistent impression within just a few impressions. But if your messaging, styling and tone are all over the place, they may fail to remember your brand at all.

This is the reason for your obsession about consistency in graphic design, messaging and everything else. Not every customer will see every display ad, every commercial or every business card. But that’s all the more reason to keep them tightly controlled, so you get the same effect no matter where the customer is exposed to your brand. You’re controlling the image of your brand in customers’ minds by controlling the contexts in which they experience it.

Follow the KISS Rule

I don’t want to fall into the cliché of simply saying that you need to “keep it simple, stupid!” because it’s easy to dismiss. Yeah sure, you should keep your brand simple, but why and what does that mean? I’ll tell you what it doesn’t mean: It doesn’t mean that you should dumb down your brand; just the opposite, in fact.

The principles around which you’re organizing your brand should be basic, but they shouldn’t be communicated in a cliché or tired manner. For example, everyone wants to say that they provide good service to their customers; you’re not going to impress anyone just by making sure you mention it in every branding message or slogan. But you will impress people by getting that message across elegantly, and in a manner that almost communicates that your brand is about service without actually saying so. This can happen in the tone and style of a branding message, right down to the way a brand tweets.

Mike Mann is an entrepreneur, author and philanthropist who funds his many charitable aims through profits from his many successful companies. Learn more about his principles of success in business and charity by downloading his book or reading his blog.

Things You Should Never Say Out Loud at Work

Depending on where you work, a day at the office could sometimes be compared to a zoo or even a WWE cage fight. (If so, you have my sympathies.) You may have to contend with difficult clients, strange co-worker personalities or even a demanding and unreasonable boss. Everyone has to deal with politics in the workplace. But if you want to keep your job, it’s best to keep these sentiments to yourself.

Funny sales man shouting on a tin can phone

“Lazy people shouldn’t work here.”

Don’t judge others. There’s no reason to offend or bring up other people’s mistakes in front of them. Everyone deserves respect, especially in the workplace. No one wants to be humiliated or made to feel like they don’t belong.

Also, comparing your skills to others is a big no-no. You never know who may overhear rude remark. It could come back to haunt you. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. Plus, it makes you look like a bully, even if some of what you’re saying is true.

“I don’t make enough money.”

The office is not the place to voice your opinions on sensitive topics. Avoid talking about money, race, political affiliations, religion or your own personal matters. Your co-worker is not your therapist, and they certainly can’t do anything about your paycheck. In fact, engaging in conversations regarding compensation is grounds for termination at many companies.

It’s best to just avoid sensitive topics at work. There will always be break time and water cooler conversations, but they don’t need to get personal or delve into taboo themes or office rumors. Current events or financial issues may affect the company, but voicing derogatory quips about the President of the United States or the Pope aren’t going to help and can make others uncomfortable.

“Hey, buddy…”

The only time your boss or manager would be your buddy is if you work for your spouse or a really close business partner. Keep things on a professional level and avoid inviting your boss to be your Facebook friend or tweeting them in a non-professional capacity.

Just because the both of you are online doesn’t automatically mean you’re instant best friends. Instead, create a Linkedin profile and share only positive work related news. Do not assume your boss knows everything about you.

Don’t be afraid to speak up if you have a co-worker issue or if you’re requesting vacation days, but do it through the right channels. Good communication will improve and strengthen a business relationship. Make sure emails and phone conversations are professional too.

“My Hands are tied.”

Phrases like “there’s nothing I can do about that” or “I don’t see your point” will come off as passive, unhelpful and stubborn. If there’s a group task you need to complete, the worst thing you could say is, “Let me know what you come up with.” or “I’m not good at that….” A positive attitude and encouraging statement will trump a negative comment every time. A company will notice when an employee isn’t pulling their weight or considering all angles of a project.

“I did this differently at my last job.”

This kind of comment only shows that you like to brag or that you’re being negative about your current position or coworkers in some way. You don’t want to appear unsupportive, pompous or desperate for attention.

Be confident, but be humble too. You can find similarities in your work without voicing your views about how it should be done. If you have any criticism, make it positive and head up the changes yourself. Then you’re viewed as an asset rather than a critic. Companies like innovative, hard-working and creative people who are ready and willing to tackle any task. You don’t really want to say anything about your previous job because it’s counterproductive and is in the past anyway.

Remember that it’s Work, not War

At the end of the day we’re all in this together. You can stand up for yourself, contribute to the gross national product and still be a personable human being that others want to be around. Every day doesn’t need to be a battle. Make the most of your work day by thinking about the impact your words might have. Come up with solutions for others who don’t think before they speak. Whether you’re making a speech at the next board meeting or getting a performance review, speak as professionally as possible.

Mike Mann is the founder of numerous successful companies and charities. His focus is on generating profits and channeling them to charitable causes. For more of Mike’s tips on creating successful businesses and using them to make the world a better place, download his book, MakeMillions.Com or tune back in to the blog for new stuff weekly.

Focus on Recruitment Strategies that Really Attract Talent

It should be continually astonishing to anyone paying attention the way that many HR departments and hiring managers operate when trying to fill key positions. It takes way too long, often happens rapidly or not at all, and displays a large degree of incompetence all around.

This is a serious vulnerability that a lot of firms don’t even know they have. Talent starvation can be death for a large company, let alone a new startup, but many companies don’t even bother thinking about hiring new talent until they’re already feeling hunger pangs. And when the urgency to find new talent hits them, any cogent recruitment strategy is usually nowhere to be found. That’s why so many recruitment efforts fail.

Recruitment Strategies that Fail

Your company’s recruiting policies have a direct and indirect impact on its ability to perform. But those effects are often delayed, so you’re actually being impacted by strategies that failed you six months ago. That’s why it’s vital to recognize your errors now so you can begin to turn it around. Here are a few failing strategies you should remedy right away:

  • Single Platform Searches: If your entire hiring strategy for some or all of your positions is to simply to throw a job description on Indeed.com or some industry-specific job board, you’re casting a small net, to be sure. You need to get the position out there in multiple venues, multiple sites and social platforms to make sure you’re capturing a wide audience. The number of resumes you get should be a good indication, but the variety of candidates will increase with your variety of posting venues, too.
  • Plain Job Postings: This is usually a result of pure laziness on the part of the hiring manager or recruiter, but a boring, short job description is a surefire way to signal that your company isn’t serious about seeking good talent. Spend some time on it, make it look sleek and get your brand all over it to let people know it’s worth sending in a resume.
  • On-demand Recruitment: This might work for your entry-level positions, but you’re kidding yourself if you think you can fill key positions with highly talented individuals in just a few weeks. Finding the right developer, designer or rock star manager to fit a hole in your organization takes time. And if you wait until you’re hurting for a replacement to recruit them, you’ll be under pressure to accept subpar candidates that could turn into disasters for your company.

Recruitment

Strategies that Work

Talent recruiting and cultivation takes time. A long-term strategy to incentivize referrals, advertise for valuable positions and craft a favorable online view of your company is mandatory if you want to maintain the health of your company. Here are strategies that work:

  • Personal Networking: After everything, the method through which most people are finding their jobs is still through personal connections and networking, by a landslide. Exploring the connections of your existing, high-value employees online, in social media and by directly soliciting referrals from your top performers is where you’ll find the concentration of talent. Some of my best managers and creatives came to one of my companies through an existing employee.
  • Multi-channel Searches: Post your well-crafted, colorful and comprehensive job and company descriptions on all the major job search sites and specialty boards. Make sure your company’s LinkedIn profile (You do have one, right?) projects an attractive image, and make sure the careers section of your website is more than just a listing of job openings; you have to sell yourselves. Then go offline. Enlist agencies and recruitment services, get a presence at job fairs and industry events, and get into your local colleges and universities. This is where the talent is found, and you need to be there.
  • Landing Pages: Is your website set up to preach the value of working at your firm, or is it just talking to your customers? People need to know what’s actually going on at your firm, what type of clients you serve, you processes—anything that isn’t giving away your competitive advantage, but provides a window into your company culture and inspires confidence in prospective recruits.

Your Recruiter is the Problem… or the Solution

I can’t emphasize how much of a liability a poor HR manager is to a company, especially in a startup environment. They can also be the key to landing the big fish that are worth their weight in gold in the productivity, creativity and vision that your company needs to thrive.

Don’t wait until you start noticing a high turnover rate among high-value people or notice that your productivity numbers are slipping to take a look at your recruitment strategy; these are trailing indicators. Know what your recruitment strategy is, pay attention to the people it brings in and fire your hiring manager if they aren’t getting it done.

Mike Mann is a serial entrepreneur and philanthropist. His many successful companies focus on generating profits to direct them toward charitable endeavors. You can read more about Mike’s proven process for creating profitable businesses and using profits to change the world for the better in his book, MakeMillions.Com.

How to Diffuse Online Criticism of Your Business

Have you ever looked up a business online and some other site is outranking their homepage for their brand name in the search results? I see it pretty frequently while researching companies that come across my path, and frequently those other results are bad reviews, negative blog posts or other mentions of the company that are getting more attention than the company’s actual website.

Word on keyboard

This type of thing happens when companies are unable—or unwilling—to respond to online criticism in a thoughtful and genuine way. Today, I’ll go over a few things you should keep in mind when responding to negative feedback online and in social media.

Ways People Talk about Your Brand

Conversations can either happen directly with you in your controlled online spaces or about you on third-party sites. Criticism can arise on your Facebook page, tweeting you directly or commenting on your company blog, or they’ll be talking about your company on external forums, review sites, blogs, etc. You may or may not be able to respond directly in external venues, but you can still likely contact them by email or message in an effort to reach out.

Principles of Responding to Negative Online Comments

Craft each communication carefully. You’ll often only have one chance to diffuse the tension inherent in these interactions. You have to keep your cool, no matter what, and that’s a lot easier to respond without sounding defensive or annoyed if you take the time to craft a smart, effective response that you know will probably be seen by someone besides just the recipient.

Get to the heart of the real problem. At the heart of every online criticism of a business is the assumption that the company is a large, anonymous, impersonal entity that won’t respond to fair criticism. Surprise them by letting them know that’s not the case with you.

You have to be aware of the full problem, not just respond cluelessly to tweets or Facebook posts or comments without knowing the background on the situation. Looking oblivious or uncaring about the real issue that’s bothering the person makes you look insensitive and out of touch.

Don’t deflect criticism—own it. Don’t misstate the facts, and don’t try to spin the situation to seem more favorable to you. Be honest if nothing else. Apologize—even if it’s not your fault—and set about making it right. It’s the only way to get past the criticism to a resolution of the situation. If you fall on your sword and show everyone that you’re not dodging responsibility, you’ve at least got a shot at winning some hearts and minds back and maybe even impressing some people with your human response to the situation.

Put your money where your mouth is. A refund, coupon code or just free stuff doesn’t cost you that much in the grand scheme of things, and it seeds online conversations about your brand with positive reactions from customers who are happy that you made something good out of a bad experience.

Thank people for the feedback. They’re helping you identify chinks in your armor, flaws in your processes or even abusive and incompetent employees. They deserve a medal. And when you acknowledge the effort they took to help you improve your business, they’re going to respond positively.

Above All, Be Genuine

The best way to be impersonal, anonymous and disconnected is to try and fake your way through your interactions with people online who’ve criticized you. Dig deep, be empathetic and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If you can’t do that, and respond from a place of understanding and sympathy for the hassle the person is complaining about, don’t bother responding.

Mike Mann is an entrepreneur, author and philanthropist who funds his many charitable aims through profits from his many successful companies. Learn more about his principles of success in business and charity by downloading his book or reading his blog.

What is Your Company Culture?

Experts claim that company culture can have a huge impact on the success of a business. A healthy, vibrant company culture makes for better employee performance and satisfaction. But, what makes company “culture” and how do you create one that is enjoyable?

What Makes Up a Company’s Culture?

Vision – A company mission or vision is a great way to guide business decisions and directions, and give employees a purpose and a common goal to strive toward. Having a mission statement sets the tone for attitudes, choices and professional performance. A vision statement or mission statement gives the company a purpose and shares it with the world.

Values – Values are the core of company culture. They provide a tone which employees should take on to achieve the company vision. They give a set of rules for how the company behaves and performs. Values are a necessity to keep employees on track with company goals.

Being different – Define what sets your business apart from your competitors both internally and externally and what gives you the leading edge in your industry. Everyone wants to have that special ‘wow’ factor and showing your employees and customers that something that makes you different will make them want to be a part of that and will create loyalty.

Being consistent – Once you have defined your culture, stand by it. Employees and customers should know they can always count on you to be consistent. Your company should always respond the same way to problems and maintain the same values and focus.

Why does Company Culture Matter?

A company with a positive and healthy culture will make employees excited about their jobs. It creates an environment where people like to be. Creating a culture that makes employees happy increases productivity, lowers turnover and draws more talented individuals to your company. In turn, it will make customers and clients excited about what you have to offer.

businesswoman thinking

What does a Healthy Company Life Look Like?

Employees know the company’s mission and values – Employees should be well-versed in the values of the company, which can be done through experience and example, not necessarily memorizing a mission statement word-for-word. This way the culture is alive and part of the company. Employees should be able to naturally parallel the company values in their daily work. In a positive work environment, employees aren’t just there putting in hours, rather, they are there as part of the mission. They know the purpose and want to live it.

Employees work as a team – Healthy culture happens when employees are seen as a team instead of individuals with separate goals. A healthy establishment works as a cohesive team with one goal in mind. While tasks may vary, the purpose is the same and everyone should be playing on the same team.

Employees have a voice – To establish a healthy culture, employees should feel that they are heard and that their opinions and ideas matter. No idea should be overlooked and no opinion should be minimized. Employees are the future and growth of a company and should be seen that way.

Cultures to Emulate

There are companies out there that have well-known company cultures. Their cultures make them strong and successful.

Zappos dedicates space on their retail website to sharing information about their company culture. It is fun and innovative. So much so, that they got special attention regarding their positive work environment on 60 Minutes.

DreamWorks is all about innovation. Employees are encouraged to take risks and their ideas are valued. DreamWorks employees have a 97 percent retention rate.

Google’s culture keeps employees around for years. They love innovation and ability over experience. They also create a place where employees feel comfortable. Their headquarters, for example, is stocked with amenities making it an enjoyable place for employees to be. It has cafes, an on-site doctor, snack rooms and child-care centers, to name a few.

Company culture is made up of many aspects, and a strong healthy culture can help a company go the distance. If your employees are happy, they are working hard for you which results in success and growth.

Mike Mann is the founder of numerous successful companies and charities. His focus is on generating profits and channeling them to charitable causes. For more of Mike’s tips on creating successful businesses and using them to make the world a better place, download his book, MakeMillions.Com or tune back in to the blog for new stuff weekly.

Stop Using the Marketing Buzzwords, I Beg of You

Conceptual Construction Worker Asking to Stop Doing Something

Clichés are like roadblocks of thought, meant to prevent you from reaching some real thinking. They’re mental shortcuts, often used in propaganda of one sort or another to get the audience to agree and nod their heads without saying anything of substance whatsoever.

And just like politics, the business and marketing world is full of these brain-diverting word objects. You can recognize thoughtless clichés in business most often in the hand-waving phenomenon that is marketing buzzwords.

Perhaps once they were useful for describing some specific idea or concept, but they’ve grown so ubiquitous and misused that the phrases no longer spark any particular thought at all; they’re just meant to sound business-y and smart (when the person uttering them is anything but).

So, without further ado, please make a mental note to steer clear of the following buzzwords and phrases. If you find yourself writing or saying them, ask yourself whether you’re really saying anything substantive at all, or whether you’re using thoughtless shorthand.

Buzzwords to Dump from Your Vocabulary

“To the next level”: An increase in elevation is going to do little to help your business unless you’re taking clients skydiving. This empty and tired metaphor doesn’t tell your audience anything about what they’re actually going to need to do to help improve their business, their career or their golf skills. Say something real about how someone can improve what they’re doing instead of just spinning your linguistic wheels.

“Solution”: I realize that everyone wants to connect the idea of whatever their product, service or idea is with a need that somebody, somewhere needs filled. But please, let’s just talk about the specific need and how you’re going to fill it rather than using a vague and useless synonym for “answer.”

“ROI”: Unless you’re following this term (or the long-hand “return on investment”) with actual numbers with dollar signs in front of them, say something else. It’s not a good metaphor for “getting more out of something than you put in,” and it’s not as useful as actually telling your audience how they’ll benefit from what you’re offering them. Leave it to the number crunchers and find some other way to say what you’re saying.

“Low-hanging fruit”: We get it. Some things are easier to start off with than others. This phrase is so overused and tired as a metaphor that it may as well be wearing a pocket watch and smoking a horn pipe. Let’s put it out to pasture.

“Going forward”: I know you want to talk about what we’re going to do “from now on,” but saying it in this way makes my teeth hurt. It’s like listening to someone crack their knuckles repeatedly; it hurts my insides. People usually say or write this phrase because they want to talk about the future, but they don’t want to say “from now on” or “in the future” because those groups of words don’t let everyone know that they’re a working professional with a very business-y vocabulary. I must say, it definitely does fit the definition of “business-y.”

Buzzwords are the Arch-Enemy of Originality

There’s a reason I write about annoying verbal and literary hang-ups like buzzwords; they’re actually a kind of mental laziness that I absolutely despise. Whenever you hear someone using words and phrases like these, they either couldn’t find anything truly substantive to say and they’re trying to disguise that fact or they’re deliberately trying to prevent you from thinking.

For many marketers, politicians and parents, buzzwords are tools of distraction to prevent your brain from gaining traction and starting to ask further pesky questions. Unfortunately for marketers, it also means not being memorable at all, which is usually the last thing you want out of your communications anyway.

Mike Mann is the founder of numerous successful companies and charities. His focus is on generating profits and channeling them to charitable causes. For more of Mike’s tips on creating successful businesses and using them to make the world a better place, download his book, MakeMillions.Com or tune back in to the blog for new stuff weekly.

How to Know Your Business Idea isn’t Ready for Prime Time

The odds are against any given idea for a product or service actually succeeding. There are a lot of things that can go wrong, and common business mistakes sink new businesses even before they really get rolling. Assuming you have your wits about you, and you’ve learned from experience what mistakes not to make, how do you know your idea is a good one?

Since there’s no guarantee that even very well-thought-out business concepts will work, there’s no set formula for guaranteeing your success. There are some questions you can ask yourself to help give you a good idea whether your idea is ready for the big time, whether you need to go back to the drawing board or if you should scrap it altogether.

Take a Good, Deep Look at Your Competition

Your competitors are a good indicator of the barrier to entry for your idea to break into a tight marketplace. Are you doing it (your product/service) better than the current big players in the industry? Are you doing it cheaper? If you are, is it possible for you to get noticed, either through targeted marketing or through word of mouth?

All of these questions could send you back to tweak your idea or work on it a bit more until you’re sure it’s fully baked. If you feel like you’re ahead of the curve, however, it may be time to move ahead with your business idea and start disrupting the current status quo, as all good business models do.

Time is also a factor when it comes to competitors. Many ideas have a shelf-life, and you’re often competing against other entrepreneurs who are rushing to get the same thing, or an alternative, to market. Can you get there before they do?

Do You Have the Resources to Get it off the Ground?

Your idea might be phenomenal, but if you don’t have the capital or —perhaps more importantly— the startup talents to get it off the ground, it might as well be a dud of a concept. Acquiring financing is a pre-requisite, and having the manpower to make your idea happen is the key. Even more important is having the right people in place who have a similar passion and vision as you do for the idea.

Also, don’t ignore time as a resource. If your startup’s time and talent is already distributed to too many other projects or ventures, is this new business idea going to be starved of the attention it needs to succeed?

Find a Skeptic to Rip it to Shreds

Sometimes you need someone who doesn’t buy what you’re selling to show you where your weaknesses are. If your idea can survive the gauntlet of someone who doesn’t like the concept picking it apart, it’s less likely that you’re ignoring glaring flaws that could spell its doom.

This is where having a trusted mentor can come in; someone whose expertise and experience you trust, but who’s not so emotionally involved in you that they’ll be afraid to tell you where your concept goes wrong. Emotion doesn’t belong in business decisions, so having an uninterested, objective third-party vet the idea is a key step to determining whether you really have something.

Remember and keep in mind

After Everything, Trust Your Gut

No number of assessments or second opinions can make the decision for you; you’re the one who has to pull the trigger. That means you need to take stock of your feelings, your confidence and your willingness to move forward. Often your gut will tell you things your brain can’t quite articulate.

Don’t make emotional business decisions unsupported by good evidence; you can fool yourself into believing what you want to be true. However at a certain point you have to take what you know from research and experience and just make the decision to either go forward with it or dump your idea and go back to the drawing board.

The gut check is really a way to test your own enthusiasm for an idea; your passion for it. Are you willing to spend your time, energy and money on this project? Hard work isn’t the only ingredient in a startup’s success, but it’s a definite prerequisite. If you find you’re not excited enough to dive in head first, maybe this isn’t the idea you want to be spending your time on.

If you’re idea survives all this scrutiny, it’s likely that it—and you—really are ready to go after it. If that’s the case, best of luck to you!

Mike Mann is a serial entrepreneur and author seeking to drive real-world change using profits from his many profitable business ventures. To learn how to make your own business a success, and to hear more about Mike’s charitable vision, read or download his book.

Why You Should Publish a Corporate Blog

The benefits of having a corporate blog are countless. Among them are the advantages of building corporate brand, enhancing customer loyalty, getting customer feedback, accumulating an email list for a newsletter, fresh content that generates link love for SEO purposes, crisis management and even the cultivation of your internal corporate culture.

Having this type of dynamic presence online is a way for a company to harness the power of the Web for a multitude of purposes and help shape the way the public interacts with your brand. Perhaps the most compelling proof that corporate blogs work is in the fact that many very successful companies have been producing corporate blogs with very positive results.

Blog - Word Cloud

Self Promotion

37 Signals is a textbook example of successful self promotion. While effectively highlighting the company philosophy, it mystically takes otherwise boring subjects and transforms them into engaging content. Here is an example of the writing style that captivates their readers:

As we watched Apple unveil iOS7, the 37signals Campfire room quickly turned to awe of what they had achieved. A redesign so shocking and deep bestowed upon a product so popular left many mouths agape. Whether you happened to like the final product wasn’t as relevant as marveling at the vision, drive, and sheer determination to pull it off.”

How is that for engaging content? Talk about tooting your own horn by tooting someone else’s! This isn’t just Apple fan boy syndrome; it’s a demonstration that 37 Signals recognizes and appreciates good design, and that they can speak poetically and competently about it. It makes me want to know more about their company and the type of corporate culture that inspires words like this.

Personal Interest can Engage Readers

One of the best large corporate blogs around is that of Bill Marriot, founder of one of the world’s largest hotel chains. He proves that a corporate blog can talk about unrelated topics and yet still build brand. The key is to make the content dynamic and interesting. One of his latest posts is somewhat of a personal human interest story:

“One of the benefits of being an old guy and living in Washington, D.C., is that I have had the privilege of meeting almost every U.S. President since Eisenhower.  Each is a remarkable leader in their own way, right for their times, endorsed through election by the American people.”

He then goes on to tell about his recent get together with Bill Clinton and many of his wonderful leadership attributes. You have to be careful about this type of name-dropping to not sound like a complete narcissist, but when done right you can establish yourself as a leader and authority; just have something relevant to say other than you’ve met some famous people in your sphere.

New Product Development

Starbucks has taken the blogging platform and made it into a global focus group. Imagine the power of having a huge brainstorming platform that invites customers to submit their ideas for new product offerings. To date, over 100,000 food, drink and other ideas have been submitted. With each new concept, additional comments from readers are added to refine the idea and test it against a huge audience. They are successfully crowd-sourcing product development through their blog, and probably even harvesting some great corporate talent that way.

Getting Inspired and Starting Your Own Corporate Blog

Writing a corporate blog can turn a lot of people off at first. This is partly because the content is not just flowing from an individual that is sharing life experiences or information about a specific interest or passion; anyone writing is also acting as a mouthpiece for the company, which carries its own risks. But managing those risks is doable, and worth it in my opinion.

One of the best ways to get inspired and to start the creative juices flowing is to analyze what makes other blogs so successful. In addition to the samples provided above, these successful corporate blogs are prime examples of companies who are doing it right:

  • Amazon
  • Whole Foods
  • Ice Cream Journal
  • Zappos
  • Bigelow Tea
  • BMW
  • YouTube
  • Zillow
  • Disney Parks
  • Dell

Any Size Company Can Benefit from a Blog

Regardless of the size of your company, a blog can be a productive way to communicate internally and externally. Write a few sample posts and run them by trusted associates and even some customers. As you begin to amass a following, the blog will probably take on a life of its own. Who’s to say what it will evolve into?

Mike Mann is a serial entrepreneur and author seeking to drive real-world change using profits from his many profitable business ventures. To learn how to make your own business a success, and to hear more about Mike’s charitable vision, read or download his book.

Real-world Entrepreneurship: Why Hard Work isn’t Enough

A lot of people find refuge in buckling down and getting busy with a project. They’re often called “workaholics,” lumped in with the passionate, the driven and the desperate souls who populate the entrepreneurial landscape. There’s a mental kind of release in feeling like you’re actually getting something done.

Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t get that same feeling from some of the less concrete parts of startup life, like planning, researching and analyzing. So they try to lose themselves in solid work. Yet all those other things are absolutely critical to my point, which is that you can’t get by on hard work alone, not for any project, not ever.

Stressed Businessman

“you can’t get by on hard work alone”

A Successful Business isn’t Built on Just One Thing

Just like an idea alone can’t bring you real success, work alone isn’t going to help you succeed if you don’t have the other elements required for your business to succeed. This is one of the reasons that you need a good team; different working personalities fill in gaps in one another’s abilities, which helps to make the idea reality. The key aspects of your business need to be ensured by someone:

  • A killer business idea that sets you apart from the competition
  • A growing customer base for your product or service
  • The talent required to create and deliver on those products or services
  • The ability to manage and attract said talent

Really, those are the broad strokes, but there’s not much else to it. And you can’t get this stuff covered if you fly blind, just buckling down on grunt-work tasks.

Someone has to be aware of economic conditions affecting your industry and your customer base. Someone has to research new technology and competing products that may be putting you behind the times. And someone needs to be watching the way your entire organization works to ensure that you’re actually getting done what needs to get done, that you have the capital and the plan to make it six months, a year, five years. And when you’re living the startup life, that someone is you.

Fighting the Desire to Disappear into the Details

Being consumed by work may be psychologically rewarding, but it can distract you from things that really matter. You can’t just charge ahead, single-minded and taking no stock of the shifting business climate around you. You need to be the vanguard, the person blazing the trail for your entire organization, whether you’re the whole show or the head of a growing team.

There’s a reason we retreat into mindless busywork when there are real strategic and conceptual challenges to be tackled. It’s the procrastination bug that causes us to look for something else to do—anything else—than the hard stuff. But isn’t that why you became an entrepreneur, so that you wouldn’t be doing someone else’s gopher tasks, grinding away at the mindless minutiae of it all?

The truth is that we’re tempted to avoid that stuff because we’re scared of fully investing ourselves and then failing and having nothing left. It would be a confirmation (not really) that you aren’t good enough. But if you’re not willing to take that risk—to put all of your energy, hope and emotional force behind an idea you believe in—then you may need to ask yourself if you’re really cut out to be an entrepreneur.

Mike Mann is a serial entrepreneur and author seeking to drive real-world change using profits from his many profitable business ventures. To learn how to make your own business a success, and to hear more about Mike’s charitable vision, read or download his book.

3 Business Tips for Success in 2013

By now you should know that there’s no magic bullet for succeeding in business; every industry is different and you have to find your niche. The only keys to business success you’ll find are sound principles that you can learn to apply in your daily life as an entrepreneur and professional. As we lay 2012 to rest, it’s time to start thinking about how we’re going to reform ourselves and our companies to compete in a business landscape where the ground seems to be constantly shifting beneath our feet.

Get Serious about Data Security

It can be hard to drive home the gravity of the world’s current vulnerability when it comes to technology. So, to drive the point home, let me frighten you a bit:

A friend of mine who works for a public accounting firm told me an IT security horror story about one of her clients. This company, which had millions a year in revenue, was running their entire accounting operation from a single computer running Windows 98. All their sensitive customer data was contained in unsecured Excel spreadsheets, on an outdated computer with absolutely no anti-virus software on it. The PC wasn’t even password protected.

Anyone with access to the building could have stolen all of that information, including client bank account information. If the company had been publicly traded, and it was known that this was their level of IT disaster preparedness, their stock would be worthless, and the shareholders might even sue.

The future is bright for businesses who take on the right strategies this year.

The future is bright for businesses who take on the right strategies this year.

My friend’s story is an extreme case of negligence in the IT world, but even large corporations with sophisticated IT security measures are experiencing significant data breaches. And the root cause of these problems is usually traced back to an improperly configured server or some other security flaw that could have been caught with a simple IT audit. Lax security is putting everything from your customers’ identifying information to your individual trade secrets at risk.

As your company grows, it’s essential that you have regular audits. You can’t simply trust a single IT professional to take care of all of it. A single significant data breach can expose you to huge liability that can easily sink a small or medium-sized business. You simply can’t afford not to be serious about protecting yours and your customers’ data.

Make Your Business a Marketing Extrovert

Many successful business people are accused of being narcissistic, but it’s that very trait of putting yourself out there on a consistent basis (hopefully in a non-obnoxious way) that helps you spread ideas, establish yourself as a leader and make sure people know your name. The same goes for companies. If your business only toots its own horn through traditional marketing channels, you’re going to get left behind. An increasingly digital world requires that we all become online marketing extroverts, spreading our message through web ads, PPC advertising, social media marketing, SEO and content marketing. If you’re not involved in these things, you might as well not exist to huge demographic swaths of would-be customers.

Start a company blog. Begin touting your products and your brand in social media, like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and anywhere else where your customers will start looking for you. A slick website and an online ecommerce platform aren’t enough for businesses to compete in the marketplace anymore—they’re the price of entry.

Start Defining Your Best Practices

Productivity is through the roof in most businesses around the country. And those where it isn’t may soon find some other, leaner, more agile company is coming up from behind to eat their lunch. While you’re first starting out, growing fast and just making sure everything runs smoothly, it’s easy to just let everyone do what works. But that can’t last once you’re past the startup phase. You have to define your critical operations and develop best practices for them.

In my book for entrepreneurs, I make the analogy that best practices are like weapons. The idea is that defining and reforming the on-the-ground tasks that are your everyday business, from one end of the company to the other, cuts the waste out of your organization. Taking a microscope to the way each department—each person, even—operates will help you identify week spots in your best practices, weak spots that your competitors may also have. Then you can reform your own processes and start to exploit that former weakness in your competitors in the marketplace.

The businesses that nail down a process for self-reflection and reform set themselves up to be on the bleeding-edge of innovation in their industry. That’s a good place to be. (This feeds back into being an extrovert. If your company has the leading experts in the field, make them blog about what they know; use them as a marketing resource to establish your authority in online spaces and build your brand.) When you’re constantly improving, you’re gaining on the competitors who are resting on their laurels, and the competitors who are behind you can’t catch up. It’s not a race, it’s a marathon.

As the New Year approaches, it’s likely that we’re about to experience a serious amount of growth in many sectors of the economy. If you’re ready to buckle down, refine your processes and start getting over the growing pains that so many new businesses suffer from, you can ride that wave through a year of prosperity and progress. Good luck.

Mike Mann, social activist and serial entrepreneur, is the author of MakeMillions.Com, a business book focused on making money in small business in order to better serve society. Read or download the book today for insight on his philosophy on wedding entrepreneurship and charitable goals