Small Business News
The short of it is, Twitter is offering a better way to follow and target your customers. Here's how it works.
Twitter recently launched a new ad retargeting product called Tailored Audiences. The gist of it: Now, you can tag users who have visited your website, and hit them with your ads while they're browsing Twitter.
To understand what this really means for your business, let's back up and look at how Twitter ads have typically performed, how retargeting actually works, why social retargeting is different, and how you can tap into the power of retargeting.Do Twitter Ads Work?
Previously, they were pretty awful.
I recently analyzed Facebook vs. Twitter ad performance, comparing the two across a number of key factors including network reach, ad performance on desktop or mobile, and average cost.
- Click through rates with Twitter Ads can be ten times higher than Facebook ads because Promoted Tweets appear prominently in the Twitter stream--they have an inherent edge over Facebook Ads, most of which appear in the right sidebar.
- However, Facebook ads crush Twitter ads in terms of their ability to drive sales and leads. For example, revenue per visitor was more than two times higher for Facebook ads compared to Twitter ads.
Bottom line, if your ads aren't driving revenue, what good are they?
But all bets are off now that Twitter has released new Twitter Tailored Audiences, The company is claiming that it has seen some pretty spectacular results in early retargeting testing, including:
- A 45 percent lift in engagement for a B2B advertiser.
- 74 percent lower cost per acquisition (CPA) for a technology company.
- 195 percent higher conversion rates for an enterprise-level app performance management brand (which proves how badly the previous Twitter ads worked).
Tailored Audiences offer a great opportunity to increase ad performance because you can drive more targeted ad creative to reach specific segments of users... but can it really be that good?How Retargeting Works
Retargeting is an ad tactic that involves tagging your website visitors with a cookie, then targeting them with banner ads after they left your site and continue surfing on the Web. It's an important tactic, especially considering that 96 percent of website visitors leave without converting to a sale or lead.
Using an ad network such as the Google Display Network, you could then target those same website visitors who had just visited your site, and show them your ads while they're they're watching a YouTube video, or checking their email, or reading the news, etc.
The key here is that these retargeted ads always outperform generic banner ads because they're relevant to a user recent browsing history--people are far more likely to buy something when they've already looked around for it.
Retargeting can help with:
- Turning people who abandoned or bounced from your site into leads and sales.
- Increasing brand recall and branded searches for your company.
- Encouraging repeat site visits and engagement.
Americans spend over three hours a day on social networking sites. Add to that the fact that 65 percent of the time spent on social networks happens on mobile devices, and you can see why advertising networks have tried so hard to tap into this audience.
There was a problem, though: people aren't interested in buying products or services when they're looking at pictures of cats on social media. Previously Twitter ad targeting was pretty broad, limited by user demographics like gender, age, location, and who they're following.
And that was Twitter's challenge. It needed to get more granular and specific, for advertisers to truly let brands connect with consumers with the right message, at the right time.How Twitter's Tailored Audiences Works
Tailored Audiences is a tool worth trying out. Twitter is working with a number of ad network partners, who hold the keys to the user tracking data needed to make retargeting work. Now, you can use Promoted Tweets and Promoted Accounts to target people who visit your site, search for information about your brand, purchase from your company, click on a tweet, and more.
Here's how to get started:
Here are a few tips to help you get a better return on your social retargeting ad campaigns:
- Optimize for mobile: The majority of Twitter users are on mobile devices. Tailor your ads for mobile users--if your ads point users to your website, it had better be optimized for a fantastic mobile experience.
- Don't overdo it: Use ad frequency capping to limit the number of times your ads are shown to a user.
- Be engaging: Use questions, appropriate humor, captivating images in your ads. Never forget that it's still a social network. Promptly respond to any questions or comments about your ad.
Twitter's Targeted Audiences can be a great tool for marketers looking to reconnect with potential leads and existing customers--if you know how to use it.
Your back, hips, and shoulders will all benefit from this easy office exercise.
If you spend most of your day at the desk, you know the feeling. Your back is tight, your hips are stressed, and at the end of a long day stuck in the virtual world, just getting up and walking feels borderline unnatural.
The simple exercise below, called the thoracic bridge, was recently posted on lifehacker.
Don't mistake it for a full workout; you should still schedule a run or some time at the gym. But it will loosen your hips and shoulders. It's a quick and effective way to relieve some of the stress that comes with spending hours and hours lurched over your keyboard. I can vouch, having practiced it daily since seeing it since seeing it last week.
It will take you two and a half minutes to learn, and less time to put into practice.
Stiff joints and muscles aren't the only perils of office work. Among the horrifying findings: men who spend 23 hours per week in a sedentary position are at 64 percent greater risk of dying of heart disease than those who report 11 or less sedentary hours.
Aside from the exercise highlighted above, consider scheduling and encouraging walking meetings, as well as frequent breaks. Allowing your employees to get up and walk around every fifteen minutes or so can go a long way.
The end of the year is an ideal time to take stock of your leadership -- and to offer thanks.
Before starting a new year, one must close out the old. With all the pressures and hard knocks of being a leader, it is especially helpful to remind yourself of the very good, useful, and rewarding reasons for being a leader.
Here’s wishing you take a little time to reflect, with gratitude, on all that your leadership provides. Being a leader is an experience like no other, and it is important to be grateful for the journey itself.
These are a few reasons to be grateful to be a leader.
Leading the Shared Purpose
With the daily hurly-burly and the constant stress of delivering results, pause to be grateful for the fact that you are the one responsible for holding everything together. Thanks to your broad shoulders, emotional intelligence, and strength of will, you are in a position to accomplish a special shared purpose. You have a large hand in identifying, defining, influencing, and evolving the reason that the group has come together.
Entrepreneurs in particular may take a moment to appreciate how special it is to paint on an empty canvas. You are creating something from nothing, as well as establishing a shared history for all those involved in the effort. At each phase of growth, you give new life to the shared purpose and have a chance to forge incredibly tight bonds with the growing team.
At every phase, the shared purpose is the thing to lead. And it is up to you. What a wonderful leadership gift.
A leader must develop tremendous resiliency, and the best time to take stock of these resources is before you need them. Spend time at the end of the year itemizing how, and with what, you maintain your equilibrium.
Many internal and external factors contribute to resilience. Be sure to reflect on the life experiences that have brought you to your current place: family and friends who have helped shape you; the current people, places, and activities that remind you of who you are and what you stand for; and how you know when you are being true to yourself - and when you are cutting a corner.
Spend quiet time thanking your body for all it puts up with. Even when we have healthy habits of diet, exercise, and rest, the body must still absorb and process the stresses of leadership. When we are not healthy, the bodily toll is tremendous. Be grateful that your body allows you to face each day.
Opportunities to Inspire
Think about an influential leader in your life. How did this person make you feel? When he or she approached you with a helpful comment, or useful observation, or simply acknowledged a good effort or a challenging problem, how did that affect the next action you took? Odds are that this exchange provided you with fresh oxygen, energy, and attention.
Leaders should be grateful for every opportunity they have to make a situation just a little bit better than they found it.
Don’t be afraid to ask people, “What truly motivates you?” Then work to inspire that specific motivation -- that extra impulse -- that could generate surprising results.
As a leader, you have the responsibility to inspire, the power to do it, and the opportunity to do it, every day. Gratefully choose to inspire others.
2014 is a New Year
With apologies to Scarlet O’Hara, tomorrow is another year. If you are disappointed with your leadership at the end of 2013, commit to changes in 2014. Start on January 1.
There are always opportunities to make adjustments and improvements to your leadership. To grow as a leader you must engage in continual trial-and-error. Be grateful for this engagement, for it confirms that you are present in the process.
In whatever way you recognize the end of the year, take time to rest and reflect.
And please let me know what you are grateful for about your leadership.
Frenzied behavior in the office reduces your ability to get work done and spreads to your employees like a contagious disease.
If you rush around the office from task to task, demand employees walk with you when they need to talk, and curtly finish their sentences, you need to realize you're not saving any time. In fact, rushing around like a headless chicken will lead your workforce to be more stressed and less productive.
According to The Wall Street Journal, "rushers," people who are incessantly jumping from task to task, adversely affect their entire office. Stress is contagious, and if you're rushing around, your employees will follow your lead.
Robert S. Rubin, an associate professor of management at DePaul University, tells the paper that if leaders are "frenzied and frantic," their employees will take on the same stressful characteristics, as though they were catching a disease. Rubin suggests leaders hold "inoculation discussions, to inoculate the employee from catching the feeling" that rushing through urgent assignments is the only way to be honored as a top performer.
William Arruda, a personal-branding consultant in New York City, says that rushing doesn't help to complete assignments, e-mails, or projects faster. "The productivity of entire teams can go down," Arruda tells WSJ. "If you have one person rushing into meetings at the last minute and tapping a pencil through the entire session, it changes the cadence for the entire group."
The office's layout, especially an open office, can also fuel an atmosphere of stress. If you can see all of your employees from your desk it makes them feel pressure to look busy--to rush through work until they're saved by the 5 o'clock bell. "No one wants to be seen as the slowest moving object in the solar system," Ben Jacobson, co-founder of Conifer Research, tells WSJ. "You have to keep up with the Joneses--literally."
But how can leaders change their behavior? Isn't this how successful companies operate--work comes in, everyone goes into hyper-drive to get it done, more work comes in, and everyone churns out gold? The key is to plan and prioritize instead of being reactive. Being in control instead of being rushed helps your employees to stay calm, avoid stress, and be more productive.
"Executives who have figured it out ... are poised and strategic. That's a big difference from reacting all day," says Susan Hodgkinson, a principal with leadership development and executive coaching firm Personal Brand Co.
So, what kind of leader are you? Have you figured it all out and have stress-free productive employees, or do you not have time to think and believe rushing and reacting are what makes your employees performer better? Let us know what you think about stress contagion in the comments below.
Most companies plan to throw holiday parties and some will dish out year-end bonuses. Here's how to pull off either without a hitch.
While times may still be tough at many of the nation's small businesses, more of them still plan to shell out for holiday parties and year-end gifts than in previous years.
According to a new Career Builder survey, 59 percent of businesses are planning to host a holiday party this year, and 45 percent will be handing out year-end bonuses. If you're sitting on a few extra pennies this year, and you want to show your employees some love, here are some dos and don'ts:
-Follow your company bonus plan. If you have a written plan with percentages attached with performance ratings or salary grades, or even job titles, follow that. You're free to change it at the beginning of the next year, but under no circumstances do you change your policies midstream.
-Mark up for taxes. Uncle Sam doesn't care that it's a Christmas present. He wants his taxes, and by golly he'll get them. So, if you say, "We're giving everyone a $500 bonus this year!" Get your friendly payroll person to gross that up--that is, inflate the face value of the bonus to account for the employee and employer tax liability. So, in reality everyone is receiving a higher figure, but they walk away with $500 in hand.
-Limit manager discretion. If you have a plan, follow it. If you don't, don't simply hand a pot of cash to managers and tell them to divide it up appropriately. If you don't feel comfortable taking the stand in court to explain why John got a $1,000 bonus and Carolyn got $500, then you're doing it wrong. Managers need to work within guidelines.
-Make a charitable donation in lieu of a bonus. Yes, it's noble to donate to charity. Please do. Do it with your own bonus. Do not tell your employees that you've made a generous donation in their names. It's not generous. It's rude. And furthermore, while I have charities that I support and you have charities that you support, the twain may never meet. Unless your business is extremely small, you'll be hard pressed to find a charity everyone supports.
-Forget the paperwork! Bosses think it's fun to hand out envelopes of cash at the company Christmas party. Good. But, included in that envelope needs to be a statement regarding the taxes and such, because, by law, that has to be withheld, and it comes as a nasty shock when the employee's regular paycheck is several hundred dollars short because of taxes withheld for the bonus. This is especially critical if you don't gross up.
-Bonus for the boss, none for the workers. You own the business, so it's certainly your right to do what you want with the profits. But, if you tell your employees that there is no money for bonuses, and then buy yourself a new car, or take a fancy trip, or something else big, your employees will resent you.
-Invite everyone. No tiered parties. If you can't afford something big for everyone, do something small for everyone.
-Have fun. If the boss isn't out there, having a good time, the employees will not be having fun either. Keep the "party" in party.
-Stay in budget. A company party is paid for by the company, not by the guests.
-Get drunk. No one should get drunk at a company party, but most of all, the boss should not.
-Have obligatory attendance. A party is a party. No one is required to go to a party, even when it's thrown by the boss.
-Tell people there's no money for a bonus because you spent it on a party. If there's enough for either a $50 bonus for everyone or a party, the party is fine, and it may do better for morale than a bonus. But, don't go around saying that. It makes you sound like they are making employees sacrifice for a party. Not good. Here are hints for throwing a cheap holiday party if you're working within a slim budget.
Overall, parties and bonuses are great things to spread cheer during the cold and dark end of year. Use it to your advantage to keep everyone happy and full of holiday cheer.
The Rev. Al Sharpton may be a controversial figure but his reminder is a good one: that racial profiling is a poor way to qualify customers.
Thank God for Al Sharpton. I'm not a big fan. But that doesn't matter. Society needs people like him.
Because it's guys like him that reminds us all when businesses make mistakes, particularly when it comes to race. Macy's and Barneys made this mistake recently. Now they're paying the price. Yesterday they were forced to issue a "Customers' Bill of Rights" because of two recent alleged racial profiling incidents in their New York stores.
According to one report, "the customers separately accused Barneys of racial profiling after they said they lawfully purchased expensive items but were detained by police on suspicion of credit card fraud. One customer sued Barneys, saying he was accused of fraud after using his debit card to buy a $349 Ferragamo belt in April. Another filed a notice saying she would sue after she was stopped by detectives outside the store when she bought a $2,500 Celine handbag in February."
Barneys denies this. I don't believe them. I do think these customers were racially profiled. Period. They were black. They were in Barneys. They were buying expensive stuff. They didn't fit the profile of the typical customer. Neither did Treme's Rob Green when he was cuffed by police at Macy's because he was "buying an expensive watch" for his mom and accused of credit-card fraud.
"Profiling is an unacceptable practice and will not be tolerated," the bill of rights reads. "Any stores who have pledged to follow the bill of rights are "committed to ensuring that all shoppers, guests and employees are treated with respect and dignity and are free from unreasonable searches, profiling and discrimination of any kind."
Let's not kid ourselves: Every business owner profiles his customers. It's part of the qualification process. We want to make sure that the customer is a legitimate buyer and that we're going to get paid. If a customer is dressed poorly, comes from a lousy neighborhood, behaves badly, drives an old car or gives off other signs of being a credit risk, then our antennae go up. And yes, race plays a part of that profiling. People, for whatever reason, have their prejudices. Some white people don't trust black people. Some Orthodox Jews don't trust Reform Jews. Some black people don't trust black people who have darker skin. It's silly. But it's reality. And unfortunately, a business owner's prejudices ultimately make up his rationale for doing or not doing business with a certain customer.
Profiling helps when qualifying a customer. But here's what I've learned: morality aside, racial profiling is totally ineffective. I've had the scariest looking black guys from the worst neighborhoods in Philly hire me to install software and they've turned out to be great customers. I've been employed to do the same at the plush suites of coiffed-up white men from the Main Line with Yale degrees who stiffed me and treated me terribly. The color of your skin is a lousy determination of one's ability to pay. Racial profiling is a poor way to evaluate customers. It's ineffective. More importantly, it's unnecessarily risky.
And it's getting riskier as our country's racial makeup dramatically changes. There are more customers with different colored skin and speaking foreign languages than ever before. There are 53 million Hispanic Americans in the U.S. and the Census Bureau predicts this number will increase to 128.8 million by 2060. What’s more, 44 million African Americans make up the largest minority in the U.S.. The population of Asian Americans grew 46% from the period 2000 to 2010, more than any other major race group. As these numbers grow so does the ineffectiveness of racial profiling as a means of qualifying customers. This is America in 2014. If you want to do business in U.S. today you must accept this. Otherwise, you will go out of business.
Barneys and Macy’s and yes, even the New York City police (they were part of this debacle too) need to accept this. Companies that allow a corporate environment where racial profiling is part of their customers' qualification process will ultimately be doomed to fail. They will be singled out in social media and lampooned in the news. They will be forced to humbly apologize to society with silly statements like a "customers' bill of rights." There will always be people like Al Sharpton looking for an opportunity to further their own agenda by picking on corporations who make these mistakes. But thank God for guys like Sharpton. Whatever you may think of him, he's there to remind people, particularly business people, not to let race be a factor in how you qualify your customers. The practice is not only morally wrong, it just doesn't work very well.
The smell of peppermint, the color green, and big ol' smiles will all help boost creativity. No kidding.
In some ways, the hallmarks of the holiday season can do a more than just spread cheer at your company. Some of the season's core attributes can also help boost engagement and creativity, and lower stress as well.
Harvard Business Review editor Andrew O'Connell is the author of Stats & Curiousities From Harvard Business Review. In an article on Quartz, he compiles some of those curious stats, which show how creativity can be enhanced by sensory effects. And wouldn't you know it, they all reflect a little bit of holiday spirit.
If you and your team can pull yourselves away from Amazon or Ebay during the holidays, these three seasonal standbys might actually improve your work.
1. The smell of peppermint: Peppermint, O'Connell writes, has been shown to improve engagement, as shown by a study of peoples' performances on the Nintendo Wii. This wasn't the first look into the effects of the scent of peppermint; O'Connell writes, "Other studies have suggested that peppermint enhances attention, memory, alertness and mood." Go buy some candy cane air freshners tonight.
2. The color green: The wreaths and holly and, hey, maybe even an office Christmas tree--anything green, really, is good to look at. O'Connell sites a study showing that people who looked at a green rectangle for two seconds were able to come up with more uses for a tin can than those who did not see the color by about 20 percent. Odd? You bet. "Why not red, blue or gray?" O'Connell writes. "Unclear, say the researchers, but they point out that green has strong associations with growth in many cultures."
3. A big ol' smile: Hey, it's the holidays. Brighten up! A study tracing heartrates shows that people who were forced to smile (quite literally, with chopsticks placed in their mouths) saw their heartrates drop by about 7 percent during a task. The holidays get a lot of flack for being a stressful time of year in general, but embracing the season and smiling a bit might at least counteract the pressure carried with your 7-year-old's note to Santa.
O'Connell also mentions background noise as a curiosity booster, with higher volume preferable, so I could conceivably suggest you also pump up the Christmas music...but I wouldn't wish that on anybody.
In an industry already notorious for needless complexity, few companies succeed in offering straightforward slogans or helpful websites.
I don't think it's a stretch to say Obamacare, including its attendant website debacle, will be this be president's legacy.
A new report from HealthPocket finds Americans in search of cheaper insurance could pay as much as a whopping $6,350 deductible for individual plans and $12,700 for family plans. That amount would cause me indigestion, if not a mild stroke.
The timing is ideal to examine some of the health insurers consumers are dealing with in this new landscape. My objective: to see what insurers promised in their taglines and then, like a doctor giving a careful examination, dive into their websites to gauge whether the marketers delivered on the brand promise.
Stay Up to Date
There's nothing worse than making a bold, brash promise and not backing it up.
AmeriHealth's tagline is: "Demand. Expect. Value." But its website never told me what I should demand, expect, or value.
Instead I was greeted by tabs with headers such as "How do I save money?," "PPOs for individuals and families," and "Health care reform: Fix what's broken. Keep what works." The latter contains a list of press releases that haven't been updated since July 1. I don't want to do business with any company that isn't up to date.
When it comes to connecting a brand promise to a user experience, AmeriHealth is DOA.
Amica Health Care is a textbook example of leveraging credible third-party spokespeople to tell its story. After visiting Amica's site, I came away believing the company's tagline: "We keep our promises to you."
Instead of immediately thumping its chest with comoany-written claims about its products and services, Amica greets website visitors with a tab reading, "Hear from our customers." That section of the site contains videos of satisfied Amica customers, with titles such as "Helping a Family After a Furnace Fire" and "Helping a Family Through the Claims Process."
After hearing from satisfied customers, I clicked on a tab listing myriad honors Amica had won, including 12 straight J.D. Power Awards for best customer satisfaction among homeowner insurers. There are other citations from Ward's and A.M. Best.
While these sections don't address health insurance in particular, they do reinforce my belief in the company and its brand promise. Amica's marketers know enough to let others do the selling for them. I was genuinely interested in learning more about Amica because credible customers and industry analysts first told me they do keep their promises. That should be an obvious technique, but many marketers don't get it.
Aetna's arguably the best known health insurer I researched. Its tagline is: "What's your healthy?" I have no idea what that means. What's my healthy what? It seems to me someone missed a noun along the way. What's your creative, Aetna?
Aetna's website doesn't shed any light on the healthy phrasing conundrum. It's bland, boring, littered with too much content, and highlighted by washed-out color. In short, the site's anything but healthy.
Years ago, the giant insurance company sported a tagline, "Aetna, I'm glad I met ya." Based upon my website experience, though, I'm not glad I met them at all.
A Second Opinion
United Healthcare posed this marketer with an interesting challenge: I loved the website, but I hated the tagline. So, would I still consider United a best-in-class candidate? I think I'll take two aspirins, and call myself in the morning.
United Healthcare's tagline is: Healing health care together." Say what? I'm way too time-pressed to help heal the health care system. I was so put off by the brand promise that I almost avoided visiting the website. I'm glad I gave United a second chance.
The website is beautifully organized. There's a central tab entitled, "Find healthcare insurance that works for you" and separate buttons for "Plans for everyone," "Plans for your business," "Plans if you're 65-plus," and "Plans if you're Medicaid eligible."
It's simple, even elegant. I found everything I needed to know quickly and almost effortlessly. So two thumbs up for United's website experience. But I'd euthanize the tagline ASAP.
Understanding My Pain
Kaiser Permanente understands me. Its tagline sets that expectation with the word "Thrive." Who doesn't want to thrive in every aspect of his life?
K-P's one-word tagline connected me to a simple, intuitive website. The tab on the homepage is entitled "My health manager." I liked that. It spoke to me.
Beneath those words were three buttons, entitled "Shop our plans," "Find a doctor," and "Locate a facility." When I clicked on find a doctor, I was invited to enter my state. I was then greeted by a video of a Dr. Calhoun, a warm, caring fellow who sold me on how I'd thrive as a Kaiser customer. How smart is that?
Keep it Simple, Stupid
One of the main reasons Obamacare has received so much criticism is its complexity. You would think that health insurers, sensing that challenge, would emphasize simplicity in their messaging and online experience.
In fact, I'd argue the KISS principle was invented with Obamacare marketing in mind. Now, if only some of the health insurers would practice it, the politicians would embrace it, and the website engineers would finally grasp it, who knows? Maybe we'd actually have a working healthcare system.
The agency put out a call for technology to help stem a looming global food crisis. Innovative entrepreneurs got right to work.
"Wake up before it is too late."
That was the title of the United Nation's annual Trade and Environment Review this year, which urged governments to start paying attention to the plight of small farmers and "make agriculture sustainable now for food security in a changing climate." In other words, an ugly global food crisis is brewing.
To stem the looming problem, the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, has identified promising startups that can help. On Wednesday, the agency announced the winners of its Powering Agriculture Grand Challenge at an event in Washington, D.C. The challenge called for businesses, non-profits, and universities, alike, to come up with clean energy solutions for farmers in the developing world.
"The challenge demonstrates how we can harness ingenuity and entrepreneurship to generate and scale real solutions in our fight to end extreme poverty," USAID administrator Rajiv Shah said via email. "Today's winning innovations prove that we can change the landscape of what is possible in development."
The 12 winners received a total of $13 million in grants. Here are five of the for-profit startups proving that what's good for the world can be good for business, too.
And the winners are...
African Bamboo: Based in Addis Ababa, African Bamboo has developed an environmentally friendly thermal process for treating bamboo, called ThermoWood. ThermoWood eliminates signs of decay, making the bamboo, an abundant resource in Ethiopia, a more reliable commodity for farmers to sell. The goal is to make bamboo, which is now vastly underutilized in Ethiopia, a cash crop for the country's farmers.
Motivo Engineering: Motivo's prize-winning product is quite the mouthful. The Hybrid Agriculture/Road Vehicles with Electricity Storage and Transformation (call it HARVEST, for short) provides electricity storage and transformation units that can connect to clean energy sources like solar panels, wind turbines, water turbines, and formal electricity grids to dramatically increase agricultural productivity.
Promethean Power Systems: The company (which Inc. has covered in the past) has designed a thermal energy battery pack, which fully charges on solar power or a few hours of grid electricity to provide consistent refrigerated storage without access to electricity.
SunDanzer: Here's another big acronym for you. Sundanzer's Sustainable Milk for Africa through Refrigeration Technology (let's call it SMART), is a solar-powered refrigerator that chills milk from farms immediately and keeps it cold while it's en route to milk collection centers, before it is shipped to dairy processors. That keeps farmers' milk fresh for sale.
Eco Consult: Eco Consult has developed an integrated model of hydroponic and solar-powered farming that uses dramatically less water than conventional farming. Eco Consult will retrofit large greenhouses as well as small farms with this new technology to help farmers reduce water use and costs.
Can Washington actually pass a budget without last-minute theatrics? This year, there's hope.
Is Washington, D.C. finally getting out of its own way?
It’s too soon to declare the nation’s capital fully functional, of course. But the budget deal reached Tuesday promises what no agreement since 2011 has even hinted at: a potential budget that could make it through both houses of Congress without the last-minute grandstanding and brinkmanship that’s recently been so damaging to Congress and the country. That can only be good for business, and especially for small business.
It’s worth noting what this budget deal doesn’t do: It doesn’t significantly reduce the debt, close corporate tax loopholes, reform expensive entitlement programs, or even fully end the sequester. And it doesn’t do anything to resolve another potential point of conflict--the nation’s debt ceiling--which may be reached by March. Plus, Representative Paul Ryan (R.-Wisc.) still has to convince the more conservative members of his party to go along with it. A vote on the deal isn't likely until Thursday.
But it does hint that just maybe, Washington can get back to the business of governing the country, which is clearly what entrepreneurs want. In a survey of fast-growth CEOs conducted by Inc and the Kauffman Foundation, 51 percent of respondents said that political gridlock in Washington was one of the most important factors preventing a strong economic recovery. Only “higher taxes,” at 52 percent, proved more ominous.
Politically, no one’s getting any traction with small business owners by refusing to compromise on the budget. When asked who’s to blame for gridlock in Washington, 48 percent of business owners put the blame on everyone equally. About 30 percent blame Obama or the Democrats, and about 20 percent blame the Republicans or the Tea Party.
“There are professional politicians who don’t see themselves as serving America. They see themselves as serving a political party,” says Steven Laine, president and CEO of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based consultants Future State, which has about $21 million in annual revenues. “They need to move things forward even if it’s not 100 percent in the direction they want. Some people seem to think that if they don’t get what they want, their job is to snipe. We need to cut that sh*t out.”
Optimism rises, faintly
Perhaps entrepreneurs saw the budget deal coming. The National Federation of Independent Business’ small business optimism index, released on Tuesday, ticked slightly upward in November, rising 0.9 points to 92.5.
About half of that gain was due to the fact that small businesses were active in the hiring markets last month, with 51 percent saying they had hired or had tried to hire. (That number is seasonally adjusted, so it’s not affected by part-time help brought on for the holidays.) But among NFIB membership, which includes more “Main Street” businesses than the Inc survey, outlook for the economy, and for their own businesses, is still dim. The NFIB’s optimism index has stayed within a nine-point range--from 86.4 to 95.4--since the recovery officially started.
Business is sadly full of nonsense dressed up a opportunity. Here are two techniques for filtering out the silliness.
Malarkey, baloney, nonsense: whatever you want to call it, the business world is sadly full of it.
Self-proclaimed "experts" loudly trumpet half-baked ideas, salespeople tout products that are mismatched for your business as your saving grace, and potential partners shop schemes that sound vaguely good on paper but are light on details. Sorting the golden from the gilded horse pucky could mean the difference between your business’s success and failure.
Some folks, as we all know, seem to have been born with an unerring instinct for plain dealing. Others could benefit from a bit of fine tuning of the old BS detector, but identifying nonsense is a rarely taught skill. Consistently interesting blog Farnam Street recently filled that gap, offering a simple two-pronged approach to boosting your ability to tell the truth from “truthiness.”Technique 1: Ask Why
"Simply ask people to walk you through their thinking. Why do you think that? Walk me through your logic," advises Farnam Street’s Shane Parrish. "Over the years, I’ve found that simply asking why and listening to the quality of the response is the best bullshit filter. If answers come back in cliches and generalizations, that’s an indication that more thinking is needed."Technique 2: Define Success
"The second thing is to simply ask people to define success in clear and unambiguous terms before something gets underway. If you’re taking on a new project or starting a new service, you clearly expect some outcome, right? So it should be somewhat logical that you’ll be able to say we expect X, Y, and Z to happen and if they don’t then this will be considered a failure," he writes, adding "I think you’d be surprised at the number of people who prefer to throw a dart at the wall and then draw a bullseye around it. Or, then again, maybe you wouldn’t."
Parrish may be the most recent commentator to try and beat back the BS with actionable advice, but he’s not the only one with tips on the topic. Venture capitalist Don Rainey also offered a half dozen techniques a few years ago. Nonsense continues to flood the business world, and his suggestions still stand. They include determining the speaker’s self-interest, questioning the source and validity of data, and watching out for declarations of truth like “let’s be frank” (which are actually generally indicators of intellectual dishonesty). Check out all his ideas here.
Do you agree that BS detection is a key business skill?
The advice I'd give to my son or daughter if they asked what really works in the business world.
If my son or daughter were to ask me, "Dad, what do I really need to know in order to be really successful in business?", here's exactly what I'd tell them:
1. Success is always a group effort. There is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. Even if you overcome hundreds of obstacles, you are still beholden to the team you're working with. In addition, we are all standing on the shoulders of giants--the people who created the infrastructure that makes business possible.
2. Work is to be savored. The ability to make a difference in other people's lives is a gift precious beyond price. The only way to make that difference is through expending personal effort, which is the textbook definition of "work." Remember: the ultimate failure in work and in life is to be idle and useless.
3. Anger is an expression of helplessness. People become angry not as the result of outside events or the actions of other people, but because they're frustrated at their own inability to change themselves and their emotional state. Put another way, a screaming boss is just a screaming baby writ large.
4. Every action creates an opposite and equal reaction. This law of physics also applies to people. The more you try to control, the more resistance you create; aggressive managers create passive-aggressive employees. True leaders redirect and guide rather than push or pull.
5. Information is the enemy of insight. The essence of a problem, solution or opportunity is usually hidden in plain sight surrounded by wads of undigested and unnecessary data. Half the battle is eliminating the noise. Rule of thumb: simplify, simplify, simplify.
6. Other people usually mean well. People do the best they can with the resources they've got. Those who possess minimal emotional and mental resources can do very silly things, but their intentions are almost always good. Harnessing those good intentions is always more effective than telling people that they're wrong.
7. Best-case and worst-case scenarios never happen. Everything is a continuum between what you'd like to have happen and what you dread might happen. Understanding this saves you from disappointment if things go sour and frees you to be delighted when things go well.
8. Sharing something creates more of it. Sharing happiness and positivity creates more happiness and more positivity. Similarly, sharing misery and negativity also creates more of both. So take heed when you speak because you're creating whatever comes out of your mouth.
9. Nobody's perfect and neither is any organization. Just as you must forgive, understand, and work with the limitations of the people you meet, you must forgive, understand, and work with the limitations of your corporation, division, or team. Expecting perfection is a certain recipe for disappointment.
10. What goes around, comes around. 'Nuff said.
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The holidays can be busy and overwhelming. Here, Inc. columnists share their best tips for keeping the spirit.
This time of year creates mounds of extra work while many other priorities clamor for attention. So many people are trying to balance end of year accounting, client needs, strategic planning, and of course holiday parties, all while trying to be available for family obligations. Add some travel and unexpected weather to the mix and frustration ensues. No wonder so many people get depressed at this time of year.
Somehow you have to bring order to the chaos. Instead of trying to do everything, pick your priorities. Make a list today of every additional activity required before January 6th. Rank them in order of importance and put a check by the ones you really can eliminate until the list is reasonable. Better to perform well on a few items then to have a massive fail on many tasks. Just make sure you manage the expectations of the people involved so they know they'll have to wait or make do.
Here are additional insights from my Inc. colleagues.
1. Have No Regrets
What will you remember or regret?
Just after my daughter (who is now 16) was born, my grandmother came down with what we thought was just a simple cold. It turned out to be lung cancer and she died just a few weeks later. She had the opportunity to hold my daughter only once. At the same time I was actively involved in forming and staffing a new company, but I can't remember any of the details of my responsibilities at work as vividly as I remember seeing my grandmother hold my newborn daughter. This experience in particular helps me prioritize events and obligations into two categories: will I remember or regret? If the answer is yes, then I give it a higher priority and do what I can to fulfill it. If I answer no, then it may be something that isn't worth my time if I find I am conflicted. Eric Holtzclaw--Lean Forward
Want to read more from Eric? Click here.
2. Maintain Your Strength
A. Take care of you first. Get the sleep, nutrition, exercise and rest you need. It's like the emergency instructions on a plane: Put the mask on first, then help the next person.
B. Jettison what you can. I'm one of these people who likes to home-make around the holidays, and every year I plan to make my own cards but never quite have the time. And that's OK.
C. Use your peace-time wisely. We all have days that are busier than others. Use the less-than-crazy times to get your business squared away for the next couple of weeks. Then you can take the holidays to focus on friends and family. Minda Zetlin--Start Me Up
Want to read more from Minda? Click here.
3. Stop the Stress
The holiday season, entertaining, shopping, year-end crunch, planning for the New Year--they place heavy demands on our minds and bodies. I have always remembered a simple acronym to help prevent the negative effects of stressful times: H.A.L.T. Avoid getting too Hungry, too Angry, too Lonely or too Tired (excuse me while I grab a bite and vent to a friend, then take a nap!). Bottom line: take care of yourself--physically, socially, spiritually and emotionally. So, even though this is the time of year to go-go-go, make sure you HALT to ensure you are at your best. Lee Colan--Leadership Matters
Want to read more from Lee? Click here.
4. Indulge Yourself
Don't let the holidays become all about pleasing everyone else. Remember, we teach people how to treat us and those who love you will understand your needs and priorities. Now is a good time to set new expectations all around! Take a moment to tune into your heart and revisit the expectations that you place upon yourself. Yes, you can gracefully decline that one-too-many holiday party and send a gift instead. And yes, it's all right to have dinner at the in-laws and dessert at the neighbor's house if that's what you'd like to do. This season is meant for love and joy; indulge a little! Marla Tabaka--The Successful Soloist
Want to read more from Marla? Click here.
5. Revel in the Spirit
The holiday season is the time of year when you should take a step back from all the pressures of your business, count your blessings, and show the most-important people in your life--your family, your employees, your customers and vendors--that you care about them. It's also a time to give back to your community--with your time, your expertise, or your money. As the old saying goes, "No one on his deathbed ever said, 'I wish I had spent more time in the office.'" Do something special for your employees--some sort of get together or party, however modest, is a must. Do something special for your customers, vendors and community -- reach out to them with messages of holiday thanks for their business and support, and volunteer to help out at a local food bank or homeless shelter. And spend time with family. Without them, all the business success and money in the world is worth nothing. Peter Economy--The Management Guy
Want to read more from Peter? Click here.
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General Motors made history when the company unanimously named Barra the first female CEO of a major automaker.
Mary Barra's promotion is a farewell to the final vestiges of male dominance in the auto industry.
General Motors named Barra the next CEO of the company on Tuesday. On January 15, Barra will not only begin her new role, but she will also make history as the first female CEO of a major auto company.
And for G.M., a woman at the helm might be exactly what the company needs after filing for bankruptcy just four years ago and borrowing $49.5 billion from the U.S. government, as some believe that women make better leaders in times of crisis.
Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund is one of these believers. "Studies show that certain characteristics are predominant in female leaders, like the ability to listen, the desire to form consensus an attention to risk. Which is why I think women are good leaders in times of crisis," said Lagarde in an interview with the Harvard Business Review.
The G.M. board unanimously chose Barra--who has been with the company for 33 years--to succeed Daniel Akerson, who has held the position since 2010. Barra will enter the role with a broad range of experience at G.M. She has held positions as an engineer, a plant manager, the head of corporate human resources, and most recently, as the senior executive responsible for overseeing all of G.M.’s global product development, The New York Times reports.
Although Barra’s ascension is a major step for both her as an individual and women in the workforce, she has never made her gender the focal point of her career. In an interview with The New York Times in November before her appointment, Barra emphasized that today there is not a dearth of high-ranking women in the auto industry.
"I think there are more women in more senior roles than in 1980 when I started. But from my career perspective, I don’t go into a room and take count. I want to be recognized for my contribution and for what I do," Barra said. "There are always things that potentially impact how you are received. And I just don’t focus on it. I don’t focus on what you can’t control."
Akerson--who is retiring earlier than expected due to his wife’s health issues--told The New York Times that Barra was not selected for the position as an attempt to diversify the industry.
"Mary was picked for her talent, not her gender," Akerson said.
A new study calls into question the seemingly ubiquitous wisdom of prices ending in .49 and .99.
That is the major takeaway from a study in the Journal of Economic Psychology, in which the authors studied consumer spending habits in settings where the consumer has some discretion about the final price. Those settings included tipping at restaurants; pumping your own gas; and paying-what-you-want downloads for a video game called World of Goo.
Consider these results:
- Of the 65,000 purchasers for World of Goo, a whopping 57 percent chose to pay rounded dollar amounts. (What they paid for the game ranged from one cent to $150.)
- Of the 9,000 credit card receipts at a restuarant that the authors studied, roughly 73 percent tipped a whole-dollar amount. On bills that did not end in a rounded amount before the tip was added, 25 percent left a tip that brought the final sum to a rounded amount.
- Of the 1,301 self-pumped gas purchases, 56 percent were a whole-dollar amount. An additional 7 percent of the totals ended in .01, suggesting that customers had hoped to pay a rounded number, but weren't quick enough to stop the pump in time.
Strategy + Business's Matt Palmquist has a more detailed writeup of the findings. The bottom line, he notes, is that consumers certainly seem to prefer rounded numbers. Managers should take this preference into account when determining their prices.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants Facebook to become a "highbrow" digital newspaper, while users want a land of viral videos. But which version is better for advertisers?
There are two distinct Facebooks: The version its users want and the version CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants.
As All Things Digital reports, Zuckerberg wants Facebook to become "the best personalized newspaper in the world." He wants the News Feed to be a "refined, highbrow" experience with a mix of "high-quality" photos and stories. He doesn't want users to hop on Sunday morning to laugh at the photos their drunken friends uploaded from the night before, but rather to scroll a stylized digital newspaper with 1,000-word articles.
Zuckerberg and Vice President of Product Chris Cox are campaigning their newspaper-like "Reader" initiative, All Things D says, and both want this "ideal" News Feed to be part of its 1 billion users' everyday routine. But after a problematic rollout of another redesign in March, Facebook has decided not to release "Reader" and continue tweaking it until it's not as dramatic a shift from the current News Feed.
The second version of Facebook is what its users want: "A sort of tabloidized version of Facebook, where 'junk-food stories with LOLcat art' do insanely well and show up more often," All Things D writes.
Well-written news pieces often don't fare as well as a BuzzFeed meme. "Viral content inside Facebook means more engaged and potentially satisfied users," the site continues. "And happy users often means a happy Facebook."
But what does this all mean for advertisers?
Dan Levy, Facebook's director of small businesses, says the social media site has 1 million advertisers, according to Mashable. Facebook also has 25 million small businesses with active company pages, meaning that only 4 percent of companies active on Facebook use the network for advertising. Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, says these numbers mean potential is boiling over--if only half of the 25 million small businesses start to advertise, Facebook can rake in $1.25 billion in ad revenue.
Depending on who wins--the Facebook newspaper or the viral cat videos--Facebook could become The New York Times or a site more akin to BuzzFeed. Either way, businesses may be faced with a choice about whether it's worthwhile to advertise on what could be a considerably different social network than the one they're familiar with today. Which version would you rather associate your business with to attract customers--a site with plentiful clickable, sharable content, or a site with highbrow news? Let us know in the comments below.
Sam Bacharach, co-founder of Bacharach Leadership Group, explains why effective leaders must have both political and managerial competence.
At this point, time is running short. Here's a short list of high-tech presents--from inexpensive to high end--that show your employees you care.
If you're planning to give your employees a holiday gift this year you might as well get on it. And, just to get this out of the way: you can certainly do better than a gift card for the folks who are probably spending more time at work than with their families. Here are five solid options ranging from inexpensive to high-end that are sure to make your employees feel appreciated.
More than half the U.S. population is overweight--one reason employer health insurance rates continue to climb and so many company wellness programs encourage workers to walk at least 10,000 steps a day. Withings Pulse is a discreet activity tracker you can clip to undergarments or stash inside a pocket. It wirelessly syncs with a beautiful iPhone or Android app that communicates and stores history over time regarding several metrics: pulse, steps taken, elevation climbed, distance traveled, and calories burned. Withings Pulse also comes with a wristband that holds the accelerometer on your wrist to monitor the quality and duration of your sleep. Price: $99.95 at Withings.
Lenovo Yoga Tablet 10
You don't need to spend $499 for the cheapest new iPad when Lenovo's Yoga Tablet 10 is more than $200 less, packed with a battery that won't die for 18 hours, and capable of charging other devices. Other nice features include a kickstand that lets you tilt or stand the tablet while making it more comfortable to hold as well as front-facing speakers and 5.0M rear and 1.6M front cameras. If celebrity endorsements matter to you, a Lenovo spokesperson says the company brought Ashton Kutcher on as a "product engineer" to develop and market the Yoga line of tablets, providing input and decision-making into design, specs, software, and usage scenarios. Runs Android 4.2. Price: $280 at Amazon.
Livescribe 3 Smartpen
This ballpoint pen pairs with your iPhone or iPad so that when you write on special Livescribe paper your notes instantly sync with the Livescribe+ mobile app where you can convert them to text, apply tags, send them to others, and turn them into reminders, calendar events, or contacts. Bluetooth Smart technology (compatible with iPhone 4S and higher and iPad 3rd generation and higher) results in a battery that can stay alive for 14 hours. An infrared camera on the pen discerns when you touch the ballpoint to a special section of the paper that tells your iPhone or iPad to record audio, as well. Price: $149.95 at Livescribe.
Bose QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones
Every office worker should have noise cancelling headphones for cranking out work. Bose's first in-ear headphones offer two modes--full-on noise reduction or aware mode that lets in some outside sound. Unlike over-ear noise cancelling headphones that typically hide the battery behind bulky ear cups, Bose located the rechargeable battery--which takes two hours to charge and plays music for 16 hours--in a slim control panel at the end of the audio cable. Price: $299.95 at Bose.
It's a dongle that lets you wirelessly stream content from your phone, tablet, or computer--such as video from YouTube, Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu Plus as well as music from Pandora and Google Play--to your TV. You can also beam over Chrome tabs from a Mac or PC, meaning you can see on your TV virtually anything on the Internet. To use Chromecast you just plug it into the HDMI slot on your TV and connect it to your WiFi network. Price: $35 at Google.
Why? Everyone else is using them too. Check out LinkedIn's 2013 Most Overused Buzzwords list.
Words can make a huge impact.
Even the most descriptive, most meaningful words can lose all meaning when they're used too often. That's why most corporate communications don't really say anything. Clichés, hyperbole, and buzzwords may sound impressive, but over time--since everyone uses them--they begin to mean nothing.
Read the word "extensive" and you don't immediately think, "Great, a comprehensive suite of services covering a broad range of applications!" Instead you skim right over the word because you've seen it thousands of times in the same context. In a business setting, "extensive" is filler.
Here are more examples: the 10 most overused words and phrases from LinkedIn profiles in 2013 (along with my thoughts on each). Take a look and then think about removing over-used words and phrases from your website, press releases, and other company communications:
Responsible cuts two ways. You can be responsible (but hopefully isn't everyone?) or you can be responsible for (which is just a boring way of saying, hopefully, that you did something). If you're in social media marketing, don't say you're "responsible for social campaigns;" say you grew conversions by 40 percent using social channels. "Responsible" is a great example of passive language begging to become active.
Don't tell us what you're responsible for. Tell us what you've done. Achievements are always more impressive.
A strategic decision is one that is based on the big picture. Shouldn't everyone be able to make decisions based on more than what is right in front of them?
"Strategic" is a close cousin of "strategist," another buzzword that bugs me. I sometimes help manufacturing plants improve their productivity and quality. There are strategies I use to identify areas for improvement but I'm in no way a strategist. Strategists look at the present, envision something new, and develop approaches to make their vision a reality. I don't create something new; I apply my experience and a few proven methodologies to make improvements.
Very few people are strategists. Most "strategists" are actually coaches, specialists, or consultants who use what they know to help others. Ninety-nine percent of the time that's what customers need--they don't need or even want a strategist.
In 2011 and 2012 "creative" was the most used word in LinkedIn profiles. It's the prime example of a word used often enough that it no longer makes an impact. If you're creative, describe what you've created--if it's cool enough everyone will recognize just how creative you are.
Really? You actually produce results for the money you're paid? Wow.
I'm torn on this one, because I have strong feelings about patience. But I get it. Patient is a great example of the power of an antonym. The opposite of patient is impatient--and no one would describe themselves as impatient--so why say you're patient? Like "motivated" or "results oriented," "patient" should be a given.
A better approach could be to describe how you hung in there, went the extra mile, or gave people one more chance to prove themselves.
As Margaret Thatcher once said, "Power is like being a lady; if you have to say you are, you aren't." Expert is one of those things it's great to be called but you shouldn't claim to be.
Instead, show your expertise. For example, unless you can prove it, "social media marketing authority" might simply mean you spend way too much time obsessing over your Klout score.
Clearly this one's followed by another word: organizational development, organizational optimization, organizational behavior, organizational values, organizational communication....
I'll stop before one of us falls asleep.
Check out Chris Rock's response (not safe for work, btw) to people who say they take care of their kids. Then substitute a word like "driven."
Never take credit for things you are supposed to do--or supposed to be.
Unless you developed a new product, created a new process, or are truly the first to do something, you're not innovative. And that's okay.
Most companies claim to be innovative. Most people claim to be innovative. Most, however, are not. (I'm definitely not.) That's okay, because innovation isn't a requirement for success.
If you are innovative, don't say it. Show it. Describe the products you've developed. Describe the processes you've modified. Provide links to case studies and projects completed.
Offer something real so your innovation is unspoken but evident--which is always the best kind of innovative to be.
So you'll examine things closely. So you'll determine essential features. Hooray for you.
Instead, describe the outcome of an analysis. Show you predicted the debt crisis and steered your clients out of risky investments. Show you analyzed production data and helped improve a client's productivity by sequencing work differently.
Show us the results of your analysis and how it helped you or your clients do something better or faster or cheaper. Then it will be obvious you're a responsible, driven, innovative, analytical expert.
Every year Pantone pores over aesthetic trends and crowns a new shade the Color of the Year. Check out the newest pick--and take a look back at past winners.
Every year, Pantone, a company that develops color systems for a variety of industries, pores over aesthetic trends--analyzing movies, technology, traveling art collections, popular travel destinations, upcoming sports events, and more--and crowns a new shade the Color of the Year. Once the announcement is made, it's only a matter of time before you start to see products in that hue show up on shelves. Check out the newest pick--Radiant Orchid--and take a look back at past winners.--Lindsay Blakely
2014 shall henceforth be known as the year of Radiant Orchid. According to Pantone, Radiant Orchid is an "invitation to innovation" that "encourages expanded creativity and originality." And you just thought it was regular purple. What it conveys: confidence, warmth
Pantone picked a lively green shade for 2013 that it described as one of "elegance and beauty that enhances our sense of well-being, balance, and harmony." What it conveys: regeneration, clarity, healing, renewal
This "seductive" reddish orange, says Pantone, offers a hard-to-miss shot of energy. What it conveys: heat, drama
Honeysuckle is a shade designed to lift the spirits. At the time of the selection, Pantone called it "a brave new color for a brave new world." What it conveys: courage, confidence, carefree
2010 was the year of turquoise--a color inspired by the water and the sky. "Through years of color word-association studies, we also find that to many people, turquoise represents an escape, taking them to a tropical paradise that is pleasant and inviting--even if it is only a fantasy," Pantone said in a news release. What it conveys: comfort, healing, compassion, truth
With the economy in turmoil, Pantone looked for a warm and reassuring hue to represent 2009. Mimosa, which mimics the "nurturing quality of the sun," did the trick. What it conveys: warmth, optimism, reassurance Read more: Top Tech Gear Launches in 2013