Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Decoding Business Buzzwords In 2015

If your goal is to convey a clear and comprehensible message to a diverse audience, then you should generally avoid using industry-specific jargon and buzzwords altogether. Esoteric terminology and acronyms tend to encumber communication, delay progress, and either bore or annoy audiences, according to Virgin Group founder and CEO Sir Richard Branson. Obviously, none of those outcomes is desirable.

However, a working knowledge of new buzzwords and jargon can prove useful for at least four reasons:

1)  If someone asks you “What does X mean?”, you’ll be able to offer a better answer than “I don’t know.”

2)  Many esoteric terms indicate trends in your industry of which you should be aware.

3)  If you receive communications that contain buzzwords and jargon, you’ll be able to decode them and translate them into plain English.

4)  Provided you know that your audience will understand precisely what you mean, buzzwords can occasionally spare you the time and effort of describing a complex idea in a roundabout way. Why use 150 words when one or two will suffice?

Here is a list of some popular business buzzwords you may have come across this year, and their definitions.

The Internet of Things (IoT): This term has a variety of definitions that range from concrete descriptions of our daily reality (the devices that gather, retain, and communicate information digitally, such as smartphones, tablets, servers, and computers) to speculative visions of the future (eventually, everyday physical objects will be integrated within our digital networks and capable of identifying themselves to other digital devices. Imagine your bedside lamp connecting wirelessly with your smartphone.) You’ll have to infer the appropriate definition from the context of the discussion.

The “it factor”: synonymous with familiar terms like “the X factor” or “the secret ingredient”. The “it factor” is the attribute or set of qualities that make(s) your enterprise special.

Momtrepreneur or Mompreneur: an enterprising businesswoman who balances the demands of founding a startup with the challenge of raising kids.

Conversation marketing: As opposed to content marketing, conversation marketing is an approach to attracting clients and customers that prioritizes interpersonal dialogue, rather than top-down communication.

H2H or Human-to-Human: the conceptualization of prospective clients or customers as fellow human beings with wants and needs that a business can help to satisfy, rather than as targets for one-way advertising messages. Effective H2H marketing involves tailored, audience-appropriate communication and encourages feedback. H2H is closely related to conversation marketing, and the two often go hand-in-hand.

Remarketing: a form of follow-up using automated text messages or e-mails to customers who have just left a business or website without following through on a deal. A remarketing message might try to entice a recently departed customer back to an e-commerce website after that customer has abandoned h/er shopping cart.

Freemium: a portmanteau of “free” and “premium”. This refers to pricing models in which a website offers a basic account with limited functionality for free, and a more versatile premium account for a monthly or annual fee. LinkedIn, for instance, features a freemium pricing model.

The suffixes -hack and -jack: By now, you’ve almost certainly encountered the term growth hacking, and you may be familiar with life-hacks (techniques or insights that can help you succeed at a particular facet of life). The suffix -jack—which implies stealing, hijacking, or piggybacking off of something that already exists—features in memes like newsjacking (leveraging a news item in order to communicate a marketing message) and brandjacking (appropriating or manipulating an existing brand to serve alternate ends). Environmental organization Greenpeace often employs brandjacking tactics in its campaigns.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

How to Make Your Startup Attractive to Angel Investors

Angel investment is one of the most common capital sources for both startups and relatively new companies looking to expand. But drawing high-net worth individuals toward an early-stage enterprise or business proposal requires well placed effort. First of all, angel investors can’t fund something unless they know it exists, which means you’ll need to focus on getting the word out in the right circles. Second, they’re unlikely to bet on a venture unless it offers a substantial return. So a sound business plan and credible growth and revenue strategies are key.

However, according to research by Shai Bernstein (Stanford Graduate School of Business), Arthur Korteweg (University of Southern California Marshall School of Business), and Kevin Laws (Chief Operating Officer of AngelList), arguably the most important factor is the quality of the personnel that the candidate organization has assembled.

Exceptional founders, and a reputable team.

Bernstein, Korteweg, and Laws’s analysis indicates that the presence of visionary founders and reputable staff on a startup’s team is a big draw for angel investors. The data further suggest that experienced angels are likelier than inexperienced ones to emphasize the importance of the people factor. Angels with a lot of investing background are also likelier to take a chance on a promising startup or fledgling enterprise than are newcomers to the profession, who may prefer to “play it safe” by betting on companies that already have some traction.

Seek out promising angels, and do research on them.

Many angels specialize in a particular industry or niche, and it’s a good idea to seek out individuals whose areas of interest or specialization accord with your own, particularly if your proposal is esoteric or technical. Find out what sort of endeavours those investors have funded in the past. You can even attempt to contact previous beneficiaries of the angels you’ve identified as prospective funders of your project, to ascertain what worked in the past and what those angels tend to look for.

A strong pitch.

If you’ve ever watched a full episode of the American network television program Shark Tank—or its Canadian counterpart, Dragons’ Den—you may already have a good idea of how to distinguish a high-quality funding pitch from a lousy one. If angel investors invite you to pitch to them, you need to be ready.

Aim for a duration of around ten minutes—enough time to cover all the essential information without rambling or rushing. If your presentation is in digital format and consists of slides, anticipate spending around one minute on each slide. However, make sure you also have an analog Plan B in case of technical difficulties, which have a nasty habit of cropping up unexpectedly right at the moment of truth.

Unconventional ideas can be powerful in the business world, but in the context of a funding pitch, a pair of conventions are worth observing. One is appropriate attire—you should strive to portray yourself as a consummate business professional and/or choose an outfit that’s suited to your line of work. Another is the hook—you should begin the pitch in a way that piques the investors’ interest. Present them with a problem or dilemma they can relate to, and offer them an innovative solution.

 Answer the following questions in your pitch:

  What have you and your team accomplished so far?

  What does your target market/demographic look like?

  Who are your competitors?

  What is your strategy for both marketing to customers and delivering your product or service to them?

  How do you generate revenue?

  What do you anticipate your revenue stream would look like over the next five years if you met your funding goals? Is your assessment realistic?

  How much money do you need from the investors to whom you’re pitching?

  What is your endgame? Do you plan to eventually take your business public, sell to an established firm, or something else? (Angel investors like to know how they will recover their investment.)

Finally, rehearse your pitch until you know it like the back of your hand. Run it by a trusted friend—if s/he would invest in your business or proposal, there’s a good chance that an angel would too.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Best Practices For Your LinkedIn Profile

Most entrepreneurs and business professionals already have a LinkedIn profile, but not all of us have succeeded in getting the most out of it. A common tendency is to model one’s LinkedIn profile after one’s resume, but that is not necessarily the most effective approach to attracting visitors and potential contacts. After all, if your profile doesn’t stand out from the pack, why should anyone gravitate to it?

Instead of a rote summary of your qualifications, education, and experience, a compelling LinkedIn profile should demonstrate your unique personality, passions, and brand, and the practical applicability of your skill set.

A professional-looking photo engenders confidence.

This is really a no-brainer. People with LinkedIn profile photos tend to attract more page views than those without, and a professional-looking shot (in focus and with proper posing and lighting) conveys the impression that you’re both competent and attentive to details.

Try to portray yourself in a manner consistent with your professional brand and desired message. Consider whether a smile or a serious expression is more conducive to drawing the right people to your profile, whether you should wear a tie or a jacket, whether your sleeves should be fully extended or rolled up, what colour of outfit would be most appropriate. Even gestures that may seem inconsequential—like the interlocking-fingers pose made famous by German chancellor Angela Merkel—send body-language messages that can help to reinforce your personal brand.

What’s special about you?

Once people have seen your photo, they’ll move on to your profile summary—which should at least match the standard of the photo in terms of professional quality and attention to detail.

Of course, impeccable spelling, grammar, and syntax are indispensable here; if you have difficulty in any of these areas, you may want to enlist the proofreading skills of a trusted friend or associate. But there’s more to a great profile summary than just getting those elementary technical details right. You also need to communicate who you are and where you excel—preferably in a manner that’s engaging and memorable, but also informative. Use simple, comprehensible language, and be true to yourself.

Why are you passionate about the work you do? What professional achievements are you proudest of? And perhaps most importantly: what can you offer that would help others to achieve their goals?

Expand beyond the two-dimensional LinkedIn profile.

One of the great advantages that a website like LinkedIn offers over a traditional CV or job application, is the fact that it’s online. The dynamism of the Internet offers you the opportunity to go beyond a static photo and written summary, to not only describe what you can do, but to literally show people examples.

If you have YouTube videos, presentations, or multimedia files of which you’re especially proud, link to those from your LinkedIn page. You can even record a short introductory video in which you describe your strengths and passions.

Feel free to allude to your life outside the office—within reason.

Social factors often influence both hiring and client-relationship decisions. Most people prefer to work with others to whom they can relate, and with whom they get along. If you give the visitors to your profile an idea of your life circumstances, your personality, and the activities you enjoy away from the office, there’s a good chance that you’ll draw like-minded individuals to your LinkedIn page.

But use your discretion—the information you reveal will be visible to LinkedIn users everywhere for a very long time.

Don’t force people to hunt around for your contact information.

Prominently display your e-mail address, Twitter handle, links, and any other contact information you don’t mind sharing widely.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Ingredients of a Compelling Newsletter

If you’re on one or more online mailing lists, you probably receive periodic e-mail newsletters. You
may also find some of them more inviting than others—because the good ones feature engaging content, are relevant to your life, offer useful advice and information, or a combination of the foregoing. The others likely make their way posthaste to your deleted box.

Read on for practical advice on getting the most out of newsletters, and avoiding the epidemics of non-reading and auto-deletion.

Stay in touch with people on your mailing list. What do current and potential customers want to read about?

If you know any of your customers or clients personally, raise the subject of your business’s newsletter and solicit their opinion. Chances are that if one of more newsletter recipients is keen to hear more about a particular subject, product, or aspect of your business, other people on the mailing list will be interested in the same thing.

Once in a while, it may also be a good idea to include a brief survey in the newsletter, seeking feedback on particular items and articles. The results won’t necessarily illustrate what all of your readers are looking for (since those readers inclined to fill out surveys aren’t necessarily representative of your entire readership), but they should give you a good idea of what’s working and what isn’t.
 
Punchy subject line and title lines.

Seek out the most compelling piece of information from the newsletter to form your e-mail’s subject line. The titles that link to articles in the newsletter also need to be eye-catching in order to entice would-be readers to click on them. Aim for brevity and impact.

Quality content from elsewhere.

No one has a monopoly on good ideas, and in the blogosphere, there is no such thing as a monopoly on quality content. Keep an eye on blogs and news related to your industry, and share posts and information you feel will resonate with your readership and enhance your business’s reputation. If your company enjoys positive press coverage, link to that too. (However, keep descriptions short and avoid penning wordy, self-congratulatory articles. Most people won’t read past the first couple of sentences.)

Mobile compatibility.

The internet is evolving rapidly from a stationary medium to a roving one, and your newsletter must be versatile enough to accommodate the shift. Concentrate on economizing words, and developing content that delivers the core message without undue delay. Break lengthy paragraphs down into brief, digestible segments. Use a large font for titles and sub-headings, and aim to make each less than ten words long, if possible.

Finally, preview your newsletter on a computer and on a mobile device before you disseminate it. Make sure it reads well, and that there is no need to scroll horizontally in order to read all or most of the content in each article. The internet is full of well designed websites and online publications, and horizontal scrolling irritates some people enough that they may be tempted to move on after just a few seconds.

Consistent scheduling.

Choose a time of the month, week, or every two weeks to distribute the newsletter, and stick to it. If the content you offer is worth reading, then the people on the mailing list will look forward to the next issue, and some may even set aside a few minutes to peruse it when it comes out. You can show respect for their time by releasing new editions right on schedule.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Opportunity of a Low Loonie

If you’ve been following Canadian financial news lately, you’ll appreciate that the loonie has been slumping against the greenback. In mid-July, our currency fell to 77 cents U.S., its lowest level since 2009. A number of factors are contributing to this decline, but perhaps the most important is long-term weakness in certain commodities, especially crude oil.

Canada’s economy relies on the extraction of raw materials more than most others in the industrialized world. A slump in commodity prices diminishes the incentive for investment in those sectors from abroad, reducing demand for our currency. The sluggishness of the loonie also explains why we’ve seen a small pick-up in inflation across the country since June, even though Canada is in an economic downturn, the price of oil is still relatively low, and the Harper government has promised to balance its budget despite the slump (all of which tend to put a damper on inflation). A low loonie means that the price of imports into our country, including many food products and manufactures, has risen.

But as you may have inferred from the title of this post, there is good news too: namely, the returns on our exports will also tend to rise, since those exports will become less expensive (and thus more attractive) to foreign customers. Tourism and associated industries may also see fringe benefits, as the prospect of a Canadian vacation becomes more affordable to foreign travelers. In other words, a low loonie translates into business opportunities abroad. If you haven’t done so already, now is a great time to concentrate on online marketing and distribution to foreign markets, particularly the U.S., China, Brazil, Germany, and Australia.

As with any new market, do your homework first.

Is there a demand for your product or service, or an unfulfilled need that you can help to satisfy? Are prospective customers with disposable income willing to shell out for whatever you have to offer? What do you bring to the table that incumbent firms do not?

Before you embark on a venture into overseas markets, you should be able to answer these questions definitively. Getting there simply requires due diligence. Start with some research on the internet, and identify organizations that can help you glean insight into the target market, including government data on income levels and spending habits. Aim to picture your typical client in the target market, the environment in which s/he lives and works, the amount of free time s/he has, and the recreational activities s/he enjoys.

Connect with foreign customers online.

Although overseas branches are nice to have, they’re also a luxury that most small and medium-sized firms don’t enjoy. This is where a robust online presence, including a website accessible in multiple languages, comes in handy. If you don’t have the budget to invest in a sleek, sophisticated website, there’s also a variety of existing online gateways—including eBay and other auction sites—that allow you to 1) broaden your international reach on a budget and 2) dip your toe into the waters of your target market before your dive in.

As the internet increasingly evolves from a stationary, plugged-in medium to a mobile, wireless one, more and more industries are prioritizing compatibility with mobile devices in their website design strategy. You’d be well advised to follow suit as you strive to reach foreign customers.

Choose distributors and payment processors wisely.

Select the most reputable, reliable distributor and most secure international payments system you can find. (Favour dependability even if the price is slightly higher, and investigate the record of candidate distributors and payments processors well in advance.) If customers know they can count on these aspects of your business, they’ll keep coming back, and recommend your company to their friends and associates. But if something goes wrong, even if a subcontractor is to blame, your business’ reputation could be in jeopardy.

For more on how you can take advantage of a feeble loonie, see this piece in the Globe and Mail’s business section by e-commerce expert Cameron Schmidt.           

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Few Pointers on Mentorship

As a society, we are in the midst of a demographic transition: namely, experienced and knowledgeable baby boomers are either retiring or considering retirement, while ambitious, talented millennials and gen-Yers are rising through the ranks. To truly capitalize upon this generational shift, we need to ensure that the most valuable nuggets of wisdom transfer effectively from older workers and leaders to the junior cohort.

If your business is a relatively new start-up, your workforce is likely young. But even young workers rapidly develop skills, experience, and insider knowledge from which more recent hires can benefit. Opportunities for “teaching the teacher” may also arise, if the protégé is more conversant with a specific technique or tool than the mentor happens to be. (Consider the social media savvy of the average millennial versus that of the average baby boomer, for example.)

Start with a plan.

Before you implement a mentorship program at your business, start with a set of realistic objectives, and establish ways to accomplish them. You also need an approximate timeline. How much coaching do new hires require, and how much time per week should you allocate for that purpose? Could some new entrants use more help than others? At what point is it appropriate to phase out a mentorship stint and allow protégés to do their own thing?

Criteria and measures of the success of mentorship efforts are indispensable. What skills or expertise do mentors have, that you would like protégés to attain? Why?

Bring your entire organization on board at the outset.

Gather employees and managers together for a preliminary brainstorming session. Chances are, front-line staff will know what attributes are needed to ensure success, and their counsel will be valuable when it comes to setting appropriate and attainable goals. Make sure everyone in your organization knows about the mentorship initiative, understands what her role will be, and has an opportunity to provide input and feedback at all times. (You may want to delegate a point-of-contact person or set up a committee for this purpose.)

Targets and coaching strategies may evolve over the course of the mentorship process, so allow some scope for flexibility and adjustments to the plan. But keep the big picture in mind: the primary objective of mentorship is to ensure the long-term continuity and success of the organization.

Finally, create survey documents for both mentors and protégés that include the essential measures of success you established in the brainstorming session. These surveys will enable you to aggregate data, track overall progress, and gain valuable insight into the effectiveness of the mentorship initiative.

Prioritize relationships.

A constructive working relationship must exist between mentors and protégés; without this, the prospects for meaningful progress are slim. Some mentors and protégés will develop a productive and amicable rapport almost instantly, others will need a bit more time, and occasionally, pairings may not work out. Use your discretion, keep an eye on the status of each mentor-protégé pairing, and welcome feedback. Consult your survey results for macro-level guidance.

Regular progress assessments

Meet briefly with each mentor and protégé pairing on a regular basis (if feasible). Ask them personally how they feel the process is unfolding, and provide a forum for discussion.

Over the course of the mentorship program, you should perceive that mentors and protégés are increasingly on the same page; this should be apparent to you in both the in-person meetings and in the survey results and feedback. If not, then you’ll need to modify your mentorship initiative, seeking input from your workforce on where improvements can be made.

Concerns over “brain drain”

Some managers worry mentorship brings a risk that highly trained employees will leave the organization for opportunities elsewhere, taking their newfound knowledge and skill set with them. This is analogous to the dilemma countries face when deciding whether to invest in educating their children: what if our most dextrous, astute citizens pack up and leave, causing a “brain drain”? Won’t those resources have been wasted?

Consider the matter from another perspective: if you don’t mentor new employees, how will they garner the technical and logistical proficiency they need in order to enhance the future prospects of your business?

Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of all businesses to provide a desirable place to work. If you do, then highly skilled employees will flock toward, rather than away from, your enterprise. Incidentally, one of the assets job seekers desire most in a would-be employer is the potential for professional growth and career advancement—and mentorship can help to provide that.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

How To Stay Motivated Between Projects

We’ve all experienced the bittersweet feeling that attends the conclusion of a major project.

On one hand, you’re elated and relieved to finally have a proverbial monkey off your back, and proud of your achievement. On the other hand, you may ask yourself “Now, what?”—or, “How should I get started with this next thing?” Your first strides in a long race seem like a distant memory at the instant you cross the finish line, and sometimes, the thought of taking on another complex, multi-faceted assignment can be overwhelming. You may find it difficult to focus or apply yourself, and that your progress is slow and laborious.

What can you do to stay motivated, avoid burnout, and muster your creative and productive energies for the next big undertaking?

Prioritize yourself.

When you become particularly engrossed in a project, you may find it difficult to tear yourself away from it. But from day to day, constant work can take a toll on your nutrition and physical fitness—since you may be short on time for food preparation and exercise. But the paradox of overwork is, by devoting all your attention to your professional duties and neglecting self-care, you may eventually lose stamina, experience burnout more quickly, and become more susceptible to illness.

Pencil regular breaks and downtime into your busy schedule, and adhere to it. Allow yourself time for exercise and a healthy diet. Imagine that you are sacrificing a little bit of productivity now in order to gain significant productivity later.

In between big assignments, you may want to allow yourself a more substantial unwinding period, and get away from your workspace for a while. Within reason, of course.

Give yourself things to look forward to, unrelated to your work.

Activities away from work—like hiking, soccer, mini golf, or skiing, barbecues at the beach, dinner outings, trips to the movies, and hanging out with friends—are both pleasurable in themselves, and means of escape from the daily grind. Even if you love your job, hobbies and extracurricular pursuits can offer relief from the various pressures and challenges you face every business day, and a reward of sorts for your efforts. And while you’re involved in something completely unconnected to your work, an ingenious idea may occur to you...

At the end of the work day...stop working.

As a society, we are inundated with electronic gadgets that compete for our attention. Our expectations of each other seem to have changed too—whereas decades ago, people were assumed to be “unreachable” at particular times (like while driving, or out and about), today it is common to assume that no one is ever out of contact—and therefore, why should a work-related call, e-mail, or text message have to wait until the morning or the end of the weekend? One consequence has been a tendency for work time to bleed into leisure time.

It’s important to establish ground rules, to the extent you can. Make clear to your colleagues and associates that when you clock out for the day, you’re done. Unless it’s a genuine emergency, it can wait.

Why is this important to you?

One cause of flagging motivation at work is the perception that one’s job, or a specific aspect thereof, is not really meaningful. When confronted with the daily tedium of “going through the motions”, many professionals feel disinclined to exert their best efforts. Instead, they may wile away the hours by indulging in distractions and diversions at work—like games, online shows, or Facebook.

Of the many advantages of entrepreneurship, arguably the foremost is the knowledge that you are your own boss—and thus, you reap the benefits of your own hard work. Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to set goals for yourself that are both ambitious and realistic, while remaining mindful of the importance of the task at hand. If you can’t remember why it’s important, then your best bet is probably to leave it aside and move on.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Lesson About Attitude From the US Open Golf Championship

This year, the U.S.A.’s national golf championship was held in the state of Washington. Much fanfare heralded the tournament, since the Pacific Northwest had never played host to a US Open before, and the venue (Chambers Bay Golf Course, near Seattle) opened less than a decade ago. The location, abutting Puget Sound, is visually stunning, and the golf course is reminiscent of an old British links-style layout, in both its overall design and in the abundance of sloping hillocks that test the skill and patience of even the most experienced competitors. In defiance of stereotypes about the region, too, not a drop of rain fell during the event, and blue skies and brilliant sunshine were the rule.

But there was one big problem, and many of the players in the field didn’t shy away from expressing their feelings about it: namely, the greens were below the standard than professional golfers expect in a major golf championship. A few of the competitors groused loudly and publicly, and suggested that Chambers Bay should not be a future US Open venue, barring an improvement in the quality of the putting surfaces. Incidentally, putting played a conspicuous role in the outcome of the tournament, as long-hitting Dustin Johnson missed a short stroke on the final hole to hand Jordan Spieth an outright victory.

Nonetheless, one indication of an exceptional championship golf course is its tendency to reward talent, skill, and top-notch play. The winner of this year’s US Open was by no means unheralded; Spieth was arguably the best male golfer in the world entering the championship. Irrespective of the quality of the greens at Chambers Bay, a great champion still found a way to prevail.

Focus on the factors you can control; accept the circumstances you can’t.

Tempting though it may have been to impugn the course conditions, and by extension, the staff and organizers of the event, all of the competitors in this year’s US Open faced exactly same obstacle to success. Whether a player loved the putting surfaces or hated them made no difference to the reality of the situation; if he wanted an opportunity to contend for the trophy, he would need to handle those greens to the best of his ability.

Examples abound of challenges that every business has to handle in order to compete:  taxes, customer service and retention, innovation, marketing, investment and fundraising, various categories of paperwork. Often, these difficulties coincide with each other, or arise amid unfavourable circumstances. The sooner you accept the circumstances you can’t control, the more time you can to devote to offering a great product or service to your customers, rather than making excuses.

Keep your troubles in perspective.

The gripers at Chambers Bay probably could have benefited from a little perspective.

Most amateur golfers would relish the opportunity to putt on greens as smooth and verdant as the ones competitors in the US Open were complaining about. (The typical green at a municipal golf course is bumpy, pockmarked with divot holes, and peppered with patches of dead grass.) On second thought, what percentage of the human population has the opportunity to enjoy a regular round of golf at all—let alone play the game for a living?

Likewise, while there is nothing easy about founding and maintaining a business, you should always try to maintain a sense of perspective. At least you live in a country that affords you the chance to become an entrepreneur and lead a comfortable lifestyle, all while enjoying significant personal and political freedoms.

For the vast majority of people, easy street doesn’t exist. But success is that much sweeter when you know you’ve overcome adversity in order to attain it.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Can Meditation Help You Leave Stress Behind?

At some point in your life, you may have asked yourself the question “Should I take up meditation?” There really is no right or wrong answer. For many people, meditation is an effective stress reliever and aid to productivity, concentration, and personal contentment. Others, having attempted meditation, still fail to see what all the hype is about. The only way to find out which camp you fall into is to give it a try.

Meditation is a skill.

Like all skills, it can be acquired, cultivated, and eventually more-or-less mastered. But you won’t become an expert overnight. Finally, as with all other skills, consistency and discipline are key: your progress is more likely to be noticeable and beneficial if you practice diligently.

The goal is to release tension, and quiet your mind.

If you’ve seen the second film in the Star Wars series, The Empire Strikes Back, you will recall the Millennium Falcon’s perilous voyage through an asteroid field, with Imperial fighters hot on its tail. Commander Han Solo and his passengers manage to evade their pursuers and navigate a slew of hurtling boulders suspended in the vacuum of space, only to find themselves engulfed inside a giant carnivorous worm disguised as a cave.

The asteroid field is analogous to an overloaded mind, deluged with thoughts, distractions, and stressors, and generally unable to function at its full capacity. Busy people are often haunted by the spectre of opportunity costs—the notion that they could or should be doing something more productive at this very moment, and the irritation of knowing that, try as they might, they simply can’t perform five complex tasks at once. If you’ve experienced these feelings, you know how challenging it can be to escape the mental asteroid field, and regain your focus and composure. An effective round of meditation can help to quiet your mind by redirecting your attention toward a single objective.

Start with a simple breathing meditation.

Begin by finding a relatively quiet space, and seat yourself comfortably in a balanced position, with your back straight but not rigid. A straight spine, with your chin facing forward rather than drooping down, is important in order to avoiding lethargy or sluggishness during and after a meditation session.

Next, close your eyes. Search out tense areas of your body with your mind, and give them permission to relax. Direct your focus toward your breathing. Inhale deeply through your nose and exhale fully, imagining all the while that the air entering your respiratory tract is cool, pure, relaxing fuel, while the air that exits your body is hot, tension-filled exhaust. I find it helpful to pretend that oxygen is filling my body all the way up to the peak of my forehead. I then release 100% of the breath stored within me, all the way down to the pit of my stomach.

 Feel the sensation in your nostrils as air flows in and out. Concentrate on this as you relax, and gradually settle into a natural, comfortable respiratory pattern. An array of thoughts will probably enter your mind at this stage; this is perfectly normal. Gently direct your attention back toward your lungs and nostrils, and resist the temptation of allowing your mind to wander far off course. Continue this exercise for about 10 minutes, or until your focus settles singularly on your breathing, your brain quietens, and you feel ready to resume your day.

Potential benefits.

Meditation yields different results for different people. If you commit to a 10- to 15-minute session daily, you may find that your overall stress level declines, your concentration improves, and your relations with others become smoother and more amicable. Over the long term, diminished stress and strife and greater personal contentment can promote improved physical health and career longevity too. In any event, there is no harm in trying.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

What is Growth Hacking, and Could it Work For You?

Growth hacking is a term that originated in the tech industry—coined by entrepreneurs Sean Ellis, Hiten Shah, and Patrick Vlaskovits in 2010—and remains popular in Silicon Valley. In effect, it describes a non-traditional approach to marketing, wherein expansion of the business is the primary focus. Many growth hackers (some of whom have even adopted that title) would describe themselves as more-or-less analogous to the VP of Marketing at a conventional firm. Historically, growth hackers have tended to work with small- and medium-sized enterprises rather than major established companies—although there are indications that growth hacking is now making inroads into the corporate mainstream.

You needn’t be an IT wizard—or even a self-identified growth hacker—to take advantage of growth-hacking techniques.

A common perception of growth hackers is that they are mostly associated with the dot com sector, and as such, possess extraordinary technical knowledge and skill, including the ability to code at an advanced level. While this is undeniably true of many in the field, technical expertise is not necessarily a precondition for growth hacking. Marketing and expansion techniques familiar to growth hackers can be adopted by traditional marketers, entrepreneurs, managers—in fact, just about anyone in the business world. And now that website design templates are widely available, non-techies have ample opportunity to establish a profitable online gateway.

Growth hackers’ approach to marketing resembles more conventional marketing strategies in some respects, but principally revolves around the online medium. Like traditional companies, firms that adopt growth-hacking principles aim to attract customers, facilitate sign-ups, and retain clients over the long term, in part, by offering innovative products and services. But under a growth-hacking framework, the effectiveness of the website (and online pathways thereto) take precedence.

A simple, elegant website, with an easy sign-up process

Modern society is characterized by short attention spans, and a rule of thumb for business website design is that there is roughly a ten-second window in which to attract a prospective customer’s attention and pique h/er interest. In your initial user interface, aim for short but clear descriptions, understandable options, and visible (but not gaudy) links and portals. Allow visitors to navigate to some areas of your site without registering, and give them the option of signing up for additional services.

Another vital consideration is the process of registration itself: You’ll want to collect relevant data from your prospective clients, but it’s also important to ensure that they know exactly what they’re signing up for, and don’t feel daunted by the duration and/or arduousness of the endeavour. Many would-be customers will simply give up and move on rather than endure even a few seconds of unnecessary inconvenience.
 
Tools of the trade

Among the devices in the growth hacker’s tool kit are search engine optimization (SEO), data analytics, viral video, guest blogging, mailing lists, and a wide range of specialized survey and marketing software. A fairly extensive list of utilities for marketing and metrics is available here.

Some common objectives growth hackers emphasize in the development of a new product or business are virality, effective distribution, and ease of access and use of the business’s website (from the customer’s perspective). The purpose of metrics, surveys, and other data is to provide feedback as to the success of those efforts.

Start with your networks to drive traffic. Use “calls to action” to generate sign-ups.

Online advertising can get expensive, and virality can be a difficult and time-consuming ambition. For start-ups with low cash flow, the cost and challenge of driving traffic to a website can be especially prohibitive. One of the ways around this problem is to start with your social network. Let your friends on Facebook know about your business, send e-mails to your contacts, call up friends to gauge their level of interest.

Create a landing page separate from the website’s home page, and direct visitors toward it. Once they arrive, the next goal is to promote registration. An approach that many businesses find effective is the Call to Action—usually in the form of a prominent icon that visitors can click on in order to “learn more”, “get started”, etc. This is where registration kicks in, which you can then measure, analyze, and, in turn, identify ways to improve.

Of course, there is no shortcut to a robust level of growth. But a growth hacker’s mindset can help to propel your business toward that goal.

A wealth of additional information is available online. Check out QUICKSPROUT’s Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking, GrowthHackers, growth-hacker.com, and the personal blogs of growth-hacking specialists Aaron Ginn and Andrew Chen.