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.