5 Things I Learned from Richard Branson

Richard Branson has been touted as being a visionary, business genius, and undeniably the coolest boss on the planet. He is all of those things. Plus, he’s pretty inspirational. After recently digging into (but not yet finishing) his book, here are 5 things I learned from Richard Branson.

1. Listening Is Important

Listening should be a top priority for dozens of reasons. Honestly, I could write an entire blog post about why listening rocks (and I probably will). But, for the sake of your attention span and my sanity, we’ll boil it down to a few simple reasons.

• When your employees, clients, or customers come to the realization that you listen to them, they’ll ultimately respect you more.

• Genuine listening skills never go unnoticed.

• You often absorb more by truly listening to understand, versus listening to respond.

Bottom line? LISTEN.

2. Run Your Business from the Outside In

Now, “from the outside looking in” has always had a bit of a negative connotation. However, what I mean by “run your business from the outside in” is that as an entrepreneur, you should always take into account the things that you may not be able to see as an insider in the organization.

Approach things from an unbiased, customer point of view and build your strategies from an outside perspective rather than a dollar amount perspective.

3. Simplicity Is Key

This is true for just about everything. In this day and age, simplicity and transparency are paramount. You remember the old acronym, K.I.S.S.? Yea, well….you should still keep it simple, stupid.

Keeping things simple and understandable for everyone that has contact with your organization helps foster a healthy relationship and results in less trouble and more brand advocates.

4. The Customer is Always Relevant

You’ve probably heard that the “customer is always right,” which is almost never true anymore. However, the customer is always, and will always be RELEVANT.

This means that their wants, needs, and perspective should be taken into account and should be treated with care. They should always be at the top of your to-do list because they’re the ones that will make or break your business.
Don’t let your customer fall by the wayside, and treat them as a relevant and important facet of your organization.

5. One Size Does Not Fit All

Honestly, this should be a no-brainer. You are not your mentor, your friend, or your boss. You are 100% unique in every way, and therefore, should never approach a situation the same way that someone else does.

In the same vein, what works for another business may not work for yours. So, take your time in approaching and assessing situations before acting on them. Don’t do it because it works for someone else, do it because it works for you.

Well, there you go. Some pretty legit insights from Cool Boss Mastermind, Richard Branson. I’m looking forward to finishing his book, The Virgin Way: If It’s Not Fun, It’s Not Worth Doing and when I do you can expect a full Book Report!

5 Ways to Incorporate Your Artistic Talents Into Your Business

5 Ways to Incorporate Your Artistic Talents Into Your Business

If you’re a creative soul in a non-creative role, you likely feel a little deflated on occasion. Now is the time to perk back up!

Here are 5 simple ways to incorporate your creative talents into your business.

Get Involved in Social MediaGet Involved in Social Media

No matter what you’re technically responsible for in business, chances are good that your social media manager needs help and inspiration.

Lend a hand any way that you can. Try offering to be the person on the frontlines and take photos or come up with content for something that not only inspires you but is also relatable to the business.

Or, you can simply just offer content suggestions. Take it from someone who manages social media for a living…sometimes the well runs dry.

Volunteer to Organize Events

Maybe your business wants to participate in local events or fundraisers, but just doesn’t know where to begin or doesn’t have the manpower.

Be the manpower behind your events. Take the initiative and get out there and do things. Good things and fun things.

Not only will this serve as a creative outlet, but it will also inspire your co-workers to action.

Organize a Company NewsletterOrganize a Company Newsletter

Sometimes you just want to know what is going on in Accounting. Not very often, but sometimes you’re intrigued. Sounds like the perfect time to start a company newsletter.

Forge ahead and begin collecting fun, useful and interesting information from other departments and organize them into a worthwhile read. It doesn’t have to be fancy or lengthy, but feed the creative itch and provide everyone with information at the same time.

Make Yourself Available to Co-Workers in a Creative Position

Even if you’re not in a creative position in the workplace, you have co-workers that are…and sometimes they need help.

Just like with the social media manager, sometimes your creative counterparts are short on ideas or inspiration and need a little nudge in the right direction.

Make yourself available to them in a creative capacity. They’ll appreciate it, and you’ll scratch the creative itch.

Plus, the obligatory…

Creatively Spruce Up Your Workspace

Creatively Spruce Up Your WorkspaceThis kind of goes without saying, but jazz up your space. Just do it.

Add some photos, doodles, a plant and maybe that ridiculous, eye-melting velvet Lisa Frank poster you’ve been saving for the right time.

You may not think so, but your co-workers will appreciate the extra color and personality that it brings to the room.

 

 

Being creatively inspired can come from just about anywhere, at any time. Although sometimes it may need a little coaxing, your creativity is always beneficial to everyone around you. It can even be infectious!

Try implementing a couple of these fun ways to incorporate your natural, artistic talents into your day at the office. I promise you’ll never be disappointed in the results.

Website vs Sign: 6 Reasons A Website Must Be A Top Priority

Let’s face it, a business without a website is a bit like a horse without legs these days. Of course, there’s a good reason for that. Six reasons, actually. Whether you’re new to entrepreneurship or are a seasoned veteran, you need to know the 6 reasons why a business website is a higher priority than a sign.

Note: This is not an article on why you SHOULDN’T have a business sign if you’re a brick and mortar location. Signs are still incredible options for local businesses and should never be neglected.

A website is your most effective and least expensive marketing real estate in the digital age. This statement is based on a broad range of data and reasons, but my personal favorites are the following six reasons.

Wider Reach

Wider ReachA sign is an excellent local branding opportunity, but a functional and compelling website can reach several times more people than a sign can on any given day. Quickly reach your local customers, people in neighboring towns and even tourists before they ever set their eyes on your brick and mortar shop.

Your business website offers a 24/7 digital beacon for your potential customers while a stationary sign is restricted to passerby during the daytime.

Less Expensive

Less ExpensiveDepending on your needs, a fantastic website can often be thousands of dollars less than a sign.

In my time at a professional sign-making company, I watched businesses spend between $100 and $10,000 on signs. The most expensive of which were always the flat-faced, lighted signs that sit out by the road. They’re huge, electric and expensive. Plus, they need to be serviced and refaced regularly to maintain their effectiveness.

Not so with a website. If you or someone you know is even a little technical, a website can be created for less than $200. Or, if you end up hiring a professional you can expect to spend between $500 and $5,000. However, $5,000 is a bit overkill for a basic business website.

More FunctionalMore Functional

While your business sign is restricted to a single purpose, a website can offer a wide range of functionality. Easily provide opportunities for your potential customers to learn about your brand, your products or services and get to know you. Your website can be easily setup and designed to provide driving directions, pricing information, reviews or testimonials, etc.

There really is no end to the amount of cool things you can do with a website.

Greater Customization

Greater CustomizationLike greater functionality, a website offers greater customization options to suit your brand.

Although modern sign shops are capable of some pretty incredible things, you’re still relatively limited. Your website allows you to completely tailor the user experience to exactly what your audience wants and needs. Sometimes they want basic contact info, and other times they want to keep tabs on what your brand is doing on a daily basis. Offer all of that and more with a customized business website.

No Zoning Regulations

No Zoning RegulationsPhysical signs are regulated by city and township laws that allow for consistency across the businesses in the area. Essentially they make sure that no business has a better opportunity than any other because they happen to have more money. Signs are regulated by size, distance to roadways and buildings, lighting and colors.

Not websites! You can basically do anything you want or need when it comes to websites. Of course, there are privacy policies and spam laws in place, but regarding design and functionality, you’re free to create.

Reactive

ReactiveWebsites are 100% trackable and reactive to the current business trends and conditions. Whereas signs are stationary.

Easy implement analytics and run reports to find out what is and isn’t working, what your customers want and how they want it. Plan and react accordingly and you’ll have a successful business on your hands.

While I would never suggest that you forego a stationary business sign, making your website a higher priority from day one will result in a better overall customer experience and more foot traffic for your brick and mortar store.

 

The Truth About Profit Over People: Charter Communications

If you’re looking for an example of a company that has opted to value profit over people, all you need to do is toss a rock in any direction. Literally. One of the most prominent local examples of this negative business mindset is Charter Communications.

If you’re a Grand Traverse region resident, an angry epithet about Charter has most likely slipped through your lips a time or two. They’re evil. Pure, unfiltered evil. I’m not exaggerating. They take profit over people to a whole new low while pushing advertising propaganda that takes an opposite stance.

Here are 4 ways that Charter Communications proves that profit over people does not work.

Monopoly
Charter Communications has virtually monopolized the cable internet and TV market in the tri-state area.

In Northern Michigan, the only available option for cable TV and Internet is Charter. In fact, the only other option for “reliable” internet is through the satellite providers.

Recently, Charter announced an intent to purchase Ohio internet mongoloid, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. This is a huge jump and expands Charter’s reach to:

  • Ohio
  • Indiana
  • Florida
  • Alabama
  • California
  • Texas
  • New York
  • Maine
  • Wisconsin
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina

“The proposed transaction would bring together fourth (Time Warner Cable), seventh (Charter), and tenth (Bright House Networks) largest multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) in the country to create the third largest provider in the country, serving roughly 17.3 million customers. Additionally, the new company would bring together 19.4 million broadband subscribers, creating the second largest broadband internet provider in the country and would provide services to customers across portions of nearly 40 states.” Source: FCC.gov

This is a bit scary, considering the fact that Charter Communications has been practicing some pretty serious profit over people tactics for years.

Reliability
Let’s not even get started on reliability.

Charter may have started out with reliable coverage, but over the last 10 years, they have steadily dug themselves a hole that they likely will never get out of.

Both personal and business internet and cable services have been unreliable at best – total garbage at worst. Based on the pricing and advertisements, subscribers should be receiving blazing fast service. Especially considering the fact that we have NO other option for the internet in this area.

As mentioned above, the only other option lies with the satellite providers like Dish Network or Direct TV. However, for a state that boasts heavy snowfall for majority of the year, satellite just doesn’t make sense.

Customer Service
Not only are their products/services a low priority, so is good customer service. Honestly, I don’t know a single person or business who has had a good experience with Charter Communications. Ever.

Their representatives are often combative and lack product knowledge.

Hidden Pricing
They have hidden pricing stashed all over the place. Literally, everywhere.

Hidden pricing is essentially a staple when it comes to the cable tv business. I’m sure you’ve seen the recent commercials from DirectTV poking fun at the fact that you end up swiping your card every time you want to watch a different channel.

Swipe anxiety is a real thing.

Although Charter Communications began as a customer service-oriented cable company that valued honesty but has regressed over the years and adopted a profit over people model. Unfortunately, it may not hurt them financially because of their strategic local positioning, but this stance is detrimental to customer satisfaction across the board.

In case you’re a little behind, read our recent Book Report: People Over Profit by Dale Partridge to get caught up.

4 Reasons Why Using Sink or Swim Principles is an Epic Fail

Businesses of all sizes practice their own variation of the infamous sink or swim principles. If you’ve been part of the workforce in the last decade, chances are good that you’ve been put through the ringer by this frame of mind and felt powerless to change it. But, as a business owner, you have a choice. Here are 4 reasons why practicing the sink or swim principles is an epic fail in business.

Practicing sink or swim principles in your business can cause:

Low Employee Morale

The first domino in the sink or swim game is always employee morale, and it happens to be the shaky ground that everything else stands on.

Sink or swim principles often mean a lack of training and an overwhelming amount of work that no one else wants to do, which results in low employee morale. Your talent winds up feeling frustrated, trapped and unsure of when to say “no”.

Sink or Swim Principles Lead to Low Employee Morale

Because this is the first step on a downward spiral, a hit to employee morale often leads to…

A Decrease in Quality and Productivity

Feeling trapped and overwhelmed can often lead to a drop in productivity and the quality of work across the board.

No matter how capable or self-sufficient your team may be, a lack of training and the sheer stress that sink or swim principles can create may prove too much for even the most resilient professional. A gradual decrease in quality of work, productivity and general love of the job sets in, and this lack of efficiency hurts the business and the employee in more ways than one.

The Loss of Your Brightest Talents

No smart business owner wants to watch their brightest talent walk out the door, especially if there was something that could have been done to prevent it.

Losing your shining stars due to sink or swim principles seems pretty senseless. Doesn’t it? That’s because it is!

You want to be a great place to work and increase profits by having great people, and it only takes a little compassion and forward thinking to keep them around.

A Lack of Qualified Employment Applicants

For most businesses, your people are your most valuable assets and your most vocal supporters. Unfortunately, if sink or swim principles are part of your business plan; eventually, word will spread.

When it comes to people or companies who tend to be hard to work with, qualified applicants will take a hard right or left and avoid your brand like the plague. No matter how large or small your business is, you can never afford to have this sort of stigma attached to you.

Unfortunately, businesses that you know and love are guilty of using sink or swim principles, and the ugly truth of it is often hidden behind closed doors. As a business owner, you can make good on their mistakes by opting to choose people over profit rather than sink or swim.

Sink or Swim Principles Lead to A Lack of Qualified Employment Applicants

Learn more about the people over profit principles on our recent blog, Book Report: People Over Profit by Dale Partridge.

 

Book Report: People Over Profit by Dale Partridge

I firmly believe in the idea of valuing people over profit. Always have. Always will. That’s why the book People Over Profit by Dale Partridge caught my attention and my heart. Here are just a few of the things that I learned or re-learned while reading this book.

The notion of people over profit has been around a long, long time and has been practiced by many huge conglomerates that I of know today. The idea rarely remains at the top of the corporate ladder, and businesses often revert to less than savory methods to turn a profit. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Being a good business is synonymous with being a good person. You’d never treat someone the way that some companies are treating their employees, customers, and third-party vendors. Would you?

No matter what industry you’re in and what your relation to that industry is, everything should relate back to these two very basic principles: People Matter & Honesty is the Best Policy.

People Matter

People Matter

No matter who they are, where they come from or how they relate to your company – People Matter. No one should have to spell this out for you.

Every person that your brand touches should be valued and treated with the utmost respect and care whether they’re an employee, vendor, or customer. It should be both purely instinctual and your first priority in business to make sure that every person feels valued and appreciated.

If you feel that your brand may be guilty of valuing profit over people, take a step back and look at things from a different perspective. If you were an employee, would you want to work here? Would you buy product or services from your business? Or, would you want to do business with your brand as a vendor?

If the answer is “No” to any of these, or even a hesitant “Maybe”…make changes.

When people aren’t your priority, they will start to leave you. Maybe not now, but they will. Believe me, I’ve been there.

Here are just a few options to get you started on your journey to valuing your people:

Ask questions. Ask your employees, vendors and customers. Take their answers seriously.

Give your employees purpose and recognition for a job well done.

Assess your current product quality control, and make changes where needed.

Honesty is Always the Best Policy

Honest is Always the Best Policy

Because people matter, honesty matters.

There are several chapters devoted to this idea in the book, and again, it shouldn’t have to be explained. Be real. Be truthful. Be transparent.

You’d be surprised at what amazing things can come from simple honesty. People wholeheartedly appreciate and are more likely to gravitate towards an authentic brand. Put your best face forward in all things and you’ll be rewarded in the end.

That means you should begin by being honest with everyone that you deal with, starting and ending with your employees.

1. Be transparent with potential employees right out of the gate. Don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep just to bring in great talent. That skill will come to you when you cultivate an honest company culture.

2. Be real with your current and tenured employees. If a choice you’ve made or are going to be making affects them, be sure to let them know. Even if it is a negative impact, they’re more likely to trust you if you share the details. Always be sure to provide all employees with a detailed description of duties, so everyone will know what is expected of them.

3. Be truthful and transparent with your potential customers and loyal clients. Everyone appreciates honesty, and that is never more true than when you are trying to sell something. Withholding details or beating around the bush is never a good way to begin a relationship.

4. Keep things straightforward and honest with your vendors and contractors. Think of them as employees, and treat them accordingly.

So, this is what I “learned” from Dale Partridge’s People Over Profit. Take a minute to read the book yourself and share your findings with me!

Do you know of a brand or local company that does an excellent job valuing people over profit? I’d love to hear about it!

 

What Being An Entrepreneur Means to Me

Being an entrepreneur is special, and it means different things to different people. It takes an extraordinary personality and skill set to not only be a successful entrepreneur but to simply make it over the hump. So far, it’s been a pretty crazy ride, and I’d like to share what being an entrepreneur means to me.

When I was growing up, being an entrepreneur never occurred to me. I wanted to be everything from a neurosurgeon to a marine biologist, but being my own boss wasn’t one of the things I wanted to be when I grew up.

It should have been, and my parents should have recognized the fire. I was a stubborn, opinionated and independent child who grew into a fiercely independent, stubborn adult.

When I think back on the reasons that I struck out on my own, three underlying feelings float to the surface:

FreedomFreedom

Being an entrepreneur affords me a type of blissful freedom that I’ve craved for so long.

The freedom to be my own person, to follow my dreams and to do what I want when I want to do it. Sounds a little cliche, I know. But, if you were born with a sense of independence so strong that working in a cubicle is suffocating, you’d understand.

That freedom allows me to use my independence and my vast experience to do the things that not only make me happy but pay the bills and ultimately help people.

AccountabilityAccountability

Being accountable is a significant factor in being an entrepreneur, and is something that should never be taken for granted.

Being my own boss allows me to be accountable for my own actions and the relationships that I build or break. Being accountable is a facet of entrepreneurship that may not come up often, but it is a foundational building block in who you are and how you work.

Through accountability, I’ve grown exponentially in more ways than one. I’m a very different person now than I was when I began my journey into entrepreneurship.

I’m more sure of myself and my talents. I’m less worried about where money is coming from, and I celebrate the little things more often.

DriveDrive

An independent soul is a driven soul.

Your drive is what keeps you going. It pushes you to keep learning, keep growing.

My personal drive not only allows me to be an entrepreneur, but it also refuses to let me be anything else because that is just who I am.

I am an entrepreneur because it’s part of my DNA and it brings a smile to my face on a daily basis. What’s your excuse?

The Top 7 Business Tools That I Use Every Single Day

There are a TON (and I mean a ton) of free or nearly free apps out there to help you run your small business. But, are they all created equal? No. Here are the top 7 business tools that I use every single day and that make my life easy-peasy.

Last year, we wrote a blog about 11 Amazing Free Business Tools to Run Your Business the Easy Way. Quite a few of the below business tools are listed there, but some are new!

  1. Nutcache

LOVE this app! While it isn’t completely free, it’s well worth every penny spent.

Nutcache is:

Time Tracker + Invoice & Expense + Project Management

ALL-IN-ONE!

Nutcache Project Management Screenshot

Seriously, all-in-one. It’s pretty amazing and I use it all the time. I use it as a Customer Relationship Management system also, but it’s not quite as robust on that front as other options like Insightly.

  1. Grammarly

I can’t even explain how much of a life-saver Grammarly is as a business tool. For a writer, it is my saving grace and helps me maintain my sanity on a daily basis.

Grammarly is a web-based grammar, spelling, and basic sentence structure checker. I typically write all of my content in Google Docs and then paste it into Grammarly for review. This includes client content projects.

  1. Google Drive | Google Docs

There isn’t much that needs to be said about Google Drive & Google Docs. My business lives on the cloud within this web-based tool. Literally, lives there.

If you’re not utilizing the wonders of Google Drive as one of your daily business tools, you’re doing it wrong.

  1. Canva

I’ve written love letters to Canva before, and my feelings have not changed.

This web-based graphic design app is literally heaven on screen. I use it for everything from social media imagery to postcards and website graphics. Plus, they have a huge library of design tutorials to help you learn and get started!

Canva Tutorial Screenshot

I personally use the free version currently, but will be updating to the Canva For Work paid version very soon. Stay tuned for a blog detailing the difference between the two!

Interested in Canva? Read our blog: What Does Canva Mean to a Small Business.

  1. Pinterest

Primo inspiration, baby!

Pinterest is a GOLD MINE for all kinds of inspiration. I personally use it to stash content ideas and continued learning opportunities. Honestly, with such a deep well of content on Pinterest, you’ll be hard-pressed to actually consume everything that you pin. But, here’s to trying, right?!

Feel free to follow Ink.e Digital on Pinterest OR Follow me to share my inspiration.

  1. Pixabay

This website is an amazing partner for Canva. Although Canva offers a ton of really great free photos with their free app, sometimes you just need a more professional looking option.Pixabay Screenshot

Pixabay is a royalty free photography site that happens to offer some really high-quality stock photos. Although I’m a compulsive graphic asset hoarder, I still use Pixabay just about every single day for my own brand or for a client.

  1. Day Planner

Everyone has their own preferred method of organization. Me? I’m a COMPULSIVE list-maker. Seriously, I make lists of lists on paper, whiteboard and in my day planner.

Instead of using a disposable day planner, I use the M by Staples ARC system planner. It’s a scalable planner that offers a variety of different insertable pages and page dividers. They come in lots of pretty colors and have page refills and expander ring for just about everything.

The initial investment is a little on the higher end for a day planner, but after the first year, it’s only a few bucks to replace your pages.

Well, there you have it! These are my top 7 business tools that I use every single day to keep my business strong and healthy.

Do you have a really great tool that helps you run your business?

What Does Hiring A Full Spectrum Professional Mean to Your Business?

You’ve probably never heard of a full spectrum professional before now. That’s mostly because I made it up. But, I believe that it is a real thing and quite a few millennials fit the bill. So, what exactly does that mean to you as a business owner?

What Is A Full Spectrum Professional?
The short answer? ME!

I am a millennial, who due to a restless creativity and fierce independence has held a variety of jobs throughout my career. While some may consider that to be a fatal flaw, I see it as a huge benefit to my business and yours.

Here’s why:

What Does a Full Spectrum Professional Bring to the Table?
Personally, I have been a part of the American workforce since I was 14 and have been paying my own bills and buying my own clothes before I was even in high school. Not only does that teach responsibility, but it fostered my own innate independence and helped me learn what made sense for my personality. Plus…

1. Multi-Industry Experience
With a load of positions in my repertoire comes a load of experience in several different industries, business styles and positions within the company.

1. Multi-Industry Experience

Because of this wide breadth of experience, I am able to easily relate to most businesses on their level, while also understanding what the customer base wants. I’ve been on every side of the dice and understand every facet of the business. From management and employees to current customers and prospects, I can appeal to their unique wants and needs.

This doesn’t make me irresponsible or unable to commit, this simply means that I am not happy with monotony and like to continue to challenge myself to learn things and do better work.

2. Dedication to Your Success
More often than not, I received the short straw in many of my positions through a lack of training and a general lack of interest in my success. Unfortunately, the economy in my hometown fosters this negative attitude and results in tons of young professionals bouncing jobs or giving up on their own creativity.

2. Dedication to Your Success

Because I know how much it sucks to be without the right tools to do your job, I am dedicated to helping your business be as prepared as possible with amazing content and an in-depth strategy. You’d be surprised at how much content matters…especially if your demographic consists of millennials. Read what we learned about marketing to millennials in the digital age.

3. Brutal Honesty
As a full spectrum professional, I have built upon my own inner honesty and independence through years of dealing with “YES” men or “NO” men. I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I am honest to a fault. But, that works in your favor.

3. Brutal Honesty

As a creative entity working towards your success and my own, I will NEVER tell you something that doesn’t make sense for the longevity of your brand simply because it’s what you want to hear.

If one of your ideas doesn’t fit with your long-term goals and current best practices, I will tell you so. While that rubs some people the wrong way, it is better in the long run for continued business relationships and profitable brand experiences.

Here’s a Tip: Just because that’s the way it’s always been done, doesn’t mean that it’s the best way to handle that situation.

In conclusion, full spectrum professionals are basically business badasses. But, keep in mind that not every single person who’s had a bunch of different jobs is a full spectrum professional. They’re a special breed that transition jobs to continue learning and to actually make a difference where they’re headed.

You need at least one full spectrum professional on your side to tell you how it is and to help you muck through the ever changing mire that is marketing.

Why You Should Pay A Compliment Even If Someone Hasn’t Earned It

To tell the truth, I love obscure holidays and this one happens to offer a wonderful teachable moment. Today is National Pay A Compliment Day and I’d like to break down why you should still compliment someone even if they haven’t actually earned it.

Have you ever heard the quote:

Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind, always.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve seen about 90 different variations of this quote on social media and might feel like it has nearly lost all meaning. But, it is 1000% true and paying compliments can really brighten someone’s day.

Whether you know the person or not..Whether they’ve said or done something nasty or not…No matter who that person is or what the current situation is…

PAY THEM A COMPLIMENT

You’ll notice that the mood changes immediately and their face lights up. Not only do you make them feel great, you’ll feel so light and uplifted after you compliment someone.