Opening Doors Blog

Acquisition vs. Retention: Where Should Your Focus Be?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, it’s 6-7 times more costly to attract a new customer than it is to retain an existing customer. But that doesn’t mean you can survive solely on existing customers alone.

As modern marketers, we seem to face the dilemma of where to focus our efforts and our budgets. If it’s more cost-effective to focus on existing customers, how do we get those customers in the first place?

Suite 700 Direct is a strong believer in communication. After all, that’s what we do. But before you can begin sending anything, it’s important to develop a plan. You’ll need to understand your business and develop key goals – remembering that Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Below are some ideas on both acquisition and retention practices:

Acquisition

How do you develop a list of prospects? Sure it’s easier to purchase leads and prospect data. But how good is the list? Where did it come from? And are the recipients open to receiving your communication? This will most likely be answered by the type of business you have. Of course, a list built from organic leads, like data capture functionality on your home page, will typically be the most fruitful.

Once you have your lists squared away, it’s time to revisit that plan. You’ll need to decide how you will message your list. Will it be an email and a postcard? Perhaps a formal letter followed by an email. Or maybe it’s a dimensional package full of goodies. And what will your message be? What do you want the recipient to do? And what happens when you don’t get a response?

Bottom line, acquisition can be a tricky practice. There are tried and true methodologies, but not everything works for everyone.

Retention

Now that you’ve got a healthy list of loyal customers, how will you retain them? This is where customer relationship marketing (CRM) comes in. As we stated earlier, retention is key because it’s easier to keep customers than find new ones. So, it’s important to keep customers engaged.

Make sure they know about new products and services. Keep them updated and let them know you appreciate them. But remember, too much is not a good strategy. The last thing you want is for the recipient to say “oh no, not again”, and throw it away before even opening it.

Equally important is to track your efforts. Keep a record of who responds, analyze the click patterns on your emails and begin to segment your list into different groups based on activity.

Numbers you can learn from

  • 89% of consumers who have stopped doing business with a company have experienced poor customer service. (RightNow Customer Experience Impact Report)
  • It takes 12 positive customer experiences to make up for one negative experience. (Parature)
  • 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated.  (McKinsey)
  • 55% of consumers would pay more for a better customer experience. (Defaqto Research)
  • A customer is 4 times more likely to buy from a competitor when the problem is service related vs. price or product related. (Bain & Co.)
  • A 10% increase in customer retention levels can result in a 30% increase in company valuation. (Bain & Co)
  • Consumers are 2 times more likely to share their bad customer service experiences than positive experiences.  (2012 Global Customer Service Barometer)

Let me know your thoughts.

No matter what your business is or who your customers are, The Contrino Group team can help you in all facets of communication. From acquisition and retention strategies, to segmentation, formats and touch strategies – we’ve done it all and have some great success stories to share. 


BIO 

Joe Contrino is CEO of The Contrino Group, a direct marketing agency located in Lafayette, CO.

Joe is an award winning direct marketer with over 32 of years of experience.   Prior to founding The Contrino Group, Joe was a Senior Partner at Suite 700 Direct, Integrated Marketing Solutions Manager at Henry Wurst, Inc., and CEO and owner of Contrino Direct Marketing, Boulder, CO.

Joe is a Direct Marketing Association Certified Direct Marketer Professional, Industry Co-Chair of the Denver Postal Customer Council Board of Directors, and speaks regionally and nationally on direct marketing topics and trends.

5 Ways to Disengage Your Workforce

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Employee engagement is defined as “the relationship between an organization and its employees.” Like all relationships, they must be built on a foundation of mutual trust and respect with a healthy dose of give and take. How much you put into it, is what you will get out of it.

The statistics on the success of companies with a highly engaged workforce are staggering, so why do some organizations still struggle to find the employee engagement sweet spot?

Here are 5 common pitfalls that will quickly diminish your relationship with your employees:


Ask for their opinion, then do nothing with it.

Most companies use engagement surveys, focus groups, even the old-school suggestion boxes to solicit input from their workforce. Then what? Soliciting input from your employees only matters if you do something with it in a timely manner. That is the differentiator between soliciting input and creating an environment where their opinion truly matters.   

Don’t launch a survey or focus groups unless you are willing to communicate the results and commit to actions based on the feedback. Similarly, create a two-way suggestion box mechanism allowing you to visually share the suggestion and your direct response to it (ex: new carpeting in the break room is a great idea, we’ll evaluate the cost during 2018 budgeting).  

Employees will never feel “heard” unless you tell them what you are doing with the information they gave you.


Forget what it’s like to be in their shoes.

You were there once……young, enthusiastic, hungry to learn, eager to share. You had valuable insights and input to share with your leadership--ideas for new products and services, new more efficient ways of doing things—that’s how you gained credibility, respect and climbed the ladder.

They have the same to offer you.

Don’t underestimate the value of your front-line. They are closest to your products and/or services and more importantly your customers. As such, they are in a position to provide you with unique knowledge and insightful feedback that could improve your business.  


‘Pinball Machine’ leadership.

Have you ever experienced a leader that made quick, knee-jerk decisions, then turned around the next week to revisit/tweak the idea, and the following week canned the idea it all together? Complete waste of time, energy and resources…and worse, loss of credibility. There is nothing more frustrating than working for an organization that operates like a ‘pinball machine’.

Be thorough and thoughtful in your decision making. Even if it slows the process down a smidge, it will ensure you optimize the valuable time of your employees, get the results you desire and gain you far more credibility in the long run.


Failure to communicate.

Failing to communicate (whether intentional or forgetful) creates space for doubt and mistrust. In the absence of having all the facts, employees will try to fill in the blanks and share their theories with one another. And so the grapevine begins…

Control your grapevine by providing your employees with the information directly. Don’t leave it to peers, colleagues, or media to inform and educate your employees on the happenings of your business.

Employees are your most valuable asset and your worst enemy in the communication chain. You choose which role they will play!


Never get comfortable.

Your relationship with your employees is a constant cycle of dating – actively learning about one another, all the while wondering if this will be a long-term fit. It may be a committed relationship for a period of time, but there is no “til death do us part.”

Relationships are hard work and require constant attention. If you get too comfortable and complacent, it will inevitably end in a breakup.


Solvere HR Consulting provides powerful HR solutions that optimize your organizational capability and profitability through your most valuable asset -- your employees.

Learn more at www.solverehr.com.

BIO

Reagan is an accomplished HR executive with extensive experience supporting small, mid- and large businesses develop people strategies that support organizational goals. Her experience ranges across a wide variety of industries including engineering, construction, telecommunications and business process outsourcing (BPO).

She has experience working in the United States and internationally in Europe, Middle East, Australia/New Zealand, Liberia and many countries in Asia.

She is recognized for being a multi-talented and versatile problem-solver with a proven track record of increasing employee engagement and enhancing leadership capabilities that directly impact bottom line results. Reagan’s broad knowledge of business disciplines enable her to develop unique people strategies designed to contribute to overall strategy.


Reagan earned her Bachelor's in Business Management from the University of Colorado, Denver and is a certified SHRM-SCP. She is passionate about advancing the HR profession, and serves as a volunteer for the Boulder Area Human Resources Association (BAHRA) as the Director of Communications & Marketing.



The Inside Scoop on Low Cost Franchises

Monday, March 06, 2017

Every year, there are lists of the “best” low cost franchises. The most reputable being Franchise Business Review and Entrepreneur Magazine lists.  Franchise Business Review is based on franchisee satisfaction, something they survey and measure. I always peruse the list and often am surprised by two things: one, what is categorized as “low cost” and two, what the heck could they possibly mean by “best?”

Let’s start with the basics. Low cost is generally considered to be under $100,000 (in the case of Franchise Business Review) and $50,000 (to make Entrepreneur’s list) “all in.” All in means the total out of pocket expenses you are likely to incur in getting your business up and running. That would include (among other things): the franchise fee, the marketing costs to promote your opening, any cost of initial equipment needed – usually leased, etc. 

In order for a business to fall into this investment range it will almost always, by definition, be home based. This is because you are eliminating the need to lease space, build out that space, and buy expensive equipment. These are going to be service businesses which rely more on you, the owner, to build it with your marketing savvy, or just plain grit in going out and building your business. Sometimes these business will require cold calling to really get going, usually a lot of marketing dollars, and ALWAYS involve getting out into your community and networking your little fanny off. 

So are these the “best” businesses? I would say they are best for certain people, with certain skill sets and in certain situations. Someone with high sales and marketing acumen and a desire for a home based business (which means a lot of flexibility in terms of how and when you work) is a good fit for some of these.

What’s important in doing the due diligence around these businesses, is when making calls to existing franchisees – something a good franchise consultant (ahem) will coach you how to do – is to find out how soon before they got their first client, how long it took to ramp up (to make regular income), and what have they found to be the best marketing strategy. Another good question is: “How much are you spending to market your business?” The best way to fail in any new business strategy is to go in undercapitalized, thinking somehow you will have clients when you “open your doors”. Marketing will be your single biggest expense in these kinds of businesses and are critical to your success. Be sure the “all in” figures disclosed in the franchise disclosure documents you are reviewing is validated by the owners that you call, and is a reasonable figure of what you will go through until you are cash flowing.

BIO

Previously with a large Wall Street firm, Jane Stein was a Certified Financial Planner for over 25 years, and provided comprehensive wealth management solutions for a large base of families – representing over 250 million in assets. She wrote an investment column, and established a program called “Money Matters for Women”, in an effort to empower women to take charge of their investments. Now she helps men and women achieve financial security through business ownership, which is far more empowering.  With her financial background, she is uniquely qualified to guide you through the process to identify and evaluate the right business model, and then later can help you secure funding to open your business.

Check out Jane's LinkedIn page here and her website here.

Who Do You Think You Are? Brand Archetypes, Our Collective Unconscious, and the Drive to Buy

Monday, February 27, 2017


In the early twentieth century, Swiss Psychiatrist, Carl Jung, composed a model of the human psyche, consisting of three distinctive parts: ego, personal unconscious, and collective unconscious. The ego, pertaining to self-identity, our sense of awareness and

existence. The personal unconscious houses repressed emotions retained from the past and untapped future potential. Personal unconsciousness can be thought of as the things we intuit yet do not think of in any organized, cognizant fashion. And then, there is Jung’s theory of the “collective unconscious”—an idea that all human beings share suppressed memories from the same ancestral, evolutionary past. Collective unconsciousness accounts for some of the seemingly inexplicable experiential states which many of us occasionally pass through—like love at first sight, déjà vu, or an acute fear of spiders. Within the collective unconscious, Jung believed that four main archetypes dwell (persona, shadow, anima/animus, self) and offer insight into various unlearned functions of the human psyche.

From Jung’s archetypes, branding and marketing experts developed a set of twelve. Here they are, in no particular order:


  • The Innocent: Happy, good, pure, moral, romantic, simple, loyal, youthful, optimistic. Represents brands with strong values, who are considered trustworthy, honest and dependable.


  • The Girl/Guy Next Door: Belongs to the mainstream, easily connects with others, down to earth, supportive, neighborly. Represents brands that appeal to an everyday, simple yet virtuous consumer.


  • The Hero: Wants to make the world a better place. Daring, courageous, inspiring, confident. Represents brands that inspire, solve big issues, and help others do the same.


  • The Outlaw: Anti-authority, disruptive, rebellious, wild, breaks rules and lives according to their own. Paves the way for change. Represents brands that advocate for transformation and for rights of the disenfranchised.

  • The Explorer: Interested in new experiences and discoveries. Ambitious, adventurous, independent, free-spirited. Represents brands whose culture consists of excitement, risk, and authenticity.

  • The Creator: Builds something from scratch, sells products or services that offer significant meaning, long-lasting value, and mentorship. Visionary, imaginative, entrepreneurial, non-confirmative. Represents innovative brands that make big ideas and broad possibility their number one aim.

  • The Ruler: Creates order and maintains control. Projects qualities of leadership, responsibility, organization. A role model. Represents brands that create security and stability in an otherwise chaotic world.

  • The Magician: Brings dreams to life, creates special and one-of-a-kind experiences. Charismatic, idealistic, spiritual, imaginative. Represents brands that want to transform their client’s lives, promote philosophical beliefs, and expand ideology for the sake of the greater good.

  • The Lover: Creates environments of intimacy and love. Sensual, passionate, romantic, idealistic, committed. Represents brands that increase the consumer’s feeling of connectedness, enjoyment, appreciation, and relationship.

  • The Caregiver: Cares for and protects others. Nurturing, selfless, generous, compassionate and empathetic. Represents brands that are focused on personal wellness, public service, education and aid.

  • The Jester: Promotes happiness on a large, sweeping scale. Fun, humorous, playful, irreverent, rascally, cheeky, impulsive, spontaneous. Represents brands that like to have a good time and encourage their consumers to have fun too.

  • The Sage: Offers the world added insight, introspection, and wisdom. Trusted, intelligent, knowledgeable, mentor, advisor. For brands that provide practical, analytical services that help the consumer better understand a concept or idea.


Long gone are the days when businesses were marketed by fact and figure alone. Research estimates that today’s consumer makes up to 90% of all purchases subconsciously. Knowing this, we marketers must take extra care in telling comprehensive, illustrative stories which speak to the buyer’s senses, their emotional experience, showing them exactly who you are as a brand entity.

Feature primary characters built upon the universal truths of these Jungian-based archetypes and let your buyer know, in no uncertain terms, that your brand understands well, who they are, what they believe in, what they care about, and how your values align. Do this, and watch first-time-buyers become lifelong brand advocates. Do this, and see how your brand moves conversation forward.



So now, tell me, just who do you think you are?


BIO

Veronika Sprinkel was born into this world with ten fingers, ten toes, and a twinkle in her wide precocious eyes. She is the Founder of Veronika Sprinkel Ink., a Boulder-based brand storytelling and copywriting boutique. VSI clientele includes The Kitchen, Atomic20, Colorado Haiti Project, Boulderganic Magazine, Clean Eating magazine, and countless others looking to accelerate professional growth through effective narrative messaging. Veronika is a graduate of the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship’s Ideas2Action bootcamp and the Interlochen Arts Academy. She is a One World Summit Contributor and holds a donor subsidized Artist’s Membership at MCA Denver. Veronika’s blog, The World According To Veronika Sprinkel, is read widely across six continents. In spare time, Veronika works on fine art photography projects, studies old-world natural wine production, takes long, deliberate bike rides and strolls around Boulder with Pablo, her beloved, formerly-stray New Mexican rescue hound. Check out her LinkedIn profile here and her website here.

Busting the Small Business Myth: "We Don't Do That Here"

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Limited resources and size constraints often force small businesses to forgo a formal sales, marketing, or product development team.  With that comes the claim, “We don’t do that here.”  But if the company has at least one paying customer, someone has defined the product or service that someone promoted for someone to sell.  So, it is safe to proclaim that any small business DOES “do that here,” even if it is the same person that does all three and limited or sporadic effort is applied.


The issue is whether these commercial activities – sales, marketing, and product definition – are being done well enough to reach revenue and profitability goals.  The famous quote, “Nothing happens until someone sells something,” sums it up nicely.  Commercial activities that are subpar will make the life of small business owners even more challenging.  Missing revenue goals can only be addressed by revising the commercial elements of the business.


What are the fundamental commercial actions?  There are three.  First, marketing leads to compelling messaging that resonates with and attracts customers.  Second, product development is about implementing “just right” solutions that meet unmet market needs.  Third, sales brings it home by diagnosing prospective customer needs and prescribing the best solution: yours!  This even applies to businesses where such activities might not seem obvious, like a retail shop or professional services business.


Get commercial activities on track by asking three questions:

  1. Why should someone buy your product or service instead of the next best alternative?

  2. What is the most compelling way to lead people to choose your offering?

  3. How do you supply products or services that customers will consistently purchase?


Answers to these questions may uncover areas of the business that need focused improvement efforts.  The Boulder SBDC offers free business consulting, practical workshops, events and connection to resources that can help shore up commercial activities of your small business.



BIO

Erik Host-Steen is founder of SMP Alignment, a firm that helps leaders of small to mid-sized businesses grow the top line and bottom line by focusing on improving sales, marketing, and
product definition.  Erik has been selling, marketing, and developing products for 20 years and has become tri-lingual in these disciplines, proficient in all three areas and capable of translating between and across them.

 Look him up on LinkedIn or his website.

The Basics of Writing a Press Release

Friday, February 10, 2017

Writing press releases is a staple skill of public relations specialists. However, any business can utilize them if they know how to properly write and distribute them. Anyone can write a simple press release if they have the right content. Distributing press releases can be a little bit of a challenge because you need to make sure you are reaching the right target audiences, but with enough practice and know-how, press releases can significantly help your company grow.


There are a few things to keep in mind while writing a press release. First of all, your press release should include an interesting title and subtitle. Don’t just title it after the name of your company; make sure it is relevant and descriptive of the topic you are covering. The subtitle should be a short sentence clarifying your topic and relevance to your business or a newsworthy subject. It should look like something you see on a newspaper headline.


Even though you might think your company is worth a story, the media might not. In order to make your press release more appealing to journalists, it needs to be newsworthy. Newsworthy topics include new advances in technology and science, food trends, celebrities, breaking news, human interest stories and other topics you might see on the news or in newspapers. The best approach is to find a newsworthy topic to write about and simply mention your company.


You should also include quotes in your press releases. You should feature at least one internal quote from someone in your company and at least one external quote from an outside source or expert. Make sure that if the quotes mention your company, they are relevant to the topic of the press release. They should also have some substance. For example, instead of using a quote that simply comments on how well your company is doing, use a quote that compares your company’s efforts or successes to the relevant market.


Your press release should also include boilerplates. A boilerplate is a quick blurb at the end of the press release with a description of your company. This could be your mission statement or your vision or something else prefabricated from your company’s existing website. In addition to a description of your business, include contact information for yourself or someone within your company who can answer questions a journalist might have.


Distributing your press release can be the most challenging part of the process. If you are a new business, chances are you don’t have many relationships within the media. Building those relationships will be essential if you want press releases to be a significant part of your business. It will take some effort to build a good list of media contacts, but it is an obtainable goal. If you have a publication or media outlet in mind, it’s a good bet that the right person to contact will be on their website. Sending them a personalized email or phone call is a great way to start building a relationship with them.


Finding the right media outlet is also important. If you are the owner of a new restaurant, for example, it’s probably not a good idea to send your first press release to a major news channel or Forbes. Instead, try reaching out to local newspapers or search Google for local food bloggers. If your topic is newsworthy and relevant to their existing content, there is a decent chance that your press release will be used. Bloggers and local news outlets will be your best bet as a new business, but as your company grows, you can also look to larger media outlets, like bigger news stations, trade journals, magazines and more.


Writing a press release can seem like a pretty daunting task, but practice makes it easier. Distributing your press release can seem like an even bigger challenge, but as you build better relationships with the media and network more, chances of your press release being used will increase.


Top 5 Things NOT to do When Investing in a Franchise

Thursday, February 02, 2017
As a franchise broker, I have heard a lot of horror stories about franchise disasters. In no particular order, these tend to be the common denominators.

1. Fall in love with a business that you’ve been to – and decide to buy one.

A lot of people suffer from “love at first sight” by falling in love with a business that they’ve visited, and then they find out it’s a franchise. This is often the first franchise they’ve researched (and by research I mean they’ve eaten/shopped there), and think it would be great in their town.

Falling in love with a business you’ve visited or heard about can cause a very costly mistake by investing in the wrong franchise for your future. There is confusion between a great business model, and the RIGHT business model for you – based on your strengths and lifestyle objectives, background and a host of other factors.

If you have a franchise concept in mind, that’s OK – and a great place to start.  Then as you are evaluating it, think about what it would be like to be an owner of that business – do you have the skills and background of the typical owners?  Does that business offer a quality of life that is attractive to you?  Is it in your budget? 

The bottom line is that going about franchise selection this way is somewhat backwards.  Instead, speaking to a professional consultant who can guide you towards concepts based on your strengths and goals (not to mention being in your investment range) is a more logical approach.

2. Making a hasty decision without enough validation 

Franchise validation is one of the key methods used to evaluate franchise options.

During validation, you contact current franchise owners (the franchisees) and/or if possible, meet with some of them in person, to ask as many questions as possible. You will want to ask questions that will provide clarity as to what you should expect as a franchisee.

Some good topics to start with (after the basics of how long have you been open, etc.) would be:
  • What is the level of on-going training and support that is provided?
  • Are the marketing, advertising and promotional programs effective?
  • What was your total investment - was it more or less than you expected and why?
  • How do you generate business (or leads)?
  • What do you do on a daily basis?
Then you can move on to the financial questions you really want to know, by asking permission to ask some money questions:
  • How long did it take before you were cash flowing on a monthly basis?
  • How long did it take for you to pull out a salary?
  • May I ask what your net profits were last year?
These questions will get you to a better understanding of the positive side of the business, but don’t forget to ask about the negative parts of the business too. It’s always better to be prepared, and to remember that no business is perfect – what are the things you won’t like about this one.

3. When the perfect opportunity is staring you in the face – stall and do nothing

Fear can make the perfect opportunity slip away if you don’t act on it. Fear can sometimes get in the way of making a decision or taking action even after you’ve done your research.

At the end of the day, it comes down to trusting your instincts. You put yourself on this path (to becoming your own boss) for a reason. Ask yourself, if I do nothing – will my situation improve a year from now? There’s never a perfect time to start a business, but maybe this is the time for you to take a leap of faith and go for it.

4. Cut corners, and save some money by not engaging professional help

People tend to make this mistake for many reasons. They might be feeling too strapped to outlay the additional cash required to hire a professional accountant or a lawyer - or they don’t feel the need. However, it is crucial that you hire a CPA/Accountant (preferably with a lot of franchise experience and clients) who can help you evaluate income projections – based on what you’ve heard in validation, as well as in the disclosure document, and help you develop the numbers side of your business plan.

Similarly, a good franchise attorney (not your uncle Bob who drafts wills) will interpret the agreement you’re about to sign, and point out any red flags that you may want to try and get modified before you move forward.

So while working on your finances and figuring out the type of investment required, budget funds to hire professionals who will help you review the necessary documents to avoid making the worst mistake of your life. 

5. Fail to have appropriate capitalization

This common mistake can stem from not properly researching concepts or speaking with professionals to determine the true start-up costs and what is required to open a franchise or business. And because of this, one of two things can happen. Either people go in being inadequately capitalized or they end up with too many resources by borrowing or raising large sums of money that are not actually required.

If you begin under resourced, it could result in you not adequately marketing your business, resulting in a tepid launch – or worse.  Then down the road you could run through your working capital, before the business has had a chance to ramp up or cash flow. This can cause panic as you try to raise money in a hurry – never at favorable rates.

On the other hand, if you end up raising a lot more than what is required you might have extra money that is not needed to begin with. With borrowed money, you can end up paying more interest than was needed.

BIO

Previously with a large Wall Street firm, Jane Stein was a Certified Financial Planner for over 25 years, and provided comprehensive wealth management solutions for a large base of families – representing over 250 million in assets. She wrote an investment column, and established a program called “Money Matters for Women”, in an effort to empower women to take charge of their investments. Now she helps men and women achieve financial security through business ownership, which is far more empowering.  With her financial background, she is uniquely qualified to guide you through the process to identify and evaluate the right business model, and then later can help you secure funding to open your business. Jane Stein is the founder of Your Franchise is Waiting, a consultancy firm for men and women exploring franchising as an alternative career path.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/franchisehelp

Why Infographics are an Excellent Marketing Tool

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Infographics are a great marketing tool that every business can utilize. They break down complicated data into simpler, easy to understand visuals. People love to look at them and love to share them, which provides your business with more referral traffic.


In this day and age, social media is a popular and useful marketing tool. Unfortunately, wordy posts often get passed over in favor of photos or videos, which are more fun and interactive. If you want your consumers to see any data or ideas that you might have, but aren’t sure what photos to share or you don’t have time to make a video, infographics are a great option. They are easily shareable on all social media platforms and tend to spread the word a little faster than wordy posts.


Infographics can be challenging to make, which is why some businesses often hire graphic designers to make them. However, small businesses sometimes don’t have the budget to hire someone solely for the creation of visual marketing materials. Luckily, there are a few resources that you can use to make them yourself. Here’s a list:


  1. Adobe Illustrator: Illustrator is commonly used in the world of graphic design. Adobe is a universally recognized brand in the business world and learning how to use it can be very beneficial. That being said, it is a little bit complicated to use and it might not be the best option if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands. However, it is a great option if you want to get serious about graphic design.

  2. Google Developers: Google is another very familiar brand. This app is free and works with the cloud like any other Google app. It’s also pretty simple to use. They have a variety of templates for you to choose from and extensive options so your chart matches your website.

  3. Infogr.am: Infogr.am is another web app. It lets you upload your own images and videos and also offers a wide variety of templates for charts, graphs, and maps. This one is great if you have experience with Excel, since it uses the same format to upload data and create your charts.

  4. Easel.ly: Easel.ly has an expansive selection of fun templates to help you create your infographic. It’s super simple to use and doesn’t take a lot of time to figure out. There are plenty of options with the free version, but you can go pro for only $3 a month if you want more.


Infographics are a fun and useful piece of any business’s marketing plan. Just make sure the information you use to make it is relevant and accurate. Most importantly, make sure it reflects the goals and brand of your business.


Government Grants: A Source of Funding to Move Forward with your Technology

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs can be a great way to fund technology development without giving up equity in your company or taking on debt. These programs serve as a great source of non-dilutive capital for your business.

These are three-phase programs where your company can identify and service government needs to fund development of technology you can then move into a broader market. Phase I is a proof-of-concept phase where you can test the scientific, technical, and commercial merit and feasibility of a concept that lasts roughly six months. Award of a Phase II grant depends on your success with Phase I. This is a two-year prototype phase where you mature your technology to the point you can pursue non-SBIR revenue. Phase III is the capture of this non-SBIR revenue. This revenue can in the form of B2B or B2C sales, or can consist of follow-on government contracts to deploy the technology.

Funding is available from most of the major government agencies. The key is determining research of interest to one or more government agencies from the published research topics that aligns with your company’s goals and core competencies. It is important to realize that more than one agency could have an interest in your technology. For example, a device that is of interest to NASA might also be of interest to the DoD for the Air Force.

Keeping in mind that the goal is commercialization, you will need a short commercialization plan for your Phase I proposal, and then a more detailed plan for Phase II. For best results from start to finish, it is best if you have the technology roadmap and market introduction thought through at the onset. Presenting a comprehensive, well-considered plan at Phase I that remains consistent into Phase II and can be executed to achieve Phase III revenue increases your chances for success, both in winning an SBIR award and in actually bringing your technology to market.

As part of rating your proposal, your commercialization plan will be rated on your knowledge of the market, not just your technology. Being able to clearly elucidate your target market, its size, forecasted growth, market drivers, and barriers to entry, as well as including a competitive analysis demonstrate you’ve done sufficient market research. Giving consideration to required regulatory approvals, channels strategies, and partnering opportunities lend credibility to your ability to realize revenue by commercializing your technology.

To add a cautionary observation, from start to finish, Phase I through Phase II to achieving Phase III revenue can be a three-year process. If your window of opportunity for your technology in your target market is shorter, then SBIR funds can supplement other sources of funding, but the prolonged timeline precludes you from relying solely on SBIR / STTR funding.

To end on a high note, many companies have successfully leveraged SBIR / STTR funding to develop and advance a technology and achieve commercial success. Developing a well-considered commercialization plan with measurable milestones and tracking to it are good business practices in general, but will certainly serve you well for success within the SBIR and STTR programs.

BIO

Ed Kase has been focused in strategic marketing and business development for more than 20 years, helping companies understand market conditions and implement go-to-market strategies. His expertise includes commercialization of government-funded technologies, with particular focus on the SBIR program. Technologies include software, medical devices, scientific instrumentation, aerospace systems, and pharmaceutical technologies. 

Tips for Improving Efficiency in the New Year

Friday, December 16, 2016

With the New Year approaching, it is important not only to come up with resolutions for yourself, but also for your business. Efficiency is on the minds of many entrepreneurs this year. Not only will new efficiency and productivity measures make running your business slightly less stressful, but they might increase profitability for you as well. While coming up with fiscal goals for your businesses, consider these tips for improving efficiency.


1. Get rid of inefficient employees

Bad employees could be restricting efficiency for your business. Not only are they themselves inefficient, but they could potentially impact your other employees by promoting poor work habits. Whether they’re not showing up, slacking off or just not doing their job right, it might be time to relieve your business of that burden.


2. Rethink your hiring process

Maybe you’ve had a pattern of bad employees or maybe you’ve seen high turnover rates of employees in your business. That might be because your hiring process needs to be revamped. If you want the best people working for you, you need to conduct thorough interviews to make sure they are the best. You could also revise your employment application to make sure you are asking the right questions from the beginning. Maybe you need to conduct more interviews or look more into potential employees backgrounds. Whatever your specific employment process problems may be revisiting your strategies could help you hire better employees and create a more efficient business.


3. Shorten your payment period for clients

If you give your clients a months long payment period, your business could be suffering. Giving your clients lots of slack with payments might improve your relationship with them slightly, but chances are it hurts your business financially. Your clients rely on you for quality products or services and you rely on your clients to pay you in a dependable manner. It might be time to shorten the deadline you give your clients to pay you so that you can handle your own financials in a timely manner.


4. Look into cost cutting measures

Look at last year’s financials and see if there is anything you can do to cut costs. Maybe you can try to go paperless and save on office supplies or get rid of other unnecessary purchases. Whatever you do to cut costs, make sure nothing you get rid of is vital for employee morale or client satisfaction. Hurting those relationships could hurt your efficiency in the long run.


5. Buy better equipment

With a new year comes new technology, including better equipment for businesses. If your computer systems are slow, it might be time to invest in some new software or hardware. If your machinery just isn’t working like it used to, it’s probably time to buy some new equipment. You can also look into task management apps and productivity monitors to make sure your staff is on track and on budget. Any product you purchase to help your business’s efficiency is money well spent.


6. Analyze your marketing efforts

Collect all of last year’s marketing materials and data and analyze it to see what you can do better. Look at the evaluation of your campaigns and projects to make sure they reached their goals. If you are looking to implement similar projects in the upcoming year, maybe those goals need to be readjusted. Or maybe your efforts weren’t efficient at all and you need to come up with new ideas. Figuring out what worked and what didn’t can help you plan for a more successful year for your marketing


7. Dust off your business plan

Whether you’re just starting out in the industry or you’ve been in business for a while, your business plan generally has room for improvement. It is especially important to reevaluate your goals if your company has expanded or shrunk in the last year. Revitalizing your business plan will mobilize your staff and encourage your employees and yourself to do the best you can to achieve your goals for the upcoming year.

 

If you are one of the millions of businesses in the United States looking to improve efficiency for your business in the next year, these tips are a good place to start. It might benefit you to get some one-on-one help from an expert as well (especially when it comes to taxes and cutting costs). Whatever you do to improve your business, good luck and have a happy New Year!

 


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