How to work from home and not lose your mind

How to work from home and not lose your mind

Dominique Ellis

A while back, we had a guest post from Sarah Becker Llillard on how to work from home and stay productive. Recently I’ve started working from home as well and have had to come up with a few additional rules to keep myself from turning into an isolated zombie everyday (it’s happened before). Here’s what I’ve come up with thus far.

Get Dressed. Duh.

Dominique EllisIf this doesn’t top any how-to-work-from-home list of rules then they’re doing it wrong. If you don’t want to feel like a non-human by 3pm everyday you simply have to get up, shower and get dressed like you’re going to an actual office. It’ll get your brain in ready-mode for the day and you won’t hate yourself when you look in the mirror at lunchtime.

.Trick Yourself

Dominique EllisThe first rule is a great one but it can be hard to adhere to when all you want to do is move from bed to the desk in your comfy PJs. So to avoid this trap I trick myself. I’ve stopped stocking coffee in my house (pause for dramatic effect). Let me stipulate that it is impossible for me to start my day without coffee. So every morning I have to get up and get dressed, enough to look acceptable in front of strangers, and walk to the coffee house up the road. This way I’m ready for the day, I have my sweet caffeine in hand and my dogs get their morning outing. Win Win Win.

Mark Your Territory

Dominique EllisI live and work in a studio. Granted it’s a bit larger than your average studio but at the end of the day I’m sleeping, working, eating and anything-ing in the same room. To keep it from feeling like the walls are closing in on me I have strict rules about what happens where in my space. Rule 1: The bed (made every morning, no exceptions) is only for sleeping. I never sit on it to do work or anything during the day. Otherwise the urge to take a cat nap is far too great. Rule 2: My work desk is just that – only for work. No internet surfing or online shopping allowed when I’m seated there. Rule 3: The couch is off limits until 5pm. You get the idea. Basically, I recommend marking each spaces’ usage clearly and stick to it. This way you won’t feel like your daily housekeeping chores and work are bleeding together.

Have Dedicated “Out Of Office” Hours

Dominique EllisIf you work from home, and especially if you work for yourself, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the time-is-money mantra. Every second you’re not working could be money lost. It’s important to give your mind and body a break though. Believe me, working and living in the same space makes this all the more needed. Dedicate an hour each day (or whatever time you can) for non-work tasks like taking out the trash or cleaning the kitchen. Also, I highly recommend taking a whole day off each week. A novel idea, I know, but many entrepreneurs do not do this for themselves and it’s so important. You need a day with  no work, no emails, no extra curricular activities. Just sleep in. Read. Cook. Get day drunk over brunch. It’s your day off – live it up! Your brain will be refreshed and ready to dive back into work the following day.

Make Working After Hours Tolerable

Dominique EllisFor freelancers and those who are self-empolyed the notion of a 9-5 workday is laughable. Late nights and weird schedules are the norm. Since the distance between where I work during the day and where I pull late night shifts is literally 5 feet I like to make my evening work hours more enjoyable and relaxed. Grab your laptop and a drink and move to the couch (it’s after 5pm after all). Put something on the TV that’s calming and entertaining but won’t take your full attention to enjoy. I recommend the BBC’s Planet Earth series (currently on Netflix!). The narrator’s voice is incredibly smoothing, it’s educational, and most of all, gorgeously shot. Looking up from that excel sheet will be a treat and you’ll feel less like you’re working yourself to death. (The Seasonal Forests episode is the best because of the ducks. Just trust me on this one.)

 

 This post originally appeared on A-Little-Happy.com, a website I founded that served as a site to inspire creatives & entrepreneurs to obtain a better work-life balance. The site garnered over 78,000 views. It has since been discontinued. 
Tips for Working from the Road

Tips for Working from the Road

Digital Camera

Let’s face it, sometimes you have to take the show on the road. The good news is that as more and more business can be done remotely there’s no reason you can’t turn that work trip into an enjoyable, advantageous excursion that’ll feed your bottom line and your soul.

So how can you schedule meetings, oversee an all day photo shoot, get through your emails, make boutique calls for clients and still actually explore your destination? The trick is to balance the work/fun ratio. Tiffany Napper and I complied some of the best working-from-the-road advice we’ve heard for you below. Get ready to hit the road!


Be open. The joy of working while traveling is the possibility of meeting new people, discovering new ideas, and keeping your creative juices flowing. Strike up a friendly conversation with the person next to you. Walk an extra block and take in the scenery. Do whatever you can to find a balance between getting the job done and enjoying the freedom that comes from working on the road.

Be disciplined. Adhere to your same working hours as much as possible, and if you change time zones, turn on an email disclaimer alerting your customers, clients and coworkers that you might not be available during normal hours due to travel. Also, if you have standing conference calls in place, make sure you set alerts on your phone, and update them according to your new time zone.

Nashville & Birmingham Travel Guide | Dominique Ellis

Plan ahead. You will need to spend a little time looking for the perfect temporary office. Winging it can result in a location not conducive to work. We prefer a local coffee shop, and suggest using Yelp to vet the ones that are close by. Obviously, tables and chairs are mandatory, as is Wi-Fi. Check the reviews for tips on internet strength. No bars means no work done. Also, don’t forget to tip your barista well, so they aren’t annoyed when you are there for a few hours.

Reach out. Before heading to a new location we like to do some research on the local movers and shakers. Track down some like-minded folks through a quick blogger, LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram search. Then, send them an invite to meet for coffee or a drink. At the most, you’ll meet a future colloborator and expand your network of contacts. At the least, you’ll get suggestions on what to eat, see, hear and do from a local.

*A cautionary note on this one: use your good judgement and be safe. Meet in public places and keep the drinks to a minimum. When in doubt, use the buddy system. 

Have a Plan B. Even though you planned ahead sometimes things just don’t go as you intended. You arrive to the well-researched coffee shop only to find it is blaring heavy metal music or there are no available chairs or tables. If you don’t prepare a back-up plan, this could cause a negative kneejerk reaction and derail your whole day. Instead, wake up 15minutes earlier than usual, develop a Plan A and a Plan B, take a deep breath and hit the road. That’s when you’ll find the magic of working on the go.

 Nashville & Birmingham Travel Guide | Dominique Ellis

Schedule in a day of fun. It’s easy to get bogged down with deadlines and the stress that comes with travel. Make sure you give yourself permission to take a day (or at least an afternoon) where every minute isn’t scheduled out. People watch. Write in your journal. Go on a quick walking tour. Research some local history. Or, in our case, head to a whiskey tasting. It’s important to take a breath and enjoy your surroundings. This is what travel is all about after all!

Nashville & Birmingham Travel Guide | Dominique Ellis

Other no-brainer tips: 

  • Don’t forget your chargers, and maybe even a mini surge protector. It’s a great way to make friends at a coffee shop when you both need an outlet but there’s only one to spare.
  • Invest in a nice laptop and a sleeve to protect it from the wear and tear that comes with traveling.
  • Set up a hot spot on your phone, for those emergency wifi situations.
  • Travel with a pair of headphones. You won’t be able to take that conference call or get into a zone nearly as easily in a public space without them.

 

This post originally appeared on A-Little-Happy.com, a website I founded that served as a site to inspire creatives & entrepreneurs to obtain a better work-life balance. The site garnered over 78,000 views. It has since been discontinued. 

*photos courtesy of Dominique Ellis and  Jennifer Kay.

ASK AN ENTREPRENEUR: The Spark

ASK AN ENTREPRENEUR: The Spark

Welcome to the first installment of our newest series – Ask An Entrepreneur. We’ve polled an assortment of our favorite lady treps to discover what inspires them, what keeps them going, and the ups and downs of being your own boss. The goal of this series is to help budding entrepreneurs strike out on their own and to provide a place to share their stories and words of encouragement. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below!

Ask-A-Trep

When did you realize you wanted to go into business for yourself? What sparked that initial decision?

I realized I wanted to be in business for myself when I got real honest about being a bad employee in the 9-5 world. My “hobby” of teaching and performing comedy started to become more and more of my focus and was the thing that inspired me. Weighing the options of Take A Risk And Do What You Love or Be Kinda Miserable Working For Someone Else was an easy choice after a while, happiness feels much better.

Tami Nelson, co-founder of The New Movement Theater

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When I saw the freelancers invoices – they were doing the same job as me and getting paid what I would earn in 3 months for a 2 week job. That was the catalyst! I think that’s probably very specific to my industry though. The idea being that you would earn your stripes in-house and then strike out on your own if/when you were ready.

Jo Coombes, freelancer with RED Diary Service


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In college I worked for a small business (a husband-and-wife wedding photography team where I learned everything I know about photography!) but never imagined I would go out on my own. It seemed too difficult – too many moving parts and pieces to always be on top of. So when my husband and I moved to New Orleans, I “went corporate” and only lasted four months. I was astounded at how miserable I was in a cubicle, working the same hours every day, butting heads with the same coworkers, and feeling like I wasn’t getting anywhere or accomplishing anything. I took a long Christmas vacation at the end of those four months and I started panicking when I thought about going back. I decided 21 was too young to be this miserable, so I went back and turned in my two weeks notice and officially launched Sarah Becker Photography here in New Orleans in January 2013!

Sarah Becker Lillard of Sarah Becker Photography

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I don’t like taking orders from other people. I feel the need to be in control, but not of a group of people…just in control of my ideas and how they come to fruition. I also need to work on my own schedule. My productivity is at it’s highest when I am not forced to produce.

Amanda de Leon of Amanda de Leon Clothing

I realized I wanted to go into business for myself when there was no one in the industry I wanted to work for.  There wasn’t a design aesthetic that matched mine, so I figured I’d go for it!

Kim Starr Wise, owner of Kim Starr Wise Florals


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I had a vision in mind for a certain type of business, and when I realized it didn’t exist I knew I’d have to go into business for myself if I wanted to see it come to fruition. After a lot of planning and strategizing, the final push came when I was in a job that was not the right fit and I was miserable every day. I recognized that the situation wasn’t really changing at all, so I could either stay and things would remain the same or I could jump and everything would change.

Hattie Moll, owner of Hattie Sparks Boutique

I knew in college that I eventually wanted to go into business for myself, but I didn’t know what industry. I initially began Culture Shock as a blog, and used it as a tool for me to educate people about other cultures, but it slowly turned into a business.

Christine Alexis, founder of Culture Shock LLC

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I always wanted to work as a creative, but I never really knew what that meant or how to go about it. After college went into the “right path” got a “real” 9-5 (8-10) and a nice little house with a yard. It seemed like it was what I was supposed to do. But after a while I realized that wasn’t what I was looking for. My partner John also was feeling the same. So we decided to change our lives. We sold everything we had. Moved to a small apartment, saved up every extra dollar and set off. We ended up backpacking and sailing across the southern Caribbean from Grenada to Colombia over the next year. During that time we designed and developed a blog where we started sharing our story and our designs. It caught on and by the time we were in Colombia we were freelance designers. At which point we decided to change our lives again, moved back to the U.S. and officially incorporated Hop & Jaunt, our creative design agency. It’s been just about 5yrs now and we’re still growing and learning and following the path that seems right to us.

Aly Kilday, Co-founder of Hop & Jaunt

This post originally appeared on A-Little-Happy.com, a website I founded that served as a site to inspire creatives & entrepreneurs to obtain a better work-life balance. The site garnered over 78,000 views. It has since been discontinued. 
 

Marketing Tips From Sherlock Holmes

20080314_sherlock_holmesHere at ALH we aim to not only feature New Orleans’s most creative women but to help budding entrepreneurs make a successful go of it with tips and lessons learned along the way. Which brings me to this confession: I’m obsessed with Sherlock Holmes. Not only was I a very young devotee of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, I, like most red blooded women, pretty much lose it over Benedict Cumberbatch in the latest rendition of the deductive reasoning sleuth (for the record, this pretty much sums up my feelings on him).

Sherlock’s tales hold a special place in my heart as I grew up listening to his and Watson’s adventures on long car rides from wherever we were living at the time to New Orleans, our home base. Dad would rent a new Sherlock book on tape from the local library and we’d stare out the window as the good doctor counseled his genius, albeit odd ball, friend.

As luck would have it I’ve learned a few things from the world’s most famous detective that translate quite well into my daily tasks as an entrepreneur working in marketing and social media. Here’s 3 lessons in marketing from Holmes himself that anyone can apply:

1) The most obvious answer is usually wrong.

There’s something to be said for asking the right questions. Assuming you know what your target audience wants, thinks or likes based off of a quick glance at your social media analytics is probably a bad idea. Dig deeper. Ask why. See if there’s something you’re not taking into account. They may like your product/service, but are they using it as it was intended? Often consumers are your best brainstormers. Find out what they’re utilizing your product or service for most and tailor your message to suit their needs.

2) Good listeners are hard to come by, but boy are they valuable.

Sherlock once told his dear friend, “You have a grand gift for silence, Watson. It makes you quite invaluable as a companion.”

When crafting a new marketing plan or pitch there are a lot of components to consider – message, timeline, mediums, custom content, data gathering – the list never ends. A listener is a great asset to a marketing director and one shouldn’t underestimate the value of a good “talk it out” session.  Crafting the plan of action in your head is useful, but I find if you sit down and verbally run through the whole plan, step-by-step, with a willing sounding board you find loopholes and issues you didn’t originally see. Then you can head potential problems off before they occur. Sherlock had Watson. You have someone who will suffice – a co-worker, spouse, friend, dog maybe? Just make sure you buy them a drink or two as thanks for sitting through your pitch.

3) The story isn’t over until you say it is.

In every Sherlock tale there’s a moment at the end where, after off-the-wall comments and weird analytical questions, Holmes calmly and carefully explains the whole mystery to everyone as they wait with baited breath. When running a marketing campaign, the same thing holds true. You need to run through everything publicly when it’s all said and done. If you don’t post a recap and toot your own horn, no one knows when to applaud your brilliance. A campaign is only as good as the story you can tell at the end. Don’t be afraid to broadcast your own successes and accolades. Post, humbly pat yourself on the back, and move on to the next big idea.

 This post originally appeared on A-Little-Happy.com, a website I founded that served as a site to inspire creatives & entrepreneurs to obtain a better work-life balance. The site garnered over 78,000 views. It has since been discontinued. 
Southern Manners and Social Media

Southern Manners and Social Media

Southern Manners & Social Media

At the last Creative Collaborative meet-up I had a chat with a few lady entrepreneurs about how to utilize social media to improve your marketing while maintaining a personal touch. Being from the South, it’s important to me to ensure that everyone feels  like they’re getting the friends and family treatment.

How’s it done? Listen to your good Southern mother and grandmother and apply their time-honored manners to your business model. Here’s the cheat sheet of good Southern manners for business.

 1) Don’t forget to write Thank Yous

When I was little I was taught the proper etiquette of writing Thank You cards. Simple and sweet, they serve a higher purpose. In life as in business, people just want to be validated for their efforts. Thank you cards serve this purpose and they keep you on prevalent in the recipient’s minds. I always recommend writing Thank You cards for the big stuff – event invites, donations, post business lunch follow-ups, etc. –  but in some cases, a simple digital thank you is also helpful. If I have a client who recommended me to someone, I make sure I mention them in a tweet or Facebook post that helps boost their business’s profile. Social media Thank Yous can get you pretty far. I’ve booked two new clients from them seeing my Thank Yous to others.

2) RSVPing is mandatory

In the South, if you receive a formal invitation requesting you RSVP with your intention to attend or with your regrets NOTHING is ruder than ignoring that request. My great grandmother once scolded me for failing to do so to a family function. “If you don’t acknowledge an invitation, whether you plan to attend or not, people will eventually stop inviting you,” she’d say. Boy, was she right.

Facebook and Twitter event invitations are easy to send and therefore it seems like you can sometimes be inundated with requests to attend networking functions, parties and meetings. Even if you cannot attend it’s important to send your regrets. Post a comment on the Facebook invite wall that you will make the next one. Make yourself heard. Expressing your gratitude for being invited, even if you can’t attend, keeps you fresh in that host’s mind. With any luck, they’ll come back to you later.

3) First impressions are everything

We all know the joke about Southern women being afraid to leave the house without make-up on. I’m here to tell you it’s still a prevalent philosophy of many a Southern belle. As my mother once explained it to me “I feel better when I look better. I’m ready for the day and for anything that comes my way.”

Social media allows for us all to be introduced without actually meeting in person. Between your website, LinkedIn account, Twitter profile and Facebook page, you and your company are being examined and judged at all times, by everyone. As a social media manager for a number of clients I am constantly evaluating my online appearance. I wouldn’t want to be caught recommending certain practices to clients that I’m not visibly doing myself. Making sure you’re online persona is presentable is essential to doing business in today’s marketplace.

4) Mind your Ps and Qs

Just because you’re limited to 140 characters in your tweets does not mean that proper grammar, punctuation and spelling go out the window. Sure, abbreviations for texting and tweeting have become standard practice nowadays. That does not however excuse messages such as this monstrosity –  “hey there wut u up to this sat I have some ideas want to run by u”

This is simply not business appropriate. 140 characters or not, if you can’t take the time to properly craft a message to a client or business partner you’ll find they’ll be hard pressed to take the time to work with you.

5) Everyone is deserving of being your friend.

Social media is about people. While Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Pinterest can be useful for B2B and B2C communications, at the end of the day it’s more about P2P, – People to People – relations. I do the bulk of my initial outreach for all my business ventures through Twitter and when I do I don’t send potential clients and business partners a stuffy, boring tweet.

As my mother says, be nice to everyone as if you’re already their friend. My tweets start off with “Hi hon!”, “Hiya love!”, and “Morning sir!”. Familiar it may be, but social media is not meant to be corporate sounding. Have fun with it! Once you have the connection made, take it off the social airwaves and on to email or the phone.

Bayou Cribs: In shared workspace Beta, design fuels creativity

Bayou Cribs: In shared workspace Beta, design fuels creativity

*This article originally appeared on Silicon Bayou News.

 

Beta |Shared Workspace |Dominique Ellis |Silicon Bayou NewsWhen it comes to shared workspaces, should form follow function? Or can design and form actually fuel innovation and creativity? That question is being answered right here in downtown New Orleans, on the second floor of the Maritime Building.

Beta, which is owned and operated by local architecture and development firm Wisznia, boasts swanky design tailored to the needs of the “modern professional”. The space, with its amazing sun drenched views of Carondolet Street, offers 20 workstations and 8 semi-private offices. It has all the amenities you might expect from a shared office space – a kitchen, boardroom, printing station, Wi-Fi, and common seating area. Keeping the lifestyle of the entrepreneur in mind, Wisznia also added some additional perks for residents which include full access to the building’s gym, sauna, and pool as well as discounts on coffee and lunch at Merchant, a luxury café on the ground floor of the building which has become a networking hotspot for the young business class of New Orleans.

What sets beta apart however, is their design conscious, work-and-let-work approach to their tenants. By simply building a sleek and conducive space, beta’s managers have found that they’ve attracted a junior level of entrepreneurs and businesses – professionals who have an established brand and know how to market  and manage it but are still not large enough to justify renting an entire office.

“The space is named beta because it’s just that – a project in its beta stage,” explains Chris Brancato, Wisznia’s Director of Special Projects. “What started as a development problem for us was solved through architecture and design and we’ve ended up attracting a highly creative class of residents.

Many of the space’s residents say beta’s design was what initially attracted them to rent an office.

“It’s a different vibe here from other shared offices I’ve looked into. In other spaces I felt like you had to join a community to be part of the space and I felt like I had people looking over my shoulder all the time. I like the privacy here and the clean professional space,” says Laurie Dickson of Noble Mouse, a digital ad agency that is the most recent addition to beta.

“Because our main offices are in LA, we often have studio exec types come in and they want to see a clean, modern work space. We have that here. The rooftop conference room and amenities are impressive to my clients. After all, you don’t want to look like a start-up even if you are one and beta gives us a professional looking edge,” says Dickson.

Beta offers a design-forward common area for tenants.
Beta offers a design-forward common area for tenants.

Another tenant, Robert Lewis, suggested setting up the first U.S. offices of Madrid-based tour bus company, Bus Vision, in beta to his executives and they were immediately on board.

“The space is very conducive to our work and allows us to be centrally located in the city,” says Lewis. “Our CEOs come to visit from Spain and love the eye catching appeal of the space.”

Brancato says that initially their main focus was on the nuts and bolts of the space itself rather than creating a community. The result has been an interesting turn in the evolution of beta. Tenants can have privacy if they want it, but the space also lends itself to continuous collaboration if that’s what residents are seeking.

In just under a year since opening, beta is now at 70% occupancy and has attracted a different blend of professionals and businesses. At beta, the space has allowed the tenants to drive their own inter-office community and this self-created free flow of ideas has given birth to some amazing partnerships.

“Through having our office here we’ve developed relationships with numerous vendors, partners and sponsors for New Orleans Fashion Week,” says Lauren Lagarde, the Public Relations Advisor to the New Orleans Fashion Council. As one of the original tenants, the NOFC has utilized the space in multiple ways.

“Beta is perfect for us because we have a large team at times,” says Lagarde. At the height of Fashion Week, the NOFC held seminars for bloggers and had interns operating out of shared workspaces. When business is quieter they manage the council out of a private office that seats three.

Additionally, one of the unexpected benefits of beta has been the reverse inspiration it has fueled for Wisznia.

“There are so many amazing start-ups and innovators in the space now,” says Brancato, who notes that Wisznia has enjoyed tapping this resource as the space has grown. “We have ended up doing business with many of them.”

Utilizing the close proximity to the creatives in the space, Wisznia has partnered with beta tenants to work on press outreach, social media, and wireless solutions for their many buildings.

Lauren Lagarde enjoys the customized office space she shares with the NOFC team.
Lauren Lagarde enjoys the customized office space she shares with the NOFC team.

Beta has even worked with one of its long time tenants, Apptitude, to develop its own app for iPhone and iPad. The app allows tenants to connect with each other and easily facilitates partnership abilities between companies. The NOFC even partnered with Apptitude to build out a special portion of the app to allow bloggers to easily access all their info during Fashion Week.

The app also serves as the office administrator, allowing tenants to book the conference room remotely or a workstation for a day, access printing and wireless info, and connect with Wisznia directly.

“I love having my company based in beta,” says Apptitude’s founder Chris Boyd. “Through developing this app for the space I’ve gotten to work with so many smart, savvy, talented people.  I love the view, the ambiance. And I have access to lots of people in areas of expertise that complement my own.”

Beta is accepting new tenants daily. You can check out their website www.betaneworleans.com for more info and to request a tour of the space.

Help Me Help You: A Digital Marketer’s Plea

*This post originally appeared on Talent Zoo’s Beneah The Brand blog.

 

It’s one of the great scenes in Jerry Maguire. We all know it. Jerry is standing there in the locker room, at his wits’ end, begging a towel-clad football player to please for the love of God just give him something to work with.

It’s not uncommon for marketers, especially those working in digital marketing, to find themselves in a similar situation. A client wants something up: a Facebook Page, a website, that promotion they’re launching on Twitter, etc. NOW.

“I need this like yesterday,” they say to you. And being the speedy workaholic that you are, you clear your schedule to make it happen. The problem is that the project can’t be completed until all content and collateral has been finalized and reviewed by that same pushy client (or simply just sent to you).

And herein lies the problem. They want it now. They think that building out a promotion on a Facebook page takes mere minutes, so despite your better judgment, you say “Okay.” Then, you get bupkis. No copy approved, no images agreed upon, no idea of what you’re supposed to do next. It’s enough to leave you standing there waving your arms and screaming that phrase we’ve all come to know too well. “Help me, Help YOU!”

The thing is, it’s only natural. Social media and marketing these days happens at lightening speeds and small businesses, which many new digital marketing clients are, are notorious for dragging their feet when it comes to marketing. They, like us, have almost too much on their plates. And really, it’s nobody’s fault.

So how to ease both parties through this without someone ending up hanging from the proverbial thread?

The answer is simple — honesty. I’ve found that most of my clients recommend my services to others for two main reasons – I’m prompt in my response time and I’m upfront about EVERYTHING. Can I get you a Facebook page built out in two days and launch a promotion straight away? Yes, but it will be a quick and dirty and they’re going to have to be on call to approve content.

Helping a client prioritize falls under the digital marketer’s job description all too often. Sometimes the biggest service you can provide is assisting them in weighing their options. Do you want this campaign launched in two days? What’s more important to you, that it’s up fast or that it has all the bells and whistles you want?

Just because something is digital and instantaneous doesn’t mean the work behind it necessarily is. Making it clear (in a nice and professional way) that putting a rush on something also means a client may have to pitch in as well is what makes operations run smoothly. At the end of the day, people appreciate knowing what to expect from a project. Communication is the key to helping them help you help them. And that’s how great digital campaigns are created.

The #1 Way To Ruin Your Brand

*This post originally appeared on Talent Zoo’s Beneah The Brand blog.

 

It’s a fact; branding is always changing. With the consistent innovation of technology and new ways to reach a target audience, the rules are constantly evolving. Your brand is about more than fancy logos and slogans. It’s about the personality of your company. When it comes to using branding to close a new client, however, some things, like what NOT to do, remain steadfast.

The fundamentals of making a name for yourself and standing apart from the competition are simple and, one would assume, basic common sense. So it comes as no surprise that one of the biggest, all-time, don’t-even-go-there no-nos of business branding is…being unresponsive. While this may seem like common sense, the stats on how many professionals and businesses fail on the communication front aren’t pretty. With mobile-phone technology and social media, there’s no excuse for unresponsiveness.

Going to be late to a meeting? Send a text message to the other attendees. Missed an appointment? Apologize profusely in an email. Received a question from a prospect that you can’t answer right away? Shoot them a message saying you’re working on it and will be with them shortly. At the end of the day, people just want to know that they’re being heard, and with Twitter, Facebook, email, and text messages literally at your fingertips, there’s no reason they can’t get that reassurance.

An article from Entrepreneur on the “25 Common Characteristics of Successful Entrepreneurs” listed being accessible and building a solid reputation right next to each other. You can’t build a solid reputation if you’re not accessible. As the article says, “We’re living in a time when we all expect our fast-food lunch at the drive-thru window to be ready in mere minutes, our dry cleaning to be ready for pick-up on the same day, our money to be available at the cash machine, and our pizza delivered in 30 minutes or it’s free. You see the pattern developing — you must make it as easy as you can for people to do business with you, regardless of the business you operate.”

Unresponsiveness reflects badly on a brand. Time is money, and when potential clients feel that theirs is not being respected that negative image can stick in their minds forever. Just like in customer service, branding is all about making the client know you understand where they’re coming from.

As businessman extraordinaire Richard Branson has said, “Business opportunities are like buses; there’s always another one coming.” If a brand is unresponsive and leaves potential clients waiting around for a reply, they may just use that time to find someone who will answer them.

Bolster Your Brand With Gratitude

*This post originally appeared on Talent Zoo’s Beneah The Brand blog.

 

“Thank you.” It’s a simple enough term of endearment and one that companies have long sought to incorporate into their branding strategies. Thanking customers for their patronage is nothing new, but as more companies include social media into their business plans, they’re looking for smart ways to leverage the medium to keep customers happy and coming back for more.

Happy customers may be the hallmark of a well-executed brand, but reaching this goal isn’t done with just a fancy-schmancy logo or that oh so witty slogan. Branding takes work. These days everyone is buzzing about building a community online of loyal, engaged customers. In the new age of cross-channel marketing strategies and word-of-mouse campaigning (you read that right) it’s more important than ever for companies to identify their brand evangelists. You may market your brand, but it’s your customers that proliferate your message.

Let’s face it: everyone likes to feel special. When customers feel they are valued, they’re more likely to remain loyal to your brand. Loyalty-based programs do a great job of giving customers the warm fuzzies and keeping them as repeat customers, but rewarding them for their assistance in getting your message out into the world makes them feel like they’re part of the VIP group. So why not take that loyalty program one step further and make those thank-yous work for you?

Creating a loyal customer base is just half the battle. The key is to target your top customers, those who generate the most buzz about your brand, and leverage their influence on others to reach more customers. In order to do this you have to show some gratitude. It’s not enough just to send your repeat customers a token of gratitude for their patronage. Make your customers work for you.

Social media is a great platform for taking your loyalty marketing to the next level. Targeting your most influential customers with a share incentive promotion that rewards those with the highest influence over their networks can allow you reach new potential customers that your marketing efforts may not have otherwise touched.

The golden rule may be “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” but branding strategies should take that one step further. Have customers AND their social media networks do unto you. What do you have to lose? By utilizing the tools of social media and marketing technology platforms, companies can identify, target, and leverage their top evangelists, making social media more than just a place to engage with customers. With the right campaign it can become a place to gain new ones.

The Rules Of Branding

The Rules Of Branding

*This post originally appeared on Talent Zoo’s Beneah The Brand blog.

 

Branding. It’s what smart businesses do when taking their marketing to the next level is the order of the day. Whether developed in-house or through an agency, crafting a public image and personality for a company is a vital step on the road to a business’s success. But there’s more to branding than getting your message broadcasted the right way. It’s not enough to put a message out there. When crafting your brand you have to abide by the same rules instilled in us from grade school. It’s time for some class rules.

Rule 1: Listen
Branding is a two-way communication. As my father likes to say: “When in doubt, shut up and listen.” Not listening to your customers can alienate them faster than an advertising campaign gone wrong. Just like grade school, everyone wants their voice heard. By taking into account customers’ thoughts and opinions, businesses can invoke a feeling of inclusion, which in turn ups the possibility of instilling brand loyalty in the future.

Smart companies, like Domino’s, are using the process of listening to their customers as a rebranding opportunity in itself. The pizza giant, aware of their flailing corporate image, turned the tables on their brand and started engaging customers to better the brand, asking patrons to rate their service, send in pictures of the pizzas delivered to their houses, and post reviews, whether positive or negative, on their company website, Twitter, and even on a billboard in Times Square. Now that says, “We hear you!”

Another classic example is the much talked, blogged, and tweeted about Gap logo incident a few months ago. When the mega-brand tried to change their logo, their customers spoke up, voicing their overwhelming disappointment in the change. Putting their social media networks to good use, the company didn’t just listen to their audience; they engaged them and asked further questions until they got it right. The resulting dialogues ended up re-endearing the company to customers who’d they lost touch with over the years. Since then the company has been continuing their redesign and getting back to the basics of what made them great to begin with.

Rule 2: Practice Makes Perfect
You have to practice what you preach. Saying your brand is one thing and not delivering on that message is just another way to alienate your customers. It’s something to consider, especially in these hard economic times.

Can branding be effective without taking into account what customers want? Of course not. Promising one thing because it’s what customers want to hear and failing to deliver is worse than not promising anything at all. Customers feel lied to. What’s worse, if customers feel a promise has been broken, they’re more likely to take to the social media airwaves and post negatively about your company. Small businesses are more susceptible to this pratfall.

Rule 3: Patience is a Virtue
Customer loyalty doesn’t happen overnight. A shiny new ad campaign may bring in a handful of new customers, but it’s their experience with your company that keeps them coming back. Flip-flopping tactics and redesigning your image every few months confuses people more than catches their eye. Customers flock to the familiar. They like to know what they can expect from you.

The easiest example of this is Apple. People just don’t love their MacBooks and iPads. They love the brand, its design, and the language it uses when talking with their customers. They love the hip, non-corporate persona of the company instilled from day one by the now-retired Steve Jobs.

When crafting a brand, it’s important to take your time and think its implementation all the way through. Then dig in for the long haul and stick with it. Having patience and faith in your brand is paramount. After all, if you don’t feel strongly enough to stand by it, why should your customers?