Increasing visibility for your startup requires growth tactics and typically, a significant amount of time. While new companies are always looking for ways to grow quickly, in reality, it can take a significant amount of time before you see the fruits of your labor. But a quick way to grow your customer base is to tap into the reach that larger companies already have.Continue reading “How To Form Partnerships With Larger Companies When You Run A Startup”
There are a lot of great lessons you can learn in business school. It emphasizes planning and strategic decision-making. Ideally, it shows you how to take academic theories and apply them to real-world problems. But no matter how brilliant the professors or how well designed the curriculum, no school can teach you everything you need to know.
There’s a lot you’re going to have to figure out on your own, through trial and error. Some of the most important lessons you’ll ever learn about how to be successful in business (and in life, for that matter) comes from getting out there and doing it.
So, if you’re hoping that MBA will be your golden ticket to kickstarting a successful career in business, consider these all-important 25 lessons that you’ll have to learn outside the classroom.
1. How to be a better leader.
Leaders who have MBAs are no more effective and perform no better than those who don’t. According to a Harvard Business Review study of the 100 best-performing CEOs in the world, only 24 percent had MBAs.
Successful leaders must be aware of their strengths and weaknesses. They have to convey positivity and motivate those around them. These aren’t things you can discover in a classroom setting.
2. There is no single path to success.
There’s no single formula you can follow to be successful. You have to follow your own path to achieve your dreams. No one — not a teacher, a mentor or even a billionaire business leader — can tell you how to create your best future. You have to figure that out for yourself. One person’s vision can’t be duplicated and remade by someone else.
3. How to build relationships that help move you forward.
The saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is very true in business. Every successful business is built on good relationships. If you want to be successful you’ll need to master so-called soft skills like how to network and form bonds with people. That’s how you get invited to the right places and meet the right people.
4. How to be an effective communicator.
How effective you are at getting your point across can make the difference between sealing a deal and missing out on a potential opportunity. Communication fosters good working relationships and is important to a team’s morale and efficiency. Some people are just gifted communicators, while others need to work to improve their communication skills. However, this is a topic rarely covered in business school.
5. Every interaction is a negotiation.
You may learn negotiation strategies in business school, but the act of doing it in real time, in real life, is entirely different. Whenever you interact with someone in business, you’re either formally or informally negotiating something. When negotiation is done well, both parties leave satisfied and ready to do business with each other again.
6. How to establish a new business.
Business school will teach you the steps you should follow when forming a business: how to do research, come up with a plan, make a budget, choose a business structure and so on. But there’s so much else that goes into a new business that classes can’t cover. How to find capital, get people to invest in your ideas and make that all-important first sale — all of that is up to you.
7. The importance of courtesy and manners.
Most of us learned good manners from our parents as children, but how often do professors emphasize the importance of using common courtesies and etiquette when dealing with customers? Simple things like using customers’ names, being on time, delivering on promises and saying thank you will make a huge difference to your business’s success.
8. How to hire the best people.
Every entrepreneur struggles with recruiting and hiring an excellent team of people. Human resource managers have worked to refine the process, but deciding who is really going to be a good fit comes down to nuances that can’t be put into a formula.
9. How to learn from your mistakes.
One of the hardest lessons to learn in entrepreneurship is that failure is inevitable. Sometimes deals fall through. Things change, the market fluctuates, or perhaps your idea simply didn’t pan out. You still have to find a way to pick yourself up and keep moving forward. Entrepreneurs must learn to frame their failures, learn from their mistakes and improve for next time.
10. Marketing in a high-tech world.
In our highly connected digital world, technology is changing at breakneck speed, impacting the way businesses market themselves. This ever-changing scene makes it practically impossible for business schools to keep up with digital marketing trends. Entrepreneurs need to work at finding ways to stay in the loop.
11. How to relate to your customers.
Your sales approach matters just as much as what you’re selling. Academics often miss the all-important step of relating to customers. That personal connection comes from really listening to your customers.
12. Emotional intelligence is just as important as IQ.
Emotional intelligence (also known as “emotional quotient,” or EQ) was ranked sixth in the World Economic Forum’s list of the top 10 skills that employees need to thrive in the workplace. EQ refers to someone’s ability to perceive, understand and manage their own feelings and emotions. In the business world, this is often more valuable than book smarts.
13. How to be humble.
Humility keeps you grounded, even as you reach for higher and higher goals. Being humble doesn’t mean you think less of yourself; it means you’re more focused on others. This helps you become aware of your flaws. When you’re humble, you stay focused on the needs of customers and really listen to feedback and criticism.
14. You’ll have to figure some things out on the fly.
There’s no doubt that business models are important. But sometimes you just have to wing it. There will be times when you come up against an unexpected issue or problem, or a one-off opportunity. You’re going to have to figure out some things as you go. This is why the ability to think on one’s feet will always be essential to entrepreneurs.
15. How to be creative.
Coming up with original ideas and finding ways to innovate will give you a big competitive advantage. But creativity is often a process of self-discovery. It takes practice and persistence to generate creative ideas and make something great out of them. Entrepreneurs must make a continuous and conscious effort to look at the world with a curious and open mind.
16. The importance of risk taking.
An MBA can’t teach you to feel more comfortable with taking risks. Weighing opportunity versus potential failure is often personal — you must take into account so many factors beyond the business formulas you learn in school. And an MBA certainly can’t teach you what to do when you take a risk and it flops.
17. You can’t avoid office politics.
No matter how much you may hate office politics, you must pay attention to the internal workings of your business. Office politics will always be a part of business. Knowing how to deal with people effectively is a must. How we handle each other, and how we communicate with and treat one another, can either make work fun and interesting or create a never-ending cycle of problems and challenges.
18. How to outmaneuver larger competitors.
You don’t have to be a giant to win. Being a small and nimble business has its advantages. But it’s up to each entrepreneur to see the strengths and specific advantages their business can utilize to outmaneuver larger competitors. Look for ways you can offer something the bigger guys can’t without going to a head-to-head competition.
19. How to resolve conflicts.
In business, as in life, conflicts are inevitable. You’re going to have to embrace that fact and learn to deal with it. No lesson plan will cover how to forgive others, smooth over hurt feelings and find resolution you can all live with, but being able to do so is crucial to navigating the business world.
20. When to trust your instincts.
Mega-successful entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates would often prioritize their own intuition over the advice of others, or even customer feedback. Intuition is the result of your body processing the data around you. You may not be able to explain why you know something; you just sense it. That’s not to say you should always ignore what other people have to say, but sometimes you need to turn inward and trust your gut.
21. How to set goals.
So often in business, we know what we want to do but have no idea how get there. We have a business model and a mission statement, but don’t really understand what our specific goals are. Goal setting is crucial to holding yourself accountable and making sure everyone on your team is aligned and on the same page.
22. Generating ideas that will disrupt.
All entrepreneurs dream of disrupting their industry, but few ever do because it’s rare to come up with ideas that will cause sweeping change. Business school may teach you that disruption begins with defining a solution to a problem and then finding a way to add value to customers’ experience. Sounds simple, but finding a way to break with the status quo never is.
23. You’re going to need to delegate.
You can’t possibly handle every single detail of your business. In order to be successful over the long haul, you’re going to need help. You’re going to need to delegate, outsource or subcontract work when necessary. You’re going to need to learn when to seek help.
24. How to set realistic expectations.
If you promise the world to customers or clients, and then can’t fulfill those obligations, you’re going to end up with some frustrated people on your hands. To be successful, you’ll need to establish parameters, realistic timelines and deliverables. Your roadmap to success begins by creating clear, achievable expectations and then following through.
25. Real-life experience.
You can study all you want, and you can hang multiple degrees on your wall, but nothing will ever take the place of real-life experience. The only way to acquire that is by getting out there and actually doing it. Real life is full of wins and losses, failures and successes. Learning to navigate the harsh business world will teach you more than you can ever learn in a classroom.
“The success of Amazon, the death of retail.” The media continually repeats this narrative. But they’re wrong.
Independent retailers are on the rise. Independent fashion boutiques are building multimillion-dollar companies and doing it with e-commerce and fewer than three physical locations across the country. I’ve seen this up close since founding The Boutique Hub five years ago. Our digital media community for the boutique movement has more than doubled in the past year alone. Small is the new “big box,” and boutiques are cashing in on the market.
Small Business Saturday is a grassroots campaign to promote small businesses. It’s coming up this weekend, but consumer excitement for small retailers is not confined to one day of the year. The “Shop Small” movement is shaping the future of retail and not just because millennials want to do business with local, socially impactful companies. Here are the lessons that businesses of all industries and sizes can take away.
1. It’s all about the experience.
Boutiques fill a need Amazon doesn’t. Amazon is functional and useful when we know what we want. But there’s a difference between buying and shopping, and Amazon does not address the shopping experience.
Consumers care about the experience, online and off. That’s why online brands like Warby Parker are expanding to physical stores. How a product is delivered — how it makes you feel — can be more important than the product itself.
Boutiques are successful because they’re more than just stores: They’re style educators. Many consumers don’t have the time or know-how to style themselves. Fashion is fickle, and they’re scared to try a new trend — until boutiques show them how. They walk in the store to be inspired, to shop with friends, and to feel good about themselves in their clothes. Or they tune in to a live video for style tips from the comfort of their couch.
When you inspire customers, they don’t just buy your product or service — they buy the experience. They buy memories. What is the equivalent for your business? Do you sell landscaping services or a beautiful new yard? Retirement plans or financial freedom? Your online and offline experience should communicate that cohesively.
2. Social media creates community.
Social media is integral to the customer experience. Don’t build sales channels; build an online community.
Boutiques connect like-minded customers over a mutual interest in fashion using live video and Facebook groups. They incentivize customers to share their selfies with contests or discounts. Referral codes are powerful ways to encourage friend recommendations, which 92% percent of consumers believe over all forms of advertising. All of this builds community.
You don’t have to do it all — do what makes sense for your audience. If you aren’t sure what that is, ask them. Some boutiques have success with Facebook notifications or Instagram updates, while others know their customers prefer texts. Put yourself in their shoes. Amanda Halpin-Kruse is the founder of Discount Divas, a multimillion-dollar boutique with nearly 170,000 members in their Facebook group. Each day, she asks her team, “Would you be annoyed getting these notifications?” If the answer is yes, they adjust.
3. We do business with people.
Today’s customers don’t want to do business with large corporations or small businesses. They want to do business with people. They care about relational transactions and customer service, whether they’re buying food or furniture.
Many boutique owners build influence and trust through their personal brand, not just in the store. They show their real, authentic selves — not just the highlight reel — on social media. That’s what sets them apart. Their customers have a personal connection and want to buy from them.
Even large companies can mimic this approach. Whether you’re in retail or financial services, your employees are the face of your brand. Give them permission to be your ambassadors. Train them how and appreciate them — because they have the power to make or break your brand.
4. No one knows your business like you.
Great boutiques don’t just stock the bestselling clothes, they try unique brands their customers might like to discover. Don’t be afraid to take risks, try cutting-edge trends, and fail. Many boutiques even bring back “failures” when their customers are ready for the trend. When a celebrity sports a wide-brimmed hat, they may become popular in Los Angeles right away but take a year to reach the Midwest. Bottom line: Learn what your customers want and you can’t go wrong.
Laura Benson is the owner of Filly Flair Boutique, a multimillion-dollar business. Once she hit a certain point in her business, others told her that she needed a more detailed handbook and stricter boundaries. That removed the personal connection with employees, which took years to recover. “I realized I don’t want to run a business like that — no matter how big we get,” says Laura. “If something is working, don’t change it. No one knows your business like you. That doesn’t mean you don’t need mentors, but you don’t have to do things a certain way because you hit a certain size or revenue.”
It comes down to remembering your “why.” For Laura, her dream was not to send her kids to daycare daily — so she brings them to meetings. Vendors often comment on how much work that is, but she doesn’t see it that way. “That’s my life,” she says. “I don’t have to leave them with a nanny — that’s what’s important to me.”
Laura makes another important point about the relationship between personal and business life. “I’m never going to be a normal mom, and that’s OK. Be OK with where you are. Be present, whatever you’re doing. Show your kids it’s okay to work. Teaching them about your business will give them such an advantage when they grow up.”
5. When you find your tribe, don’t compete with them.
Entrepreneurship isn’t easy. You need support from others who understand you — not just your business. They might be an employee or business partner, but they might not. For Laura, it’s her three best friends. They don’t own businesses but they talk every day.
You also need those who are in the same boat, who get it. “Accountability buddies” determine your success or failure. At The Boutique Hub, we bring together business owners to share wins and strategies, seek advice and build friendships. Whether it’s through a similar group, industry organization, or Facebook community, find your tribe.
What’s really amazing about the boutique world is that it’s built on the philosophy of community over competition. There’s a real collaboration among the business owners. Many sell the same brands, but they all bring their unique personality and style to their unique customers. Their industry is growing because they’re growing together.
I also believe many of them are successful because they build their business with heart; the goal isn’t selling the business. They know their “why,” and it usually isn’t to sell the company. Whether it’s a love of fashion, teaching their kids to run a business or creating a balanced lifestyle, they do it for more than money — and that’s why they’ll continue to succeed.
Black Friday, a term that’s synonymous with the first shopping day after Thanksgiving has become nothing short of an institution. And Black Friday continues to be an important sales driver for retailers. This year retailers began “leaking” digital ads for Black Friday specials as early as November 1st to get consumers excited, and they are doing so for a good reason. According to a recent USA Today article, most sales still happen in actual stores, but online sales are quickly surpassing in-store sales with more than $1 out of every $6 spent online this holiday season, amounting to $124.1 billion.
So it’s interesting to see how Black Friday continues to evolve and embrace the digital experience – especially in the context of rapidly advancing technology that is revolutionizing the sector as a whole. After all, it is technology that has given rise to Black Friday’s online equivalent, Cyber Monday. But if we look to the future, the line between the two events will continue to blur, and the retail experience is likely to change beyond recognition for customer and retailers alike. Below are some examples of the ways this could unfold:
There will always be physical stores on our streets for those willing to brave Black Friday in search of a bargain. But with the advent of smart cities and the rise of autonomous vehicles on the horizon, traffic jams and hunting for parking spaces could soon be a thing of the past. Yet the physical presence of stores and their Black Friday deals may make it difficult for shoppers to completely transition to online shopping, resulting in a compromise— skipping the hectic parking lot madness and traffic by taking an uber to malls and stores, to lessen the craze that Black Friday brings, while still getting the in-store deals. Most likely, the future Black Friday shopper is likely to leave their car, enter the retail fray, and as they are walking past a retail store, be ‘buzzed’ by their smartphone or wearable device with a notification of an enticing sales offer, luring them to enter.
Once inside the store, our future Black Friday shopper will be identified by the in-store Wi-Fi, which also receives their buying habits, courtesy of big data. Like a digital personal shopper, the store’s app can guide customers effortlessly to their items of choice and preference. Even the stress associated with paying is removed, as ‘on-the-go’ methods and digital currencies eliminate long lines and checkouts from the process. In fact, we are already seeing the elimation of lines and checkouts with Amazon’s recent introduction of Amazon Go stores in Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle that use a mobile app to check in shoppers as their purchases are automatically charged as they leave the store.
Virtually painless purchases
For the time-poor who nonetheless enjoy the thrill of strolling the aisles, future Black Friday will pose an alternative option. Customers will be able to wear a VR headset and be transported to a virtual retail emporium. From the comfort of their own home, they will then be able to examine goods, check reviews, ask questions of the staff and chat to fellow VR shoppers. Paradise, surely? Well – maybe not for all.
The new wave of retail events
Some say that predictions of the future can be frightening, exciting, or considered pure fantasy. But the same cannot be said for digital transformation as it’s happening now. Retail stores already have it in their power to draw customers in and keep them there for longer than originally intended. And successful retail businesses have learned how the latest Wi-Fi access points and software defined networking such as SD-WAN can provide easy access to online services, without jeopardizing their own PoS and back office systems. Riverbed is also seeing many of our retail customers using SD-WAN to open up pop-up stores during the holiday season, or using end-user experience monitoring to ensure POS apps and digital services used by sales assistants or customers are working optimally.
It may be fair to say that autonomous vehicles have yet to become a common sight on our roads, but the number of smart cities grows by the day. For all the right reasons, the Internet of Things is spreading like wildfire across our world, reaching our homes, the places we travel to, as well as the people and systems we interact with. Physical or online retailers that ride the wave of agile, software-defined IT, combined with the visibility and control that comes with big data analysis and machine learning, are already leaving competitors wallowing in their wake as the digital experience continues to shape the future of Black Friday.
In the last few years alone, technology has transformed the world of marketing. The advent of AI, for instance, has dramatically impacted the economy, disrupting every industry’s function. In fact, half the Fortune 500 companies have disappeared from the list in the past15 years because they’re unable to keep up with changing technologies (Innosight Report 2016)!
Clearly, the digital world is evolving rapidly, and marketers have to be more proactive than ever to remain relevant. In this rapidly changing landscape, here are 5 skills marketers need to learn to future-proof their careers:
Get comfortable with data-analytics
The marketing industry is no longer guided by intuition. Data analytics has taken the guesswork out of the game, allowing brands to deliver more targeted messaging and measure their returns on investment (ROI). According to the 2016 study by Gartner, 69% of marketing leaders expected the majority of their decisions to be data-driven by 2018. With marketing analytics accounting for 9.2% of the marketing budget in 2017-18 (largest share for any category); it is clear that data analytics is driving the marketing industry, becoming a priority skill for marketers to acquire!
Bring storytelling into brand building
Building brand visibility through storytelling is what every marketer needs to focus on. As the consumer grows more intelligent, smart and effective stories are what will sell the most -catering to different audiences, mindsets and emotions. A key example of effective storytelling is Google Search!
Connect with audiences organically
The adoption of interactive technologies and ever-changing media consumption habits have significantly altered how consumers perceive branded communication messages. Effective content marketing can not only help brands in building trust, generating leads, and cultivating customer loyalty, but it also meets customer where required, organically. Because of its potential to effectively meet the customer’s need for information, content rests at the heart of successful digital marketing campaigns.
AR/VR/AI- immersive experiences are the way to go!
Consumers on digital are highly prone to blocking branded digital content, giving rise to new and engaging forms of content marketing, such as Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR). Such formats are quick, interactive and impressionable, and are ushering in a new era for consumer experiences. Combined with a comprehensive marketing strategy, they can reshape the future of a brand across platforms and devices.
Focus on turning your customers into your brand ambassadors
Engaged with correctly, consumers can become effective mouthpieces for a brand’s messaging. To be able to leverage their potential, marketers need to understand their needs, wants and desires thoroughly, and create unique experiences that cater to these motivations. Such meaningful experiences build loyalty among consumers for the brand, potentially turning them into advocates for the brand’s message – an immense opportunity!
Channel Your Creativity
“We’re moving fast, we’re innovating, we’re having fun.” The words of a start-up retail entrepreneur, right? Well, no, it’s actually an exec from Walmart – Marc Lore (President and CEO of Walmart eCommerce, U.S.).
“All (our stores) are doing way beyond expectations…we can have a really large brick-and-mortar experience.” That’s got to be a legacy retailer, correct? Wrong again. It’s Philip Krim, co-founder and CEO of online mattress retailer, Casper.
We’re experiencing a “Freaky Friday” moment in retail – where grown-up retailers are behaving like start-ups, and start-ups are acting more like grown-ups. Perhaps it’s a sign that we are reaching a new level of market maturity after a disruptive couple of decades, post that first fateful headline in the New York Times in 1994 – “Attention Shoppers: Internet Is Open.”
Legacy retailers such as Walmart and Target are swapping big box thinking for a start-up-in-a-garage mindset, with striking results.
Walmart’s latest earning release saw comps up 4.5%, and online sales increase 40%, on the back of a buoyant economy, and innovations like grocery pick-up expansion(now 1,800 stores), new “Pickup Towers” (700 by end 2018), new website, new interactive digital installations in store and new brand acquisitions. As CEO Doug McMillon said: “We are pleased with how customers are responding to the way we’re leveraging stores and e-commerce to make shopping faster and more convenient.”
Competitor Target is also investing heavily in its future, with hundreds of “reimagined” stores, new small-formats, a new drive-through service, the acquisition of grocery-delivery start-up Shipt to facilitate same-day delivery, and the launch of a dozen or more new private label brands in the past year. All that has contributed to good momentum in the second quarter, with “unprecedented” traffic growth of 6.4%, comp sales growth of 6.5% and digital sales surging 41%. According to CEO Brian Cornell, “(we are) putting digital first and evolving our stores, digital channels and supply chain to work together as a smart network to deliver on everything guests love about Target”.
Meanwhile, the start-ups are going old-school as their brands develop and business models mature. JLL Retail Research released a point-of-view last week observing that “E-commerce Retailers Plan 850 Physical Stores in the Next 5 Years.” Among them, Casper is set to open 200 stores in the next three years, lingerie retailer AdoreMe will launch up to 300, and cult sneaker brand Allbirds will continue its physical expansion beyond its recently opened 4,800 sq. foot SoHo flagship*.
Online pioneer Warby Parker now does more than half its sales in physical stores. And as noted in Retail Dive, most of these new stores are not showrooms – the vast majority are highly productive spaces.
We’re even seeing hybrids of old and new. Both Macy’s and Lowe’s are incorporating b8ta tech discovery centers in store. Macy’s invested in the start-up, as they did in concept store “Story”.
So, on the one hand we have Walmart’s Marc Lore saying that “established companies need to act more like startups”. And on the other hand, The Atlantic reports on the “throwback revolution” of start-ups recognizing the “value of storefronts”. Ultimately this will play out to a new retail reality where there is a singular kind of retailer – one with an “obsessive compulsive focus on the customer” (thanks Jeff Bezos), and one that grants access to its products and services wherever, whenever and however the shopper wants them.
*We need to put the store openings in context, however. According to Coresight Research, there have been 4,799 stores closing in the U.S. year-to-date, and 2,644 openings. So even with e-commerce retailers opening new physical locations, retail real estate is shrinking overall.