Small Business Planning: Look Back to Move Forward

The end of the year is the perfect time to reflect on one’s life and business. While we’re all anxious to start off the New Year on the right foot, don’t skip a vital part of the business planning process. Take time to look back before you look ahead.

Small business planning is crucial to survival and growth.

Take time to reflect on your business. Where is it heading and where has it been?

Take Time to Reflect

Reflect on your accomplishments during the past year. Did you grow your revenue? Add new customers? Turn sporadic customers into loyal clients? Hit key milestones? Reach your goals?

Look back at things that didn’t go as planned. Did you lose a major client? Have a customer dispute payment? Run into a nightmare project? Spend too much time on non-revenue activities?

Measure the progress of your goals. First of all, did you set goals? Did you reach them in the allotted time frame? What helped you achieve them or hindered your progress? Upon further review, you may need to alter your goals or set more appropriate goals in the first place.

Related Reading: Why I Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions

Look Ahead to 2017

Where do you want your business to go? Did you have success with a new product or service this year that you’d like to feature? Do you want to focus on delighting your current clients to deepen those relationships and grow with them? Are you looking to bring on new customers and expand your business? Is a merger or acquisition in your sights?

In order to achieve your business dreams, you need to create a road map. This is where setting SMART goals comes into play.

Your goals should be:
Specific
Measurable
Agreed Upon
Realistic
Time-Based

Inc. Magazine has a worthy read on how to set business goals if you’d like to learn more about this topic. As Herm Edwards famously said, “a goal without a plan is a wish.” He may have been a football coach at the time, but his thought process applies to business and life just as much as sports.

Keep in mind that goals aren’t permanent once they’re set. It’s helpful to review them regularly and adjust accordingly. Agility is a tool for small businesses to use to their advantage, so don’t feel locked in to current goals if your situation changes. Take time every week to focus on your business’s big picture and plan your road map, rerouting if necessary. It can be a breath of fresh air to step back from the daily grind to look at where you’re heading and where you’ve been.

Your Take

Do you set SMART goals for your business?

How often do you focus on planning for your business?

How do you encourage yourself to keep your business planning sessions?

We wish all small businesses a wonderful holiday season! Best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2017.

CCC’s Chief Planner,
Jaime

Let’s chat (about your business goals, marketing needs or otherwise):
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5 Cool Gift Ideas for Creative Professionals

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! While some people stress over gift-giving, we enjoy the process of finding the perfect gifts for everyone on our list. (It even sharpens our marketing skills!)

Danbo Santa Claus by Takashi Hososhima via CC BY-SA 2.0

Danbo Santa Claus by Takashi Hososhima via CC BY-SA 2.0 http://bit.ly/2gWkJS8

If you’re buying for a creative professional, check out our ideas for the mad men or women in your life.

Moleskine Notebooks
Creatives love notebooks, and these are the cream of the crop. Of course you don’t have to buy Moleskine, but they do offer special, themed and creativity styles along with personalization. Looking to splurge? Consider the Smart Writing Set.

Starbucks (or enter favorite coffee shop here) Gift Card
Coffee shops are a second home or office for creatives. There’s just something about the atmosphere that gets the juices flowing. A Starbucks gift card is a charger for a creative and may lead to a breakthrough that changes your recipient’s life. Remember to take some credit if that happens!

Cool Travel Mug / Coffee Mug 
Notice that we said cool. Creative types are typically coffee fans, so they need a cool travel mug when they’re on the go and a traditional mug at home or in the office. Think about your recipient’s tastes — favorite shows, authors, teams, movies — and don’t forget about the aforementioned coffee shop. Pick up some cool swag from your recipient’s favorite coffee shop and include a gift card. Win-win!

Active Lifestyle Accessories 
Maybe it’s the constant brain activity or coffee consumption, but creative types are usually active people. Whether it’s bicycling, running, hiking or globe-trotting, your recipient probably has a favorite active or outdoor activity. Whatever it is, there’s plenty of equipment and accessories that fit in a variety of budgets.

Bring the Juice
If coffee shops are chargers for creatives, then they’ll need plenty of battery power for their electronics. Mobile chargers are a must for creative professionals, because they’re always on the move and take their gadgets with them. Keep their specific needs and tastes in mind (along with your budget), and find the item that’s perfect for the creative guy or gal in your life.

Bonus: Vacation
If you really want to splurge, every creative professional we know would love a vacation! It doesn’t have to be grand; book a night at a nice hotel or a quick weekend getaway. Give a break from the routine with an experience your recipient will always remember — a spa day, sky diving adventure, swimming with sharks expedition or a trip to your recipient’s favorite author’s museum or hometown.

What ideas would you add?

Do you enjoy the gift-giving process or does it stress you out?

p.s. If you’re still stuck on what to buy the creative person in your life, let us know. We’d be happy to help you out with some suggestions — no strings attached!

p.s.s. Is your creative professional overwhelmed with work? Perhaps our marketing, writing or social media services would help. We do offer gift certificates!

CCC’s CCO (Chief Creative Officer),
Jaime

Let’s chat (about gifts for creatives, your marketing needs or otherwise):
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On Thanksgiving, We’re Thankful For…

As Thanksgiving nears, we’re reminded of so many reasons to be thankful.

Sweet Potato Cheesecake

We started a tradition in 2012 to post a list of 50 Things We’re Grateful For… during each summer as one simple way to keep gratitude near and dear to our hearts. While we won’t duplicate those efforts in this post, we did want to share a few things that we’re thankful for this Thanksgiving.

#GivingTuesday is a national day of giving to kick off the generous holiday season. After Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, think about supporting your favorite charity or cause. Then, see how you can get more involved during the rest of the year. What’s your favorite charity or cause? Let us know in the comments below!

On Thanksgiving, I’m Thankful for #GivingTuesday

Our awesome clients and the CCC community make us smile every day. We appreciate every project, referral, comment, like, share and reader! We’re thankful to work with so many wonderful people who are doing good. If you’re reading this post, say hello!

50 Things I’m Grateful For… Summer 2016 Edition

We’re looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with friends and family.

Happy Thanksgiving!

How do you celebrate?
What are you thankful for?
What’s your favorite charity or cause?

Usually smiling & always thankful,
Chef Jaime

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Inbound & Down: Certified to Help Clients Achieve Success

What a week! Between working the polls and planning a conference, we managed to renew our Inbound marketing certification for another year. As an Inbound Certified company, we’re positioned to help you navigate the ins and outs of the Buyer’s Journey.

Inbound Certified_CCC_Jaime Shine

What’s Inbound marketing? We’re glad you asked. Check out the blog post we wrote last year showcasing this new way of thinking in action, how it works and how it can help your brand. The basics are the same, but new ideas and research continue to come along. That’s why we wanted to make sure we’re up-to-date and can offer your business the best ways to succeed in our crowded, fast-paced world.

If you’re struggling to reach your target audience, let’s talk about your buyer personas. Who are they? Do you know their pain points and biggest challenges? What stage are they at in the Buyer’s Journey?

We would love to help you attract visitors, convert them into leads, close sales with customers and delight them into promoters. Learn more about how inbound marketing works, and then contact us so we can help you achieve success.

Cheers!

p.s. Interested in becoming Inbound Certified? Learn more about the course, certification and who it can help.

Still officially certified,
Jaime

Let’s chat (about Inbound, your marketing needs or otherwise):
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5 Books Every Small Business Owner Should Read

We’re big readers here at CCC. As Mr. King reminds us below, that’s a good thing because we’re writers, and we like to be well-versed at our craft. Reading is important even if you don’t write though. Business professionals and owners everywhere can benefit from knowledge and experience shared in a good book.

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write. Simple as that.”  -Stephen King

business books on a bookshelf

A selection of business reads by UNCG Research via CC BY-SA 2.0 http://bit.ly/2eE8A47

So let’s have a book swap! Below we’ve shared 5 books that have helped us in business (in no particular order), and we’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments.

  1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking — Studies show that introverts are one-third to half of the U.S. population, and this book tells you how to embrace their personality and management style to improve your corporate culture and team. Introvert or not, every business professional needs to read this book.
  2. Death to All Sacred Cows — The most common negative review we’ve seen about this book is that its content is old news. Then why do so many businesses large and small still adhere to sacred cows for no reason? Beliefs such as, “The customer’s always right” can put you out of business. Read this book before that happens to you.
  3. David And Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, And The Art Of Battling Giants — Let’s be honest; any book by Malcolm Gladwell is a good choice, but we loved this one. David And Goliath shows how perceived underdogs may not be underdogs at all. This is a great read for small business owners everywhere who are wondering how to compete against bigger and better-funded opponents.
  4. Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? The business world is constantly changing, and Seth Godin shows you how to be a linchpin. This book will help guide your career in corporate America or on your own, making you indispensable to bosses, organizations, business partners and clients. (Similar to Gladwell, any Godin book is a good and worthwhile read.)
  5. It’s Not About the Coffee — “We’re in the people business serving coffee, not the coffee business serving people.” Howard Behar talks about taking a people-centric approach and treating employees, business partners and clients as people — not revenue sources, assets or labor costs. It’s crazy how many businesses don’t understand this concept, and the results you’ll achieve once you do.

BONUS: Things a Little Bird Told Me — Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, takes readers along on his unpredictable journey and shares smart business lessons along the way. He focuses on the power of creativity and how to harness it to achieve success.

As we were compiling this list, we kept coming up with additional suggestions. As bookworms, it’s difficult to limit any reading list to five recommendations! We’re sure we missed some, but that’s the beauty of reading lists — they’re constantly evolving.

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”  -Stephen King

What books have helped you in business or in life?

Have you read a children’s or YA book that’s relevant in your adult life?

What’s your favorite literature genre?

Your favorite bookworm,
Jaime

Let’s chat (about good books, your marketing needs or otherwise):
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Does Your Small Business Have a Contingency Plan?

In preparation of the 2016 election, I recently attended my second year of Precinct Election Official (PEO) training by the local Board of Elections (BOE). In addition to keeping up with new developments, it’s helpful to review the massive amounts of information prior to each election.

What are the massive amounts of information? In addition to job duties and how machines work — contingency plans. The BOE has contingency plans for nearly any situation. Does your small business have contingency plans?

Does your small business have a contingency plan?

Why does your small business need a contingency plan?

  • You lose your largest client. Will you be able to stay afloat while you work to bring in new customers? Or is your business spread out enough to absorb such a hit?
  • Your niche market runs dry. Some markets are more volatile than others, but this could happen to nearly any industry or vertical market. (For example, look at how hard the Great Recession hit the construction industry.) It’s always a good idea to diversify your clientele enough to withstand market fluctuations.
  • You experience a medical emergency or illness. Nearly 80% of small businesses are self-employed individuals. (NASE) Will your small business be able to run without you? For how long? Do you have an exit plan?
  • Your area is hit with a natural disaster or extended power outage. Would you be able to continue to serve your clients? Is your business included in your emergency preparedness kit/plans?
  • You see an unexpected opportunity in the marketplace. How quickly can you add a product or service? Perhaps you’re seeing a decrease in demand for one of your key products or services. Can you switch your focus while still staying true to your brand? Agility is a valuable asset in the small business world.

Related Reading: 4 Lessons Learned in 4 Years as an Entrepreneur

You need to be prepared to handle unexpected obstacles in your business, from marketplace changes to health issues. While none of us can be prepared for everything, having a contingency plan for your small business will ensure a smoother ride when you encounter a future roadblock — or  a black hole.

Your Turn

What other situations should your small business be prepared for?

Have you switched the focus of your small business or changed businesses?

What other advice would you give to small business owners regarding contingency plans?

Still a scout at heart,
Jaime

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What Makes a Successful Public Speaker? These 3 Key Points

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a networking luncheon hosted by my alma mater’s alumni association. While I always look forward to meeting fellow Flashes, I was particularly interested in hearing our city’s mayor speak.

Kent State University Alumni Association Akron Networking Luncheon

Yours truly (second from left) enjoying the Akron Networking Luncheon with fellow Golden Flashes. (Photo used with permission: http://bit.ly/2dxyTIs)

Mayor Horrigan was as good as I thought he would be, which made me think about what makes public speakers successful.

Start with Common Ground — The mayor was a Kent State alumni like the attendees, so he started off reliving his time at the university. As he was talking about a pivotal moment early in his college career, I found myself thinking back to my time at the school and the impact it has had on my life. By starting with what you have in common, you begin to develop a deeper connection with your audience.

Have a Conversation — While the person in front of the room is doing most, if not all, of the speaking, that doesn’t mean you have to be formal or talk down to your audience. Use language your listeners are familiar with, avoiding unnecessary jargon or technical terms. Interact with your audience as much as you can, given the environment, and leave enough time for a Q and A session. Oftentimes that is the most memorable part of the event due to the diversity of voices and ideas included.

Step Away from the PowerPoint — I’m a big fan of visual aids when appropriate, but the PowerPoint may be the most abused aid, or crutch, of all time. The next time you’re speaking to a group, forgo the PowerPoint and let your creativity take over. Use a giant notepad or wall size Post-It Notes to convey key points. Share a short video or photos to embed a special message or moment into your audience’s minds. Some of the best talks I’ve given and attended had no visual aids at all.

As I was kicking around this article in my head, I came across a fantastic article from Forbes on the same subject. It’s worth a read, Adele fan or not!

Public Speaking Spotlight

What tips would you recommend to a public speaker?

Do you take your audience into consideration when speaking or do you have a ‘signature style?’

What is the best talk that you’ve given and attended? Feel free to link to videos or transcripts in the comments!

Speaking on public speaking,
Jaime

Let’s chat (about public speaking, your marketing needs or otherwise):
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To Give or Not To Give: A 4-Year Journey

I regularly check the Popular Content section on the sidebar of this blog to see what readers are enjoying the most. This valuable information helps me plan future topics or encourages me to tackle previous topics from another angle or with updates. One post that always shows up is To Give or Not To Give…, a look at my first platelets donation experience, so I wanted to share more about my experience since this post.

Donating platelets at the American Red Cross

A lot has happened since my previous post four years ago. I’ve become a regular platelets donor, averaging 12 donations a year, and notching 18 visits in 2015. I’ve accepted the fact that I freeze during my donations, wrapping up in blankets and utilizing a large heating pad (and hot pack to squeeze). I do seem to set off the monitor a little less frequently now, so my mummifying attempts seem to be working. 🙂

As noted above, I try to make it to my local DC (donation center) monthly, which is a little easier to do with a couple of Red Cross updates. The Blood Donor app is so convenient! It allows you to schedule platelets donations online, review your donation history, manage appointments and track your donations, among other tasks. Rapid Pass is a time-saver, as it allows you to answer the interview questions in advance on the day of your appointment. It’s not available via mobile, but it is a nice way to cut down on the time you spend at the facility.

Changes have been made to the actual donation process too. In the past year, the Red Cross has gone back to a two-needle donation process: blood is drawn from one arm and returned in your other arm after having your platelets (and possibly plasma) removed. Unfortunately my body didn’t take to the two-arm process at all, so my DC accepts my donations via a one-arm donation.

After taking a few months off, I’m starting to donate monthly again. I realize others donate more, up to the maximum of 24 times per year, but that seems to be too much for my body to handle. Last fall, I started to have issues during donations, so the Red Cross stopped taking plasma during my platelets donations, which has helped immensely.

I’m continuing to monitor how my body handles donations going forward but am looking forward to making regular monthly donations again. The Blood Donor app, Rapid Pass and returning to a one-arm donation process have helped me continue to help others in need. Curious? Visit http://www.redcrossblood.org/platelets to learn more about the platelets donation process.

Your Feedback Requested

Do you donate blood, platelets, plasma or a platelets/plasma combination?

Do you react to the anticoagulant by sneezing frequently? (I just made it through my first donation without needing TUMS!)

What do you think of the two-arm collection process vs. the one-arm?

Have you experienced any side effects from donating?

To all fellow donors, thank you!

Jaime

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2016 Olympic Marketing Game Winners

So many athletes won big at this year’s Olympics, delivering their best performances on the world’s biggest stage. Who won the 2016 Olympic Marketing Games?

Gold

Under Armour, Rule Yourself 

This popular brand has done the best job of taking advantage of changes to Rule 40. It submitted a marketing plan in accordance with the (slightly) relaxed restrictions and advertised its sponsorship of Michael Phelps and other athletes without ever using Olympic intellectual property (IP), which isn’t allowed by non-sponsors. This video alone is nearing 11,000,000 views, has been shared over 68,000 times and has an average watch duration of 1:21 (for a 1:31 video). The best part? Under Armour’s Olympic marketing efforts are part of a larger overall campaign, so the brand receives an A+ for cohesiveness.

Olympic Marketing: A Balancing Act for Brands

Silver

Visa, The Swim

While The Carpool to Rio was an impressive spot, Visa grabbed our attention with its nod to refugee Yusra Mardini’s incredible journey to becoming an Olympian. As an official sponsor, the company has a heavy presence leading up to and during the Games, and this year was no different. This video alone racked up nearly 5,000,000 views, 715 shares and an average view duration of 29 seconds for a 30-second spot.

Super Bowl 50: Winners & Losers on the Big Stage

Bronze

Mini USA, Defy Labels

This spot initially caught our eye on TV, and we love the message behind it. We’ve all been labeled in our lives, oftentimes unfairly or based on stereotypes. It also fits in with the company’s product line, which defies expectations based on its size. Mini USA is an official Olympic sponsor, so the company can use Olympic IP throughout its campaign. The TV spot had a 98.12% average view rate (top 5 overall), and this video (one of a series) has captured nearly 18,500 views and 847 shares.

Now that we’ve handed out our medals, let us know your Olympic Marketing Champions. Which ads or overall campaigns caught your attention?

An Olympics (& marketing) fan,
Jaime

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Olympic Marketing: A Balancing Act for Brands

The Olympics are an opportunity of a lifetime, not only for athletes but for marketers too. Unfortunately, that dream can quickly turn into a nightmare for brands who aren’t official Olympic sponsors.

How Startups and Small Businesses Can Achieve Olympic Glory

In 2012, we talked about the limitations of companies who weren’t official sponsors (rumored to cost upward of $25 million) to benefit from the Olympics in any capacity.

“Athletes were barred from tweeting about non-official sponsors, and non-sponsors were not allowed to feature Olympic athletes that they had sponsorship deals with in ads.”  –Adweek

Heading into the 2016 Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) made changes to Rule 40, which the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) adopted. These revisions allow non-official sponsors to endorse Olympic athletes and run ad campaigns featuring them while also allowing athletes to tweet about non-official sponsors.

There are rules to these more relaxed revisions, of course. Brands and athletes had to submit waivers to the USOC by January 27, 2016, to have their marketing and social media campaigns approved, and ads had to begin running before March 27, 2016. Also, non-sponsor brands and athletes promoting them are not allowed to use Olympic intellectual property (IP), which includes the Olympic rings and terms such as Olympics, Rio 2016 and gold.

How the Olympics’ New Advertising Rules Will Impact Athletes and Brands in Rio

How can your small business or startup achieve Olympic glory?

  • Throw an Olympic watch party that ties in your products or services. Invite clients, customers, prospects and employees to join in the fun (and share their good times on social).
  • Reference the Olympic spirit or other aspects of the games in your social media content without using Olympic IP, which includes official hashtags. (Under Armour has done a great job in this area!)
  • Announce a customer loyalty program to capitalize on the excitement of the games and create momentum for a strong second half.
  • Hold internal competitions for employees, physical and/or job-related, complete with decorations, cool prizes and food. Competitors have to eat, right? 🙂

Olympic Feedback

What are your thoughts on Rule 40: too strict, too relaxed or just right?

Should brands who are not official sponsors be able to use Olympic IP, including hashtags?

Will these restrictions impact future Olympic sponsorship deals?

What other ways can small businesses and startups get in on the Olympic spirit?

An Olympics fan,
Jaime

Let’s chat (about the Olympics, your marketing needs or otherwise):
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