The Importance of Defining Your Company Culture

The phrase “startup culture” brings to mind images of foosball tables, fancy coffee machines, and interns flittering around in the open office. Sure, that can be an accurate snapshot of a startup company, but that’s all it would be: a snapshot. The culture of a company isn’t defined by its perks – those perks are a side effect of the values instilled in the company culture.

When it comes to strategy at the beginning of a company’s journey, most entrepreneurs will focus on sales, marketing, and product development. After all, these are the most important strategies. However, the most successful startups will also have a well-defined strategy for the company’s brand. What are the values behind the product? Who are the people you want to attract to your workforce? Are you creating a positive and rewarding environment for your employees? These are important questions every founder needs to answer in a clear startup strategy.

Your company is built in your image.

If you want to begin to understand the culture of a company, look no further than its founder. Your values, your weaknesses, and your vision are what will become the foundation of your startup’s culture.

For example, if the CEO of a company is competitive, then the company will tend to be more aggressive and competitive. If the CEO is too analytical, it may mean that the startup may have a harder time moving as fast as it should. A creative CEO will bring a more design-focused attitude to the company.

Consider these questions as you evaluate your values:

  • What are my strengths?
  • What do I value about the people around me?
  • What leads me to make good decisions?
  • Which characteristics do all of the people in my life have in common?
  • What qualities do I dislike in other people?
  • What are my weaknesses?

“We’re all stories in the end. Make it a good one.” – The Eleventh Doctor

Fast forward to two years from now.

What do you want people to be saying about your company? At the beginning of a startup, the focus is on product development and growth, which is why it’s important to look into the future. There’s no crystal ball when it comes to how successful your company will be in two years, but there are a few things you can control about your story.

Your culture. Your values. The je ne sais quoi that helps you stand out among a sea of startups.

Think about the way you want your employees to talk about what it’s like to work at your company. You want them to have a twinkle in their eye, a passion in their voice, and most importantly, a defined story.

“When you have a well-crafted, specific, controversial company story, it can guide everything from who you shouldn’t hire to how you settle arguments,” says Molly Graham, who was brought on to build a shared vision for Facebook in 2008.

Give your company culture room to evolve

Once you’ve identified your values and the story you want to be telling about your business, it doesn’t just live in a memo buried somewhere in your emails. Picture your culture as the literal backbone of your company. Just as your body allows your spine to grow as you age, you need to allow your company culture to do the same. There will be a natural growth, and once in awhile, it will be nourished by the conversations you have with employees and customers.

It should be omnipresent in everything you do, from emails to product descriptions to coffee breaks by the fancy espresso machine, and even job descriptions.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, has this to say about commitment to culture: “Many companies have core values, but they don’t really commit to them. They usually sound more like something you’d read in a press release. Maybe you learn about them on day one of orientation, but after that, it’s just a meaningless plaque on the wall of the lobby.”

Be attractive to the people you want to hire

According to Rand Fishkin, CEO and founder of Moz, company culture “has a transformative power to create remarkable companies and inspire people to accomplish great things together.”

You want to attract the right candidates to bring your vision to life. Well, it’s a two-way street. Working in a startup is tough. It requires vigilance, a lot of long days, and a certain sense of passion for the company that you may not find in a corporate environment. You want your employees to feel ownership within the company (whether that’s a feeling or real stock options, that’s up to you), which also brings a certain sense of pride.

So how do you become attractive to potential employees? Think of it as your way of releasing professional pheromones to create the right kind of chemistry. When writing job descriptions, infuse your company’s story into it, and make it appealing to the person you want in that particular role. When reading a job description, a candidate should think “Yes, this job is perfect for me!” or “Oh no, I don’t want that job.”

Your company will succeed when you have a group of employees who share the same priorities, who are committed to your company’s mission, and most importantly, feel a sense of belonging when they come to work.

Think of it this way: You want your employees to be happy when they come to work? The numbers speak for themselves: Unhappy employees cost American businesses over $300 billion each year. So it pays to make sure your employees are happy.

When your employees and your customers are talking about your company years from now, it won’t be about the shipping mishap that happened on day 43.

Your values, your mission, the impact you have on the world around you – these are the stories that will stop people in their tracks and whisper, “Oh, you had me at culture.”

Content Marketing Begins with a Plan [Free Template for SMBs & Solopreneurs]

free content marketing plan template

It’s December, which means we’re all planning for 2017 in our businesses.

According to the latest research from the Content Marketing Institute, only 37% of B2B marketers and 40% of B2C marketers have a written content marketing plan.

This is baffling to me.

I know content marketing can feel overwhelming, especially as a small business owner or a solopreneur trying to grow your business, which is why it’s crucial to have a written plan you can follow throughout the year.

The first question I ask my clients when doing planning for the following year isn’t about their marketing strategy. The first question is “what are your business goals for 2017?” Once you have your business plan and your benchmarks set for the year, then you can create a content marketing strategy that will ladder up to those business goals.

Confession: I’m really good at executing this for my clients, but I let my own marketing fall through the cracks. I know this is a challenge a lot of solopreneurs and freelancers have. Which is why my business strategy for 2017 is to treat myself like a client.

For small business owners, one of the biggest challenges is not being sure where to begin with documenting a content strategy. How do you create an editorial calendar? What should be included on there? How do you measure success? Which dates should you be focusing on?

I’ve got the answer to the first two questions for you. While I’ll be releasing a full content marketing guide for solopreneurs and small businesses in the beginning of 2017, I’ve got a special treat for you today.

I’ve created a customizable content marketing plan template for you to get a head start on getting your content plan down in writing. It’s the same exact template I’ll be using for my own plan, and it’s the same one I’ve customized for my clients in the past.

And I’m giving it to my newsletter subscribers – for free. You’ll also be the first one to get a copy of the guide when it’s completed!

Want to be the first one to get a copy of the full content marketing guide when it’s ready? Sign up for my newsletter!

What’s your biggest struggle with content marketing?

Know someone who can use this template? Is this perfect for your Twitter audience? Click below to share the post and the love!

 

What ‘Gilmore Girls’ Taught Me About Business

I do have to let you know this post contains potential spoilers about the show, but it’s mainly focused on ‘Gilmore Girls’ business lessons.

My networks were abuzz about the release of the Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix during Thanksgiving weekend. I knew I would have a lot of feelings about the show but I didn’t expect to be writing a post about business lessons from ‘Gilmore Girls’.

Yet, here we are. Inspiration strikes me at the oddest times.

'gilmore girls business' (more…)

Harnessing the Power of Online Reviews for Your Small Business

When my brother’s car broke down last month, and the dealership quoted him a ridiculous price for fixing it, we turned to the internet to find a local mechanic. He’s new to this city, and I’ve never actually needed to get my car fixed – so we went down the list of small businesses that came up.

There was the specialty shop where I had gotten my oil changed. We went there first without looking at any reviews. His quote was lower than the dealership, but we didn’t want to commit before shopping around a bit more. There was a little muffler shop with 55 reviews on Yelp – and what’s more, they were all POSITIVE reviews. I looked up the address for the muffler shop. It was located on a street I’ve driven down hundreds of times in the past two years, but had no idea it was there.

We drove up – I actually passed it the first go. The location itself is hidden by trees, and even walking by it on the sidewalk, I would never notice it. The little garage looked run down – and the lot is tiny. We walked in to a tiny room with just a desk, two chairs, and the owner at the computer. He was on the phone when we walked in. He asked us how he could help, we told him our predicament, and he said he would call us in 15 minutes with a quote after doing some research.

If we had walked in without seeing those positive reviews, I would’ve told my brother we should move along and find another option. He called my brother with a quote, and we decided we would have his car towed there. When we went back in with the car, he asked us how we had found him. When we told him he had great reviews online, he was genuinely surprised. As an unassuming small business owner, he had gotten two new customers simply because of word-of-mouth.

My brother and I were part of the 90% of consumers who read online reviews before visiting a business. According to a survey from business2community, a one-star increase on Yelp leads to a 5-9% increase in a business’ revenue, and a negative review can cost you 30 customers.

There’s no longer any doubt when it comes to the power of online reviews. So, how can a small business owner encourage their customers to leave those reviews?  (more…)

5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting A Small Business

Starting your own business and defining your own path is literally the “American Dream”. In the digital age, it’s easier than ever to throw up a website and say you’re now running your own business.

But let’s not get too hasty.

Even though it’s technically easier to START your own business, and you could literally start it from your living room, the questions you need to ask yourself remain the same as if you’re opening up a physical small business on Main Street.

I’ve already told you that you shouldn’t start your own business – but if you’re going to ignore that advice, then keep reading.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Small Business

  • Why am I doing this? Understanding your motivation is the key to starting a business. Is it because you love what you do but no longer want to do it for another company? Do you want to expand existing freelance work you’ve been doing (because there’s a definite difference between being a freelancer and a small business owner) ? Are you hoping to shake up the landscape and make a difference? 
  • Who are my customers? If understanding your motivation is the KEY, identifying your customers is the FOUNDATION to starting your own business. Who are the people you want to connect with your product or service? What are their needs? Why would they care, and more importantly, who would actually buy what you’re selling?
  • Who will help me? The reality is that you won’t be able to do everything yourself. We’ve briefly discussed the importance of a support system – but this goes beyond your friends and family. Who are your mentors? Who are the people you’ll turn to for legal and financial advice? How will you connect with other small business owners in your industry to build a network?
  • How much money do I need to get started? If you’re taking the dive and leaving your full time job, be sure to factor in living costs in addition to the expenses you’ll most definitely incur when getting your small business off the ground. Don’t forget about hidden costs such as licensing fees, rental deposits, equipment, and taxes. Experts suggest having at least 12 months worth of living expenses saved up before you start your own business. The Small Business Administration has a plethora of great resources to help you plan and figure out potential costs as you’re starting out.
  • How will I handle setbacks? This could be the most important question to ask. There are lots of ups and downs (I mean, LOTS), and your days could be filled with more disappointments than successes in the beginning. Are you the kind of person that gets discouraged easily? Are you prepared to heard the word “No” more often than your favorite song? Be brutally honest with yourself. Ask family and close friends if you have to – truly understand yourself in order to anticipate your behavior as an entrepreneur. 

I know, it got really existential all of a sudden, didn’t it?

What advice would you give to someone at the start of their entrepreneurial journey? Tell us on Twitter and use the hashtag #AmplifyYourBiz.

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Don’t Start Your Own Business

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My entrepreneurial dream began over a decade ago. I came up with the name for my company, took on a couple of small projects as a side-hustle, but it wasn’t until I was ready after freelancing that I had the guts to incorporate and say “This is what I’m going to do.”

There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not filled with fear because that’s what starting your own business entails: fear, uncertainty and unstable cash flow.

It’s certainly not all unicorns and rainbows.

You’re potentially up shit creek without a paddle because no matter how much you build your network (don’t even talk to me about starting your own business without a personal brand and a helluva network), you have to consider these factors:

You have to be in love with your idea.

Your business?  Your idea?  You better be in love with it. I mean, potentially more than you love your family because you will have to make yourself get out of bed every morning to devote possibly 16 hours of your day to your business. It’ll be with you in the shower. It will wake you up in the middle of the night (if it wasn’t already keeping you up) and it will make you want to bang your head into the wall. Repeatedly. So if you’re not ready to devote your heart, soul and quite literally your blood, sweat, and tears – don’t start a business.

You better be ready to hear “No” repeatedly – or even worse, radio silence.

If you’re not used to rejection, then don’t start your business.  You’ll get a lot of radio silence from potential clients.  You’ll hear a lot of “no”s. After the 4th or 5th one in a day, you may get discouraged.  That’s normal.  What you have to know is when to step away to recollect your thoughts and sometimes, when to give it a rest for the day.  Don’t burn yourself out. Give yourself enough of a rest to be able to get up the next morning and do it all over again.

Have a good support system.

This goes without saying but let me say it again. Have a good support system. At least one or two people you can count on who will let you vent. Be warned: Starting your own business will put a restrain on your relationship.  On top of all the other growing pains of a regular relationship, you may have to deal with them asking you how your day went when you justdon’tevenwanttodealwithitanymore. This is where the support system comes into place.

Don’t get easily discouraged.

Look. I’ll be honest. I have days when I don’t even want to go online because there are people younger than me doing these amazing things and it’s like a slap in the face. Once you start comparing yourself to others, you may not get anything done.

Collaboration is different than comparison. You have an idea. You have the passion and you bring something new to the game? Then you have to be willing to work your ass off and remember that those young entrepreneurs doing big things got where they are because they took the first step. And the second. And the third. They had setbacks too. Just like you will (Oh. You will.)

The key is to not get easily discouraged and if you’re having an off day where the world is crushing you?

Breathe. Walk away. Take the time you need to deal with it and shake it off. Your dream is still out there, waiting for you to get off your ass and work for it.

Sleep? What sleep?

Do I even need to explain?

Say Good-Bye to a Social Life (Kind of)

Raise your hand if at one point or another, you’ve thought that being a business owner meant you can make your own hours and grab drinks with friends whenever you can.

Now excuse me while I go into a corner and laugh.

And laugh.

And cry.

Having your own business means you are in charge, which means you are liable to make sure all the things are done. I mean, all the things.  This means you have to make sure that your client projects are completed, be on call, and when you’re between projects? You’ll be doing paperwork, research, and maintenance on your business. Depending on your business, a new client means new research because they’re potentially in an industry you are not familiar with (This is more common to the social media consultants, and copywriters).

There will be some days you will look up from your computer screen with your headphones in and notice that the sun has gone down, you forgot to turn on the light, your stomach is yelling at you in the dark, and your Pandora hasn’t been playing music for at least the last hour.

Oh, did you forget the unstable cash flow? That just might mean that you’ll have to forego the happy hours and brunches so you can pay rent and cable. Groceries are important too. Of course.

So why do it?

Because entrepreneurship is in your blood.

Because you can’t think of doing anything else.

Because you make yourself get up every morning even if the day before was shit.

Because the stress is worth it.

Because you are working for a dream, not a paycheck.

Because you’re ready to fail and get up again.

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I hope you’ll subscribe to receive updates from the Amplify Your Biz blog. That can be via RSS or by signing up for Mailchimp over there on the right. Of course, you can always follow me on Twitter & the page on Facebook.