Spotlight: Teamfluent Teaches Teams with Agile Learning

Spotlight: Teamfluent Helps Teams with Agile Learning

If you want to succeed in business, you need to be constantly learning. And if you have a small business team, you need your team members to be able to learn as well. That’s why Teamfluent offers a unique learning solution for teams.

You can read more about the business and its philosophy below in this week’s Small Business Spotlight.

What the Business Does

Provides learning tools for businesses.

CEO Ilie Ghiciuc told Small Business Trends, “With Teamfluent you can organize learning items in your Learning Board, you can Create Courses, manage Trainings and view learning Stats and Reports.”

Business Niche

Agile learning.

Ghiciuc explains, “In an agile learning environment, team leaders can ensure that every team member goes through a structured onboarding program, that they have access to company information and that they create a learning plan with clear goals, that can be tracked and measured. Workers retain the flexibility to learn at their own pace, while collaborating to achieve their learning goals. Management, on the other hand, has a clear strategy for employee development and an overview of performance metrics.”

Spotlight: Teamfluent Helps Teams with Agile Learning

How the Business Got Started

After realizing the importance of learning in business.

Ghiciuc says, “It all started within Thinslices, a product development company I co-founded in 2010. By the end of 2014, we had achieved 1M EUR in yearly revenue. That represented the first major milestone of our existence. After this, we started to consider what the next phase of growth would look like. We embarked on a very diligent strategy planning exercise with the goal of growing company revenue by ten times (10x), up to 10M euros per year, within the next five years. To meet our goal, we knew we had to grow fast and agile. We decided to invest in learning.?”

Biggest Win

Signing ten customers before even launching the product.

Ghiciuc says, “We had met with many people both within the industry and outside of it and the majority of them said it can’t be done. They said no one would pay for something that didn’t even exist yet. But they were wrong. We engineered our product together with its intended audience so that it would reflect real learning needs within companies. We met with different companies and we talked about how they do learning, what their employees need and how they want to grow their talent and their business through agile learning. They trusted our vision of the product so they signed on even before we had our MVP.”

Biggest Risk

Starting.

Ghiciuc says, “I guess it’s hard for everyone starting a new business. For us, I guess it would be our geographical context. Both Thinslices and Teamfluent started in post-soviet Romania. Corruption and bureaucracy are still a reality here and we’re working hard every day to compete with international businesses in friendlier economies.”

Spotlight: Teamfluent Helps Teams with Agile Learning

How They’d Spend an Extra $100,000

Move to Bali for a month with the entire team.

Team Tradition

Weird meeting titles

Ghiciuc says, “We named each meeting something different (and weird). For example, our weekly planning and retrospective meeting is called The Borg. And we have Monthly Beatings for quarterly planning and progress tracking.”

Favorite Quote

“Everyone has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth.” — Mike Tyson

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Images: Teamfluent; Top Image: Stefan Sarbu — Chief Operating Officer, Cezara Pralea — Business Development Manager; Second Image: Iulian Nechifor — Digital Marketer; Third Image: Georgiana Ionescu — Product Owner

This article, “Spotlight: Teamfluent Teaches Teams with Agile Learning” was first published on Small Business Trends

6 AI Startups We’re Keeping an Eye On

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The other day, I was airing some grievances to a friend. The whining topic du jour: artificial intelligence, or AI.

“Every time I hear about it, I think, ‘Sure, that’s cool,’” I said. “But sometimes I wish it would slow down — there’s so much happening there, and so fast.”

“Well, I have bad news for you,” my friend told me. “It’s not going away anytime soon.”

He was right. AI continues to be all the rage in the worlds of both tech and business, and is growing at a lightning-fast pace. At the most recent Google I/O, an entire suite of new AI-related product features were unveiled. Microsoft, meanwhile, launched an entire investment arm dedicated to this type of technology. And as research from CB Insights indicates, in 2016, over 500 AI startups raised roughly $5 billion in funding.

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But which ones are going to stick around?

We thought you might ask that — that’s why we sought out the six that have piqued our greatest interest. We’ve listed them below and summarized what it is that they’re trying to do … and why they’ve got our attention.

6 Artificial Intelligence Startups to Watch

1) Bizible

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What the Company Does

In its earliest days, Bizible’s revenue attribution product provided technology to help its customers better assess spending activity and make better decisions. Now, its new revenue planning product uses machine learning to help B2B marketers plan for every revenue-related scenario. Think: The product crunches the historical revenue attribution data to help predict what GeekWire calls “‘what if’ scenarios — like increasing marketing spend … or reducing event sponsorship budgets.”

Why We’re Paying Attention

We love it when companies examine what they already do best and say something like, “Wait a minute — we can use this information to make something even better.”

In Bizible’s case, that was the marketing expenditure data it already organized and helped customers analyze. The next step, the company decided, was to help marketers make even better use of that data — with the help of intelligent algorithms that predict the results of a given current spending track, and provide budgetary alternatives that address the aforementioned scenarios.

It’s that AI technology, CEO Aaron Bird told GeekWire, that helps marketers “have a good understanding of causality in the past … in order to do a good job of planning the future.”

2) UiPath

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What the Company Does

New-York-based UiPath is known best for its robotic process automation (RPA) technology — the kind that helps to automate what can become tedious business tasks, like data entry. As PYMNTS explains, eliminating the need for human labor on such processes can help “companies save money by offloading these tasks from human contractors.”

Why We’re Paying Attention

To be completely honest — the type of technology being created by UiPath scares us a little. The potential drawback of human job elimination by way of AI continues to be a hotly-contested topic, and while it does make us slightly shake in our boots, we can’t help but be fascinated by the companies that throw their respective hats into that particular automation ring.

But we also find ourselves drawn to the UiPath Academy — a “free of charge, self-led online learning environment where anyone in the world can enroll and train to obtain a UiPath RPA certification.” The point of that certification? Creating more RPA experts that can help companies implement and make the best use of technology like UiPath’s.

From a certain perspective, that could be seen as UiPath’s method of countering the potential job elimination resulting from widespread RPA — by cultivating a population of experts who know how to make the best use of AI within certain organizations.

3) vHive

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What the Company Does

In the B2B realm, most marketers don’t spend a ton of time thinking about how they would make use of a fleet of drones — at least, we don’t. That is, until we learned about vHive: The maker of cloud-based technology for enterprise-level organizations that want to use drones to manage field operations.

Why We’re Paying Attention

Drones are an area of technology that’s seen mixed results over the past decade. Many brands continue to experiment with numerous uses of drones — one of the most interesting cases we’ve come across is telecom company BT using drones to provide internet service in places impacted by war and natural disasters.

But at the same time, few brands seem to be able to truly make it work — some are missing sales estimates, laying off members of their drone teams, or closing up shop altogether. So when we learn about startups in this realm receiving high amounts of funding — vHive secured $2 million from VC and private investment in its first round — it makes us ask, “Okay, so what’s different about this one?” Perhaps it’s the focus on fleet management, or the target audience of enterprise-level companies, but we’re curious to see how this works out.

4) Agolo

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Source: agolo

What the Company Does

Another player in the New York AI field, Agolo’s technology is designed to synthesize and summarize the media most important to professionals in order to do their jobs. Here’s a peek at how it works:

Why We’re Paying Attention

Information overload is a problem that doesn’t seem to be going away — at least, not anytime soon. And as bloggers, we often have to monitor a high volume of news about marketing and technology. That’s why intelligent systems like Agolo’s tend to make us positively giddy — they can help us figure out what we need to do, and automatically find and summarize the news that’s going to help us best do our jobs.

But that benefit isn’t limited to bloggers. Marketers from every industry struggle with staying on top of the news and content they need to see in order to remain informed about competition, regulations, and more.

5) Vault

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What the Company Does

Another Israel-based startup, Vault’s technology has a primary focus on the entertainment industry. It uses big data to help professionals in this sector address and resolve both marketing and financial decision-making problems — partially with its box office sales prediction technology.

Why We’re Paying Attention

Even though it’s been a while since I actually visited a movie theatre, I still positively geek out over box office rankings. After all, I’m both a consumer and a marketer, and I like to see the products — software and films alike — that amass an eyebrow-raising audience.

That’s something that makes one of Vault’s products, Deep Audience, so interesting to us — its ability to take the entertainment industry’s media assets, like movie trailers or a script, and apply an algorithm that can analyze who’s going to be drawn to it.

From there, entertainment marketers can make important decisions about how to package and communicate the product to this audience, depending on size, composition, and other factors. Our hope: The Deep Audience becomes available and applicable to marketers within industries beyond entertainment.

6) All Turtles

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What the Company Does

Okay, so we may have cheated a bit on this one. All Turtles is actually a self-described “AI startup studio” that provides guidance and other resources to founders of companies within this sector. The approach, according to its website, is to tackle “one frontier at a time,” starting with AI.

Why We’re Paying Attention

The act of AI startups receiving funding isn’t exactly rare news — after all, that’s how we found out about many of the companies on this list. What intrigues us about this one, however, is that it’s a startup for startups: one that was founded by Phil Libin, who’s held executive roles in both the VC and tech sectors.

That’s a powerful combination of skills and experience. We’re curious to see how it’s applied and carried out in an area of business and technology that, in the grand scheme of things, is still in its earliest stages — but shows no signs of ceasing to grow at full-tilt.

Types of Intelligence

What stands out to us about many of the companies listed here is the potential impact their work could have on a number of populations. Automated business processes, predictions, and fleet management are all very cool — but we’re eager to see how many of these brands develop technologies that will benefit individuals on a personal level. AI certainly has the ability to help professionals do their work more seamlessly. But it could also have a positive impact on, for example, aging populations, by automating in-home assistance that can keep seniors healthy in their homes longer.

In any case — these are just some of the reasons why we’re watching the world of AI unfold.

Which AI startups are you keeping an eye on? Let us know in the comments.

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6 Steps to Successfully Collect on a Small Business Debt

Small Business Debt Collection Tips

Few things are more frustrating than dealing with a client who won’t pay for products or services that you provided. And while you may want to head over to their home or office with a sock full of pennies, it’s best that you take a legal and calculated approach.

Understanding Small Business Debt Collection

At some point, every company will encounter a situation where a client doesn’t pay on time, refuses to pay altogether, or can’t afford to pay the full amount for services rendered. While each of these situations is notably frustrating, it’s important that you respond in the appropriate manner. How you respond will not only impact your chances of collecting on the debt, but it’ll also reflect on your brand image.

If you’ve been around for any measure of time, then you likely know that small business debt collection typically involves money owed from customers who fall into one of three categories:

  • Customers who will go to any lengths necessary to avoid paying.
  • Customers who have lots of payments due at once and pay them off sporadically.
  • Customers who normally pay on time, but can’t because of financial issues.

“In general, you will want to ensure that your clients and customers fall into the last two categories,” FindLaw.com explains. “You will be able to manage and work with those that fall into the last two categories because they have a history of making full or partial payments. As a small business owner, however, you need to be able to devise a strategy and method for figuring out which clients and customers fall into the first category.”

It’s also important to recognize that not all debts and delinquent payments are the same. For example, a $250 debt from a long-time client who has never missed a payment is not equal to a $15,000 debt from a new client who has yet to pay you for any services rendered. You can’t take a narrow approach to debt collection. Everything happens on a per-case basis and you must be willing to adapt to the circumstances.

6 Tips for Getting Your Clients to Pay Up

It doesn’t matter if the client is someone you know personally and have a great relationship with or a brand new client that you’re angry with — you have an obligation and a right to collect the money you’re owed. The key is to be strategic in how you approach these situations.

1. Stay Calm

When you’ve provided services for a client and they don’t pay you on time, your natural inclination is to be infuriated (and you have a right to be upset). But it’s imperative that you take a deep breath and stay calm. The angrier you get, the less likely that you’ll collect on the full debt. The client will feel your wrath, will take it personally, and won’t feel like cooperating (at least not in at timely manner).

“Your mental state has a strong impact both on how you handle the debtor and how they respond to you,” collections expert Bob Tharnish says. “Treat each call as if it was your first call of a very good day. Put a smile on your face. If you were irritated on the previous call, take a few minutes to calm yourself and start afresh. The debtor will respond to your tone. Your upbeat mood will be contagious and you are likely to get a more positive response from the debtor.”

2. Know Your Rights

If you don’t have any professional training in accounts receivable or debt collection, then you’re probably blindly fumbling your way through the process of collecting payments. The sooner you educate yourself on your rights and legal options, the better off you’ll be. Not only will you understand the actions that can and can’t be taken, but you’ll also become more confident in your interactions with customers.

For example, did you know that you can legally search for someone’s social security number if that individual is evading your debt collection efforts? While there’s no free online lookup service, you can go through the legal steps to find someone’s social security number so that you can move things along.

3. Document Everything

Few things are as important as documentation in a small business debt collection situation. Should the debt ever lead to a legal battle in court, your ability to point to documentation will be very helpful.

Every time you talk to a client on the phone, record the phone call and take notes. Certify and copy every letter you send in the mail. Save email correspondence. Log visits you make to the client’s office or home. All of this information could prove helpful.

4. Avoid Harassing

There’s nothing helpful about harassing a customer who owes you money. While persistence plays an important role in collecting on a debt, there’s a fine line between checking in and pestering.

Harassing looks like calling a customer every single morning for 60 straight days and screaming at them. Persistence looks like calling every seven to ten days and giving the client some options by which they can start paying off the debt.

5. Offer to Settle for Less

Let’s say a client owes you $10,000 and is 120 days past due. You’ve been trying to collect on this debt for four months and feel pretty sure you’re never going to see the money. Before simply writing the debt off, it’s always a good idea to offer a settlement for less than you’re owed.

While the delinquent payment is stressful to you, rest assured that it’s causing more anxiety for the client. It’s probably keeping them up at night. If you come to them and say you’re willing to take $5,000, they may jump at the chance to get it off their books. And considering that you already counted it as a lost cause, that’s a $5,000 win for you. You’ll never know until you ask!

6. Hire a Collection Agency

If you have a lot of outstanding debt owed to you and you’re spending a lot of time trying to collect on it, it may be worth your time to hire a collection agency. Not only will this save you time and possibly allow for better results, but it could keep you out of legal trouble.

“The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) became law in 1977, and it governs how debts may be collected,” explains Mike Periu, president of Proximo, LLC. “The law mainly regulates companies that are engaged in the business of collecting debts on behalf of clients or that buy debt at a discount price with the goal of collecting on it.”

Registered debt collection agencies understand the intricacies of the FDCPA and you can avoid putting yourself in a compromising position by working with them.

Learn How to Walk the Line

Debt collection isn’t fun. Sometimes you feel like you’re being a pushover and other times you feel as if you’re being too harsh. The goal should be to walk the line well enough that people take you seriously and pay up when they’re able. You’ll occasionally have to write off bad debt, but follow the aforementioned tips and you’ll have some success.

Calculating Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “6 Steps to Successfully Collect on a Small Business Debt” was first published on Small Business Trends

5 Employee Engagement Tips for Small Businesses

Employee Engagement Best Practices

Employees often feel like they’re being ignored.

Unable to ventilate their grievances, they sometimes leave the organizations in which they work.

Listed below are some of the ways employee dissatisfaction hurts a business:

  • Dissatisfied employees disclose enterprise information to non-employees.
  • They speak ill of the organization, which stops potential employees from joining it.
  • They create a negative atmosphere around them, which hampers the steady workflow.

Employee satisfaction, on the other hand, leads to enterprise benefit. Employee retention rate increases as employers keep experienced employees from leaving, which paves the roads for a stable clientele. Selection, recruitment and on-job training costs are paid off.

Employee Engagement Best Practices

In order to retain its employees, an organization needs to keep them engaged. Here are some actionable tips based on employee engagement best practices:

Offer Customized Incentives

This is a surefire way to engage employees. Studies after studies prove employee benefits and incentive programs drive better performance. Let’s refer to some survey data. Last year, the Gallup Poll found nearly 70% employees are disengaged because of lack of incentives. The disengagement results in $350 billion every year in lost production.

When employees are given incentives, they feel happy. Happy employees are more focused, more engaged and more productive. Engaged employees more productive than disengaged employees. Smart enterprises know this and they have employee incentive schemes for increased productivity.

Incentives should be customized. Customization should be based on demographic factors and employee preferences. The average age of employees in the financial sector is 44 years. Health schemes, lucrative pension schemes and insurance offers can be good incentives for people in mid-40s. Young employees, on the other hand, would be more interested in gift cards, redeemable coupons, travel offers, etc.

Demographic discrimination, therefore, is a prerequisite for employee incentives. Workplace performance is another parameter. When high-performing employees are incentivized, it creates a spiraling effect that finally benefits the company.

Use Expression to Lead to Engagement

According to studies, the more employees express themselves, the better they engage. Some enterprises actively encourage their employees to express themselves. Those, who are not that active can provide their employees the same opportunities via brainstorming sessions, HR meets, business summits, etc.

A zeitgeist in corporate blogging is blogs written by employees. According to research, customers like reading this type of blog. In the United States, almost 80 percent customers rely on blog content. They find blogs written by employees more reliable and unbiased.

This can be a win-win situation for an enterprise. By insisting employees to blog, it can create a facilitating environment for employee expression. Alongside, interaction between employees and customers can solidify its branding. To make blogging more interactive, enterprises can take help of interactive formats like podcasts, slides, video presentations, real-time interviews, etc.

Realize Personal Life Matters

When staff members are stressed or overworked, they tend to neglect their work and feel less engaged. This in turn disrupts the delivery of the work. Hence, an enterprise should help its employees find a balance between professional and personal lives.

Experts advise organizations to stay away from employees’ personal affairs. David Lewis, CEO of an HR outsourcing firm called OperationsInc said the less employers know about their employees’ personal lives, the better off they are. A business etiquette expert called Lydia Ramsey compared getting involved in employees’ personal lives with wading into dangerous waters.

However, employees are human beings and they may face personal crisis at times. What should be the role of an organization to resolve such crises? The organization should instruct managers to be supportive to people working under them and help them address the issues causing distress. That said, the managers shouldn’t offer them shoulders to cry on. They have a professional relationship with staff members, so they shouldn’t get too personally involved with them.

Set Goals and Leadership Engagement

Setting realistic goals is a great way to motivate employees. To set goals, an organization needs someone in leadership role. That’s because only a leader can set achievable goals. He talks to individual employees and to gauge the timeline for the completion of the goal before setting it. That’s what makes the goals realistic. Such goals offer employees opportunities to engage with each other and with their supervisors in a professional backdrop.

Leadership engagement is the precedent for employee engagement. Most organizations put executives in leadership roles. They must have a professional synergy between them, in order to inspire their subordinates to engage with them and with each other.

When employees achieve their goals, they feel accomplished. Afterwards, when they receive appreciation from people in leadership roles, they feel motivated to undertake professional challenges, which are more serious in nature.

Employ Productivity Increasing Tools

Business organizations are strongly recommended to update their technological superstructure. Unless organizations harness new technologies, they can’t match up with the pace with which the industry is moving forward. Automation guarantees enterprise productivity and smooths employee engagement. The sooner business organizations understand it, the better.

There’s not a single tool that comes exclusively under “employee engagement enhancer” category. Nevertheless, organizational productivity increasing tools have a slew of features for engaging employees. Tools which measure customer insight track both customer and employee data. There’s a dark side to workplace data tracking, but employers are to blame for that, not the tools. If the tools are positively harnessed, employers can instantly figure out the collective mood of the workforce, engage them in fact-based conversations and educate them with actionable tips.

Productive employees tend to interact more with one another and share ideas. Idea-sharing and workplace interaction are two key components of employee engagement. This is how automation gives way to a sharp rise in productivity, which then gives way to employee engagement.

Summing Up

Following the five tips makes employee engagement easier. However, these tips should never be followed in isolation. An innovative approach always puts one a notch above others. In competitive domains like business, innovation is the ultimate game-changer. Hence, enterprises need to invest more in idea generation, so that innovative ideas come up. Next, they need to customize the tips discussed above in the light of innovation.

Business Employees Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “5 Employee Engagement Tips for Small Businesses” was first published on Small Business Trends

How to Leverage User-Generated Content in Your Marketing Strategy

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These days, the phrase “content is king” still holds true (to an extent). But the rules surrounding content production as well as our understanding of it as marketers has changed. No longer is it about having content in spades, it’s all about quality.

Having one great piece of content is always going to be better than 10 second-rate pieces that don’t add any value for readers. However, if you can consistently produce great content on a regular basis, that’s enough to dominate the online marketing realm.

Unfortunately, about 70% of marketers still lack an integrated or consistent content strategy, based on research from Altimeter. Creating great content is hard, and many marketers still don’t have sufficient knowledge or adequate resources to produce high-quality content on a regular basis. Some produce generic content, which is akin to replicating a cola brand. You’re not innovating and it’ll never be as good as Coke, in which case no one’s going to buy/drink it.

Let’s face it, most brands don’t have the resources or expertise to compete with larger, more established companies with bigger marketing budgets. So how can they create high quality content at scale?

Well, one great way is to crowdsource. No one knows your readers better than they know themselves, and you simply can’t compete with the collective knowledge of an entire audience.

In this article, we’ll focus on why brands should let their users help create value in content.

How to Leverage User-Generated Content

Owned Media vs. Earned Media

Source: The Keep-calm-o-matic

Different types of media can be utilized to improve your organization’s value creation initiatives. One type is “owned media.” This refers to the content that your organization has 100% control over, including your company’s official website, company blogs, and your official social media pages.

Owned media may also come in the form of case studies, whitepapers, and ebooks. These types of media are not only controlled in terms of production, they’re also controlled in terms of distribution, because much of it is “gated”. The primary goal of owned media is to provide value to provide value through content marketing to generate and nurture leads.

Though there are many advantages to having complete control over your content, it doesn’t always work well to build trust with your audience because it isn’t “peer reviewed”. In some cases, owned media can also end up being over-technical, product-centric, and self-serving, hence the lack of appreciation from users. There’s only so much a brand can achieve if all their conversations and interactions are one-way.

The media type at the opposite end of the scale is “earned media.” Simply put, this refers to the media exposure earned by your brand through word-of-mouth. This exposure could stem from your own SEO efforts, high-quality content you publish that goes viral, great customer experience delivered, or pretty much anything else your brand does that compels individual users to create content with your brand’s name on it.

As the title suggests, “earned media” is the type of media or exposure your brand has earned by doing something positive or negative. These also come in various forms, including reviews and feedback, recommendations, press coverage, and articles, amongst others. The reason earned media works so well to build relationships is because it places users into your media channel, turning attention away from your brand and onto your audience.

In terms of building awareness and trust, earned media can be a gold mine. It helps build your community through social proof, and provides you with user-created value that leads to more opportunities for engagement. Not only does it facilitate improved ways to learn about your prospects/customers, it opens up a dialogue for two-way conversations so users can interact with your brand.

Oh yeah, it’s also free.

Benefits of User Generated Content

Why wait for people to start talking about your brand when you can create a channel for them to make themselves heard and facilitate User-Generated Content (UGC)? Every piece of content a user produces on your website or site’s outpost becomes branded UGC. Brands can provide a means for their users to collaborate with them via their website, forums, and social media platforms to power up these channels with activity.

For the users, they create UGC to express themselves and gain recognition. It’s a win-win situation, as brands greatly benefit from the buzz. Here are just some of the advantages for brands:

  • UGC helps brands understand their target audience better.
  • UGC improves site engagement and time spent on the website.
  • UGC increases customer satisfaction through conversations.
  • UGC provides means for other users to connect, which then, builds a stronger community.
  • UGC improves the brand’s search engine ranking and online visibility.
  • UGC is inherently peer-reviewed, making it more trustworthy.

More importantly, UGC creates a competitive advantage for brands that is inherently difficult to replicate because communities can’t just be copied.

Think about the power of sites like Wikipedia, whose moderators are crowdsourced users that help make the site better because they care about being part of an active community. Imagine how difficult/expensive this would have been to accomplish with owned or paid media. Now you see the power of user-created value.

Another great example would be the Inbound.org community, which has over 170k professional marketers who are happy to share their knowledge with other members. Everyone has their own opinions and experiences so this creates an unrivaled source of marketing expertise that makes the community extremely attractive for anyone looking to learn about sales/marketing.

Potential Challenges of Building a Community

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You can’t build an empire in a day. In today’s highly connected world, there are plenty of challenges brands face when trying to build an online community.

While UGC is definitely a cost-effective approach, one bad apple can ruin the bunch. The first problem with UGC is that since it comes directly from users, it can’t be controlled by the brand. This opens up areas for concern with trolling, negative comments and various legal compliance issues, just to mention a few.

As the name suggests, it’s the user that generates the content. Thus, it is their content and they can essentially create whatever they want, whether it’s good for your brand or not.

Which leads us to another challenge, how to maintain and moderate UGC. This is where the community manager comes in. He or she must be able to keep users engaged and set the tone for what themes, subjects and topics users should contribute towards. An experienced community manager should also know how to create content, handle PR issues and provide support to users.

Another challenge is the amount of time need to build a community. It’s not a one-time, big-time deal. Like in-house efforts, UGC requires resources, continued effort and time for it to work.

Some brands launch online communities that offer many features, which can lead to high development costs. For instance, some have extensive communications, search and analytics functions. These features can require huge amounts of resources to develop, all of which could potentially go to waste if the feature doesn’t get used or is fundamentally flawed.

Apart from the above, other potential issues include developing an authentic brand voice, respecting boundaries, keeping your community engaged, and policing content. Though this might seem a little daunting, I can assure you that the benefits of having an active community far outweigh the development and maintenance costs.

How to Encourage Users to Create Value

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At this point you’re probably asking “how do I get users to create value in the first place?”

First, you need to give them a reason to become part of your community. You need to make them WANT to be part of the “squad.” You can tap into their innate desire to belong to a community and help others or you can focus on the opportunity to learn from industry experts.

When a brand engages with their audience online, it sets an example and encourages other users to participate and join the conversation. This is highly evident on social media, especially on Facebook and Twitter where users can communicate with brands directly.

It’s important to know who your audience is at this point, so you can develop themes to ignite their interest. Much like producing owned media, you should first listen to your audience to find out what they’re interested in and what they’re concerned about. Then use this information about your audience to develop themes, topics and subjects that focus on their needs, wants and desires. The more user-centric your system is, the better it’ll work.

To help you along the way, here are the basic principles to creating an online community:

  • Encourage participation through incentivizing.
  • Set a standard for members to follow.
  • Think in terms of the collective.
  • Be honest and transparent with members.
  • Promote your community to attract new members.
  • Be persistent and contribute regularly to develop a voice.
  • Allow members to be independent.

The Power of Communities

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In its simplest form, members of a community help each other grow. Communities offer people support, encouragement and expert knowledge along with providing a sense of belongingness.

For brands, communities can be just as powerful. The stronger your community, the more likely it is that it will help you sustain your business. When it comes to establishing your brand as an industry leader and thought innovator, there’s not much that’s more compelling than having your own strong community.

Not convinced? Here’s the proof:

  • 86% of Fortune 500 companies report communities provide insights into customer needs (Sector Intelligence)
  • 71% of companies use customer collaborations for market research (Aberdeen)
  • 64% of companies state the brand community has improved their decision-making (Innsbruck University)
  • 53% of Americans who follow brands on social are more loyal to those brands (Convince & Convert)
  • 80% of brands say that their community building efforts have resulted in increased traffic (HubSpot)

Think about companies like Uber, Airbnb, Facebook, and Alibaba. The nature of their business models depend entirely on their communities. The larger they are, the more value they provide to individual members. But, keep in mind that these are extreme cases whereby the products are essentially the communities themselves.

Though many businesses won’t have the need or ability to create a community-centered website, they can always have a presence on social media and via blog comments, which can be just as beneficial. Online communities can help further showcase your brand’s products or services and attract new members to come aboard. Bottom line, you need to bring your community into your marketing.

Think of it as a channel for free marketing and PR. Now, who wouldn’t want that?

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3 Awesome Tips for Turning Business Weaknesses To Strengths

3 Example of Weaknesses Turned Into Strengths

I think it’s human nature to focus on our shortcomings. Instead of seeing the happiness captured in a photograph, we focus on our crooked smile or lousy haircut. Rather than appreciating the wonderful view from the windows of our retail store, we fret about the parking shortage.

To a certain degree, though, being critical can help us excel. Think about it…if you could identify weaknesses and transform them into strengths, your company would benefit big time!

3 Example of Weaknesses Turned Into Strengths

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples of turning weakness into strength:

1. A Difficult Name

Nobody understands this problem better than I do. I’m an author and a public speaker, so my name is everything to me; it’s both my identity and my brand. But my last name is…well…challenging. People aren’t sure how to pronounce it, and they damn sure aren’t comfortable with spelling it. What have I done? I’ve handled the weakness with humor, and it’s made my brand even stronger. My website plays with the difficulty of my last name, and my email signature includes the phonetic pronunciation. (It’s mi-‘kal-?-wits, just in case you’re curious.) So instead of making a prospective client feel idiotic because my name makes them uncomfortable, I address the problem head-on. Weakness no longer!

2. Lousy Reviews and Ratings

Any author will tell you that one-star ratings can kill a book. And the same holds true whether you’re a building contractor or a pizza joint. We live and die by our reviews. But you’re inevitably going to get them, so it’s wise to look for ways to turn them to your advantage. When one of my books came out, I got a phone call from a professor I held in high esteem. He’d read my book, and while he thought the principles in it were sound, he didn’t like my casual, in-the-trenches language. He found it insufficiently academic. What did I do? I asked him to write a review. He was shocked. Why did I do it? Because what he objected to is exactly what my readers love about my books. They don’t want stuffy talk. They want practical solutions. His one-star review was great for my book sales!

3. Being the Priciest Option

Here’s the deal: If you’re competing on price, you’re never going to be as profitable as you could be. Consumers who price shop are notoriously fickle, and any discount will pull them to your competitor. So if you’re the most expensive option, flaunt it! Sell yourself as the elite, top-of-the-line choice, and demonstrate why you’re worth the premium price. You’re setting yourself apart from your competition, and you’re appealing to consumers who are willing to pay more for quality. You have to make sure you deliver that quality, of course, but your profit margin will make it all worthwhile.

Every company and every person has weaknesses. There’s no way around it, but there are — if you’re creative — ways to turn those shortcomings to your advantage. Leverage what others may consider a weakness and transform them into brand-building points of difference.

Republished by permission. Original here.

Dumbbells Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “3 Awesome Tips for Turning Business Weaknesses To Strengths” was first published on Small Business Trends

4 Ways to Fix the Packet Loss Issue

How to Fix Packet Loss

A network ideally should never lose a packet. But that’s just an ideal condition which never occurs in the real world. Packet loss is an issue that plagues almost every ISP. And from my experience, I can easily say that this issue is commonly faced by wireless connections in comparison to that of wired ones.

Yes, it is a problem. But that doesn’t mean you should keep quiet and do nothing. You should try the best that you can from your end at the very least to turn this problem into a solution. If everything fails, then I guess it’s time to give your ISP a call.

In this article, we have discussed the issue of packet loss in thorough detail along with a few basic solutions in the end that can actually come in handy for you in case you encounter this issue in the near future.

Basics First: What is Packet Loss?

Before I go on to explain packet loss in general, it would be better if I explain the word “packet” first. A packet is nothing but a single unit of data carried by the network.

Packet loss occurs when the very same packet fails to reach its proper destination. The destination can be your computer (if it’s directly connected to the network via wire) or your mobile phone (if it’s connected to a router via WiFi) or any other similar device.

So What Causes Packet Loss?

Packet loss is usually caused as a result of four issues. Take a peek:

  • Congested network

Packet loss is commonly seen occurring on a congested network. By “congested network”, we are actually referring to the networks that are trying to carry data beyond their capabilities. When this happens, packet drops are bound to occur.

In some cases, this form of “packet drops” may go unnoticed depending on the nature of the device and the use. But in some cases it becomes pretty obvious.

For example,

If you are involved in online gaming and packet drop occurs at exactly that point of time, you are bound to experience lag at some point. Now that’s pretty annoying; there’s simply no doubt about it.

  • Performance of the device (such as a switch/router/firewall)

Your bandwidth’s working fine. But even in that case, you may face issues with your network if your router or switch or even your firewall fails to keep up with that of your bandwidth.

Using outdated routers or switches are one of the primary reasons behind these kinds of problems.

  • Network driver bugs

Driver bugs may sometimes go unnoticed as a result of their irrelevance. But once you start noticing performance issues occurring in your network or PC for any reason whatsoever, you may also start noticing these bugs on your PC through the aid of your system logs.

These bugs are pesky little pests indeed and can cause real issues in your network by bringing it down to a crawl as a result of excessive packet loss.

  • Faulty wiring or hardware

If it’s a wiring issue, you should typically be able to see the error on your PC itself by pinging your IP address (you should see something like “ping transmission failed”). In case it’s a hardware issue, you’ll notice several error messages on your system log itself.

Both of these issues can contribute profusely to network packet drops.

How to Fix Packet Loss

All four problems highlighted above have a few basic solutions that you should try out at first before calling up your ISP.

  1. In case it’s a congested link problem, you are advised to prioritize your network traffic through the aid of QoS. Through QoS, you would be able to prioritize your applications (like video or voice) on basis of your requirements and importance. Prioritization of traffic is considered to be one of the ideal solutions for perfect bandwidth utilization.
  2. In case it’s an outdated hardware issue, there’ only a single solution my friend. Replace the outdated piece with the latest model available in the market.
  3. For driver issues, a simple update is recommended (in case you hadn’t had any).
  4. If the issue’s rounded up to be a wiring problem, it needs to be fixed as quickly as possible. In this case, you are advised to inform the ISP of the problem so that they can carry out the repairs ASAP.

So that’s it then. Hope these four fixes come in handy for you. In case they don’t, the phone line to your ISP is always open and I am pretty sure they’ll be able to solve your problem in no time.

Network Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “4 Ways to Fix the Packet Loss Issue” was first published on Small Business Trends

Heres a New Assignment IoT for Seniors

IoT for Seniors Could Be New Niche

When you think of IoT consumers, you probably picture trendy, young, tech-savvy individuals. But there may be an opportunity for tech companies selling connected products to target consumers who fall on the opposite end of the spectrum.

IoT for Seniors

A new pilot project set up by the European Commission is seeing how IoT products may be able to help seniors live more independently and securely. It has been a challenge for Europe to support its large aging population financially. And connected products like sensors and mobile apps can potentially help older individuals live on their own while still maintaining some peace of mind.

One of the products used is a sensor from Spanish company MYSPHERA. The sensors are placed inside and outside of seniors’ homes. And they can actually detect any changes in routine or behavior and send updates to an app to alert the caregiver.

This project demonstrates that there may be a somewhat underserved market when it comes to IoT businesses. Of course there are still opportunities for companies to target young, tech-savvy consumers with innovative new products. But there are also some really practical applications for the technology in the homes and lives of seniors and other types of consumers. So tech startups could consider those opportunities before just jumping into the seemingly default target market.

Seniors Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “Here’s a New Assignment, IoT for Seniors” was first published on Small Business Trends

Surefire Local Marketing Cloud Aims at Features with One Login

Surefire Local Marketing Cloud Aims at Many Features with One Login

Wouldn’t you love to access your social media accounts, reviews, email marketing, organic search and Google AdWords with a single login? Well, that’s exactly what Surefire Local Marketing Cloud offers its users.

A Look at Surefire Local Marketing Cloud

Simply put, Surefire Local Marketing Cloud (old name: SurePulse Dashboard) is a marketing automation platform that allows marketers and business owners to control, manage and optimize the most essential elements of their digital marketing — all with a single, secure login.

Constant growth through new and repeat customers is key to the success of any business. And to achieve this, the most successful business owners create a great brand, develop a good reputation and execute a successful hyper-local marketing strategy.

However, collecting and analyzing data from multiple places can be challenging for busy business owners, but with Surefire Local Marketing Cloud single login you can now be able to:

  • Publish content to let customers find you with keywords. The platform’s Digital Content Manager enables you to create, approve and manage all social media, and publish new website content and offers.
  • Increase your reputation scores. Get more reviews from customers with the reputation management tool, where you can monitor and respond to reviews.
  • Have you business show up in more places. Increase your business listings across 70+ directories, make changes instantly, and publish.
  • Be top-of-mind for new customers. Get in front of new customers quickly with automatic advertising campaigns via Google AdWords, Bing and Facebook.
  • Never miss a lead. Respond using your mobile phone via the iOS and Android Mobile App.
  • Exceed expectations. Keep customers engaged with automated customized email campaigns.

“Whether it’s the business owner or marketing manager, the Surefire Local Marketing Cloud gives them the perspective they need to expand their digital marketing and create campaigns when needed, and then show the results all in one place,” Surefire Local Chief Marketing Officer Shashi Bellamkonda told the Small Business Trends. “Today there is no comparable tool that does everything the business owners need for their local marketing the way the Surefire Cloud manages their presence. It is interactive vs. being just a dashboard or just social.”

Bellamkonda further said that they expect the platform to retail for $299.

Image: SurefireLocal.com

This article, “Surefire Local Marketing Cloud Aims at Features with One Login” was first published on Small Business Trends

10 Places to Get Free Motion Graphics for Your Companys Videos

10 Places to Get Free Motion Graphics for Your Company’s Videos

Using motion graphics is a great way to bring visual appeal and enhance the success a corporate video. Motion graphics are essentially a succession of graphics that generate the illusion of motion. Unlike a still image, motion graphics engages both visual and auditory receptors, consequently creating engaging and effective visual content.

If you are looking for motion graphics to help bring your company’s videos to life, Small Business Trends have identified ten sources where you can get free motion graphics to embed into your corporate videos.

Sources of Free Motion Graphics to Use in Videos

Flixpress

Flixpress is an effective web-based tool for creating motion graphics. After creating a free user account, you can search through Flixpress’s collection of free templates, limited to around nine, and choose the one you like. You can then create a free motion graphic to enhance the appeal of a corporate video. Flixpress offers an affordable tiered pricing plan for its video creation services, ranging from the Personal Plan costing $0.83 per month, to the Enterprise Plan, which costs $79.99 a month.

Check out this sample of Flixpress’s motion graphics.

Motion Array

Motion Array is a membership-based resource in which companies can download stock motion graphics and stock video elements. Users can browse through an array of motion graphic templates, all of which are designed to bring video content to life.

Ignite Motion

Ignite Motion allows you to download free motion graphics for commercial use. Ignite Motion’s high-definition, motion graphic backgrounds are compatible with most video editing software. Companies can browse through Ignite Motion’s portfolio of motion graphic backgrounds through different category genres, ranging from speed and abstract to clouds and human.

Motion Backgrounds For Free

Motion Backgrounds For Free offers a wide variety of what the site hails as being “100% free after effects templates”, such as trailer templates and photo slideshows. From a mathematical motion background to an abstract fluid forms motion backgrounds, Motion Backgrounds For Free can help you put some eye-catching motion visuals into a commercial video.

Video Blocks

Video Blocks offer royalty-free motion backgrounds from a fairly varied collection of motion graphic templates, ranging from spinning globe in outer space to and abstract moving rainbow. Users need to sign up to become a member of Video Blocks and they can then download royalty-free motion background templates to use in commercial and personal videos.

Take a look at this sample from Video Blocks.

CMG — Church Motion Graphics

If you’re looking for quality motion graphics, Church Motion Graphics (CMG) could be another place to head to. Users need to create an account with CMG and can then download eye-catching motion graphics from a catalogue of templates. Subscribers to CMG can choose from a tiered pricing structure, starting at $10 for a Standard monthly subscription to $348 for a Premium yearly subscription.

Free Pik

If you’re looking for motion graphic vectors or photos, then Free Pik has 347 free resources available for you. Users can download free motion graphics on Free Pik and start creating a compelling, creative and exciting corporate video. Users have to register to Free Pik before they can start downloading content.

Ae Download

Ae Download offers a limited stock of motion graphic designed for infographics, transitions, backgrounds and more. Simply sign up for an Ae Download account and take full advantage of the site’s motion graphic stock without delay, as the site prides itself on providing downloads with unlimited speed and with no waiting times.

Monzoom

Monzoom has a collection of motion graphics available to download that businesses could use to enhance the visual appeal of their corporate videos. The graphics can be downloaded for free from Monzoom but users have to register for an account before they can start downloading content.

Motion Worship

Quality motion content is available on Motion Worship. Motion Worship offers three membership levels, starting from the $25 a year ‘Mini-Movie Subscription, which includes mini-movies only, to the $50 a year memberships, which includes all motions, countdowns and stills, to the $79 a year full access subscription, which provides downloads to all media.

With all these great sources for downloading high quality motion graphics, quickly and efficiently, you’ve no excuse for not creating a compelling, engaging and inspiring video to help promote your company and its products or services.

Man at Laptop Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “10 Places to Get Free Motion Graphics for Your Company’s Videos” was first published on Small Business Trends