6 Secret Snags of Starting a Startup

This post originally appeared on blog.startupdigest.com.

The following is a guest post by Tiffany Rowe. Tiffany is a Marketing Administrator at Seek Visibility, where she assists clients in contributing resourceful content throughout the web.

When you decide to become an entrepreneur, you know that the path ahead isn’t easy. Business is nearly synonymous with risk, and achieving stability and success takes an extraordinary amount of time and effort. Still, with the help of mentors and helpful entrepreneurs on the internet, you can get a good picture of the biggest challenges you will face when starting your startup, to wit: finding funding, team building, attracting customers, and managing cash flow. If your business plan addresses these issues well, you should be on the road to small-business growth.

However, a business can trip over more than just major obstacles. Sometimes, the small snags can rip and tear a business apart. In the interest of preparing for every problem in your startup’s future, you should know about these less pressing difficulties you don’t often hear about.

Secret Expenses

You need to rent business space. You need to pay your employees. You need to buy products, and soon, you’ll probably pay for marketing opportunities. If you’re a smart entrepreneur, you’ll be diligent about researching costs and planning for them with pricing. Yet, even the most meticulous budgeter will encounter unforeseen expenses that throw off margin estimates and endanger the business. Therefore, you must be flexible with your budgeting and allow your startup some wiggle room – or else shatter at the first surprise emergency you experience.

Logistical Inconsistency

If your startup starts with just you, a computer, and a dozen responsibilities, you will quickly get your logistics down to a T. However, once you add your first few employees, you should expect those logistic processes to begin to vary. As an entrepreneur, you simply don’t have time to write guides for completing each necessary task, and you have even less time to enforce your methods on employees who can be just as effective with their approaches.

Still, you should strive for consistency. A startup won’t be hindered much by informal varied processes, but a big business can slow considerably thanks to inefficient functioning. From the beginning, you should use tools to regulate methods and ensure efficiency, such as inventory management software for more accurate stock tracking and project management software to keep everyone on task.

Unfortunate Fraud

You might strive to look for the best in everyone – but some people just look for the biggest dollar-signs. At some point in your startup journey, someone will try to take advantage of you. Your customers might abuse your return policy; your business clients might refuse to pay invoices; your employees or competitors might take you to court to squeeze pennies from your pockets. You should be aware of common scams, even after your startup has grown into an SMB. Additionally, you should be aware of potential fraud you might be committing and change your actions as soon as you recognize unlawful behavior.

Lacking Motivation

Startups demand long hours, working weekends, financial stress, and more. If you aren’t working hard to see your startup succeed, you’ll probably experience total failure soon. Still, plenty of entrepreneurs are aware of the trials and tribulations before their startup starts, yet logical preparation does nothing to mitigate the impact when the stress actually hits.

The key to overcoming these psychological obstacles is motivation. You must find a way to keep you and your employees engaged and eager. As the leader, it’s your job to keep motivation alive – and there aren’t any shortcuts or secrets to true motivation.

Unwilling Relinquishment

Your startup is your baby; there will come a time when you must relinquish some control over your budding business, and then you will relinquish more. Every time you hire a new employee, you are entrusting your business in someone else’s hands, and many entrepreneurs are utterly unwilling to give others such responsibility. However, by refusing to delegate, you are ensuring your business’s downfall. Because you will only accept greater tasks in the future, you must give your subordinates the smaller, day-to-day duties you can no longer handle.


As a startup entrepreneur, you are an incredibly important person who makes incredibly important decisions. You will command respect and admiration – but likely, you will feel incredibly alone. Your startup will eat up much of your personal time, preventing you from receiving the social fulfillment most humans crave, and your position as company leader precludes you from speaking comfortably and forthrightly to anyone at your business.

The solution here is assuring social contact in one way or another. You might need to schedule one complete startup-free day every week to spend with your family and friends. You might even need to seek professional help through a therapist or psychiatrist. Whatever you do, you can’t let loneliness eat away at your startup dreams.

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Want to Ensure Your Best Employees Stay On? Here’s Why You Need to Be Serious About Retention

This post originally appeared on blog.startupdigest.com.

The following is a guest post by Tiffany Rowe. Tiffany is a Marketing Administrator at Seek Visibility, where she assists clients in contributing resourceful content throughout the web.

Retaining top workers is essential for any business, but when you’re running a startup that is trying to find its feet and grow, keeping all that valuable organizational knowledge in house is more important than ever.

If you don’t make an effort to keep your staff members engaged, happy, and motivated at work, you can not only see valuable business information walk out the door, but also have to deal with the costs involved in finding replacements. If you want to avoid this, read on for some key reasons why you need to be serious about retention at your startup and some tips for going about it.

Benefits of Increasing Retention Rates

When you increase retention rates and have fewer employees leaving your business to work elsewhere, you save yourself a lot of time, money, and energy. For starters, you won’t have to worry about writing job descriptions and advertisements, or combing through dozens or even hundreds of applications for a role.

You’ll save yourself money since you won’t have to pay to advertise positions or for recruiters to find suitable candidates, and you’ll save time when it comes to interviewing people. When you keep your team intact, you can also avoid having to spend your time, or that of other staff members, training up replacements, and waiting for them to learn systems, procedures, and other information.

Another key benefit of boosting retention is that, by ensuring workers are happy and engaged, and that you keep the same team and don’t keep introducing new people, morale within your workforce will be increased. Once the morale is high within a business, productivity levels typically rise correspondingly, and fewer disagreements take place between co-workers that have to be dealt with.

Boost morale and you’re also much more likely to see workers coming up with innovative ideas or solutions to problems. They will treat customers much better too, since they’ll be in a better mood at work and happy to help others. This means that your clients should spend more, buy more often, and be more loyal in turn.

When you concentrate on retention you will create a more positive work environment, and employees will feel much more committed to the organization as a result. They will gain a sense of pride in working for your business, and will then tend to speak about the company in glowing terms to their contacts, which will help your sales and marketing efforts. Having your staff rave about working for your organization will enhance your ability to attract top talent in the future too – after all, people always want to work somewhere where they can see employees are happy.

Tips for Improving Retention

There are numerous ways you can go about improving retention within your team. One of the top things to start with though is acknowledging and rewarding employees. Doing so makes them feel valued and appreciated, and will reduce the likelihood that they will want to leave for greener pastures.

A simple thank you can go a long way when it comes to noticing a worker’s efforts. This can be communicated in person, over an email or Skype session, on the phone, in a lovely handwritten note or email, or in front of the whole team. You might also want to give a top employee a shout out in a company newsletter or social media post, or pronounce them the “Employee of the Month” or give them some other relevant honor.

Other good ways to reward your team for their hard work include promoting them, giving them bonuses, presenting them with an award, or sourcing some executive gifts. Employees also tend to appreciate things like time off work, bottles of wine, boxes of chocolates, flower bouquets, movie or sporting tickets, vouchers for massages or dinners, trips away, credit cards loaded with cash to spend, or a free experience that they’ve been excited to try for years (e.g., a concert of their favorite performer, or a helicopter ride, scuba diving lesson, or skydiving jump).

Another prime way to improve retention rates within your startup is to make sure that you provide all your workers with numerous opportunities for growth. People can get bored if they’re doing the same job for too long, or if the tasks assigned to them are too easy. They can also feel like they’re stagnating in their career if they never move up to a higher, or preferred, position. As such, it is important to find ways to allow your employees to learn new skills, try different things, achieve accomplishments, and work their way up in the industry.

To do this, start by bringing in speakers to talk to your team on a regular basis, and run training (either internally or externally) so that they can pick up new knowledge or skills. You can also pay for workers to attend leading networking events, conferences, trade shows, and the like; and give them time off, or funds for educational courses and seminars. In addition, make sure you conduct employee reviews on an annual basis at a minimum, so that you can help staff members set goals and have something to work toward.

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Can Anyone Learn to Be a Business Leader?

This post originally appeared on blog.startupdigest.com.

The following is a guest post by Tiffany Rowe. Tiffany is a Marketing Administrator at Seek Visibility, where she assists clients in contributing resourceful content throughout the web.

Great leaders are born, not made. That saying has tumbled through our culture for generations, seeping into our psyches and telling most of us that we just aren’t good enough – because we weren’t born that way.

Fortunately, that saying just isn’t true. The fact is there are no genetic markers for leadership qualities; leadership is not a dominant or recessive trait. Rather, a great leader is something a person becomes through experience and education. Babies aren’t filling C-suites around the world because it requires a lifetime of work to earn a top leadership position within a corporation.

Great leaders are made, not born. That might not be how the famous saying goes, but that’s the truth. Anyone who aspires to great business leadership positions has the power to attain them. Here’s the proof.

We Learn Confidence

Confidence underlies nearly everything we try and do. If you are confident about your abilities, you are more likely to succeed – regardless of your skill level. This is perhaps truer in leadership than in any other field. Fortunately, it doesn’t require formal schooling to boost your confidence levels.

Most psychologists believe that confidence is established in childhood, thanks to helpful or hurtful parenting practices. Adults with low self-esteem must work to reverse their ingrained responses, but it is possible to do so. You might try one of the following confidence-building tactics:

  • List your strengths and achievements, and review that list often.
  • Think two positive thoughts for every negative one.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle, with a healthy diet, sufficient exercise, and adequate sleep.
  • Set realistic challenges and complete them.

We Learn Cooperation

One of the most underappreciated qualities of a great leader is her or his ability to cooperate with a team. Leaders spend time coordinating and communicating with all sorts of groups, from superiors to peers to inferiors, so being effective as a team member is as important as being a team leader.

Cooperation is another trait that tends to be acquired (or not) in childhood, but concerted practice working in groups can help you perfect your abilities as a team member. You can gain this experience in education programs designed to produce leaders, such as online MBA programs.

We Learn Integrity

Leaders who lack integrity usually fail to be leaders for long. When you are in a position of power, you must command respect through your actions and words; you must prove yourself to be reliable and honorable to subordinates and bosses if you want to excel.

Fortunately, there is another academic field that will assist you in developing this vital leadership skill: business ethics. An old and complex field, ethics explores what it means to behave righteously, and today’s business leaders tend to be in desperate need of moral education.

We Learn Communication

Babies aren’t born with the ability to speak clearly and concisely – but all babies are born with the ability to acquire that skill. Every day, linguists learn more about the language acquisition process, and fortunately for aspiring leaders, they are certain that learning communication skills doesn’t begin and end at age 2.

Leaders must communicate effectively, or else their orders will never be followed correctly. Here are a few tips to successful communication:

  • Listen more often than you speak.
  • Be honest and willing to explain yourself.
  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues, including body language and tone.
  • Be constructive in your criticism.
  • Know the importance of grammar.

We Learn Creativity

Often, we associate creativity with non-business professionals: artists, musicians, writers, etc. However, you need a healthy amount of creativity if you want to succeed as a leader. Everyone in business, from entrepreneurs to low-level grunts, should be able to think creatively at some level to help the business find newer, better ways of solving problems. Business leaders, especially, should be able to “think outside the box” to find more effective, productive solutions.

Creativity is like a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger it grows. Therefore, it is possible to train yourself to be more creative and to be a better leader. You should also be able to identify creative minds and invite creativity into your teams, both of which require claiming some amount of the skill yourself.

We Learn Open-Mindedness

Perhaps as important as creativity – but dramatically more difficult to learn – is flexibility. There is a misconception that leaders are dogged in the pursuit of their goals, unwavering in their paths and unshakable in their beliefs. However, the truth is leaders must remain open-minded in regards to their goals, or they will likely fail with flying colors.

The key to becoming open-minded is to remember that you might not have the best solutions; your idea is not necessarily the only correct one, and it certainly isn’t the only one. You should take time to confront your fears, gain new experiences, and do other acts that put you out of your comfort zone. Then, you will be more flexible in how you lead your team.

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Why You Definitely Don’t Want to DIY Your Business Videos

This post originally appeared on blog.startupdigest.com.

The following is a guest post by Tiffany Rowe. Tiffany is a Marketing Administrator at Seek Visibility, where she assists clients in contributing resourceful content throughout the web.

Now that nearly every social site has integrated video in a practical way, social media users have come to rely on video posts for their information and marketing materials; plain text posts have largely become outdated and boring. Online video can propel your brand and business to the next level, earning you fantastic visibility and increasing your consumer audience by droves.

Knowing this, thousands of tightfisted business owners have taken it upon themselves to write and produce their online video content – and you might be considering doing the same thing. You might think: “Quality cameras aren’t that expensive,” and “I can find editing software online for free.” Unfortunately, not having a video is better than a bad video, and you should rethink your DIY video idea before you make a catastrophic mistake.

What Video Quality Says About Your Brand

Unless you are chasing a consumer market that cares about product price and nothing else – and if you are, you probably shouldn’t worry about video marketing – you are likely concerned about the quality of your products. These days, consumers are more than willing to pay extra for high-quality goods and services, which means companies are spending more on design and materials (or employee training) to ensure their products are top notch. Yet, it doesn’t matter what efforts you exert in producing high-quality goods and services if your marketing materials make your company look cheap and substandard.

A bad video – whether it is bad in terms of definition, writing, acting, or overall quality – hurts your brand. Your message, however positive it may be, is obscured by the off-putting elements of the video. The message then becomes that your company isn’t concerned about its image, so target consumers tend to believe your company won’t care about them. Conversely, a good video tells a heartening story about your brand, convincing consumers to support your business and buy products. And ultimately, good video requires video production agencies.

Good Video Requires Time and Expertise

Yes, professional-looking videos, including a bevy of music videos and even a Sundance-worthy indie film, have been shot using readily available technology, like smartphones. However, it is important to note that behind those phones were teams of professional video producers, directors, writers, and more. You should feel free to use low-quality tech to film your business video – if you have the expertise to back it up.

Not only are video production companies armed with better video-capturing and -editing tech than your average phone, but each member of a video team has years of experience with individual elements of production. When you contract a business video, you are gaining the benefits of lighting specialists, sound engineers, cinematographers, and perhaps script writers and social media gurus, too. No matter how many blogs you read about DIY business video content, you will never gain the level of mastery that professional video producers claim. Instead of risking your hard-earned brand image with a shoddy video, you should invest in the time and expertise available through production companies.

Elements of an Excellent Video

No good video is produced in an hour. Just as a piece of written content should be several days in the making, your video will require weeks of planning and producing before it is ready for publication online. The reason high-quality video takes so much time is that there are several elements necessary to make a video watchable and sharable.

Though you should work alongside a video production company, it helps if you already have an idea of what your video will look like. Knowing the following effective elements of good video will help you envision the high-quality video that will elevate your brand to the next level.

  • Relevance. Audiences will slide by videos that aren’t pertinent to them. Your video needs to be significant to your audience, in one way or another, while being relevant to your brand.
  • Resonance. Storytelling is perhaps the hottest trend in marketing video because it manipulates audiences’ emotions. Your video should use joy, sadness, anger, and other emotions to your benefit.
  • Searchability. If consumers cannot locate your video, you lose impact. Your video should be easy to find, share, and engage with.
  • Brevity. Few web users have the time or patience to sit through a two-minute clip, let alone a 10-minute short film. Your video should get to the point quickly.

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The Dangers of Offline Card Processing (and What to Do Instead)

This post originally appeared on blog.startupdigest.com.

The following is a guest post by Tiffany Rowe. Tiffany is a Marketing Administrator at Seek Visibility, where she assists clients in contributing resourceful content throughout the web.

Thanks to Square, Paypal Here, Intuit GoPayment, and a handful of other mobile payment processors, small sellers everywhere have the ability to accept card payments at all times. In many ways, these tools have been revolutionary: They help entrepreneurs make all sorts of transactions, boosting the economy and helping small businesses grow fast.

Unfortunately, many of these mobile payment solutions – and even some traditional card processing services – are beginning to offer “offline” services, which some vendors are taking advantage of in non-connective situations. While mobile card processing is wonderfully beneficial, offline card processing is exceedingly dangerous and should be avoided. Here’s why.

Why Offline Card Processing Is Bad

For many merchants, this scenario is a familiar one: A customer sweeps into the store, makes a head-spinningly massive order, and wants to pay for everything upfront using a card. Eager to please such an excellent customer, the cashier graciously tries to approve the transaction as quickly as possible – only to discover the processor is offline.

With offline card processing, the solution seems to be simple: The cashier can log the transaction anyway, allow the customer to leave with his or her purchase, and the processor can take in the information when it comes back online. Ostensibly, the customer leaves happy, having obtained his or her order in a timely manner, and the store benefits from a large sale.

However, this isn’t the only outcome. It is incredibly likely that some mishap occurs; maybe the card isn’t valid or the charge is denied for some reason. Maybe the customer charged the amount back, disagreeing that the transaction took place. There is no way for the merchant to know the sale will go through until the card is processed and accepted, which could be hours or days later. Then, the merchant is left with a significant loss – or, at best, fighting their processing company in an effort to prove the transaction was legitimate.

Offline card processing is as risky as taking customer IOUs with nothing but a verbal promise. Instead of participating in this dangerous practice, merchants should choose more secure methods of managing their transactions.

What to Do Instead of Going Offline

Fortunately, there are alternative solutions to help merchants who can’t access their online card processors. Here are the three most widely available and easy-to-use options:

  • Automated Clearing House. Typically shortened to ACH, this solution is ideal for merchants who maintain close customer relationships. Instead of collecting payments in person, merchants can bill their customers electronically. ACH processing fees are less expensive than fees for debit and credit cards, and payments are processed in batches for speed and efficiency.
  • Checks. Ultimately, debit cards and checks pull money from the same place, so legitimate customers should not be overly concerned with your request for a paper check rather than a plastic card. However, you must continue to be vigilant for fraud when handling paper checks, verifying names and signatures and looking for signs of tampering.
  • Cash. While countries like Sweden and India are trying to get away from a cash economy, merchants should campaign to keep cash in the U.S. No matter what systems go down, a merchant can always accept dollar bills and coins in exchange for goods and services. Plus, thanks to updates to currency, cash is exceedingly difficult to counterfeit; thus, it’s improbable that a merchant will take a loss by accepting cash.

When Offline Card Processing Is Acceptable

Of course, merchants should never say never. Just because offline processing is dangerous in most situations doesn’t mean anyone should prohibit the practice in all situations. There are some scenarios in which offline card processing might be well worth the risk.

Businesses that must move customers through check-out quickly to provide high-quality service cannot waste time processing and authorizing every single card in real time. In this case, the money lost by delaying each customer by a minute or two is likely substantially more than the money lost to fraud. Fast-casual restaurants often find offline card processing more profitable than the slow, secure alternative.

Still, the vast majority of merchants should think twice before automatically agreeing to offline card processing. Usually, there is more to lose than to gain by delaying payment.

The post The Dangers of Offline Card Processing (and What to Do Instead) appeared first on Startup Digest Blog.

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5 Familiar Fears All Startups Face

This post originally appeared on blog.startupdigest.com.

The following is a guest post by Tiffany Rowe. Tiffany is a Marketing Administrator at Seek Visibility, where she assists clients in contributing resourceful content throughout the web.

Business is risky. In the blink of an eye, a promising startup can crash and burn – taking a sizeable chunk of its owner’s personal assets with it. Even if a startup doesn’t fail outright, it offers dozens of causes for concern from its founders, from financial instability to improper management of resources. Usually, a small business requires not only an entrepreneur’s full investment – of time, energy, and money – and failure can lead to personal and career ruin unbelievably quickly.

Thus, it makes sense that fear often dissuades would-be entrepreneurs from launching their ventures. However, just as with fears of heights or darkness, fears regarding business can be overcome. The following five questions address common worries associated with starting a startup; if you can ensure your business answers correctly, you should have nothing to fear.

1. Will You Generate Consistent Income?

Most entrepreneurs leave respectable, well-paying positions to strike out on their own. Of course, most expect to earn much more – in fulfillment as well as salary – by running their own businesses, but exceptionally high income is never guaranteed in entrepreneurship. In fact, even successful ventures typically don’t become profitable right away.

The truth is: You will likely endure a period of financial insecurity while your startup builds momentum, but as long as you properly prepare, you and your business will survive. Before you dive into entrepreneurship, you should pay off your personal debts – including student loans – and build a healthy savings fund to use while your business grows. Then, once your startup is properly funded, you can avoid this common business-related stress.

2. Is Your Market Appropriately Niche?

Any business idea that lacks an audience is a bad idea. To achieve success, startups must begin by targeting a relatively small portion of the market, ideally one that remains as yet untapped. Later, businesses can leverage their existing audiences to attract greater attention and market share, but initially, cornering a niche is the goal.

Unfortunately, it is possible to imagine a niche so small that your business lacks the consumer power to grow. To avoid this, you should perform ample market research before investing more time and effort into your idea. By looking into your perfect consumer – understanding age, income, education, and interests – you should be able to determine whether or not your niche is large enough to sustain a startup.

3. Does Your Team Have What It Takes?

Many startups begin with a lonely entrepreneur in a home office, but with success, they soon have staffs of a dozen or more. A thriving small business could even boast more than a hundred employees, who must all work together to accomplish business goals. If any one worker fails to cooperate – if any one team is underperforming – the entire organization could collapse.

From your very first hire, you must be aware of the dangers of hiring someone who is less-than-qualified for the work. However, it is just as important that you find people who fit your startup’s brand and workplace culture. By being cautious and deliberate with your staffing choices, you should build a strong team destined for success.

4. Is Your Timeline Realistic?

Once entrepreneurs gain confidence in their ideas, they often feel compelled to move quickly. After all, time is money, and the longer it takes to form a startup, the more opportunity someone else has to steal the market. Most entrepreneurs must fight this instinct to be more methodical in their business-building. However, acting too slowly can be a cause of downfall, as well.

While you are writing your business plan, you must pay special attention to your business timeline. You should allow your business enough time to develop its products and services – finding possible issues and improving design and functionality sufficiently – before going live. You should also make flexible plans for expanding your startup, though when exactly this happens will depend on your early performance.

5. Are You a Great Manager?

Plenty of people have the spark of imagination or the excellent organization to build a business. Likewise, plenty of people have amazing leadership qualities, like communication, determination, compassion, and commitment. It isn’t common that an entrepreneur has both of these skill sets naturally, and typically, successful entrepreneurs aren’t the best at leading teams. 

If you aren’t sure whether you can be an excellent manager, you should consider preparing for this role by taking a few management courses at a local or online business school. You don’t necessarily need to earn an MBA – though MBA programs offer skills and knowledge ideal for entrepreneurship – but you should find a safe space to practice leadership before your career depends on it.

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8 Tips for a Killer Referral Marketing Program

This post originally appeared on blog.startupdigest.com.

The following is a guest post by Tiffany Rowe. Tiffany is a Marketing Administrator at Seek Visibility, where she assists clients in contributing resourceful content throughout the web.

Referral marketing is one of the most powerful tools that a startup has in its arsenal to capture new customers while also keeping existing customers engaged. Not only does a referral program expose new potential customers to your business, but the trust factor that comes from hearing about it from a known source can spur more action than advertising or other forms of marketing.

Setting up a referral program is relatively easy: Really, all you need to do is ask your customers to tell others about your business. However, for a truly successful program, a bit more thought and effort is required. As you plan your program, keep the following in mind to get amazing results.

1. Make It Easy to Make Referrals

If your customers have to jump through hoops to make a referral, they probably aren’t going to do it. Make it simple for people make a referral. Some brands set up a “referral hub” where customers can log in and access all the tools they need to make referrals and keep track of what they’ve already done. Others use simple buttons that will connect customers to their social accounts, where they can instantly share the offer or tailor the invitation to specific individuals. In any case, do most of the work for them, so they can make the referral in just a few clicks.

2. Offer Benefits to Both Parties

While some people are willing to share their favorite products and companies because they honestly believe in them, most people want to know “what’s in it for me?” when you ask them to make a referral. Your referral marketing program, then, should offer something to both the person making the referral and the person receiving it. For instance, offer referrers a cash bonus or credit for every referral who signs up — and that person gets a bonus as well. When the offer is mutually beneficial, everyone wins.

3. Make the Reward Meaningful

Understanding your audience, and what motivates them, is key to a successful program. Not everyone is driven by the same type of reward — some want discounts or free product, while others want cash, or some type of VIP treatment. Offering several different reward options, or a multilevel approach to incentives, creates a more meaningful program and better results.

4. Include a Clear Call-to-Action

The most successful referral marketing programs are those that clearly ask for a referral. Check out some of your favorite websites. Many are likely to have some type of referral option, with language like “Refer a friend, get $20” or something along those lines. Make it very clear what you are asking for, and why customers should help you out.

5. Gamify Your Referral Program

Gamification is one of the best ways to build engagement, whether it’s an app or a referral program. Humans are by nature competitive, and creating a program that lets them “win” by completing referrals can improve your results. Use referral program software to create dashboards, progress bars, and even points-based programs (in which customers earn points for rewards by completing activities) that turn the process into a game and keep people interested.

6. Build up to Asking for Referrals

People are unlikely to refer you to others before they have had any experience with you. Therefore, you need to build up to the “ask,” and establish a relationship before you request referrals. In other words, don’t rely on a popup that appears the first time someone visits your site to get referrals. Subtly include references to your program throughout your site, and make the request after the customer has had an experience with you.

7. Target ‘Happy Moments’

Speaking of customer experiences, the best time to ask for a referral is after “happy moments.” Did they just make a purchase? Download a resource? Watch a tutorial? Asking for referrals when customers have good feelings about your product or service is likely to generate far more positive results than asking at random moments.

8. Define ‘Referral’

Finally, be sure that your program clearly defines what constitutes an actual referral. Does the referral need to sign up for something? Make a purchase? Or is providing a name and email enough to get a reward? Be clear, to avoid confusion and disappointment.

You will most likely have to refine and adjust your referral program as you go, and discover what works and what doesn’t. When you do, though, the benefits to your business can be substantial, and help you build a solid, happy customer base.

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5 Ways to Make Your Startup Safer

This post originally appeared on blog.startupdigest.com.

The following is a guest post by Tiffany Rowe. Tiffany is a Marketing Administrator at Seek Visibility, where she assists clients in contributing resourceful content throughout the web.

At a startup, every dollar scraped together is precious, and few entrepreneurs can spare even a thought for their business’s security. Startup owners can easily convince themselves their digital risks are low. After all, startups seem to offer cybercriminals little of value: They tend to be poor when it comes to both money and data, the two commodities hackers are most eager to obtain. Devoting any time in the week, let alone any space in the budget, to cybersecurity would surely be a waste – right?

In truth, at least half of all small and medium-sized businesses have been victims of cyberattack, and a business’s brutal beginnings offer the perfect opportunities for a quick and easy strike. Malicious hackers take full advantage of the lax security of startups to steal whatever money and information they can, and some build backdoors into devices and data storage spaces to make later entry even easier. Therefore, entrepreneurs need to hard-bake security measures into their startups from the beginning.

1. Understand the Most Pressing Threats

Different types of businesses will be subject to different types of cybersecurity risk, so trying to defend against all potential security threats is probably a waste of time and resources. Therefore, the first step in safeguarding a startup is assessing which threats are most likely to endanger the business.

Businesses can outsource their risk assessment to cybersecurity firms, or they can save money and learn more about their specific security needs by following these steps:

  • Identify, locate, and classify information assets. What type of information does the startup manage? Where does that information live? Rank each type of information from one to five, depending on how public or sensitive the data is.
  • Rate threats to information. Use Microsoft’s STRIDE model to better identify which threats are more likely.
  • Finalize the data and plan. Combine the research from threat modeling and information classification to determine which threats require immediate attention.

2. Acquire Appropriate Security Tools

It is possible for a startup to overshoot its security needs. When that happens, productivity can slow as workers must wade through level after level of protection to access essential tools and data. Worse, investing too heavily in security is a waste of valuable funds. Therefore, startups should focus primarily on tools that address those threats identified in their risk assessment. Likely, a startup will need little more than DDoS solutions, including ransomware protection, and SSO solutions.

3. Integrate Security Into IT Strategy

Startups rely on their tech, so most have thorough tech strategies from the get-go. Then, tech departments are often given free-reign to modify configurations or devices as necessary to grow the business.

However, a startup’s security needs are highly dependent on existing tech structures, so miscommunication between security and IT workers can result in vast vulnerabilities that hackers won’t wait to exploit. Startup entrepreneurs should ensure their IT workers are mindful of security needs and communicative with security professionals at all times.

4. Empower Employees With Security Training

Even as cybercriminals toil to create new and more effective methods of infiltrating networks, the single biggest threat to business security is its employees. Lazy, apathetic, and otherwise unengaged workers are likely to skirt necessary security protocols, perhaps disabling malware scans or distributing passwords with abandon.

An essential step in employee training should be security instruction, which should both teach employees how to use their devices safely and why such behavior is absolutely necessary. Regular reminders, perhaps in the form of staff meetings or seminars, will likely be necessary throughout the life of a business to keep employees diligent about security.

5. Evaluate Security of Third-Party Vendors

After reading this guide, a startup might recognize the importance of cybersecurity measure and invest appropriately in defenses. However, if a startup doesn’t evaluate the security of its vendors, it might as well lack any security whatsoever.

Many startups use various vendors to make business easier; for example, they might use a cloud hosting service, email ticketing solutions, HR services providers, and more. These vendors will have access to the startup’s data, and if they aren’t suitably secure, the startup will suffer. Startups should have security criteria for any potential vendor to decrease the likelihood of surprise threats.

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Why More Business Schools Are Teaching Creativity

This post originally appeared on blog.startupdigest.com.

The following is a guest post by Tiffany Rowe. Tiffany is a Marketing Administrator at Seek Visibility, where she assists clients in contributing resourceful content throughout the web.

At first glance, it might appear that the concepts of creativity and business school are incompatible at best, if not completely contradictory. And while it’s true that some aspects of business, like finance, accounting, and law, have little room for creativity, the fact is that creativity is actually a vital part of any successful enterprise.

In fact, creativity has become so important for entrepreneurs that many business schools have begun adding courses and lessons in creativity and creative thinking to their curriculums. While there is some debate as to whether creativity and innovation can be taught, the fact that business schools are embracing the concept – and incorporating the concepts into more “traditional” business subjects such as leadership and management – indicates that it’s become a vital part of the modern business landscape.

Why Creativity Matters to Entrepreneurs

Millions of words have been written about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, most of them boiling down to a few key concepts: Persistence, leadership, passion, etc. Yet there is a growing sense that while these are important traits, creativity is actually the most important factor for successful entrepreneurship. The ability to consistently use your imagination and see the world and its challenges through a variety of lenses can take your business further than you ever thought it could go.

Now you might be thinking, “Well obviously creativity is important for entrepreneurs. They need to come up with new ideas to be successful!”  While innovation and new business ideas are certainly important, creativity is beneficial to entrepreneurs in other ways.

The value of failure. Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Becoming an entrepreneur means being willing to take on risk – and being willing to fail. Not every idea you have is going to be a winner. However, by building your creative skills, you build a higher tolerance for risk – and learn more from the ideas that don’t work. If you box yourself into doing only what you “know,” your chances of finding success diminish.

The ability to pivot. Again, not every idea you try is going to work. Or maybe you try something that works for a while, but then it slows down. Entrepreneurship requires quick thinking and the ability to pivot and change directions to remain competitive.

The ability to think divergently. Creative thinking is vital to solving organizational problems, from interpersonal conflict to overzealous competitors. However, most businesses tend to focus on convergent thinking – thinking that is highly analytical and focused on finding the one accurate answer to the question at hand. Yet research shows that combining convergent thinking with divergent thinking – that is, exploring many possible solutions to the problem – is the best way to solve problems and create solutions that meet everyone’s needs. In fact, divergent thinking is important to your business overall: Successful businesses are those that can solve problems in new and innovate ways; in other words, by divergent thinking.

Improved team morale and productivity. No one likes to be constrained into a box of limited ideas, where they must do things the same way because “that’s how it’s always been done.” By encouraging creativity in your startup, you help keep your employees happy and more productive, since they can find better ways to complete the same tasks.

Creativity in the Business School Environment

Given the benefits of creativity to entrepreneurs, it’s no wonder that the best online MBA programs are incorporating more training in creative thinking into their curriculums. For instance, the business incubator is not a new concept, but more students than ever before are taking advantage of the “safe” environment to explore new ideas and refine their business plans.

In fact, business schools in general are developing a more entrepreneurial focus, as more students are coming in wanting to start their own businesses. Rather than teaching the same set of standards that have governed business for decades, schools are now encouraging students to question their assumptions and the status quo. MBA programs are now less about the theoretical, and more about experiential and experimental: Students are encouraged to apply their ideas and test their theories, and discover new ideas and solutions. In short, business schools have become less focused on the “ideal” business, and more about developing a new worldview and understanding that can influence our businesses – and that requires a great deal of creative thinking.

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Top Tips for Finding the Best Payment Gateway for Your Startup

This post originally appeared on blog.startupdigest.com.

The following is a guest post by Tiffany Rowe. Tiffany is a Marketing Administrator at Seek Visibility, where she assists clients in contributing resourceful content throughout the web.

If you’re like lots of entrepreneurs around the globe these days, when you think about launching a startup, you like the idea of developing a business that can take advantage of the vast growth in online sales, and that you can run from home without having to worry about the expensive costs of renting warehouse or office space.

If this is the case, as you set up your new venture it’s important that you do everything you can to make payment transactions easy for your customers so that you maximize sales and profits. One of the ways to do this is through providing multiple payment options that are secure and efficient, not to mention economical for your business finances.

When it comes time to decide on a payment gateway though, it can be tough working out which merchant solutions firm will be best for your needs. If you’re keen to find the right fit today, read on for some top tips you can follow as you weigh your options.

Compare Pricing

For any startup, cost is obviously going to be one of the biggest factors to look at when choosing a payment gateway. However, keep in mind that when you compare providers, it is important to realize that different companies structure their fees in different ways, so you need to be sure that you’re really comparing “apples with apples” to find the best value.

When checking out pricing, you’ll notice that some merchant services firms charge a flat fee for each transaction, regardless of the amount of payments in a given time period, while others have a variable fee structure. If they do things this way, then they might charge you based on the number of transactions processed in a period, or they might have a monthly payment plan that varies according to the overall values of the transactions put through.

When it comes to charges, you will also find that some companies have a starting fee for new clients, while others don’t incur this cost but will expect you to commit to a 12-month or two-year contract. As well, some firms will charge a cancellation fee, while others will have a month-by-month plan on offer with no minimum periods involved.

Be Clear About Your Goals

Before you go ahead and sign up to a particular payment gateway, it is a good idea to take some time to think about your specific goals for the service. Although there are dozens of different merchant services firms in the market to choose from, they don’t all provide the same services (and not all customers need the same things either). As such, you should make a list of exactly what you require from a provider and then compare all options against this.

Some startups may, for instance, only need the bare minimum of features for their service, while others will require extra services, like the incorporation of a loyalty program or an inventory management system, or the ability for customers to finalize their transactions on smartphones.

Check on the Security Provided

Another element of finding the right payment gateway for your startup is in searching for a firm that’s focused on security. These days, unfortunately, there are more and more hackers who manage to come up with increasingly sophisticated ways to break into websites and gain access to important information. As a result, digital security is more important than ever.

As you compare merchant services companies then, examine the information they have available about their security protocols. If it is not easy to find, don’t be afraid to get in touch with them for all the details. The most secure payment gateways are usually those which have data encryption in place and maximum billing address security, employ comprehensive encryption algorithms and CVV2 verification, and provide support for the most extensive SSL certificates.

Ask About Customer Support

Lastly, keep in mind that it is a good idea to choose a payment processing provider that includes lots of customer support as part of their service. After all, while you of course hope that everything is “smooth sailing” at all times for your customers as they finalize transactions, and for your business on the admin side of things, issues can crop up from time to time. If this happens, you don’t want to miss out on transactions because of technical difficulties.

When comparing merchant services firms, make sure whoever you choose will be easy to get in touch with if you need help. It is best to select a company that provides 24/7 customer support. Look for a variety of communication methods to be available too, such as phone calls, live-chat conversations, emails, and social media assistance. This way, you will be able to choose the platform that suits you best at the time.

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