How Small Businesses Can Launch and Grow Using the Lean Startup Methodology

How to grow your business

How to grow your business

Unless you are part of the tech startup world, you have probably never heard of lean startup, a methodology developed and popularized by Eric Ries. In the startup world, he’s a rock star, because his scientifically proven method has helped countless companies get off the ground – and succeed.

Just because you’re not a tech startup doesn’t mean you can’t use lean startup, because its five principles are universal and apply to any small business that is just getting off the ground.

As explained on The Lean Startup website, here’s the problem: A lot of startups have an idea for a product that they think people want. They spend months or years trying to perfect it without once showing it to the customer, and when they launch, they find out that no one cares/wants/needs what they created – and the startup fails.

You definitely don’t want to be in that boat, so here’s how you can launch and grow your small business using the lean startup methodology:

Ask, “Is this idea sustainable?”

Share your idea with others and get feedback. Instead of asking, “Can this product or business be built?” ask “Should it be built?” and “Can we build a sustainable business around this set of products and services?”

Build an MVP

An MVP is a minimum viable product – it’s what you need to launch at the very bare minimum. Think about a restaurant doing a soft opening for friends and family, or a fashion designer creating samples for friends to wear. It is a way of getting your business out there so you can start getting feedback and creating a better business.

Listen to feedback

That brings us to our next point: Actively ask for and listen to feedback from your beta (test) customers. They will tell you what features, services, and products they really want or need, and how to make those things better. Make those changes, and ask for more feedback to make sure you got it right.

Stay flexible

This is important, because as you get and act on feedback, your products, services, and even your overall business may change – and that is OK! You want to build something that has customers and is sustainable over the long-term. You want this to succeed! Stay flexible, and stay focused on the big picture.

Keep that feedback loop in place

All businesses change as they grow, and if you want to continue to change for the better, keep your feedback loop in place. Listen to your customers in a year, 5 years, and 10 years down the road so you can continue to adapt to their needs – and continue to grow.

If you’re a small business owner, how did you grow and succeed? If you’re thinking about launching a business, what else do you want to know about lean startup?

Related Articles:

Monika Jansen is a copywriter and editor who is happiest pounding out blog posts, website content, and other marketing materials for her clients, who tend to be startups and professional service providers. She is a blogger for GrowSmartBiz and the managing editor of UberStories. You can follow her on Twitter (@monikacjansen) or find her on LinkedIn.

Any views, opinions, advice, or endorsements herein are the author(s)’s and are not necessarily the views of Groupon or its partners.

 

Must See TV

How do you keep the joy of running a business alive?

How do you keep the joy of running a business alive?

Last weekend Mad Men started it’s seventh and final season. For the past seven years Mad Men has provided a useful touchstone in talking to people about marketing techniques and trends.  Because of that and because some of my clients are in very trend and style heavy fields (like weddings) I sometimes joke that watching things like Mad Men or red carpet award shows is part of my job.

Although I’ve never charged a client for time spent in front of the television, it’s not entirely a joke. Knowing what’s current and what people are talking about is part of what I do. I’ve always loved pop culture but I find that it’s getting harder and harder to keep up with the trends. Some of it is my age. Some of it is the way television, social media, and services like Netflix are creating smaller and smaller audiences. I don’t have HBO and so don’t watch shows like Game of Thrones. This could be a problem if I had a client going for those demographics. There are also several extremely popular YouTube channels about which I know nothing.

But in reality, it would be next to impossible for me to digest all the media I might possibly need to help my clients. On top of that, it would turn something I enjoy, entertainment, in to a chore. By the time I’m done with work, home, and kids I have about an hour a day to spend vegetating in front of the television, do I really want to spend that watching things I don’t want to watch? Do I want to turn my free time in to work time?

In one way or another this is a dilemma a lot of small business owners have. Most of us go in to a business that’s closely related to what we like or even love. But that can turn what was a joy in to just another work task.

Business owners struggle with so many balance issues, always trying to walk the necessary lines. Keeping the joy in the things you love to do, but have to do is just one more example.

How do you make sure you still love the things you need to do for your business? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Related Articles:

Marta Segal Block is a social media and content marketing consultant specializing in small-service businesses. You can read more of her work and random thoughts on Advice from Marta and Facebook and follow her on Twitter

Any views, opinions, advice, or endorsements herein are the author(s)’s and are not necessarily the views of Groupon or its partners.

Social Media Spring Cleaning

Revamp your social media this season

Revamp your social media this season

Tomorrow we’ll be hosting a Twitter Chat on spring cleaning for business and home (follow #grpnspring on Thursday 4/17 2pm CST). That makes this a great time to talk about how you can apply the ideas of spring cleaning to your social media accounts.

Clean Your Face

OK, not really, but have you looked at your avatars lately? Make sure all your profile pictures and avatars are presenting the professional you that you want to present to the public. If you’re still photo-less on any of your accounts, change that as soon as possible. No one trusts a blank face.

Freshen Your Passwords

Recent news about the Heartbleed bug has made the importance of password safety clear to businesses and individuals. Make sure you have clean, secure passwords for all of your social media accounts.

Scrub the Comments

Spammy blog comments and Facebook posts are more than just annoying, they make you look unprofessional. Go through and make sure you’ve deleted spam comments and posts.

Reduce

Social Media platforms change over time, especially as new platforms become available. If you’re trying to post to a million places at once you may be wasting valuable time. Take a look at your social media platforms, decide which ones are working for you and consider reducing the time you spend on others.

Reuse

Nobody wants to follow a Twitter account and Facebook page that have the exact same information, but you also don’t want to reinvent the wheel with every post. Consider which items can be reused on multiple platforms.

Recycle

Did you write a great blog post last year? No need to recreate the same post and clutter things up. Use the power of social media to make your old posts new again.

Don’t forget to join @GrouponWorks on Twitter tomorrow, 4/17 from 2-3 CST. Follow #Grpnspring

Related Articles:

Marta Segal Block is a social media and content marketing consultant specializing in small-service businesses. You can read more of her work and random thoughts on Advice from Marta and Facebook and follow her on Twitter

Any views, opinions, advice, or endorsements herein are the author(s)’s and are not necessarily the views of Groupon or its partners.

How to Write a Tagline that Means Something

Does your business have a tagline?

Does your business have a tagline?

Last week, I saw a truck that had the most meaningless tagline ever emblazoned across its back: Delivering Results. Solving Challenges.

“GREAT!” I thought. “Are you solving world hunger? Finding a cure for Lyme disease? Inventing Christmas lights that don’t burn out while stored for 11 months in a cardboard box?” I mean, COME ON! Talk about a completely meaningless tagline – and I can only imagine how long it took the company’s brain trust or marketing agency to come up with that.

While a lot of companies do have fabulous taglines that mean something – Nike’s Just Do It is my all-time favorite – coming up with one that is short, powerful, memorable, and meaningful is pretty hard (see “Just Do It”).

Here’s a brainstorming exercise that will help you write a tagline that means something:

List benefits you provide

What benefits do you provide your customers? How do you do things differently than your competitors? What value do you offer that no one else does? Make a list, and then run it by some of your favorite customers to make sure 1) it’s accurate, and 2) you didn’t forget anything.

Think about your – and your business’s – values

Your customers love you for more than just the benefits you provide – they connect with the values that govern your business. For example, I can buy shoes anywhere, but I tend to buy them from TOMS because I believe in their One For One philosophy. Now, list the values that inform your business.

Condense your list

Condense your list of benefits and values into short phrases that begin with an action word. Action words will add energy and paint a picture (aka, show rather than tell).

Identify your top benefit and value

Now you have two lists: one of benefits, one of values. Which are your top, most important ones? Which ones inform the others? Which are the reason you get up in the morning? Which are the reason your customers patronize you?

Link your benefit and value

Play around with your top phrases. Maybe your tagline is your top benefit, maybe it’s your top value, but maybe it’s a combination of the two. Go back to your customers and ask them which options capture your business most accurately.

Congratulations – you have yourself a tagline!

If your business has a tagline, how did you develop it? Why is it so meaningfull for your particular business?

Related Articles:

Monika Jansen is a copywriter and editor who is happiest pounding out blog posts, website content, and other marketing materials for her clients, who tend to be startups and professional service providers. She is a blogger for GrowSmartBiz and the managing editor of UberStories. You can follow her on Twitter (@monikacjansen) or find her on LinkedIn.

Any views, opinions, advice, or endorsements herein are the author(s)’s and are not necessarily the views of Groupon or its partners.

 

 

How to Make the Most of Recent Changes to Twitter

What do recent Twitter changes mean for you?

What do recent Twitter changes mean for you?

Last week, Twitter announced a bunch of new features that were kind of a surprise and kind of not. For the past few months, there has been talk of them doing away with hashtags (#) and mentions (@), which would be radical changes to the way we use Twitter. Luckily, they did not announce anything radical; instead, they made some great tweaks that can only improve our use of, and experience with, Twitter.

Here is a rundown of the changes to Twitter and how to make the most of them:

Twitter is now more visual

Like Facebook and LinkedIn before it, Twitter has gotten a LOT more visual. You’ll now have a big banner/header, a la Facebook, across the top of your profile page.

What to do: Start thinking what kinds of photos you’ll share. Will they be the same as on Facebook? Will they be of you and your team, just you, you and your customers, your bricks-and-mortar establishment, or a mix of all of the above? How often will you swap out the photos?

Twitter will highlight best tweets

Your tweets that get the most RTs, mentions, favorites, etc. will show up in your feed bolder and bigger than others.

What to do: To encourage interaction, focus on sharing really cool information and spend time crafting your tweet so it encourages engagement.

You can pin tweets

You can move tweets up to the top of your timeline in order to capture more eyeballs.

What to do: Hone in on the truly outstanding content that you are creating and sharing. Quality counts here; if you want people to see it, it HAS to be good.

You can create photo collages

The iOS and Android Twitter app lets you upload 4 photos at once AND tag up to 10 people in the photos; it does not affect your character count.

What to do: Well, for one, this is a great way to get retweets! Not only will people see that you’ve tagged them and feel compelled to share the tweet, but the visual aspect will definitely capture attention. Take it one step further and add a call to action for each image, announce new products or services, or create a story around the images.

You can see emojis

If you added an emoji from your mobile phone, you could not see it on your desktop – but now you can.

What to do: Be careful using emojis, or you could come off as unprofessional. Only use an emoji if it really drives home your point.

What change are you most excited about, and why? How it will help your brand?

Related Articles:

Monika Jansen is a copywriter and editor who is happiest pounding out blog posts, website content, and other marketing materials for her clients, who tend to be startups and professional service providers. She is a blogger for GrowSmartBiz and the managing editor of UberStories. You can follow her on Twitter (@monikacjansen) or find her on LinkedIn.

Any views, opinions, advice, or endorsements herein are the author(s)’s and are not necessarily the views of Groupon or its partners.

Small Business Twitter Chat: #grpnspring

How can you use the change in season as a restart button?

How can you use the change in season as a restart button?

On Thursday, April 17 at 2 PM CST, we’re talking spring cleaning with business expert and influencer Rieva Lesonsky. We’re excited to cover the steps you can take to spruce up your business this season. From taking a fresh approach to your social media plan to simple tasks like cleaning out your inbox, we’ll cover all the steps you need to take to spring your business forward. Follow @GrouponWorks and search #grpnspring to join.

Learn more about Twitter chats.

Visit Us at the National Restaurant Association Show

Join Groupon at the NRA show in Chicago!

Join Groupon at the NRA show in Chicago!

We’re excited to show off  restaurant solutions during the National Restaurant Association Show, May 17­–20. If you’re at the show, stop by booth #5852 to say hi and check out the ways Groupon can help your business in action. Whether you’re looking to attract a lot of customers at once, steadily draw patrons month after month, or fill reservations at times that work for you, Groupon can help you reach your business goals.

 Stay tuned for updates on special guests at the booth, and surprise giveaways.

My Favorite Season: Spring Cleaning!

Use the season for a fresh start

Use the season for a fresh start

A few weeks ago when Chicago finally had it’s first 60-degree day in months my children and husband were wondering what we would do. Zoo? Arboretum? Park? Picnic?

“You know what we should do?” I announced, “Open all the windows and flip the mattresses!” Rather than cause a family mutiny I gave up my cleaning plan for the day and off we went to the arboretum. But secretly, I was making mental lists of what needed to be done in the house and what supplies I would need.

There’s something about a fresh start, whether it’s a new school year, an actual new year, or yes, spring cleaning, that makes me energized and happy. Maybe it’s because as a consultant with a thankfully steady client base I don’t have a lot of chances to start something new.  Maybe it’s just the feeling of freedom.

Most of us have a lot of junk crowding our lives. I have years old artwork on my refrigerator, unnecessary receipts in folders, unnecessary emails in my inbox, and yes, even a little unnecessary emotional baggage in my heart. I look around my office and see piles of things I’ve been meaning to dispose of and think of all the things I should have and could have done with my time recently. A friend who is planning to move told me, “I never imagined having to box all this stuff up, I thought I’d just die and someone would light a match to it. I may still do that.”

I totally get what she means. The idea of getting rid of all that unnecessary gunk and junk is just so appealing. But like any purge diet, cleaning everything at once does not result in a sustainable change. It does not mean that you will suddenly lead a more successful and organized life. But, for that one brief shining moment (and I do mean shining, with the help of a glass cleaner) everything is new and fresh again!

Love spring cleaning? Think it’s a waste of time? Want to learn how to apply the idea of spring cleaning to your business? Join us on Thursday, April 17th for a Twitter Chat! Follow #grpnspring

Related Articles:

Marta Segal Block is a social media and content marketing consultant specializing in small-service businesses. You can read more of her work and random thoughts on Advice from Marta and Facebook and follow her on Twitter

Any views, opinions, advice, or endorsements herein are the author(s)’s and are not necessarily the views of Groupon or its partners.

How to Tell Your Story and Win Over Your Audience

Tell your business's story in a compelling way

Tell your business’s story in a compelling way

I just got back from giving a presentation on storytelling to the first cohort of startups at Conscious Venture Lab (CVLab), an early stage business accelerator in Columbia, Maryland. CVLab is really, really cool: They only accept companies that practice conscious capitalism, aka, companies that work to improve society while generating profits (think TOMS or Whole Foods). As an accelerator, CVLab gives those companies the tools and support they need to succeed.

I am honored to be one of their mentors, so when I was asked to come in and share my knowledge, I jumped at the opportunity. My presentation was such a big hit and generated so many questions, that I figured I’d share the highlights here.

There are five basic elements in any story:

1. Hero

You need a hero to earn audience buy-in – they need someone to root for. If your hero is an underdog, even better.

2. Antagonist

The antagonist doesn’t need to be a person or thing – it can be a challenge of some sort. When you introduce the antagonist, define and explain it.

3. Awareness

Your hero needs to have a eureka moment when he learns exactly what he needs to do to succeed.

4. Transformation

This is when your hero emerges victorious. He overcame the challenge or learned something that made his life better.

5. Passion

Your story must be appealing, personal, and original. If you want it to be important ot your audience, it has to be important to you.

Here are my tips on how to tell your company’s story in a way that will win over your audience:

Why did you start your company?

Talk about the need you saw and your aha moment when you figured out the solution. Let your passion and excitement come through to create an emotional connection. It might help to back up your aha moment with statistics, research, or studies that support your idea.

Be you

Write like you talk. Tell personal stories and those of your vendors, customers, and partners. It’s perfectly OK to be humorous and quirky if that’s who you are.

Have a beginning, a middle, and an end

Hook your readers with the “why,” explain the solution you have created, and talk about your goals and where you are headed. You will never reach “the end,” and that’s OK. Life is a journey.

Show, don’t tell

Use visuals or ask people to imagine a specific scenario to help illustrate your story. Either technique will better people better understand what you stand for and why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Help people join your movement

We all want to be part of something that has meaning – millennials especially. Help people join your movement and become part of your community.

What other tricks do you use to tell your story in a compelling way?

Related Articles:

Monika Jansen is a copywriter and editor who is happiest pounding out blog posts, website content, and other marketing materials for her clients, who tend to be startups and professional service providers. She is a blogger for GrowSmartBiz and the managing editor of UberStories. You can follow her on Twitter (@monikacjansen) or find her on LinkedIn.

Any views, opinions, advice, or endorsements herein are the author(s)’s and are not necessarily the views of Groupon or its partners.

How to Write Content People Will Share

Content marketing for small businesses

Content marketing for small businesses

If you’ve been researching content marketing you know that writing great content can bring people to your site, increase your brand recognition, and increase sales. In order to achieve those goals you have to not only write great content, but also write great content that other people feel compelled to share. So, how is this done?

Before you start writing, or while you’re writing, you’ll want to make sure that you yourself are set up to share your content. Pay attention to your social media accounts and make sure you are sharing the content of others and building relationships. While you’re looking at your social media accounts, try and take notes about what sorts of content is being shared in your field, and how. Are people in your field sharing photos, videos, or actual articles? What are these photos and articles about? Consider using a tool like WeFollow to track the most popular people in your field and think about what they write about and share. Obviously, if you want your articles to be shared they can’t be reproductions of other people’s work, but they can’t be totally off topic either.

You can find a lot of information online about SEO and social media techniques for making sure your content is seen. The truth is though, the only way to have actual individuals share your content is to create content that those people want to read and pass on. Many bloggers recommend finding “a niche,” a small, specific area that you can specialize in. Not everything you write has to fit perfectly with your niche, but it’s not efficient or effective to write about everything under the sun either. Knowing your niche will help you make decisions about what you do and don’t want to write.

Content marketing is a great marketing tool that can work for almost any business, but that doesn’t mean it’s for every business owner. It takes time to build the necessary audience and relationships. Frankly, it also takes talent or the money to hire that talent to write the content.  Your first step in creating content that people will share is to create good content.

How do you feel about content marketing? Have you experimented with it? Share your experiences in the comments.

Related Articles:

Marta Segal Block is a social media and content marketing consultant specializing in small-service businesses. You can read more of her work and random thoughts on Advice from Marta and Facebook and follow her on Twitter

Any views, opinions, advice, or endorsements herein are the author(s)’s and are not necessarily the views of Groupon or its partners.