According to We Are Social, over 1 million new active users join the world of social media every day. With numbers like that, it’s no surprise that more and more businesses and digital marketers are incorporating social media into their advertising strategy. If you are starting or own a business, leveraging social media is the fastest way to promote growth.

Posting on social media is a cost-effective way to grow your customer base and improve your brand image. If your marketing is limited to banner ads on social apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, you could be missing out. Here are some ways to effectively leverage social media and increase your reach.

Content Is Your Voice

Content marketing is one of the easiest ways to build your brand’s voice and extend your customer reach. But if your content does not clearly convey your brand’s message, it will be hard to increase your following.

1. Frequency

Research what time to post and how often to post on different social sites. A study from HubSpot showed that if you have a smaller following, posting on Facebook twice a day will reduce the number of clicks per post by 50%. However, if you post only 1-5 times a month, your clicks per post will almost double.

2. Consistency

If all the pictures you post on Instagram vary heavily in content, someone might not understand your brand’s message. Make sure that there is a unified message to your posts, but don’t over-promote. Find a balance between posting content to engage your followers and promote your business while maintaining a consistent message.

3. Sell Value

Content marketing should not be an avenue for you to sell your features. Research your market and your customers. Find out what separates your brand from the rest and focus on how it benefits your customers. You are selling the value your product brings to the customer, not the features themselves.

4. Differentiate Your Brand

Once you have decided on your brand’s message, formulate unique selling propositions. Without M&M’s’ unique selling proposition “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand,” it would have been difficult for customers to know what sets them apart from other chocolates that commonly melt in your hand. Find your USP and make it known to your customer through high-quality content.

Your Reach Goes Beyond Your Content

Many businesses limit their social media marketing to the content that they post, but there are effective ways to leverage the power of social media beyond the platforms themselves.

1. Follow Buttons

Make sure that people know where to find you on social media. Your website is a great opportunity to do this. Add social media follow/subscribe buttons on your homepage or ‘Contact Us’ page so that they can easily keep track of new products, updates, etc.

2. Sharing Buttons

One way to broaden your reach beyond content is to add sharing buttons to every piece of content you produce, whether it be a new blog on your website or a blast email you are sending out. This way, when one of your existing followers sees or receives the content, they can immediately share it with all the people in their social media circle.

3. Embeddable Tweets

Many people are unaware that they have the ability to embed tweets into their website. This allows for you to broadcast your social media updates directly from your website. Never before have you been able to validate your brand so easily. In the past, testimonials have been somewhat suspect, but with this feature, you can embed the positive feedback you receive straight into your website.

Social Media Intelligence

Not only is social media a great way to market your business, it’s a powerful tool in generating leads and information about your customer. Studying analytics on your marketing campaigns also help you make better decisions about how to reach people on social media.

1. Learn About Your Customer

Knowing your target audience is key for any business that is trying to market on social media. Use tools like Facebook Insights to gain information about the demographic of your customers, such as their age and gender. This is a valuable tool in creating new objectives because you can pinpoint who is responding to your content. For instance, if you release a cologne for men on Facebook that is directed towards males ages 18-30, you can validate that your marketing is reaching its intended audience.

Additionally, if you are looking to expand your brand into a particular place or region, you need to learn where your customer is. Use tools like Hootsuite to geolocate the activity on your social media accounts. You’ll be able to track how many clicks you receive on each post, and more importantly, where each click is coming from.

2. Monitor Customer Feedback

Social media allows for people to express their opinions about businesses in a light like never before. Hootsuite helps you see what people are saying about your brand, its products, and its customer service. This information will provide the insight needed in order to understand your brand’s current stance, and what you need to do to grow your business.

3. Get Ahead

Business is a competition. You need to keep track of your competition in order to make better decisions. If one of your competitors launches a similar product, you need to research its nuances and find out what people are saying about it. Hootsuite has a feature that allows you to track who is getting more mentions on social media. Check out what people are saying about the competition and use that information to create your next objective.

Make Your Life Easier

Running a business is hard. Not all of us have the resources to be able to fund our own ideas, but there has been no better time in history to bootstrap your business by capitalizing on all of the opportunities that this digital age allows us.

Being a first-time entrepreneur is a lot like being a teenager trying to open a credit card on their own for the first time. Regardless of how smart, trustworthy, and responsible you are, nobody wants to be the first to take you on. Just as many banks won’t even open a person’s application without a previous line of credit, first-time entrepreneurs will generally have a hard time convincing VC firms and angel investors to back them with no personal experience or track record.

Entrepreneurship is an industry almost completely built on pillars of reputation and connections. Connections bring you opportunity, and reputation allows you to capitalize on it. But what if you need funding for your first venture?

While you may not generate immediate attention from the world’s top VC firms and private investors, there is at least one person in your life that is interested in hearing your pitch. In fact, there are probably 5-10 people in this list between your family, friends, and colleagues.

Some refer to this as the “Friends, Family, and Fools” round of funding. This is the important stage in which most businesses will live or die. Tiny investments from your friends might not sound like much, but you’d be surprised at the amount of power in this stage. After all, for most people launching their first business, it may be impossible to find anyone other than friends and family to believe and invest in your product.

A Word on Bootstrapping

This is a buzzword in the startup and entrepreneurship communities right now. Bootstrapping is the wonderful method in which startup owners try to launch, grow, and maintain their business with personal finances and revenue generated by the company without giving away equity. Running a lean company and maintaining steady profits is much easier said than done, and it can be more difficult for first-timers to find success through bootstrapping than it is for them to find extensive funding.

This is where getting creative with your funding comes into play. Raising money with friends and family is a solid way to start bootstrapping your startup without giving up initial equity. For many entrepreneurs without much experience, getting assistance from friends and family can provide them with the starting resources they need to successfully bootstrap their company.

For experienced entrepreneurs, bootstrapping with their savings and revenue might come easy. But when it’s your first product, bootstrapping without some form of financial padding can spell disastrous.

Getting Your First Investments

Without previous product launches and a vast network of connections, finding your first investors can be quite daunting. No portfolio of success means that most people don’t have a reason to believe you. That is, of course, with the exception of people that already know you.

Regardless of the type, all investments are based on established trust. When you purchase a product, you trust that your investment will provide value to your life. If you give a loan out to someone, you usually trust that he will pay you back. By taking stake in a company, you trust that the value of the business will go up and your investment will grow.

While you may not have built any trust in the startup investment community yet, your friends and family trust you simply because they know you. These are the people you interact with at home, out at dinner, and in the workplace. Most of them have gotten the time to know you, and this forms the basis of any investment.

Look for potential investments from the obvious places: your immediate and distant family, your close and old friends, and everyone from the office. Simply reaching out and asking to grab coffee is a great way to talk about your proposition without creating a pressure-situation.

Offering your product or service (even if it’s not finished yet) in exchange for an early investment is a great way to generate funds without giving up equity in your startup. After all, most of your friends aren’t looking to take on a position as a stakeholder in your company. Many of your early investors will be making their decision based on their perception of you as a person. With that said, most friends and family are satisfied with a loan, promised deliverable, or even donation.

While $25–$100 may seem tiny, multiplying this across many people in your network adds up surprisingly quickly. In the end, it’s not really about the total amount of money you raise anyways–what’s important is what you do with the money.

Remember That Businesses Are People Too

Sometimes, companies can take on a somewhat robotic persona. It’s quite easy to forget that in the end, businesses are run by people. Maybe a front-end web development agency would be happy to build your site in exchange for your service. Maybe your first big investment will come from a local restaurant that really wants to implement your new software. The point is, it’s actually easier to find an investment when it’s mutually beneficial.

Finding an area where you create obvious value for a business is a great way for inexperienced entrepreneurs to woo their first investors. Regardless of the company’s size, people there likely care about the health of the business. When you come to a business with a product or service that can increase their efficiency and potential revenue, someone there is likely to listening.

Getting another business to see the value in your venture can sometimes be easier than convincing a single person of it. Most individuals will be focused primarily on how they think you and your product will perform in the world, and whether or not they will see a return on their investment. In contrast to this, people behind businesses are more apt to make an investment based on the potential value it brings to them as a company.

Unconventional Channels Lead to Conventional Success

Your first investment might come from your best friend’s parents, and your first logo may come in exchange for a few blog posts, but that’s okay. When it comes to getting your first project funded, thinking up creative ways to generate capital is a must until you can build a reputation and network.

If nobody followed through with their ideas, everything around us would be completely different. Many of us take the role of innovation for granted in our lives. The products that we use on a daily basis–our smartphones, our household items, etc.–all stemmed from an idea.

Many people have ideas. If you have gotten this far without an idea, you might be looking at the wrong guide. The truth is you are likely full of ideas but may lack the resources or know-how to turn them into reality.

Starting is scary. That’s why many people who have ideas don’t have the courage to see their product realized. It takes effort and the risk of being criticized. Most people just don’t know where to begin.

Brainstorm

When you are first gathering your idea, it can be difficult to organize everything into the steps of a project. If you are working with a team, it can be especially hard to get everyone in sync. Trello allows you to brainstorm and organize your ideas in real time with your team. Create a board and get everything out there. Use lists and cards to manage projects and set deadlines for yourself and your team. With Trello, you can easily move ideas from the initial brain dump to the final product backlog.

Have The Right Mindset

Don’t make the mistake of viewing your idea only as a product. Keep in mind that if you want to develop a successful product, you must also look at your idea as a business. Many entrepreneurs get excited about their idea and spend all of their resources developing their product’s features. Before you pour all of your money into the design of your product, you need to research your market.

Find Your Target Market

Start by locating your target market and creating customer profiles. Identify the people that are going to use your product and research their major pain points. Many people think that the broader the market they target, the more sales that they will have. This is not true. Your product’s marketing, packaging, imaging, etc. will appeal most to a specific group of people. With a narrow target audience, you can market your idea to the people who you know will use your product. Once you learn about your customer, it’s time to test out your idea.

Prototype

Once you have developed detailed customer profiles, the next step is to create a prototype to fit the market. Your prototype will never be as polished as the final product. The goal of creating a prototype is to prove to yourself, your partners, and any investors that your idea works. Remember that it does not need to be made of the same materials nor be of the same scale as your final product. If you are unable to build a prototype on your own, seek the help of someone else. Developing a prototype saves time and effort down the road when you are weighing the importance of a patent.

To Patent Or Not To Patent

While patents are not necessary in order to introduce your product, they certainly do offer extra protection and defensibility. If you do decide to opt for a patent, you will need to begin by doing a preliminary patent search. You must also subsequently have a patent attorney or an agent do a patent search for you in order for you to apply.

Protection from patents does eliminate competition. Patents are useful, but ultimately they are just another potential tool for you to develop your idea. Don’t get too worried about the importance of a patent if you can’t get your hands on one.

Business Model

After you have applied, you need to decide how you are going to organize your business. Most entrepreneurs choose to seek investment, license, or bootstrap their own company.

Seeking investment is a great way to bring your product to market without the risk of going bankrupt. If you have strong deal-making skills and lack the cash to get your idea rolling, getting outside capital may be the option for you. You will work on inventing and developing your idea, while investors will provide many of the resources needed to manufacture and market your product. This is one of the fastest ways to get your product to market and allows you to simultaneously develop ideas while your partners continue to manufacture and market your product.

Licensing is when you hand your new idea to a company in exchange for a royalty from its sales. You can license your idea to a marketer, a manufacturer, or a product development company. The upside to licensing your product is that licensees take on all the risk. Once, you license the idea, you will have no more financial responsibility to the project. With that being said, most companies will only license a product they know will be successful, so you must be able to sell your idea. The downside is that your potential to make money is lower than that of outsourcing and starting your own business.

Bootstrapping your own company offers the biggest potential to make a return on your idea, but also involves the highest risk. There is no shortcut to starting your own business. It will take a substantial investment of time and money, but unlike outsourcing or licensing, you will maintain complete control of your company. Before founding a startup, you must consider your strengths and how much time you are willing to spend on your business. You might decide to outsource the manufacturing and use a distribution channel. Maybe you will be able to manufacture and market the product yourself. These are all things you need to take into account when determining the direction you want to take your business.
Starting a business is an uphill journey, but taking the proper steps and surrounding yourself with the right team will make the hill much easier to climb. Embrace adversity and confront your failures to course-correct and iterate on your ideas for the future.

Offices have become somewhat obsolete. The desire to work from home combined with significantly lower operating costs for businesses have led to a significant rise in the population of remote workers and diversification of distributed businesses. Over the past few years, we have seen a major shift in the development of apps for the “office.”

The primary focus of the business software industry is currently to better connect teams and increase productivity. Almost all the applications we use today include some form of collaboration, communication, and organization.

While none of these apps are designed to hurt us, not all services are created equal. Remember, the digital products you use should be increasing the efficiency of your team, not adding another potential distraction. With this in mind, here are a few guiding principles to make sure you and your team are getting the most out of technology.

Identify Priorities as a Business

The higher the priority something is in your business, the more efficient you should be at doing it. By first identifying a hierarchy for the priorities of your company, it will be much easier to select tools that better fit the nuances of what you need to get done as a team.

While specific needs may vary from business to business, establishing clear links of communication between teams should be the number one priority for many distributed startups. More communication means more collaboration, and more collaboration from the start means less time getting everyone in sync at the end.

This is where identifying specific business priorities helps. The priorities of an online marketing agency are very different from the priorities of a new wearables company. The goals of your business are unique, and the organizational system you apply to your team should cater to your specific needs.

Create a Plan of Attack

How can you figure out what everyone in design was working on this week? What’s a better way to manage your blog posts? Keeping in sync with your design team could easily be done through designated weekly standup meetings and developing a better system for blog posting could be achieved through creating and assigning a content calendar.

Creating organization starts by breaking down each of your current bottlenecks and coming up with simple solutions.

Start by identifying a current problem. On the theme of communication, many distributed business may find themselves struggling with effectively communicating the status of different projects. This leads to employees stepping on each other’s toes, unnecessary headaches, and a loss in overall productivity.

Developing the most effective plan of attack comes easily after identifying a logical solution. Avoiding duplicate work and checking the status of projects within your team is easily solved by increasing communication. However, simply opening up all channels of messaging between teams would be overkill. With this in mind, an optimal plan of attack would likely include designated check-ins at the beginning of each week to make sure everyone knows what they are working on.

By finding and solving more specific problems, it’s possible to improve the general communication of your team. Creating a simple plan for everyone on your team makes it easier to implement new solutions.

Find the Right Tools to Accomplish the Job

Finding the perfect tools for you and your team can be harder said than done. Without getting too into the semantics of which programs are best and what you should be using, some are definitely better than others. As a result, many of the best apps for distributed teams have risen to the top and developed a cult-like following.

Most of these apps fit into three main categories: communication, collaboration, and organization. Right now, the most popular services in these categories are SlackGoogle Docs, and Trello.

In short, Slack is a great way to communicate with teams through a chat interface. Google Docs helps teams eliminate the need for multiple documents and allows multiple users to collaborate simultaneously. Trello improves the organization of teams through a collaborative task board that can be used for anything from scheduling recurring posts to planning out a development sprint.

While these applications may currently be the most famous in their categories, there are thousands of services to choose from that can benefit your team in different ways. It’s important that you do the research and find the service that suits you best.

Don’t Get Overinvolved

Being efficient in your business is primarily about reducing unnecessary clutter as you go about your day. What makes technology great for startups is also its biggest detriment. With a device connected to the internet, you have access to everything. This increased connectivity can significantly increase productivity or turn into a dangerous distraction.

Avoid keeping unnecessary events in your schedule. For some founders, the idea of working with people over a screen can be pretty scary. When you’re distributed, you don’t have the luxury of being able to walk around the office and asks everyone how their project is going. For this reason, it’s easy for new founders to get over involved in digital communication. Losing constant sight of your team members can be hard, but remember, more time spent reporting statuses in email and Slack means less time getting actual work done. Don’t be afraid to slash unproductive meetings from your schedule or tell people you need an afternoon of uninterrupted work.

Your time is valuable both in terms of your company, and your sanity. Don’t micromanage just because you can. Question the importance of meetings, reports, and time spent in emails–there is no worse feeling than getting out of a 30 minute meeting where no one got anything done.

Above All, Keep Team Communication Fun

No single service embodies this ideal more than Slack. Aside from making it easier for companies to work completely distributed, Slack changes the common perception of what typical office software has to look like. When you’re on Slack, it doesn’t feel like you’re working. Slack takes away the dread typically associated with sifting through emails and replaces it with a fun to use group messenger for everyone on your team.
When running a distributed company, this is the mentality that you need to have. While the exact method you use will come down to your industry and personal leadership style, remember that solid communication is the key to better organization.