10 Things You’re Missing Out on by Using a Personal Email Account to Do Your Email Marketing


If you’re like a lot of small businesses and organizations, you may be using a personal email account — like Gmail, Outlook, AOL, or Yahoo — to communicate with a group of email contacts.

Chances are you’ve also noticed some limitations in what you can and can’t do with a personal email account.

One of the biggest limitations of using a personal account is in the design of your emails.

If you’re not a professional designer, it’s tough to create emails that actually match your brand and make your business look professional.

Other limitations include:

  • Problems getting messages delivered: Has anyone ever told you they didn’t receive your email? Sending mass emails from a personal account can result in more emails being sent to the spam folder.
  • Difficulty keeping track of your email contacts: Manually keeping track of new email addresses and people who have asked to be taken off your list can cause headaches and take up hours of your time.
  • No understanding of who opened an email or clicked a link: You hope your emails are getting opened and read, but personal accounts don’t provide that information.

Email marketing services like Constant Contact are built to make it easy to create beautiful emails that drive real business results.

They have the tools you need to manage your email contacts and provide in-depth reporting tools to track important metrics like opens, clicks, and shares for your emails.

They also provide tools and training to help you stay compliant with important email laws, which are easy to violate if you’re trying to do marketing from a personal email account.

One of the best ways to see how an email marketing service can benefit your business is to try it for yourself.

You can try Constant Contact free for 60 days.

Still have questions about why an email marketing service is right for you? Here are 10 things you’re missing out on by not using a service for your email marketing.

1. You’re not prepared to send bulk emails

Many email accounts and most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) limit the number of emails that you can send at one time. This means that as your email database grows, you could run into more and more problems with getting your emails delivered.

Email providers like Constant Contact work diligently to maintain strong relationships with ISPs and establish reputations for sending permission-based emails.  As a result, our customers see more of their emails delivered to their recipients’ inboxes, and less emails in the spam folder.

2. You’re putting relationships at risk

When someone joins your email list, they trust you to protect their information. They also trust that you’ll respect their privacy and give them the option to opt-out.

But as hard as you try to fulfill these obligations to your audience, when sending email using Outlook or another email account, mistakes can happen. Perhaps the biggest mistake is exposing your entire list in the To: line of your email.

Another mistake is failing to offer an easy way to unsubscribe. This can not only damage your reputation as a business, but can also put you at risk of violating email laws, which require an unsubscribe link in every message you send out.

3. You can’t host and manage your list from one location

An email marketing service hosts your email list and automatically performs critical list management functions. These functions include sign-up for new subscribers, editing capabilities so that subscribers can edit their own profiles, and the ability to unsubscribe with one click.

An email service will also manage bounced emails for you, differentiating between reasons for the bounce (including full mailbox, vacation message, non-existent address or blocked).

4. You’re on your own

Email marketing services like Constant Contact are built to make it quick and easy to do email marketing for your small business.

If you’re switching from a personal email account, we’ll give you the tools and training to help you get started — from uploading your existing email contacts to setting up your first email campaign.

If you do run into any problems or have questions about how to improve the look of your emails, simply pick up the phone and give us a call. Our award-winning support team is committed to your success.

5. You’re unable to deliver emails in the right format

Emails can display differently, based on the email client and device a recipient is using.

With an email service like Constant Contact, you’re able to send both a text and HTML version of each message you send out. This means that your emails will be delivered to your subscribers in the correct format every time.

In comparison, your email account can’t tell which email format each recipient is able to receive — which can make your email unreadable or send it to the spam folder.

6. You can’t create professional-looking emails that match your brand

With an email marketing service, you’ll have access to hundreds of professionally-designed email templates that make it easy to create great looking emails.

We handle the design work for you — you just need to customize the template with your colors and branding, choose the images you’d like to include, and add your content. These templates will make your message look great in any inbox, whether someone is reading on a desktop or a mobile device.

Check out these 30 examples of the types of emails you can send out.

7. You can’t protect yourself from delivery problems

A good email marketing service maintains strong permission policies and has an active anti-blocking team working with ISPs on your behalf to ensure that your email is delivered.

At Constant Contact, we monitor all outgoing email to ensure that all major ISPs and corporate domains are successfully accepting your email. If there is a “blip” on the receiver’s end when your email campaign is being sent, an email marketing service makes continued attempts to send your email while quickly addressing the problem with the ISP.

8. You can’t see who opened or clicked

Using an email marketing service like Constant Contact gives you access to in-depth reporting to see key metrics like emails sent, opened, who opened, who clicked through, and which links they clicked on. You’re also able to see important details like spam reports, bounces, and opt-outs.

This will allow you to see what’s working and identify opportunities to make improvements, or identify potential issues that could put your business at risk.

9. You don’t have the newest tools and features

Here at Constant Contact, we have a team of people who are focused on staying on top of the latest trends in the industry. We provide regular updates and new features to enhance functionality, comply with the law, and optimize email delivery though ISPs.

In addition, we are members of groups like The Email Service Provider Coalition (ESPC). The goal of the ESPC is to provide unique and effective spam-fighting solutions that will optimize your email delivery and response and minimize the spam in your subscribers’ inbox.

10. You could be breaking the law

You don’t have the time or resources to stay up-to-date with the latest email laws and regulations. Unfortunately, if you’ve been using a personal email account to send your marketing emails, there’s a good chance you’re already in violation of some important laws like Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act (CAN-SPAM) and the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL).

Email marketing services like Constant Contact are responsible for ensuring that your emails are compliant with these legislations. We provide the tools you need to follow the laws, and let you know when there’s a change that could impact your business.

Don’t wait to make the switch.

Email marketing is the most effective marketing tool available to small businesses today.

Consider the following:

  • 91 percent of U.S. adults like to receive promotional emails from the companies they do business with. (MarketingSherpa)
  • 66 percent of consumers have made a purchase based on an email marketing message they’ve received (Direct Marketing Association)
  • Email is almost 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter combined in helping your business attract new customer (McKinsey)

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Oh no! I think I picked the wrong business partner


Put it this way, if you’re asking that question, chances are you already know.

For me, 95 per cent of the time I know intuitively if I picked the wrong partner to work with. Sometimes it does take time though and sometimes the relationship has an expiry date.

You might choose a business partner and it might work well for a period of time and then it gets to the point where it no longer feels right or no longer is right.

I think ultimately when you get to a point where you know it’s not right anymore, then you’ve just got to work out your exit strategy. And that could be you either buying them out, or them buying you out, or in some cases I’ve even seen people divide the business down the middle and throw off their own entities in the same industry.

There’s this old saying, and I have to be careful saying this, ‘The only ships destined to sink every time is a partner-ship in business.

Look, I don’t agree with that 100 per cent but I do have a lot of experience in my own life to back it up as somewhat true. And I see it on a daily/ weekly basis with a lot of other people too.

But it’s not always true.

Oh-no!-I-think-I-picked-the-wrong-business-partner1

Often times we get into a partnership because we have a deficit or we have the requirement for someone to complement our skill set. We see this a lot in the tech industry.

Often a tech start-up company will have one founder who is a coder or technically based and then you’ll have another founder which is very sales and marketing based, and in those situations partnerships tend to work really well.

But if you are going to be in a partnership, and it may be too late at this point, you want to make sure you have a shareholders agreement. Now in the agreement make sure that in the event of a situation like this that there’s already a plan in place of what happens.

You can also have set prices for buy outs based on whatever valuation formula you use to ensure you don’t get screwed or take advantage of someone else.

But most importantly sit down and have an open and honest conversation with your business partner about what’s going on because whatever is going on might just be a symptom of a lack of communication or a misunderstanding. Because what we know about relationships of any nature is the number one reason they fall apart is when communication breaks down.

So my advice is to start by talking and go from there.

Kerwin Rae

Kerwin Rae

Kerwin Rae is a businessman, investor, strategic advisor, author and international speaker. He has studied and observed the psychology of influence for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on influencing human behaviour and how it relates to sales, marketing, fast growth business principles, leadership and personal transformation.
Snapchat: @KerwinRae
Kerwin Rae

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Sprint Launches the IoT Factory for Small Business


Making the Internet of Things (IoT) accessible, affordable, and easy to deploy is a great way to bring small businesses into the fold with this technology. With its Sprint (NYSE: S) IoT Factory, the company has developed an IoT platform businesses of any size can leverage to improve their organization or provide IoT enabled services.

Sprint has formed a partnership with myDevices and The Goldie Group to deliver comprehensive IoT solutions. The ready-made boxed units are available in a wide selection of monitoring options across several industries, and with more on the way.

This new IoT approach by Sprint is going to give small business owners access to an industry slated to grow to trillions of dollars in the next 7 to 10 years. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, potential IoT economic impact could range from $3.9 trillion to $11.1 trillion a year by 2025. There is no reason small businesses should miss on this this enormous opportunity.

Ivo Rook, senior vice president for IoT at Sprint, pointed out the importance of harnessing this technology for small businesses owners in a press release. Rook said, “We’re excited about the effect this has on small and medium sized businesses. They can now attain the latest in advanced and secure technology at reasonable costs – with the ease of being able to buy a complete solution from the digital store, having it shipped quickly and installing it themselves within a matter of minutes. That truly drives business forward in an unprecedented manner.”

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What is the Internet of Things?

IoT or the Internet of Things is an ecosystem of connected devices with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network. The devices in the Internet of Things could include a thermostat, vehicle, refrigerator, pacemaker and almost anything else for that matter.

If it can be assigned an IP address, it can be part of the IoT ecosystem. And with the full integration of IPv6 and 5G, there could literally be trillions of devices with their own IP address monitoring everything soon.

How Many Devices are Going to be Connected?

The number is always growing, but it is in the tens of billions of devices. Statista has forecast the number of IoT devices is set to reach 31 billion by 2020 and will go to over 75.4 billion devices by 2025.

The Sprint IoT Factory

In as few as two days, the Sprint Iot Factory will deliver your ready-made package so you can deploy your device without IT or technical expertise. Some of the devices you can get right now include refrigerator temperature monitoring, energy management tools, property monitoring, rodent monitoring and more.

Small business owners running restaurants, grocery stores, rental properties and other businesses can introduce new levels of efficiency with these devices.

Rook added, “From family-owned restaurants, medical companies to heavy equipment fleet operators and everything in between, the Sprint IoT Factory is giving business owners the power to easily enhance operations — using IoT technology to track assets and connect what’s most important to them.”



IoT Business Opportunity

In addition to using the Sprint IoT Factory devices to improve the operations of your business, you can also start providing IoT related services.

Start designing, prototyping and commercializing IoT solutions with myDevices Cayenne with your own branded Box Solutions. This will give you a business opportunity in an industry worth trillions of dollars.

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How to Compete Against Offshore Manufacturing — Especially in China


Today’s global economy offers more opportunities than ever to small businesses. But for U.S. manufacturers specifically, it also has led to more competition than ever.

Offshore manufacturers, particularly those in China, have been able to produce products at a fraction of the cost that those same products require in the U.S. In fact, about 5 million U.S. manufacturing jobs were offshored between 2001 and 2011, with a third of those going to China. That shift has slowed in recent years, but U.S. manufacturers still face higher labor and operations costs and other challenges due to offshore competition.



How to Compete Against Offshore Manufacturers

But this doesn’t mean your manufacturing business can’t compete on a global level. Here are some tips on how to compete agaist offshore manufacturers, even as a small business.

Don’t Try to Compete on Price

Customers love a great deal. But the fact of the matter is that you simply can’t compete with manufacturers from China and select other countries when it comes to price. So don’t cut yourself short by attempting to play that game.

Andrew Clarke, founder and president of consulting firm Ground Floor Partners said in an email interview with Small Business Trends, “Many foreign countries have much looser standards when it comes to labor and the environment. When you have to pay unskilled or semi-skilled workers $12 an hour plus insurance, taxes and some benefits here, but a competitor can pay $3.00 per hour (or less) in another country, it is hard to compete.”

Label Products as “Made in America”

If you sell to customers in the U.S., make sure they know your products are made domestically. Plenty of consumers will be willing to pay extra in those cases due to pride and perceptions about quality.

Clarke says, “That carries a lot of weight in the United States. The key is to back up the claim with reality. Some companies manufacture everything overseas and then assemble the components in the United States, but claim they are made in America. That is not being totally honest.”

Focus on Quality

Customers are also often willing to pay a bit more for products that are made with quality parts or ingredients. So be specific in your labeling and marketing materials about exactly what it is that sets your products apart from the competition.

Clarke says, “The domestic end product might look exactly the same as the foreign product, but the components, materials and processing are probably held to higher standards in the US. For example, no melamine in the food. No insecticides in the produce. Etc”

Get Certified

Certifications like those from the USDA, EPA and CPSC are made to indicate specific levels of quality, testing and performance. Customers tend to trust these third parties more than your own marketing claims. So it can offer some extra weight behind your own quality claims.

Clarke adds, “Do you have a LEED certified facility? Is your final product USDA certified organic? Certifications give people confidence about quality, care and safety.”

Connect with the Community

“Buy local” has become a popular sentiment that can stretch beyond the corner store or farmers market. In the area where your business operates, you can get involved with charitable groups or civic organizations, sponsor local initiatives, or simply provide an open and active presence in the community. This can help you appeal to those in your own backyard as well as others throughout the country who look to do business with socially conscious companies.

Clarke says, “Emphasize how well you treat your workers and what you do for the local community. For example, give real or virtual tours of your manufacturing facilities to show people how clean and safe the work environment is. Sponsor local park cleanups. Sponsor events at local non-profit fundraisers.”

Focus on Service

Another way you can set your business apart is by creating a great customer experience. If you can’t compete with others on price, then you need to give customers a reason to pay extra in order to buy your products. Quality is one major standout, but service is another. So focus on creating a really exceptional experience that will keep customers coming back again and again.

Clarke says, “Emphasize customer service, transparency, reliability, delivery times, or time between initial order and final product delivery.”

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33 Ways for Entrepreneurs to Visualize Ideas – Even without any Design Skills


You don’t need any artistic abilities to create great visuals (I’m one of those people who can only draw stick figures).

In fact, spatial intelligence — our ability to visualize the world around us – is one of the nine intelligence types each one of us possesses to some degree. Practice expressing yourself visually and you’ll be surprised as how it quickly becomes second nature.

So how do you visualize your ideas?

Your old standby bar graphs and pie charts are just the tip of the iceberg – it’s not uncommon now to see executives and professionals of all stripes working on visuals instead of hunkering down at the keyboard for a long session of pecking away in Word.

The people over at Funders & Founders have created this interesting infographic which highlights 33 different ways to visualize your ideas.

Ways to Visualize Ideas

Unleash your inner creative and challenge yourself to try one of these visual formats the next time you need to pitch your idea to a colleague or client.

A version of this post was first published on Inc.com.

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How to Measure Touchpoint Effectiveness: Six Steps to Better Customer Experiences



Perhaps you’ve had this experience or something similar:

You take your car in for service to a place you’ve used frequently over the years. You drive in and complete the intake process. You provide some information about the car’s performance and any problems. The service manager provides an estimate and tells you when to return. You’re delighted when the service manager calls to tell you can pick up your call earlier than expected and the bill will be less than estimated. But then, a few days later, your engine light goes on. You call the service manager. He can’t explain why it went on but suggests you bring it back. You’re frustrated because you’ve just been without your car and paid for service. After an exploratory look, the service manager tells you that this will be a significant additional cost. But, you say, they had the car for several days for a complete checkup, shouldn’t this issue have been discovered then? The service manager says, well, sometimes things happen. You leave your car to be fixed and you pay again when you pick it up.

Later, a colleague asks for a recommendation for where to take her car. Can the service manager rely on you to make a referral?

As in the above scenario, every touchpoint your customer has with your company matters; some, however, matter more than others.

Customer experience and engagement have evolved from table stakes to points of differentiation, as indicated by the flurry of customer experience/relationship scores now being published. Each interaction creates an opportunity for a moment of truth. More and more evidence strongly suggests that there is a link between customer experience/engagement and the financial success of a company.



Your company can improve customer experience and engagement by understanding the value of each touchpoint.

A high-quality customer experience is made up of high-quality interactions

A customer experience is not limited to a specific transaction, website visit, or conversation with a service representative. It’s a process that begins the moment the customer becomes aware of your company, and it encompasses all the interactions, transactions, and contacts along the way.

Ron Shevlin, author of Everything They’ve Told You About Marketing Is Wrong and an analyst at Aite Group LLC, suggests the following definition for customer engagement: “Repeated interactions that strengthen the emotional, psychological or physical investment a customer has in a brand.” All those repeated interactions are touchpoints.

For our discussion, we define a touchpoint as any customer interaction or encounter that can influence the customer’s perception of your product, service, or brand. A touchpoint can be intentional (an email you send out) or unintentional (an online review of your product or company). Customers experience touchpoints long before they make a purchase and long after they have had their first transaction.

The goal of every company interested in using customer experience as a competitive advantage is to create a positive and consistent experience at all of the touchpoints.

Customer experience becomes a complex process to measure when you consider the vast number of touchpoints customers encounter today. However, not all “touches” are equal: Some interactions matter more than others. Therefore, you must understand how each touchpoint contributes to the overall customer experience.

By measuring each touchpoint independently, you can determine its contribution to the overall effectiveness as well as more effectively measure the total customer experience.

Although overarching metrics such as customer lifetime value and category ownership are quickly becoming standard today, attempting to measure the customer experience with a single metric can be an overly simplistic and risky approach.

Effectively managing the customer experience requires effective measurement and management of a portfolio of metrics, including touchpoint effectiveness, to gain insights into what is—or is not—working.

Measure touchpoint effectiveness with these six steps

For the six-step process outlined below to be successful, you need to see your business through the eyes of your customer. To complete these six steps, you will need a database of your touchpoints. An easy way to start is to create an Excel file that contains these six columns:

  1. Touchpoint
  2. Operational purpose
  3. Role in customer experience
  4. Lifecycle stage
  5. Touchpoint owner
  6. Importance/impact

Step 1: Inventory Your Touchpoints

To measure the effectiveness of your touchpoints, you first need to inventory all the touchpoints your customers encounter throughout their entire life cycle. Make a list of all those touchpoints.

Note: If you haven’t named the stages of the customer life cycle, you should do so. For example, you might have stages similar to this:

  1. Investigation/contact
  2. Interaction/connection
  3. Education/conversation
  4. Evaluation/consideration
  5. Selection/customer
  6. Advocate/community

Your touchpoints need to include every encounter in the attraction process (such as your website, published content, press coverage, social media, and advertisements), through the sales process (such as whitepapers, customer testimonials, samples, product literature, and sales presentations to your prospects), through the delivery and service processes (such as invoices and trouble tickets), and finally through your retention process (such as your account management, referral program, and customer advisory boards).

If you’re like most companies, you’ll come up with a fairly long list of encounters.

Step 2: Every touch has a purpose

Transfer all your touchpoints to individual Post-it notes.

For each touchpoint, indicate its operational purpose and its role in the customer experience. On the operational side, a touchpoint may be designed to identify a prospect, resolve a problem, accelerate conversion, or support executing a transaction; on the customer experience side, a role of a touchpoint might be to influence perception, build preference, or create loyalty.

This work is often done best in a facilitated working session that includes people from functions that “touch” the customer, as well as some customers.

Together, organize all the Post-it notes on a wall in the order they are most likely experienced. The goal is to group together all the touchpoints associated with a specific phase in the customer lifecycle.

Then transfer that information to the first four columns in your touchpoint spreadsheet.

Step 3: Identify ownership

Who owns the touchpoint? Use the working session as an opportunity to clarify touchpoint ownership.

For example, appointment scheduling may be owned by Pre-Sales, invoicing by Accounting, troubleshooting by Support, demos by Product, and webinars by Marketing.

Indicate the primary owner (column 5) for each touchpoint in your spreadsheet.

Step 4: Rate the touchpoint’s impact

Since not all touches are equal, it’s important to understand the individual impact of each interaction.

Even some touches that appear similar do not carry the same weight. For example, a mix-up in a coffee delivery might be irritating but not damaging if rectified quickly. A mix-up in the delivery of medication, however, may be enough to lose the customer.

Score the impact of each touchpoint on the experience using a 1-10 scale, with 1 being “doesn’t have a high impact on the experience” and 10 being “has a very high impact on the experience.” Avoid guessing. Consider including members of your customer advisory board in the process. If necessary, conduct some customer research.

Add the information that results from this step to column six.

Step 5: Assess the effectiveness of critical touchpoints

Ah, the value of the sort feature in Excel! Sort your touchpoints by the impact column. Initially focus on touchpoints with a score of 8 or higher.

Add two more columns to your spreadsheet (your spreadsheet now has 8 columns) with these labels:

  1. Operational effectiveness
  2. Customer experience effectiveness

Then using the same scale of 1-10, with 1 as “extremely ineffective” and 10 as “extremely effective,” evaluate each touchpoint that earned an 8 or more on its ability to positively impact operational effectives and customer experience. (If you’re up to it, do this for all the touchpoints.)

Step 6: Analyze what is and isn’t working

You’re almost finished. Create a 2×2 grid, with one axis labeled “operational effectiveness” and the other labeled “customer experience,” and map each touchpoint with an 8 or higher onto the grid.

Each touchpoint will fall into one of four quadrants on the grid—high operational effectiveness/high customer experience, low operational/low customer experience, high operational/low customer experience, low operational/high customer experience.

The mapping will allow you visualize whether and where there are weak links in the overall experience. Indicate the quadrant for each touchpoint back on your map.

So what now?

For each touchpoint you now have three pieces of data:

  1. An impact/importance score
  2. An effectiveness score
  3. A point on the grid

For those touchpoints that were in the low/low quadrant of the grid that have a rating of 8 or higher for importance develop, prepare and implement a corrective action plan.

* * *

Let’s think back to our opening scenario. By using the approach outlined in this article, the service manager will have a solid idea about whether his customer will make the referral.

Though every interaction matters, to improve customer experience you need a place to start. This approach helps you identify the touchpoints that will have the greatest impact on improving and delivering great customer experience, as well as on your customer retention rate and your customer referral rate.

Customer experience/engagement is a core competency that every company needs to cultivate. Ready to evaluate your touchpoints?

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Why You Should Consider Pittsburgh for Your Start Up


Pittsburgh, once known for its steel industry, is making an economic transformation as one of the nation’s emerging technology hubs. A report by the Pittsburgh Technology Council estimates that the city is home to nearly 35,000 people working in software- and hardware-related professions. According to the report, this occupational cluster is expecting to add more than 6,000 regional employees by 2020. Pittsburgh’s reinvention has caused it to quickly become one of the most hospitable places for startups in the country.

Pittsburgh – A New Tech Hub

There are many reasons for Pittsburgh’s technology renaissance, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette explains:

  • An increase in young workers arriving to the city. Allegheny County census data shows that people ages 25-29 make up 7.6 percent of all residents, up from 7 percent a decade ago. The population of those ages 30-34 is also on the rise.
  • Pittsburgh has a relatively low cost of living.
  • The city is home to numerous universities, several of which have top research technology programs.
  • Pittsburgh offers tax incentives to businesses, such as Tax Increment Financing.
  • Over the years, the city has acquired regional offices for major tech companies including Google, Apple and Uber.
  • Mayor William Peduto is a strong advocate of technology and technological advancement.
  • Venture capital firms continue to increasingly invest in Pittsburgh startups. For example, they invested $550.3 million in 2014-2015, up from $351.2 million in 2012-2013, according to Dow Jones VentureSource and Innovation Works.

Hope is justified for the continued growth of Pittsburgh’s tech industry. According to the Pittsburgh Technology Council report, technology jobs have been growing at 19 percent, or three times the national rate.

5 Notable Pittsburgh Startups

Pittsburgh ranks sixth in the country in the number of tech companies founded by venture capital, according to NEXTpittsburgh. Just a few of them are listed below.

Duolingo

Duolingo is a free language-learning app that teaches more than 25 languages and has more than 120 million users. Founded via crowdsourcing in 2011, it is the most downloaded education app on iOS and Android.

Grant Street Group

Grant Street Group designs cloud-based software for the government. Its products help with tax collection, auctions and e-payments. Grant Street Group serves 6,700 clients, ranging from county, court clerk and state offices to financial institutions and financial advisors, according to its website.



BoXYZ

BoXYZ designs, markets and distributes a three-in-one 3-D printer, laser engraver and CNC mill. The company started in 2015 as a Kickstarter campaign, and by 2016, BoXYZ was nominated as a startup of the year for the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s annual Tech 50 awards.

4moms

4moms makes robotic baby gear, including folding strollers, magnetic high chairs and self-installing infant car seats. Forbes named 4moms 21st on its list of America’s Most Promising Companies. 4moms is currently the third fastest-growing company in the Pittsburgh region, according to its website.

ALung

ALung develops advanced medical devices to help treat respiratory failure, the company website explains. These products are alternatives or supplements to traditional medical ventilation. At the end of 2015, ALung closed on a funding round worth $10.5 million.

These companies demonstrate the technological growth, innovation and success that Pittsburgh is quickly coming to be known for in the 21st century.

Breaking Into the Startup Business

Tech startups provide unique solutions and services, many of which go on to change the world. For those seeking to join the startup scene, the online Bachelor of Science in Business Management  and online Master of Business Administration at Point Park University, located in Downtown Pittsburgh, can set them on the path to success. The program offers a relevant and real-world curriculum that helps students gain a competitive understanding of advanced business topics while providing them with the ultimate flexibility in their education.

Photo via Point Park University Online

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Brand Love Is Nonsense … So Now What Do We Do? Five Things.

As marketers, we want to work to build one of those iconic brands. A brand people love. You know… Apple. A brand that customers would walk across hot shards of iPhone screens to buy. The brand customers simply can’t and won’t live without.

However, the idea that people love brands and they are hopelessly devoted to them is—brace yourself—false.

I know, heresy… right?

But think about it. What brands do you love? I mean, really love. What product or service category would you absolutely positively not cheat on? In other words, if you love Coke but all the restaurant has is Pepsi, will you still drink a soda? For most people, the answer would be “yes.”

In the book How Brands Grow, Byron Sharp makes the compelling case that marketers’ perceptions of how sticky brands are is very much overblown. His research shows that if Brand A has, say, 23% market share, that does not mean 23% of people always buy the product and never buy from another brand. Sometimes, they buy another brand. And sometimes, other customers buy Brand A, and it works out that 23% of purchases are of Brand A.



Consider something you buy frequently—maybe the brand of soap you buy. I always buy Dove soap; but it isn’t love, it’s habit. It works, it’s fine. If the company went out of business tomorrow, I’d recover. Think about your favorite beer. (I suspect you have one.) But is it the only beer you ever buy?

If you’re lucky, and successful, your brand is like that—popular. Which is awesome in itself.

So how do you let go of the idea that your customers will truly fall in love with your brand and that it will maintain that lofty position, and instead accept the idea that you will achieve some positive (but likely incremental) growth?

The solution isn’t about a specific channel or tactic; it’s about an approach, a change of thinking across your marketing organization.

1. Drop the campaign mindset

Incremental growth begins with understanding that you’ll never be finished. It’s like all the other meaningful relationships in your life: The intention is for them to last a lifetime, and that means they take continual work.

Your brand also needs to keep going. It doesn’t mean that initiative you launch today will be the right one six months from now, but if the relationship is going well, why would you stop simply because you reached some predetermined campaign endpoint? You have to keep going. Always.

Hey, look at the bright side: job security!

2. Don’t be pushy

As I was writing this article, I got an email from a company (one that I don’t recall ever giving my email address to) with the all-caps subject line “YOU’VE GOT TO SEE THIS.”

Unsubscribe.

Stop telling your customers what they have to do. Stop pushing your products so damn hard. It’s annoying. You’re annoying. Stop it. Let’s just have a chat and build some rapport—who knows where it might take us?

3. Create a positive relationship by being helpful

Once you’ve stopped ramming those our-product-is-awesome messages down your poor customers’ throats, why don’t you do something they’ll like? Something for them?

As you may have realized in your Real Life, doing something helpful for another person makes them think better of you, makes them like you more, and maybe makes them return the favor some day.

(The bible for this mindset is Jay Baer’s Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is About Help Not Hype.)

4. Don’t be selfish with the metrics you track

Web traffic? CTR? Social followership? Yes, they’re important numbers to understand. But they can also be vanity metrics. How important is traffic to your site if you aren’t selling subscriptions or advertising against that traffic? You (presumably) are not a media company, garnering eyeballs and then selling something to the accumulated audience.

5. Keep your distribution channels busy… but not too busy

Whether it’s a specific social platform, email, or other marketing channel, activity in it shows you care. If you post to your social network of choice once a month, it’s likely the audience is going to forget about you. A quarterly email might be really well done, but I’m willing to bet you’ll look up after sending four emails in a year with zero customer growth. Out of sight, out of mind.

On the other hand, four emails a day is too much. Unless, of course, it’s not—but that means you are creating a ton of high-quality content. I can handle four emails a day from the New York Times. Not sure I can from a sporting goods company.

Now, when your hard-charging VP of Sales sees this post, he’ll probably flip, cuz we have to hit our numbers this quarter! And I know you feel that pressure, too. But your prospects and customers don’t really care about your numbers; and, as I said earlier, they don’t really care all that much about your brand. You gotta find that right balance between being top of mind when they reach the inflection point in the buyer’s journey.

* * *

More than likely, people’s commitment to your brand is ephemeral. They’re not thinking about you nearly as much as you think they are, and certainly not as much as you’re thinking about your brand, which obviously consumes at least 40 hours a week of your life.

That’s OK, because you really can’t change the way the human race is hardwired. But, if you’re going to be good at your job and move that stubborn marketing needle, you do have to understand reality—and work within it.

The idea of creating a brand that customers will love is, really, something of a fairy tale. But we’re big kids now, so let’s put the fairy tales aside, roll up our sleeves, and get to work.

 

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10 Major Challenges Facing Your Small Manufacturing Business


Much has been made of the decline in U.S. manufacturing. But the U.S. still produces more than 18 percent of the world’s goods. So manufacturing is still alive and well. However, small manufacturers in particular face a fair number of challenges, including competition from large domestic businesses and those around the world. Here are some of the most prevalent issues impacting small manufacturers and tips for overcoming them.



Small Manufacturing Challenges

Lower Costs Overseas

U.S. based manufacturers face competition from all corners of the globe. China in particular has been a source for intense competition since they can produce products for a fraction of the price it costs to make those same products stateside. According to Andrew Clarke, founder and president of consulting firm Ground Floor Partners, labor costs in China were roughly 10 percent as high as they were in the US back in 2011.

He added in an email interview with Small Business Trends, “They have risen substantially since then, but are still far less than in the US.”

Changing Regulations

Of course, a major part of the reason that U.S. manufacturers can’t compete with their offshore counterparts in terms of price is because of labor costs and government regulations. The U.S. is also constantly adding new regulations and compliance issues that can force manufacturers to make adjustments, causing them to spend even more on monitoring compliance.


Rising Quality of Offshore Manufacturing

While the cost of products manufactured outside the U.S. have risen in recent years, so has the quality. So manufacturers also need to make sure they can keep up with the competition on that front.

Clarke says, “Twenty or thirty years ago when manufacturing really started mocking offshore, foreign production quality was poor. That has changed. US manufacturers face much more competition than they used to, and quality is part of that equation. Everybody has to up their game when it comes to quality. I don’t see that changing either.”

Countries with a Reputation for Quality

In fact, some other countries tend to be known for their high quality products and can sometimes appeal more to the customers who are willing to pay a bit extra.

Clarke says, “For example, German manufacturers have significantly higher labor costs than US manufacturers, but they are extremely competitive due to (often) higher quality.”

Competition from On-Shoring

Aside from having to compete with offshore firms, small manufacturers are now also facing increased competition due to the growing trend of on-shoring. Clarke detailed a recent case of a Chinese company that mainly sold to U.S. customers and found it more cost effective to manufacture in the states because of the cost of storage, transportation and tariffs. Of course, those firms then have to face the same costs and regulations as those that started out in the U.S., but it’s simply a case of extra competition in the market.

Shortage of Skilled Workers

Manufacturing businesses need skilled workers to complete tasks that range from welding to programming automation systems. There has been a smaller focus on skilled trades in education in recent years, leading to a shortage in these specialties entering the workforce. So manufacturers may need to set up their own training programs and offer special incentives to attract new employees.

Increasing Automation

Large manufacturing businesses are becoming increasingly reliant on automation to run their day-to-day operations. This allows them to run more efficiently and at a lower cost. For small businesses, investing in that same type of equipment isn’t always possible or as cost effective, putting them at a disadvantage in terms of both price and quality, unless they’re able to find affordable financing options or simply focus on positioning their business differently in the marketplace.

Rapidly Advancing Technology

There are also constant updates in the world of manufacturing technology. And updating those systems constantly isn’t always possible for small businesses to do as often as large ones. So you may simply have to choose your upgrades carefully so that you don’t overextend your resources.

Cybersecurity

As that technology advances, so does the need for additional cybersecurity protections. Hackers can potentially make their way into automation systems and other pieces of computerized equipment and cause major losses for manufacturers. So even if it might seem like a major investment, putting protections in place is a must for businesses of any size.

Smarter Customer Base

Today’s customers are more informed about where their products come from than ever before. This can be a challenge for manufacturers, as they need to be very intentional with their marketing messages. But it can also be a plus for small manufacturers that can play the local angle or provide personalized service.

Clarke says, “Manufacturers today have to work a lot harder at connecting with their customers than they used to. Customers are more educated about the products they are buying, and the buying process has changed. Today’s manufacturers need to think as much about sales, customer service, and marketing as they do about manufacturing itself.”

Photo via Shutterstock

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May 17, Camera Image Stabilization: How It Works and Why It Is Important!



Why is camera image stabilization so important?

Well… few things
are more annoying to an audience than watching the constant motion and jitter
in a video that has been shot while the camera was bouncing, shaking or
vibrating.

Here’s more about it…!


The
blurring that occurs as a result of unwanted bouncing or shaking of the camera has
been a problem for camera operators… both amateur and professional… since the
beginning of photography, filmmaking and videography.

Unless you’re
shooting your video using some sort of stabilization device such as a tripod or
a SteadyCam… There is always potential for some sort of camera motion and as a
result… blurred pictures.


Unwanted Camera Motion…

Unwanted camera motionNothing Is More Frustrating to an Audience Than Unwanted Camera Motion In the Shot!

Camera motion such as:

  • The vibration you get when you are trying to shoot from
    a moving car…
  • The yaw and pitch of the waves if you’re shooting from
    a boat…
  • The medium-speed motion shake you get with just normal hand-shake or body sway when shooting with a handheld camera…
  • Or the motion (in the picture) you get when you’re using
    a zoom lens
    . Of course, with a zoom lens even a little shake or bounce becomes
    magnified.
Sage Tip – Camera Shake!

* A jittery image caused by a shaky camera is frustrating to an audience and makes for a video that may be unwatchable. 

All of these conditions above can cause less than optimal
results when you’re shooting footage. 
These days when almost all video cameras shoot in
HD (High Definition) it is more important than ever to eliminate unwanted camera motion.

Professional videographers will normally use a
camera image stabilization device , such as a tripod, but how about the rest of us who normally shoot holding
the camera without such a device handy?


Two Ways of Stabilizing the Image Within the Camera…

Two ways to stabilize your cameraThe Two Primary Ways Camera Makers Stabilize the Camera to Combat Unwanted Camera Motion

Camera image stabilization of course may not prevent all motion
blur caused by the movement of the subject or by extreme movements of the
camera but… 
It is designed to eliminate, or at least reduce, the blur that
results from normal, minute shaking due to hand-held shooting or other
environmental factors.

Video camera makers have tackled this problem of stabilization for hand-held cameras, video cameras and camcorders in a couple of ways.

There are two types of technologies that camera makers
have used for camera image stabilization:

Electronic camera stabilization

* Electronic (Digital) Image Stabilization (EIS)…

Electronically using the camera’s image sensor.


Optical (mechanical) image stabilization

* Optical Image Stabilization (OIS)…

Using a electro-mechanical control system built into the camera’s lens.

Each one has its strengths and weaknesses so let’s take
a look at each…


Electronic Stabilization…. Stabilizing the Picture Using Pixels and the Image Sensor…

Electronic image stabilizationElectronic Image Stabilization Is Picture Stabilization Using the Camera’s Image Sensor!

Using software within the digital camera or camcorder, this technique
corrects the electronic image from the image sensor (frame to frame) to counteract any unwanted motion.

It does this by using pixels outside the border of the
visible frame to provide a buffer for the motion. 
If the camera position is slightly shifted the frame inside
the camera is electronically shifted within this buffer area to the corrected
position and keep it centered. The more centered it is the less apparent  jitter
or shake you see.

The only drawback is that it uses pixels to form this
buffer zone that would otherwise be used in the frame. This means that you have fewer pixels to work with in
each frame and thus you lose a bit of picture quality.

This type of stabilization is usually automatic
in the camera and the camera operator has no need to worry if it’s on or off. This technology is also called digital image
stabilization
by some camera manufacturers.


Optical Stabilization… Mechanical Stabilization by Shifting the Camera’s Lens Position…

Optical image stabilizationMechanical Image Stabilization Means That the Lens Itself Can Move to Combat Unwanted Motion!

An optical image stabilizer is an electromechanical mechanism
used in a camera or camcorder that stabilizes the recorded image by varying the
light path to the image sensor through the lens.

Most camera makers use a floating lens element that is always
moved to the optical center of the lens using gyroscope sensors and electromagnets. 
If the camera moves or shakes the light path through
the lens to the optical sensor is altered so that the image being shot stays centered
on the sensor.

This can also be done with the camera’s image sensor
also to provide even better correction of the image.

The key element of all optical stabilization systems is
that they stabilize the image projected on the image sensor before  the sensor
converts the image into digital information.
This makes for a much clearer and cleaner picture. 
In high-end camcorders and digital cameras you can turn the
optical image stabilization on and off and there are also usually several modes that
compensate for different types of movement.

Some videographers like to turn the camera image stabilization off however if they’re working from a tripod or if they have the camera on a SteadyCam.


What Type of Stabilization Should You Choose?

Here’s
a Short Video from Panasonic… It Explains Some of the Different Ways
That Images Are Stabilized in a Digital Camera… Enjoy…!

[embedded content]

So… As you can see … Each type of camera image stabilization has its pros and cons!

A plus point for the Electronic stabilization is
it’s cheaper and does an adequate job of reducing minor camera shake, but this
technology does reduce the picture quality by reducing the number of pixels in
each frame.

If you’re not worried so much about outstanding picture
quality and just want to point-and-shoot… 
Then a digital camera with electronic stabilization technology should be fine.

Also… most video editing software programs have a
function that will let you do
some  correcting for camera shake. So… if you do have a little motion in the frame you can
compensate a bit for that during the video editing process. It (the video editing software) won’t do anything major as far as correction but it
will help a bit.

If you’re shooting in high definition and high
resolution images are important to you… then it would be better to invest in a
more expensive form of image stabilization. 
Optical stabilization will help you shoot sharper
images by giving you better stabilization of the camera. But, of course, it won’t come cheap! But if you are going to invest in a higher-end camera
anyway… then the optical image stabilization that comes with it will help you to
shoot better images.

When you’re shopping for a digital camera or camcorder just be sure to pay close attention to what type of stabilization technology the manufacturer is using. Is it optical stabilization or digital stabilization…? It makes a big difference…!


If you are shooting hand-held then there’s always the
possibility that you will get some images that are blurred because of camera
bounce and shake but…

These image stabilization systems do however give you a great chance
to shoot a nice sharp clear image…!

Have fun…!  Dan (Editor)


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