Cloud Designs blog

Why Leaders Need to Show Their Competitive Fire

Don’t be afraid to tell your team how badly you want to win and how much you hate to lose.

I started LaSalle Network 20 years ago. We have grown for 19 straight years, making the Inc. 5000 list 11 consecutive years and have been recognized for being a “Best Place to Work” almost 100 times over the past decade. I thought everyone knew what got us here.

Our company has terrific people: 90 percent are Millennials who are smart and hard-working. Great teammates. We are up 5 percent year-over-year through February 28; however, I have higher expectations, and we will hit those expectations.

I know most everyone’s name of our almost-300 people, and I am in the office practically every day. I participate in staff meetings, I call and meet clients, and I interview potential hires. I am in our business as well as leading it because I love it. I thought that was enough. I assumed people knew the fire that exists inside of me.

The other day at a staff meeting I realized we were motivated, hard-working people but the fire was starting to dampen. I took over an all-company meeting. I cheered. I lectured. I yelled. I was passionate and excited.

Like a town or city or country, the company of today was built on the backs of those who had the fire. Like an athlete or musician, great business people are competitive. They want to win. They want to crush their competitors. Like McDonald’s co-founder Ray Kroc said, “If any of my competitors were drowning, I’d stick a hose in their mouth and turn on the water.”

Now, I have more compassion than that, and I wish everyone success, but not at my company’s expense. I’m OK if they make money, but I want to win. Every time. I want to beat them. I hate to lose.

I forgot that people need to hear that message from me. Hard work is necessary. Your company’s mission is extremely important. Being subject matter experts is key. However, your people also need to hear the passion. The fire.

Don’t be afraid to tell your team how badly you want to win. How much you hate to lose. Lead your people. Talk to them straight. I’ll see you in the trenches.

Article originally posted at Inc

Cloud Designs Blog

Steve Jobs Said 1 Thing Separates Great Leaders From All the Rest (And Makes All the Difference for Success)

Steve Jobs, great leaders don’t offer excuses or reasons for why they failed.

Steve Jobs expected a lot from himself. Jobs expected a lot from others.

And he definitely expected a lot from people in leadership roles.

Here’s a story from John Rossman’s upcoming book, Think Like Amazon:

Steve Jobs told employees a short story when they were promoted to vice president at Apple. Jobs would tell the VP that if the garbage in his office was not being emptied, Jobs would naturally demand an explanation from the janitor. “Well, the lock on the door was changed,’ the janitor could reasonably respond. “And I couldn’t get a key.”

The janitor’s response is reasonable. It’s an understandable excuse. The janitor can’t do his job without a key. As a janitor, he’s allowed to have excuses.

“When you’re the janitor, reasons matter,” Jobs told his newly-minted VPs. “Somewhere between the janitor and the CEO, reasons stop mattering.”

“In other words,’ (Jobs continued,) “when the employee becomes a vice president, he or she must vacate all excuses for failure. A vice president is responsible for any mistakes that happen, and it doesn’t matter what you say.”

Rossman calls embracing that level of responsibility “owning your dependencies”: Taking absolute responsibility for every possible dependency under your purview.

The ‘No Excuses’ Rule of Leadership

You need parts to complete an order, and the shipment from your vendor is late? You should have made sure commitments were clear. You should have put contingencies and redundancies in place. The late shipment may be the vendor’s fault… but making sure critical parts are on hand is your responsibility.

No excuses.

I dress casually for my flight to Tampa for a speaking gig, the airline makes me check my carry-on bag at the end of the jetway, and then my bag goes to Vegas? I could have packed a back-up set of clothes in my backpack. And I could have worn nicer clothes on the plane. Losing my bag may be the airline’s fault… but making sure I have the clothes I need is my responsibility.

No excuses.

There’s a quote often credited to Ignatius: “Pray as if God will take care of all; act as if all is up to you.”

The same premise applies to personal responsibility. Many people feel success or failure is caused by external forces — and especially by other people. If they succeed, other people helped them, supported them… other people were “with” them. If they fail, other people let them down, didn’t believe in them, didn’t help them… other people were “against” them.

To an extent that is, of course, true. No one ever does anything worthwhile on their own.

But successful people don’t totally rely on others. Successful people put contingencies in place. Successful people shoot for the best and plan for the worst. They set clear expectations. They communicate — a lot. They follow up. They mentor and guide and train. They lead and work through others… but they accept final responsibility.

Why? Because the only thing they know they can control is themselves. They act as if success or failure is totally within their control. If they succeed, they caused it. If they fail, they caused it.

Don’t waste any wasting mental energy hoping — or worrying — about what might happen. Put all your effort into making and making sure things happen. Be proactive.

Be responsible for every possible dependency — especially the ones that make the biggest difference in your success.

As Jobs would say, “Reasons stop mattering.”

Never make excuses.

Never list reasons.

And never point fingers.

Unless, of course, you point them at yourself — and resolve that next time you’ll do whatever it takes to make sure things turn out the way you plan.

Article originally posted at Inc

Cloud Designs blog

This Is What Separates Truly Great Leaders From the Rest of the Pack

Too often, we confuse the roles of a “leader” with that of a “manager”.

What makes a good leader? originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Luis Elizondo, Director of Special Programs at to the Stars, on Quora:

Who comes to mind when you picture a leader?

Maybe it’s the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, sitting behind an expensive oak desk on Wall Street, protecting the company’s bottom line. Or, you might picture a uniformed military officer, barking orders at subordinates. Or maybe you fancy the idea of an ancient conqueror on horseback, swinging their sword wildly through a horde of barbarians while arrows sail above their head and shields crash into each other.

The truth of the matter is, most people have an idea of what they think a “leader” should look like but few can explain the actual qualities and traits that make someone a leader.

Qualities such as decisiveness, intelligence, and savvy have been the subject of countless books on the matter. In fact, there is an entire industry now dedicated to coaching up-and-coming “leaders” where they explore in great detail the supposed traits and even habits of what makes a good leader.

In reality, however, it’s not so easy to define. Rarely are traits such as compassion, humility, and measuredness considered leadership traits, and instead often relegated to those of humanitarians and philanthropic pursuits.

I’ve spent my career, and a good portion of my adult life, in the National Security arena and with the military. Over the years, I have seen my share of both good leaders and those who think they are good leaders. Many individuals in this second category believe that a good leader is one who wins wars when in fact, a good leader is one who can avoid going to war in the first place.

Too often, we confuse the roles of a “leader” with that of a “manager,” and even then, sometimes those who claim to be a good manager are not even capable of that.

Here’s what true leadership really entails:

In order to lead, you must first learn to know what it’s like to follow.

Having been to war several times, I’ve seen a few great leaders and I’ve seen many people who thought they were great leaders.

With the latter, it often had disastrous consequences. Although not always the case, many times those officers who were indeed good leaders, often had prior experience as enlisted members before becoming an officer. It was this prior experience that allowed these good leaders to better relate to the men and women under their charge. It also allowed them to appreciate the impact each decision had on the safety and wellbeing of the troops and the sacrifice involved with obeying orders and the consequences of bad decisions. As such, decisions made by these individuals were usually made based on ensuring the welfare of individuals and mission accomplishment instead of self-idealized values of supposed leadership qualities.

This understanding also translated into better performance and morale by the troops, which also meant quicker and more successful mission accomplishment with fewer casualties.

A real leader isn’t in the position for status, money, or control. They’re in it because they are passionate about the individuals they work with and are humbled by the responsibilities it requires to keep them safe and successful.

An effective leader understands the difference between a tactical loss and a strategic gain.

In the corporate world, this means that a leader will encourage even their best performers to seek career-enhancing opportunities and training even at the detriment of the office’s performance because ultimately it benefits the overall organization in the long run. Of course, a good leader picks up the slack!

A true leader always puts others before themselves and is sympathetic to senior-level desires, but ultimately, their allegiance is to the people they work alongside.

Here’s a simple test I often explained to junior staff for figuring out whether someone is the real deal:

Do they say the words “me,” “mine,” or “my” in the context of the greater office? If so, they’re probably not a leader. For example, when you hear someone say things like “my office,” “my staff,” “my people,” or “my mission,” that should be a warning sign. A true leader will use the words “our”, “us,” and “we” instead.

The differences here are subtle, but they say a lot about the psyche of an individual and their true motivations. Psychologically, a good leader understands that the mission’s success depends on the larger group’s ability to succeed, not just the leader.

Leaders often hate to lead but love the people and the mission.

Many people would be surprised to know that George Washington, our nation’s first President and arguably the most instrumental leader of the American Revolution, never wanted to be President.

In fact, upon being unanimously elected by the electoral college, this self-described introvert told his friend, “Movements to the chair of government will be accompanied with feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution.” The reason for this was Washington’s understanding of the enormous responsibility this new position required.

Upon accepting the position of President, Washington said, “While I realize the arduous nature of the task which is conferred on me and feel my inability to perform it, I wish there may not be reason for regretting the choice. All I can promise is only that which can be accomplished by an honest zeal.”

As much of a contradiction as this may seem, this is precisely the qualities one would want in a President.

Here’s how to weed out the pretenders:

* Real leaders don’t want to be in charge. They are committed to the “mission,” not submission. They focus on the responsibilities and not the privileges.

* They don’t need to remind others they are in charge. People follow because they want to, not because they are told to. Leaders accept all failures and give credit to others for all successes.

* They rely on other voices. They value dissenting views and incentivize other perspectives while encouraging alternative analysis.

* They sacrifice for their subordinates. They provide opportunities beyond what is given to themselves. They enable others to succeed and advance beyond their immediate office even if the leader has to pick up the slack.

* They know the difference between diplomacy and politics. Negotiations are done for the collective good, not to the benefit of the leader. They avoid gossip but value intelligence and insight.

* They are risk aware, not risk-averse. They minimize personnel risk over personal risk. They balance potential opportunities with potential consequences.

If you find yourself in a leadership position and feel like a fish out of water, it’s probably a good sign. It may mean your motives are pure.

Real leaders understand success depends on the people around them.

Instead of chasing status and salary, real leaders realize people are the most important asset of any company or organization.

They don’t compete with their co-workers or obsess over garnering the most praise from peers, executives, or board members. Instead, they’re concerned about fostering an atmosphere where everyone thrives, even if it’s at the leader’s own personal or professional detriment.

If you want to see what leadership looks like, watch kids on the playground. The real leader isn’t the one dividing friends into teams or giving out orders to his or her clique. Instead, it’s the kid who makes sure no one is left out. It’s the kid who runs over when someone sprains an ankle, asks if they’re okay, and offers to get some ice or share half of his sandwich. The leader gives an umbrella to a friend while the leader gets wet. Ultimately, it is those kids who express kindness, mercy, and courage, even when it’s unpopular.

Let’s take the example of Ms. Kesha Thomas, a teenage, African-American woman who in 1996 found herself in the middle of an angry KKK demonstration in Ann Arbour, MI. As the demonstration turned increasingly ugly, one of the KKK members was chased by a rightfully angry mob down the street. As the mob closed in on the KKK member, in an unbelievable act of courage, Ms. Thomas threw herself on top of the KKK member, shielding him from certain attack and serious injury, or worse. Why would a complete stranger protect a racist and bigot who has sworn to be her enemy? Because that day Ms. Thomas taught the world once again that leadership comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and genders.

Investing in other human beings over yourself is a fundamental leadership quality.

Similar scenes play out every day in our offices, social groups, and even in the highest offices of the U.S. Government.

I can’t count how many times I have seen office managers assign poor performance ratings to their subordinates while recommending higher ratings for themselves. A true leader recognizes the fact that it is the leader’s responsibility to ensure the professional success of every member of the team. Until that occurs, a real leader will refuse to accept any rating above their lowest performer’s rating.

Bottom Line: A real leader should both prosper and suffer with their team!

Over the last year, the media has often highlighted the fact that I was the “leader” of the Pentagon’s secretive Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), hunting UFOs for national security. In truth, however, the final assessment as to whether I was indeed a “leader” is not up to me and must be judged by those who I worked with.

The success of AATIP had less to do with me personally and more to do with the fact we had amazingly talented individuals working with us from all walks of life, experiences, and perspectives. These individuals were not only my colleagues, but they were also my friends and even buddies in the fox-hole.

Leadership is a lifelong pursuit–a sacred quest that may never be achieved. But in the end, it is the pursuit itself that counts.

Article originally posted at Inc

Cloud Designs blog

Bill Gates Says His Level of Happiness Is Much Higher at 63 Than at 25 Because He Chooses to Do These 4 Things

The Microsoft co-founder shares wisdom applicable to any generation.

In the most recent “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates was asked a host of humanitarian-related questions ranging from topics like climate change to the future of education.

About 30 minutes into his live session, questions shifted to the personal life of Bill Gates. Gates, now 63, was asked two compelling questions: “Are you happy?” And shortly after, “Through it all, what makes you happy?”

To the first question, the world’s second richest man responded: “Yes! When I was in my 30s, I didn’t think people in their 60s were very smart or had much fun. Now I have had a counter-revelation. Ask me in 20 years and I will tell you how smart 80-year-olds are.”

To the second question, Gates said, “Some recently said that when your children are doing well it really is very special, and as a parent, I completely agree. Sometimes following through on commitments to yourself, like doing more exercise, also improves your happiness.”

Breaking down happiness, the Bill Gates way

Gates’s “counter-revelation” of happiness in his 60s versus that in his 20s or 30s is an interesting one. In his 30s, things were unquestionably “fun” from the business standpoint of relentlessly driving Microsoft’s original mission to put “a computer on every desk and in every home.”

But that mission was fulfilled, at least in the developed world. Things have since shifted for Gates. He recently shared in a Facebook post, “When I was in my 20s and early 30s, I was fanatical about software. I didn’t take vacations or weekends off and I wasn’t interested in getting married. (Obviously, that changed when I met Melinda!)”

He is now enjoying the fruits of his labor through his family- and personal-life ambitions, as well as fulfilling his larger-than-life vision of ending the world’s extreme poverty and hunger through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

But before you say, “I’m not Bill Gates, I don’t have the same luxuries in life,” you don’t have to be a billionaire to achieve the happiness of which he speaks. Paraphrasing his new revelations in life, here’s how anyone can achieve the same level of happiness as Bill Gates.

1. Follow through on your commitments.

How people become smarter as they age is not so much about increasing intellectual knowledge or accumulating more wealth (although both will happen by virtue of making good choices). It’s about intentionally choosing and following through on what matters most — following through on your commitments, as Gates said.

Maybe you feel stuck in a dead-end job, chose the wrong career, or feel that you were made for something else — something more significant.

While it’s totally normal to question your career direction or motivation to do your job, what is not normal is for these feelings to reside permanently in the deepest crevices of your mind when you know you were made for something bigger.

If you grapple with thoughts about “what if,” start the beginning of your journey with this question: Am I doing what I want — what most matters to me?

At some point, a person needs to break the cycle of swallowing his own voice to speaking into his truth faultlessly about what matters.

When you are ask yourself what you want, and you hear from deep down inside your gut, “This is what I want,” that discerning voice is the voice of truth to which you should commit wholeheartedly.

2. Have a mindset of giving.

The late motivational guru Jim Rohn said, “Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have.” Through his generous foundation, Gates has achieved this on a scale most of us reading this article can’t fathom.

In 2006, his close friend Warren Buffett, now the third-richest person on the planet, signed papers that gave $31 billion of his fortune to fund the Gates Foundation’s work in fighting infectious diseases and reforming education.

Closer to home, consider giving for your own well-being. Science has confirmed that giving makes us feel happy, is good for our health, and evokes gratitude. One Harvard Business School report even concluded that the emotional rewards are the greatest when our generosity is connected to others, like contributing to a cancer-stricken friend’s GoFundMe Campaign.

And you needn’t restrict your idea of giving to financial generosity. Consider as well the positive impact of giving your time, mentoring others, supporting a cause, fighting injustice, and having a pay-it-forward mentality.

3. Treat your body like a sacred temple.

Gates said that exercise leads to happiness. He is an avid tennis player. And according to research, he’s dead on. Exercise has been shown to improve your mood and decrease feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress.

Conversely, if you cringe at the thought of having to fight for a treadmill at a crowded and sweaty gym, your mood can benefit from a simple exercise no matter the intensity or length of it.

One study of 24 women diagnosed with depression showed that exercise of any intensity significantly decreased feelings of depression. In fact, it reduced depressed mood 10 and 30 minutes following the physical activity.

4. Put family first.

As he suggested, Gates’s priorities shifted to more focus on family life and the special feeling of seeing his children excel in life.

The choice not to place family life on equal par with, or even ahead of, career priorities can be costly. Scientific analysis of the causes that lead to death in the workplace listed, among other things, “long hours/overtime” and “work-family conflict” as common sources of workplace stress destroying the health of U.S. workers.

If work-life balance is a struggle of guilt because you think your business or career will suffer, the solution is simple: Set non-negotiable boundaries around your family priorities first, and then use the same rigor to place strict boundaries at work.

Having solid lines around each area of life will ultimately make you more focused, efficient, and effective at work. And your kids will love that daddy or mommy comes home on time to watch a ballet recital or little league game.

Article originally posted at Inc

Cloud Designs blog

4 Ways to Be a Better Mentor to Your Employees

Taking on the role of mentor encourages your employees to feel guided and excited about the work they’re doing.

By Solomon Thimothy, founder of Clickx

In my early days of entrepreneurship, I felt solely responsible for the success of my business. It seemed like it was all up to me to make sure things got done, goals were met and the company was moving forward.

However, as things started to take off, I quickly realized that I couldn’t do it alone. I had hired my team for a reason, and it was time I let them take control of their projects and deadlines. This didn’t mean I completely removed myself from the equation. Instead, I took on another important entrepreneurial role — mentor.

Acting as a mentor for employees can help individuals hone their talents and skills, as well as make them feel more invested in the organization. When employees feel like they’re getting one-on-one help and attention, it can improve their workplace happiness and encourage them to stick around longer.

Unfortunately, not all entrepreneurs understand how to be a great mentor — and it’s understandable why. Mentorships are challenging to establish, but it’s still important to provide that level of support to your employees. Here are a few different ways you can become a better mentor.

1. Find a unique connection.

If you’re trying to connect with employees through a one-size-fits-all approach, you’ll struggle to get to know what each individual wants or needs. To be a great mentor for your employees, you need to focus on creating authentic, unique connections with each team member — even if it means taking a little extra time to get to know them.

Some connections will be easier to find than others. However, with strong listening skills and attention to detail, you can set the foundation for a great mentorship with any employee.

2. Assign peer mentors for onboarding.

It isn’t always possible to provide one-on-one mentorship to each of your employees — especially in times when they might need a little more attention, such as during onboarding. In this case, connect new hires with other employees who can help them through the training and onboarding process. Quality peer mentors might include someone who was in the position previously or someone with similar past experience.

However, keep in mind that you can’t force mentorships and trying to do so will just be a waste of time. If two employees don’t seem to be connecting, suggest another mentor who might be a better fit.

3. Encourage constructive criticism.

Mentoring employees can be a great way to provide the encouragement and support they need to truly take advantage of their skills and position — but it should do more than that. A mentor should push an employee to be better, giving them the drive to go further or try harder. The best way to do this is by offering and encouraging constructive criticism and advice.

Remember to always stay productive when giving feedback. Avoid getting constructive without first appreciating the hard work and dedication your employee is giving you. Next, provide clear steps on how they can improve, as well as goals for making those improvements happen.

4. Remember empathy.

When you’re stressed, behind on deadlines and working from sunup to sundown, it’s easy to develop tunnel vision. However, it’s important not to let those negative emotions come out at your employees or bring down the energy of your office.

Empathy is extremely important as an entrepreneur and mentor. If you’re able to understand the stresses, challenges and needs your employees are experiencing both in and out of the workplace, you can provide them with a stronger support system.

Practice your listening skills. Remember that your employees will face complications of their own, and as the leader of your organization, it is your responsibility to ensure they’re given the help, resources and time they need to get their job done.


As an entrepreneur, you’re not solely responsible for your company’s success. However, you are responsible for making sure your employees get all the help, resources and assistance they need to get their jobs done efficiently and effectively.

Approach relationships with your employees like a mentorship. By listening to their unique needs, you can encourage them to develop their skills and feel excited about the work they’re doing.

Article originally posted at Inc

Cloud Designs Blog

Serious Entrepreneurs Have 2 Goals: Passive Income and Multiple Revenue Streams

The biggest difference between a job and a business is that a business keeps making money for you when you’re off the clock.

The phrase “passive income” has been so overused that it may provoke somewhat negative feelings. You’ve probably seen Facebook ads portraying the “laptop” lifestyle from entrepreneurs trying to sell you on one of their programs. You see what they’re offering and understand that the way they travel and make an income is through people buying their course.

Just like any industry, there is good and not so good. The good part of passive income is that it can lead to multiple streams of revenue. Entrepreneurs understand more income sources means a more stable business and more room to grow. Implementing passive income strategies creates exciting possibilities and opportunities. Passive income sources allow me to have freedom and financial security in my life and business. I can spend my time traveling or writing, knowing that I’m stilling making income.

Here are three ways to create passive income and multiple revenue streams.

1. Generate income online and offline.

When it comes to passive income and generating revenue, most entrepreneurs think about the Internet and social media. With billions of daily users, it makes sense. You can reach a large and captive audience without as much marketing muscle as you would have used in the past. You can:

  • Create content on a blog or your website.
  • You can start a podcast that reaches the millions of iTunes users.
  • You can do Facebook or Periscope live videos that get seen and shared.
  • You can pay for ads on social media and Google. They’re very effective.
  • There are also ways to generate income offline.

This helps to diversify your income. You can:

  • Book paid speaking gigs on your topic.
  • Book consulting gigs at companies and corporations.
  • Take on large done-for-you projects.
  • There are many ways to generate income in both worlds and each of these helps creates revenue that’s not too dependent on any one thing.

2. Automate parts of your business.

One of the benefits of the time we live in is all the software and technology we have available. If you want to scale a business that’s bigger than yourself, you’re going to need systems in place to get you there. These systems should involve automating as much as you can. The less involvement of you in the day-to-day means you have time to focus on the big picture strategies that help your business grow.

You can uses tools such as WordPress for your website platform. MailChimp to collect email addresses. Clickfunnels to create funnels and landing pages that are completely automated. Stripe to process payments. These are just a few tools I use but there are many more options for each part of your business. Find the ones that work for you and help you create systems. (Disclaimer: I was not paid to mention any of these companies).

3. Have a system to consistently generate new leads.

A business thrives or fails depending on its marketing and system for generating leads. You need leads to make sales. No audience or exposure means you won’t get fresh faces checking out what your business does. Too many entrepreneurs spend all their time on the “busy work” and not enough on audience building. There are some great ways to build an audience and generate new leads:

  • Create content on blogs, podcasts, and videos. There are billions of people who consume this content.
  • Get interviewed on podcasts. They have millions of listeners.
  • Create content for large business and personal development publications. The seven major publications get more than 500 million monthly visitors.
  • Get involved in your local community’s events.
  • The point being, there are many ways to generate new leads and get exposure for your business. Creating multiple revenue streams is possible when you have a way to grow. You can never go wrong building an audience and by adding new leads.

We live in an exciting time. You can literally make money while you sleep. As an entrepreneur, you don’t get a steady paycheck. You can create financial stability when you create multiple streams of income and make some of them passive. Use these steps and tools. Don’t just run towards the online because these are still a lot of opportunities offline. Create systems and don’t try to do it all alone.

Article originally posted at Entrepreneur

Cloud Designs Blog

How This Entrepreneur Proved SMS Marketing Could Be Marketing’s ‘Next Big Thing’

Looking for new ways to take your marketing to the next level? SMS marketing could be the secret weapon you’ve been looking for. Here’s how to do it right.

With open rates for email marketing at all-time lows, social media platforms like Facebook increasing advertising costs, influencer marketing failing to deliver on its initial hype, and more, it’s become clear that entrepreneurs everywhere should be on the lookout for new marketing opportunities.

With nearly all adult Americans (95 percent) now owning a mobile phone, it makes sense why one of these fresh opportunities is SMS, or text message, marketing–which has been gaining momentum and marketers’ attention in recent years.

To discuss why SMS is on such an upward trajectory, where most companies go wrong with the medium, and what to do instead, I sat down with Aaron Christopher “A.C.” Evans, CEO and co-founder of Based in Akron, Ohio, Drips is one of the nation’s fastest-growing SMS marketing platforms.

As a young, bootstrapped startup, Drips has gone from reaching profitability in its very first year to a few million dollars in revenue in 2017 to breaking eight figures in 2018. It expects to more than double again in 2019– highlighting how rapidly brands are catching on to the power of SMS marketing.

Why SMS marketing?

1. Higher open rates.

While the average open rates of emails currently hover around 25 percent, open rates for text messages sit at a whopping 93 percent. We’re all glued to our phones all hours of the day, so it’s only fitting we check the messages coming through, giving entrepreneurs the rare opportunity to have nearly guaranteed customer attention.

2. The effects of unlimited content, on-demand.

So, what caused this shift in consumer behavior? What caused us all to start leaving emails unread and unknown calls unanswered?

Evans believes there are two main reasons for the change:

The first is the prevalence of spam calling and robo-dialing. Today, we as consumers are much less likely to answer calls from unknown contacts. The second reason is we now – thanks to smartphones – have unlimited content, services, and activities, on-demand. We have the ability to avoid every dull moment we experience during the day.

Consumer access to an endless supply of content gives us more choices than ever before in terms of how we spend our time . This has email marketers and call centers pay the price with plummeting success rates as a result. We are busy doing what we want to do, not what marketers want us to do.

What Most Brands Get Wrong With SMS

By its very nature, texting is conversational. Yet, this isn’t how most brands are using SMS. Instead, they’re approaching text messages the same way they do email – sending out monologues to customers as opposed to encouraging them to engage in dialogue. They’re thinking of SMS as a push mechanism rather than a conversational tool.

While this may do the trick in certain circumstances, such as getting alerts when your favorite coffee shop has discounts on green tea and bagels, in most cases this approach doesn’t fully capitalize on the customer attention SMS gives to its users.

What to Do Instead

1. Humanize your messaging.

The high open rates of text messages set the stage to let your creativity shine. Yet, as anyone who’s ever signed up for SMS alerts knows, the majority tend to be robotic and formulaic. To stand out, add some personality to your text messages.

Doing so won’t just be a “nice to have,” either. According to Evans, as he and his co-founder were putting together the first iteration of what would later become Drips, by simply changing the tone of the copy from serious and mechanical to conversational and accommodating, conversions increased from 10 percent to over 15 percent almost overnight. After a few more iterations toward what Evans calls humanized “conversational texting,” they were well over 40 percent conversion. A 400 percent increase.

2. Try out third-party tools.

An obvious next step would be to try out third-party tools to help automate your SMS marketing campaigns. For enterprise companies and volume players, Drips is certainly a terrific option. If you’re a small shop with lower volume or in the early stages of development as a company, you can look into tools like Textedly to get started.

3. Give your call agents free rein.

If you already have agents on staff for a call center, encourage them to begin meeting customers where they’re at by integrating humanized, conversational text messaging into their dialing and answering services. Then, measure whether or not this has a direct impact on your conversion rates .

With proven, well-worn tactics now becoming largely ineffective, the ebbs and flows of the marketing world are on full display. This presents a big opportunity for newer tactics, like SMS marketing, getting a chance to shine.

In the coming year, give text message marketing an honest try using the tips laid out in this article. It just might be the best choice you make in your marketing efforts this year.

Article originally posted at Inc

Cloud Designs Blog

3 Marketing Situations That Absolutely Scream for Animated Storytelling

Is your brand looking to transform its visual storytelling? Here are three signs that animation is the solution.

From live-action videos to live stories and motion graphics, more brands than ever are relying on video to connect with their audiences. That’s because, as of this year, 80 percent of all web traffic is video. So if you want to go where your audiences are, embracing video is a must.

But just like many marketers and advertisers, you might be stuck in a rut with traditional video formats. You’ve stuck to tried-and-true live-action video, the stuff that cereal and car commercials are made of. You might be worried that a fully animated video, or a live-action video overlaid with animations, might seem too much like a cartoon. But it can be so much more than that.

You might also worry that animated motion graphics aren’t within your budget. However, there are a few things you can do to make sure they’re within your reach. Shorter videos cost less, but aren’t necessarily less effective. Can a 20-second motion graphic get your message across? With the right planning, it probably can.

All the assets created for your motion graphic, from illustrations to graphs to icons, can be used again and again in other marketing materials, making your investment go much further. And motion graphics increase conversions by an average of 80 percent — meaning your investment could pay off in spades.

Animated video and GIFs aren’t right for every brand. But if you’re trying to accomplish one or more of these three goals, it’s time to consider whether animation is right for you:

1. You’re telling a story that live-action video can’t capture.
Perhaps your brand simply doesn’t lend itself to creating compelling live-action video. For manufacturers of computer chips or software designers, this often proves to be the case. Or perhaps the most aspirational aspects of your brand can’t be photographed. If you’re in a medical field that works on the microscopic level, this may be true for you.

Many brands simply can’t tell their whole story with live-action video. But they still want to produce great videos, given just how essential video marketing is for keeping brands relevant today.

That’s where animation comes in. It can visualize abstract concepts, transport viewers to the surface of Mars, and dive down to the atomic level. And animation doesn’t have to be “cartoony.” It can tell every kind of story. Check out NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio for examples of just how essential animation is for telling compelling stories in technical contexts.

2. You want to share compelling information.
Sometimes, live-action video just doesn’t tell the full story. Imagine, for instance, that you’re trying to sell a core processor that boosts computing power and speed. Let’s be honest: it might be exciting, but it doesn’t look exciting. What’s more, looking at it just doesn’t tell the full story.

That’s why, when a company like Intel sells its products, it relies heavily on animation. Intel in particular likes to use live video with text and animation overlaid onto that video. Check out this commercial, which calls out key features like 4K video. You wouldn’t know the video is 4K simply by looking at the computer screen shown in the commercial. Instead, you need some help:

Or look at this Intel commercial, which overlays fun animations indicating the games people are playing and the apps they’re using while they’re sitting at the computer. Without these animations, this would be nothing more than, well, video of people sitting in front of screens. That’s pretty boring. Yet the animations combined with custom music transform this into an exciting, high-energy experience:

3. You’re speaking to a younger demographic.
You might associate animation with Saturday morning cartoons. And, sure, a newly launched Goldfish crackers campaign aims to speak to kids, first and foremost.

But animation also appeals to millennials and young adults. In some cases, that’s because it can achieve a fun-loving tone that live-action video just can’t. In other cases, it’s capable of achieving a uniquely aspirational look and feel.

Take, for example, another new campaign from Goldfish’s parent division, Campbell Snacks. This fully animated video for Kettle Chips touts the brand’s dedication to keeping the planet clean with the help of an animated truck that drives around the globe in an instant:

That simply can’t be done with live-action video. Meanwhile, it achieves a hopeful tone that’s designed to appeal to millennials. Considering that younger generations have been shown to be more attracted to socially conscious brands, this is a great approach.

Article originally posted at Inc

Cloud Designs Blog

New Harvard Study Says Parents Can Give Their Kids a Lifetime of Happiness By Doing This 1 Thing

It’s really very reassuring.

If you’re a parent, you worry about your children’s future. Will they be successful? Will they have good marriages and raise families of their own? Most important of all: Will they have happy lives?

New research from Harvard shows there’s one thing you can do that will up your children’s chances of having a happy life, decades after they go off on their own, and it’s incredibly simple: Be a warm, loving parent.

The Harvard researchers came to this conclusion from an examination of data from the Midlife in the United States study, which examined about 4,000 people in midlife (median age: 47 years, five months) and interviewed them on all sorts of topics. The Harvard team analyzed the data and found a distinct correlation between people who described having warm and loving parents, and people who were doing well in a variety of life areas, collectively known as “flourishing.” The concept of flourishing, developed as part of positive psychology, seeks to measure a person’s well-being. The study’s authors reference this description: “a combination of feeling good and functioning effectively, and the experience that life is going well.”

To measure whether a study subject was flourishing, they measured three aspects of well-being – emotional, psychological, and social – by analyzing the data collected on the subjects. They were looking for an association between those who flourished and those who remembered warm, loving parenting, and they found it. Subjects who remembered having warm, loving childhoods were likelier to score higher on the three measures of well-being. Researchers also found that subjects who remembered warm, loving parents were less likely to engage in self-destructive behavior such as smoking or drug use (except for marijuana). What’s noteworthy about these findings is that they were collected from people well into middle age. That suggests that a warm, loving childhood confers emotional advantages that are likely to last a lifetime.

The study has some limitations. For one thing, the majority of subjects were Caucasian; they were not representative of the United States population as a whole. (Slightly more than half were female, so the sample was balanced by gender.) Perhaps more significantly, subjects in the study would have been born between 1921 and 1970, which means most grew up before the “helicopter parenting” of today. Would the findings still apply the same way given current parenting norms? Alison Escalante M.D. posed this question when she wrote about the study for Psychology Today. She reports that the Harvard team is at work on new research that should provide some answers.

In the meantime, these findings should provide some relief to parents who worry about preparing their children to have the best possible lives. You may not be able to bribe your child’s way into an Ivy League school, provide him or her with every sport there is or otherwise do everything you may think you’re supposed to. But you can be warm. You can pay attention. You can show affection. If you do all that, you can help set them up for a lifetime of happiness. And that’s what really counts.

Article originally posted at Inc

Cloud Designs Blog

10 Foolproof Ways to Spot BS at Work

Management fads are easier to avoid when you can see them coming

Yesterday, I posted a list of management fads almost as stupid as the open plan office. I got some expected pushback on fads that are currently popular, like Agile Software Development and Artificial Intelligence (to replace managers).

The pushback didn’t surprise me, since it’s easier to laugh at passé fads than management fads that are currently providing employment for thousands of consultant and are been deeply embedded in your company’s mission statement.

For the past 25 years, a big part of my job has been detecting and exposing various forms of business bullsh*t; I even wrote a minor bestseller explaining how to avoid bullsh*t in the workplace. Spotting bullsh*t is a crucial skill because then you know to be elsewhere when the bullsh*t hits the fan… as it always eventually does.

Trying to debunk business bullsh*t and management fads one by one is like playing Whack-a-Mole, so rather than keep doing it solo, I’m going to share the “red flags” that tell me that a business theory, management concept, or technology category is doomed-to-fail hype. Here they are:

1. Concentrated Biz-Blab
The validity of any business proposition or concept is always inversely proportional to the amount of vaguely-defined corporate-speak used to describe it. Fuzzy terminology always reflects fuzzy thinking. Example: the statement: “collaboration increases the ability for nimble market transformation” actually means nothing but sounds good. Ergo bullsh*t.

2. Sponsored Research
Over the past few years people have gotten more savvy when it comes to spotting “research” that’s obviously self-serving and therefore invalid. Nevertheless, I still get story pitches citing research like “90% of employees want better entry door security,” the topline of a study that (of course) was funded by an entry door security provider. Ergo bullsh*t.

3. No Double-Blind Testing
A huge software company– for instance–could easily fund a study comparing, say, a sales group given fully-functioning software and a sales group given a hobbled version, with the testing company and vendor unaware of which group had which version. That would tell us if CRM really works as advertised. But not study ever happens. Ergo bullsh*t.

4. Category Refreshes
Products and services that actually work–provide value to their customers–tend to keep the same name over time. Why change it? Products and services where the hype has outrun reality require periodic “umbrella term” refreshes. Hence, “SFA” begat “CRM” begat “Sales 2.0” begat “Sales Enablement.” Ergo bullsh*t.

5. Anecdotal Proof
“Company A bought our product or service and their costs went down and their revenue went up.” Sorry, but correlation isn’t causation and how do we know that there’s not companies B, C, D, and E who bought that product or service and it turned into a pig’s breakfast? Case studies aren’t proof. Ergo bullsh*t.

6. Metaphorical Proof
Example: “Diamonds form under high pressure, therefore a high pressure workplace makes you stronger.” Say whut? Another example: “Our AI learned to play poker, therefore it can make complex business decisions.” Dudes, “business as poker ” is a metaphor. Poker’s rules can be printed on a single page; there are over 1 million books about business. Ergo bullsh*t.

7. Obviously Biased Endorsements
As evidence that a product or service works, the vendor quotes somebody whose career now depends on the purchase proving successful. (E.g. a facilities manager who bought into open plan is quoted on how successful it’s been.) Similarly, quoting employees who know they’d be fired were they to tell the truth. Ergo bullsh*t.

8. “Google Does It” Proof
Aka “Apple Does It”, “Microsoft Does It”, “Amazon Does It”, “Facebook Does It”, etc. Seriously, are we really going to hold these firms up as the pinnacle of business wisdom? From what I can see they’re pretty screwed up in multiple ways. In any case, if every company is doing something (like open plan), how could you possible know whether it’s working or not? Ergo bullsh*t.

9. Quasi-Religious Claims
Any claim that a technology will result in either the apocalypse or human immortality is simply repurposing religious hopes and fears. Example: “AI will take over the world!!!” Yeah, just like Y2K was going to destroy it. Another example: “Humans will transfer their minds into computers and live forever!!!” Religion not science. Ergo bullsh*t.

10. Denialism
Despite overwhelming peer-reviewed evidence that open plan offices are productivity disasters, we still encounter “there are studies on both sides” arguments. There aren’t. Similarly, multiple studies have shown CRM installations have a huge failure rate, but we still hear “CRM is a strategic investment” lingo. Can’t pass a simple reality check? Ergo bullsh*t.

Article originally posted at Inc

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