How a handful of tech companies control billions of minds every day

A handful of people working at a handful of tech companies steer the thoughts of billions of people every day, says design thinker Tristan Harris. From Facebook notifications to Snapstreaks to YouTube autoplays, they're all competing for one thing: your attention. Harris shares how these companies prey on our psychology for their own profit and calls for a design renaissance in which our tech instead encourages us to live out the timeline we want.

Understanding the Instagram Algorithm: 7 Key Factors and Why the Algorithm is Great for Marketers

The Instagram algorithm, just like the Facebook News Feed algorithm, is so mysterious yet ingenious and brilliant in showing the best content to the most people. If you are creating great content, more followers — and non-followers — are going to see it. But how does the Instagram algorithm work? In this post, we’ll break it all down for you. We’ll go through the factors that could influence the ranking of your content on your followers’ feed and explain why the Instagram algorithm is actually great for marketers. Let’s go!   How does the Instagram algorithm work? The short answer is… it’s complicated. ? While we might not know exactly how the Instagram algorithm works, I’d love to help you decipher the mysterious Instagram algorithm (as much as I can). I dug into several sources and distilled my findings into the following seven key factors. Here’s a quick overview of the seven key factors we’ll go through below: Engagement: How popular the post is Relevancy: The genres of content you are interested in and have interacted with Relationships: The accounts you regularly interact with Timeliness: How recent the posts are Profile Searches: The accounts you check out often Direct Shares: Whose posts you are sharing Time Spent: The duration spent viewing a post   Let’s dive in! 1. Engagement: How popular the post is According to Michael Stelzner, CEO and Founder of Social Media Examiner, when a person or brand publishes a post, social media algorithms would typically show the post to a sample audience and see how the audience react to it. If the audience reacts positively to the post right away, the algorithm would show the post to more people. This implies that a post with more engagement is likely going to rank higher on your Instagram feed. The types of engagement that the Instagram algorithm considers can include likes, comments, video views, shares (via direct message), saves, story views, and live video views. If someone you follow has engaged with a post, too, Instagram might also assume that you could be interested in that post and included it within your feed. Here’s the great news: An Instagram spokesperson told Business Insider that ranking of Instagram posts will not be a popularity contest. Posts with less engagement but which are more relevant to you can still appear right at the top of your feed. 2. Relevancy: The genres of content you are interested in and have interacted with When the algorithmic timeline was annouced, Instagram mentioned that it would show you content that you’ll likely be interested in first: The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post. This implies that content that is relevant to your interests will likely rank higher on your feed. But how does Instagram know your interests? One way could be to look at the genres of content (e.g. travel, food, fashion, sports, etc.) you have interacted with in the past. With the level of photo recognition technologies available now, I believe it’s possible for the algorithm to categorize posts into simple genres such as travel, food, fashion, and more — and possibly even more sophisticated genres. The algorithm could also look at the hashtags used. If there’s a certain genre of content that you engage with more frequently (e.g. food), Instagram might rank content of that genre (e.g. food, restaurants, etc.) higher on your feed. 3. Relationships: The accounts you regularly interact with In its second announcement about the new feed, Instagram stated the following: And no matter how many accounts you follow, you should see your best friend’s latest posts. Just like Facebook, Instagram doesn’t want you to miss important posts from your friends and family, such as a post about your friend’s engagement. This implies that content from your “best friends” likely ranks higher on your feed. Since Instagram is owned by Facebook, Instagram could use data from Facebook to determine your relationships — family, friends, schoolmates, colleagues, etc. I also believe that the Instagram algorithm studies your past interactions to determine your “best friends”. In a talk about designing and implementing the Instagram algorithm, Thomas Dimson, a software engineer at Instagram, shared how they could have determined the people you care about: People whose content you like (possibly including stories and live videos) People you direct message People you search for People you know in real life While these might not be the exact criteria used in the Instagram algorithm, they give us a hint that Instagram probably considers the accounts you frequently interact with as “people you care about”. And it would rank their content higher on your feed. 4. Timeliness: How recent the posts are The next key ingredient in the Instagram algorithm, as suggested by Instagram, is timeliness. The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post. Instagram wants to show you posts that are recent and, consequently, more relevant. Something from last week might not interest you as much as something from an hour ago, so Instagram will likely show you more recent posts rather than posts from a few days or weeks ago — even if the older post had received a lot of engagement. This implies that recent posts likely rank higher in your feed and that the timing of your post is still relevant. According to Thomas’s talk and my personal experience (admittedly, a sample size of only one), it seems that the Instagram algorithm re-orders only the new posts between your current visit and your last visit. For example, I visited Instagram at 11 PM last night and again at 9 AM this morning, and there were 50 posts created in between. The algorithm would sort only those 50 posts created and not include posts from before 11 PM last night. Based on my personal experience, if I were to scroll past all those 50 posts, I’d see the same posts in the same order as when I last visited (11 PM last night). (If your personal experience is different from this, it’d be great to hear from you!) If this is true, it could mean that the best time to post is when your followers are most active as there would be less competition (e.g. between 9 to 10 AM in the image below). 5. Profile Searches: The accounts you check out often An Instagram spokesperson said to Business Insider that profile searches are a signal Instagram looks at when ranking posts in your feed. When you search (regularly) for certain profiles, it likely indicates that you are interested in the account’s posts and might not have seen them on your feed. Instagram might then rank their posts higher on your feed so that you don’t have to search for their profiles to see their posts, improving your Instagram experience. Thomas from Instagram also mentioned in his talk that when they experimented with the new algorithm, the number of searches went down. They took it as a good sign as it meant that people are seeing the posts they are interested in without having to search for their favorite profiles. 6. Direct Shares: Whose posts you are sharing Instagram has made it really easy for users to share a post they see on their feed with their friends. According to the Business Insider article, direct shares through Instagram is also another signal Instagram looks at to understand your interests. There are two parts to this. One, sharing a post shows that you are probably interested in the posts by that account. The Instagram algorithm would then consider this when ranking posts on your feed. Two, it sounds like Instagram would also consider the people you have shared the post with. Going back to factor two, relationships, the act of sharing a post with another person informs Instagram that you care about the person so Instagram might rank her posts higher on your feed. 7. Time Spent: The duration spent viewing a post It’s possible that the Instagram feed algorithm shares some similarities with the Facebook News Feed algorithm since the aim of both algorithms is to show you the posts that you care about the most. Facebook discovered that if “people spend significantly more time on a particular story in News Feed than the majority of other stories they look at, this is a good sign that content was relevant to them”, even if they didn’t like or comment on it. More specifically, Facebook said the following: Based on the fact that you didn’t scroll straight past this post and it was on the screen for more time than other posts that were in your News Feed, we infer that it was something you found interesting and we may start to surface more posts like that higher up in your News Feed in the future. If this factor is included in the Instagram algorithm, when you spend more time on an Instagram post than other posts, Instagram will surface posts similar to that Instagram post higher up on your feed. While there isn’t confirmation about this factor, it wouldn’t be surprising if Instagram included this factor in its algorithm. 8. Others There are probably a whole bunch of other signals that the Instagram algorithm considers, and the algorithm changes constantly to give its users the best experience possible. (For context, Facebook’s algorithm takes into account hundreds of factors.) Stef Lewandowski of Makelight put together a list of other signals that the algorithm might consider: How regularly you open the app How regularly you post How many likes an image has in total What an image’s recent like-rate is How old the image is Whether the post is a video Whether an image is from a “business” account versus a personal one How active the image poster has been today – how many comments and likes have they made? How many of an image poster’s images you’ve commented on or liked recently How many hashtags the image has   Why is the new algorithm great for marketers? As the number of users on Instagram increases, the number of posts will likely increase, too. When users follow more people, the number of posts in their feed will increase. The natural result of this is that the impressions (or organic reach) of each post will fall — unless every user spends more time on Instagram looking at all the additional posts. The reality is that people usually don’t see all the new posts when they visit Instagram. A study by Instagram themselves found that, on average, users miss 70 percent of the posts on their feeds when the posts were arranged in a reverse-chronological order. But as long as you are creating engaging, relevant, and timely content, the algorithm is actually an advantage to you. It will help to surface your great content to more of your followers than when posts were arranged reverse-chronologically. Here’s another way to look at it: Without this algorithm, one quick way to get your Instagram followers’ attention would be to post many times a day. If most brands follow this strategy, the number of Instagram posts would increase dramatically, and the organic reach of each post would fall proportionally — even if it’s a quality post. With this algorithm, brands are encouraged to post only their best content, and the quality of their content will determine their reach. Brands with the best content overall will stand out more easily now than without the algorithm. Here’s a bonus: The Explore tab also uses an algorithm to surface content based on the user’s interests and past behaviors. It is another brilliant way for your great content to reach more people! Credit: Alfred Lua Source: Buffer App

The Instagram algorithm, just like the Facebook News Feed algorithm, is so mysterious yet ingenious and brilliant in showing the best content to the most people.

If you are creating great content, more followers — and non-followers — are going to see it.

But how does the Instagram algorithm work?

In this post, we’ll break it all down for you. We’ll go through the factors that could influence the ranking of your content on your followers’ feed and explain why the Instagram algorithm is actually great for marketers.

Let’s go!

 

How does the Instagram algorithm work?

The short answer is… it’s complicated. ?

While we might not know exactly how the Instagram algorithm works, I’d love to help you decipher the mysterious Instagram algorithm (as much as I can). I dug into several sources and distilled my findings into the following seven key factors.

Here’s a quick overview of the seven key factors we’ll go through below:

Engagement: How popular the post is

Relevancy: The genres of content you are interested in and have interacted with

Relationships: The accounts you regularly interact with

Timeliness: How recent the posts are

Profile Searches: The accounts you check out often

Direct Shares: Whose posts you are sharing

Time Spent: The duration spent viewing a post

 

Let’s dive in!

1. Engagement: How popular the post is

According to Michael Stelzner, CEO and Founder of Social Media Examiner, when a person or brand publishes a post, social media algorithms would typically show the post to a sample audience and see how the audience react to it. If the audience reacts positively to the post right away, the algorithm would show the post to more people.

This implies that a post with more engagement is likely going to rank higher on your Instagram feed. The types of engagement that the Instagram algorithm considers can include likes, comments, video views, shares (via direct message), saves, story views, and live video views.

If someone you follow has engaged with a post, too, Instagram might also assume that you could be interested in that post and included it within your feed.

Here’s the great news: An Instagram spokesperson told Business Insider that ranking of Instagram posts will not be a popularity contest. Posts with less engagement but which are more relevant to you can still appear right at the top of your feed.

2. Relevancy: The genres of content you are interested in and have interacted with

When the algorithmic timeline was annouced, Instagram mentioned that it would show you content that you’ll likely be interested in first:

The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post.

This implies that content that is relevant to your interests will likely rank higher on your feed. But how does Instagram know your interests? One way could be to look at the genres of content (e.g. travel, food, fashion, sports, etc.) you have interacted with in the past.

With the level of photo recognition technologies available now, I believe it’s possible for the algorithm to categorize posts into simple genres such as travel, food, fashion, and more — and possibly even more sophisticated genres. The algorithm could also look at the hashtags used.

If there’s a certain genre of content that you engage with more frequently (e.g. food), Instagram might rank content of that genre (e.g. food, restaurants, etc.) higher on your feed.

3. Relationships: The accounts you regularly interact with

In its second announcement about the new feed, Instagram stated the following:

And no matter how many accounts you follow, you should see your best friend’s latest posts.

Just like Facebook, Instagram doesn’t want you to miss important posts from your friends and family, such as a post about your friend’s engagement. This implies that content from your “best friends” likely ranks higher on your feed.

Since Instagram is owned by Facebook, Instagram could use data from Facebook to determine your relationships — family, friends, schoolmates, colleagues, etc.

I also believe that the Instagram algorithm studies your past interactions to determine your “best friends”. In a talk about designing and implementing the Instagram algorithm, Thomas Dimson, a software engineer at Instagram, shared how they could have determined the people you care about:

People whose content you like (possibly including stories and live videos)

People you direct message

People you search for

People you know in real life

While these might not be the exact criteria used in the Instagram algorithm, they give us a hint that Instagram probably considers the accounts you frequently interact with as “people you care about”. And it would rank their content higher on your feed.

4. Timeliness: How recent the posts are

The next key ingredient in the Instagram algorithm, as suggested by Instagram, is timeliness.

The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post.

Instagram wants to show you posts that are recent and, consequently, more relevant.

Something from last week might not interest you as much as something from an hour ago, so Instagram will likely show you more recent posts rather than posts from a few days or weeks ago — even if the older post had received a lot of engagement.

This implies that recent posts likely rank higher in your feed and that the timing of your post is still relevant.

According to Thomas’s talk and my personal experience (admittedly, a sample size of only one), it seems that the Instagram algorithm re-orders only the new posts between your current visit and your last visit.

For example, I visited Instagram at 11 PM last night and again at 9 AM this morning, and there were 50 posts created in between. The algorithm would sort only those 50 posts created and not include posts from before 11 PM last night. Based on my personal experience, if I were to scroll past all those 50 posts, I’d see the same posts in the same order as when I last visited (11 PM last night).

(If your personal experience is different from this, it’d be great to hear from you!)

If this is true, it could mean that the best time to post is when your followers are most active as there would be less competition (e.g. between 9 to 10 AM in the image below).

5. Profile Searches: The accounts you check out often

An Instagram spokesperson said to Business Insider that profile searches are a signal Instagram looks at when ranking posts in your feed. When you search (regularly) for certain profiles, it likely indicates that you are interested in the account’s posts and might not have seen them on your feed.

Instagram might then rank their posts higher on your feed so that you don’t have to search for their profiles to see their posts, improving your Instagram experience.

Thomas from Instagram also mentioned in his talk that when they experimented with the new algorithm, the number of searches went down. They took it as a good sign as it meant that people are seeing the posts they are interested in without having to search for their favorite profiles.

6. Direct Shares: Whose posts you are sharing

Instagram has made it really easy for users to share a post they see on their feed with their friends. According to the Business Insider article, direct shares through Instagram is also another signal Instagram looks at to understand your interests.

There are two parts to this. One, sharing a post shows that you are probably interested in the posts by that account. The Instagram algorithm would then consider this when ranking posts on your feed.

Two, it sounds like Instagram would also consider the people you have shared the post with. Going back to factor two, relationships, the act of sharing a post with another person informs Instagram that you care about the person so Instagram might rank her posts higher on your feed.

7. Time Spent: The duration spent viewing a post

It’s possible that the Instagram feed algorithm shares some similarities with the Facebook News Feed algorithm since the aim of both algorithms is to show you the posts that you care about the most.

Facebook discovered that if “people spend significantly more time on a particular story in News Feed than the majority of other stories they look at, this is a good sign that content was relevant to them”, even if they didn’t like or comment on it. More specifically, Facebook said the following:

Based on the fact that you didn’t scroll straight past this post and it was on the screen for more time than other posts that were in your News Feed, we infer that it was something you found interesting and we may start to surface more posts like that higher up in your News Feed in the future.

If this factor is included in the Instagram algorithm, when you spend more time on an Instagram post than other posts, Instagram will surface posts similar to that Instagram post higher up on your feed.

While there isn’t confirmation about this factor, it wouldn’t be surprising if Instagram included this factor in its algorithm.

8. Others

There are probably a whole bunch of other signals that the Instagram algorithm considers, and the algorithm changes constantly to give its users the best experience possible. (For context, Facebook’s algorithm takes into account hundreds of factors.)

Stef Lewandowski of Makelight put together a list of other signals that the algorithm might consider:

How regularly you open the app

How regularly you post

How many likes an image has in total

What an image’s recent like-rate is

How old the image is

Whether the post is a video

Whether an image is from a “business” account versus a personal one

How active the image poster has been today – how many comments and likes have they made?

How many of an image poster’s images you’ve commented on or liked recently

How many hashtags the image has

 

Why is the new algorithm great for marketers?

As the number of users on Instagram increases, the number of posts will likely increase, too.

When users follow more people, the number of posts in their feed will increase. The natural result of this is that the impressions (or organic reach) of each post will fall — unless every user spends more time on Instagram looking at all the additional posts.

The reality is that people usually don’t see all the new posts when they visit Instagram. A study by Instagram themselves found that, on average, users miss 70 percent of the posts on their feeds when the posts were arranged in a reverse-chronological order.

But as long as you are creating engaging, relevant, and timely content, the algorithm is actually an advantage to you. It will help to surface your great content to more of your followers than when posts were arranged reverse-chronologically.

Here’s another way to look at it: Without this algorithm, one quick way to get your Instagram followers’ attention would be to post many times a day. If most brands follow this strategy, the number of Instagram posts would increase dramatically, and the organic reach of each post would fall proportionally — even if it’s a quality post.

With this algorithm, brands are encouraged to post only their best content, and the quality of their content will determine their reach. Brands with the best content overall will stand out more easily now than without the algorithm.

Here’s a bonus: The Explore tab also uses an algorithm to surface content based on the user’s interests and past behaviors. It is another brilliant way for your great content to reach more people!

Credit: Alfred Lua

Source: Buffer App

6 Common Myths (Busted) About Social Media Marketing for Startups

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Chances are, you startup has it hard when it comes to marketing. Your brand identity is soft, maybe not even fully formed. You don’t have a lot of revenue coming in, and you have limited capital to work with.

What's more, you probably don’t even have a dedicated team member for marketing -- you may be doing everything yourself. With problems like these, no wonder social media marketing has become a major priority target for startups looking to build their reputation and attract new clients.

But while social media marketing is a legitimate and powerful tool for startup entrepreneurs, there are some misconceptions that have facilitated its misuse. Here are six of the biggest myths I’ve seen perpetuated among entrepreneurs:

1. Social media is free.

This is an important one to get out of the way. It doesn’t cost any money to set up a corporate or personal account with any of the major social media platforms you’ll probably consider using (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.). Unless you’re going the paid advertising route, you also won't spend any money to post anything. But that doesn’t mean social media marketing is free. You have to invest time -- lots of it -- into research, ongoing effort and refinement if you want to succeed. That means dozens, if not hundreds, of hours of time, and as the saying goes, time is money.

2. Every platform is valuable.

Once most entrepreneurs choose to start a social media marketing campaign, their first instinct is to claim a profile on every social media app they can get their hands on. That isn’t a bad idea -- claiming your business’ name on each app is a good defensive strategy, and filling out your profile information can improve the accuracy of your listings in third-party apps.

However, don’t make the false assumption that every platform is going to be valuable for your brand. In reality, two or three apps will be far more valuable than the others (due to their demographics and functionality, or their ties with other strategies). Those are the ones you’ll need to focus on.

3. The benefits are immeasurable.

The notion that social media's benefits are automatic has been a common misperception in social media marketing for years, and I’m shocked it remains as cemented in the public mind as it is. Even some practitioners of this area of marketing choose to believe that social media's effects are immeasurable -- in terms of increasing brand visibility and reputation.

That's just not necessarily so. If you want to be successful, you’ll alsoneed to measure and evaluate your social media results. Likes, comments, responses and shares are good metrics to look at, but your real value is going to be in your conversions. Look to these to figure out exactly how much impact your campaign has.

4. The audience will come naturally.

The common advice in content marketing and social media marketing circles is to “create high-quality material,” and the rest will come naturally. Create enough “good” content, the notion goes, and the audience will follow. Unfortunately, this isn’t very practical.

In reality, even good content starts out in a vacuum. You need to promote that content if you want it to be seen by an audience. From there, audience members may share it and distribute it on their own -- but you need to provide that initial push.

5. More followers equals success.

Above, I mentioned surface-level metrics that can help you gauge the effectiveness of your campaign -- including likes. However, don’t get bogged down in chasing “likes” or followers of your brand. Just because someone follows you doesn’t mean he or she is necessarily interested in buying from you -- or even cares about your brand.

Instead, look at more meaningful forms of engagement, such as click-throughs to your site and on-site behavior once users get there. The quality of your following may also be gauged based on how often your followers interact with you and engage with your content. One passionate, dedicated follower is worth more than 10 or even 100 apathetic ones -- so try not to get too lost in raw numbers.

6. Social media is a separate strategy.

“Social media marketing” is often brandished and described as an independent marketing strategy. In some ways, it is -- it has its own best practices, and can technically be performed without any other running strategy. However, social marketing performs best in conjunction with other, interrelated strategies like content marketing, SEO, influencer marketing and personal branding.

These peripheral strategies both support and draw power from your social efforts, multiplying your reach and effectiveness across the board. Utilize them if you want the highest possible ROI.

None of these myths are meant to imply that social media isn’t a valuable or worthwhile strategy; on the contrary, it’s highly cost-effective and can be a major boon for startups. However, if you’re going to be effective with it, you need to know exactly what you’re getting into, and avoid falling into these traps of thinking.

Do your research, form valuable partnerships and pursue social media marketing as pragmatically as possible -- and without bias. Only then will you find success. If you’re looking for more help designing and implementing a social media marketing campaign, grab my ebook, The Definitive Guide to Social Media Marketing.

CREDIT: Jayson DeMers

SOURCE: Entrepreneur

 

 

6 Signs It's Time to Fire a Client

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Client relationships are tricky, especially when you’re an entrepreneur. There’s no one set of strategies that will help you get along with every client you have, and because each client translates to more revenue for your business, it’s tempting and natural to want to do everything you can to preserve those relationships indefinitely.

Unfortunately, however, not all client relationships are positive, and there are cases where it’s better to fire a client than allow the relationship to continue. Obviously, every client relationship is going to have its ups and downs, and you shouldn’t fire a client just because you’re experiencing some temporary difficulties. So at what point does it become advantageous, or even necessary to follow through in firing a client?

These are six signs to let you know it’s time:

1. The client takes more time than he or she is worth.

As much as I’d like to say we’re all in this purely for the good of helping each other, at the end of the day, you’re running a business. For that business to be successful, you need to earn more money than you spend. If you end up spending more money or time (as an equivalent of money) on a client than he or she is directly paying you in compensation, it makes sense, from a logical perspective, to end the relationship as this person is literally costing you money.

The only exception is if this is truly a temporary expense, or if that client has strong potential to become much more lucrative in the future.

2. The client dominates your work and/or overrides your recommendations.

You’re the expert. Your client may know his or her brand better than you do, but when it comes down to the actual work involved, you know the strategies and best practices necessary to do a good job. If the client ends up micromanaging your work, or consistently rejects your recommendations, it may not be worth pursuing the relationship further.

It’s a sign of disrespect, or at least poor understanding, and if you continue working in an inefficient or inappropriate way, it could eventually reflect poorly on your brand and reputation -- especially when you get blamed for the client's poor results, even after he or she has failed to implement your recommendations.

3. There's a lack of respect.

Like any other personal relationship, a good client relationship is built on mutual respect -- and it has to work both ways. If your client doesn’t respect you as a business or as a person, he or she may undermine or constantly question your work. The client may even treat you and your account managers as subordinates; don’t put up with this.

There’s no amount of money that makes a toxic relationship worth continued effort. Similarly, if you don’t respect your client—if this person has loose ethics or treats employees and customers poorly, for example -- don’t feel obligated to continue the relationship further.

4. There's a lack of communication.

For a client relationship to be successful, you need to have mutually established lines of communication. You’ll need to reach out regularly with news, updates and questions, and the client will need to respond with agreements, suggestions or other forms of guidance. If your client isn’t willing to put forth the effort to support this ongoing level of communication, eventually the relationship is going to suffer. You won’t be able to do a good job, and it could cause even bigger problems later on. Work to address these problems before outright firing a client.

5. The relationship isn't improving.

Any one of the above signs can manifest itself in varying degrees. For example, a client might show mild signs of disrespect, or be occasionally unreachable for long periods of time. If this person isn't directly and seriously affecting your relationship, these scenarios don’t warrant fully firing the client, but instead warrant a conversation and a mutual effort to improve. If, however, you’ve had those conversations and the relationship isn’t improving, you need to move on.

6. You can't stand working with the client.

This is the most basic sign on this list, but it’s an important one. Strangely enough, it’s the one that people seem to neglect the most because they de-prioritize their own personal experiences in favor of making money. You’re in charge here, so if you hate working with a given client, don’t continue putting yourself through that torture.

At some point, it doesn’t matter how much money you’re making if you’re miserable; and if your account managers are the ones dealing with it, it may be worth preserving your relationship with them over the relationship with the client, if things are truly that bad.

Any one of these signs is potential grounds for firing a client, depending on the exact nature of the circumstances. If you notice more than one of these signs happening simultaneously, that should be a strong cue to remove yourself from the relationship. When you do so, do so respectfully and (hopefully) within the confines of your contractual agreement. The last thing you want to do is burn a bridge or compromise your integrity or reputation.

 

CREDIT: Jayson DeMers

SOURCE: Entrepreneur

4 Productivity Tips That Changed My Life This Year

This year was a big one for me. My income quadrupled, my workload decreased and business expanded faster than I could have imagined.

How? Simple: Intentional productivity.

I want to share here four of the biggest productivity tips I utilized this year that helped me make the past 12 months the most amazing year of my life. I’ll also share how you can apply these to your life to make 2016 your best year yet!

1. Employ time-blocking.

Having a to-do list is not a bad thing in itself. But why do so many people create a huge to-do list and never accomplish the items on it?

This year, I decided that a list was not enough. I needed to actually schedule time in my day to accomplish those tasks. This concept is often known as “time blocking,” and it’s so simple, but so powerful, you are going to kick yourself for not doing this earlier.

Simply take your to-do list and give each item a place on your calendar. it doesn't matter if you use a physical calendar or an online one; simply block out time to work through each item on your list.

Then, when you are in your time-block, don’t allow yourself to get distracted. Shut off your phone, don’t check your email (unless you are in your “check email time" block) and just get it done!

2. Do your most important work first.

When I really boil my day down, there are usually only one or two things that absolutely must get done to move the business forward. Yes, there are countless tasks and items on my to-do list. But one or two things are significantly more important than the rest.

In the past, I often procrastinated on these items, because they required the most effort or had the biggest “unknowns.” I would check email, schedule meetings and do a hundred other tasks before I reluctantly, if at all, went about my main task.

As a result, the one thing I really needed to do to drive my business forward often never got done, and business growth was slow.

This year, I made a change. I decided to tackle my biggest task first, before anything else. For me, that was writing a book. Each day, I woke up, and before doing anything else, I wrote 1,000 words. In exactly 100 days, I completed my first draft of The Book on Rental Property Investing, which we launched in December. We sold $150,000 worth of copies in just ten days.

By scheduling your most important task of the day first, you set the tone for the rest of the day, and your business will move forward with incredible speed.

3. Multitask appropriately.

Multitasking rarely works, despite what nearly everyone says. When you multitask, you simply accomplish each task less effectively. Your brain tries to switch back and forth between different tasks, and a significant part of your day is lost.

This past year, I made a commitment to multitask less and focus more on the task at hand. When my wife talked to me, I put down the computer. When driving, I refused to text. When I was on a Skype call with the rest of the BiggerPockets team, I kept the browser window closed.

Of course, I still struggle with this. Being completely present in the moment is difficult for me, as it is for a lot of people. But this past year, I made a conscious decision to multitask less and focus on one thing more.

Of course, the one exception to the “no multitasking” rule is listening to audiobooks. I’ve talked about this before, and I’ll say it again now: Listening to audiobooks or podcasts can be one of the best ways to change your life, and it doesn’t require any extra time. You can listen while driving, working out at the gym, cooking dinner, even falling asleep. It’s the perfect way to multitask effectively and become a better person.

4. Use the power of processes.

If I had to pick one word that best describes the past 12 months of my life, it would be this: process.

This year, I started to think of everything as a process, a system. As something that could be documented, repeated and outsourced. Rather than “doing a webinar,” I created a complete “webinar process” that allowed me to host more than 50 live real estate investing webinars, each one brand new, with just a few hours of work per week -- because everything is part of a process.

The best part about making everything a process is that the work can be outsourced. I worked with one virtual assistant specifically on this webinar system, and he was able to take 80 percent of the work load from me. He now sets up the webinars, drafts the emails and tracks the conversion results. I just need to show up and teach.

So, these are four productivity tips that helped make my 2015 the most profitable year of my life.

CREDIT: Brandon Turner

SOURCE: Entrepreneur

8 Steps to Keep Your Company Growing

Running your own business as an entrepreneur can be the thing that really forces you to sharpen your sword and truly define your purpose and commitment to greatness. After starting my first business, going through months of failure and then finally figuring out a formula that started getting me customers and results -- I was on track and very eager to take my company to the next level.

No matter what type of business you’re in, now is the moment to expand and take the market share by forging your own path, away from what’s “reasonable” or “popular.”

Here are the most important steps to expand your company:

1. Give it all you’ve got.

The amount of effort now required is and will continue to be far greater to get things done, so prepare your team and train them to take more action and be more persistent.

2. Focus on the solutions instead of the problems.

The problems are the opportunities if you approach them that way. Instead of shying away from problems, you should take the time to identify them, solve them, and learn from them for any similar future issues that may arise.

3. Adapt to the new changes.

In this new economy, old strategies won’t work. 'Business-unusual' will be the usual for some time to come. You must adapt to these new challenges.

4. Do what is notcommon practice.

Look at what all of your competitors are doing and then do the exact opposite. The popular thing isn’t always the right thing to do.

5. Don’t drop prices.

If you do the math, less volume at a lower price would be terrible for your company. Instead, take this time to train your team on how to build value instead of focusing on price.

6. Be unreasonable!

Now is not the time to be reasonable. You must operate without “proper” logic influencing every move you make. You probably wouldn’t even want to show up for work right now if you tried making sense of the current state of things. Let your competitors be “reasonable” and “logical” while you focus on dominating the market.

7. Keep training.

Now more than ever you and your people have to know how to operate, function and persist. This is the moment to train and prepare for when the good times return. To sell successfully and penetrate the marketplace in this economy will require positive attitudes, great persistence and an unbridled determination. Training more than any other investment will put your organization’s attention on what they can do instead of can’t do.

8. Avoid the negative.

Avoid people who focus solely on the negative. The media always runs rampant with bad news but especially at this moment. At the same time, people around you tend to pass on that negativity like a cold. Avoid it at all costs.

Don’t be like your competitors who are probably weak, unprepared and unwilling to take the necessary steps to win over the customers. Don’t contract – EXPAND! The clichéd phrase rings true, “With great risks come great rewards.”

Be great.

 

CREDIT: Grant Cardone

SOURCE: Entrepreneur

10 Major Differences Between Rich and Poor People

I've been rich and I’ve been poor. I know both sides very well.

Growing up poor, I knew that I wanted to be rich. At the age of 24, I earned my first million dollars. I came a long way and studied the subject all of my life. Over time, I have discovered that if you're not living in prosperity, you're living in poverty.

Wealth is a choice that we must all make. Bill Gates once said, "It's not your fault if you were born poor, but it’s your fault if you die poor." There's no reason why you should live in poverty. Wealth is waiting for you, but you have to make up your mind if you want it in your life.

For a long time, I struggled to believe that I could eventually become rich. It wasn't until I observed the differences in thoughts and actions between the "haves" and the "have-nots."

Here are 10 major differences between rich and poor people:

1a. Poor people are skeptical

I distinctly remember a former coworker of mine saying, "Those mechanics are a rip-off! They're always looking for the weak people. They'll charge you when you're not looking!!" He thought that everyone unjustly wanted his money and that everyone is out there to get him. 

1b. Rich people are trusting

Surprisingly, a great deal of rich people leave their car and house doors open. Conversely, in areas of poverty, you'll find that this behavior is highly unlikely to happen. Rich people have the tendency to trust those they meet (within reason) and give others the opportunity to be themselves.

2a. Poor people find fault

People who are poor are always looking for the problems instead of the solutions. They end up blaming their environment, circumstances, jobs, weather, government, and will make an extensive list of excuses as to why they cannot be successful. 

2b. Rich people find success

Rich people understand that everything happens for a reason. Rather than letting life happen to them, they take direct action and make big things happen. They put aside all the excuses and eradicate their blame lists because they have to do what must be done. 

3a. Poor people make assumptions

When it comes to knowing the truth, poor people often make assumptions. If they want to reach out to a celebrity, they might say, "They probably don't have time to talk to me." Instead of checking the facts or asking questions, they never make a true attempt when it comes to getting what they want.

3b. Rich people ask questions

Many rich people ask the question, "What if?" For instance, "What if I wrote an email to the president and he or she answers?" If you begin to ask questions, you will save yourself a lot of hassle. The power is in the hands of those who ask the right questions. They don't answer your questions, question your answers.

4a. Poor people say, "They" and "Them" 

In the grocery store, the woman at the register said, "They never have enough cashiers. I don't know what's wrong with them." Obviously, this woman did not take any ownership and responsibility over her job. She certainly did separate herself from the job that was paying her. 

4b. Rich people say, "We"

At one of my favorite restaurants, the server said, "We take great delight in cooking our steaks in real fire." His sense of pride and ownership stimulated me, which allowed me to give him an honorable tip. Surely, you will be rich when you invest more into what you believe in.  

5a. Poor people want the cheapest way

I was once shopping with a friend who only wanted to buy if they could find the cheapest clothing. They would rush to the clearance rack and pick up clothes that they didn't even want, but ended up buying because of a "deal." Unfortunately, they ended up never wearing it since they only bought the price.

5b. Rich people want the best way

Rich people will go the extra mile to find quality material. They don't limit themselves to price and often seek service while they shop. Rich people want organized services and will never settle with items that are worthless and unusable.

6a. Poor people think money is more important than time

Millions of people all over the world are trading their precious time for money. You can always get $500 back, but you can't get 50 hours again. Nonetheless, the majority of people trade time for money and never realize their true potential because of it.

6b. Rich people know that time is more important than money

Rich people never trade time for money. Moreover, they seek fulfilling experiences that dramatically alter their lives. Their careers are more focused on doing what they love and helping others, instead of merely clocking in for a meager paycheck.

7a. Poor people compete

When a poor person sees an opportunity, they find out how others are doing it and emulates them. Most often, they never consider another way of doing it. Instead, they settle in the belief that doing what others are doing is the best thing they can do for themselves.

7b. Rich people create

My rich neighbors were disgruntled when they found that their Porsche did not come in a specific shade of green, which they deeply wanted. Because of this, they decided to custom build their green Porsche with unprecedented specifications. I've never seen such a thing! 

8a. Poor people complain, condemn, and criticize

Most poor people have learned how to be poor from their predecessors. Their family members have conditioned them to believe that everything is "wrong" instead of right. If you're ever heard someone ask, "What's wrong?" you'll know what I mean.

8b. Rich people praise and enjoy their blessings

Rich people know that they have many privileges and they don't take it for granted. Because of their appreciation of gifts, love, and circumstances, they are able to generate more. Many times, what gets praised gets prospered.

9a. Poor people seek amateur advice

They often listen to the opinions of others and seek approval from acquaintances. They believe almost everything they hear without questioning authority. They accept opinions as facts and prohibit themselves from doing research once satisfied with an answer.

9b. Rich people seek expert advice

Those who are rich have learned to think for themselves. If they cannot figure out something, they seek expert advice. Usually, they pay for the advice and are given a wide variety of options. They learn the experts only make suggestions, which means that they aren't particularly confined to a specific action.

10a. Poor people have big television sets

Poor people take a lot of time to drift off to sporadic images of which they often have little to no control over. They use their free time to avoid the art of thinking (which is the most challenging task) and zone out to what many have conformed to believe is "entertainment." 

10b. Rich people have big libraries

Wealthy people are educated and read a lot of books. They use their knowledge in a way that benefits them. Instead of drifting off in random activities, they seek to get within their minds to understand themselves, others, and the world in which they live. In fact, as your personal library increase over the years, so will your home. I can attest to this!

To get a true perspective on how to become rich, you must study rich people. After all, you become what you study. If you're currently surrounded by people who aren't yet rich, just do the opposite of what they do. Soon enough, you'll be able to reach your financial dreams!

CREDIT: Daniel Ally

SOURCE: Entrepreneur

8 Steps You Can Take Starting Today to Dramatically Increase Your Income

Zig Ziglar said “Money isn’t everything , but it’s right up there with oxygen.” The topic of wealth, income, and making money is often discussed and viewed in a negative light. Our society is afraid of being labeled as greedy or money hungry, but what must be understood is that money is a crucial part of freedom. I personally know what it’s like to have nothing, to stress about paying my next bill, and to feel hopeless. I also know what it’s like to thrive, and I’ve been fortunate enough to create some great income as well. Having money is a lot more enjoyable and fulfilling, but most importantly it gives you options.

Have you ever heard anybody say any of these?

“Money is the root of all evil.”

“Rich people are greedy.”

“Money won’t make you happy.”

“You don’t want to be one of those people.”

“I don’t need money.”

It's usually those who claim they don't care about money that are broke. Why not get wealthy? Why not become a millionaire? Why not focus on making as much money as you can?  As entrepreneurs, I know you have goals of increasing your income. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, so those thriving financiallymust be doing something different, right? Better yet, they must have a better perspective about money and how it’s earned? 

Let me give you eight very tactical and straightforward tips that can be used right away to catapult your income.

1. Stop doing what you’re doing. We all know the saying “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a difference result.” If you aren’t satisfied, the first thing you must do is stop doing what you’ve been doing because what you are doing is what is creating your dissatisfying, current reality.

What’s great about life is the opportunity to completely change your story and direction overnight. Regardless of your past decisions, you’re always one decision away from making the right one.

2. Don’t let money define you. Your self worth has nothing to do with your finances. Whether you have a negative bank account or $5 million in the bank, your confidence must never waiver. If anything, your confidence needs to increase when you are stressed so you are motivated you to never feel that stress again.

Being wealthy is a state of mind, but so is being broke. You are what defines you, not what you possess.

3. Start prioritizing your profits. When you set up your weekly schedule make sure you start with income producing activities. Of all your activities, 20 percent will account for 80 percent of your income. Figure out what those are. Really think about the the top two or three things you need to do to create income. Now put those in your schedule consistently to assure you are creating income.

Constantly ask yourself if what you’re doing is profitable. Focus on doing what you should versus what you feel. Never forget that impact drives income.

4. Start placing a higher value on your time. Time is more valuable than money. You can always get more money, but you can never get more time. It is possible to become twice as valuable, and make twice as much money in the same amount of time. There is nothing more valuable than time invested wisely. We all have the same 24 hours, and it’s what you do with them that determines everything.

5. It’s Ok to say no. Steve Jobs once said, “It’s what Apple said “no” to that ultimately made them successful.”

If you’re over-extending yourself and committing to too many things, this word will change your life. Say "no'' to everything that doesn't create income for you until you get your income to a place you feel confident and secure. Make a commitment to yourself that you will focus on income-producing activities versus tension-relieving activities. 

6. Proximity is power. Most broke people hang with other broke people and they usually stay broke, together. Elevate your peer group by reaching out to those playing the game of life at a higher level than you.

Find those people because you’ll become a lot like the people you spend the most time with. Their belief systems, their ways of being and their attitudes are contagious. You're either surrounding yourself with those who hold you accountable, or let you off the hook. Choose wisely.

7. Lower your excuses. As the excuses go up, the bank account goes down. The best excuse makers or “validators” have the smallest bank accounts. The energy and time you spend on creative excuses is better invested in thinking of actual solutions that move your life forward. Excuses are a disease and those who continue making them will continue to have money issues.

8. Shift your focus from victim to leader. Stop blaming the economy, stop blaming your past, stop blaming your boss or company, and stop thinking the world is out to get you. Charge more, switch jobs, become more valuable. My friend Hal Elrod says, “The moment you take responsibility for everything in your life, is the moment you can change anything in your life.”

The difference between ordinary income and extraordinary income is fast implementation. How quick will you get on your grind to start increasing your income? I assure you if you take these tips seriously, and want it bad enough you will create an income explosion the next couple months. I want you to realize that your bank account isn’t who you are, it’s who you were before you made the decision to focus on wealth.

 

CREDIT: Peter Voogd

SOURCE: Entrepreneur

The Basics of Branding

Branding is one of the most important aspects of any business, large or small, retail or B2B. An effective brand strategy gives you a major edge in increasingly competitive markets. But what exactly does "branding" mean? How does it affect a small business like yours?

Simply put, your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your competitors'. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.

Are you the innovative maverick in your industry? Or the experienced, reliable one? Is your product the high-cost, high-quality option, or the low-cost, high-value option? You can't be both, and you can't be all things to all people. Who you are should be based to some extent on who your target customers want and need you to be.

The foundation of your brand is your logo. Your website, packaging and promotional materials--all of which should integrate your logo--communicate your brand.

Brand Strategy & Equity

Your brand strategy is how, what, where, when and to whom you plan on communicating and delivering on your brand messages. Where you advertise is part of your brand strategy. Your distribution channels are also part of your brand strategy. And what you communicate visually and verbally are part of your brand strategy, too.

Consistent, strategic branding leads to a strong brand equity, which means the added value brought to your company's products or services that allows you to charge more for your brand than what identical, unbranded products command. The most obvious example of this is Coke vs. a generic soda. Because Coca-Cola has built a powerful brand equity, it can charge more for its product--and customers will pay that higher price.

The added value intrinsic to brand equity frequently comes in the form of perceived quality or emotional attachment. For example, Nike associates its products with star athletes, hoping customers will transfer their emotional attachment from the athlete to the product. For Nike, it's not just the shoe's features that sell the shoe.

Defining Your Brand

Defining your brand is like a journey of business self-discovery. It can be difficult, time-consuming and uncomfortable. It requires, at the very least, that you answer the questions below:

  • What is your company's mission?
  • What are the benefits and features of your products or services?
  • What do your customers and prospects already think of your company?
  • What qualities do you want them to associate with your company?

Do your research. Learn the needs, habits and desires of your current and prospective customers. And don't rely on what you think they think.Know what they think.

Because defining your brand and developing a brand strategy can be complex, consider leveraging the expertise of a nonprofit small-business advisory group or a Small Business Development Center .

Once you've defined your brand, how do you get the word out? Here are a few simple, time-tested tips:

  • Get a great logo. Place it everywhere.
  • Write down your brand messaging. What are the key messages you want to communicate about your brand? Every employee should be aware of your brand attributes.
  • Integrate your brand. Branding extends to every aspect of your business--how you answer your phones, what you or your salespeople wear on sales calls, your e-mail signature, everything.
  • Create a "voice" for your company that reflects your brand. This voice should be applied to all written communication and incorporated in the visual imagery of all materials, online and off. Is your brand friendly? Be conversational. Is it ritzy? Be more formal. You get the gist.
  • Develop a tagline. Write a memorable, meaningful and concise statement that captures the essence of your brand.
  • Design templates and create brand standards for your marketing materials. Use the same color scheme, logo placement, look and feel throughout. You don't need to be fancy, just consistent.
  • Be true to your brand. Customers won't return to you--or refer you to someone else--if you don't deliver on your brand promise.
  • Be consistent. I placed this point last only because it involves all of the above and is the most important tip I can give you. If you can't do this, your attempts at establishing a brand will fail.

 

CREDIT: John Williams 

SOURCE: Entrepreneur.com

10 Bad Work Habits to Eliminate Before Becoming an Entrepreneur

We all have bad work habits, and most of us are content to get away with them for the foreseeable future. Sure, they may make us a little less productive, and they might not look great in a performance review, but they’re relatively innocuous when they creep into our daily lives.

When you step up to be an entrepreneur, everything changes. You’ll have more direction, more authority and more freedom, but you’ll also have far more accountability for your decisions and habits. Not only will most of your actions have a direct and substantial impact on the health and future of the business, they’ll also set an example for the other people you work with, and set a tone for the entire organization.

Before stepping out fully as an entrepreneur, be sure to eliminate these 10 bad work habits:

1. Not planning your day (or week).

You can get away with this in a job you can muddle through, but, as an entrepreneur, if your priorities aren’t clear, you may never be able to dig yourself out of that hole. Each day, and each week, preview everything you need to do and organize those tasks based on order of importance.

2. Reacting to emails as soon as they come in.

Prompt responses are almost always a good thing, so there’s no fault in wanting to respond as quickly as possible. However, responding to emails all day is an inefficient way to go about your tasks. Plan your projects and tasks in advance, and don’t let emails relentlessly distract you. One exception to this rule, however, is sales personnel, whose quick email response may prove essential for landing a sale.

3. Communicating inefficiently.

Inefficiently written emails or conversations in meetings might cause a slight hiccup in someone's average day-to-day work, but in the context of a budding business, these problems may cause serious headaches and make your company look unprofessional. Take an inventory of your communications skills, and make improvements where necessary. Don’t rush through anything, and think carefully about what you mean to say.

4. Settling into a firm routine.

Routines are useful for productivity, especially for everyday tasks you might otherwise forget. However, settling too deeply or firmly into a routine could put you in a poor position when things change abruptly (and they will in a startup). As an entrepreneur, be flexible enough to change your approach when the situation demands it.

Related: 6 Insufferably Bad Work Habits and How to Treat Them (Infographic)

5. Never taking breaks.

It often seems like a good idea to work through your breaks to get more done, since it’s basically a free hour or two to add to your total workday. However, working through breaks can take its toll on your psyche and productivity. As an entrepreneur, six hours of great work is better than eight hours of okay work, and you definitely don’t want to run the risk of burning out.

6. Running late.

If you're an employee coming in to catch up on emails, being 10 minutes late usually doesn’t matter. But, as an entrepreneur meeting with prospective clients or otherwise setting an example for the team, running late can damage your image. It’s okay to set your own schedule, but when you say you’ll be somewhere, you need to be there, and on time.

7. Procrastinating on tough projects.

That monster project awaiting you might do fine sitting on your desk in your current day job, but procrastinating the tough jobs as an entrepreneur usually only makes things worse. If you can’t handle something, delegate it or seek outside assistance. Don’t just set it to the side.

8. Delaying hard decisions.

You probably make few decisions in your current position, at least compared to the many you’ll make as an entrepreneur. Hard decisions may take their toll on you, but you need to come down on one side or the other. Even a bad decision is better than no decision, so eliminate your habit of delaying decisions now.

9. Never saying no.

At the lower rungs of the corporate ladder, the word “no” is taboo, and the habit of saying yes to everything seems to stick around in our careers for years. When you become an entrepreneur, you need to get comfortable with saying no. Not every client is worth taking. Not every employee candidate is worth hiring. Not every idea is worth pursuing.

10. Multitasking.

Multitasking is another one of those pesky habits that only seems to save you time. In actuality, it distracts your mind so you complete simultaneous tasks less efficiently than you would had you completed them individually, and with greater focus. As an entrepreneur, you’ll need all the focus you can get.

These ten habits won’t necessarily destroy your business, but they could interfere with your ability to work productively and in a way that ultimately benefits your organization.

It may take some patience to eliminate them entirely, but you’ll be in afar better position once you do.

Credit: Jayson Demers

Source: Entrepreneur