9 ways to keep remote employees engaged with company culture

Two years ago, many business and organizational leaders might have confidently asserted that they would never adopt remote work arrangements. However, the events of the last year and a half have seen many do just that. And broadly speaking, the experiment has worked out very well. Leaders have noted steady or even improved productivity, while workers report enjoying the flexibility and time savings of being able to work from home.

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While there are several benefits to allowing employees to continue to work remotely, leaders also face concerns, including how to maintain a strong company culture when team members are rarely all together in the same space. Fortunately, there are creative, effective ways to continue to build and sustain a great culture in a remote work environment. Here, nine members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share their best tips for keeping employees engaged with the company culture, no matter where they are or how often they’re in the office.

1. Include employees in developing the culture.
Employee participation in shaping company culture is required. There are tenets of our culture that have remained through transitions and other changes. The most important aspect has been inclusion and presence with the team. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

2. Exemplify the culture as the leader.
Implementation and reinforcement of company culture are critical for teamwork. Unfortunately, some organizations do little to define culture. If you play for the New York Yankees, you can’t grow a beard — it’s part of their culture. As the leader, you exemplify the culture. That will permeate the whole team, whether they’re online or in the office. As Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats policy for breakfast.” – Scott Morreale, Cristo Rey Tampa Salesian High School

3. Open up a regular dialogue.
Check in with your employees often. Ask them what they need to be successful, what barriers you can remove for them and what additional support they may need. When leaders take the time to create opportunities for open dialogue, they not only deepen the team bond but also cultivate a culture of collaboration that can be felt beyond the office walls. – Lauren Winans, Next Level Benefits

4. Ensure remote employees are included in communications.
Make sure you’re utilizing internal communication platforms to the best of your ability. Whether it’s video calling or team channels, make sure that remote employees are included as much as possible through those channels. – Jamie Anderson, Emergent Software

5. Watch for and reward actions that support company culture.
Our behaviors are driven by our beliefs. Company culture is a set of shared beliefs that drive employee behavior. Explicitly stating and agreeing upon these beliefs is essential for building company culture. Managers need to be vigilant in looking for and rewarding the demonstration of these beliefs through action or helping employees modify their actions if needed. This is harder when working remotely, but doable. – Kimberly Janson, Janson Associates

6. Create cross-functional teams.
Bring teams together in person in some capacity once or twice a year. In between, it’s important to create cross-functional teams to support different business initiatives. This will give employees exposure to those outside their direct teams while also keeping them connected to the larger purpose of the organization. – Eric Wiebers, Interior Environments

7. Share wins and project updates every week.
We have a weekly Zoom call with the whole staff. We play tag on the call, so each person tags the next person to share. We all share one win and what we are working on. We have a lot of fun on the call, and this really helps keep us connected. We actually find that we know more about what is going on than we did before. – David Wescott, Transblue

8. Develop ‘extracurricular programming.’
Run your company like a college community. Have a good mix of virtual and office activities and “extracurricular programming” that your teams can participate in. – Todd Marks, Mindgrub

9. Blend virtual activities with in-person gatherings.
Virtual work environments must be complemented with a variety of virtual activities, gatherings and games as well as routine in-person opportunities for people to gather and reconnect. Continue to brainstorm as a group and see what employees want to be engaged in, as needs are changing continuously in the current environment. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

9 smart ways to develop and market compelling case studies

Many companies work with their happy clients to develop case studies. Case studies can provide powerful attestations to the positive ways in which a business’s product or service has impacted a customer’s life, solved their problems or benefited them. When smartly leveraged, a case study can be a great marketing tool.

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There are several steps to a successful case study, ranging from finding the right client to participate to providing persuasive details to sharing the story in the best places. Below, nine members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share their expert advice on developing compelling case studies and marketing them to your advantage.

1. Showcase success stories.
Case studies illustrate the value your company provides to its clients. By showcasing success stories, you validate your business and the service you provide, making them a powerful tool for your sales process. Case studies allow prospective clients to see themselves in your client’s shoes and picture how your product or service will help with whatever need or pain point they’re experiencing. – Melea McRae, Crux KC

2. Host a live discussion.
One of the best types of case studies is a live “food for thought” dinner session, which can easily be conducted via Zoom sessions. Inviting a VIP customer, analyst and select media to a discussion is welcome and genuine. So few people do this, and you will build lasting relationships. – Donna Michaels, LMGPR

3. Show how you solve problems.
Use a case study to demonstrate how you are solving your prospects’ problems. When your target market sees the success your solution provides to their peers, you are likely to gather more market share than you had anticipated. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

4. Share meaningful cases.
Make sure that the case study is relevant and means something to your client. How will they view it — as a marketing tactic or as truly something beneficial for their business? Think of it in terms of whether they’ll pass it up to a superior and use it as a basis to improve their business. If so, then you’re on the right track. – David Wescott, Transblue

5. Stick with the highlights.
Case studies are very important for businesses to be able to present their success stories and for other consumers to relate to brands that you have successfully worked with. However, don’t present too much data or text on a case study, as this will overwhelm your audience. Stick with the topline numbers or the campaign headline to effectively get your point across. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

6. Showcase your expertise and customer care.
Case studies can be a brilliant way to showcase the customer experience and the value a company can provide. By showcasing the expertise and care a company can offer and giving real-life experiences that future potential customers can identify with, you have a formula for helping illustrate what life could be like. Creating a few case studies ensures one matches a variety of potential customers. – Kimberly Janson, Janson Associates

7. Develop a diverse library of cases.
Create a library of case studies that’s diverse when it comes to project type and industry. Many times, companies come to us looking for specific results from our work in a specific industry and project type, so it’s nice to have that information readily available. Also, be sure to keep your case studies very visible — we’ve had prospects come to us after finding our case studies through a Google search. – Jamie Anderson, Emergent Software

8. Focus on the study’s results.
A case study has to be about results, not about what makes your business better than the competition. When someone reads your case study and finds key takeaways they can apply in their own business, you’ve demonstrated the value of your brand without having to say it. – Jen Vargas, JVComms

9. Share them across multiple channels.
Case studies help build brand trust and demonstrate your ability to deliver high-quality solutions or products. Use case studies on your website, in newsletters, in pitches or proposals, and so on — the channels that work best for your target audience. Most importantly, understand the specific needs of your prospects, and as you nurture those relationships, share the case studies that match their needs. – Todd Marks, Mindgrub

7 clear signs it’s time to scale up your company

Every entrepreneur starts their business with the goal of growth in mind. But when sales begin to pick up, it can come with mixed emotions. Growing your company can be both exciting and daunting because there are pitfalls both to moving too quickly and too slowly. Scale up too soon, and you may find you don’t have the reserves to support added staff and operations. Wait too long, and you may miss the window for becoming a top player in your niche.
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It’s essential to wait for and recognize the signs that your business is really ready for the next step. So what are the signs that your business is not just prospering but is stable enough for you to scale up? Below, seven industry leaders from Business Journals Leadership Trust share their expert advice on the definitive signs that the time is right for leadership to scale up the company.

1. You’re unable to focus on the big picture.
It makes sense to wear many hats in the beginning, but if you find yourself completely in the weeds or handling every client request and putting out every fire, you know you need to scale up. If you don’t, you won’t be able to focus on the big picture and your business will become stagnant. – Jen Vargas, JVComms

2. You have the right team in place.
Having the right team in place is crucial before scaling — especially if growth is funded by outside investors. Ensure everyone is on the same wavelength in your growth roadmap. – Dorian Rader, OneTen° Capital

3. There’s a balance of support and sales.
We try to focus on the controlled growth of the company. Because of the nature of the consulting business, we maintain a strong focus on current project lead times, team availability and the backlog of work to make decisions about what direction to take the company in. It’s a delicate balance of making sure we have the team to support the work in the sales pipeline and vice versa. – Jamie Anderson, Emergent Software

4. You have a strong bench of talented workers.
If you have a strong bench with talent who can do more and handle complexity, you have a strong formula to scale. Additionally, if you have built strong processes that allow you to push more water through big pipes and essentially allow you to wash, rinse and repeat the work, then you are ready to scale. Lastly, if your competitors are scaling, then you’d best be ready to scale too. – Kimberly Janson, Janson Associates

5. Your resources are overflowing.
You’ll know the time to scale up is right when resources are overflowing: when your company has a surplus of cash flow and more prospects and clients than your team can service. Scaling can consist of additional technological support or additional staff. With an abundance of resources, pitfalls can be minimized and efficiency can be paramount. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

6. You’ve built up sufficient revenue.
It’s a good time to scale when you’ve built up a war chest from profits or fundraising activities and the market is right to capitalize on disruption. – Todd Marks, Mindgrub

7. You’ve got a methodical approach in place.
You’ll instinctively know when it’s time to scale up your company in terms of employees, square footage, capital investments or overall resources. Always make sure you don’t overinvest in scaling up; instead, do it with a more methodical approach. Try scaling one area then moving to another so you don’t push all your chips to the center at the same time. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

7 ways to identify and leverage the best primary marketing channel for your business

There’s no shortage of marketing channels these days — in fact, when it comes to pinpointing which channel will be the most effective, business leaders may sometimes think there are too many. There’s no single marketing channel or method that’s the universal best — a strategy that works for one business won’t necessarily work for another.

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Smart marketing isn’t about being on every channel or trying out every new trend. It’s about being on the same channels your target audience is and finding the method and message that speaks to them. And while there isn’t a single marketing strategy that works for every business, there are methods for developing one that do. Here, members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share ways to identify and leverage the best marketing channel for your business.

1. Begin with business objectives and KPIs.
To determine the best channel for your business you must start with your business objectives and key performance indicators. For instance, if your goal is awareness and branding, a campaign that broadly targets large offline audiences would be effective. However, if you want to drive local business in a neighborhood or small market, geotargeting your consumer on a digital or mobile device could be the best approach. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

2. Market through your existing customers.
My primary marketing channel is my existing customers. More than 95% of my business comes from my current clients. Having proven results and trusted clients speak on my behalf provides the best indication to potential clients about what their experience will be working with me and the value that they will extract. Plus, I offer a money-back guarantee, which advertises my commitment. – Kimberly Janson, Janson Associates

3. Make the most of online lead sources.
We use the online lead sources that are already paying for Google Adwords. For example, we use angi.com for leads. We know we can’t outspend angi.com, so we let them do the hard work and bring clients to us. We know that conduits like them are also going to fight for the top spots, so we want the top spot on those companies’ sites. – David Wescott, Transblue

4. Consider your target demographic.
We use the marketing channel most relevant to our target demographic. It makes sense for us to sell our solution where it is needed most, as that is where our customers tend to be. The channel is how we make the most contacts to help change people’s lives for the better. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

5. Leverage social media’s multifaceted benefits.
Every marketing strategy is unique, and the channels you use will vary depending on your business goals. The primary channel we use is LinkedIn. Social media is a low-cost tactic that simultaneously increases exposure, website traffic and brand awareness, allowing us to share our expertise with our well-curated networks, which in turn fuels leads and sparks lucrative business partnerships. – Melea McRae, Crux KC

6. Find ways to drive traffic to your website.
Our website is a massive driver of leads for our business. When looking at the people who visit our website, we primarily see our best leads coming from organic Google searches and our listings on directory websites, which share customer testimonials and examples of our work. – Jamie Anderson, Emergent Software

7. Boost your outreach through networking and content.
My primary marketing channel has been networking and referral, and LinkedIn is often the method that provides the connection of both. I have also created a podcast to elevate my voice and extend my borders of thinking and prospects. – Donna Michaels, LMGPR

7 ways to turn customer complaints into valuable learning experiences

At some point, even the best-run business will encounter and have to deal with a customer complaint. The obvious first step is to resolve the issue, but it’s also important to step back and look at the “big-picture” perspective. When leaders do that, there are two options: They can view customer complaints as “nuisances” that have to be dealt with or as valuable opportunities to learn.

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As many leaders note, when a customer complains about your product or service, they’re actually doing you a favor — they’re showing you where you may be coming up short. And it’s just as important to know where you’re struggling as where you shine. Below, seven members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share smart strategies to help your business create processes and methods for handling and learning from customer complaints.

1. Measure and incentivize decreases in complaints.
Measuring a decrease in customer complaints helps drive problem resolution and problem prevention for many organizations. Done well, companies can encourage learning from mistakes or complaints, making it less likely there will be repeat mistakes or issues. Coupling these learnings with incentives associated with driving a decrease in customer complaints is a winning formula. – Kimberly Janson, Janson Associates

2. Consider the thought behind the complaint.
Never view a complaint as a nuisance. Try to think about the underlying thought behind the complaint — is something wrong with your product? Are people misunderstanding how to use your product? Once you’ve figured out the reason why someone is complaining, own it and commit to fixing the issue. – Jamie Anderson, Emergent Software

3. Don’t get caught up in the customer’s tone.
Always listen to customer feedback, and don’t get caught up in the tone of the feedback. Review it from a higher level where you can gain insights into things that can be learned or improved upon. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

4. Reframe complaints as feedback.
Reframing a complaint as customer feedback and insight opens the door for a dialog to improve the problem your company is solving. Being curious and open-minded allows organizations to ensure their solutions are the best for their clients’ needs. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

5. Uncover the facts and determine the truth.
First and foremost, it comes down to determining the truth. Uncover the brutal facts. Look at each review and ask, “What could we have done better here?” When we do that, we put ourselves in the customer’s shoes, which allows us to relate and have empathy. That leads to the “why,” the “how,” and resolving the issue for the client and making things right. – David Wescott, Transblue

6. Listen and refine best practices accordingly.
Customer feedback is one of the most valuable components in building a great company. We need to listen to customers and refine best practices accordingly. It doesn’t make a difference if you are a restaurant, a retailer or a B2B company — listen closely! – Donna Michaels, LMGPR

7. Keep a positive, customer-centric focus.
Some of our best opportunities in IT have been in the wake of a disaster. If you view challenges as a chance to prove your worth — as a time to show why clients are engaging you in the first place — you will often find they are your best opportunities to shine. Keep a positive, customer-centric focus throughout challenging times, have a “can-do” attitude and be solution-oriented. – Jared Knisley, Fizen Technology

New to a leadership role? 9 ways to delegate and avoid micromanaging your team

Overseeing your first project as a newly minted team leader can be an exciting step in your professional journey. However, those new to a leadership position may struggle initially to let go of tasks they’re accustomed to handling themselves, especially during their first forays into project management. However, learning how to delegate and manage without micromanaging are critical components of becoming a good leader.

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So how can new leaders ensure they’re providing the support their team needs without overstepping boundaries or tackling tasks other roles within the team are better suited for? Below, members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share their best tips for new leaders who need guidance on overseeing projects and delegation without micromanaging their teams.

1. Determine which of your tasks are most critical.
Take time to focus on your most critical tasks early in the day, before the full swing of the day brings up distractions that can slow down your work. By doing this, you will be able to determine which tasks are most important. At the end of the day, anything you have not gotten to is likely something you can delegate to someone else. This is a natural way of determining priorities. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

2. Make two lists.
I often encourage leaders to draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper. On the left side, write down all the things that you are doing that others could do. On the right side, make a list of all the things only you can do that you need to do more of, but aren’t able to. The objective is to reduce the left side through decision making or delegation and plan for how you will engage with the right side more. – Kimberly Janson, Janson Associates

3. Hold a kickoff meeting.
Bring the team together for a kickoff meeting to discuss expectations, roles, who’s responsible for what, key milestones or deadlines, how often you’ll check in to report progress, when and how you’ll do beta tests, and how the review and approval process will go. Build some buffer time in for the unexpected. And remember that your job is to set the vision and quarterback, not get in the weeds. – Mary-Cathryn Kolb, brrr

4. Ask for input, and praise good work.
Ask team members for their input from the start and praise them for work well done. It is surprising how empowering it is to allow employees to shine, and they often will choose more responsibility than a new leader might be comfortable offering. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

5. Define what should be done, but not how.
Define the task(s), and tell your team what should be done — but, in most cases, not how it should be done. Passionately wait for the result. If you’re satisfied, great. If you are not satisfied, discuss it with the person or with the team (depending on the task). It works for me. – Gennady Feller, Safe Partner, Inc.

6. Provide the needed resources.
Remember, you are no longer the doer, you are the leader. Your ability to know the details will help you guide and teach your team so they can grow and do great work. They need you to lead them, provide the resources and knock down obstacles for them. Ask questions, have them show you what they are doing and explain their thinking, and suggest options if needed, but do not do their work for them. – Aviva Ajmera, SoLVE KC

7. Provide clear direction about your expectations.
Determine how much oversight you want to have and set those expectations with your team. You may need regular updates on a project, but at times, you may never want to think about certain tasks again. Your team members will appreciate the clear direction, and you will only have to worry about following up on the projects you want to be involved with. – E. Tanner Milne, Menlo Group Commercial Real Estate

8. Be open to the possibility of failure.
Keep in mind that when you delegate, you must be open to the possibility that failure will occur. Delegate nonessential tasks and items where failure can be used as a learning opportunity. If failure is absolutely not an option, retain that task yourself or delegate with oversight. – Jared Knisley, Fizen Technology

9. Trust, but verify.
Trust your staff to fulfill their duties, just as you were trusted. However, follow up to make sure that your trust is not misplaced. – Christine Durrett, Durrett & Kersting PLLC

16 ways to ensure your team members (and you!) take needed time away from work

It’s not new for Americans to be pegged as “workaholics,” and the Covid-19 pandemic seems to have made the hustle culture even worse — AAA found that 33% of Americans’ vacation time went unused in 2020. While a portion of the 2020 total may be attributable to travel restrictions, the “new normal” of remote working is also resulting in many professionals spending a longer time working each day.

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Both leaders and employees receive significant physical and mental health benefits from taking much-needed time away from work — benefits that translate to better productivity and engagement among rested and recharged staff members. So how can leaders get their teams (and themselves) to confront their workaholic tendencies and take a break? Below, 16 members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share their best tips for persuading everyone in your organization to regularly set aside work and relax.

1. Create a culture that encourages vacations.
It’s important to communicate. Period. We all know that the research is clear: Taking vacation time improves productivity, lowers stress and leads to better mental health. Silence from the C-suite can create anxieties and assumptions about what bosses and colleagues might think about vacation time. Creating a culture that pushes employees to take vacations is key to combating burnout. – Sarah Geltz, Kendrick Law Group

2. Give each worker permission to identify that they’re fatigued.
A year before Covid, we at Saint Ursula Academy engaged a neuroscience coach. She began working with us on brain functions and how they affect our behavior, decision making and creativity. Speaking the same “brain language” allows us to recognize when time away is needed. This gives each staff member permission to identify their fatigue. Rested brains produce fresh perspectives. – Lelia Kramer, Saint Ursula Academy

3. Focus on productivity rather than hours worked.
Our culture focuses less on recording hours worked and more on taking responsibility for personal productivity. Employees can feel empowered to disconnect when their work is done. Additionally, we close our office for two weeks during the holidays and have a four-day workweek. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

4. Establish a ‘no-contact’ window.
As a leader, I abide by a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. rule: I will not email or contact my staff between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. Since implementing this personal rule more than a decade ago, there have only been a few times when I’ve had to break it for emergent situations. I recognize that if I am emailing or calling, it makes the employee feel as though they should also be working. – Kelly Van Sande, Ignite Learning Academy

5. Create a relaxed policy for time off.
In many businesses, things are starting to get back to normal, and it’s only natural to want to make up for lost time. That being said, we encourage our employees to take time off. We have a pretty laid-back policy at our office for time off: You can always have the time off until you can’t. In other words, as long as their work is done and they don’t abuse it, every employee is free to come and go, just like the partners. – Brandan Davies, Roth Davies LLC

6. Hold team discussions to plan away time.
The research is very clear on the benefits of downtime, renewal and vacations. Over a four-week period, invite the team to actively discuss their feelings and potential solutions. Talk about the benefits, reprioritizing projects, redistributing work for fit and covering for one another. The leader should then respectfully insist that all team members create a plan and should celebrate those plans. – Bill Dickinson, C3 Leadership, LLC

7. Set up coordinated, flexible schedules.
We plan time away from the office. We coordinate our schedules, remain flexible and alter our schedules as needed to serve our clients, and the ability to work remotely allows us to monitor and respond to matters as necessary. Time away — even if it’s only for a few days — promotes a lifestyle balance, an appreciation for achievement and a desire to return to the office prepared to address the next challenge. – Chris Rockers, The Claims Group

8. Give employees occasional long weekends.
While Covid created an artificial construct in which no one could travel, working from home did cause people to work more. A recent quote from a colleague — “Sometimes you have to work like a dog” — rings true with us all; it especially has during Covid. However, that pace is not healthy for an individual or the organization. One way to encourage people to get away is to give them occasional long weekends. – Valerie Perlowitz, International Holding Company LLC

9. Remind employees to schedule time off.
We’ve been keeping a close eye on employee morale since the beginning of the pandemic. It’s easy for employees to burn out when working remotely because of the blurred work-home life boundaries. We’ve asked employees to schedule time off, whether it’s for a week’s vacation or just to get away in the middle of the day. We must lead by example and expect our leadership team to take time off, too. – Joseph Wynn, Seiso, LLC

10. Track PTO usage.
We have added floating holidays to our calendar to facilitate breaks for all personnel during the year. We also track PTO usage and reach out proactively to those who haven’t taken much time to ensure they’re not burning out. If their workload keeps them from pulling away, that’s an organizational issue we need to fix, not a person who’s choosing to work too much. – Dena Jalbert, Align

11. Implement a ‘use it or lose it’ policy.
I’ve found the best way to encourage the use of PTO is to set a policy of “use it or lose it.” It’s simple but effective. We also encourage — and require if needed — our team members to have used a certain percentage of their PTO by the time major milestones pop up (for example, 50% of PTO time by the end of July). – Kent Lewis, Anvil Media, Inc.

12. Close for extended periods around holidays.
We are instituting mandatory office closures. We are closing the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day and the week of July Fourth. This way our teams can take the breaks they need to be the most productive. – David Wescott, Transblue

13. Build in daily breaks.
The old definition of a workaholic may have a different definition after this past year. Even when vacation time is going relatively unused, work-life balance can be achieved by taking regular breaks throughout the workday to enjoy a meal with loved ones or go on a walk. These habits lend to a more balanced approach to daily work and life. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

14. Recognize that you’re not ‘fully present’ when you’re burned out.
Taking time off is a complex issue for those working in a therapeutic practice. For many of us, time off means less money, and that can be a difficult trade-off. One motivating factor is the awareness that you aren’t “fully present” with your clients when you are tired and burned out. In that sense, time off can ultimately lead to stronger client relationships, and that makes better business sense. – Francesca Giordano, Veduta Consulting

15. Lead by example.
Time away rejuvenates the soul. Leaders can help their teams understand that it’s OK to take time off by taking time off themselves. Recognizing that it’s not a crisis if things get delayed by a few days (time that’s typically recoverable anyhow), as well as not asking a thousand questions of your team members while they’re away demonstrates that you have the emotional maturity to understand that motivated employees are better than burned-out ones. – Bob Karshnia, Sentient Energy

16. Trust your employees to handle things while you’re away.
I feel like I have said this before, but it’s worth repeating: If you don’t take time for yourself, neither will your employees. Make sure that people know you’ll be away from the office and won’t be checking up on them for a while. Let them know you trust them. Make clear what’s expected while you’re away, and ensure your team knows when they should break the rules to call for help. Then, help them do the same for you. – Thomas Carpe, Liquid Mercury Solutions

How tourism-dependent businesses can future-proof in an uncertain world

The Covid-19 pandemic pretty much brought the entire world to a grinding halt in 2020. It reminded us not only of our mortality as human beings but also of the fact that you should always have a plan B in business and be ready to expect the worst if you want to stay afloat should the worst actually come.

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The tourism industry was one of the hardest-hit industries during the heart of the pandemic. Now that life is regaining a sense of normalcy, the tourism industry is starting to get back on track. Any tourism-dependent businesses that survived the pandemic are looking for new ways to future-proof their plans. Here, members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share their expert advice on how to future-proof businesses that are dependent on tourism in an uncertain world.

1. Create more revenue channels.
Focus on creating additional revenue channels. Ensure the business has more of an online presence to make up for lost revenue during down times. Create a brand that people want to travel for. – David Wescott, Transblue

2. Connect residents and visitors with enriching experiences.
The answer is the same as it has always been — connect residents and visitors with an experience that enriches and educates. While destinations are wonderful, it is the human connection that supplies the magic of travel and our most treasured memories. – Mike Birt, Ascent Partners, LLC.

3. Partner with destinations and visitor bureaus.
Meeting consumers where they are is key, especially as economic and health concerns remain. Maximize impact by partnering with other destinations and the local visitors’ bureau. For example, consider more day trips, bundled itineraries, “staycation” promotions and affordable family activities. Outdoor destinations and recreation are desirable to many people. Always reinforce health and safety protocols. – Hinda Mitchell, Inspire PR Group

4. Build a general culture and mindset of flexibility.
We’ve seen some businesses in the tourism and event industry grow and thrive during the pandemic because they were able to pivot, so uncertainty is not necessarily a bad thing. Whereas there are some strategies that may help, I’d focus more on building a culture of flexibility instead. You can’t calculate all the risks, but you can adopt the right mindset to tackle any challenge. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

5. Consider remote options and serializing services.
Consider how you can take cues from the launch of Amazon Explore. Is there something you offer that can be opted into remotely, thereby creating a new revenue stream? Furthering that, is there something you can serialize? Something like advance packages that lead up to a deferred trip can build excitement and commitment toward a future experience. – Stacey Browning, CincyTech USA

6. Go back to the basics.
When consumers travel, they expect a high level of service and amenities. Go back to the basics with customer service to ensure that when people are ready to travel, your business is a go-to vendor. Focus on family packages and experiences targeting those traveling in groups so you can capitalize on those larger packages and amenities. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

7. Increase diversity while reducing dependence.
It seems simple, but businesses should focus on reducing dependence on anything. At Lowden Street, we are always reshaping strategic plans for our portfolio companies to be more diverse and more independent. For a tourism business, this may mean relying on virtual reality, global marketing or expansion into similar locations. Businesses should never stop finding ways to perfect their company. – Matt Bean, Lowden Street Capital

8. Invest in virtual tourism to keep people connected.
Invest in virtual tourism opportunities that keep people connected to your brand, your location and your community. Advertise these to your current list and share with those markets who are often looking for inexpensive ways to explore the world — for example, educators, nonprofits and parents of young children. – Liz Wooten-Reschke, Connect For More

9. Diversify your business portfolio.
Diversifying your business portfolio has never been more important! There are lots of tertiary industries like events (which can be done virtually), social media (who doesn’t want to see travel photos right now?) and food and beverage (host a pop-up restaurant with a local favorite) that can support your main revenue stream. – Lauren Reed, Reed Public Relations

8 ways to improve your business’s social media presence and enhance audience engagement

Social media has become a crucial component of nearly every business’s overall marketing strategy. While sharing high-quality content is crucial, the best social media strategies aren’t one-way message boards. Rather, businesses must also interact with their audience, allowing customers to get a glimpse of the real people behind the brand as well as to share their own insights and experiences.

The Business Journals

If you can build mutually beneficial relationships with the members of your social media audience, they will build a real connection with your brand. To improve your company’s social media engagement, try these eight tested strategies recommended by the members of Business Journals Leadership Trust.

1. Tag other accounts.
Comments and tagging other people to bring them into the conversation is a great way to drive engagement. Tagging others is a direct way to ask for a response and to build interactions. – Laura Doehle, Elevation Business Consulting

2. Post challenging content.
Create intelligent posts. Even if you have a brand voice that appeals to a young audience, it’s not wise to judge that they will not be interested in “intelligent stuff.” Posts that are challenging, such as smart and tricky questions, can catch the attention of any audience, add the element of change and do not look promotional. – Alina Clark, CocoDoc

3. Target problems and solutions.
Targeting key problems and engaging in real-time solutions is a great way to increase engagement. Combined with storytelling and real human experience, the social part of “social media” can become three-dimensional and interactive. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

4. Highlight the content author.
Use images that spotlight the content author. Instead of just adding a link to an article that may bring up a generic image, take the time to create social cards with the author’s picture, name and company, as well as the title of the article. This helps break through the clutter and showcases the author and the brand. – Parna Sarkar-Basu, Brand and Buzz Marketing

5. Work to spark interest and curiosity.
When I’m trying to deliver a message, I try to get my point across through my words or actions. On social media, you’re trying to spark a desire in the listener — to get them to say, “That’s interesting,” “That’s thoughtful” or “I’m curious.” Social media is exactly what its name implies — a social platform. Compared to an onsite or in-person presentation, we can be more creative and engage tens of thousands of people on social media. – Timothy Haluszczak, SteelBridge Labs

6. Respond in real time.
The best way to interact with your social media audience and facilitate engagement is to be active and respond in real time. Don’t just “set it and forget it.” – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

7. Encourage audience-generated content.
Whether you’re a B2B or B2C business, it’s important to encourage two-way communication. Contests are a great way to interact with your customers — for example, they can share photos showcasing how your company or product helps them. This valuable user-generated content allows you to build brand evangelists who can recommend your products and services to those outside of your existing network. – Melea McRae, Crux KC

8. Publish interactive, collaborative posts.
Collaborative posts, such as surveys or contests, pull a lot of engagement, especially when they’re based on a trending subject. Also, ask for expert influencers to collaborate on an article to reach a bigger network. – Donna Michaels, LMGPR

7 common mistakes to avoid with customer relationship management systems

A customer relationship management (CRM) system is a useful tool to help organizations manage their relationships and interactions with their audience. However, effective customer relationship management takes more than just purchasing a CRM system. Companies must also remember the human piece of the puzzle, then develop a strategy accordingly.

The Business Journals

Below, the members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share seven common mistakes leaders may be making with their customer relationship management, and what they should be doing instead. Follow their tips to improve your overall CRM strategy.

1. Ignoring the full customer journey
A good CRM is way more than a contacts database. Start by identifying the customer journey from contact to close. Then create smart lists and targeted content marketing to promote along that journey; for example, when someone fills out a contact form, a newsletter that includes personalized case studies can be sent automatically. Then, direct the consumer to other content that aligns with their needs. – Todd Marks, Mindgrub

2. Making communications one-sided
CRMs are invaluable tools and can enhance your relationship significantly but you can’t forget to actually make the relationship a two-way engagement. Don’t leave it at you simply sending out automated communications. – Laura Doehle, Elevation Business Consulting

3. Not updating your CRM data
It’s important to constantly update the data in your CRM system to ensure you have the correct contact information for your customers and that your messaging is reaching them. If you have a lot of contacts but they are not current, your CRM system will be null and void. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

4. Not focusing on engagement
Engagement is key. A CRM is a great way to automate engagement. Ensuring staff is versed and fluent in client dialog with a useful tool will circumvent side steps with technology that is underutilized. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

5. Investing in a tool that is hardly used
We often become very excited about new tools but then we fail to use them regularly. Before making a monetary and time commitment to a new product, have an honest and open talk with your team on whether the product will really be used. Tools can make a world of difference but not if people are going to continue working as they always have. – Jared Knisley, Fizen Technology

6. Failing to set metrics
Leaders often fail to set metrics to evaluate the data they receive, which is one of the biggest mistakes they make while executing customer relationship management. To analyze the data properly and get their strategies right for the future, they should first define success and establish metrics for all areas – Alina Clark , CocoDoc

7. Losing sight of your customers
Do not lose sight of the fact that the C in CRM stands for customers. Often companies are focused on creating a database but the core is the customer! – Donna Michaels, LMGPR